The scandalous ghost story behind the ‘rudest street’ in Central London

Some London street names seem designed to make pedestrians snigger, while others are so cheeky they simply defy belief.

East London has its fair share of silly street names, including Balls Pond Road in Hackney, Cock Pond in Clapham Common, and Cold Blow Lane in New Cross.

So Cock Lane in the EC1 postcode, a small road which runs adjacent to Smithfield Market and leads down to Holborn Viaduct Crossing, is really just following the trend of naughty names.

This naughtily named street was actually the location of a huge haunting scandal in the 18th century

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The street is actually one of the oldest in the capital, having been referenced since as early as the 13th century, when it was known as Cockes lane.

Cock Lane was the only street in medieval London which had an actual license for prostitution – which, unsurprisingly, is where one of the two main theories of how it got its name come from.

The other – much less scandalous – theory is that the street was once used to stage cock-fighting events.

The blood sport, in which cockerels were forced to fight each other to the death as people places bets on which would win, was popular street entertainment back in the middle ages.

It is only natural that any street which has existed in London for so long would have a rich history to its name.

As well as sex work and bloody street entertainment, Cock Lane is thought to have been the location where the Fire of London eventually burnt itself out, after raging through Central London in September 1666.

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Cock Lane is thought to be the street where the Fire of London eventually burnt itself out

Although it has now been moved, in the 20th century there was a statue of a naked golden boy on the street, which was placed there in the mid 18th century, to attribute the cause of the fire to the sin of gluttony.

And the Golden Boy is not the only mysterious character to be associated with the street.

The Cock Lane Ghost was a sensation across London and the country in 1762, as rumours swirled from their origin at Cock Lane.

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The purported haunting took place in a lodging on Cock Lane, and centred around three people; William Kent, a usurer from Norfolk, Richard Parsons, a parish clerk, and Parsons’ daughter Elizabeth.

After William Kent’s wife died during childbirth, he became romantically involved with her sister, Fanny.

The unmarried couple moved to London together, to lodge in a property at Cock Lane – which was owned by Richard Parsons.

It was after the couple moved in that people in the lodging began to report strange knocking sounds and ghostly apparitions.

The noises stopped when the couple moved out – but following Fanny’s untimely death from smallpox, Richard Parsons said they resumed, claiming Fanny haunted his property and his daughter Elizabeth.

Regular séances were held to determine “Scratching Fanny’s” motives; Cock Lane was often made impassable by the throngs of interested bystanders.

A commission later determined the supposed haunting had all been a fraud, and further investigations revealed Elizabeth Parsons to be behind the terror-inducing noises and apparitions, under duress from her father.

Richard Parsons was actually imprisoned for two years over the scandal.

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