To finish the quote in full, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. (William Shakespear, Romeo & Juliet).
It’s my belief that a name sets the tone of a thing or even a person. Take the example of rose, it is a rounded, lilting word which conjures up the fragrant blooms of mid summer, whereas shovel is more angular and workmanlike. Imagine transposing the two. “Yes, I’d like to order a dozen red shovels for Valentines day please”, or “‘I’m going to need a bigger rose to clear this mess up!” So I slightly disagree with the Bard on his assumption.
This rather contrived and clunky opening will now take us to the main gist of this article and to two men in particular. They were a father and son who lived in 17th century London. The father was born in 1598 and his full name was ‘If-God-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned’ Barebon, known to his mates as Praise God Barebon.
He was a Member of the last Parliament before Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, known as the Barebones Parliament. Its members were selected by Cromwell and his Army council rather than being elected, Barebon served as the nominee for the City Of London. He was a leather-seller, renowned anti-Royalist, fanatical Puritan, mob-raiser and considered by most to be a general pain in the neck. I’d be surprised if anyone was going to be a happy go lucky sort of chap carrying that moniker around with him.
Barebon was the resident of a house called “The Keys” in a small alley which still exists to this day called Crane Court, just off of Fleet Street. Crane Court is one of the stops on A London Miscellany Tours guided walking tour called Not avenues, but alleyways, which explores what remains of the labyrinth of alleys and courts that criss crossed Fleet Street. There’s also a piece about it on my blog called Crane Court, a little alley with a lot of history.
The Keys burnt down during the Great Fire of 1666, which I imagine did nothing for his demeanor. However, this disaster was the making of his son, a chip off the old block, “If-Jesus-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned“ Barebon better known as Nicholas Barebon, who by all accounts inherited a lot of his fathers idiosyncrasies.
Nicholas had studied medicine and was also a leading economist of his day, but he seems to have turned from these subjects after the Great Fire and concentrated on property developing. He helped to pioneer the selling of fire insurance and was a leading player in the reconstruction work, although his buildings were planned and erected primarily for his own financial gain. He was described by the Lawyer Robert North,”He was unique in the unscrupulousness and brazenness of his business tactics“and “an exquisite mob master” in recognition of his ability to manipulate people to carry out his schemes. He managed to get himself elected to Parliament by buying his way into the Rotten Borough of Bramber in Sussex, mainly to escape prosecution by his creditors of which there were many. One of his final schemes was trying to pump drinking water from the heavily polluted River Thames into some of his newly built houses and charging the buyers heavily for the dubious privilege.
I can’t help wondering how both men would have conducted themselves had they been christened Fred and Arthur Smith.