Lamb or mutton

IT WAS ONE DEGREE Celsius and a bright sunny December day when we made our third visit to Bushy Park. When we arrived at about 9.30 am, the car park near the Pheasantry Café was almost empty. On this trip, we decided to walk along the long waterway that leads from the Diana Statue to the Leg of Mutton Pond. The stream flows through several ponds, which were partly covered with a thin layer of ice. Gulls and other waterfowl stood on the ice, there bodies being reflected in its mirror-like surface.

The watercourse is part of the man-made Longford River, which I described recently (https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2020/09/20/diana-and-the-deer/) as follows:

“… King Charles I (reigned 1625-1649) ordered the building of a canal, the Longford River, which carries water for 12 miles from the River Colne (a tributary of the Thames) to the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. The man-made waterway, designed by Nicholas Lane (1585-1644) and dug by hand in only 9 months in 1638-39, flows through Bushy Park, supplying water to its numerous water features. The water is drawn from the river Colne at a point (Longford near Slough) whose altitude (72 feet above sea level) was great enough to ensure a fast flow to Hampton Court Palace, which is only about 13 feet above sea level.”

On an 1867 map of Bushy Park, the river is named ‘Queen’s or Cardinal’s River’. In the past, the Longford River has been known by these names as well as the ‘New River’ (not to be confused with the canal with the same name that carries river water from Hertfordshire to Islington) and the ‘Hampton Court River’ (https://freejournal.org/4020246/1/longford-river.html).  The river enters Bushy Park and divides into two main streams about 1.3 miles west of the Diana Statue that stands in the midst of a circular pond. One of the streams flows south into the grounds of Hampton Court Palace and the other flows east to the pond containing the statue. Some of its water is diverted to flow through the park’s attractive woodland gardens, which are separated from the rest of the park by a fence erected to prevent entry by the deer that roam around Bushy Park. From the statue, it flows eastwards through the Boating Pool, the Heron Pond and then to the Leg of Mutton Pond. From there, it flows under Sandy Lane and enters the Thames east of it, having travelled the last stretch beneath the ground.

The Boating Pool does not appear on the 1867 map. When we saw it today, people were propelling noisy radio-controlled toy boats across it, much to the dismay of the waterfowl bathing in the water. I did not spot a heron at the Heron Pool, but I did see cormorants perching on the Statue of Diana to which some Christmas hats and tinsel had been added. On my first visit to Bushy Park back in about September, I did see a heron on the edge of the round pond in the middle of which the statue stands. Although I saw no herons during my latest visit, there were plenty of gulls, geese, ducks, swans, coots, and moorhen on all three ponds that punctuate the Longford River.

The Leg of Mutton Pond, when seen on a map or from the air resembles the conical lump of meat, which rotates in front of a grill and from which shavings are sliced and put into ‘pita’ bread when ordering a Turkish döner kebab, rather than a leg of mutton. The pond tapers far less than most legs of mutton. Bushy Park is not the only place in London with a Leg of Mutton Pond. Other examples can be found on Hampstead Heath; near the Dollis River in Totteridge; in Barnes; in Richmond Park; and in Wanstead Park, there is even a Shoulder of Mutton pond.  

Mutton is not frequently eaten by people of European heritage living in the UK today. It is not so easy as lamb to find in shops. The consumption of mutton in the UK declined many decades ago. Tracy Carrol wrote (https://localfoodbritain.com/surrey/articles/forgotten-mutton-slow-food-worth-the-wait/):

“In Victorian times, mutton was the food of kings and paupers alike, yet things started to change when New Zealand and Australia found themselves with too many sheep as a by-product of the thriving wool industry. Once refrigeration came into being in the late 19th century, the solution was obvious – ship the meat to Britain to feed its hungry and growing population. This was the beginning of the end for British mutton and by 1925 lamb was beginning to appear more and more on our menu. It may not have had the depth of flavour of mutton, but this younger meat was more reliable, even in the hands of the careless cook.”

It is the depth of flavour of mutton that makes it a far better ingredient of curries. Providing one cooks it slowly and for much longer than lamb, it becomes a tender flavoursome meat, and the curry gains a rich flavour, rarely attained by using lamb. Given that mutton prevailed over lamb when long ago ponds were named, it is not surprising to find ponds named after mutton, rather than lamb. In fact, a search of Google or its maps for a ‘Leg of Lamb’ pond or other body of water yielded no results.

Given the ‘way back’ position of regular mutton-eating in the timeline of British food history, seeing the ‘Leg of Mutton Pond’ on the map of Bushy Park made me keen to see this venerable pond. Our walk from the car park to it was truly worthwhile. When we returned to our vehicle, the car park was almost full, as was another one close to the Diana Statue. So, if you wish to enjoy Bushy Park at its best, try to get there early in the morning, well before 10 am.

Kit Kat in Hampstead

KIT KAT CONFECTIONERY BARS are familiar to many people and I enjoy eating them occasionally. The ‘Kit Kat’ and ‘Kit Cat’ tradenames were registered by the Rowntree’s confectionery company in 1911, but the first chocolates bearing this name only appeared in 1920. Had you wanted to eat a Kit Kat in the early 18th century London, you would not have been served a chocolate item but a type of mutton pie. The Kit Kat mutton pie was the creation of Christopher Catling (aka ‘Katt’ and ‘Cat’), who had a pie house in Shire Lane near Temple Bar, which used to stand near the present-day Royal Courts of Justice on London’s Strand.

When walking in Hampstead Village recently, we saw something I had never noticed before during at least 60 years of visiting the area. It was wording above the doorway of a house on the corner of Heath Street and the much narrower Holly Bush Steps. The words are: “Kit Cat House” and (below them) “A.D. 1745”. Above one of the ground floor windows, that which is nearest to Heath Street but on the wall facing Holly Bush Steps, there are some painted letters, which I will discuss later.

The Kit Cat Club (also sometimes spelled as ‘Kit Kat’) was an 18th century club whose members were of the Whig political persuasion. Members included  literary men such as William Congreve, John Locke, Sir John Vanbrugh, and Joseph Addison; and politicians including Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Burlington, Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, The Earl of Stanhope, Viscount Cobham, Abraham Stanyan and Sir Robert Walpole, who was Prime Minister between 1721 and 1742. The painter Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723) was yet another member. He painted portraits of 48 members of the club, which are now kept in the National portrait Gallery.

The club is commonly believed to be named after Christopher Catling and his mutton pies, but this is not known for certain. The club’s meetings were held at first in Catling’s tavern in Shire Lane (which no longer exists). Then, they were held at the Fountain Tavern on the Strand, which stood where today stands Simpsons on the Strand, and then later at purpose-built premises at Barn Elms (between Barnes and Fulham). In summer, the members met at the Upper Flask in Hampstead.

The Upper Flask, which was demolished long ago, was a pub located on the corner of East Heath Road and Heath Mount, that is on the south corner of East Heath Road and Heath Street, about 190 yards north of the present Kit Cat House on Holly Bush Steps. It was on the site of the now closed Queen Mary’s Maternity Home that received patients between 1919 and 1975.

Edward Walford, writing in his encyclopaedic “Old and New London” (volume 5, published in 1878), noted:

“The ‘Upper Flask’ was at one time called ‘Upper Bowling-green House,’ from its possessing a very good bowling green …  when the Kit-Kat Club was in its glory, its members were accustomed to transfer their meetings in summer time to this tavern, whose walls – if walls have ears – must have listened to some rare and racy conversations … Mr Howitt in his ‘Northern Heights of London’ gives a view of the house as it appeared when that work was published (1869). The author states that the members of the Kit-Kat Club used ‘to sip their ale under the old mulberry tree, which still flourishes, though now bound together by iron bands, and showing signs of great age…’”

During the later year’s of the Club’s existence, in the first quarter of the 18th century, some of those members who sipped ale under this tree included the poets Shelley and Keats, who lived in Hampstead. Another member, who enjoyed meetings at the Upper Flask, the poet and physician Richard Blackmore (1654-1729), penned these lines about them in his poem “The Kit-Kats” (published in 1708):

“Or when, Apollo-like, thou’st pleased to lead

Thy sons to feast on Hampstead’s airy head:

Hampstead, that, towering in superior sky,

Now with Parnassus does in honour vie.”

So, the Kit Cat Club had an association with Hampstead, but was there any connection between the Club and the house on Holly Bush Steps, which bears the date 1745? The house was built in about 1800 (https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/photos/item/IOE01/15805/21), which is after the period between 1696 and 1720, when the Club was active (https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/73609). It is also after the date above the door, ‘1745’.

An old postcard, published sometime between 1903 and 1930, reveals that the house was once a shop belonging to ‘Francis’. This was J Francis of number 1 Holly Bush Steps. What J Francis sold is not certain but above the whitewash that covers the wall of the ground floor, the remains of an old painted sign can be seen on the brickwork. It reads:

“Libraries” and also “S ?? D”, the two question marks represent letters that have disappeared.  Other letters below the word ‘libraries’ have also gone. I wonder whether it once read ‘Libraries bought and sold’. Interesting as this is, it does not explain to me why the house is so named or the significance of the date 1745. So far, and this might be purely coincidental, the only connection I have found is that Robert Walpole, a member of the Kit Cat Club, died in 1745. However, I am not at all sure that this is why the date appears below the name above the door of the house on Holly Bush Steps.

I enjoy chance findings like that which I noticed in Hampstead and investigating their histories. I am not sure that I am much the wiser about the naming on the house on Holly Bush Steps, but whilst trying to find out about it, I have learnt a little more about the history of Hampstead, a part of London that was important to me during my childhood and which I continue to enjoy visiting. And as for Kit Kats, I would prefer that you offer me the chocolate version, rather than the mutton one.