This narrow, winding street near Smithfield got its name from the Dukes of Brittany who built a house here in the 15th century. From 1575 – 1725 there were mostly booksellers on the street until they all moved to Paternoster Row where it was free to sell books.
But this little street in the ward of ‘Aldersgate and Farringdon Within’ has had some very important visitors and residents:
John Milton, the English poet and scholar lived on Little Britain briefly in 1662 and in 1711 The Spectator, the daily publication and forerunner of today’s weekly magazine, was first printed here by Samuel Buckley.
In 1712 a 3 year old Samuel Johnson was brought to London by his mother in a hope that by touching Queen Anne, he would be cured of scrofula (extra-pulmonary tuberculosis). It was believed from the Middle Ages that the royal touch would cure this infectious disease.
Benjamin Franklin stayed in a house on the street when he was in London in 1724 and it was at number 13 Little Britain where Charles Wesley’s evangelical conversion took place in 1738.
In 1820, in Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Little Britain was described as follows:
“In the centre of the great City of London lies a small neighborhood, consisting of a cluster of narrow streets and courts, of very venerable and debilitated houses, which goes by the name of LITTLE BRITAIN”.
Then of course, in the Charles Dickens novel of Great Expectations, the lawyer, Mr Jaggers had his office on Little Britain which was described as ‘a gloomy street’.And in 2012 the Olympic Marathon will pass along this Little Britain with a big history!