Greek Street, its origins and Greeks in the UK

Greek Street London UK
Greek Street London UK

Inspiration for today’s post hit me straight between the eyes yesterday, after seeing a picture of a street sign for;

  "Greek Street"

 I did know that most major British cities have one, Leeds certainly does, and so, I was informed, does Liverpool.

Pillars of Hercules. Greek Street London
Pillars of Hercules. a public house on  Greek Street London
It has been there for hundreds of years, mentioned in Charles Dickens
"A Tale of Two Cities"

I wondered why there was a Greek Street in so many cities, the most logical reason was that it was in the area where Greeks had settled, I decided to look into it, and so, spent most of the day, enthralled, reading all about Greeks in the U.K, how they had fetched up there, and the origin of the name Greek Street.

Greek Street, Soho, London 1973
Greek Street, Soho, London 1973

I read pages and pages, way too much to write about here, so, I’ll just give you the bare bones.

Amazingly, the first traces of Greeks in Britain were from the Mycenaean Civilization, era 1600 BC to 1100 BC.

Through trading and defeat, they eventually spread through The Mediterranean
 and Europe.

 Mycenaean Bronze artifacts, such as the Rillaton Cup and The Pelynt Dagger,  found at Rillaton Barrow, dating from the thirteenth century BC have been found in Wessex and in Cornwall.

Rillaton Barrow, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall
Rillaton Barrow, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall

The Rillaton Cup
The Rillaton Cup

Artifacts in the museum at Mycenae
Artifacts in the museum at Mycenae

Above are cups displayed in the museum at Mycenae, see how similar they are to the Rillaton Cup?

The first known Greek in Britain was Pytheas, who called Britain by the name of Pretannia, Pretani and later, Britannia.


More Greeks arrived, as soldiers and traders, with the Roman legions.

Inscriptions, found on gravestones, in both Greek and Latin, are to be found in The Museum of London.

Here are some examples:


"Aulus Alfidius Pompolussa, as stated in his will, his heirs placed this. Seventy years old, a native of Athens, he lies here."


"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, this temple, collapsed through old age, was restored by Aquilinus, freedman of the emperor, a trader, a man of courage, a Greek."

There are also two plaques, found underneath what is now York railway station:


"To Oceanus and Tethys, Demetrius [dedicates this]."


                "To the gods of the governor's headquarters, Scribonius Demetrius [dedicates this]."

In Cumbria, "The Brough Stone" was found, with Greek inscriptions, dedicated to Hermes of Commagene, and, Judging by inscriptions found there, the Roman city of Carlisle had a large Greek community.

Brough Stone
Brough Stone with Greek inscription
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

They certainly did get around, didn't they?

Greek was spoken in England hundreds of years before the English language or, Anglo Saxons ever reached the shores of Britain.

In the seventh century, Theodore of Tarsus was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, according to The Venerable Bede (Visions of school history lessons now, we learnt all about good old Bede!)

Theodore brought greater unity to English Christianity.

Theodore of Tarsus
Theodore of Tarsus

The Byzantine ruler, Manuel II visited England in 1400, and was received at Eltham Palace by King Henry IV.

The Byzantine ruler, Manuel II
The Byzantine ruler, Manuel II

More Greeks turned up, including two brothers, Andronikos and Alexias Effomatos, recorded as “Grekes” from Constantinople (Today, anyone with a surname ending with atos, is known to originate from the island of Kefalonia) resident in London in 1440.

 In 1445, Henry VI granted the brothers permission to stay in London, where
they remained for many years, living first in Cripplegate, and, later, Broad Street, and then the Italian quarter.

Cripplegate. London
Cripplegate. London

Over the next two hundred years, more and more Greeks arrived, some as visitors, such as, in 1545, Nikandros Noukios of Corfu.

 From his diaries, we know that he followed the English invasion of Scotland (As a non- combatant) where forces included Greeks from Argos, under their leader, Thomas of Argos.

Argos, Greece
Argos, Greece

During the reign of Henry VIII, more Greeks arrived in Britain from the island of Rhodes, following the Knights Hospitaller, after the island was conquered by the Ottomans.

Street of Knights. Rhodes. Greece.
Street of Knights. Rhodes. Greece.

Descendants of the imperial Palaeologus dynasty came as mercenaries to Britain, their tombs can be seen in locations as far apart as Westminster Abbey and Landulph Parish Church in Cornwall.

Some of the Palaeologi fought against each other in the English Civil War.

Palaeologus tomb. Westminster Abbey London
Palaeologus tomb.
Westminster Abbey

Early Greco-Britons were not only soldiers and they settled permanently; one was Konstantinos Benettos, recorded as living in Clerkenwell from 1530 to 1578.

As yet, there were not enough Greeks to form a Greek community in Britain; also, at this time, there was no Greek Orthodox Church, very important to the Greeks.

Many more Greeks arrived as refugees as a result of Ottoman rule and by the late seventeenth century a large number of Greeks held high positions in London life.

Georgos Constantinos, from Skopelos, established the Grecian Coffee House in Devereaux Court (Greeks are still establishing coffee houses all over the world!) and had noteworthy customers such as Sir Isaac Newton and other members of the royal society.

Grecian Coffee house. Greek Street Soho
Grecian Coffee house.
Greek Street Soho

Constantinos Rodocanachi of Chios became physician to King Charles II.

Britain’s overseas trade with the Levant brought merchant ships to The Port of London, manned by Greeks.

Now there were enough resident Greeks in London to justify a Greek Orthodox Church, and in 1676 about a hundred families from the islands of Samos and Melos, under bishop Joseph Gerogarinis, migrated to England and were welcomed by the Duke of York, who later was to become King Jacob II (I thought I knew all my English Kings, never heard of King Jacob though, he must have been a flash in the pan!).

King Jacob gave Greeks land in Crown Street Soho, later named Greek Street; at last, we have come to the origin of Greek Street!

Gay Hussar, Hungarian restaurant. Greek Street London.
Gay Hussar, Hungarian restaurant.
Greek Street London.

If only the first few Greeks to settle in London's Greek Street could see it now!

 Greek Street WI is packed from end to end with some of the best restaurants and eateries in London.

The first Greek Orthodox Community was founded in the 1670s, and a church was built in Soho in 1677 at the corner of Charing Cross Road and Greek Street, dedicated to The Dormition of The Virgin.

Two more events brought Greeks to Britain in the nineteenth century, commercial potential, after the defeat of Napoleon and the Diaspora, where The Greek War of Independence, caused many emigres  to settle in Britain.

Most families, from Chios and Constantinople, made their homes around Finsbury Circus, close to the heart of the shipping industry.

They were later joined by Greeks from the Aegean, Ionian, Smyrna and Athens.

Others settled in the commercial cities of Liverpool, Manchester, and later, Cardiff and Glasgow.

                       As they prospered, these Greek merchants began to settle in Bayswater.

  In 1842 a Greek school, a Greek necropolis at Norwood and a Greek Orthodox Church, later Aghia Sophia (1877) were established.

Cathedral of Aghia Sophia
Cathedral of Aghia Sophia
Moscow Road, Bayswater, London.

The Greek population of London in 1850 was only a few hundred, but in only twenty years, by 1870, the number had swelled to several thousand. 

The 2001 census shows 35.169 British residents born in Greece and 77.673 born in Cyprus.

Recent estimates show that 300,000 ethnic Greeks may reside in the U.K.

12.360 Greeks live in London, mostly around Hyde Park, Regents Park, Chelsea and Kensington.

Other large Greek communities are to be found in Sunderland, Manchester, Birmingham and Colchester.

So there you have it, a brief history of how the first Greeks arrived in Britain.
I did enjoy writing this interesting post about these amazing people!

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