Monday, 21 November 2011

On Carey Street

The period at the end of a PhD is peculiar. Even though the thesis is completed, and even when the viva is over, there's still a panoply of fiddly (and time-consuming) things to get done. I'm now all done, bar binding the hard copy of the dissertation, but it means I've been rather preoccupied and haven't been able to get back to gainful employment in any meaningful way up till now.
So perhaps it wasn't coincidence that, laying in bed last night, the phrase 'on Carey Street' came back to me. I'd first heard it when giving directions to the Seven Stars, a pub on Carey Street WC2. The person I was telling beamed delightedly and said 'So you really would end up on Carey Street!'
The phrase entered local proverbial usage to mean bankruptcy. Carey Street sits behind the Royal Courts of Justice, and provided one entrance to the bankruptcy court. Later, a drinker in the Seven Stars also explained this to me.
I doubt how widespread the usage is, as both of these informants were over 60. It isn't listed in the Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, and it would appear to be a recent coinage, possibly of literary origin. The bankruptcy court only moved to Carey Street in the 1840s, where a new building was erected for it in 1892.
From Carey Street it's still been possible (just) to see the bankruptcy court, which was moved in the 1960s to the Thomas More building (the ill-fitting tower block at the Clement's Inn end of the RCJ). This may eventually change, as four Bankruptcy Registrars will shortly be located at the Rolls Building on Fetter Lane. The Rolls Building is unlikely to be visible from Carey Street. It won't stop people ending up on Carey Street.

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