London Street Names: Have you ever wondered how the more curiously named street and places acquired those names? I did some investigation and found some answers in London’s long history…
The French Influence on London Street Names
Now that London is reputed to be the 6th biggest French City (by population), estimated to be between 300-400,000 , all things French become very important in the capital – more important than they have generally been in the past.
Since the Eurostar opened almost 20 years ago, London and Paris have only a couple of hours travel apart; French food and wine is all over London and we have long had French schools and are apparently to have more. And over time, history has done some things that need no alteration to make the today’s French arrivals feel welcome.
French street names in Knightsbridge abound: Montpelier Street, Beauchamp Place and Cheval Place to name but three. Why is this? It is reputed that during the course of the French Revolution, the nobility in England managed to provide an escape route for quite a number of the French nobility out of France and over here. Having had a bit of a rough time, the nobility in London built them some houses rather quickly, and in order to make them feel more at home, they gave the streets French sounding names.
The West End
Deeper into the West End, London street names reveal much about their origins: Jermyn Street in St James’s is named after Lord Jermyn who, having provided good service to the Monarch, was given a few fields north of St James’s Palace, which of course turned out to be rather valuable!
Nearby, the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus with its bow and arrow is thought by many to be a symbol of love. It is in fact a memorial to the Earl of Shaftesbury who put a lot of work into improving working conditions for the poor in the 19th century. Shaftesbury Avenue itself of course leads off from Piccadilly Circus.
Covent Garden – of course – used to be the Central London market for fresh fruit and vegetables, and is now a restored area of great atmosphere and activity for eating and culture. It is said it was once the garden of a large convent which was set in this area.
The Tate Gallery is a truly magnificent building, but how did it get there? Apparently Sir Henry Tate – who invented the sugar cube and eventually became rather wealthy – invested some of this money to get the Tate Gallery up and running.
South of the river, London street names have equally colourful origins:
Peabody Square and the Peabody Estate was built as homes for some of the poor in London in the 19th century by an American called George Peabody.
Electric Avenue, a large street in Brixton, was either the first, or one of the first streets ever to have the benefit of electric lighting!
London Bus Routes
And finally, though not the origin of an actual name, here’s one more fact I came across. So many of the original London bus routes finish on a common or green. Why? I gather that the answer is Horses ! When originated, the routes were plied by carriages pulled by horses, so they had to start and finish where horses could be stabled and get something to eat; in other words, open green spaces.