Mary Poppins, lanes, and a horse ferry

This day in London history: on 13 December 1925, the American actor Dick Van Dyke was born Richard Wayne Van Dyke in West Plains, Missouri.
One of Van Dyke’s most iconic roles was that of Bert in the movie Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins was the magical nanny to the Banks family who lived at Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane in London. While there is no real Cherry Tree Lane in central London, there is one in Romford in Essex.
In the capital itself, there are at least one each of a a Cherry Tree Close, a Cherry Tree Drive, a Cherry Tree Road, and a Cherry Tree Way. Other types of streets include Alley, Arcade, Avenue, Buildings, Circle, Circus, Close, Court, Crescent, Gardens, Grove, Hill, Mews, Place, Rents, Row, Square, Street, Terrace, Walk, and Yard.
Nowadays many of these are interchangeable, or used arbitrarily, but one time different types of roads or streets had specific meanings. A lane had only to be wide enough for two men to roll a barrel along it, which gave rise to the name Five Foot, or Fyefoot (Five Foot) Lane.
Road, derived from ‘ride’, was originally a route for those travelling by horse and became the term for a route between destinations. For instance, there is a Horseferry Road, which was named for the route to the horse ferry, supposedly older than London Bridge, and the only one of its kind allowed in London, which aided transportation across the river.
EAS_3903A street was, to the Romans, a ‘via strata’, or a paved way, such as Watling Street, which is said to be the oldest street in England. Henry I decreed that a street had to be paved and be wide enough for sixteen knights to ride abreast. (In the 19th century that was changed to be seven feet.)
A street gradually became to mean a paved way lined with houses, so where the Banks family lived was probably more of a Cherry Tree Street than a Cherry Tree Lane.
The Mary Poppins books were published over a period from 1934 to 1988, and the movie was released in 1964. Now, of course, Mary Poppins has been given new life and exposure to a whole new audience with the recently released film, Saving Mr Banks, about the author PL Travers, her life, her father – the inspiration for Mr Banks – and her encounters with Walt Disney as he strove to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen.

Dick Van Dyke, photo by Alan Light
Saving Mr Banks, photo copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.

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