Little slices of London's history

All that glisters is definitely not gold in London street names

Yesterday we ended with a quick look at Golden Square, which is more to do with castrated animals than precious metals. So today let’s look at more precious metals and gemstones in London street names. Or not, as the case may be.
There was once a Silver Street in the City of London which did actually have a name that made sense: it was named, says Stow, from the silversmiths who lived there, and earlier forms included ‘Silvernestrate’. Shakespeare took lodgings, around 1602, on the corner of the street. Silver Place in the West End, however, may have been called that because it is close to Golden Square.
There is an Ironmonger Row in Islington, once largely inhabited by ironmongers. The row was built in the 18th century on land bequeathed to the Ironmongers Company in 1527 by Thomas Mitchell, ironmonger and citizen of London. Another hangout for the ironmongers was an Ironmonger Lane (near Cornhill), which was known as ‘Ysmongeres Lane’ around the turn of the 12th century.
From metals to rocks: Emerald Street reflects the ingenuity of some of those people responsible for naming and renaming streets. It was originally called Green Street, presumably either because it was close to a bowling green, or it was after a local resident. Towards the end of the 19th century there were far too many Green Streets in London and so it was given its new name.
Diamond Street in Peckham, is named, so some believe, because it forms one side of a small ‘square’ that could be considered roughly diamond-shaped. There was once another Diamond Street, built in 1890; this was, intriguingly, given its name because the plumber who built it was able to do so because of a diamond. Sad to say, any details of the plumber and his diamond have been lost in the mists of time.
(There is also a Diamond Street in Brent near to a Sapphire Road and Ruby Street; a Ruby Street in Peckham is believed to have been named after Ruby Hahn, the daughter of the area’s one-time landlord.)
Coal can be turned into diamonds and in one case gravel was turned into a garnet. Garnet Street in Wapping was upgraded into the gemstone category in 1938. The street was originally New Gravel Lane and the present Wapping Street was Old Gravel Lane. They were so called because they were part of the routes for carrying sand and gravel inland from the riverside – also taken to sea as ballast.
There is still a Gravel Lane near Houndsditch; this, along with its neighbour Stoney Lane, was probably so named because of the fact that it had, unusually, a surface other than mud. Up until the 17th century, this was relatively rare – certainly rare enough to be registered in a name.
Finally, in contrast to all these shiny metals and stones, there is Rust Square in Camberwell. That is nothing to do with oxidized metal. It is, supposedly, named for George Rust, the Bishop of Dromore, though it is not clear what his connection with the area was, Dromore being a town in Northern Ireland.

Some other stones and metals represented in London street names include Agate Road, Amethyst Road, Bronze Street, Copper Close, Coral Street, Crystal Terrace, Flint Street, Glass Street, Granite Street, and Opal Street.


3 responses to “All that glisters is definitely not gold in London street names”

  1. […] Towards the end of the 19th century there so many Green Streets in London that one was ingeniously renamed Emerald Street. […]

  2. […] last, at least for now, Ironmonger Lane, with connections to the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers (which has its hall in Aldersgate […]

  3. […] Silver Street (no longer there) was, says Stow, named from the silversmiths who lived there, and earlier forms included ‘Silvernestrate’. Shakespeare took lodgings on the corner of the street and, according to a marvellous website, Shakespearean London Theatres, he spent a number of years living there, from 1604, with a French family called the Mountjoys. […]

About Me (and my Obsession)

My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
– Elizabeth


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