Little slices of London's history

What’s so funny about Ha Ha Road?

Ha ha sign 4Following on from yesterday’s post about the Top 10 most unusual names in the City of London, it seemed a good idea to look at some other unusual names, not just in the City but in all of London, starting today with perhaps, one of the most fun(ny) names in London: Ha Ha Road in Greenwich. Not only is this most definitely a name to catch the attention, it one about which there is no dispute as to the derivation.

Simple: a ‘ha ha’ is a sunken ditch which serves as a boundary marker for property, rather than a high wall that could block the landowner’s view.However, there is slight dispute as to the derivation of the term ‘ha ha’ itself. One school of thought says it is an exclamation of surprise from the unwary strollers who suddenly find themselves in a ditch, another that it is the reaction of any spectators who see their companions abruptly disappearing from sight.

Ha ha 4
The ha ha of Ha Ha Road

Whatever the derivation of its name, this cunning device was adopted in Kensington Gardens by Charles Bridgman, a fashionable designer of gardens in the 18th century who was hired by George II’s queen, Caroline of Ansbach. The gardens, which had been a part of Kensington Palace since William III bought Nottingham House and converted it for his use, went though several changes before George II first opened the gardens to the public – provided that they were “respectably dressed people”.

Respectably dressed they may have been, but that didn’t prevent George II from being mugged there. He was in the habit of taking a solitary stroll around the gardens every morning and one day was approached by a man who jumped over a wall (had there been a ha ha in that spot presumably the mugging would never have taken place).

The man, who claimed to be financially distressed, very respectfully asked the king to hand over his money, watch and shoe buckles. The one-sided transaction was carried out, and the king mentioned that there was a seal on his watch chain of little monetary, but great sentimental, value. The man promised to take it off the chain and return it provided George said nothing of the robbery. The king agreed, and the seal was returned the next day at the same time.

5 responses to “What’s so funny about Ha Ha Road?”

  1. I was really happy to read that the robber returned the watch-seal. There was some ‘honour amongst thieves’, at least in those days!

    At the risk of becoming a bore, ( I know-too late…) I do have a small connection with Ha Ha Road in Woolwich. It was once the home of the Royal Artillery Barracks, and it now houses the ceremonial King’s Troop, of the Royal Horse Artillery. As my father had been a Regimental Sgt. Major in the Artillery, I was taken to look at it. I remember thinking the name of the road was amusing.
    It must have been about 1960.

    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I knew you wouldn’t let me down, Pete! I figured you’d know something about it. Tell me: is it in Woolwich or Greenwich?

      1. It is definitely in Woolwich. However, that is in the London Borough of Greenwich, so everyone is right!
        Lately made (in)famous by the killing of Lee Rigby, just outside those barracks. Regrettably, not funny at all…

  2. […] – and a ha ha, which in this case is a type of ditch, not an involuntary giggle from yours truly. Ha Ha Road (in Greenwich) inspired the book (and its name) that brought about this blog and on which I am […]

  3. […] is REALLY called that… I understand from the golem of all knowledge… Google… that a ‘ha ha’ is a sunken ditch which serves as a boundary marker for property, rather than ….  I can confirm that as per the description above, there is a sunken ditch which runs along the […]

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, I 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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