Little slices of London's history

London’s number streets: One Tree Hill to Three Mill Lane

Once known as Three Needle Street

Hello, gentle reader(s), I’m back! Apologies for the long gap in posts, and thank you for bearing with me.

I was looking at a recent post, the one on trees, and a couple of things occurred to me. First, there are a couple of gaps, about which I have spoken to myself severely. Second, it occurred to me that there are a few numbers there so – yes, you guessed it! – I rushed to see what ‘number’ streets I have. There are quite a few, but I have information on only a few of them, and photos of even fewer, but here’s what I’ve been able to find out. (Incidentally, in the W10 area there are streets from First to Sixth Avenue but I will ignore them.)

In numerical order, we start with the already-covered One Tree Hill, which was once called Five Tree Hill. The one tree was Honor Oak, which took its name from the fact that it marked a boundary of the ‘Honor of Gloucester’ – land belonging to the 12th-century earls of Gloucester.

We then jump to three, of which there are many, including Three Colts Lane. The ‘three’ in streets names generally means a tavern sign, common in part because it occurs often in heraldry, and in part because it is traditionally a lucky number.

In the 19th century, this lane, which takes its name from an inn sign, was part of the then crime-ridden and filthy Bethnal Green area. It is mentioned in Hector Gavin’s 19th-century Sanitary Ramblings: Being Sketches and Illustrations of Bethnal Green in very unfavourable terms: “that part of Three Colts Lane which is without a sewer is very dirty,” he noted with distaste, “and the gutters full of dirt and fluid filth”.

(There is also a Three Colt Street, off of which leads a small passage called Five Bell Alley.)

Three Cranes Lane no longer exists, but that took its name from a 16th-century inn, the sign of which depicted birds rather than, as was more common, the cranes that were used to hoist casks of wine. The name has been reinstated as part of the City of London’s ‘Riverside Walk Enhancement Strategy’, and can be found close to Three Barrels Walk and Three Quays Walk. The name of Three Quays dates back to the 17th century, when exotic imports from the West Indies were unloaded at three separate quays.

Three Kings Yard in Mayfair takes its name from a tavern that stood at the entrance of the yard until 1879. There was also once a Three Kings Court; the tavern for which that was named was destroyed in the Great Fire. The kings on this inn sign usually depicted the three Magi – Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchior.

Three Tuns Court, demolished in the 19th century, came from a short-lived tavern, recorded in 1845 and demolished soon after. The tun, a large cask for holding two hundred and fifty-two gallons of wine, was a natural choice for a tavern sign. Three of them come into the picture because they appeared on the arms of the Vintners’ Company and of the Brewers’ Company.

There was once also a court called Three Nuns Court, named after a 14th-century brewery called the ‘Thre Nones’, presumed to be a corruption of Three Tuns. Three Nun Court, which may or may not be the same one, can be found just off Aldermanbury.

Three Cups Yard also takes its name from a tavern, which was a popular name; there were quite a few of them in London over the years.

Taking in both pubs and trees (and filling one of those gaps in the tree post): Three Oak Lane, like One Tree Hill, is a logical street names: three oaks once stood here, and there was a Three Oaks inn recorded in 1761.

Three Mill Lane also makes sense: this lane in Stratford takes its name from the fact that its proximity to the River Lea made it a good place for water mills. There were three of them here dating back to the early 14th century. The river itself, which flows from the Chilterns and joins the Thames, was once used to define the border between the Danes and the English. (Also in Stratford is Four Dials.)

Before we leave the number three, we should mention Threadneedle Street, which was once called Three Needle Street, from the arms of the Needle Makers Company.

More number streets in a future post.

3 responses to “London’s number streets: One Tree Hill to Three Mill Lane”

  1. I enjoyed these as always, Elizabeth. However, the streets you mentioned in W10 are worth commenting on. I know them so well, from my days in the LAS. The ‘Avenues’ as the Queen’s Park estate is known locally, were once provided as dwellings for workers by the Shaftesbury Estate, who have an almost identical development in Battersea. A feature of both areas is that there are no pubs, so as to discourage drunkenness. Here’s a link.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Thanks, Pete, very interesting background. That’ll teach me to ignore something that seems mundane name-wise!

  2. […] ← London’s number streets: One Tree Hill to Three Mill Lane […]

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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