In yesterday’s post I airily dismissed the streets from First to Sixth Avenue in what is known as Queen’s Park Estate in West London. My reasoning was that there wasn’t an interesting story behind those names.
Well, I stand corrected. As reader, fellow blogger and London expert has pointed out: “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.”
The company behind this laudable, and teetotal, vision of housing was the Artizan’s, Labourers’ and General Dwellings Company, founded in 1867 by an illiterate ex-labourer called William Austin, who began his career as a penny-a-day bird-scarer, gave up drink at the age of 47, and turned to philanthropy instead of alcohol. The company was supported by the philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury, who was also a keen temperance enthusiast and reformer.
The company started with the Shaftesbury Park Estate, just north of Lavender Hill, the first stone of which was laid by Lord Shaftesbury in 1872. The estate was formally opened n 1874 by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who remarked, “Stronger than my sympathy is my surprise at what you have done. I have never in my life been more astonished.”
The Queen’s Park Estate was the next such estate to be built by the company; it was built in a grid design with the north-south streets called First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
So there you have it: a story behind even the most mundane sounding of street names.
(A sad, and yet strangely humorous, aside to the company’s history is that the Queens Park Estate project suffered serious mismanagement and fraud and was forced to raise its rents. In 1877 three people were found guilty of defrauding the company of close to £10,000. One of those people was the appropriately named company secretary, William Swindlehurst.)
Incidentally, Lord Shaftesbury is the same philanthropist who helped to establish the Ragged Schools to provide free education; the building of one of these schools still stands in Mayfair’s Grotto Passage.