From health and love to worship: London’s abstract noun streets

I forgot to mention in the last (Groundhog Day inspired) post that someone has already tackled the thorny issue of the name of Punxsutawney Phil’s home: Gobbler’s Knob. Which generally causes amusement in Britain and not in America. You can read more here on that issue.

But back to noun streets. The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the last post was limited to concrete nouns. That’s partly because they have better names and stories, and – full disclosure here – I had more pictures of those street signs. (And I have more information on them.)

I can offer you, however, a couple of abstract noun street names, including the Vale of Health in Hampstead, which was once marshy land and anything but healthy. According to Volume 9 of A History of the County of Middlesex, “The name the Vale of Health, recorded in 1801, may have originated as a euphemism which was exploited or as a new name invented in a deliberate attempt to change the image of the place.”

By the 19th century the area had become more fashionable; Leigh Hunt lived there and attracted a circle of literary friends including Byron and Shelley. DH Lawrence lived in the Vale, as did Edgar Wallace.

Building in the Vale was halted towards the end of the 19th century when the 1871 Act for the Preservation of the Heath decreed that development in the Vale could not encroach on the heath.

From health to love, or something like it: there is a Love Lane near London Wall, which – is so called, John Stow wrote candidly in his Survey of London, “of wantons.” Bawdy street names were not uncommon in early London, and you can read more about them here.

There were once other Love Lanes in the City of London (and there is still one in Greenwich), and a more innocent connotation was that the name referred to a sort of lovers’ lane where courting couples used to stroll.

Worship Street (one known as Hog Lane), has a name that, technically, is nothing to do with worship. There was once a merchant tailor called John Worshop who owned over six acres of land in the area. It is likely that the street was named for him, and then corrupted to its present form. Happily, though, the street contained an old foundry once used as a place of worship by John Wesley.

There is a Retreat Place in Hackney, which takes its name from almshouses. In 1812 Samuel Robinson founded and funded almshouses for twelve poor widows. The houses were called ‘The Widow’s Retreat’ and the street that ran past it was similarly named.

Along those lines, Asylum Road in Peckham takes its name from the Victuallers Asylum, built in the 19th century to aid distressed members of the Victuallers Trade or their wives.

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2 thoughts on “From health and love to worship: London’s abstract noun streets

  1. I have some tenuous connections to two of these. from 1967-1976, I lived in a house at the junction of Love Lane and Knoll Road, in Bexley. Back then, it was in Kent, but is now a London borough.

    On the corner of Asylum Road and Old Kent Road, was a large pub, stretching to the other junction, with Commercial Way. It was called The Kentish Drovers, and was a regular drinking haunt for our group of friends. It is now a restaurant, I believe.

    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Prostitution was simply not tolerated within the City of London but banished to Southwark, or other areas outside its jurisdiction. Maybe it was an elderly John Stow being wistful rather than the “theorists” who prefer a more innocent explanation.

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