Little slices of London's history

From Bayswater to Well Walk: London’s watery streets

This may be repetition but I can’t find this blog other than as an unpublished draft, so let me add this to the new-look website while I plan the next few blog posts.

Jacob’s Well Mews, which takes its name from a local well.

Many of London’s street names come from the water that supplied the city and its inhabitants one way or the other. Bayswater, for instance: the name comes from ‘Bayard’s water’, possibly where a family called Bayard owned a stretch of water, or where they could give their horses water. Nearby streets that follow through on this watery theme include Artesian Road, Conduit Place, and Spring Street.

Brook Street in Mayfair features in a charming 19th-century poem, written by James Smith, which spells out many of London’s misnomers. (The poem was originally published in Rejected Addresses: Or, The New Theatrum Poetarum, an 1812 book of parodies by the James and his brother Horace). In the poem, Smith mentions Brook Street, which is “wanting in water”.

Though the street may have been (and still is) wanting in water, there was a brook: the now underground River Tyburn; it flowed from Tyburn across Piccadilly, leading to the neighbourhood being called Brookfield.

Jacob’s Well Mews in Marylebone was named for a local resident, Jacob Hinde, who also gave his name to nearby Hinde Street; there was a Jacob’s Well tavern at the end of the mews until 1893. The Tyburn river flowed through the area, which is probably where the water for the well came from. It was in a house in this mews that the young Michael Faraday lived.

Marylebone High Street: Marylebone has a water-derived name

Incidentally, the name Marylebone also comes from water. The word ‘burn’ comes from ‘bourne’, or stream, and the Tyburn marked the boundary of Westminster. The area ceased to be called Tyburn when a 15th century church called St Mary Bourne provided a new name. Over the years the name was corrupted to Marylebone.

Lamb’s Conduit Street takes its name from one William Lamb who restored a conduit in the 16th century to bring in fresh water and donated over a hundred pails to poor women.

Puddle Dock, near Blackfriars train station, was once, according to Stow, “a watergate into the Thames, where horses use to water, and therefore being defiled with their trampling, and made puddle, like as also of one Puddle dwelling there, it is called Puddle wharf.”

Water Lane in Stratford, the former location of Trinity House, is the setting for an old Roman bath, popular at one time with visitors to London, and described by Dickens in David Copperfield. There is also a Water Street, between Strand and the Thames, is the only survivor of a number of similarly names streets that led to the river. According to John Strype, who updated Stow’s Survey of London, it was “a Place much pestered with Carts and Carrs, for the bringing of Coals and other Goods from the Wharfs by the Water side.

A Water Lane (which no longer exists) in the City was, in medieval times, called Sporiars Lane and took its name from the spur makers of the time. The name was changed in the 15th century with the erection of a water gate in the lane; 20th century development destroyed the lane completely. 

The watergate of Watergate Walk, just off the Strand, was an extension to York House, originally the London home of the Bishops of Norwich and later the palace of the Archbishop of York. The house was eventually acquired by George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, who had the watergate built by Inigo Jones. Villiers was a favourite of James I; it was the 2nd Duke of Buckingham who gave his name to Of Alley.

Incidentally, Strand is, according to some sources, of Saxon origin, meaning ‘water’s edge’.

And, finally, Well Walk in Hampstead takes its name from the medicinal waters of the area, which was once the health centre of London: in the 18th century it was still very much a rural area and waters from the Chalybeate Springs, for the wealthy Londoners, were every bit as good as those in Bath. Legend has it that the springs arose on the spot where a monk, who was carrying a bottle of the Virgin Mary’s tears, tripped and spilled his precious cargo.

6 responses to “From Bayswater to Well Walk: London’s watery streets”

  1. A Strand is indeed indicative of a ‘water’s edge’, and not a unique name to London of course. Gillingham in Kent has a Strand by the estuary water, currently something of a pleasure park.
    I would add the watery name of Well Street in Hackney, (somwhere I have driven along on many occasions) which is first mentioned as long ago as 1442, and still exists of course.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Thanks, Pete. I’ve missed your insight into at least one of the streets I’ve mentioned! All the best, Elizabeth

  2. Robert Bywater Avatar
    Robert Bywater

    Here are some additions:

    • Bywater Place SE16
    • Bywater Street SW3 (John Le Carrḗ’s “Smiley” “lived” at number 9)

    Both streets are named after ancestors of mine (different ones)

    1. Wow, that’s fascinating! Thank you for sharing that. Of course, how could I forget Smiley? All the best, Elizabeth

    2. From 1985-1997, I lived in a house in Redriff Road, SE16, near Salter Road. It was on the other side of the road to Bywater Place and Lavender Pond, so I know it well.

  3. […] from his many years in London. The most recent post on water connections (you can read that here) sparked the following input from […]

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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