Hidden and not-so-hidden gems of London street names

But first, a big thank you to my blogmate Pete, blogger supreme – check him out at beetleypete.com, who has made a generous sponsorship pledge for my Wye Valley Mighty Hike in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and in memory of my cousin.

Yesterday’s post was green-themed to fit in with the Macmillan colour scheme, and one of the streets was Emerald Street, once called Green Street and renamed. I mentioned at the time that there are other precious stone London street names, so today let’s look at a few.

Following on from Emerald Street, renamed because of a plethora of Green Streets, we have Diamond Street in south London. One theory for this name is that the street forms one side of a small ‘square’ that could be considered roughly diamond-shaped.

There was once, evidently, another Diamond Street, built in 1890. This was, intriguingly, given its name because the plumber who built it was able to do so because of a diamond – however, any details of the plumber and his diamond have been lost in the mists of time. Maybe there is some connection with the Flanders and Swann song ‘Down Below’ about Hatton Garden in which a sewer worker says:

Hatton Garden is the spot, down below
Where we likes to go a lot, down below,
Since a bloke from Leather Lane,
Dropped a diamond down the drain

Ruby Street, also in south London, has a name that is unrelated to precious stones. This is believed to have been named after Ruby Hahn, the daughter of the area’s landlord.

Garnet Street in Wapping, despite its current name, started off nothing like precious stones. The street was originally called New Gravel Lane and the present Wapping Street was Old Gravel Lane because they were part of the routes for carrying sand and gravel inland from the riverside. The name was changed to honour Thomas Garnett, an ordained priest who was suspected of involvement in the Gunpowder Plot.

Other gemstone names, the derivation of which I confess to being ignorant, include Agate Road, Amethyst Road, Coral Street, Crystal Terrace, Opal Street, and Sapphire Road. If anyone can pass on any information about these names, I’d be most grateful.

If you want to sponsor me for the Wye Valley Mighty Hike, my fundraising page is http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Elizabeth-Steynor.

London’s shape streets: from Acre Lane to Kensington Gore

Recently I did a ‘size matters’ theme of London street names – more length than size, actually, which included Long Acre. As I sat here today mentally chaining myself to my computer (I will get this licked into shape so it is a publishable book) I thought, ‘what about Acre Lane?’ And are there other area-related streets, I wondered. There are certainly many shape-related streets, of which this is one.

The derivation of the name is uncertain but it could have indicated the size or shape of a particular plot of land upon which the lane now stands.

In any case, it is also one of the many streets of London with a gruesome past.

On 9 May 1923, near the junction of Acre Lane and Baytree Road, Jacob Dickey, a taxi driver, was attacked in his cab and shot fatally. The murderer escaped by leaping over a fence leading to the back gardens of the Acre Lane houses and forcing his way through one of those houses into the street. An unusual walking stick left by the body eventually led police to an Alexander Mason, though evidence against him was less than watertight.

Another death associated with the lane is that of William Jones; his late wife’s niece Elizabeth Vickers lived with him as a housekeeper. Vickers was apparently prone to drink and to beating Jones, who eventually died from one such attack. A bequest of £1,000 in the old man’s will was considered to be a sufficient motive for murder, but at trial Vickers was found not guilty.

(Incidentally, I overlooked Baytree Road in the post on tree-related street names. It takes its name from a house that was called Baytrees, presumably because there were some.)

Streets that take their name from size or shape include (apart from Long Acre and Acre Lane) Bow Street, Diamond Street, and Turnagain Lane, to mention but a few. These have all been covered elsewhere in this blog, but in brief:

Bow Street was built in 1637 and given its name because it looked like a bent bow. (Bow Lane has nothing to do with its shape: the church was originally called St Mary de Arcubus from the arches upon which it was built.)

Diamond Street could take its name from the fact that it forms one side of a small ‘square’ that could be considered roughly diamond-shaped.

Turnagain Lane was once called ‘Windagain Lane’ according to that font of knowledge John Stow, because “it goeth down west to Fleet dike, from whence men must turn again the same way they came, for there it stopped”.

There was also once an Elbow Lane which, like Turnagain Lane, was a street that ran west and then suddenly turned south and, according to Stow, was “therefore of that bending called Elbow Lane”.

I know I joke about tenuous links but even I would go so far as to include names that are [Something] Cresent, [Something] Square or [Something] Circle, but there is a Triangle Place not that far from Acre Lane.

Triangles take us to Kensington Gore and Gore Street. The word ‘gore’ in this case is innocent of anything gruesome. It comes from the Old English word ‘gara’, which was a triangular piece of land left after irregularly shaped fields had been ploughed.

Happily, there is blood involved, albeit indirectly, in a name crying out for it: a retired British pharmacist, John Tinegate, used to make fake blood for the stage and screen and it was trademarked Kensington Gore. The term has now become a generic term for fake blood.

And, finally, there is The Square in Hammersmith (which is in the shape of a square) and Pentagram Yard in Bayswater, but I have no idea where that name came from.