London’s Australia streets: from Batman Close to Sydney Street

On Australia Day it makes sense to look at a couple of streets with (mostly tenuous, what else?) connections with Australia, starting with Batman Close in White City. It is named for John Batman, the Australian who founded a settlement on the River Yarra; that settlement later became the city of Melbourne.

Australia Road is nearby, and there is a Melbourne Place off the Strand, presumably so named because it is the centre for the Australian government and business centres. Melbourne Grove in Dulwich, on the other hand, takes its name from a group of Derbyshire place names. Sydney Street in Chelsea off the King’s Road (and Sydney Place) are named for Viscount Sydney.

These and other streets were part of a 84-acre site left in trust in 1627 by Alderman Henry Smith of the City of London for “the relief and ransom of poor captives being slaves under Turkish pirates”. The trustees of the estate, largely aristocratic, named many of the streets after themselves.

There is also a Sidney Street (yes, that’s cheating as is is spelled differently), and that was the scene of the Sidney Street riots, during which Winston Churchill, Home Secretary of the time, narrowly missed being shot.

Speaking of Churchill, two days ago marked the anniversary of his death at his house in Kensington Gore, marked by a blue plaque. This comes from nothing gruesome, but from the Old English word ‘gara’, which was a triangular piece of land left after irregularly shaped fields had been ploughed.

Triangles notwithstanding, a retired British pharmacist, John Tinegate, used to make fake blood for the stage and screen; it was later trademarked Kensington Gore and that became a generic term for fake blood.

Nothing to do with Australia, but on this day in 1926, Scottish engineer and inventor John Logie Baird demonstrated the first working television system in a laboratory in Soho’s Frith Street. The street takes its name from 17th-century property developer Richard Frith.

The name Soho itself is generally accepted to have come from an ancient hunting cry; apparently ‘tally ho!’ is the cry when a fox breaks cover and ‘soho!’ is when huntsmen uncouple the dogs.

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