Update on London’s number streets from One Tree Hill to Three Mill Lane

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.

Grotto Passage: shells, schools, and Jezebels

Here’s one of the London street names that is exactly what it sounds like: Grotto Passage in Marylebone is named for a grotto and is the 18th-century testament to one man’s enduring passion. John Castle, or Castles, a creative artist who used shells as his medium, presented George II with the king’s arms in shell work and received a Royal Acknowledgement for his pains.He was later invited by Sir Robert Walpole to construct a grotto in the Royal hospital garden at Chelsea and his fame grew.

Castle built his own grotto on one and a half acres of land near Moxon Street (Grotto Passage stands on the original site) and people flocked to see his intricate shell designs housed in tents and sheds. In 1748 one newspaper reported, “At Marybon is to be seen, Castle’s great and inimitable GROTTO, or SHELL-WORK, so much admired by the Curious”.

The Grotto also offered meals and various entertainment and even attracted members of the royal family – leading Castle to call it the ‘Royal Grotto’ and to raise the entrance fee from one shilling to half a crown. According to one 19th-century London historian, it was an ““Exhibition of Shell-work, called the Great Grotto, the property of one John Castles, who died in 1757; the ingenuity of this artist appears to have been duly appreciated by the Public, his Exhibition have been a celebrated place of fashionable resort.”

Castle died in 1757 and the Grotto was never the same afterwards; it closed finally in 1759 and was built over, but at least its name lives on in the passage and also on the name of a school carved into a wall in the passage: The Grotto Ragged and Industrial Schools.

The school was established in 1845, part of the 19th-century movement of ragged schools, charitable organisations dedicated to the free education of destitute children. A report on the school paints a vivid portrait of what the area was like in the Victorian age, pointing a particularly disapproving finger at the oldest profession.

“The district selected by the founders for their beneficent efforts is notoriously one of the most debased spots of London. The nest of courts midst which it is planted form an oblong square, so flanked by the residences of the aristocracy that a stone’s- throw suffices to divide the homes of penury from the halls of luxury. In no part of London does the “great social evil,” as it has been aptly termed, form a more prominent feature—the only distinction being that, whilst the reveller of the Haymarket flaunts in silk and satin, with brandied-eye and rouge-cheek, the wretched tenants of this place are too poor to disguise their vice, or too degraded to seek to hide their occupation, Jezebel like, by paint.”