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.

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.