London’s space streets: Comet Street to Mercury Way

Half Moon Street 2I heard on the radio that Friday was National Space Day, which is observed annually on the first Friday in May and is dedicated to the extraordinary achievements, benefits and opportunities in the exploration and use of space. How better to commemorate it in my own little way than look for space-related street names?

Comet Street in southeast London and Meteor Street in southwest London are, in fact, nothing to do with astronomical phenomena: they take their names from types of aircraft. According to Wikipedia, the de Havilland DH 106 Comet was the world’s first production commercial jetliner and the Gloster Meteor was the first British jet fighter and the Allies’ only operational jet aircraft during the Second World War.

Half Moon Street has been covered quite a bit in this blog, particularly in light of two of its more notable residents: the admirable and courageous Fanny Burney and the scandalous Lola Montez. The street, which was built in 1730, takes its name from an old ale house that stood at the corner.

Although not quite as common as the sun, the moon is used in many tavern signs. The half moon could be representative of the Virgin Mary: a crescent moon is sometimes shown under her feet in pictures of the Assumption.

Man in Moon PassageMan in Moon Passage is yet another of those wonderful London street names that probably derives from an inn sign. People all over the world have been looking at the man in the moon for a very long time, and on the inn signs he is often depicted with a bundle of sticks, a lantern, and a dog.

Seven Sisters Road in Finsbury Square takes its name from a tavern called the Seven Sisters. The tavern, in turn, commemorated the fact that a circle of trees with a walnut tree in the centre once stood in front of it. The trees, removed in the 1840s, were supposed to have dated back to around the 14th century, planted on the spot where a martyr had been burned.

Or, according to Hector Bolitho and Derek Peel in Without the City Walls, “It is a pity that we have no more than the misty legend, of a merchant in the late 17th or early 18th century who planted seven elms on Page Green, one for each of his seven daughters.”

Space connection: ‘Seven Sisters’ refers to many things, most notably a star cluster called the Pleiades. These were named after the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione.

EAS_4122Sun Street Passage, alongside Liverpool Street Station, marks the location of a Sun Street that took its name from a tavern recorded as early as 1650 and was obliterated by the station. There is now a Sun Street nearby off Finsbury Park. Sun Court near Cornhill also takes its name from a tavern.

There are various Star streets, yards and alleys; Star Yard near Chancery Lane takes its name, according to Gillian Bobbington in Street Names of London, from a Starre tavern that was mentioned “in the earliest surviving Licensed Victuallers records”.

There is also a Mercury Way in southeast London, though I can’t find either the derivation of that name, or any other planets that are commemorated in street names.

London’s number streets: from Four Dials to Twelvetrees Crescent

We left off our numbers post from one to three with quite a few ‘three’ streets, but the other numbers are not as much in evidence. And I regret to say that of many of the ones I have found, the name is the only piece of information I have.

Four Seasons Close in Tower Hamlets, for instance, near the Blackwall Tunnel, is near Redwood Close and Primrose Close, so maybe there is some kind of tenuous horticultural connection.

There is a small lane called Five Acre in north west London, which leads off Lanacre Avenue and is near a North Acre and South Acre. ‘Acre’ in names often designates a street near to, for instance, a farm with ‘acre’ in its name. Presumably that bears some relation to both this name and to Forty Acre Lane in Canning Town.

Fives Court in Southwark is, apparently, a relatively new name, the derivation of which is still a mystery. Unless it’s something to do with ‘fives’ –a handball game that is played on a court.

Also a bit of a mystery is Five Bell Alley, which leads off Three Colt Street, a fairly major road in the Limehouse Area (and near to the alarmingly named Grenade Street). Presumably it takes its name from a tavern, Five Bells being not uncommon in pub names in nautical terms it means 2:30pm – once pub closing time.

There are quite a few ‘sevens’ in London: Seven Dials, Seven Sea Gardens, Seven Sisters Road, and Seven Stars Yard. Seven Sea Gardens in east London is part of a residential complex on Caspian Wharf, so presumably that accounts for the maritime name. Seven Stars was also a popular tavern name, usually represented either by a plough or by the Plough (or Big Dipper) constellation, which consists of seven stars. There is a Seven Stars pub in Holborn, which is one of the pubs purporting to be London’s oldest.

Seven Dials, which has been covered before in this blog, was an early exercise in town planning (and possibly getting it wrong). In the 17th century the Master of the Royal Mint, Sir Thomas Neale, planned seven streets radiating from a central point where there was a column with a sun dial on each face. However, the column had only six faces.

Some say the seventh ‘dial’ comes from the column itself; others that the column was commissioned before a change of plan meant there were seven streets instead of six.

Seven Sisters Road and Nine Elms Lane, have been covered in the earlier tree-themed post. Seven Sisters Road south of Finsbury Park takes its name from a tavern called the Seven Sisters. The tavern, in turn, commemorated the fact that, in front of it, stood a circle of elm trees with a walnut tree in the centre. The trees, removed in the 1840s, were supposed to have dated back to around the 14th century, planted on the spot where a martyr had been burned.

Nine Elms Lane, now a major road rather than a lane, runs on the south bank of the Thames and past the New Covent Garden market. It was, however once a country lane that did run past nine elm trees.

Twelvetrees Crescent in Bow is hardly a crescent – being, as it is, a fairly large road that spans the River Lea, but perhaps it was once in a rural area with lots of trees.

Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park

Departing from our Moonwalk London 2014 theme, and looking northwards in honour of the late and great Bob Hoskins, who passed away today at the age of 71. Hoskins, who was born in Suffolk, was brought up in Finsbury Park from the time he was two weeks old.

A major road that runs south of Finsbury Park is Seven Sisters Road. The name comes from a tavern called the Seven Sisters, which in turn commemorated the fact that, in front of it, stood a circle of elm trees with a walnut tree in the centre. The trees, removed in the 1840s, were supposed to have dated back to around the 14th century, planted on the spot where a martyr had been burned.

‘Seven Sisters’ refers to many things, most notably the Pleiades, who were the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione; a star cluster was named after them. There is a series of chalk cliffs, called the Seven Sisters, which forms part of the South Downs in East Sussex.

The term is used for a loose association of seven US liberal arts colleges, historically women’s colleges: Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley. Finally, ‘Seven Sisters’ is said to refer to a set of cannons used in the Battle of Flodden, a 16th-century conflict between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland.