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.