From Deadman to Paradise: walks in London street names

Walking has been featuring quite a prominently in my life lately, so I thought I would have a  look at some of London’s streets that are a ‘walk’ rather than a ‘street’. Or a road. Or a lane… that could be a post for another time. I’d never noticed before but a high proportion of these are in Chelsea.

Birdcage Walk, the location of a royal aviary and of a murder, features in the recent In the recent women in London street names post, which you can read here.

Deadman’s Walk was once the nickname for Amen Court; at the back of the court was part of a Roman wall that formed the boundary of Newgate prison’s graveyard. Amen Court was the path leading to the graveyard.

Cactus Walk in Acton (or is it White City?) is a fine example of the seemingly arbitrary method of naming streets. Just south of the A40 Westway from Cactus Walk, there is a cluster of streets that are named after plants of various kinds, including the less than comforting Hemlock Road. Others include Byrony Road, Daffodil Road, Foxglove Street, Lilac Street, Old Oak Road, Orchid Street, Primula Street, Wallflower Street, and Yew Tree Road.

(I had to look up ‘byrony’ too: it is a genus of flowering plant in the gourd family, native to western Eurasia rather than western London. But then again, the cactus is native to the Americas rather than western London.)

Cheyne Walk in Chelsea takes its name from Charles Cheyne, First Viscount Newhaven, who bought the manor of Chelsea in 1657. His son, William Cheyne, later laid out Cheyne Walk and Cheyne Row. Famous residents of the walk have included JMW Turner, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskill, Sylvia Pankhurst, Henry James, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Flask Walk in Hampstead takes its name from the fact that the area was once the health centre of London. In the 18th century it was still very much a rural area and waters from the chalybeate springs there were every bit as good as those in Bath. Flasks were filled and sold in Flask Walk, by permission of the trustees of the springs.

Flower and Dean Walk featured in a recent post on London’s murder streets. Flower and Dean Street, just off Brick Lane, no longer exists, but there is now a Flower and Dean Walk. The street was at the heart of the Jack the Ripper activities and it was, and is, considered to be where the Ripper may have lived.

Friendship Walk in Northolt takes its name from an aircraft (the Fokker F27 Friendship); appropriate in view of its proximity to Northolt and Heathrow airport.

Justice Walk in Chelsea was once a leafy avenue lined with trees, and Justice of the Peace Mr John Gregory was said to have taken his perambulations there. This is the less plausible theory, and it is more likely that the Justice referred to is Sir John Fielding, magistrate and brother of Henry Fielding.

Paradise Walk in Chelsea was not always heavenly by nature: the name ‘paradise’ was often used for an enclosed garden or burial ground. In the latter half of the 19th century, the area was a dismal slum, with more than one family often crammed into small houses. Oscar Wilde, who lived in the area and had a window that overlooked the walk, hid the view with a screen.

Quaggy Walk in Blackheath takes its name from the Quaggy River, which flows nearby and was so called because it moved sluggishly (as opposed to the Fleet River. Rivers provided boundaries for ecclesiastical property in Saxon times and the Quaggy was part of the bounds of the Manor of Bankhurst.

Sans Walk in Clerkenwell is not ‘without” anything in particular, French or otherwise. This little passage was named in 1893 to honour Edward Sans, the oldest vestryman in the Finsbury Vestry. There was also a Sergeant Sans in the 39th Regiment of the Finsbury Rifle Corps. Earlier names were Short’s Buildings and Daggs Yard.

Swan Walk, also in Chelsea, takes its name from a tavern sign; the swan was a common sign for inns, partly because it featured on Henry IV’s coat of arms, and it was especially popular for waterside inns. This Chelsea inn was a common gathering ground for the fashionable set of 17th-century London, of whom Samuel Pepys was one. The Swan was also the finishing post for the famous Doggett Coat and Badge race – the oldest annually contested event in the British sporting calendar.

Watergate Walk, just off the Strand, was an extension to York House, originally the London home of the Bishops of Norwich and later the palace of the Archbishop of York. The house was eventually acquired by George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, who had the watergate built by Inigo Jones.

Well Walk in Hampstead is named for the same reason as Flask Walk: the chalybeate springs there. Legend has it that the springs arose on the spot where a monk, who was carrying a bottle of the Virgin Mary’s tears, tripped and spilled his precious cargo.

Wilder Walk in Soho is so named, according to Westminster City Council, which approved the name in 2010, “The naming of a newly constructed pedestrian walkway as ‘Wilder Walk’ is a fitting tribute to the contribution and service provided by the late Ian Wilder to the West End community in his capacity as a West End Ward Councillor.”

Winchester Walk takes its name from Winchester House, formerly the London house of the Bishop of Winchester. Many shops used as brothels were leased from the Bishops of Winchester, and the working women therein were known as ‘Winchester Geese’.

Oh, yes: the reason walking is featuring so heavily in my life just now is because I am taking on the September Wye Valley Mighty Hike (a 26-mile hike) in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and in memory of my cousin. It is for a very good cause, so if anyone wants to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here.

 

A tribute to Gene Wilder with wild street names

Gene WilderWe interrupt this programme, which should be carrying on with London’s culinary street names, to pay tribute to the great Gene Wilder, of whose passing I read with immense sorrow last night.

Everyone seems to say ‘Willie Wonka’ when you mention his name but I loved him for being Leo Bloom and Frederick (“It’s pronounced Fronkensteen”) Frankenstein. And I was fortunate enough to see him on stage in the West End back in the late 90s.

So what better way to pay my own humble tribute than to throw out a few (tenuously) linked street names?

WIlder 3We can start with a fairly straightforward connection and Wilder Walk in Soho. According to Westminster City Council, which approved the name in 2010, “The naming of a newly constructed pedestrian walkway as ‘Wilder Walk’ is a fitting tribute to the contribution and service provided by the late Ian Wilder to the West End community in his capacity as a West End Ward Councillor.”

Wild Court cropOther than that I can only come up with a couple of others, including Wild Street and Wild Court near Drury Lane. This name is a corruption of Weld, and refers to the wealthy Humphrey Weld who, in the 17th century, had an elaborate mansion in the area. The house had its own chapel and extensive library and, at the time of its construction, enjoyed splendid isolation in what is now the Covent Garden and theatre area. At the time, what later became Wild Street was only a track leading to Weld’s house.

And then, to end a tribute to a comic genius on something of a comic note, there is a Wild Goose Drive in south east London. Finding an explanation for this name is, in itself, something of a wild goose chase. Although the term ‘wild goose chase’ now means a fruitless or absurd mission, it originally implied an erratic course. The drive is indeed, not straight, which may have suggested the name.

The expression itself could have either have stemmed from the fact that wild geese are difficult to catch or from an old game, a horseback form of ‘follow the leader’. In this game, two riders and their horses started off together; the rider who established the lead then set the path and the pace, and the other was obliged to follow.

Back to culinary street names next time.

Rest in peace, Gene Wilder.