Excuse the blatant self-promotion for a moment, but I’ve just published another book. As the cover blurb says, “An absolute must for anyone interested in the history of East London or who is exploring their East London ancestry – a comprehensive dictionary of the lost streets, roads, alleys, lanes, public houses, blocks of flats, places of worship, schools, hospitals, docks, wharves and other places of note. Find out where it was and/or how it was renamed, with more than seven thousand entries covering centuries of East London’s past.” It’s available from Amazon at:
This is the introduction….
In terms of the long history of London, the East End is a relatively new place. Take a look at a map of London in, say, 1600, and the area to east of the City walls is mostly farmland, punctuated with the odd village, such as Stepney, Poplar or Bow, connected by country lanes. In 1700, the area immediately outside of the walls had seen some development (Spitalfields, Goodmans Yard, for example) as had a strip of land along the river, but still there was nothing that could be described as East London.
By the end of the 1700s, however, the Industrial Revolution had caused an explosive growth in industry and house building, London spilled out of its old borders (from a population of 1 million in 1800 to more than 6 million in 1900), and East London was a fact.
Until the 19th century there were few rules regarding how places and streets should be named or spelled; the names developed organically and according to popular, local convention. The Metropolitan Board of Works, established in the mid-19th century sought to bring order to this situation. Not only did they take official responsibility for new names, they also carried out an extensive renaming, in order to facilitate their administration of London and to support accurate delivery of post by the General Post Office.
Fifty years later, much of the administration was delegated to newly-formed borough councils who mostly endeavoured to make sure that ‘their’ street names were unique and easily located. When, for example, a council was confronted with four of five separate Cross Streets within its area, it would likely rename four of them. When widening roads, or creating major new routes, it made sense to amalgamate multiple, differently-named road sections into one (take The Highway as an example, whose original names are mentioned later in this chapter).
A further, major influence on London street names was World War II, which caused the obliteration of many streets, with large numbers being buried under new council estates during the post-war rebuilding.
The frequent name-changing is a challenge to an avid family tree researcher and amateur historian like myself, and I am always interested in (old) documents which allow me to better identify the location of old addresses or buildings. Among the useful publications I have come across is “Lockie’s Topography of London” by John Lockie, published in 1810. Lockie spent seven years preparing the book, which he created for the insurers Phoenix Fire-Office off Lombard Street, for whom he was the Inspector of Buildings.
The topography accurately describes itself as providing “a concise local description of, and accurate direction to, every square, street, lane, court, dock, wharf, inn, public-office, &c. in the metropolis and its environs, including the new buildings to the present time, upon a plan never hitherto attempted.” The descriptions are short, clear, and indeed accurate; it takes little effort to identify the present-day location.
In the decades that followed its publication, books in a similar vein were published, including “A Topographical Dictionary of London and its Environs” by James Elmes, published in 1831. Elmes was born in Greenwich and was an architect of some note, as is apparent from his ample architectural descriptions of many of the buildings. Although not as comprehensive as Lockie’s Topography (nor did it claim to be), it was a welcome addition to my reference “library”. Both works are abundantly quoted in this book.
After finding other books of the same ilk, I started to think about combining them all, along with the readily-available street name change information on the internet, to provide myself with a handy list of everything in one place. I wasn’t planning to publish a book, it was meant to be for just my own use. The idea of making a book from it grew gradually, along with my realisation that it could be of use to other people too. I also thought I’d be finished in a few weeks.
That was 18 months ago! Once I had started, there seemed no end to it, apart from the obvious geographical boundaries. Mind you, the earliest drafts also included what is now Newham and Stratford and the north half of Hackney, before I decided that it was just too much (and also because these areas have seen nothing like the extent of the changes by areas clser to the City).
I would not dare to state that the end result is complete and comprehensive, there is always new research and information cropping up from somewhere, but in the same way that I drew geographical lines as a practical necessity, the law of diminishing returns meant calling an end to the research after much longer than the ‘few weeks’ I had in mind. Oh to have had Lockie’s seven years’ research time.
And here are some extracts….
There’s even an entry for ‘X’ 🙂