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  • Writer's pictureCarol Harris

The Names of the Roads

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

Brockley Green from the 1746 map by John Roque

In medieval times, main highways were often known by where they led to. The part of a highway within the town or village would become the High Street. Larger settlements had side streets, often named after local features or destinations such as Church Street, Castle Street, Market Street, Forest Road. Ivy Road is a local example.

A sixteenth century map shows only three highways in Brockley/Crofton Park: Ivy Road, Brockley Road, called ‘Brockley Lane also Croydon Lane’, and Brockley Grove/Ladywell Road, also called, confusingly, Brockley Lane. Repetition was common – most travellers were local and knew the routes and roads to take.

The huge expansion of towns and cities during the Industrial Revolution; the Penny Postal service, which began in 1841, and the growth of literacy in the late nineteenth century meant millions of people communicated nationally by letters and postcards. Soon a coordinated system of road names was needed. Local authorities were given powers to rename existing roads and to veto proposed names for new roads.

Crofton Park was one of the suburbs created by the rapid growth of London at the end of the nineteenth century. In September 1882, the Kentish Mercury told readers, ‘A new estate, known as the Woolmore Estate, situate between the Brockley Jack, Brockley-road, and the Freeholds, Forest-Hill, is being laid out for building purposes, the roads on which have already been marked out, and will be known as Stoneden Park (sic), Court Rai-road (sic), Padbury-street, Holmesley-road, Tatnell-street, Riseldine-street, Gabriel-street, Kilgour-street, Honor Oak Park, Wyleu-street, and Maclean-street.’ Unusual names often led to strange spellings.

The centre of Crofton Park in the late 19th century: Marnock Road was known as Ludlam Road

At first, houses were named rather than numbered. Local maps show these houses sitting on plots a long way apart. Some still bear names cast into lintels, door arches, or on plates by the door, such as Arrabin House (sic) and Boundary House in Brockley Road, Martindale in Brockley Grove, and Zetland Villas in Brockley Rise. As more houses and shops were built, filling in the gaps, numbers were more practical than names but this too caused confusion. A document dated 1895 refers to ‘premises formerly known as No 254 but then as No 252 and now known as No 256 Brockley Road.’

The London County Council, created in 1889, soon brought in rules to prevent repetition in road names across the capital. Renumbering was banned too, which is why houses built later than others in a road have numbers ending in ‘A’.

The new names were not always appreciated; in April 1899, the London Daily Telegraph & Courier reported that ‘Some amusement was caused at a meeting of the Lewisham Board of Works, when the following list of names of new thoroughfares was read by the chairman: Phoebeth, Francemary, Arthurdon, Gordonbrock, Amyruth, Henryson, Elsiemaud, Huxbear, and Abbottswell streets. One member described the names as the most ridiculous he had ever heard. Another pointed out that the London County Council objected to two streets of the same name in the Metropolis, and it was difficult to invent new appellations.’

The ‘double-name’ roads off Brockley Grove and Ladywell Road were named after the children of the architect and surveyor, Henry Hewitt Bridgman.

Old roads, including the various Brockley Lanes, were also renamed, inevitably causing confusion and complaints. On 10 June 1898, the Kentish Mercury reported, ‘The London County Council forwarded sealed orders renaming Brockley-lane "Brockley-grove" Mr. Trotter said Brockley-lane had been renamed twice in two years; first it was Ladywell-lane, then Brockley lane, and now it was Brockley-grove, which had caused considerable inconvenience.’

The first issue of the London A-Z, in 1938, had a 31-page section devoted to road name changes. Local names among the 2000 listed included Abbotswell Street, which became Abottswell Road; Adelaide Road changed to Adelaide Avenue, and Ludlam Road, which was re-named Marnock Road.

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