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Just call it street cred
SO what do furniture dealer’s wife Mary Grove, Athena the Greek goddess of war, Wembley Stadium, brewer John Sheppard and railway signalman Tom Cannon have in common?
It is a legacy shared by publican’s daughter Florence Whitehead, Ghana’s River Volta, Nepalese mountaineer Tenzing Norgay and London’s crustily exclusive Carlton Club.
In Swindon they have all gained an immortality of sorts by having streets named after them.
Street names, as historians Peter Sheldon and Richard Tomkins point out, give us “valuable clues to the way of life of the generations that have gone before us: their trades, their beliefs, their political allegiances and their personal fancies.”
Their book Roadways – The History of Swindon’s Street Names (1979) goes on: “The often heard statement that ‘history is all around you’ rings especially true in the realm of street names.
“The old blue and white enamelled and latterly black and white metalled signs can reveal to the passer-by a wealth of interesting and sometimes unusual facts and stories.”
The names of Swindon’s oldest streets offer a rare glimpse into the hazy past of our sprawling, ever-expanding town during its nascent era as a rural backwater.
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bathingsolutions.co.uk/Showers Amateur Radio PS on Sale New Product Introductory Sale, 40% off on HAM equip. power supply www.amperorassociates.co.uk First recorded in 1242 the manor of Broom, which later becomes Broome Manor Lane, takes its moniker from the thorny “broom” shrubs that grow there.
Wood Street – one of our oldest thoroughfares – houses a timber yard during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Newport Street, circa 1346, is Nyweport Street – meaning “new market.” Day House Lane derives from “dairy house;” Kingshill Road acknowledges medieval bigwig Robert le Kyng. Basically, it is Kyng’s hill.
You think Swindon first becomes an overspill zone to alleviate London’s cluttered suburbs in the 20th Century? Around 150 years earlier Little London is created to accommodate a growing number of Cockneys heading West.
The steep track where drovers lead their sheep to market officially becomes Drove Road in 1867.
How about this for lateral thinking. The 18th Century Modern Universal British Traveller records that the village of Swindon commands a “delightful prospect over several parts of Berkshire.” Hence, Prospect Place. I know, he must have had great eye-sight.
The Planks becomes so flooded on rainy days that a raised stone causeway is built so that people can reach the now ruined Holy Rood church without tramping mud everywhere.
The name is derived from “plank or plankstone” – the old Wiltshire word for flagstone.
Do London’s newspaper barons influence the naming of our own Fleet Street in the 1860s? Nope. In the 1600s the original muddy track there is known as “le flet” an old English word for stream.
Streets galore spring up in the wake of the GWR works in the 1840s; incredibly many are named on the whims, fancies and egos of those who built them.
Brewer John Sheppard insists that the street created on the farm he has sold to developers bears his name (Sheppard Street – 1873) as does John Street (1870s.) Whitehead Street (1892) is modestly named by builder George Whitehead after his good self. His wife Beatrice (1899) and daughter Florence (1894) are afforded similar accolades.
Developers including Charles Thomas (1884) James Hinton (1890) George Crombey (1891), George Kembrey (1907) and AJ Colbourne (1902) emphasise their importance by naming roads after themselves.
Furniture salesman turned developer William Hunter leaves us Hunter’s Grove (1904) as a lasting tribute to his own eminence. St Mary’s Grove (1899) is christened after his wife.
The founder of Swindon’s first department store, Levi Morse, initiates several street building schemes; one bears his name (1892) while others recall his wife Winifred (1900) and daughter Evelyn (1904).
No less than 38 streets are named after local developers during Swindon’s late 19th Century building boom. They build ’em and they name ’em with no recourse to anyone.
Some even bear the names of now obscure politicians that developers sympathise with: for example, Bright Street (1884) after Victorian radical John Bright.
GWR movers and shakers (Armstrong, Churchward, Gooch, Collett) are duly rewarded with street names. Brunel Street (1867) is flattened in 1970 to make way for… the Brunel shopping centre.
But how come lowly signalman Tom Cannon has a street named in his honour? Because his is the first house built in Cannon Street (1879.) Ditto GWR foreman Walter Hunt (1895.) Giants of art and literature are recognised: Constable Road (1959) Byron Street (1873) Marlowe Avenue (1956), Tennyson Street (1895) Shelley Street (1906) etc.
Eminent novelist and playwright JB Priestley calls at Swindon in 1933 and reports: “The main street, which was a poor thing, filled with cheap shops and sixpenny bazaars.” No Priestley Parade then… not even an Angel Pavement.
Upmarket Carlton Gate (1975) is thus named because it is fancifully styled in the Regency architecture of that bastion of Conservative exclusivity, the Carlton Club. Regent Circus (1890) also doffs a hat to its famous London namesake. Unbelievably, it is initially set to be called Trafalgar Square but common sense prevails.
Several fine greywethers are unearthed during the development of houses near Lawn Lakes. Greywether is the Wiltshire name for a sarsen stone – hence Greywethers Avenue (1938.) Some choices are plain weird: Elmina Road, Gambia, Lagos and Volta Streets take their cue from West African coastal towns. Athena Avenue (1970s), the Greek goddess of war. Maybe she once paid Swindon a visit.
Bothwell Road (1958) name-checks the Earl of Bothwell, third husband of Mary Queen of Scots. Why? I think we should know.
Eccentrically-named members of Swindon’s former lords and masters the Goddard family are well represented: Ambrose, Pleydell, Fitzroy, Lethbridge, Hesketh.
Nelson Street (1897) is a tough one. Does it refer to Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, Victor of Trafalgar, Saviour of the Nation, or does it pay homage to the marginally less renowned Swindon builder Nelson Slade?
We’ll probably never know.
What's in a name?
- Beauchamp Close (mid 1940s) – Margaret Beauchamp, Lady of Lydiard Manor
- Belmont Crescent (1908) – “beautiful hill,” Swindon’s first crescent
- Buller Street (1901) – General Redvers Buller who relieves Ladysmith during the Boer War
- Cheney Manor Road (1929) – Lord of Rodbourne Manor, Ralph le Chanu
- Deacon Street (1891) – Jeweller Hubert Deacon of Swindon’s oldest surviving shop.
- Deburgh Street (1902) – Boer War colonel Ulick de Burgh
- Gypsy Lane (1884) – a popular haunt for 19th Century travellers
- Howard Close (1959) – Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s 5th wife
- Omdurman Street (1899) – a battle fought in the Sudan
- Roman Crescent (1958) – the site of a Roman villa
- Hillary Close (1954) – Sir Edmund Hillary, first man to climb Everest
- Tenzing Gardens (1954) – he couldn’t have done it without Tenzing Norgay
- Wembley Street (1926) – the new Wembley Stadium
- Fleming Way (1858) – the great Swindon footballer Harold Fleming. How about a Rogers Road then?
- Jubilee Road (1950) – golden anniversary of the incorporation of New and Old Swindon in 1900.
- The Weavers (1978) – the site of a Dark Ages weaving industry
- Edward VII’s son Prince Albert, the Duke of Clarence has two streets named after him: Clarence Street (1893) and Princes Street (1876)
- In later years themes emerge on new estates: Moredon goes for holiday resorts; Park South and The Lawns honour GWR Hall and Castle class locos; English villages and towns are adopted in Penhill and Park North; Pinehurst goes for British trees; the avenues and closes of Greenmeadow take the names of English rivers.