Tag Archives: London streets

Europe’s smallest crescent

Keystone Crescent, just a few minutes walk from King’s Cross, reputedly has the smallest radius of any crescent in Europe, and is unique in having a matching inner and outer circle.

This tiny street consisting of only 24 houses is to be found at the southernmost end of Caledonian Road. Robert James Stuckey, whose father was a bricklayer, built the crescent in 1846 and imaginatively called it Caledonian Crescent, its shape was probably chosen to make the most of an unusually shaped site.

The houses would have initially been those of lower/middle class, working families. According to London Living History, in 1851 there were 240 people, of 76 families, living in 22 houses, with many properties rented out by the Stuckey family, with 2A acting as the estate office.

Up until recently, the area has had a reputation for deprivation and prostitution, and in the early 1900’s Algerton Stuckey, Robert’s grandson wanted to redevelop his investment. The plans fell through, however, he did change the name to Keystone Crescent, presumably to make it sound more appealing. Ninety years later, when the Channel Tunnel was being proposed, a new station was planned next to King’s Cross, this would have involved half of Keystone Crescent being demolished to dig the hole required to build the station.

Researching the history of Keystone Crescent, Jack Chesher from Living London History came across a dramatic story about the Stuckey family:

A stash of letters and personal items belonging to Robert Stuckey was discovered by his descendants under the bed at number 2A. They are generally about everyday occurrences, however also reveal a shocking secret: he had a second family!
Robert first married Hannah Bennewith, with whom he had 7 children. He then married Sarah Culver in 1864, with whom he also had 7 children, this time using the surname ‘James’ (his middle name). Hannah died in 1857 but the letters reveal that the two relationships ran alongside each other. Indeed, Robert’s first child with Sarah (the 2nd wife) had arrived in 1841. Whether Hannah knew she was sharing his affections with another woman is unclear but this was all certainly news to Robert’s descendants.

Bob Stuckey has had the letters transcribed and you can buy them here.

Keystone Crescent, King’s Cross, mid 19th century terraced houses in a crescent just off the Caledonian Road. Grade II listed by Jim Osley (CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of a kind

You know how it is, ordering something online and when ready to enter your address you are invited by the algorithm to start typing.

Now if you live in High Street or Park Road you will have to type much of your address before being able to ‘click’ on your order’s correct destination. For you it’s better to give your postcode, that way there’s only a couple of dozen sharing that six- or seven-digit number.

But here’s a little window on my world, my street has a unique name commemorating if anyone needed reminding, that the second queen to Henry IV died here in 1437. So within five keystrokes, my address pops up. With 360 miles comprising 60,000 streets, surely London must have many similarly uniquely named thoroughfares.

First I tried London’s shortest named street – Hide. Yes! That was unique, nowhere in the UK is there a Hide; Hide Street, Hide Road even the definite article – The Hide.

At the other end of the road-naming scale is St. Martin-in-the-Field Church Path. No prizes for guessing how many of those are to be found in Britain.

What about London’s shortest street – Kirk Street at 50ft long? Here 28 are to be found of various lengths in the UK. London’s longest road at 7.45 miles is Green Lanes, curiously only 8 are to be found, despite its rather seemingly common name. Next, I tried London’s longest street, which is Rotherhithe Street at 1.5 miles in a wide arc just south of the Thames, that one was satisfyingly unique.

The oldest house to found in the City is medieval, having survived the Great Fire of London, and situated in the wonderfully named Cloth Fair, surely fairs of all kinds have taken place in Britain. Nope, just one.

As streets go, at 15 inches wide you have to give it to Brydges Place for the title of London’s narrowest, and the only one of any width, to be found in the UK.

Other unusually named unique streets are:

Crutched Friars, EC3; Bleeding Heart Yard, EC1; Shoulder of Mutton Alley, E14; Hanging Sword Alley, EC4; Trump Street, EC2; St. Mary Axe, EC3; French Ordinary Court, EC3; Wardrobe Place, EC4

And obviously Maggie Blake’s Cause, a short alley near Tower Bridge, is unique.

Top or bottom

Following on from last week’s post, discussing the highs and lows, and giving you an insight to my shortest and longest (journeys that is), we now come to this tricky question: Is a destination at the top or bottom of a street?

If a street actually does, you know, climb a hill then the top is just naturally the top.

Or does top or bottom refer to the street’s numbering?

The British Postal Museum and Archive claim the first recorded instance of a street being numbered is Prescot Street in Goodmans Fields around 1708. Regulation did not take place until 1855 with the passing of the Metropolitan Management Act, by that time there were different numbering systems even in the same street, for example in 1780 Craven Street near Strand had three sets of numbers.

But where does the numbering start?

Odd numbers are usually assigned to the left side of the street and even numbers to the right side, commencing heading out of the town centre from the town hall or other civic building, or even numbers can be placed on the north and west sides and odd numbers on the south and east sides of streets. I hope that clears up some of the confusion.

I was once asked by a customer to go to an annexe of the Chinese Embassy in Portland Place. I asked, quite reasonably I thought, as the road is a dual carriageway, which side of the street is number 66. Her reply the north side, oh dear, the road runs north to south. Now armed with this new information makes the Chinese annexe on the same side as the embassy – possibly.

When asked to go to a destination your passenger expects, quite rightly, to be taken via the shortest route. But when someone does say “I’m at the top of the road”, what do you think they mean?

Portobello Road, with its two postcodes of W10 and W11, is mainly one way (sometimes in different directions) for its entire length of over a mile and travels in an S(E) to N(W) direction, I would think that it’s a no brainer that the Notting Hill end was the bottom, wouldn’t you? After all, that end is its most southern extremity, but, spoiler alert, Notting Hill is on a hill, thus making it the top end. But wait it also starts to rise at its westerly end and is 6ft. higher than Notting Hill.

According to the previously described numbering regulations surely its numbering should start in Notting Hill (nearest to central London), but its located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea whose town hall is directly south of Portobello Road.

Some of you might think this slight nit-picking, or perhaps slightly obsessional, but when your job is to get people as efficiently as possible to their destination, these things really are important.

Incidentally, the numbering of Portobello Road starts at the eastern end at Notting Hill with the odds on the left.

So it would appear, the top of the road has the bottom numbers, with the odds on the left. There I’m glad I’ve cleared that up.

Monopoly Madness

Eighty-five years ago saw the arrival of the first Monopoly game and looking at my pre-war version it would appear that when the selection of properties to include they made, some rather curious choices were decided upon.
The game didn’t reach the shops until 1936, Victor Watson upon seeing his first version on a Friday in December 1935, didn’t waste any time. Prompted by his son he made a trans-Atlantic call (rare at the time) and had signed a deal with Parker Brothers in America to license the game by the end of the weekend.
Over 20 million sets have been sold in Britain. Silk maps were hidden inside Monopoly boards and sent to Allied prisoners, inspiring Get Out Of Jail Free jokes; and once the Great Train Robbers played Monopoly with real stolen notes while holed up in a Buckingham farmhouse.
But back to the rather idiosyncratic choices for my original board.
Why is there an American car with whitewall tyres on Free Parking or a New York policeman instructing me to Go To Jail? And why is Piccadilly’s rent on a par with the cheaper yellows, when it should have been £2 more?
The tokens are, at best, random. A car and top hat for toffs; a rocking horse for children; and I suppose the iron, thimble and shoe were what 1930s women wanted) they did at least introduce a purse later to give women more independence). But where did the battleship and cannon come from just months before World War II?
Back to the 1936 board’s eclectic property portfolio chosen by Victor Watson and his secretary Marjory Phillips on a tour of London in a black cab. Was the cabbie reluctant to go ‘Sarf Of The River’ hence only Old Kent Road on the board is south London’s only property?
Ask a cabbie today for Vine Street and he would have a job locating a dead-end alley 70ft long behind Piccadilly. I was asked Coventry Street on my first Appearance for The Knowledge, most Londoners wouldn’t know it runs from Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square and just a few hundred yards long. I didn’t know it at the time of asking.
The Angel, Islington purportedly was where Vic and Marg stopped for a cuppa at a Lyons Corner House tea room (did the cabbie join them?), but why was it included? Surely Pentonville Road, which runs into the Angel was a better choice, whilst following the board’s format of ‘roads’ and ‘streets’, except for Leicester Square.
Marlborough Street as far as know doesn’t exist now or then unless you include some rather upmarket council flats on the Sutton Estate in Chelsea. It’s GREAT Marlborough Street that the Marlbro cigarettes were named after as the company had their London office there.
Bond Street sounds rather posh but has niggled Monopoly purists for almost a century. Looking at my Geographers’ A-Z, three exist, one is 100 yards long adjoining Chiswick High Road, another in Ealing is equally as short, with a third a stone’s – or javelin’s – throw from the Olympic Park.
Unlike its companion, Knightsbridge which is an actual street (but not with Harrods on it), Mayfair is an area mostly owned by the Duke of Westminster. In the late 1950s, the Duke of Westminster agreed to allow the United States to demolish the whole of the west side of Grosvenor Square so they could put up the terrible building we see today. But the siting of the American Embassy led to one of the most bizarre and protracted processes of negotiation ever seen in London.
The Americans have embassies all over the world and in every single case, they buy the land first and then build their embassy. They assumed that this would be possible in England so they asked the Duke of Westminster, who owned Grosvenor Square, how much they would have to pay to buy the freehold of the land. What they didn’t know is that the Grosvenor family never sell. Their vast wealth is based precisely on this simple fact: they own three hundred acres of central London including most of Belgravia and Mayfair, not to mention land holdings all over the world. All the houses and offices on this land are leased; their freeholds are never sold.
When the Americans were told they couldn’t buy their land they insisted that was unacceptable and that they would petition Parliament to force the Duke to sell. Questions were asked in Parliament; the Grosvenor family were heavily leaned on but all to no avail.
Then the Duke thought of a good compromise. He told the furious Americans that if they were prepared to return to the Grosvenor family all those lands in the United States stolen after the American War of Independence then he would allow the Americans to buy their site on the west side of Grosvenor Square. The Americans knew when they were beaten (they would have had to give the Duke most of Maine and New York) and unwilling to hand over the land they had stolen from the Indians anyway, they backed down and the Duke of Westminster allowed them a 999-year lease. And that explains why the embassy in London was the only American embassy built on land not owned by America. Presumably, they own their sparkling new gaff in Nine Elms Lane.
Culling Greater London’s 45,687 streets into twenty-two during a weekend was always going to be challenging, in the 1920s London was the largest city the world had ever known and by 1935 it peaked at 9 million, so I suppose we will have the leave the London board as it has always been, or buy one of the many new permutations.

Capital Letters

Looking at the index of my Collins Superscale London maps I noticed that each section commenced with a capital letter. As I worked my way through the list I found, incredibly, four streets in London appear to have unique names. So, without further ado, here is the first street in every letter in London.

AAaron Hill Road (E6) 400 years ago Aaron Hill was a poet and dramatist, renowned in London for his adaptations of Voltaire, and successful enough to be buried in Westminster Abbey.

BBabmaes Street (SW1) Founded in 1872 the Naval and Military Club, known as the In and Out Club has its premises in the house once owned by Britain’s first female MP – Nancy Astor. The club’s old location in Piccadilly had an in and out drive, hence its nickname. Now its doors are located in St. James’s Square and 7-9 Babmaes Street. In and Out indeed.

CCabbell Street (NW1) Jack ‘Spot’ Comer was an East End gangster attacked outside his home in Hyde Park Mansions on Cabbell Street in 1956. Son of Polish immigrant parents and born into grinding poverty in Whitechapel, Jack Spot joined his first gang at an early age. Comer rose to rule the criminal underground via protection and gambling rackets, by the late 1940s he was making a fortune at the racetrack working in partnership with another famous gangster, Billy Hill.

DDabin Crescent (SE10) Dabin Crescent is only 157 yards long. There is only one street named Dabin Crescent making it unique in Britain.

EEagle Close (SE16) This cul-de-sac of only a few yards long is but a stone’s throw of the last entry here, Zampa Road.

FFabian Street (E6) This short close with only a couple of dozen houses has the advantage of a footpath at the end giving access to the Greenway, a 4.3 mile-long footpath and cycle highway mostly in Newham which at its easterly end runs along the embankment containing the Joseph Bazalgette Northern Outfall Sewer.

GGables Close (SE5) Not many gabled properties here about, the flats do provide easy access to the Camberwell College of Arts counting actor Tim Roth, musician Humphrey Lyttelton and designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen amongst its alumni.

HHaarlem Road (W14) This short street at 94 yards long can boast that it is one of only 3 similarly named Haarlem Roads in Great Britain.

IIbbotson Avenue (E16) There is only one street named Ibbotson Avenue making it unique in Great Britain.

JJacaranda Grove (E8) Properties here, despite the large number of council flats nearby, sell for more than £1 million. At least the local female MP lives in the adjacent road.

KKassala Road (E13) Approximately 120 yards long, this is the only street named Kassala Road making it unique in Great Britain.

LLaburnum Close (SE15) Unsurprisingly there are 84 other streets named Laburnum Close in Great Britain.

MMabledon Place (WC1) UNISON union once had their headquarters at the junction of Mabledon Place and Euston Road.

NNag’s Head Court (EC1)
There are a plethora of Nag’s Heads in London, but it’s hard to imagine a boozer being squeezed into this minute street near the Barbican.

OOak Crescent (E16) Although you have to pay over £350,000 for a flat here the street is yards from the Canning Town Flyover.

PPace place (E1) Could this be the shortest street on this list? So small the postcode E1 2NA was terminated by the Royal Mail in December 2016.

QQueen Elizabeth Street (SE1) The expensive apartments a short walk from Tower Bridge has outside Jacob a life-sized statue of a dray horse as its centrepiece for The Circle to commemorate the history of the site. He was flown over London by helicopter into Queen Elizabeth Street to launch The Circle in October 1987.

RRabbit Row (W8) Rabbit Row is a mews predominantly one-sided, with only 4 properties. The original purpose of the Mews was to provide stable/coach house accommodation for the larger houses on Kensington Mall.

SSabbarton Street (E16) It’s a pity this very short street off Silvertown Way is industrialised, as at its end is a view of Bow Creek as it flows into the Thames.

TTabard Street (SE1) Part of the one-way system at the Borough, I can only think it takes its name from the Tabbard Inn once famous for accommodating people who made the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral

UUamvar Street (E14) The entomology of this strange name could be derived from Uaighmor, also anglicised Uam Var, the name means ‘Great Cave’, referring to a large cave in the cliff face which was a hideout for brigands into the eighteenth century.

VVale, The (SW3) Just how many Vales are there? This one-off the King’s Road is the cabbies’ cut-through to Elm Park. A turning off The Vale is Mulberry Walk once home to Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and actor Laurence Olivier.

WWadding Street (SE17)
Close by was the Heygate Estate, a massive concrete warren containing 1,100 homes. Quite why post-war architects thought such grimly functional structures embodied the progressive, honest and classless fresh start we needed after the war.

XNone now There used to be an XX Place, off Globe Road E1, it was a narrow street, first on the left off Globe Road from Mile End Road, serving ten small cottages on the north side.

YYabsley Street (E14) There is only one street named Yabsley Street making it unique in Great Britain.

ZZamba Road (SE16) The most famous road of this list as at the end of its 200 yards is The Den, Millwall Football Club.