Signs, sealed, delivered – what’s in a name?

what’s in a name?

We see street names every day. Whether they appear on the functional nameplates of the roads where we live, or on fancily decorated tiles at places we visit, street names tell us where we are and from where we have come – and there’s often a lot of history behind them.

London has more than 60,000 streets, some of which have signs and names dating back to the 17th century.

Take Elephant & Castle, for example. The area is said to have taken its name from a 1765 coaching inn, and a pub called the Elephant & Castle remains to this day – much to the delight of its regulars.

Previously, however, the land was known as Newington, which, today, is divided into two roads – Newington Causeway and Newington Butts. According to historians, the latter street name is a reference to an archery-shooting field, known as a ‘butt’.

Elephant & Castle is going through a lot of change, and Elephant Park is part of a major project to bring new residential properties and commercial buildings to the area – all of which will need their own identities and unique place in history.

As local residents know this part of London best, Elephant Park ran a campaign in 2014 – in partnership with Creation Trust – called ‘Put it on the Map’. The idea was to encourage people in the area to suggest names for the new streets and buildings at Elephant Park.

The development’s first street, O’Callaghan Way, was named in memory of Private Lee O’Callaghan, a local soldier who died on military service in Iraq in 2004.

As a child, Private O’Callaghan lived in Swanbourne block on the Heygate estate, just a stone’s throw from where the new street is today. His mother, Shirley, said: ‘I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people in the local community who wanted to remember Lee in this way. It’s a fitting and lasting tribute to my brave son.’

Buildings have also been named after local people, including Baldwin Point, the tallest structure in South Gardens. Its name commemorates the founder of London’s oldest herbalist store, G Baldwin and Co, which has been in business on Walworth Road since 1844.

The late comic actor and entertainer Charlie Drake – who was born in Elephant & Castle in 1925 and attended Victory Primary School – is remembered through Drake Apartments, while Stock House is named after Clara Stock.

Born in 1867, Clara lived on Ash Street, and was much-loved in the neighbourhood. Although she had barely enough to feed her own family of 16 children, local youngsters would regularly wait at Clara’s door when she was cooking one of her huge pots of stew. The call would go out, “Mrs Stock’s got the stew pot on”, and the children would never be disappointed, as Clara shared her food with them.

Elephant Park’s West Grove – which includes a large number of the development’s new shops, as well as 600 homes – pays homage to the area’s trading history with Walton Heights and Hurlock Heights. The buildings are named after two department stores, Walton & Co and Hurlock’s, which thrived in the area during Victorian and Edwardian times.

This was a golden age of retail, when Elephant and Castle was known as the ‘Piccadilly of the South’, and several other buildings at West Grove will invoke smaller, but equally well-known, businesses.

Many locals will recall the Walworth Road tailors Levy & Co, as well as Ferraro & Sons, the fruiterer and ice-cream parlour in London Road. Both will be remembered, in the Levy Building and Ferraro House.

Why not look into the history behind your street’s name? You might be surprised by what you discover.