What’s in a name? From Temple Fortune to Stamford Hill

We usually believe that we first came to this country at the invitation of William the Conqueror. Long before that though, in 470, Elgbright, the Archbishop of York, specifically told his flock not to have anything to do with Jewish festivals. Edward the Confessor, on the the other hand, protected us and he was before William as well. 

We’ve long since moved out of Old Jewry EC2 which was the mediaeval ghetto in London, and Jewry Street EC3.  There is also Jews Row SW18, the home of many rich Jews in Wandsworth in the 18th century and Jews Walk SE26. where David Ximenes planted the road with Elms in about 1850. The family converted, but the road is still Jews Row.

The names of streets give us a lot of information about their previous historical associations but they  can be delightfully obscure.

For instance, why is that distinguished thoroughfare called Pall Mall. It’s named after a Tudor game, somewhat iike bowls. The bowling alley was in the street. And what about Piccadilly? It comes from a fashionable 17th century frilled collar called a Piccadil, made by one, Roger Baker in a shop in the street.

Why is it called Green Park? Well Queen Caroline saw Charles II collecting flowers for one of his mistresses and ordered that in future there should never be any flowers in the park near St. James Palace. Hence Green Park and there still aren’t any flowers.

The biggest garden is, of course, Hyde Park, and many imagine it was named after Charles II’s principal minister, Edward Hyde. It was, in fact, created as a hunting area for Henry VIII and named after the ancient Manor of Hyde of which it was  a part.

A lot of us live in Temple Fortune. There’s a 1754 map identifying the sub-manor of a military order called the Knights Templars from whom that name comes. Then there’s Fitzjohns Avenue. Now Fitzjohn  originally meant “the son of” and later “the illegitimate son” of royalty. So Fitzjohn fought the Welsh from 1257-1263 and his ancestors were Fitzranulph and Fitzrichard.

Sometimes the names are easy to trace. Prince Albert Road and the other roads round Regents Park were named after members of the royal family when the park was created, but what about the modern suburbs. Harrow, for example.

Well it was a farming district which meant that harrows were used to plough the fields, but it also means to pillage or plunder. There is a more peaceful meaning for Edgware. This is Eogi’s Weir, named after a pond belonging to Anglo-Saxon Eogi where the locals used to fish. Even earlier in Anglo-Saxon times there was landing space on the Thames amid a lot of chalk called Chelchehithe, and that got whittled down to Chelsea. Stanmore, on the other hand, means stone pond and the locals created two ponds in Roman times which still exist.

When the underground was built, the suburbs became easier to develop. A man called Godyere had been alive in the 14th century and Golders Green is named after him. Another quiet village had been Hampstead which in Saxon times was called Hamstede which meant Homestead.

Another Anglo-Saxon area which had a substantial Jewish population in later years was Willesden, which means the head of the spring. Its manor was, in fact, in the Domesday Book and dated from around 900ad.

Finally, Stamford Hill. The hill in the vicinity is 33m high and the ford is where the present A10 crosses Hackney Brook on its edge. Stam originally meant sandy ford.

The moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book