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Names reveal our capital’s history

The history of London is kept alive in quirky place names that survive in local usage and help to make the metropolis such a fascinating place, says Simon White

I’ve lived and worked in London for many years and I still find it fascinating. I love the village feel of Marylebone just as much as the grandeur of Holland Park and Belgravia. But what interests me most are the unusual names attached to many areas of the city.

A number of enclaves are named after the philanthropists who funded their construction. The best known of these is the Shaftesbury Estate in Battersea, built in the 1870s by Tory MP Lord Shaftesbury.

Shaftesbury was also behind the building of the Queen’s Park Estate in the West Kilburn area, which gave its name to Queen’s Park Ran-gers Football Club.

Londoners have always been fond of making the capital sound cosmopolitan, hence the oft-used prefix ‘Little’. So out towards Acton we find Little Malta while in the un-likely setting of Mortlake you can find Little Chelsea.

Equally unlikely is an area locally known as Little India, just north of Clapham Junction train station.

Then there are a series of localities known by their shape, including the Diamond Conservation Area either side of the Queenstown Road in Battersea, the Southfields Grid in South London and the Nightingale Triangle in Wandsworth.

I like quirkiness and in Fulham there’s an estate of high-value houses which in the 1880s were built with terracotta lions on top of their parapets. They are now known as Lion Houses and can be found on the Peterborough Estate just south of New Kings Road.

Equally odd are a line of roads in SW11 just north of Battersea Park Road named Edna, Ursula and Octavia. The roads are named after the original builder’s sisters and to this day are referred to locally as the Sisters Roads.

And out in West London you can find a series of streets known as the Poets Roads named after literary luminaries Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton.

Of course, London wouldn’t be the wonderful patchwork of independent villages it is without places such as the Crabtree Estate in Hammersmith, so called because the Edwardians built it on an old plantation of crab apples.

But the thing I find most fascinating about all this is that you won’t find any of the above estate names in your London A to Z because they live on only locally in the corner shop or the local pub. The only way to discover these places is to walk the capital’s streets as I have done for many years.

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