Society

Rude and crude street names providing a link with the past

What is in a street name? Residents in Primrose Hill have won an important victory blocking Dumpton Place being given a more “upmarketket” name. Developers building luxury flats had wanted to change it to Jasmin Mews, a name they believed was amenable to buyers – and something which Camden council intially seemed happy to go along with.

If it was strictly down to commercial decisions , we would have lost many historic street names across Britain in response to changing fashions. So victories, like the one in Dumpton Place where Camden council gave in to public pressure this week, are important for preserving our heritage.

Street names provide useful clues to the past. As I strolled round the City of London at the weekend for example I encountered the likes of Bread Street, Fish Street and Pudding Lane. You don’t need to think very hard to get a sense of the trades that used to be based in these places. Change the street names and you immediately lose that Medieval connection.

For the residents of Dumpton Place their street name dates back to 1872 when the road was the site of a hostel for railway workers and a coal dump for steam trains. How times have changed of course for the area as rich and famous of the “Primose Hill set” moved in over the course of the Nineties, making it one of the most expensive suburbs in London.

The Londonist produced a guide to some of the rudest street names in the capital a few years ago – which includes some named after gentlemen’s bits, such as Laycock Street in Islington and Cock Lane in the City. Ladies bits also feature, with Clitterhouse Road in Barnet making the list. Elsewhere, in the country you have Penis Road and Cockburn Street.

Residents in Butt Hole Road in South Yorkshire were so fed up of being the subject of endless jokes that they fought to get it changed (they succeeded, it’s now Archers Way – refering to a nearing medieval castle). Youths used bare their backsides for photographs while many delivery firms simply refused to believe it existed.

But interestingly an online petition was started to try to get it changed back to its original name of Butt Hole Road, named after a communal water butt that was originally in the area. I would sign this petition – after all, the street name will have been around much longer than the residents. Surely, they shouldn’t have moved into the street if they didn’t like its names.

In an age where developers of new housing estates often name streets after themselves or other commercial organisations, to the extent that they are meaningless and have no connections with the area, it is fitting that some people are fighting to preserve history.

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