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How street names have changed through time

All across the country local authorities are changing street names to reflect our modern society and eradicate some less-favourable historical references. But how are roads named in the first place?

What have the Romans ever done for us?

The Romans are famed for creating the UK’s first road network almost two centuries ago. A section of Watling Street, the ancient trackway which ran East to West across England and Wales, still exists in the City of London. And parts of the Fosse Way, which linked Exeter to Lincoln, survives in roads and boundaries bearing the suffixes -cester or -chester (meaning ‘military camp’) or feature forms of the Latin ‘strata’ (paved road): Strete, Stratton, Stratford.


But most of these original names have been lost through the centuries as roads have been updated in line with changes in language, culture and society.

How do streets get their names?

Some street names commemorate people, like the homages to poets (Tennyson Avenue, Coleridge Road) in Clevedon, Somerset. A few are related to literature itself, like the Shakespeare character-themed street names in, Bootle, Merseyside (Othello, Juliet, Macbeth). Others are thematic, such as the astronomical streets of Apollo Avenue and Aquarius Way in London. Trees, plants and birds are also quite popular.

Many are directional, self-descriptive, occupational, or relate to buildings and structures. Others, like French Street, indicate a former diaspora, and scores are derived from foreign languages (Carfax Street comes from the French for crossroads, ’carrefour’). Countless names refer to battles and events (Trafalgar Square, Coronation Street), military training grounds (Butts Street relates to an archery shooting field) or trading areas (Cheapside and Eastcheap come from the Old English word for market, cëap).

Back streets

But some names hark back to less reputable occupations and long-outlawed practices. Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate in York references a whipping post, or pillory, which stood on the street. Grope Lane (Bristol) refers to prostitution. It was changed from a far cruder version featuring a four-letter word which was a common English urban street name during the Middle Ages. Officials in York changed their Grope Lane to Grape Lane and Gloucester’s former red light district became Love Lane.

Trendy renaming

A handful of councils across Britain have changed street names due to pressure from local residents. Butt Hole Road is a case in point. Meanwhile, local authorities are also renaming streets to reflect modern societal influences. This recent trend has led to the creation of Kyoto Walk in Hampshire (relating to the climate change treaty), Eco Way in Doncaster, Sustainability Way in Lancashire; Karma Way and Yoga Way in London. Other cosmopolitan streets reflect Britain's increasingly multicultural society, with names bearing foreign languages or relating to growing religions.

Appropriate and up-to-date

But some local authorities have a penchant for appropriate puns. After a new fire station was built in Poole recently, officials renamed the road Safety Drive. In 2000, the new home of the South Yorkshire Police Operations Complex (Sheffield) became a road named Letsby Avenue. Thankfully, White Pages UK Address Finder uses data from the UK Telephone Directory and the Electoral Roll (from 2002-2016), which is regularly updated to ensure that you’re getting the most accurate, up-to-date results.

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