What's in a name

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Street names in Forest Gate record a wealth of English history: literary figures, politicians and many others. Some roads bear the names of royal residencies or great houses. Still others record place names across the UK. A few recall more ancient local topographical features.
The original old, Forest Gate - c 1851
We are heavily indebted to Newham Story for the information in this feature. Although this website is still live, it is no longer actively administered, due to Newham Council cuts. The list of streets, below,  is not definitive and some of the explanations seem a bit light and possibly implausible.

As ever, on this site, we would welcome all additions, amendments,  suggestions or alternative explanations, via the comments box, below, or an e.mail.

Forest Gate itself derives its name from a gate leading into Epping Forest, erected to prevent cattle straying from the Forest into the High Road. It was located close to the former Eagle and Child public house. 

Eagle and Child pub, c 1975
It never was a toll gate, and was demolished along with the keepers' cottage, in 1881. (A 'forest' is a royal hunting reserve, it will, of course, contain trees; any standing timber should more properly be referred to as a 'wood' or 'woodland').

This list is not exhaustive but it does give an indication of the breadth of street-naming as housing estates were developed in the 19th and early 20th century. Sometimes a plot of land would be bought and houses built on it - the developer simply naming roads after their own place of origin.

Literary Figures

Chaucer - Geoffrey, "the father of English poetry" and author who held various post under the king (1340?-1400).
17th century portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, poet, philosopher and critic (1772-1834).

Dunbar, William, Scottish poet "unrivalled in Scotland" and Franciscan Friar (c1460-c1520).

Gower, probably John, poet and contemporary of Chaucer (c1325-1408).

Horace, Quintus Horatius Flaccus. Roman poet and author of satires and letters (65-8 BC).

Skelton, John, English poet of Diss, Norfolk (c1460-1529).

Statesmen and Politicians

Cromwell, Oliver, Parliamentarian general and Lord Protector of England during the Commonwealth (1599-1658).
Oliver Cromwell
 Disraeli, Benjamin, earl of Beaconsfield; Conservative politician and witty novelist. Entered Parliament 1837; was twice Prime Minister. (1804-1881).

Palmerston, Henry John Temple, Viscount; statesman who held various government offices; became Prime Minister in 1855. Prosecuted the Crimean War; died in office (1784-1865).

Shaftesbury - Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of, statesman and philanthropist. He held various government offices and brought about much legislation to improve the working conditions of children, the poor, in the mines and factories and those with mental health problems, and for better education and housing conditions (1801 - 1885).
7th Earl of Shaftesbury - social reformer
Wellington - Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of; statesman and successful general who led the army which defeated Napoleon's Army in 1815. See also Waterloo. (1769-1852).


Cranmer, Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, Protestant martyr (1489-1556).

Knox, John, Scottish ecclesiastic and church reformer and founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (1513-72).
John Knox - prominent Scottish protestant reformer
Latimer, Hugh, Bishop of Worcester,  Protestant martyr  (1487-1555).

Ridley, Nicholas, Bishop of London  Protestant martyr  (1500-1555).

People with local associations

Beauchamp, probably after William and Elizabeth and their son Joseph who owned the Manor of Bretts in Plaistow c1719 and held until 1814, when it was sold to the Pelly family. Eventually the estate was broken up and developed for housing in north Plaistow and "Upton Manor" in 1850s.

Boleyn, Anne, second wife of Henry VIII, beheaded on a charge of conspiracy and adultery (1507-1536) - may have had local land connections, but, despite local myths not proven.

Brooking, Sir Trevor. Played for West Ham United and made 47 appearances for England. (1948 - to date).

Curwen (a) John (1816-80) Congregational minister, musicologist and publisher (see here); (b) John Spencer, son of the foregoing (1847-1916) founder of the East London Music Festival.

John Curwen snr - 1816 - 1890
Katherine - Fry, daughter of Elizabeth. Her house was at Plashet; she wrote posthumously published history of East and West Ham (1801 - 1886).

Moore, Robert Frederick Chelsea "Bobby", OBE; footballer, captain of West Ham United and England (1941-93).

Salisbury - Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury held the Manor of Bretts, Plaistow, from 1512 to 39. She was beheaded by Henry VIII in 1541. Also Cathedral city in Wiltshire.

Tylney - Richard Child, Earl Tylney, built Wanstead House and Park. (1680-1750).

Other historic figures

Halley, Edmund, mathematician and astronomer-royal (1656-1742).

Godwin - either Earl of the West Saxons and powerful nobleman (d.1053) or Francis Godwin, English ecclesiastic, historian and author (1562-1673).

Grosvenor - family name of the Dukes of Westminster, an ancient and powerful family. Hold large estates in London and elsewhere.

Rutland - (a) the smallest of the former English counties, now part of Leicestershire; (b) an earldom and, later, a dukedom.

Vansittart, Nicholas, 1st Baron Bexley, lawyer politician and Chancellor of the Exchequer (1766-1851).

Wolseley - Garnet Joseph, 1st Viscount. Field Marshal distinguished in several theatres of war and severely wounded in the Crimean war (1833-1913).

Royal and other residences

Balmoral - castle, Scottish home of the royal family.

Claremont - 18th century Palladian mansion and landscape garden in Esher bought by Queen Victoria for her youngest son, Leopold, Duke of Albany, on his marriage to Princess Helena, in 1882. So, although house is little known as a royal residence today, it would, fleetingly, have been so, when this local road was first built.
Claremont House c 1861
Earlham - Hall, near Norwich, seat of the Gurney family - who owned much of the land in Forest Gate before its late nineteenth century urban development. The Norfolk hall is now part of the University of East Anglia.

Hampton - Court Palace, Surrey, country home of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and later, of Henry VIII.

Osborne - House, Isle of Wight. Designed by Prince Albert as a seaside home and much loved by Queen Victoria.

Richmond - Palace, Surrey. Original palace was built by Henry VII to replace the Palace of Sheen; became home of many kings and queens; after the execution of Charles I it was sold off and demolished for building materials.

Sandringham - House, Norfolk. The Norfolk retreat of the queen. It is her private estate and has been the private home of four generations of British monarchs, since 1862.

Windsor - Castle, Slough Berkshire. Built by William the Conqueror. Now the oldest inhabited castle in the world and the queen's weekend residence.

Place names - British Isles

(This is probably the least informative section of this post! Although it attempts to identify the origins of some street names, in many cases it begs the question of how such a small location, with no apparent connections with Forest Gate could have bequeathed this area its name.  All suggestions gratefully received!).
 Atherton - town in Lancashire with collieries, iron works and cotton mills.

Barwick - there are several places in England with this name.

Bath - Somerset, university and spa town. Bath Abbey is the seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
Royal Crescent, Bath
Bristol - city and port, in the south west.

Capel - near Dorking, Surrey
Chester - county town of Cheshire.

Clifton - probably, near Bristol, famous for the suspension bridge across the Avon.

Clova - possibly Glen Clova in the South Grampians and occupies the valley of the River South Esk in Angus.

Colston - neighbourhood of Bristol.

Derby - county town of Derbyshire.

Dorset- county in south of England. (Previously called York Road).

Essex - county in south-east England, of which East and West Ham were once a part.

Idmiston - a parish containing three villages near Salisbury (see also), Wiltshire.

Ingrestre - possibly a parish in Staffordshire, on the river Trent.

Lansdown - Gloucester /Somerset, site of a Civil War battle.

Marlborough - town in Wiltshire.
Malborough College

Norfolk - county in south east England, ancestral home of Gurneys, see above.

Norwich - cathedral city and county town of Norfolk. The Gurney family had their seat at Earlham, near here.

Prestbury - possibly after one of two villages; one in Cheshire, the other in Gloucestershire.

Rothsay - probably from Ayrshire, Scotland.

St. Georges - possibly after a school for pauper children built in 1851 by St. George's-in-the-East Poor Law Union (Stepney), which stood at the junction of Green Street and Shaftsbury Road; closed about 1927.

Shrewsbury - county town of Shropshire.

South Esk - a river in Scotland, see also Clova.

Sprowston - a large suburb of Norwich (see above) See also Earlham.

Stafford - county town of Staffordshire.

Studley - Warwickshire. The original Manor of Studley was in the possession of William Beauchamp (see above), Lord Abergavenny. In about 1830 a castle was built here in the Norman style by Sir Francis Lyttleton Goodricke, it is now a hotel.

Suffolk - county in East Anglia.

Tower Hamlets - a small group of hamlets on the east side of the city that came under the jurisdiction of the Lieutenant of the Tower of London - principally Stepney, Poplar, Whitechapel and Mile End; which itself gave the name to Newham's neighbouring borough.

Westbury - town in Wiltshire on the edge of Salisbury Plain with an iron works and important railway junction. Famous for the nearby White Horse hill-carving.
Woodstock - town in Oxfordshire, famous for Blenheim Palace.

York - either the county town and cathedral city of Yorkshire or after Dukes of York, a title often borne by the sovereign's second son. 
York Minster

Place names, other countries

Bective - possibly a Cistercian Abbey in County Meath, Ireland, suppressed by Henry VIII in 1536.

Ismalia - town in Egypt that was headquarters for the Suez canal construction project, in the 1860's - a little before the time of the development of much of this area of Forest Gate.

Odessa - in the Ukraine, a city and seaport on the Black Sea. It was bombarded by British and French naval forces in the Crimean War.

Waterloo - a small village in Belgium where Wellington's forces (see above) defeated Napoleon's Army in 1815.

Names recalling older associations

Field (Road): a lane leading into a field or into open ground.

Forest (Lane, Street): leading to and from the forest of Epping.

Whitehall (Place): part of the site formerly occupied by a school of this name - replaced by Forest Gate School.

Woodgrange (Road): a grange was a barn used for storing grain (often the grain tithes owed to a monastery); a farmhouse with barns and other out-buildings; an outlying farm in a forest clearing. The Farm was probably part of the endowment of Stratford Langthorne Abbey. The Manor of Woodgrange - also called "Ham Frith" - stretched from the lower forest, (now Wanstead Flats) past the Eagle and Child pub, down to the Romford Road, and almost as far as High Street North (then called White Post Lane).
Woodgrange House, as it was in 1861
Sources (in alphabetical order) consulted in compiling this list:

A New Encyclopedia of General Knowledge, Odhams Press, c1938, Collins Concise Encyclopedia, 1977, East Ham from Village to County Borough, Alfred Stokes, 3rd ed., 1933, Fifty Years a Borough - The Story of West Ham, Donald McDougall, publ., by the County Borough of West Ham, 1936, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, W. Grinton Berry, Baker Book House, 1987, Geographers' London Atlas, ed., Victoria Histories of the Counties of England (Vol., 6 - Essex), West Ham: Eight Hundred Years, Frank Sainsbury, publ., by the County Borough of West Ham, 1965, West Ham 1886-1986, publ., by the London Borough of Newham, 1986, Wikipedia.


  1. That is the crux of the work and the good will which is hidden in the name and if we continue to dig out the history so we come to know that they were the real heroes and we are not.

  2. Frank Sainsbury, one time West Ham Librarian, did extensive research on the origins of West Ham street names. A Yahoo group dedicated to the histories of West and East Ham, and Newham obtained a copy of his list of West Ham street names and their origins. The original may still exist somewhere within the library or local history services.

  3. Does anyone know why there are 7 roads leading off Plashet Grove E7 all next to each other beginning with W


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