When planners run out of inspiration for street names, they turn to ordinalnumbers. New York's Fifth Avenue is world famous, and Manhattan's grid goes up to 228th Street.
London ascends no such lofty numerical heights. But there is one chain of numbered streets in Newham, specifically Manor Park, which rises sequentially from First to Eighth.
This stretch of the Romford Road was being built up at the end of the 19th century. Long parallel streets were carved off across the fields, linking up with the soon-to-be shattered peace of Church Road. The street you'd think would be number one got called Meanley Road, but then the numbers kicked in, in order, until the existing wiggle of Little Ilford Lane ended the chain. First to Fourth Avenues run uninterrupted, a hundred-and-something terraced houses in each, but Fifth is stunted by the presence of a large primary school and its house numbers barely makes the thirties. Walk the streets near hometime and a stream of headscarved mothers lead their children home, while their older siblings seek out Haribo and/or fried chicken on the main road.
This is Eighth Avenue, a brief dead end, and the last in the chain. It begins between a shuttered shop unit and a tyre dealers - London Tyres, whose interior is a maelstrom of rubber, mechanics in overalls and cars propped overhead for inspection. The next business is motor-driven too, the edge of Newham being part of the blurred zone where Londoners start to prefer cars to public transport. Vehicles are parked all the way down the road, providing manoeuvring challenges for any resident hoping to make a swift departure. Someone has a tropical palm in their tiny front garden, others have bins. Multiple satellite dishes hint at multiple occupancy. The further down the street you go, the less the trees look like trees and more like stunted trunks. And right down at the far end is a locked gate, behind which an Islamic wholesaler and a vintage 1960s clothing company hold court. True believers, mods and skinheads take note.
But we can beat Eight. Simply wait a few months and hop onto Crossrail, straight through the city and out the other side, to the environs of Hayes and Harlington. Hayes can manage Nine.
The Townfield Estate was laid out between the wars on fields north of what we now know as Hayes, but was previously called Botwell. The leaf-shaped layout of the estate bears the firm hand of council planners, its spine road (Central Avenue) reaching out via several narrower streets to either side. Rather than link everything up the planners preferred quiet backwaters - grassy squares where there was room, and brief cul-de-sacs where there was not. The squares got names, but the cul-de-sacs were numbered, generally in pairs, with Ninth somewhat out on a limb. Here's First Avenue.
'Avenue' feels a bit strong for what's essentially a terse dead end. There's never been any attempt at a pavement - back in the 1920s it wouldn't have been required, horses and carts being easier to dodge than those new-fangled cars. I bet that lamppost is an original, a single light source leading towards two sets of facing cottages, each of a size which these days looks impressively spacious. This was a working class neighbourhood back in the day, and the estate still retains that feel, though with considerably more diversity than before.
Second to Fifth Avenues look somewhat similar, while Sixth to Eighth boast larger, slightly more prestigious council homes. Four hundred and something pounds now pays the mortgage, up from five figures at the turn of the century, and probably some paltry monthly rental payment at original completion. Seventh Avenue has been resurfaced this week, so looks the most modern of the lot. One thing which intrigued me was how the street signs teeter on the threshold of what Hillingdon council can cram onto one line.
Third, Fifth, Sixth and other five-letter names merit long thin signs, whereas six letters or more requires a second line and a deeper rectangle. Seventh and Eighth Avenues also feature more up-to-date fonts, designs and layout than the others, for anyone with an interest in street sign evolution.
And finally there's Ninth Avenue. Its entrance has a more secluded ambience than the others, courtesy of two high hedges, and the short walk down to where the houses begin feels fractionally longer. Only the residents of number 1 maintain a front garden, because everyone else gave up and paved over a while back. I counted 18 houses altogether, whilst trying not to look overly suspicious doing so, as any stranger entering a cul-de-sac tends to be.
Ninth Avenue is a three-lamppost one-telegraph-pole backwater. A substantial proportion of its households own vans, generally but not always white. Someone has a motor home. Leaving a broken pallet in the street isn't necessarily frowned upon. At least one of the residents goes to school, and another will once she's outgrown her pushchair. It all feels somewhat inward-looking, a housing cluster designed for a bygone age, but if anyone's ever planning a new post-Brexit suburban soap opera, maybe give Ninth Avenue a spin.
» First to Ninth Avenues, in Hayes UB3, form the longest sequence of ordinal street names in London.
» Eighteenth Road and Nineteenth Road exist near Mitcham Common, built for postwar prefabs on the site of Pollards Hill Golf Course, but First→Fourth Road, Fifth→Thirteenth Close and Fourteenth→Seventeenth Place are long-demolished.