diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 12, 2021

What's London's shortest street name?

We can beat Aldwych.
We can beat Strand.

It's Hide, this brief unremarkable residential street in Beckton.

One side of Hide is a terrace of seven yellowbrick townhouses, each with a strip of grass and a single parking space out front. The other side is a continuous block of flats, mostly two storeys high, overlooked by a handful of trees. It's very Beckton, an anonymous modern street for families who fancy a small back garden. The only unusual thing is that it boasts the capital's briefest address - 1 Hide, London, E6 6ZA.

I stumbled on it while walking home from the far end of the Royal Docks, just before the big Asda. If you know where the DLR curves back on itself between Gallions Reach and Beckton stations, that's where Hide is, within that sweeping curve. I normally walk along the main road but this time I decided to walk behind the hedge to the housing estate beyond and there it was. I spotted the briefest of street signs on the wall and wondered whether this might be the shortest street name in London, and did some research, and yes it is.

This is the Winsor Park estate, built in the mid 1990s on one of the less contaminated parts of Beckton Gas Works. It includes a primary school and a small hospital, plus an irregular grid of residential streets with equally peculiar names. The two roads around the perimeter are called Covelees Wall and Newark Knok, while in the centre you'll find Cow Leaze, Horse Leaze and Tunnan Leys. Here are the remaining streets ordered by the number of letters in their names.

Hide   Ashen   Oxleas   Peverel

Not only does the Winsor Park Estate include the shortest street name in London but it contains the second shortest too, which is Ashen. That's got to look odd on an envelope. The list also includes a six letter name and then three sevens... although I'm less excited by those because I live on Bow Road and that's seven letters too.

One word street names are quite rare, and tend to be either quite old or quite new. Central London has Aldgate, Holborn, Poultry and Cheapside, for example, which date way back. Outer London has the odd Crossway, Meadway, Parkway and the like. Meanwhile Milton Keynes has streets including Simnel, Dodkin, Lloyds, Chervil and Tandra, and Basildon has Oldwyk, Knights, Teagles, Mynchens and Trindehay, because new town planners weren't averse to something wild.

Which got me wondering... what were the planners of the Winsor Park estate thinking? How did they come up with a selection of names including Hide and Ashen? The answer finally revealed itself in a comment on a malfunctioning Londonist article about single-named roads, left six years after the original post was published. Thanks Stephen (and thanks Rob for asking the question Stephen answered).
These Beckton street-names derive from medieval features in East and West Ham, mostly field names. They were suggested by the late Howard Bloch, who was Newham's Local Studies Librarian at the time. Newham Council subsequently misspelt quite a few of his many suggestions, including "Tunnanleys", which should have been "Tunmanleys", the "grazing-land of the town-men".
I think I've found Howard's source material, which is A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6, specifically the chapter on Agriculture in West Ham. This is odd because Beckton was in East Ham, not West Ham, and was originally marshland rather than open fields. A lot of these one-word Beckton streets are therefore named after features on the other side of Newham, nearer the Lea than the Roding, but Howard Bloch presumably knew what he was doing.
Peverel was Ranulph Peverel, joint owner of the manor of Ham at the time of the Domesday Book.
Sudbury was the medieval manor, somewhere near Plaistow, formed from Peverel's land.
• The manor of Sudbury owned fields including the Hide, Half Hide, Hole Hide and Bradymead.
Ashen field, Downings field and Newerk Knok were smaller fields called 'dayworks'.
Cow Leaze and Horse Leaze were large fields southeast of Plaistow, as was Wheatfield.
Covelee's Wall ran alongside the River Lea near Canning Town
Warwall was part of the river defence near Stratford Langthorne Abbey, near West Ham station.
Oxleas was a field further north in Stratford.
In short, London's shortest street name is derived from a minor medieval field called the Hide, precise location unknown but probably a couple of miles away from Beckton. It not the excellent reason I was hoping for, but it'll have to do.

Hide isn't the very shortest street name in the country. It ties for second place with at least three others, which are Side in central Newcastle, Ross in County Durham and Cher in Minehead. All are beaten by a lane called Rye in the centre of Puriton, a Somerset village close to junction 23 of the M5. Rye runs past the parish church and a small village green which was once part of Rye Common, hence the name. But four letters for Hide is still impressively short and, for London, very much as short as it gets.

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