diamond geezer

 Saturday, January 22, 2022

The A-Z of how London places got their names
Part 71: LewishamLimehouse

Lewisham: From the Saxon, either Levesham (the house among the meadows) or Liofshema (the homestead of a Jute called Leof).

Leyton: Again Saxon, literally Lea-ton, village on the River Lea.

Leytonstone: Originally part of Leyton, the part near a stone.

This is the High Stone after which Leytonstone is named. It's a stone obelisk on an older base, reputedly a Roman milestone, and can be found on Hollybush Hill just north of the Green Man roundabout. Also it's not officially in Leytonstone.

The High Stone started life as a mile post on a road out of London. It probably wasn't a Roman road given that the main road to Colchester went through Ilford, not Leyton, but the legend persists. At a later date a road ran from London towards what's now Woodford and another towards what's now Chigwell and it could have been either of those, or both given that this is where the two diverge. We know the stone definitely existed in 1728 because it appears on a map prepared for the Middlesex and Essex Turnpike Trust, but there must have been a stone here before that otherwise Leytonstone wouldn't have gained its name.

In the Domesday Book it's only Leyton that gets a mention, and although some of the 51 homesteads might have been this far north the main focus of population was much nearer the Lea where the fertile land was. It takes until 1370 until we see the first recorded mention of the hamlet of Leyton-atte-Stone, i.e. the part of Leyton near the milestone, although it was still part of the parish of Leyton St Mary at the time. In Tudor times we know of an inn here called the Rose, a convenient halt for weary travellers, and by the end of the 16th century the road through Leytonstone had become busier than the lanes through Leyton. In the early 19th century Leyton was known as Low Layton and Leytonstone was Layton Stone, then came the railways and suburban expansion and the two inexorably merged into one another.

The High Stone became an obelisk during the 18th century, known locally as the Obelisk, which is further evidence that Leytonstone must have earned its name early else it would have become Leytonobelisk. In 1933 the original obelisk was hit by a vehicle - history does not record what - and was so badly damaged it had to be replaced. They kept the base but the upper shaft was new, as is explained in a now-unreadable inscription on the north face. Inscriptions on the other faces were retained but are now equally unreadable (south), substantially unreadable (east) and partly unreadable (west). This is the west side...

...and these are all the sides including the unreadable ones.

South faceWest faceEast faceNorth face
To Stones End
6M 0F 24P

6M 5F 21P

Hyde Park
10M 0F 31P
To Epping
XI Miles

To Ongar
XVI Miles

Woodford Bridge
The Base Of
This Stone
Formed A
Part Of The
And The
Top Portion
Was Renewed
In 1933

Today the road to Epping is called Hollybush Hill and the road to Ongar is called New Wanstead, these being the A1199 and A113 respectively. It seems odd that this fork should be a significant location given that the massive A12 Green Man roundabout is only 200m away but that's the idiosyncrasies of evolving transport networks for you. The High Stone used to have a more prominent location by the roadside but in 2013 the council shifted it back slightly, with the agreement of English Heritage, and surrounded it with a small ring of uplighter spotlights. The need to upgrade the pedestrian crossing with a splash of tactile paving may have kicked all this off.

This photo reveals two important things. Firstly the High Stone is in the London borough of Redbridge, not the London borough of Waltham Forest where Leytonstone is today. It's only marginal - the dividing line between the two boroughs runs along the edge of Leyton Flats just ten metres across the road. Centuries ago it made sense that the High Stone marked the boundary, it being the only significant object in the vicinity, but administrative tweaks have expelled it to the borough nextdoor. Secondly you can see an information board in the background which is so impressively detailed that I've been able to regurgitate its contents to make myself sound learned and well read.
There was a mail coach robbery here in 1757 by a highwayman called Matthew Snatt. Snatt was later convicted of the crime and after his execution his body was hung in chains near the Stone as a warning to others.
But nothing is stranger than the stone Leytonstone is named after not being in Leytonstone itself. Even 200 years ago the village lay quarter of a mile to the south, centred on the church and pub rather than the obelisk, and so it continues to this day. That's Leytonstone, originally the part of Leyton near a stone, and today somehow neither of these.

Limehouse: Named after the lime kilns found here in the 14th century.

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