diamond geezer

 Monday, June 10, 2024

My High Streets post got a lot of attention over the weekend.
How many High Streets are there in London?
I've counted, and there are 57.
Readers left 40 comments.
I put it on Twitter and got 20 more comments.
Then it ended up on Hacker News, the behemoth American syndicator, and got 80 more comments.

The latter also attracted thousands more visitors to the blog, making it the 12th best day ever on diamond geezer.

When this kind of inrush happens I like to go all introspective and try to work out what drove the commotion. And in this case I think it's two things.
a) not realising the significance of capital letters
b) not reading the post

So here are some of the questions people asked, from pertinent to eyerolling, and my attempts at a response. Keep reading and there will be new data and two new maps.

Q: You seem to have missed Clapham High Street
Q: Have you missed out Greenwich High Street? (Zone 2)?
Q: Is Kensington High Street not inner London?
Q: Oh and what about Marylebone High Street too?
Q: Missed at least Borough High Street
Q: Hampstead High Street?
Q: Deptford would like a word...

These are fairly typical of the comments on Twitter. Readers saw London has 57 High Streets (none of which are in Inner London) and instantly thought of examples which were in Inner London. They hadn't clicked though to read the post where I explained I was only counting High Streets, not High Street Somethings. They simply responded, convinced I was wrong because they hadn't read my caveats.

And OK this is a spurious case, but I think it's emblematic of a huge amount of sound and fury generated by social media. Someone asserts something, knowing precisely what they meant. Someone else then tears into it, assuming they meant something else. Life would be a lot quieter if people sometimes stopped and thought "I wonder what they actually meant by that?" and perhaps kept quiet. But we don't, we leap in and raise the temperature based on our own misconceptions, and I can be just as guilty of that as the rest of us.

Q: There also seem to be quite a few examples of 'High Road' in London?
Q: There are some High Roads on top of that, such as Greenwich High Road?
Q: This ignores all the High Roads...
Q: Chiswick High Rd is not included.
Q: My parental shopping locale was a Something High Road. Hope we learn about those too.
Q: One of our High Streets is a High Road - surely they count too?

Never risk a surely. If you'd read the post it should have been clear it was only about High Streets, not High Roads. Yes they do exist but that wasn't what I was writing about, a man can't research everything.

But since Saturday I've done more research and tallied all the High Roads in London too. There are 13 of them.
London's High Roads: Cowley, Eastcote, Finchley, Harrow Weald, Ickenham, Ilford, New Southgate, South Woodford, Tottenham, Wembley, Willesden, Woodford Green, Wood Green
Again all of these are in Outer London, not Inner, and this time every single one is north of the Thames, The longest is the High Road through Finchley and Whetstone at almost 4 miles, followed by the High Road between Ilford and Chadwell Heath which is 3½ miles.

And yes, there are also Something High Roads with an extra placename added.
London's Something High Roads: Balham, Chiswick, Greenwich, Kilburn, Lee, Streatham
London's High Road Somethings: Leyton, Leytonstone
If you tot up all the High Roads and Something High Roads there are 21 altogether. But they're very much outnumbered by the High Streets and Something High Streets, of which there are 103.

Q: What’s the difference between (any) 'High Street' and (any) 'High Road'? Is it that the 'Street' was a focal point of local activity and 'Road' was a route?

Good question. But whatever the reason it's not going to be black and white like that, contexts will vary.

OK, back to the misconceptions.

Q: I’ve counted 20 high streets from memory that aren’t mentioned in this article.
Q: Streatham High Road still seems like a grey area that should be considered a high street.
Q: Searching just for the name limits a bit. The great Muswell Hill ends up not being there, for example.
Q: I think Surbiton & Tolworth also have high streets (albeit I’m not sure if they call it that)
Q: Kentish Town Road?

A lot of people who only saw the headline thought I was talking about high streets rather than High Streets. Unsurprisingly they took exception to my conclusion. Such is the importance of capital letters.

Some people noticed, but didn't like it.

Q: This would be more interesting if you'd actually identified the higher order concept of a high street not just if it had "High Street" in the name.
Q: Is it not more meaningful to identify actual high streets, not streets named “high street”?

These questioners pointed out that a high street is more important than a High Street, geographywise, and I agree. The problem is that a 'high street' is incredibly difficult to define, thus an entirely subjective concept. High Streets, by contrast, are fundamentally countable which is why I chose to focus on them. If you want to waffle endlessly about what a high street is (and many people did) then go ahead. But you're not going to come up with a number at the end of the exercise, only a woolly discussion.

Q: A high street is a very difficult concept to quantify, because depending on what scale you're thinking at a whole range of roads may or may not qualify.

Interestingly the Ordnance Survey has had a go at quantifying high streets (lower case). In an experimental 2019 study they defined a high street as "a named street predominately consisting of retailing, defined by a cluster of 15 or more retail addresses within 150 metres." According to their definition London has 1204 high streets. Even better they made a map which you can swoosh round and look at your local area and it's fascinating. Some of the longer London 'high streets' are Oxford Street/High Holborn, Upper Street/Holloway Road and Balham/Tooting/Colliers Wood, although technically these are all comprised of shorter chunks, so 1204 is undoubtedly an overestimate.

Q: Thank you, I was hoping the site wold give exactly that description, but alas it didn’t. The author is victim of the Fallacy of shared context.

I'm sorry I didn't write about what you wanted, Andrew. Refunds are available in the usual place.

Let's finish with three good ones.

If anyone wants to make a similar map in their own city or with a different street name, you can use Overpass Turbo to query OpenStreetMap data for this. Just comparing the maps visually, they seem to match.

That map is brilliant, thanks William. It's not the first time Overpass Turbo has helped to confirm a London-based query on this blog.

Which High Street is the highest?

Ironically it's Downe.

All the Inner London boroughs were once part of the London County Council, and they undertook a street renaming exercise to ensure that street names were not duplicated.

Indeed they did, mostly in the 19th century under the auspices of the Metropolitan Board of Works. This explains why Inner London no longer has any High Streets. I found this on Bruce Hunt's comprehensively excellent website, London Miscellany.
"The street renaming scheme was started in 1857 by the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW), encouraged by the General Post Office, after the MBW was given control by the Metropolis Local Management Act of 1855 and Postal Districts were introduced in 1856. It carried on after the London County Council (LCC) was formed to replace the, allegedly corrupt, MBW. Most of the final changes occurred in a 'big push' between 1936-1939."
What Bruce has done, which is brilliant, is patiently list every single street in (Inner) London which changed its name between 1857 and 1945. He's made an 1857-1929 list and a 1929-1945 list, in both cases one ordered Old→New and another New→Old. From this I've learned that 17 High Streets stopped being called High Street and were called something else, and these are they...
Used to be called High Street: Battersea High Street, Borough High Street, Bow Road, Camberwell Road, Dartmouth Road, Denmark Hill, Eltham High Street, Great Garden Street, Hoxton Street, Kensington High Street, Kingsland High Street, Lewisham High Street, Newington Butts, Shoreditch High Street, Stepney High Street, Stoke Newington High Street, Upper Tooting Road
The one that fascinates me most is Bow Road, the road I live on, because I never realised it was originally called High Street. Indeed I'm a bit suspicious because I've found an 1850 map where Bow Road is already called Bow Road, not High Street, so maybe take Bruce's list with a pinch of salt.

What hasn't changed, even after all this discussion and two days of interrogation, is my assertion that London has exactly 57 High Streets. And if you disagree, even after reading everything I've written, feel free to do your own research.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan24  Feb24  Mar24  Apr24  May24  Jun24
Jan23  Feb23  Mar23  Apr23  May23  Jun23  Jul23  Aug23  Sep23  Oct23  Nov23  Dec23
Jan22  Feb22  Mar22  Apr22  May22  Jun22  Jul22  Aug22  Sep22  Oct22  Nov22  Dec22
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21  Nov21  Dec21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
our bow
ian visits
broken tv
blue witch
on london
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
the greenwich wire
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
round the rails we go
london reconnections
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
London's waymarked walks
Inner London toilet map
20 years of blog series
The DG Tour of Britain
London's most...

read the archive
Jun24  May24
Apr24  Mar24  Feb24  Jan24
Dec23  Nov23  Oct23  Sep23
Aug23  Jul23  Jun23  May23
Apr23  Mar23  Feb23  Jan23
Dec22  Nov22  Oct22  Sep22
Aug22  Jul22  Jun22  May22
Apr22  Mar22  Feb22  Jan22
Dec21  Nov21  Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2023 2022
2021 2020 2019 2018 2017
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards