When I started to write this piece, my plan was to tell the story of the naming of the London Boroughs in one go. Now, I’m as big a fan of the ‘long read’ as the next person, but when I got to 3,000 words and still hadn’t finished, it dawned on me that it might be worth breaking this story down…

It is a tale of political expediency, Civil Service pragmatism, frequent local outrage and, in one particular instance, Establishment stitch up. In this first part, I’ll focus on the overall brief for choosing the name of each new Borough and look at the first 11 candidates who broadly did as Sir Keith Joseph, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, requested. Then, in the next two parts, I’ll look at the other 21 Boroughs, each of whom made his life (and those of his civil servants) a misery for six months.

The context

By way of a brief reminder, the path to the 1963 London Government Act and the consequent local government reorganisation in 1965 was a tortuous one (1). There had long been calls for a reform of government in greater London as the metropolis had grown well beyond the boundaries of the London County Council area. Below County Council level, local government was spread across 28 Metropolitan Boroughs (plus the Corporation of London) within the LCC area, together with 3 County Boroughs and countless Municipal Boroughs and Urban District Councils beyond the LCC boundary.

In July 1957, the Macmillan government announced a Royal Commission to examine the question of local government in greater London. It was to be chaired by Sir Edwin Herbert and would deliver its final report in 1960. The Commission proposed 51 boroughs covering a geographical area that went well beyond the eventual Greater London administrative boundary. While the Commission’s findings heavily informed the thinking behind the final agreed position, the Government’s 1961 White Paper proposed fewer, larger boroughs and the subsequent review of the Greater London boundary saw many peripheral authorities excluded (often due to intense political lobbying from Councils who wished to have no direct political or administrative association with Greater London).

The final shape and pattern of the London Boroughs was determined in the spring and summer of 1962 by a series of conferences chaired by the town clerks of Oxford, Plymouth, South Shields and Cheltenham – a thankless task by anyone’s standards. The squabbling and manoeuvring that accompanied this process will provide ample material for a future blog!  Once the final 32 boroughs had been decided upon, they were each given a number for ease of reference (e.g. Borough 7 was the “grouping” (to use the Ministry’s term) of Lewisham and Deptford – in other words, the modern day London Borough of Lewisham).

It might have been easier to have stuck with the numbers to identify the new local authorities, although “I live in Borough no. 23” does lack a bit of charm. It was time to broach the thorny issue of naming.

Our story therefore begins in the June of 1963…

The brief

On 21 June 1963, the town clerks of each affected local authority received a letter from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government setting out the process for arriving at names for the Boroughs.

In laying down the ground rules, the letter explained that:

“There are a few general points which the Minister suggests that Councils might have in mind.

He believes it to be important that the new boroughs should have short and simple names. Complex names and artificial hybrids will not, he suggests, commend themselves to public opinion nor attract loyalties; and he feels sure they are best avoided.

In many cases it is likely to be obvious that the best name will be the name of the place generally recognised as the centre of the new borough; this will often but not necessarily be the name of one of the existing local government areas.

The Minister would ask all local authorities to approach this matter as dispassionately as they can. He recognises that the fact that some existing local authority names will inevitably not figure in the titles of the new boroughs will cause regrets.”

The letter was doubtless written in the knowledge that “dispassionately” was unlikely to be how a large number of existing authorities would approach the exercise. A lot of people evidently had an immense amount of fun coming up with potential names for the Boroughs – at the end of this post I have included a full list of all the “verifiable” suggestions that I have seen so far (i.e. names that have made it into the National Archives or have been quoted by reputable sources). All this creativity only made the task of choosing harder.

The first eleven names emerge

A few Councils, though, quietly got on with the job and by mid-August, ten Borough names had been pretty much agreed locally by the soon-to-be departing authorities concerned. These were: Westminster, Camden, Tower Hamlets, Redbridge, Newham, Croydon, Kingston, Ealing, Haringey and Charlton. That last name, of course, wasn’t quite finished business. An eleventh agreed name was provided by Harrow, the only local authority not to have been affected by boundary changes. As Harrow met all of Keith Joseph’s naming conventions, it appears they weren’t even given the option of changing their name.

Ronald Brain, a senior civil servant in the Ministry, wasn’t particularly impressed with some of the offerings in this first batch of eleven (2), but pragmatism prevailed, perhaps in acknowledgement of the battles to be faced with the remaining 21. On 16 August he wrote:

“Ideally, names would be single and carry a clear indication of location….Tower Hamlets (which may be a good historic name, but would probably mean little or nothing to most Londoners), Newham and Haringey (which will inevitably get misspelt, but the local councils were keen on this version), do not obviously pass the latter test. I am not personally familiar with Redbridge, but I am told that it is well known to Essex people.

It is perhaps unwise to be too critical of the few single names which have been agreed locally, and on balance I would advise acceptance of [them]….It will show the way to others…”

The predecessor authorities for Westminster (Paddington, St Marylebone and the old City of Westminster) appear to have settled on the name provided “City of” was preserved as a prefix. Likewise, the support of Malden and Coombe and Surbiton for the adoption of the name Kingston seems to have been based on an understanding that the “Royal” designation would carry over to the new Borough. A similar situation arose in Greenwich and Woolwich, where the two Metropolitan Boroughs requested “Royal Borough of Charlton” (although neither predecessor authority was designated thus, despite Greenwich’s earlier attempts). However, these special titles did not automatically transfer to the new authorities and were not in Keith Joseph’s gift. Rather, they required the granting of letters patent under the auspices of the Home Office, an unlikely outcome for Charlton. This process, of course, also applied to Kensington and Chelsea, but as they were part of the awkward squad, I will deal with them next time round.

The rest of August 1963 was spent thrashing out a proposal for the remaining 21 Boroughs to share with Keith Joseph on his return from holiday.

And that is where I will leave the story for now. Next time, I will look at the considerable headache that proposed double-barrelled names gave Joseph and his team.

I hope you enjoy the list below.

You can read Part Two here: https://lccmunicipal.com/2018/07/05/the-naming-of-the-london-boroughs-part-two/

And Part Three is here: https://lccmunicipal.com/2018/07/17/the-naming-of-the-london-boroughs-part-three/


I would like to thank the National Archives for making this story so easy to tell.

(1) A succinct overview of the reforms is given in Tony Travers’ “London’s Boroughs at 50”, Biteback Publishing, 2015. A fuller account is given in W.A. Robson’s “The Government of London: the struggle for reform”, LSE/Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970.

(2) Memo to the Permanent Secretary detailed progress dated 16 August 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).

List of London Boroughs and alternative name suggestions as noted on file at the National Archives

The suggestions either came from predecessor authorities, Joint Committees preparing for the new authorities, members of the public or newspaper articles.  Where I have taken names from other sources, they are referenced accordingly.

Barking (Later Barking & Dagenham)
Barking-Dagenham, Becontree, Beacontree, Thameside, Dagenham & Barking, Riverside, Kingham, Fordingham, Rodingbean, Barham, Parsloes, Rippleway

The large number of suggestions is on account of a detailed memo by RH Williams, the Town Clerk of Hendon which presented all of the options considered by the five authorities concerned.
Hendon, Hendon & Barnet, Northgate or Northgates, North Hills, Northern Heights, Northiam, Finchenbarne, Finchley, Whetstone, Barfindon, Dollis, Grimsdyke, Norbrook, Norgate, Noresex, Northsex, Northlands, Norlon, Dollis Bar, Dolbrook, Finchenbar, Finbardon, Finchendon, Finchelee, Brent/Braynte, Brentlea, Brent Bar, North Ridges, Great North, Great Northern, Brookways, Ossulton Gore, Central Middlesex & Barnet, Greater Hendon, Brent Valley, Henbarnley, North Middlesex, Hendon with Finchley, Norborough, Templewood

Bexleyheath, Crayborough, Greater Bexley

Wembley & Willesden, Brentside

Ravensbourne, West Kent, Kentgate, North West Kent

Trinity, St Holstead, Triborn, St Hamborn, Fleetwell, Panbornham, Kings Cross, St Bornstead, Whittington

No further suggestions recorded

No further suggestions recorded

Enfield Chace, Edmonton, Edmonton Hundred, North Middlesex, Northborough, Edengate, St Andrews, Thirty Two (and variants)

Greenwich (later Royal Borough of Greenwich)
Royal Charlton, Woolwich, Greenwich and Woolwich, Woolwich – Greenwich

The National Archives’ files make reference to 28 naming suggestions which were considered by the Joint Committee – sadly, this list did not make it on to the files.
Kingsland, Dalston, Kingstoke Downs, Amhurst, New Kingsland, Stoke Kingsland, New Stamford, Newlee, Westlee

Hammersmith (Later Hammersmith & Fulham)
Fulham, Westborough, Riverside, Olympia, Fulhammer, Fullanhamm

No further suggestions recorded

No further suggestions recorded (the borough boundaries did not change)

Romford, Romford-Hornchurch, Hornchurch-Romford, Inglebourne, Royal Borough of Havering, Hornchurch, Liberty, Chafford, St Edwards

Uxbridge, Heathrow, Elthorne, West Middlesex, Queensborough

Osterley, Brentford, South Middlesex

Names marked (a) are not referenced in the National Archives, but appear in an Islington Gazette article “Islington celebrates 50 glorious years as borough it is today” by Jon Dean, 3/04/15. Both names marked thus are connected with the New River.
Finsbury & Islington, Islington & Finsbury, New River, Penton, St John, Whittington, Wellsbury, Sadler, Myddelton (a), Amwell (a)

Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea
Kensington, Chelsington, Royal Borough of Kensington with Chelsea

Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
No further suggestions recorded

No further suggestions recorded

Deptford, Ravensbourne, Lewisham and Deptford

Wimbledon, Wimbledon-on-Wandle, Wimmercham

It will come as no surprise to learn that items marked (b) were not official suggestions.
Hamsweetham (b), Smoked Ham (b), Hamstrung (b), Hamsandwich (b), Twinham, Uniham, Listerham, Hamme, Hambridge

Ilford, Roding, Churchill

Richmond upon Thames
Richmond and Twickenham, Royal Parks, Thames Vale, Hampton Court, Rivermeads, Hampton, Twickenham, Sheen

King’s Wood or Kingswood, Walworth, Elephant, Camberwell

Names marked (c) are not referenced in the National Archives, but appear in a Sutton Council website article “Fascinating stories from Sutton’s past are revealed as the borough turns 50 years old” based on work by Kath Shawcross (former Borough Archivist and Local Studies Manager), 31/05/15.
Sutton Carew, Carshalton, Wallington, Tonsham, Aultone, Bedaulton, Suttington, Treeswater (c), Carwalton (c), Wandletowns (c), Fairlands (c), South Wall-Car (c)

Tower Hamlets
No further suggestions recorded

Waltham Forest
Walthamstow, Leaside, Chingford, Forest Lea, Riverside, Riverstown, Stowchingley, Wessex, Sorensen Spread, Waleford, Lea Valley

Battersea & Wandsworth, Wandsworth & Battersea, Spencer

City of Westminster

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