Welcome to the second part of the story of the naming of the London Boroughs. In the last post, I looked at the ground rules that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government set out in June 1963 for selecting the names of the 32 new local authorities. For eleven of the boroughs a swift agreement was reached locally and the Ministry pragmatically accepted their proposals to send a message of encouragement to the others. It is not obvious that those charged with the local decision-making for the remaining 21 got the message though…
Let’s remind ourselves of those naming conventions. In its letter to local authorities of 21 June 1963, the Ministry stated:
“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.”
This post focuses on what proved to be the largest thorn in the side of the whole undertaking – the “ticklish” issue (as Sir Keith Joseph and the civil servants liked to call it) of double-barrelled names.
A letter arrives
On 24 July 1963, Captain John Litchfield, the Member of Parliament for Chelsea wrote a somewhat threatening letter to Fred Corfield, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of Housing and Local Government:
“I am enclosing a letter from Mr Arthur J. Sims, who is the leader of the Conservative Party on the Chelsea Borough Council, on the subject of the future name of the combined Boroughs of Chelsea and Kensington.
You will see that Mr Sims states that both Boroughs are agreed that the name should be the “Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea”. I should like to support this agreed proposal whole-heartedly.
You will also see that, whereas Kensington would be prepared to agree to “Chelsea” being omitted, provided the “Royal” were retained, the Chelsea representatives would be equally ready to lose the prefix “Royal” so long as the name “Chelsea” were retained.
As you know, Chelsea is full of loyal Conservative supporters, and it also has an historic identity in which the people of Chelsea take great pride. The merger with Kensington has been accepted, however reluctantly, most loyally in the general interest. I hope very much that serious trouble will not be allowed to arise on this comparatively minor issue, through a natural desire by your Ministry to avoid “complex” names.
This really is quite an important matter locally, and it seems to be that the suggested name, meeting as it does the wishes of both Boroughs, ought to be quite acceptable.”
Litchfield was an Establishment figure representing an Establishment constituency. Closely connected to the Royal Family and representing many wealthy and influential voters, he would go on to play an interventionist role in determining the title of his constituents’ new Borough. Indeed, the naming of Kensington and Chelsea would plague Sir Keith Joseph and his civil servants right up to the Christmas of 1963.
Alongside Kensington and Chelsea, there were two more Boroughs where local agreement had been reached on a double-barrelled name: Battersea and Wandsworth, and Wembley and Willesden.
The civil servants were unhappy that the three proposals failed to accord with the one-word requirement. These, after all, were to be dynamic, simple names, surely to be written in sans-serif and possibly alongside a logo. They were not to be longwinded affairs wrapped around a coat of arms. It was felt double-barrelled names would perpetuate old divisions and fail to convey the unified sense of place which was considered to be essential to the success of the fledgling authorities.
In a memo of 16 August 1963, Ronald Brain (1), one of the senior civil servants who had to endure the London Government reorganisation, favoured Kensington and Wandsworth respectively. He was unsure as to the Wembley and Willesden grouping (2) and hoped a third mutually acceptable local name might be found (he gave “Neasden” as an example, but stopped short of recommending it).
Send in the delegations
The actual grouping of Wembley and Willesden had been a controversial affair, with each preferring to “join” with other neighbours (Harrow and Paddington respectively, not that these overtures were necessarily reciprocated). Yet despite this bad blood, they reached agreement on an alternative third name quite quickly, with civil servant C.J. Pearce able to report on 14 October that “Brent” had been arrived at as an acceptable compromise (3). Unsurprisingly, he recommended that the Minister accept this name and that was that.
No such luck in Kensington, Chelsea, Battersea and Wandsworth though. Chelsea and Battersea (as aggrieved underdogs) now requested a meeting with Joseph. Added to that, Deptford, Romford, Wimbledon and Dagenham also requested an audience with the Minister – I will cover the latter three next time round, but it is worth introducing Deptford to the story now as the idea of “Lewisham and Deptford” would come to inform Joseph’s thinking on Kensington and Chelsea.
A delegation from Deptford Council duly arrived in Whitehall on 5 November 1963 (4). The Minutes of the meeting record that the Council were unanimous in asking that the name Deptford should be applied to the new Borough. In an echo of Litchfield’s letter, “local feeling was equally strong”. In their view “Deptford was an ancient name of honourable historic associations well known to….mariners throughout the world”, while “Lewisham was of much more recent development” which consisted of “scattered localities” and whose Town Hall wasn’t even in the district of Lewisham (being located in Catford). One wonders whether the Minister countered with the fact that Deptford’s Town Hall was actually in New Cross (the Minutes are silent). Deptford offered “Ravensbourne” as an alternative but was also prepared to accept “Lewisham and Deptford” or “Deptford and Lewisham”.
The Deptford delegation had their expectations managed firmly. The Minutes record that “the Minister promised to consider all views put before him but specifically discouraged the deputation from being optimistic that their view would prevail”.
Two days later, on 7 November, a delegation from Chelsea (but not Kensington) led by Capt. Litchfield met with Joseph (5). They justified the inclusion of Chelsea on the grounds of “the ancient origin of the name, the historical connections with royal families and famous people, the long association with the arts…[and] a strong sense of community”. Other examples of long names were quoted to illustrate the possibility of accepting a title which ran to many syllables including “Huntingdon and Godmanchester” and, somewhat pointedly, “the Ministry of Housing and Local Government”. For now, Joseph held firm on his preference for single names, although conceded that the situation was “still open”, a rather more conciliatory conclusion than that offered to Deptford.
The civil servants dig in
Lobbying for the inclusion of Chelsea evidently continued, although it must have been through conversations in parliamentary corridors and private members’ clubs as there is very little on file. Joseph appeared to be veering towards the inclusion of Chelsea as the civil servants imply in their summing up of the position in late November (6):
“If the Minister should decide to adopt the name “Kensington and Chelsea” for this borough it would be impossible to present this decision as anything but a departure from the principles applied elsewhere. In those circumstances I think he would wish to be forewarned of the special criticisms which such an exception might arouse. They seem to be:
a) that Chelsea has no greater right of claim to retain its name in this way than has Deptford or Battersea or indeed other authorities whose names will not appear in local government titles…
b) double-barrelled names were suggested in many other instances and discouraged or rejected e.g. Wembley and Willesden…
c) that a comparatively small number of influential complainants in Chelsea have produced a Government concession which they did not grant to the hundreds – even thousands – who wrote or petitioned [elsewhere]…”
For now, the warning went unheeded. By early December, Joseph’s view was solidifying (7):
“My strong inclination here is to go for “Kensington and Chelsea”. The only evidence of widespread public indignation (that has reached me anyway) comes from Chelsea….Battersea, Deptford, Wembley, Twickenham, Wimbledon or the rest may rage, but I believe they will rage without evoking strong public reaction….I think the country will not judge Battersea and the others to have as strong a claim to special treatment as Chelsea”.
But, having slept on it overnight, perhaps his confidence about “raging without evoking strong public reaction” wasn’t so great after all. Attached to the file in the National Archives was Joseph’s handwritten scrawl on a note from the following day. It said:
“Perhaps the right way to handle Borough names would be to deal with all except Chelsea and then after a week decide on “Kensington and Chelsea” on its own”. (8)
In other words, bury the bad news a bit later. It now fell to Dame Evelyn Sharp, the Ministry’s most senior civil servant, to immediately counter in a written note to the Minister (9):
“It seems to me that if you give way and agree to Kensington and Chelsea it will once again be said that if only enough people with enough money make enough noise the Government gives way”.
A week later, on 13 December, Joseph appeared to be having second thoughts and Deptford nearly got a reprieve:
“It would reduce the singularity of “Kensington and Chelsea” – if that is to be the decision – if we could also find another group seeking hyphenation where the second partner has unique claims. The nearest to this would be in the case of Deptford – which urges its status as the birthplace of the British Navy.”
So, in seeking to provide Kensington and Chelsea with company, he focused on “Lewisham and Deptford”, a name which had not been agreed locally, instead of “Battersea and Wandsworth”, a name which had. However, it was not to be. By the end of the year, the final position (and its not entirely satisfactory justification) was as follows (10):
“The Minister has, from the outset, been extremely reluctant to recommend double-barrelled names for the new London Boroughs and it remains his view that short and simple names are normally best. He proposed the retention of the name “Chelsea” because, in this instance only, he was persuaded that the arguments in favour of a double-barrelled name were so strong as to justify an exception.
Among the considerations which influenced the Minister in reaching this decision were the fact that both the existing councils of Kensington and Chelsea had asked for the joint name, that there was very strong feeling locally in favour of retaining “Chelsea”, that Chelsea is an ancient place with many historical associations and that it is well known throughout the world, especially as a centre of the arts. None of these considerations is of course special to Chelsea alone. Only in the case of Chelsea, however, are all these factors present together and to an extent which convinced the Minister that it would be right to depart from the general rule”.
By early January 1964 all of the decisions had been made. At this point, a major campaign kicked off south of the river. Battersea had provided one of the November deputations to Joseph and they had been met with a similar response to Deptford. To borrow the Minister’s phrase, Battersea did rage, and they did evoke a strong public reaction.
Trouble in Battersea
From the outset, the Wandsworth and Battersea grouping had been controversial as it had resulted in the eastern wards of the old Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth being moved into the new London Borough of Lambeth. The local population remained up for a fight and there is a file at the National Archives full of letters written in January 1964 by concerned individuals and local bodies. The Rotary Club of Battersea Park, Battersea United Football Club, Battersea Old People’s Welfare Committee, the Battersea Park Estate Tenants’ Association and many more lobbied Joseph requesting the same naming privileges as Chelsea (11). But to no avail.
A year later, with a new Labour government and the London Boroughs just weeks away from coming into effect, Battersea and Deptford had another go at preserving their names, with each departing Council passing a resolution on naming. In responding to the two Councils, an opportunity was provided to C.J. Pearce to reawaken his sense of frustration long after the matter of naming had been put to bed (12):
“The adoption of Kensington and Chelsea cannot be other than a continuing source of irritation, but the need now is for a period of calm in which the new authorities can settle down. A revival of the passionate arguments about names could hardly be less timely.”
It is hard to conclude that the retention of the name “Chelsea” was anything other than an Establishment stitch up, with Litchfield extremely persuasive. The principle of single names was a sound one. The reasons given for Chelsea’s special treatment were fairly weak (in my opinion, at least). The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea would remain the only double-barrelled Council for 15 years when Fulham and Dagenham made a reappearance long after the dust had settled.
So, to our list of the “compliant eleven” from Part One, we can now add Brent, Lewisham, Wandsworth and Kensington & Chelsea as settled names. That leaves us with the story of the remaining 17 next time round…
(1) Memo to the Permanent Secretary detailing progress dated 16 August 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(2) “Groupings” is a term likely to infuriate those who rightly point out that the old authorities were abolished in 1965 and replaced with completely new authorities. Grouping implies a degree of merger or amalgamation, which was not what happened from a precise legal perspective. However, “grouping” was the term used by the Ministry to describe the “proto-Boroughs” (a phrase which is sure to offend some).
(3) Memo titled “Names of London Boroughs” to Minister from C.J Pearce dated 14 October 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(4) Minutes held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573.
(6) Memo titled “Names of London Boroughs” from C.J Pearce dated 27 November 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(7) Memo from Sir Keith Joseph to Parliamentary Secretary and Permanent Secretary dated 5 December 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(8) Handwritten note from Sir Keith Joseph dated 6 December 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(9) Memo from Dame Evelyn Sharp to Sir Keith Joseph dated 6 December 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(10) In January 1964, after the announcement of “Kensington and Chelsea”, a number of authorities (Battersea, Wembley, Woolwich and Camberwell) sought to reopen the debate on double-barrelled names. They were presented with this rationale, from a memo by C.J. Pearce dated 7 January 1964 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(11) The file in the National Archives covering the correspondence on the naming of the London Borough of Wandsworth is ref HLG 120/566.
(12) Note from C.J Pearce dated 15 March 1965 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).