Welcome to the third and final part of the Naming of the London Boroughs.
By way of a reminder, in Part One I looked at the naming conventions that were specified by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. We saw that 11 names were arrived at quite easily and accepted by the Ministry (see first column of the table further down). In Part Two, we looked at how the Ministry disliked the suggested double-barrelled names for Wembley and Willesden, Battersea and Wandsworth, and Deptford and Lewisham, yet somehow saw a way to accept Kensington and Chelsea.
Now it is time to consider the final bunch. What these remaining authorities all had in common was no local agreement on proposed names, leaving a series of squabbles of varying degrees of intensity. There were eleven decisions that proved particularly tricky and I tell the story of each of these later on – this means that our final chapter is quite long and I won’t be offended if you skip to the Borough which interests you most!
But first, there are a number of names that keep reappearing in the tale below. Rather than keep reintroducing them, here is a reminder of the principal cast:
- Sir Keith Joseph – Cabinet Minister with responsibility for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, appointed to the role after the (in)famous Night of the Long Knives.
- Frederick (Fred) Corfield – Joint Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry.
- Dame Evelyn Sharp – Permanent Secretary at the Ministry.
- Ronald Brain and C.J. Pearce – civil servants at the Ministry.
On 30 August 1963, about ten weeks after the starting pistol had been fired on the naming process, Ronald Brain was able to write to Keith Joseph with three categories of suggestions (1). The first was a set of firm proposals for eight of the Boroughs (with the implication that these names might be imposed by the Minister); the second was a list of four strong Ministry preferences for which a limited consultation was proposed; and the final was a group of five slight preferences which would be opened up to further comment.
The first group of eight firm proposals was as follows:
- Islington for the Finsbury/Islington grouping.
- Lambeth for the grouping which comprised the old Borough of Lambeth and part of Wandsworth. This was considered to be fairly uncontroversial as the name Wandsworth would be retained for the neighbouring borough.
- Walthamstow for the Walthamstow/Chingford/Leyton grouping.
- Bexley for the Bexley/Crayford/Erith/Chislehurst & Sidcup (part) grouping. The local debate here seems to have been between the names of Bexley and Bexleyheath.
- Bromley for the Bromley/Beckenham/Orpington/Penge/Chislehurst & Sidcup (part) grouping. Locally, Beckenham, Orpington and Penge favoured “Ravensbourne” (making a second appearance, as this had also been offered by Deptford).
- Sutton for the Sutton & Cheam/Carshalton/Beddington & Wallington grouping. These local authorities really couldn’t agree among themselves and had alighted on the names of Sutton, Carshalton and Wallington respectively (although Beddington & Wallington would later offer “Sutton-Carew” as a compromise).
- Hounslow for the Brentford & Chiswick/Heston & Isleworth/Feltham grouping. The local Joint Committee had put forward “Osterley” as a proposal, a name which Brain concluded had “no charm”, while “Brentford” was also considered, given its historical associations.
- Lewisham for the Lewisham/Deptford grouping, which I dealt with last time round, so won’t cover further here.
The Ministry’s firm preferences typically reflected the largest existing authority in the grouping (for example, Lewisham had a population of 222,000 while Deptford’s was only 68,000), or, in the case of Hounslow, the name favoured by the largest Council (Heston & Isleworth, in this instance).
The second group of strong preferences, for which limited consultation was proposed, comprised:
- Kingsland for the Hackney/Shoreditch/Stoke Newington grouping.
- Romford for the Romford/Hornchurch grouping.
- Uxbridge for the Uxbridge/Hayes & Harlington/Ruislip-Northwood/Yiewsley & West Drayton grouping.
- Barnet for the grouping of Finchley/Hendon/Barnet/East Barnet/Friern Barnet.
The final group of slight preferences for which further comment would be sought was as follows:
- Southwark for the Bermondsey/Camberwell/Southwark grouping.
- Hammersmith for the Hammersmith/Fulham grouping. The two existing boroughs were roughly the same size, but Brain concluded that Hammersmith was the more significant town centre. To his apparent frustration, Hammersmith had failed to propose its own name, suggesting “Riverside”, “Westborough” or “Olympia” as alternatives. He had a particular distaste for Olympia suggesting it had “circus connotations”.
- Barking for the Barking/Dagenham grouping.
- Wimbledon for the Mitcham/Wimbledon/Merton & Morden grouping.
- Richmond-upon-Thames for the Richmond/Twickenham/Barnes grouping.
All that was missing was a suggestion for the Enfield/Edmonton/Southgate grouping as nothing had been heard from them. Brain noted that “…agreement on a name is likely, and a reminder is all that seems needed”. This proved to be a somewhat optimistic assertion.
Keith Joseph returns from his summer holidays
By 5 September, Joseph – fresh from his holiday – had responded, offering “these are on the whole not too unpromising” as an over-arching observation. He broadly accepted the eight firm proposals, with one minor query on Hounslow versus Brentford.
For the four strong preferences, he ruled out Romford and suggested Hornchurch.
As far as the final group of tentative suggestions were concerned he:
- Rejected Wimbledon in favour of Merton: “Merton is surely far more historic than Wimbledon; and if Olympia smells of the circus, Wimbledon reeks of tennis. And I’d rather oblige Mr Carr” (a local MP). The implication here is that he would rather not oblige the Surrey County Council grandee and Wimbledon Conservative MP Sir Cyril Black…
- Favoured Twickenham over Richmond: “It is larger, it is, true, connected with rugger – but not a frivolous association, like a circus or tennis”.
Why Wimbledon’s association with tennis was frivolous, yet rugby’s association with Twickenham wasn’t, was far from clear. Regardless, the civil servants appear to have convinced Joseph of the merits of “Richmond-upon-Thames”.
So, by mid-September, there was a plan in place to be communicated with the authorities concerned. Things were about to come to a head.
The local authorities respond
Come mid-October, feedback had been received from many of the authorities. On 14 October, C.J. Pearce gave an overview of the current state of play:
- There was no change on the locally agreed group of eleven (i.e. Westminster et al.), although he noted that there was no conclusion on whether the “Royal Borough of Charlton” would be accepted as a title by the Home Office and, ultimately, the Queen (which had been a request of the Metropolitan Boroughs of Greenwich and Woolwich).
- “Agreement or acquiescence” had been reached on a further three: Lambeth, Hammersmith and Brent (Wembley and Willesden having found a third mutually acceptable name). The adoption of “Brent” killed off any further consideration of the Hounslow versus Brentford debate as it was felt the latter would now cause confusion.
- For a further six, there was nothing in the feedback to provide a compelling reason for a change to the initial proposal: Bexley, Bromley, Sutton, Richmond-upon-Thames, Hounslow and Uxbridge.
- For the remining 12 boroughs, no final decision was possible. There was strong resistance in many boroughs to the adoption of the name of one of the existing authorities. Either neutral names would have to be found (e.g. as had been achieved with Camden, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets etc. in the first batch), double-barrelled names accepted (a no-no for the Ministry), or the Minister would have to impose an answer of his own choosing.
In case you are struggling to keep up, let me summarise with a table:
So, let’s finish the story with the eleven groupings highlighted in bold: the two bits of unfinished business and the nine members of the awkward squad not already covered.
I will deal with each in turn.
The first eleven names to be accepted by the Minister largely held, with one exception. On 21 October, Pearce took a telephone call from Christopher Mayhew, the MP for Woolwich East enquiring as to whether “the name Charlton had been irrevocably settled…or whether it would still be possible to propose alternatives”. Pearce, as might be expected, firmly steered the MP away from any thoughts of double-barrelled names. Mayhew replied that Charlton was unpopular with local people, but felt that many Woolwich residents would be willing to support “Greenwich” as the name for the new borough. The final view of the Ministry was that they would “gladly accept” this answer (2).
The thorny issue of “Uxbridge”, which had been the Ministry’s strong preference, would go to the wire. From the outset, little local agreement had been achieved. While the Borough of Uxbridge, unsurprisingly, shared the Ministry’s preference, Pearce recorded that the three Urban District Councils in the grouping “would settle for almost anything else” (3). Between them they had suggested “West Middlesex”, “Heathrow”, “Queensborough” (as Heathrow had been where the Queen had first set foot in England after her accession) and the ancient name of “Elthorne”. The Councils claimed that local feelings were strong, although Pearce noted that only two letters had been received from the public.
Late in the day, “Hillingdon” emerged as a possibility. This found particular favour with Dame Evelyn Sharp, as she recalled her grandfather had been a well-known Rector of the parish of that name (4). The Borough of Uxbridge would finally put the names “West Middlesex” and “Hillingdon” to a vote of its Members at the end of December and Hillingdon was duly settled on, one of the last bits of business to be tied up in this whole longwinded saga.
The Ministry’s early preference was for “Walthamstow”, although Chingford and Leyton had put forward “Forestlea” in the initial August deliberations. In what would become a regular occurrence for Joseph and his team, a delegation was sent to Whitehall to plead their case.
The MPs for Epping and Leyton, together with members of the respective Councils, duly appeared in Joseph’s office on 31 October (5). The Mayor of Chingford formally presented a petition organised by the two authorities which contained some 14,900 signatures protesting against the adoption of “Walthamstow” (although there were 124 in favour).
The minutes record that:
“The essence of the case urged on behalf of both the Chingford and Leyton Councils was that it would be psychologically wrong to choose the name of one existing authority thereby suggesting a take-over. A new Borough should start with a new name and on that basis Chingford and Leyton had both refrained from pressing their own names and urged “Forestlea”. Forest was a well-known name locally and in passing it was mentioned that Walthamstow themselves displayed a notice at the boundary of the borough: Walthamstow the gateway to the Forest”.
Joseph gave the petition short shrift:
“The Minister suggested that the petition was clearly evidence of the zeal displayed by the Chingford Council, but he doubted it was evidence of much else. Walthamstow could doubtless have collected signatures favouring Walthamstow but again such a petition would be of only limited value”.
Joseph felt that “Forestlea” was an “inadequate” name but did not rule out “Forest”. He gave the delegates another two weeks to resolve the matter, reserving the right to impose “Walthamstow”.
It took them a bit longer than two weeks, but by early December Joseph was able to confirm that “Waltham Forest will be less unpopular than Walthamstow…Both Tory MPs concerned would be content and I would therefore choose this”.
The civil servants had originally suggested “Romford”. While Hornchurch was the larger authority (just), Romford was the the main centre. Joseph preferred Hornchurch, noting that it was “historic, larger – and – all being equal (his underlining), I’d rather please the Tory than the Labour MP” (6).
As it happened, Hornchurch’s Tory MP, Godfrey Lagden, had written as early as 4 July 1963 to Fred Corfield to state his clear preference for the name “Havering”:
“…I would like to put on record that I am a very strong supporter of the name being neither Romford or Hornchurch or a bastard combination of the two, but the ancient and honourable name of Havering should be adopted. This would settle any possible suggestion of favouritism.”
Yet the two Councils themselves continued to push for the preservation of their respective names. On 8 November, a deputation from Romford and Hornchurch was received by Joseph (7). Peace appears to have broken out between the two camps, with Lagden’s preferred “Havering” brokered as a solution, although if the Minister were to reject this suggestion further clashes were threatened. Havering it was then.
Wimbledon/Mitcham/Merton & Morden
As noted earlier, while the civil servants had initially suggested “Wimbledon”, Joseph had immediately countered with a preference for “Merton”. There is little to suggest he ever wavered in this view.
Also on 8 November, at the request of the Borough of Wimbledon, it was the turn of a delegation from the three authorities to meet with Joseph (8). There was a clear split. The representatives of Mitcham and of Merton & Morden were happy to accept the Minister’s proposal of “Merton”. The Wimbledon contingent argued that their town represented the main service, shopping and entertainment centre of the new Borough – claims that were disputed by the Mitcham representatives. Public feeling was reported to be strong in each location such that the imposition of anything other than a neutral name was likely to be unacceptable.
“Merton”, of course, did feature in the name of one of the existing authorities, but one might argue that the local public’s loyalties were more with Morden. Merton wasn’t then (and isn’t now) a recognisable town, although there is a Merton Park residential area. The name has survived by virtue of long historical association. As alternative neutral names were rejected (with the suggestion of “Wandle” looked upon with particular horror), agreement on “Merton” appears to have been reached fairly swiftly thereafter.
In its original analysis, the Ministry’s preference was to adopt the name Barking. Ronald Brain recorded in his 30 August memo that in the event that both Barking and Dagenham had been suggested as names, the choice would have been difficult based on historical associations. Yet Dagenham had instead suggested “Becontree” and its variant spelling “Beacontree”.
Dagenham also requested a meeting with the Ministry to protest at the preliminary decision. Their envoys (jointly with Barking’s representatives) came to Whitehall to be received by Fred Corfield on 12 November. In an inconclusive meeting, Barking dug in on the retention of their name, noting that those citizens of the old Borough of Barking who already found themselves in the Dagenham postal district “regard themselves as…citizens of Barking” and had sent “no less than five deputations…to the G.P.O. in recent years to urge that the postal districts be amended on this point”. (9)
The Dagenham contingent, on the other hand, asserted that their residents would greatly resent the name Barking and they continued to lobby for Becontree, which was dismissed by Barking as having too close an association with the LCC housing estate.
Joseph’s final decision to opt for “Barking” reflected the view that Barking was: the larger shopping area (with Dagenham residents more likely to be drawn to Ilford and Romford); the likely site of the new Borough’s town hall; and of greater historical significance (although marginally so). Of course, the name Dagenham would reappear in the Council’s title in 1980 long after the furore over double-barrelled names had been forgotten.
In Ronald Brain’s August analysis that awaited Joseph on his return from holiday, he explained that Camberwell favoured its own name and was by far and away the largest of the three constituent authorities, but “Southwark” (which was accepted by Bermondsey Council) was suggested on the grounds of historical association.
Yet another deputation was assembled, and they got to see Fred Corfield on 20 November (10). The Southwark representatives wished to assure those present that:
“There had been no connivance between themselves and Bermondsey in putting forward the name “Southwark”. There was no ganging up against Camberwell. But once advanced the proposal was naturally supported by the Southwark Council who thought it the appropriate name on the grounds of antiquity and because of the importance of Southwark as a centre for shopping and communications”.
The “centre for shopping and communications” was taken to mean Elephant and Castle, a claim rejected by the Camberwell members who opined that it was “not a place which people visited; it was a point through which a lot of traffic passed without stopping there”. Camberwell was the largest of the three Metropolitan Boroughs (in fact its population was greater than the other two put together), had the largest Town Hall, the largest shopping centre (in the form of Peckham) and could claim its own long history as “a parish which went back without material change to 1600”.
Evidently wishing to prove their own gracious magnanimity, the Bermondsey contingent pointed out that “the original proposal of the name “Southwark” had come from them although Bermondsey itself could make its own case on grounds of history”.
Corfield was left with little option but to reassure the party that he would present their views to Joseph. On balance, it appears that Joseph and his team remained persuaded by Southwark’s historical credentials and the fact that the name was supported by Bermondsey Council. Camberwell, though, probably had a right to feel aggrieved with the Ministry’s final decision as its own name seemed to meet all of the criteria that had applied in most other cases.
In his mid-August memo, Ronald Brain first proposed “Kingsland” as the name for this grouping, describing it as “…a good local name – one of the main roads is so named”. Kingsland was also favoured by the Metropolitan Boroughs of Stoke Newington and Shoreditch. Hackney offered “Dalston” as its contribution, although Brain was less keen, observing that “its associations with the Mosley troubles of the 1930s may detract from its merit”. Joseph did not query the choice of “Kingsland” and it made in onto the list of the Ministry’s strong preferences.
Yet Hackney would soon backtrack. Writing in October, C.J. Pearce advised that:
“Hackney have now come back and said that their real preference is for “Hackney”. They did not press this earlier in the hope of reaching an agreed alternative, but in the absence of such agreement they think “Hackney” would be right”. (11)
Pearce agreed, and he encouraged Joseph to put the idea to the other two Councils for their consideration and comment. Predictably, their response was to request a meeting with the Minister and they were seen on 20 November in the absence of anyone from Hackney (12). They were particularly troubled by a letter that Hackney representatives had written suggesting that Kingsland had “unsavoury associations” (sadly, the letter is not on file to provide further illumination). As for the name “Hackney”, this would be “resented by the other two authorities; they were substantially smaller than Hackney and would feel like annexed provinces”. Hackney Council delegates were seen by Joseph separately, continuing to push for their own name.
Had local agreement been reached, the Ministry would have accepted Kingsland as the name of the new Borough. But none was forthcoming and December saw Joseph imposing the name of “Hackney” on the grounds that it “contains the largest single centre at Mare Street, which is also likely to be the headquarters of the new Borough” (13).
This grouping had been the last to respond. Silence had been taken as a good thing, and the Ministry seemed certain that local agreement would appear at the end of the summer. It wasn’t that simple. By mid-October, Pearce was able to report that each of the three Councils had written separately with two options emerging: Edmonton favoured the retention of its own name (including the variant of “Edmonton Hundred”), while Enfield and Southgate put forward “Enfield Chace” (the archaic spelling was deliberate).
Edmonton claimed that theirs was the older town centre and that the Hundred of Edmonton formerly included much of the new Borough. On the other hand, the Municipal Borough of Enfield had a more modern town hall and was the most likely administrative centre for the new Borough. The Ministry clearly favoured “Enfield” without the “Chace”. For what it is worth, Enfield West was the parliamentary constituency of senior Tory Ian Macleod. The civil servants noted that “if the Minister wished to adopt a different name for the Borough [i.e. not Enfield] he would probably wish to speak with Mr Macleod before any letter went to the local authorities”. Similar advice wasn’t necessarily offered for other Boroughs.
By early December, agreement was no nearer: “This has resolved itself into a straight dispute between Enfield and Edmonton as to which of these names should be adopted. Local agreement has proved impossible and no compromise name, commanding any volume of support, has emerged” (14). The recommendation was therefore that the Minister stick with “Enfield”.
Hendon/Finchley and the three Barnet UDCs
This was always going to be a difficult one as the new Borough was so large and covered multiple districts. For a start, Hendon and Finchley were both Municipal Boroughs, so naturally felt higher up the pecking order than the three Urban District Councils in the grouping (Barnet, Friern Barnet and East Barnet).
On 28 June, just one week after the Ministry’s initial guidance on naming, it fell to the Town Clerk of Hendon, R.H. Williams to collate all of the suggestions that had been considered by the five authorities (and you can see the full list in Part One). Barnet UDC favoured “North Hills”; East Barnet went for “Northgate”; Finchley listed 14 suggestions including “Northgate” and “Northern Heights”; Friern Barnet alighted on four proposals, one of which was also “Northern Heights”; and Hendon put forward “Hendon” as a first choice and “Northgate” as a second choice (15).
Despite all of this, the Joint Committee set up to oversee transition to the new Borough (to whom Williams’ memo was addressed), arrived at “Barnet” as their preference. While the files record that this received the blessing of Reginald Maudling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Chipping Barnet MP, not everyone was happy.
“There is a spot of bother over the naming of the new Greater London Borough No. 30” wrote the Hendon South MP Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth on 24 July (16). His letter to Keith Joseph continued “…my impression is that the decision of the Joint Committee to recommend the name of Barnet was almost certainly coloured by some jealousy of the smaller authorities for Hendon”. The Ministry will have been pleased to hear that Lucas-Tooth shared its disapproval of double-barrelled names “having personally suffered from one I think that they are equally, if not more, objectionable geographically”. Unsurprisingly, his preference was for “Hendon”.
At the same time, Bill Tangye, a Friern Barnet Councillor, was writing to Margaret Thatcher, the MP for Finchley, to push for “Northgate” (17) and there is a suggestion that it became her mild preference. It is thanks to Tangye that Williams’ memo ended up in the Ministry’s files – the intention hadn’t been for it to be shared beyond the Joint Committee’s members, but Thatcher had passed it on to Corfield. Even Hendon supported “Northgate” as a second choice, so given how much agreement there was for this fairly neutral suggestion, it is unclear how it disappeared from the deliberations quite so quickly.
The Ministry was happy for the five authorities to work it out among themselves. C.J. Pearce advised on 27 November that Hendon had ceased lobbying for its own name and was now pushing for “Templewood”, a reference to a local association with the Knights Templar. The other four Councils, perhaps out of exasperation, had been won round to “Barnet”. Unlike many other members of the awkward squad, no audience with Joseph was sought and the Ministry’s original preference of “Barnet” therefore stood.
The Ministry felt that the adoption of the name “Islington” was the obvious choice given that the old Metropolitan Borough of Islington was far larger than its neighbour. The Borough of Finsbury preferred “New River” or “Finsbury and Islington”, with Islington prepared to accept “Islington and Finsbury”. There was, of course, no appetite for the double-barrelled titles at the Ministry, but “New River” was not immediately ruled out on account of its historical connection with London’s water supply. Pearce noted in his memo of 27 November that “there seem[ed] to be comparatively little steam behind [New River]” and it faded from view. As neither Council had requested a meeting with Joseph, “Islington” went forward as a final decision.
So, there you have it – the story of the naming of the London Boroughs. Was it worth all the fuss? Do the people of Shoreditch feel like they live in an annexed province of Hackney? Was “Uxbridge” so awful a name?
An objective set of criteria had been developed but had proved difficult to apply consistently. The more esoteric names – which diverged significantly from the agreed principles – such as Newham, Redbridge and Tower Hamlets had been approved early on in a pragmatic gesture designed to encourage the rest to get a move on. Some of the final names were obvious choices: Kingston, Sutton, Harrow, Westminster, Islington etc. but others proved to be highly problematic. There was no reasonable rationale for retaining “Chelsea”, which made a mockery of the Ministry’s alleged hard line on double-barrelled names. Others, such as the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell, will have had a legitimate grievance that the standard rules were disapplied for them. Yet let us be thankful that the ugly hybrids never gained favour – I wouldn’t count Sir Keith Joseph among my political heroes, but we surely owe him a great debt for taking a stand against Stowchingley, Wimmercham, Carwalton and the rest…
(1) Memo entitled “Names for London Boroughs” from Ronald Brain to the Minister dated 30 August 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(2) Memo titled “London Boroughs Names” from C.J Pearce dated 20 December 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(4) Handwritten note from Evelyn Sharp dated 19 December 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(5) Minutes of meeting of the Chingford and Leyton deputations dated 31 October 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(6) Sir Keith Joseph’s comments of 5 September 1963, responding to Ronald Brain’s memo referenced in note (1) above (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(7) Minutes of meeting of the Hornchurch and Romford deputations dated 8 November 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(8) Minutes of meeting of the Wimbledon, Mitcham, and Merton & Morden deputations dated 8 November 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(9) Minutes of meeting of the Barking and Dagenham deputations dated 12 November 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(10) Minutes of meeting of the Camberwell, Southwark and Bermondsey deputations dated 20 November 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(11) 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).
(12) Minutes of meeting of the Stoke Newington and Shoreditch deputations dated 20 November 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(13) Memo entitled “Names of the London Boroughs” covering proposals for the Hackney and Enfield groupings from C.J Pearce dated 2 December 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(15) Memo entitled “Name of the Proposed New London Borough” addressed to the Joint Committee for the Proposed London Borough No. 30, produced by R.H. Williams, the Town Clerk of the Borough of Hendon. The memo is dated 28 June 1963 and appears to be in preparation for a meeting of the Joint Committee on 10 July 1963. The memo is held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573.
(16) Letter to Sir Keith Joseph from Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth dated 24 July 1963 (held at the National Archives in file HLG 120/573).
(17) Letter to Margaret Thatcher from Cllr Bill Tangye dated 23 July 1963.