The Street Names of Westminster and their History

Our street names series gegins in Westminster in London (see also Berlin and Prague). Street names signify a lot more about a city than we realize. Cities with a strong religious background, for example, often name their streets after saints and religious leaders. Cities that have gone through a recent revolution may change the name of their streets to correspond to a change in ideology. In Westminster in London, the political center of the England, the streets are almost exclusively named after royal and political figures of the past. Along its with the eclectic designs of its buildings, it points to a culture that has yet to experience the uprisings and extreme political turmoil of some of it’s neighboring countries.

Regent Street

History of Regent Street London

Regent Street was designed by John Nash in 1825, by order of Britain’s first and only Prince Regent George IV (he ruled the country while his father George III was recovering from mental illness). Despite his nickname as the first gentleman of England he was an unpopular figure whose extravagant spending was at odds with the country’s impoverished millions.

The Spirit of the Prince Regent

The Cafe Royal – 68 Regent St

Before it auctioned all of its old furniture and fittings and turned itself into a gorgeous 5 star hotel five years ago, the Cafe Royal was the favorite haunt of the likes of Oscar Wilde, Virgina Wolfe, Mick Jagger and Mohammad Ali. Their spirit is revived through the continued use of the bar and ‘The Cocktail Book’ compiled in 1937, as well as the recent restoration of the original Ten Room Restaurant.

Liberty – Regent St

liberty window display

In terms of window displays the Liberty store spares no expense. Every month they have a different theme. Sometimes they pay tribute to a famous designer. Other times they pay tribute to a famous writer. What happens seemingly depends on the whims of what one can only describe as their window dressing geniuses’. For Christmas 2012, and Charles Dicken’s bicentenary, they designed each window to look like compartments of a Victorian steam train.

Pall Mall

Pall Mall, London
Pall Mall, a precursor to croquet, is named after a French ball mallet game that luckily for some was played along the street’s alleyways. If it had been played inside one of the many gentleman’s clubs that populate the area women such as Mary Queen of Scots would never have had the chance to get anywhere near it.

The Spirit of Pall Mall

The Athencena – 107 Pall Mall

Joseph Conrad, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J.M Barrie gave birth to some of their finest ideas in the smoking rooms of the Athencena Club – a gentleman’s club of the highest class. The golden statue of Athene (the goddess of wisdom) on top of its facade – welcoming her members with an outstretched hand – confirms its pretense as the gentleman’s club of the intelligentsia.

Birdcage Walk

Birdcage Walk, London
It was on this lovely tree lined street that runs along the north side of St James’ Park that James I started his practice of breeding and housing exotic birds. As a conservation area – the Park also held animals such as crocodiles and elephants – it was guarded by Buckingham Gate on its east side, by Queen’s Gate on its west side, and by Storey Gate (named after the king’s bird keeper Peter Storey) at its center.

The Spirit of Birdcage Walk

St. James’s Park

St James's Park, London
As London’s oldest park, St. James’s Park has a fascinating history. After tearing down forests and a woman leper’s hospital to build it, James the 1st turned it into a royal menagerie – a precursor to zoos – that held exotic animals such as camels, lions, crocodiles and elephants. They disappeared after Charles II opened the park to the public at the end of the 17th century, but their legacy remains in the pelicans, first given to Charles II as a gift by a Russian ambassador.

Victoria Street

Victoria Street London

Circa 1905

No prizes for guessing Victoria Street is named after the indomitable Queen Victoria – Britain’s longest serving monarch, and the longest serving female monarch in world history. Built as late as 1851 the street still serves its original purpose of linking Buckingham Palace and Belgravia, with Westminster and Whitehall.

The Spirit of Queen Victoria

College of Arms -130 Queen Victoria St

Since 1984 the College of Arms, founded by Richard III, has granted people and organizations with new coats of arms, flags, and claimed responsibility for the country’s national symbol. It’s own coat of arms shows two lions holding a shield emblazoned with the St. George Cross and 4 doves. Underneath are printed the words diligent and secret.

St. Andrew by the Wardrobe – St Andrew’s Hill

This church, designed by the 17th and 18th century architect Christopher Wren has been rebuilt twice: the first time after the Fire of London in 1666 and the second time after the war in 1961. Its exterior is more no nonsense than extravagant, but inside it holds a carved oak and lime wood memorial to William Shakespeare.

Sloane Street

So finally a street not connected to the British royal family. Sir Hans Sloane was an upper class gentleman who did what upper class gentleman did in the 1800s – purchased an area of a city and named it after himself. To be fair he probably deserves the accolade as much as anyone for first bequeathing his books, drawing and manuscripts of plants and animals to the British museum and second, and not least, for inventing drinking chocolate.

The Spirit of Sir Hans Sloane

Holy Trinity Church – Sloane St (near Sloane Square)

In its range of architectural styles, from medieval to English decorative Gothic, Holy Trinity church pays tribute to the art and crafts movement of the late 18th early 19th century – a reaction against the decorative art being churned out by machines during the same period. As John Ruskin said in his book the Nature of Gothic “Men were not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cog-wheels and their arms strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanize them….”

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