Okay – I have a confession to make. I am a little, um, behind with my correspondence. I have this slightly ad-hoc thing with my email where I put a star next to the things I haven’t dealt with yet (or things that I’m halfway investigating/ haven’t got round to posting on Parish News – I’m utterly rubbish at listings…) As of today, I have an embarrassing 207 stars next to messages. Sorry, folks…
One of the oldest stars, about which he has recently gently reminded me, is Ian’s, asking me this question, ahem, over a year ago:
“I live in Straightsmouth and have always wondered about the origins of its name. I’ve made the occasional half hearted effort to find out but have drawn a blank. I’m aware of the fate of Glaisher Street which did run off Straightsmouth which I see you note in your blog.
The street must predate the railway which it runs beside (apparently my house No. 64 is from about 1790 according to the person who surveyed it – which is earlier than I would have given it credit for).”
Now of course, part of the reason for getting behind with this question is that it’s bloomin’ hard. Not least because it doesn’t fall neatly into any of the special interest groups I know of, like The Ashburnham Triangle Association (wrong side of the tracks…) and it’s not ‘grand’ enough to be covered by the histories concerning the central streets.
I spent some time with my friends the Reverend L’Estrange, Richardson and Hasted on this one, dipping into every book on my shelf, and came up with a big fat nothing, though it did have me take a trip to find Halford’s Row in Roan Street, where, Mr Richardson told me, a bit of St Alfege’s church spire had lodged itself in one of the houses after being hit by lightning on May 6th, 1813 – don’t bother looking – the house is long-gone…
My best guess was that the name comes from the mouth of the Ravensbourne slooshing into Greenwich Reach, which I suppose could be called a ‘straight.’ But in truth I just didn’t know.
So I had no choice but to bring out the big guns – in the form of the very wonderful Julian Watson. I don’t normally like to bother him since he must spend his entire life answering tedious questions about Greenwich – his name has appeared in the credits of pretty much every book written about the area from the past thirty-odd years. I do try to do my own research. Honest. But this one totally got me.
The odd thing is that it seems to have got everyone. Here is his reply…
“This is one of the most fascinating names in Greenwich and has never been satisfactorily explained. It is clearly marked but not named on Samuel Travers’ map of 1695. The earliest reference that I have found to the name is, if I remember right, 1768 on a property deed. It is probably ancient and could have linked up with the original road through the centre of Greenwich before Duke Humphrey acquired the whole of the central block of the town.
The old way before the royals was along Old Woolwich Road and then possibly along what was called Long Turnpin Lane and then to Church St. Most of Turnpin Lane was enclosed within the Royal Hospital grounds. Or it might have gone along Rood or Stocks Lane – roughly the line of College Approach.
Prof. JEG Montmorency of the original Greenwich Antiquarian Society suggested a Roman origin for this very interesting street but, sadly, there is no evidence for this. However, he still could be right!
The short answer is that the derivation of the name and the date is not known even though many great brains including Sir Robert Somerville have thought about it long and hard.”
In following up Julian’s Roman suggestion, (btw who else just loves the idea of Greenwich Antiquarian Society being headed by someone named Prof. J.E.G. de Montmorency? It’s all so deliciously steampunk…) I found a letter online from Beryl Platts, author of A History of Greenwich,(annoyingly I couldn’t find out who the letter was to…) which says:
“There is no doubt that the first Roman road from the Kent coast to London did come through what is now Greenwich Park; traces are still visible. It stopped at a point still called Straightsmouth (Streetsmouth) and there was, and still is, a Thames-side dock there, called Billingsgate.”
Sadly this was in the 70s before the ‘Billingsgate’ descended into – well, not very much.
So there you have it, folks and Ian. All the Straightsmouth that’s fit to print…