Why There’s Not A Single Road In The City Of London

Goswell Road: half in the City...

One of the greatest pieces of trivia you will ever hear about the City of London is that it contains no Roads. There are plenty of Streets, Squares and Alleys, but traditionally not a single Road.

This is only true on a technicality of wording, however.

The Square Mile survived for hundreds of years without any Roads, right up until boundary changes in 1994. At that time, the eastern half of Goswell Road was brought — reluctantly we’re told — under the jurisdiction of the City, while the western half remained in the Borough of Islington.

...and half in the Borough of Islington (nee Finsbury).

As the boundary runs down the middle of the Road, pedants might argue that this still, technically, means that there isn’t a single Road within the City of London, merely a half-road. The other close candidate is City Road, but this stops just short of the boundary.

The reason for the historic anomaly, in case you’re wondering, appears to be because this sense of the word ‘road’ was not coined until the late 16th Century, after nearly all the thoroughfares in the ancient City had already been named.

See also: 

London’s Rudest Street Names

Why London Doesn’t Exist

London Facts That Aren’t Actually True

Big Ben: The Tower With Five Names

 

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  • Cycleassist.co.uk

    Interesting stuff, thanks for sharing! :)

  • http://www.marcofiori.co.uk Marco Fiori

    Never knew this, is really cool trivia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/skitster Scott Wood

    What has puzzled me about all this is why does Farringdon Street becomes Farringdon Street when it hits the City boundary? Farringdon Street was build over the Fleet DItch long after the word ‘road’ was in usage in the 18 century?

    • MattFromLondonist

      Excellent question. I wonder if it’s simply because the City governors back then wanted to respect the tradition.

      • http://www.facebook.com/skitster Scott Wood

        Maybe, probably. Next time I’m at the LMA or Guildhall Library I may chec it out if I’ve got time. They’re a friendly bunch.

  • http://twitter.com/tomhalltravel Tom Hall

    Farringdon Road, no?

    • MattFromLondonist

      No.

  • Charlottefergs

    Tottenham court road is the only road in w1

  • http://www.facebook.com/skitster Scott Wood

    Farringdon Road, yes! Fixed it, thanks.

  • Sandy McCreery

    I can shed some light on this. As your World Wide Words link points out roads were for riding on. Streets, on the other hand, were paved (from the latin ‘via strata’ – laid (down) ways) and not good for riding on. By the late C18th most roads in Britain were turnpikes, and specifically surfaced to suit the needs of horses. There were not roads in the City, all the streets were paved. However ‘road’ and ‘turnpike’ became almost interchangeable, leading to some interesting anomalies such as Cannon Street Road in Whitechapel – that was built as a turnpike (road) but it was paved (street), hence the seemingly tautological name.

    • MattFromLondonist

      Excellent comment, thank you Sandy.

  • George Rix

    The roundabout where it meets the London wall was known to the London Dispatch Riders as the ‘Diesel Roundabout’!

  • George Rix

    ..for many there is the ‘Road to Ruin’!

  • Flash Bristow

    You say the eastern half is in the city, but the eastern half isn’t. Um…. Which is it? :-)

  • Ben Seaton

    What about City Road?

    • David

      Its not in the square mile of the city…

  • alex woolf

    This is because the City is inside the old Roman walls and thus the medieval streets were paved and ‘street’ originally denoted ‘paved way’. Hence outside citeis streets like Watling Street and Ermine Street are all fromer Roman roads, and thus paved.

  • http://www.simonkearns.com spiralise

    We’re all on the London Street to Nowhere.

  • Andy

    The reason there are no roads in the City of London is because a road joins a smaller settlement to a larger settlement. Villages would have road names of the nearest town, towns would have road names to the nearest city, and city’s would have road names to the Capital, hence why there are so many London roads, and no roads in London (City).

  • Farida

    WOW this is a really interesting fact. I recently walked the whole of Goswell Road, starting in the City (near the Barbican). I knew it was in two boroughs, but not that it was unique being the only road in the City of London!

  • http://profiles.google.com/bigdai100 David Williams

    I was always told that roads take you somewhere, but once you have reached the City, you have arrived

  • Ewan

    There are roads on many properties owned by the Corporation of London and hence would/could be considered part of the City.

    For example, Tower Bridge Road is the name of the actual road on Tower Bridge and this is owned by the City of London. Sherrin Road is on the grounds of New Spitalfield Market.

    Other properties of the Corporation of London with roads running through them are Wanstead Flats (with Centre Road and Lake House Road running through it) and the rest of Epping Forest which has numerous roads running through it (notably Epping New Road). I think these roads aren’t actually part of the property of the Corporation so I think they wouldn’t count.

    I think this brings the count up to 2.5.

  • Notta Scoobie

    When the Golden Lane Estate was wholly brought to within the boundary of the City of London in the 90s (one block of flats always was, the others were in Islington) there was talk about renaming that section of Goswell Road up to the junction of Clerkenwell Road/Old Street to Goswell Street, for the very reason that the City had no roads. Obviously the name change didn’t happen.