Heroes And Heartbreak In Newham’s Eponymous Streets

Rick Roberts Way

Following our look at the people honoured by Greenwich with a street named after them, here we hop across the water to see who the London Borough of Newham has seen fit to so honour.

Newham takes to naming streets for its heroes like bankers take to bonuses. Nearly 40 streets are named after people in the borough (and we’re talking here about streets that carry both a first and surname), more than any other. Notably, a large number of the stories behind the names are tinged with tragedy.

In keeping with the wartime spirit commonly associated with east London, Newham has chosen to honour a number of veterans within its geography. Bernard Cassidy Street south of Plaistow is named for a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers who gave his life in March 1918 defending a vital line in Arras, France, from an overwhelming German onslaught.

Similarly heroic, though unquestionably more tragic, is the story of Jack Cornwell who has a street in his honour in Little Ilford. Cornwell was just 16 when his vessel, HMS Chester, came under sustained fire from four German cruisers in May 1916. With every other member of his gun’s crew lying dead around him, Cornwell stood hideously wounded at his sighting post, bravely awaiting orders until the ship withdrew. Sadly he died two days later of his injuries.

Both recipients of the Victoria Cross (Cornwell among the youngest to receive the honour), these two valiant men are the type about which Vera Lynn would fondly reminisce throughout her long career. The Forces’ Sweetheart also has a close named after her, in Forest Gate.

Three more stories highlight the borough’s often sorrowful past. Bradley Stone Road in Beckton is named in honour of the young boxer who died of injuries sustained in a super bantamweight fight in 1994. At just 23 years old, Stone had won 17 of his previous 19 fights and his loss was a great tragedy for the area.

Nina Mackay Close is named for the policewoman fatally injured by a schizophrenic man on bail for various offences, in a bedsit in Stratford in 1997. The subsequent inquiry highlighted numerous failings and led to a rethink in how to handle potentially dangerous patients in the community.

The case of Walter Rodney had a more international flavour. Rodney was a prominent political activist and scholar in Guyana, who spent time in the borough while studying and developing his views on the often dubious influence of Europe throughout Africa’s history. He was assassinated in 1980, probably at the behest of Guyanese president Linden Forbes Burnham, and is honoured in both Newham and Southwark for his important work.

That Newham chooses to honour such tragic cases is laudable, but perhaps a few happier stories should be noted. Popular actress and singer Anna Neagle is feted with a close in Forest Gate, where she was born in 1904. Her glamour provided much-needed respite via post-war silver screens as she appeared in numerous London-themed hits such as Spring in Park Lane, Maytime in Mayfair and The Courtneys of Curzon Street.

Tom Hood was a humourist and poet who tickled 19th century Londoners most agreeably during his helming of the weekly magazine Fun. His father was also a humourist called Thomas and could potentially claim a share of Tom Hood Close in Stratford.

Finally, a Channel swimmer. A desperately difficult and dangerous enterprise, as shown by the sad case of Susan Taylor in recent days, it is important to honour those brave enough to attempt the seemingly impossible. Among their number was Edward Temme, the first man to swim across the Channel in both directions — albeit some years apart — between the world wars.

Temme was also a member of the British Water Polo team, competing at two Olympic Games, and epitomises the proud Newhamite as well as any of the others honoured with a street or avenue in their name.

Do you know the history of any of Newham’s other heroes? Should any current Newham residents get their own street names? And…does anyone know who the Rick Roberts from the photo is/was? Let us know in the comments.

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  • Conor McAuley

    Rick Roberts was an employee of Newham Council who died somewhat prematurely in (I think) the 199os. His colleagues in the Council’s Highways Division decided to name a street after him and the Council agreed. At this time Rick Roberts Way was the access road to an industrial estate. Things have moved on since and the road is of geater significance with residential development along it.

    • http://www.cidlockie.com/ Chris L

      Aha, thanks for the info Conor.

  • Duncan

    Rick Roberts was a member of the former transport policy team at the London Borough of Newham, who sadly died in about 1990 from a brain tumour, aged only 40-something.

  • Conor McAuley

    When the tower block Ronan Point collapsed in 1968 it didn’t do much for the career of Harry Ronan the Chairman of Newham’s Housing Committee after whom it was named. The councillors then decided to stop naming streets/buildings after living colleagues. Newham had over 100 tower blocks at the time, many of which were named (for no particular reason) after councillors and serving council officers.

  • Nick Beeny

    And a new one…

    http://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk/news/youngest_olympic_boxer_spinks_honoured_with_new_canning_town_space_1_2308796

    At least Terry was a sporting hero and not a council worker! Will we see a Conor McAuley Way or perhaps Newham itself will be renamed the London Borough of Sir Robin Wales?