The Next Stop Is… First Avenue

Well, Marylebone, at least, has a sort of grid system.

Well, Marylebone, at least, has a sort of grid system.

Number 6: First Avenue
Where: Manor Park
Routes: 25, 86

…also: First Avenue
Where: Mortlake
Routes: 209, 419

…and: Second Avenue
Where: East Acton
Routes: 207, 266, 272

…and so on, and so on, ad nauseam. There are bloody loads of these.

North Americans, we’ve often thought, show a distinct lack of imagination in the way they label their cities. Denied the privilege of thousands of years of history to draw on, and forced to design and construct an entire city pretty much instantaneously, they’ve forsaken the opportunity to copy London’s approach to urban planning in favour of building their streets quite tediously parallel and then numbering them. What this approach lacks in excitement it makes up for through its use as a navigational aide (although the afternoon we spent looking for the zero point in Vancouver’s block numbering system, only to discover it was somewhere out in the harbour, was a particularly annoying waste of our time).

London generally doesn’t go in for this kind of grid-based nonsense, of course – but a few of the suburbs have at least toyed with it. Whether they represent laziness on the part of the authorities, or grand schemes that petered out before really getting going, we’re not sure – but there are patches of outer London’s street plan that do use numbers as names.

We can find no 1st Street anywhere, but there are a profusion of First Avenues, and generally a Second to match. With each number you climb, though, a few lose heart and give up on the scheme, until before very long none seem to be left. There are American cities so committed to their grid systems that you end up with street names well into the 200s. London struggles to make it to double figures.

East Acton, for example, features a First Avenue, and a Second, and a Third, each providing a bus stop with its name. This scheme, though, gets no further, and where Fourth should be you’ll instead find Bromyard Avenue. Walthamstow and Bush Hill Park also have districts where the numbering makes it to Third; Mortlake gives it up as a bad lot after Second. Dagenham tries a bit harder a bit harder and makes it to Fourth, but while the first three are neighbours, there’s then a gap featuring a couple of miles of streets and a country park before you’ll find their ostensible peer. This, we can only assume, is some kind of bizarre geographical joke.

A few districts do make it to slightly higher numbers. Kensal Town runs to Sixth; Manor Park to Eighth. Hayes (Middlesex, not Kent) makes it up to Ninth Avenue, though rather than being neatly parallel its brethren are sprinkled on the landscape at random, so tracking them down feels a bit like looking for the next chocolate in the advent calendar.

The winner, though, seems to be an estate just beyond the city limits in Tadworth. There, on a modern housing development you’ll find avenues labeled with all the ordinals up to 16th. Given the whole estate is built around a single dead end street called Holly Lodge, however, this not only shows a stunning lack of imagination on the part of the developers, but is very little use as navigational aide either. Poor show, Tadworth. Poor show.

Photo courtesy of Londonist’s very own Matt Brown

Previous unusual bus stop names explained

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Jonn

Article by Jonn Elledge | 94 Articles | View Profile

  • Paul Redfern

    Actually, London has lots of grid systems. 18th century landowners all used the grid system in order to maximise revenues from their properties. The problem is that none of their landholdings were in any way rectangular, so none of the grids match up. Overlay a map of 18th century estates over the West End & Marylebone & suddenly the street layouts all make sense.

  • MattFromLondonist

    The streets in Kensal have a horizontal element to the grid as well as the vertical Avenues. Take a look between upper Fifth and Sixth and you’ll note an alphabetical progression (mysteriously lacking a J…as though mocking you, Jonn). There are similar alphabetical sequences hidden elsewhere in London’s street patterns…perhaps a future article.

  • Craig Bauer Melson

    grid systems are plentiful! west end, bloomsbury..

  • MB

    Personally I’ve always been a fan of the Glasgow grid. Nice sandstone buildings, too.

  • Willo

    There’s a First Street in Manchester: a new city centre development currently under construction

  • Mogs

    The Roman army used a grid system that was widely copied by their descendants and imitators. Florence, Italy, originally an army camp site for retired soldiers, comprises a grid system, as does Winchelsea UK. In fact, if you look carefully at the streets around London Wall, you will find the same Roman grid.

  • Mu

    Don’t forget the alphabet streets in Fulham http://brik.co.uk/areas/info/the-alphabet-streets