Penge? Osidge? Where Do London's Odd Suburb Names Come From?

M@
By M@
Penge? Osidge? Where Do London's Odd Suburb Names Come From?

A roundup of some of the more curious names from London's suburbs.

Belvedere

Belvedere Waste Incinerator. Photo by the author.

It sounds all lovely and continental, but Belvedere's most noted landmark is a waste incinerator. There wasn't much hereabouts until the mid-19th century, when weirdly named landowner Sir Culling Eardley started building up the area. His hilltop home was named Belvedere House, from the Italian for 'beautiful view'. Wonder what he would have made of the slopes down to the Thames today?

Castelnau

The main road through the Barnes peninsula, and the wider area, is known as Castelnau. It's easy enough to guess that the name means 'new castle' (in the southern French language of Occitan). But where is the castle? There isn't one. The name comes from Castelnau-le-Lez near Montpellier. A local Huguenot baron fled that area during times of religious persecution in the 17th century, and settled in Barnes. His descendants built up the area, remembering their homeland on several buildings and roads. The name was cemented in the 1920s with construction of the Castelnau Estate.

Crouch End

A mandatory entry on any list of naughty north London place names (see also Belsize Park and Cockfosters), this well-to-do suburb has a slightly mysterious etymology. The 'crouch' is thought to refer to a cross — but whether a religious symbol or boundary marker is unknown. 'End' simply means an outlaying place, as Crouch End remains to anyone who refuses to acknowledge any place that's not on the tube.

Foots Cray

This suburb to the extreme south-east is a half-day's walk from central London but has nothing to do with feet. A Norman called Godwin Fot is recorded in Domesday Book as holding the land here on the River Cray.

Freezywater

One of the northern-most points in London, in the Borough of Enfield, Freezywater needs no cryptic crossword champion to unpick. It is simply named after a long-lost pond whose exposed location caused it to freeze easily. The name was first recorded in 1768, attached to a nearby farm. To this day, you can still catch fish there.

Osidge

The Osidge Arms probably serves sausage. And it has a hedge. Which, as we'll see, is important... Image by the author.

This Barnet settlement is perhaps best know for rhyming with sausage. It does, incredibly, have a link to sausage retail. The strange name comes from Anglo-Saxon times and means 'a hedge belonging to Osa'. Osidge is the only place in London named after a hedge. Edgware doesn't count.

Penge

Penge is perhaps the strangest sounding name in London. It is almost impossible for outsiders to say the word without a comedy sneer. There is a good reason for its unusual ear-feel. Penge is one of the very few places in Greater London whose name dates back to Celtic times (i.e. before the Romans and Anglo-Saxons). We're not used to hearing words borne of this distant era, so it sounds odd. The name is thought to mean 'edge of the wood'.

Plaistow

The East End suburb often causes confusion for its pronunciation. It should be Plah-stow, rather than Play-stow. This one is named after a person —Sir Hugh de Plaiz and his family who owned this land soon after the 1066 Conquest. A 'stow' is a village or assembly place, so Plaiz-stow was the village belonging to the de Plaiz family.

Sidcup

The Great Wall of Sidcup. Image by author.

Another Bexley entry, first recorded in the 13th century as Cetecopp. The name means something like 'fold in the hill' or 'flat topped hill'.


Obviously, this list could be much longer — and what one person considers an odd name might sound perfectly normal to somebody else. But feel free to suggest additions in the comments, and we might run a 'round 2'.

Last Updated 29 November 2017

Robert Hasell

Elmer's End - shouldn't this be in the American South?

MiceElf

Pen means a hilltop as in Pendle Hill and other northern place names.

Melvyn Windebank

No mention of Pratts Bottom..... Shame it doesn't have a station!

Stave

I know that Hainault is a district in south west Belgium, but does anyone know how it ended up east of London as well?