There are loads of roads named after people in our fair city, but it doesn't take much imagination to work out who Queen Anne's Gate is named after, or Wat Tyler Road, and surely we all know that Shaftesbury Avenue was named for one of the Earls of Shaftesbury?
There are some eponymous roads that are more interesting than others. Here are just a few of them.
Lots of streets are named after nobility, but this one in St James's is named after Baptist May, a courtier to Charles II. Hardly an 'umble servant (he was the son of Sir Humphrey May), May became Keeper of the Privy Purse in 1665, a role he continued until Charles's death.
After an attempt to become an MP in 1666 (the people of Winchelsea elected someone else), he got into Parliament as the member for Midhurst in 1670 (he also represented a few other constituencies during his life, making him perhaps the George Galloway of his day).
He seems to have been a not very active legislator, preferring instead to intrigue against various individuals (further comparisons to George Galloway are not advised for legal reasons).
Lilian Baylis took over the lease of what was The Royal Victoria Hall in 1912. We know today it as The Old Vic, and she brought opera and Shakespeare to Waterloo. The street named after her runs from Lambeth North tube station up to Waterloo Road, where it meets her old stomping ground. Baylis was also instrumental in re-opening Sadler's Wells in 1931.
As well as her eponymous street, you can sit in the Lilian Baylis Circle at The Old Vic, watch performances in the Lilian Baylis Studio in Sadler's Wells or have a drink on the National Theatre's Baylis Terrace.
Frenchman Jean-François Gravelet is better known as Chevalier, or Charles, Blondin. He's even better known for his acrobatic feats such as repeated tightrope crossings of Niagara Falls (including once carrying his manager on his back, and one where he stopped halfway across to cook an omelette).
Blondin also performed in London. Charles Dickens said of one occasion that "half of London is here eager for some dreadful accident".
He retired to Ealing, dying at his home Niagara House in 1897. If you visit Blondin Avenue in Ealing, take note of Niagara Avenue just to the south, and walk to the end of either of them for access to Blondin Park.
We're going to use Wikipedia's description of Sir George Downing, where a user seems to have been channeling John le Carre: "preacher, soldier, statesman, diplomat, turncoat and spy". He spent his early adulthood in the American colonies, but by 1650 was in Scotland working for Oliver Cromwell during the third phase of the English Civil War.
That didn't prevent Charles II knighting him after the Restoration, or creating him a baronet in 1663. Between 1682-84, he had Downing Street built on a patch of land he'd owned for 30 years — though Churchill noted the houses weren't terribly sturdy (Downing had a reputation for miserliness).
Read more about the secrets of Downing Street.
Gower Street is named after Gertrude Leveson-Gower, the wife of John Russell, the 4th Duke of Bedford. The Gower baronetcy was a subsidiary title of the Duke of Sutherland, held in the Leveson-Gower family until 1963.
Gertrude was noted as a formidable advisor to her husband, who held various political roles in the reigns of George II and III, including Lord Privy Seal and Ambassador to France at the end of the Seven Years' War.
The area we know as Bloomsbury had come to the Russell family in 1669, when the 5th Earl of Bedford's son married Lady Rachel Vaughan, daughter of the 4th Earl of Southampton. Southampton had started developing the area in the 1660s. After John Russell died in 1771, Gertrude worked with his agent to expand on Southampton's work; Bedford Square and Gower Street were built during this time.
Hungerford Bridge, the rail bridge crossing the Thames into Charing Cross station, gets its name from Sir Edward Hungerford, an MP between 1659 and 1702. His real legacy, however, is probably in the fact that his Wikipedia entry is called "Edward Hungerford (spendthrift)".
Renowned for chucking money away, in 1679 he gained permission to hold a market on the site of his family's town house which had burned down a decade earlier. The market didn't take off, and Hungerford sold it off to one Stephen Fox (to whom Hungerford already owed a lot of money) and Christopher Wren (you'll be unsurprised to hear Hungerford pissed the money away, dying in poverty while living behind Trafalgar Square).
The market went through two incarnations before being knocked down to make way for... Charing Cross station.
Jack Cornwell Street
Jack Cornwell, born in West Ham and just 16 years old when he was horribly wounded — and subsequently died — at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, was turned into a war hero by the British press. More than 6,000 men died in the naval battle, though it allowed Britain to continue its crucial blockade of Germany.
Cornwell was a 'sight-setter' on a forward gun on HMS Chester. On 31 May 1916, the ship found itself facing four German cruisers and was attacked. The rest of Cornwell's team were killed and, though seriously injured, he stayed at his post awaiting orders.
Cornwell would have remained in obscurity, but Admiral Sir David Beatty mentioned him in the battle dispatch, printed in July 1916. The Daily Sketch picked up on his story and began to campaign for a burial with full naval honours; in September of the same year, Cornwell was awarded the Victoria Cross with a Jack Cornwell Day declared the same month. You can see his medal and the gun he served on at the Imperial War Museum.
For all that, his mother Lily died in poverty in 1919.
John Islip Street
Islip was the Abbot of Westminster from 1500 until his death in 1532. He entered the monastery as a 16 year old in 1480, rising up the ranks to eventually become friends with Henry VII and VIII. Probably a good job he died before the Dissolution of the Monasteries a few years later.
While Islip was Abbot, the Abbey's nave was finished and the west towers built as high as the nave roof. Henry VII's Lady Chapel was also started under his tenure, with the Abbot laying the foundation stone.
Islip died not at the Abbey, but at his house in Chelsea. He was buried in a chantry chapel in the Abbey, but only part of his tomb still remains.
What's the connection between a Swedish opera singer and Sutton? Born in Stockholm in 1820, Johanna Maria Lind performed in Europe and America before settling in Surrey from 1855.
No recording of her singing exists, but she captivated audiences — and also captivated Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote several of his stories with her in mind. There's also a theory he wrote the Snow Queen about her after she failed to return his affections. The Snow Queen's heart is made of ice, so it's good to know Andersen took it well.
Lind first performed in London in 1847 and, as well as appearing at some prestigious venues, she is supposed to have visited friends and performed in Sutton. 1847 was the start of major development in Sutton (the train station opened that year) and not only is there a Lind Road, the Nightingale pub on Carshalton Road used to be called The Jenny Lind (one of Lind's nicknames was The Swedish Nightingale, so the link remains).
Manuel II was the last King of Portugal. Manuel — or Manoel, in Portuguese — became king in 1908 at 18 years old after assassins killed his father and older brother. He was deposed two and a half years later in a Republican revolution and lived out the rest of his life in Twickenham, where his mother had been born, until his early death in 1932.
His influence is felt in Manoel Road and other surrounding streets: Portugal Gardens and Lisbon Avenue. There's also an Augusta Road, presumably named after his wife, Augusta Victoria.
Mornington Crescent! Congratulations, you've won Radio 4's nerdiest and most beloved game. But have you ever considered whose name you're shouting?
Garrett Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington, was born in 1735 on his family's estate in County Meath. He was briefly a politician in Ireland until inheriting his father's title and becoming Baron Mornington. He was also a talented composer and, in 1760, was created Earl of Mornington and Viscount Wellesley.
He had very little input into Mornington Crescent himself (and the nearby Mornington Place, Terrace and Street), other than having a daughter, Anne. She married Henry FitzRoy in 1790, and the land on which the streets now sit formed part of his estate.
(The keen-eyed among you will have noted that Wellesley was the surname of the Duke of Wellington — he was Garret's third son. The title Earl of Mornington is now held by the current Duke, Arthur Charles Valerian Wellesley.)
Pity the people named Pratt. It's so easy to make a joke out of their name, as demonstrated here by Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant in Sense and Sensibility:
We probably shouldn't worry too much about Charles Pratt, 1st Earl of Camden, after whom Pratt Street is named. He was a lawyer, MP, Attorney General and also Lord Chancellor from 1766 to 1770. He was a champion of the American colonists' complaints over taxation, and heavily backed a bill to give juries the right to decide on libel cases rather than leaving it in the hands of judges.
Pratt owned the land on which Camden Town now stands. He began allowing development in the early 1790s, though had died by the time the Regent's Canal was dug through.
It's a delicious irony that a street known for men's tailoring is actually named after a woman. Dorothy Savile (or Boyle after her marriage in 1721) was an accomplished artist — you can still see her paintings at Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall.
Burlington House — now home to the Royal Academy — passed in 1704 to Dorothy's husband, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington and 4th Earl of Cork. Savile Row, just behind the house, was developed between 1731 and 1735. The freehold on the land was actually owned by Sir Benjamin Maddox, and the Burlington family leased it from him.
You can see more of the family's influence in nearby Cork Street and Boyle Street, and it's likely the Maddox family is commemorated in Maddox Street, slightly further north.