Mapped: Bits Of London That Gave Their Names To Stuff

By M@ Last edited 14 months ago

Last Updated 08 March 2023

Mapped: Bits Of London That Gave Their Names To Stuff

We go in search of London eponyms... bits of town that have inspired the name of things.

"The joint I'm about to roll requires a craftsman. It can utilise up to 12 skins. It is called a Camberwell Carrot." So explains Danny in Withnail & I, as he prepares a spliff for the ages.

The cone of weed gets its name, says Danny, because "I invented it in Camberwell and it looks like a carrot."

The Class B carrot isn't the only thing to take its name from Camberwell. The area also lent its identity to the Camberwell beauty, a species of butterfly first recorded hereabouts. London has inspired dozens of eponyms when you look around, from Chelsea Tractors to Millwall Bricks. We've put together this map of the best, with a bit of help from Twitter (thanks to everyone who responded).

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The following list includes elements of Cockney rhyming slang that are based on London locations, as well as a handful of fictional characters who are named for parts of London. We've (mostly) left out songs and musical references, as there'd be too many.

Barnet Fair (Hair): One of the more popular Cockney phrases. A "nice Barnet" comes from Barnet Fair, which rhymes with hair.

Battersea Bundles: Battersea's Wetherspoons pub is named The Asparagus because the urine-meddling vegetable was once an abundant crop in the area. A Battersea bundle was a common term for a bunch of asparagus.

Bexley Beast: The Beast of Bexley was a puma or other large cat said to roam the borderlands of Kent and London. It caused a minor media frenzy in the early years of the millennium, including regular (and somewhat credulous) reports on the early Londonist.

Bloomsbury Group: The early/mid-20th century group of artists, writers and thinkers who tended to live in the Bloomsbury area. Notable members include Virginia Woolf, EM Forster and John Maynard Keynes. Other London groups, like the Camden Town set of artists, might also have been mapped, but this is the most famous example.

Bow Street Runner: An early police force in London, which operated from the magistrate's court on Bow Street. It was founded by novelist and magistrate Henry Fielding in 1749.

Brentford Roll: Historian Val Bott shared with me this 1810 recipe for Brentford rolls, as written by Maria Rundell. Sounds simple enough, apart from finding a kitchen with an open fire.

A recipe for Brentford rolls involving flour, eggs, sugar, butter and other stuff

Brixton Briefcase: @LordLouCan suggested this most wonderful of phrases. A Brixton Briefcase was commonly used to describe those portable stereos (sometimes called ghettoblasters) popular in the 1980s.

Bromley-by-Bow (Toes): More Cockney rhyming slang, supposedly used to refer to toes — though I have to confess I've never heard of anyone being "quick on their Bromleys".

Brompton Bike: The famous folding bicycle got its name from the Brompton Oratory. The west London landmark was visible from inventor Andrew Ritchie's bedroom workshop.

Camberwell Beauty: This striking mural in Burgess Park, Southwark represents the Camberwell beauty (Nymphalis antiopa). The colourful insect was first recorded (in Britain) on nearby Coldharbour Lane in 1748. Happily, in real life, it's much smaller than depicted.

A large mural of a butterfly on a gable end
The Camberwell beauty. Image Matt Brown

Camberwell Carrot: The world's most famous eponymic spliff. See above.

Chalk Farm (Arm): The north annexe of Camden Town is apparently Cockney rhyming slang for arm. "Ere, doctor, I've broken me 'Chalk', like," is a phrase often heard at the Royal Free, no doubt.

Chelsea Bun: You've probably never heard of the Brentford Roll (see above), but the Chelsea Bun is still a mainstay of the baker's counter. The spiral pastry was created over 300 years ago in the Chelsea Bun House, which stood at the north-eastern end of Royal Hospital Road until its demolition in 1839.

Chelsea Pensioner: The famous red-jacketed pensioners have lived in retirement at the Royal Hospital Chelsea since the 17th century, which makes them very aged pensioners indeed. Unless I've misunderstood something.

A chelsea pensioner pointing at camera
Image: Matt Brown

Chelsea Smile: To give someone a Chelsea smile is to cut their cheek from mouth to ear on both sides. The disfigurement was originally known as a Glasgow smile, but took on the Chelsea moniker in the 1980s thanks to a local group of football thugs.

Chelsea Tractor: Chelsea's fourth entry, the Chelsea Tractor, refers to a Range Rover or other four-wheel-drive car more suited to the countryside, when used in an urban setting. The practice was once confined to wealthy areas like Chelsea, but is now depressingly popular all over the country. I'm not saying that people who drive big cars are all selfish, planet-destroying numbats... but I am thinking that.

Croydon Facelift: A hairstyle in which one's 'Barnet' (see above) is pulled back into a tight bun or pony tail, bringing the forehead and its wrinkles along for the ride. The term became popular in the early Noughties — a time when it was popular to mock the dress-sense of the lower classes.

Dagenham Dustbin: A term originating in the 1960s to refer to a Ford Cortina. Thanks to its low cost, the Cortina became Britain's most popular (and most stolen) car, but was notorious for rusting. The Dagenham eponym refers to Ford's manufacturing plant in that area.

Ealing Comedy: Informal name for the humorous films produced at Ealing Studios in the 1940s and 50s. Classics such as Passport to Pimlico, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers typify the genre.

Enfield Rifle: I can't personally name many types of gun — not my scene — but even I've heard of the Enfield rifle (or, more properly, the Lee-Enfield rifle), which was the British army's kill-stick of choice from 1895 till 1957. It is named after the area of Enfield (then Middlesex, now Greater London) which was long home to the Royal Small Arms Factory that produced the weapon.

Feltham Beauty: A rare variety of apple.

Greenwich Meantime: A system of timekeeping based on a meridian through (or just next to, depending on level of pedantry) the Royal Greenwich Observatory. It remains one of the world's key reference times, although it's since been shouldered out by UTC. Ironically, Greenwich itself is not always at Greenwich Meantime thanks to the UK's transition to British Summer Time in the, erm, spring. By god, timekeeping is a fiendish business.

Hackney Carriage: The verbose name for a black cab and, formerly, a horse-drawn carriage for hire. You'd think that its name must surely come from the London area of Hackney. I mean, wouldn't it be a huge coincidence if the otherwise obscure term should appear independently in the same city twice without any connection? But it's not so clear cut. The phrase may alternatively come from the French word haquenée, meaning a medium-sized horse suited to a lady. The term Hackney carriage seems to have been in use since the 17th century.

Back of a black cab with number plate saying London
Image: Matt Brown

Hampstead Heath (Teeth): "How do you like my new 'Amps?" you might ask, if you ever find yourself preincarnated as a Cockney a hundred years ago. Hounslow Heath was also used as a slang for teeth.

Hampstead Novel: A derogatory term for the kind of middle-class morality novel set somewhere privileged like Hampstead. I can do no better than quote Wikipedia's list of authors associated with the genre: Margaret Drabble, Margaret Forster, Fay Weldon, Penelope Lively, Kingsley Amis, Ian McEwan, Melvyn Bragg and Zoë Heller.

Hampton Wick (Dick): The male generative organs have so many nicknames that we could probably invoke a dozen London areas to describe them ("You should see the girth of his Penge", "Ere, what's your Belsize?", "Something, something Cockfosters".) But Hampton Wick seems to be genuine Cockney rhyming slang for dick. Careful not to get your Hampton Caught...

Hounslow Wonder: A rare apple variety.

Hoxton Fin: Also known as a faux-hawk, this was an early Noughties' hairstyle beloved of men in the Hoxton-Shoreditch area. The look, which was also championed by David Beckham, involved a fin of hair running front-to-back across the head.

Lambeth Walk: I've generally avoided musical entries in the list (Waterloo Sunset, Muswell Hillbillies, Dagenham Dave... there would be too many), but Lambeth Walk seems too well established to ignore. The 1937 song and dance were inspired by a street of the same name.

A pub called the Lambeth Walk, with brown and white exterior
The Lambeth Walk pub on Lambeth Walk, where you can probably find them all... doin' the Lambeth Walk. Image Matt Brown

Man on the Clapham Omnibus: A common phrase since Victorian times, "the man on the Clapham omnibus" is the archetypal "normal" person. Indeed, the phrase is used in law to mean an ordinary and reasonable person, when arguing about points of conduct.

Millwall Brick: An improvised baton made from compacted newspaper, and supposedly wielded by Millwall 'fans' during incidents of crowd violence. The Millwall Brick seems to have been invented in the 1960s after authorities started clamping down on the more traditional tools of cudgelcraft.

Newington Butts (Guts): The name Newington Butts often raises a smirk for obvious reasons. But the Southwark street is traditionally used by Cockneys to refer to anatomical regions upstream of the bottom. To be a "pain in the Newingtons" is, by rhyming slang, to be a pain in the guts.

Nigel Tufnel: The Spinal Tap guitarist is named after Tufnell Park. It's a crafty play on non-fictional guitarist Eric Clapton, whose surname is also a region of London at similar latitude.

Paddington Bear: Another character named after part of London, in this case, the railway station at which he is discovered by the Brown family.

Peckham Rye (Tie): More Cockney rhyming slang.

Richmond Maids of Honour: The creamy, puff pastry treats are said to date back to the time of Henry VIII, with various legends attributing their recipe to Anne Boleyn or one of her maids. A long-established tea room on Kew Road is named after the cake, and still serves them.

A cream-coloured van with "Maids of Honour" written on the side
They have a cute van, too. Image: Matt Brown

Shoreditch Tw*t: A turn-of-the-century fanzine focussed on the creative industries of Shoreditch, but also a synonym for the kind of hipster who came to be associated with the area.

Sloane Ranger: Typically, a young posh person from the Kensington/Chelsea area whose chief concern is to pursue lifestyle fashions. The term, playing on the clique's epicentre of Sloane Square, was popularised in the 70s by Peter York and Ann Barr, and remains in use.

Spring Grove Codlin: Yet another rare variety of apple. Spring Grove is an area near Isleworth.

Stepney Womble: Not one of the better-known Wombles, but the only one to be directly named after a London area (as opposed to the collective "Wombles of Wimbledon Common").

Three Stops Short of Dagenham: The phrase "Barking mad" has uncertain origins. It doesn't seem to have been used before the 1930s, and probably arose in likeness to a dog barking wildly. Wherever it whenced, it's become associated with the east London town, either in the phrase "One stop short of Barking", or more cryptically as "three stops short of Dagenham" (i.e. at Barking).

Tottenham Cake: Another London sweet, the Tottenham cake is a sponge topped with pink icing. According to Haringey council, the distinctive colour was originally imparted by local mulberries. The cake was reportedly given for free to local school children when Spurs won the FA Cup in 1901.

Wembley Fraggle: Old enough to remember Fraggle Rock? The muppety kids show featured an energetic young fraggle called Wembley, named of course after the London neighbourhood and football ground.

Anything to add? Leave a comment below.