How the streets got their names, and other tales

Gillian Darley index

Is good branding all it takes to create a place, asks Gillian Darley

Place-making is the flavour of the decade, suitably soft-focus and undefined as an objective within planning. Those charged with characterising (or should I be crude and call it branding?) the new honeypots around the edges of the old LCC territory where Greater London marched into Essex and other contiguous counties are scratching their heads.

How does the London Borough of Waltham Forest ensure that the cluster of towers around Black Horse underground station assumes a character of its own or that Tottenham Hale, “London’s next great neighbourhood” as the LB of Haringey envisages it, can boast its own clear identity? Nor is it only a problem in the capital. In Bristol the old arena site close to Temple Meads station has been handed over to ZHA, the practice which happily pocketed a pre-Christmas planning consent from Lambeth for a pair of towers, Vauxhall Cross Island.

Those who will live in these new clusters, people more often out than in, are unlikely to worry much about the name for their own lofty tower. Housing designed by Bertold Lubetkin and his partners for the long-gone radical London Borough of Finsbury included one block named Lenin Court. Just before it opened in 1951, the nervous council realised that by switching two letters they had switched it to Bevin Court, named after a living politician with whom the tenants had more in common. Nor are the layers of history always sweetly evocative. Mount Pleasant was previously a workhouse, smallpox hospital and municipal rubbish heap – hence the ironic name. But thanks to the extant sorting office and its previous owners, the Royal Mail, it has been given the strangely downbeat name of Postmark, I guess a lot easier to market than Plague Court would have been.

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