On January 18th, Tigger and I went for a little walk around Fitzrovia and I wrote about it in Fitzrovia. This provided me with an amusing little mystery concerning the name of a street called Conway Street, and, for fun, I followed this up in Conway or Conwey?
Even though I had researched the name of Conway Street for fun, the lack of a definite conclusion nagged at the back of my mind and prompted me to try again to elucidate its history.
Conway Street consists of two parts, roughly north and south of Fitzroy Square, respectively. As the two parts follow the same line, it is reasonable to consider them as one street but, on the other hand, given that they are separated by Fitzroy Square, they could equally well be considered two different streets. This circumstance impacts on the street’s history.
I knew that by no later than 1857 Conway Street had been divided between two names: Southampton Street in the north, and Hampstead Street in the south. What I did not know was whether it had always been named thus and when it changed to Conway Street.
One of the problems is that, as seen on a street plan, Conway Street is quite small, and on many maps is not even named. When it is named, the name of the southern part may not be shown; it’s a convenient place to put the “St” or “Str” part of whatever name is current. This means that on more accurate maps, the two parts are carefully designated Southampton Street and Hampstead Street, respectively, but that on others, it appears just as Southampton Street. In those cases, we have to guess whether the Hampstead Street part of the name is still extant or whether the whole is now called Southampton Street.
I had already seen maps from the 1850s showing the street as Southampton Street and I had assumed that that was its original name. Quite by chance, I picked up one of Tigger’s books (London: A life in Maps by Peter Whitfield) and in it saw a map published by Joseph Cross1 in 1844 that clearly shows the name as Conway Street.
This discovery suggested that the street had started off as Conway Street, been renamed Southampton Street sometime after 1844, and then renamed Conway Street again in more recent times. Nonetheless, I thought I should check this supposition if I could but when I did, what I found complicated the picture instead of clarifying it!
The earliest map of the area that I have so far seen is Cary’s2 of 1795. Earlier maps only show main roads, precursors of today’s, presumably because urbanization had yet to start here. On Cary’s map and subsequent ones, the street appears from the beginning as Conway Street. A change occurs, however, by the time that Mogg’s3 map of 1834 is published. On this map, the street appears as Southampton Street in both parts (i.e. Hampstead Street, if so named, is not shown as such).
It is also named named Southampton Street in Cross 18504 and Kelly’s 18575. The mystery is what happens in 1844 and 1851. These two maps are both by Joseph Cross, and are editions of his London Guide, published in those two years and show our street as Conway Street! Yet in between these two, in 1850, the very same map maker, Cross, publishes his New Plan of London, showing the street called Southampton Street! It is surely too much to believe that the street alternated names twice is such a short period. I can only think that in his maps of 1844 and 1851, Cross is using old plates and has failed to correct the labelling of the street, leaving its old, now defunct, name.
Thereafter, the names of the two parts of the street seem to remain as Southampton Street and Hampstead Street, until some time in the 20th century, even though, as already noted, the name Hampstead Street is often not indicated on maps.
The question that remains, then, is when did the street revert back to Conway Street? I have two pieces of information that help with this. The first is a useful list of street name changes on the site maps.thehunthouse. For how the lists on that site were compiled, please see the site itself, in particular this page, which has special relevance to the list containing Conway Street. This list tells us that our street changed its name from Southampton Street to Conway Street sometime between 1929 and 1945. Can we narrow it down?
This is where my second piece of information comes in. On the Web site of the company that produces the famous A to Z street maps, there is a scrollable version of the first edition of the celebrated guide and it shows our street as Conway Street. The map was produced in 1936 and, I think, took a year to compile, so we may assume that the name Conway Street was reapplied sometime during the period 1929-35.
Southampton Street was presumably named after the First Baron Southampton, a descendant of the Fitzroy line, who developed Fitzroy Square. He married the daughter of Sir Peter Warren – hence Warren Street. While that much is clear, I so far have no idea where the Conway name comes from but it seems important enough to have been attached to the street twice.
1. Cross’s London Guide, 1844.
2. Cary’s New and Accurate Plan of LONDON and WESTMINSTER the Borough of Southwark and parts Adjacent: viz. Kensington, Chelsea, Islington, Hackney, Walworth, Newington &c with an Alphabetical List of upwards of 500 of the most principal Streets with references to their situation, 1795.
3. Mogg’s Strangers Guide To London And Westminster, Exhibiting All The Various Alterations & Improvements Complete To The Present Time, 1834.
4. Cross’s New Plan Of London, 1850
5. London 1857. Drawn & Engraved Expressly For The Post Office Directory (pub. Kelly & Co)
6. Cross’s New Plan Of London, 1850