Hidden London

H is for...

Latest addition
Index of places
Clickable map
About this site
London football
London lyrics
London proverbs
London quotes
London statues
London images
Contact us

“I am familiar with every crack in every paving stone from here to Hornsey, to Harrow, to Hounslow, Hammersmith, Hayes, Ham (East and West), Harold Hill – London’s encircled by more aitches than ditches.”
Michael Moorcock, Mother London (1988)

Why do London place names make so much use of the letter ‘H’? Greater London has around a hundred districts or localities with names beginning with that letter, and seven boroughs. It’s mostly to do with the city’s pastoral, Anglo-Saxon roots. Notwithstanding the significance of the Thames and its tributaries to London’s development, and the urbanising influence of the Romans and Normans, most of the communities that have coalesced into the metropolis grew out of medieval farmsteads.

And the Old English language (also called Anglo-Saxon) is heaving with rural words starting with ‘H’ – particularly ‘ham’ (the origin of the word ‘home’), which used to mean a collection of dwellings, often a farm. There was also ‘hamm’ – a place in a river bend. The country topography of heaths, hedges, hooks and hollows, and hills and other high ground, played a leading role in giving London its h-related place names, while a ‘hatch’ was a gateway into a wood or park and a ‘hide’ was a piece of land large enough to support a farming family: roughly 120 acres. Other contributory terms with now-lost meanings included ‘hæse’ – land overgrown with brushwood, ‘hanger’ – a wood on the side of a steep hill, ‘hyrne’ – an angled corner of land, and ‘halh/hale’ – a nook.

111 bus
A Dictionary of London Place Names

Hogs, hens, horses and hay were among the most common agricultural properties and produce, and have worked their way into a few place names. In addition, personal names beginning with ‘H’ were especially popular among the Anglo-Saxons, notably Hōc, who crops up in places from Hockenden to Hoxton. Homerton is one of just a handful of localities in London named after a woman, in this case Hūnburh, who was a medieval farm owner here.

Text and selected images are reproduced with the permission of Chambers but may differ from the published versions
All content © 2005–2010