Confusing London landmarks

The thought occurred to me as I was looking into the history of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – whose entrance has never been in Drury Lane – why is it so many of London’s place names make no sense? Is it to confuse tourists? Or is it some ancient form of wish-fulfilment, as in: here is Belsize, let’s build a park here one day, meantime we’ll call it Belsize Park anyway. ?

Drury Lane Theatre, photo taken a few years ago (part of my research for The History of Acting in Twelve Chapters)

So I made a list and did a lot of Googling to try and find the answers:

  1. Where is the farm in Chalk Farm?
  2. Where’s the Wood at St John’s?
  3. Likewise the parks in Belsize and Wembley? (There are probably others in places I’m not so familiar with)
  4. And the Green at Willesden
  5. Why is it called the Theatre Royal Drury Lane when the entrance is in Catherine Street?
  6. Where is the Gospel Oak?
  7. Is Old Street actually older than any other street?
  8. What was the White City?
  9. Why is Southgate in the north and Norwood in the south?
  10. What was Shepherd’s Bush?
  11. Why do trains from Liverpool Street not go to Liverpool?
  12. Where’s the water in Bayswater?
  13. Ditto in Stamford Brook and the ‘borns’ – Holborn, Marylebone etc.*
Greenwich, not included in my list

Answers: (according mostly to Wikipedia)

  1. The origin of Chalk Farm is disputed. It does not mean the land is chalk as London is built on clay. Most likely it is a distortion of the old name of the manor house of Caldecote, or Chalcotts.
  2. There was once a Forest of Middlesex at St John’s Wood but it became built on as the land was broken up.
  3. Once again there was a park at Belsize belonging to the manor house, though it seems it disappeared around 1746. Wembley Park is and has been known as an ‘entertainment park’; there was once a fairground and exhibition centre there but it’s better known now as the home of Wembley Football Stadium and Wembley Arena.
  4. Who knows? But presumably like the other disappeared parks and farms there was once a green at Willesden.
  5. The theatre – there have been four of them on the same site – originally fronted on to Brydges Street, which is now Catherine Street. It does back onto Drury Lane, if that counts.
  6. There was a Gospel Oak on the corner of what is now Mansfield and Southampton Roads near Hampstead Heath, where folk used to gather to listen to gospel readings. John Wesley is reputed to have preached there. The oak disappeared in the early 1800s.
  7. Quite possibly yes. Its Old English name was Ealdestrate and then Oldestrete. It’s on the route of an ancient track linking Silchester (to the west near Reading) and Colchester.
  8. It was originally known as the Great White City, a reference to the marble cladding on the outside of the exhibition centres, which were demolished at the beginning of World War I.
  9. Well, most places are south of somewhere (except Antarctica) and north of somewhere (except the Arctic).
  10. Shepherd’s Bush Green used to be common land where shepherds could rest and graze their sheep while on their way to Smithfield Market. Presumably the green – which still exists – had bushes on it.
  11. The station – and the street – are nothing to do with the city of Liverpool but take their name from Prime Minister Robert Jenkinson, Earl of Liverpool in 1829.
  12. The name Bayswater comes apparently from “Bayards Watering Place”, which means a watering place for horses, possibly connected to the Bayard family.
  13. Probably obvious really, but there once were ‘bourns’ there, or brooks, which is much the same thing. Holbourne was an alternative name for the Fleet River apparently, which now runs under the ground, as we all know. Likewise there was once a ford at Deptford.

* Thanks to Londonist for alerting me to these water-based names.

If you have any quirky names to add to my list or if you’d like to correct any of them please let me know. As I said my source was mostly Wikipedia, which is never wrong about anything.

The Gunpowder Plot


First, we are led into a room with a table map of 1605 London, where we are given a bit of background on a video screen to the events we are about to witness and instructions on how to work the virtual reality headsets. Next we are taken into the dungeons of the Tower of London itself (actually the Tower Vaults next door) where it is cold and dark and there is the sound of shrieking from tortured Catholics. We are in a prison and greeted by a sick-looking prisoner. It appears we are Catholics, so why is the Officer of the Crown treating us – if not exactly politely – at least as fellow human beings? Is it a trick? I ask him. (He ignores me.) Donning black hooded capes we proceed through the still dimly-lit rooms where we are greeted by Lady Cecil, who explains she is recruiting us as spies to infiltrate the group of conspirators planning to blow up the Houses of Parliament on the day of the Opening of Parliament, thereby killing the King, his family and untold numbers of parliamentarians and bystanders. A little later, in the Duck and Drake tavern (where the real conspirators met) we decide if we will obey Lady Cecil and become spies or remain true to the Catholic faith and become terrorists. We choose the latter.

That’s just the first half. It continues much the same, as we are led by often mysterious figures from room to room in this cold, dark dungeon, trying our best not to trip over the scenery or – horrible thought – to get left behind in the gloom. Now and again we pause to sit down and place the VR headsets on our heads and allow ourselves to be taken into the heart of 1605 London, now flying on a tripwire high above the City streets, now on a boat being rowed across the Thames by Guy Fawkes himself. (This last was nothing less than thrilling.) When the events we all know about come to a head we find ourselves trapped in a cage and only finally let out to end up in a room where we are told what happened after the gunpowder plot was discovered and then to have our photos taken and be led out through the shop (of course).

The Thames1605 (

Time Out described these goings-on as a ‘theme park ride’ but they could not be less so. This is not for the faint-hearted, and it’s not just the darkness. It is an experience quite unlike anything I’ve ever known, a miracle of logistics – there are several casts and audiences are admitted in groups of no more than 16 every ten minutes – creativity and technical prowess.

I can’t say I enjoyed it. I did admire it, I was even at times quite frightened by it, and once I’d managed to find out how to put the headset on properly (I missed most of the tripwire business due to my ineptness) the VR sequences absolutely took my breath away. It is the nearest to being transported in toto back to 1605, and it was worth the visit for those sequences alone.

Had it been up to me I would have allowed to practise with the headset before the event began. I would also, I think, have included a real live opening scene between Catesby, Fawkes and the other conspirators as they explained what they were plotting and why, rather than have the ‘backstory’ told us by a voice from a screen. After all nothing, not even VR, can replace the oddly thrilling experience of having real live flesh-and-blood actors ordering you around peremptorily in a cold dark dungeon right next to the Tower.

Prudence is free!

Free-spirited, anarchic, rule-bending, Prudence’s purpose in life is to have fun, sometimes in unusual ways. Hobnobbing with the likes of actress *Mrs Patrick Campbell, *Lady Ottoline Morrell and *Millicent Fawcett, pioneer suffragist, Prue is happy to dip her toe into anything that catches her fancy.

And she is now FREE in ebook form from 13 to 17 August. Find her here:

*All real people of course, though please be aware my book is a novel.

Where do you get your ideas?

This is the one question that writers allegedly dread being asked. But as a writer myself, and a reader, it’s the question I would most like to know of another writer.

Some authors are inspired by a place, or a period in history, some by personal experience, others by a real event read about in a newspaper (or these days on social media). As for me, my ideas always begin with people.

The first book in my Modern Women series, The Awakening of Claudia Faraday, featured a 50-something society lady and mother of three whose moribund life is revitalised by her discovery of the joy of sex. The idea sprang from a short story which in itself was partly inspired by Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, in which a young couple’s married life is ruined on the first night of their marriage by the bride’s deep-rooted fear of sex.

Well now, I thought, isn’t that a common experience? Not all sex entails couples panting up against a wall, or groaning and writhing in a rumpled bed. Sex, particularly for women in the past, was not necessarily regarded or expected to be either joyful or particularly fulfilling. Sex was for procreation only. We have our forefathers (and –mothers) to thank for that.

When I expanded my short story into a full-length novel I decided to set it in the Roaring Twenties, a time of revolutionary change for women: off with the corsets and the inhibitions, in with bohemianism, free sex and Marie Stopes. It was Ms Stopes who first posited (in her book Married Love) the idea that sex could be fun for its own sake and not just for the continuation of the species; who actually mentioned the c-word in print (not that c-word). In my book it was the discovery of the outlandish idea that sex did not necessarily mean lying back and thinking of England that opened Claudia’s eyes to the changing world around her, which in turn led her to realise life can begin at fifty.

Marie Stopes’ groundbreaking book

Then, since one thing inevitably leads to another, subsequent books in my Modern Women series featured women who’d appeared in the previous book. So Prudence, Claudia’s free-wheeling best friend, became the subject of book two, The Purpose of Prudence de Vere; and Violet, Prudence’s unhappy suffragist friend, the subject of book three, The Makings of Violet Frogg and again of book four, Mrs Morphett’s Macaroons.

As I immersed myself first in the Roaring Twenties and then in the Victorian and Edwardian periods – the books went backwards chronologically – I became more and more intrigued by the role of women in those societies. The series title ‘Modern Women’ only occurred to me some way down the line, as I realised Claudia, Prudence and Violet – and indeed Merry and Gaye, two actresses who feature in my later books – were all in their different ways bucking the trend of the worlds in which they lived. They were not campaigning feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft or Emmeline Pankhurst. But they managed, in their different ways, to find the means to live their lives as they wanted irrespective of what was expected of them; whether that meant partying with bisexuals in a flat in Parsons Green (Claudia), or proposing marriage to John Maynard Keynes (Prudence), or breaking away from an unhappy marriage to join the suffragist movement and work for a living (Violet).

Quiet revolutionaries all.

Publication day!

MRS MORPHETT’S MACAROONS is published today.

Available as an ebook and paperback on Amazon. The Book Depository,
Waterstone’s, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia & Angus & Robertson

© Patsy Trench
30 December 2021

Publication day!

Book 1 in my Entertaining Edwardians series

All the world’s a stage, and one man in his time plays many parts
As You Like It, Act II Scene VII

Welcome to Violet Frogg, vicar’s daughter, socialite wife, working woman, suffragist and housekeeper. A woman who plays many parts under different names and identities, and all in the cause of a hunt for fulfilment and happiness and everything that makes life worth living. Her adventures take her to Her Majesty’s Theatre, where for years she works as assistant to the acting manager of a company run by Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and to the stately home of Lord and Lady Armstrong, for whom she acts as housekeeper.

Is Violet running away from love and life or running to something else?

Available on Amazon,
Book Depository, Booktopia, & to order from

SURVIVING LOCKDOWN: The joy of small discoveries

By and large we writers are suffering less than most people during lockdown (unless we have small children to home-school, which is another story altogether). We are used to working from home, we are used to spending time on our own – along with our characters of course. And there are no distractions.

There are minor inconveniences of course: not being able to get out and about to libraries – the British Library in particular – or museums, galleries and theatres for inspiration, not to mention parts of London one might ordinarily want to visit, for research purposes or perhaps even for pleasure.

Trafalgar Square in lockdown (

Small discoveries
But one of the small pleasures I have experienced of lockdown is what I call the joy of small discoveries. For example as I heard the other day, the British Museum has found mysterious cracks appearing in some of their artefacts. It turns out that without the usual thousands of daily visitors, or more precisely their breath, the air inside the museum becomes so dry it damages some of the exhibits. This is not too much of a problem for the BM as they can just turn up their humidifiers, as I imagine can the larger art galleries.

From the same source[1] I heard that when you are asked online to prove you are not a robot by annoyingly having to identify which of the eight tiny squares on your tiny screen have traffic lights or cars in them, you are contributing to research into driverless cars.  I’m not quite so sure how reliable this is (and if it is why aren’t they paying us? I can’t help asking), but if it’s on BBC Radio 4 then it must be true, mustn’t it?[2]

19th century theatre
Also, and more particularly to the point for this novelist looking into theatrical history in Victorian and Edwardian times, I was surprised to see how many women played such major roles, both on stage and more particularly, off. Acting was one way a woman could earn a living in the late 19th century without causing too much of an uproar (unlike fifty years earlier when she was regarded as no better than she should be), and many of them wielded considerable power. Mrs Patrick Campbell (who features in my novel The Purpose of Prudence de Vere) not only played starring roles on stage, she also produced several plays in her own right, as did actresses Ellen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt and other less well-known women such as Gertrude Kingston and Genevieve Ward.

Messing about on stage
On a slightly more irreverent note, Mrs Pat was notorious for the pranks she got up to on stage when she was bored, such as chucking chocolates at the scenery.[3] She was not the only one. Herbert Tree, arguably the greatest actor manager ever (who features in my forthcoming novel) also played around when he got bored, by appearing on stage from the wrong place, or ad libbing (which he was prone to do anyway as he hated learning lines).

There is a marvellous book called The Truth about Pygmalion[4] about the first English production of Bernard Shaw’s play, which starred both Mrs Pat and Herbert Tree. Tree was a character actor who found it impossible to play straight roles. In rehearsals he gave Henry Higgins, on different occasions, a limp and a Scottish accent, on the grounds that every middle-aged bachelor drinks too much and has gout, and that most linguists are Scottish. It took all Shaw’s patience and self-control to get him to play without any accoutrements (and to stick to the script). Mrs Pat’s accent was so appalling it took Shaw considerable more ingenuity to teach her to speak cockney than it ever did Higgins to teach Eliza to speak posh. Then on the final week of rehearsals Mrs Pat disappeared completely and her place was taken by an understudy. She turned up out of the blue for the dress rehearsal as if nothing had happened. (She’d got married in the interim.) Meanwhile the moment the famously unromantic Shaw’s back was turned Tree added his own touch to the end of the play when he had Higgins throw a bouquet at Eliza.

The Word
Pygmalion was also famous – or notorious – for the uttering on stage, by a woman, of a Word rarely heard outside the pubs and pits; a Word that has since been superseded – and how – by others far more intentionally offensive, but which at the time caused a furore in the national press. Tree was so nervous his audience would be irredeemably shocked he tried to get Mrs Pat to cut it, but she refused. In the event it brought sustained howls of laughter in the theatre, and once word had got around about the Word the theatre was subsequently packed out night after night.[5] It even became fashionable to use it among certain societies.

Audience reaction to The Word (The Truth about Pygmalion)

How times have changed.

© Patsy Trench
January 2021

[1] ‘The Museum of Curiosity’, BBC Radio 4 [Probably not available outside the UK]

[2] I once worked years ago as a transcriber for a commercial company. One of our tasks was to transcribe verbatim verbatim – meaning including everything from ers and ums to coughs, throat clearing and any extraneous noise such as a dog barking or passing traffic – a series of apparently meaningless phone conversations between people who didn’t know one another. The point? They didn’t tell us until much later this was research into voice recognition for software.

[3] The Truth About Pygmalio, Richard Huggett

[4] By Richard Huggett, William Heinemann, London 1969

[5] The Word, in case you didn’t know, was ‘bloody’