Thursday, 21 May 2009

Local names (SE1)

I used to take my boys to play football up at - well, you'd know it as Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, but we all call it Bedlam Park.

I noted this from Mrs Barbara Jeffery in 1998. Mrs Jeffery was approaching retirement at that time, and had lived all her life in and around south east London. The park she was talking about now houses the Imperial War Museum, in a building purpose-built as the Bethlehem Mental Hospital in 1815. The last patient moved out in 1930, and Lord Rothermere bought the site, donating it to the London County Council as a tribute to his mother, Geraldine Mary Harmsworth. Mrs Jeffery was taking her sons to the park in the early 1970s, but her usage of the place-name remained current at the time of collection.


  1. What about shops that have retained their names in some people's minds? Like in Aberdeen, we have what I call 'The Kiwi' which is a fish and chip shop, now a chinese in same building. And also certain pubs, the Seaton Bar, now renamed 'Moonlight Bar' - are you kidding?? also the city's Douglas Hotel has always been in Market Street and has three names since I've lived here, and eventually the owners had the sense to change it back. Similarly, a hotel down on Beach Boulevard started as the Patio Hotel, which everyone got used to calling it, now another chain has it and it is called 'Double Tree Hotel' NO-ONE in Aberdeen knows where that is - a friend who doesn't know the city was meant to be meeting me there and was directed to completely the wrong place by some misguided locals because I should have said to her to ask for the 'Patio Hotel'! Weird how things have associations!

  2. I've now received an e-mail from someone who worked fairly recently in GMH Park, saying he'd never heard it called Bedlam Park. This suggests that Mrs Jeffery's usage was already in decline.

    Fiona-Jane's comments certainly also apply in London. I still think of the University Dillons on Gower Street, although it's been taken over twice since then. Growing up in Beckenham, we always called the cinema by the war memorial the Regal, although it was already an Odeon even then. I'd be interested in knowing how long that usage lasted.

    And then, of course, there are pubs that were used as bus stops. When the Dulwich Plough became the Goose & Granite, the name had to be changed to accommodate the bus halt there. The pub became The Goose at The Plough. Also on the number 12 route was the Crooked Billet in Penge, where the bus halt name survived a change of the pub's name.

  3. We greasy spoons denizens still refer to two caffs on Walworth Rd as 'The Enterprise' and 'The Two Teas' even though they have been called the dull Cafe Time and Cafe House for years now

  4. The Goose has now been renamed the Plough again. Bus stops - not sure if the one on Streatham High Road is still called the Cat's Whiskers but it was for long after the venue changed its name. Incidentally I have posted on this:

  5. Ruinist's comment triggers another question, which is how long such usages last, and how they're circulated. Mrs Jeffery was talking about taking her boys to the park with other families, so there was clearly some common usage. I still know the cake shop near me as Beautymans, although it hasn't been that for 2 years, but I'm not sure whether anyone else also still calls it that. Obviously, there's a wider usage involved if pub-names are involved.