History Focus – Stanley Road

One of the frequently asked questions I receive is “Where does the Stanley in Stanley Road come from?” If fact only this week I met a gentleman and his son in York Pet Supplies who asked me the self same question. I’m afraid you’re in for a long answer.

How many of you remember when Alpha Veterinary Services was Livingstone’s Wine bar? I thought it a very witty name at the time – Livingstone & Stanley – and I must confess that this may have clouded my judgement somewhat. I knew that Henry Morton Stanley visited Teddington to call upon the renowned Boat builder, James Messenger, to build a boat in five sections to be capable of being carried overland for his African explorations. The boat named “The Lady Alice” (after Stanley’s girlfriend of the time) was duly built and played a large part in his African travels and in finding Dr Livingstone in 1871. What finer way would a grateful town commemorate the works of such a man as Stanley other than by naming a road after him, a road that grown considerably since the coming of the railway to the present time of about 1872.

I had barely finished slapping myself on the back when some papers came to light which had dates that threw my theory into disarray. On 16 June 1868 there was a sale of land at Maud Cottage in Stanley Road, purchased by no other than James Messenger. Henry Morton Stanley was not commissioned by “The New York Herald” to find Dr Livingstone until 1869, by which time Stanley Road in Teddington already existed. Back to the drawing board!

In 1800, the year of the Enclosure Act of Teddington, what is now Stanley Road was merely a lane connecting Teddington to Twickenham. By 1862 it was known as Webb’s Lane after the name of the farmer of the Manor Farm and consisted mainly of Maud Cottage, Manor Farm and its outbuildings and a few small dwellings near the junction with Shacklegate Lane.

1868 is the first year that written records note the existence of Stanley Road although in 1871 and 1873 it was also known as Fulwell Road which is borne out by some sale catalogues. Phillipsons Directory of 1873 shows it supporting 19 houses, a considerable growth since the map indication of 1862 and largely due to the coming of the railway in 1863 although a water colour painting of the time does not give the impression of a very built up road.

What could have occurred between 1862 and 1868 to give rise to the change of name of the road to Stanley? Nothing is recorded in the local press of the day and it was necessary to look outside our local area for an explanation.

Our Local Reference Library feels that the connected name was that of Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby. Born 1826 – he entered Parliament as MP for King’s Lynn in 1848. Although sitting with the Conservatives, he held very strong Liberal feelings. He travelled extensively and his knowledge of foreign affairs was widely respected, even to the point of being offered the throne of Greece on the deposition of King Otto in 1863. He served as Foreign Secretary under Disraeli and reluctantly took Britain to the brink of war against Russia in 1878. He retired from public life in 1891 and died of a heart attack in 1893.

So there we have it. Or do we? Although a very able, respected and dedicated politician, by 1868 he would only have been 42 and was probably still learning his trade – hardly a likely candidate for having a road named.

On the other hand, his father – Edward George Geoffrey Smith Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby is a more likely candidate. He was born in 1799 and entered The House of Commons in 1822. He served as Prime Minister in four Parliaments and only handed over office to Disraeli in February 1868 as a result of his own ill-health, only to die the following October. In his time he had a most distinguished career and was very popular with the people. In all circumstances it would hardly be surprising for towns all over the country to name developing roads after him.

Whilst we can say that Stanley Road was named after Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby, but was it the 14th or 15th Earl?

Whilst looking at Stanley Road, it is interesting to go back to the origins of house numbering in the United Kingdom which is by no means straight forward and may even be considered to be haphazard. House Numbering is said to have come about as a result of the Postage Act of 1765 although the wording of the Act is sufficiently ambiguous to prevent a direct interpretation to apply to all areas of the UK. One of my hobbies is collecting postcards and watching the growth of the postcard industry. The very first postcard was sent in 1840 although the practice was not widespread.

It was not impossible for a postcard to be addressed as merely: Mr Ken Howe, Teddington

And the card would in all probability have been delivered. It was not until 1894 that the Post Office allowed for picture postcards to be sent by the Royal Mail.

At this time it was common practice to address a postcard as: Mr Ken Howe, Cedar Road, Teddington

And this would have been sufficient to enable the postcard to be delivered. As the roads became more built up and the number of houses in each grew rapidly, it became the practice to name each individual house, such as The Elms or Greenacres or some other such name to make identification of that house very clear. This worked well for a while but the ease at which postcards could confirm appointments both business and social brought about an avalanche of post with three deliveries a day. It was clear that a simple standard form of address was needed to allow the postal service to operate. In our area 1908 seems to be the time that house numbering became compulsory and it is something that we have all lived with ever since.

This brings me on to a puzzle that has been put to me. In 1901 there was a house named “Holbeach” in Stanley Road. By 1908 this house would have been given a number and gradually the name would have disappeared. Does anyone happen to know the current number of the house that was known as “Holbeach” ? It’s tempting to say “Answers on a postcard please.”

Ken Howe is a local historian and author of several books. howe64@btinternet.com 020 8943 1513

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