The etymology of London Boroughs
In 1963, the London Government received Royal Assent creating radical changes in London’s political boundaries. Here is our guide to the etymology of London boroughs. Find out the history of each borough name and the reason why some boroughs are named after lambs, chalk, brambles and woodland!
City of London – Londinium
Around ad 43, a settlement named Londinium was established. Located on the current site of the City of London, Londinium served as a major commercial centre in Roman Britain until its abandonment in the 5th century. The name London is derived from the Latinised form. Although the city of London isn’t now classed as one of the current London boroughs, it is the heart of the city and comes with an abundance of historic roots.
City of Westminster – West of the city
The churches built to the west of the city. ‘Mynster’ is the Old English word for a church. As the very famous Abbey was built to the West of the ancient city, Westminster Abbey was born. The Abbey is also just west of the Palace of Westminster.
Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – Landing Place for Chalk
In the Anglo-Saxon period, chalk was often used in fertiliser. Chelsea has many ancient spellings along the lines of Chelchith which basically means the wharf for chalk. Kensington is a place named after Mr Cynesige or Kenesigne.
Hammersmith and Fulham – The Forge and The Place of the Mud
These two districts were merged in 1965. Hammersmith has its name as it was a place where the blacksmith’s forged hammers. Fulham, originally called ‘Fulanhamme’, has many possible meanings. One is ‘the place of the mud’.
Wandsworth – Waendel’s River
The River Wandle got its name from an Anglo Saxon called Waendel who owned the surrounding land. Wandsworth takes its name from the River Wandle.
Lambeth – Landing Place for Lambs
Lambeth is a shortened version of the word Lambehitha – meaning a landing place for lambs.
Southwark – South Fort
Southwark was at the lowest bridging point of the River Thames in Roman Britain. It provided the only Thames Bridge for centuries allowing a crossing from Londinium. South fort comes from the name Suthriganaweorc and means ‘fort of the men of Surrey’.
Tower Hamlets – Home of the Tower of London
Forming the core of the East End, Tower Hamlets has had its name since 1554. This was a year where the Council of the Tower of London ordered a muster of ‘men of the hamlets which owe their service to the tower’.
Hackney – Island in the Marsh
Islington – Gisla’s Hill
Camden – Enclosed Valley
In Old English, the word Camden means Enclosed Valley. Surnames have been derived from the place name and it is a popular first name given to boys and girls today.
Brent – Holy One
Coming from a Celtic word meaning ‘high place’ or ‘holy one’, Brent predates Anglo-Saxons and the Romans as it is the most ancient London borough name of all.
Ealing – The followers of Gilla
The Saxon name for Ealing was recorded as ‘Gillingas’ meaning the people of Gilla, who may have been an Anglo-Saxon settler.
Hounslow – Hunting Island
In old records, Hounslow is spelt ‘Hundeslow’ meaning ‘the dog’s mound’ or ‘the mound of a man named or nicknamed hound.’ It is thought that the name is derived from ‘Honeslaw’ meaning an area of land suitable for hunting.
Richmond Upon Thames – Strong Hill
Richmond took its name from the no longer existing Richmond Palace. It was a royal residence on the River Thames in England which stood in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was built by Henry VII whose former title was Earl of Richmond. This name comes from Old French for Strong Hill.
Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames – King’s Manor
Kingston was recorded as ‘Cyninges Tun’ in 838, meaning King’s Manor or Estate. Kingston was an ancient seat of kings and several 10th-century kings were crowned here.
Merton – Farm By The Pool
Merton is a Saxon name meaning farm by the pool or Maera’s homestead. Merton stands on the banks of Wandle and is associated with flood plains.
Sutton – South Farm
Sutton was originally recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book as Sudtone. This Old English name translates roughly as South Farm.
Croydon – Saffron Valley
It is widely believed that Saffron was farmed in Croydon by the Romans. Croydon’s name derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Croh Denu’ meaning ‘Crocus Valley’. Crocus sativus, commonly known as saffron crocus, is a species of flowering plant of the Crocus genus in the iris family Iridaceae. It is best known for producing the spice saffron from the filaments that grow inside the flower.
Bromley – Bramble Clearing
Bromley is now the biggest London borough geographically speaking and its habitational name comes from Old English meaning ‘a woodland clearing’ and ‘bramble’.
Lewisham – Leof’s Dwelling
In ancient Saxon records, Lewisham is called Levesham, meaning the house among the meadows. It has also been named Leofshema which is thought to be derived from the Jute name Leof or Leofsa, with the hema bit being a variant on ‘ham’ or dwelling.
Royal Borough of Greenwich – Green Harbour
With Anglo-Saxon origins, London’s newest Royal Borough’s name stems from Grenewic, the green place on the bay. The town became the site of a royal palace, the Palace of Placentia from the 15th century.
Bexley – Pasture by the Stream
Bexley, which was recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book as Bix, translates as pasture by the stream.
Havering – The Followers of Haefer
Havering was once home to an important palace of Edward the Confessor. Its name is recorded in 1086 Domesday Book as Haueringas, for the followers of a man called something like Haefer.
Barking and Dagenham – The Settlement by the Birch Trees
Redbridge – A Red Bridge Which Bestrode The River Roding
Redbridge was named after the bridge which was made of red brick before it was replaced in 1922. The bridge bestrode the River Roding from the 17th century.
Newham – New Marsh
With Newham only being formed in 1965, it is one of the few boroughs with a name that does not derive directly from ancient roots. The ‘ham’ part of the name indicates low-lying land surrounded by marsh.
Waltham Forest – Welcome Place
This London borough contains Walthamstow, which was originally called Wilcumestowe (meaning welcome place) but gradually morphed into Walthamstowe. Waltham meant ‘forest estate’.
Haringey – The Enclosure of Hering
Haringey established as a settlement in the pre-Conquest county of Middlesex and is a name with Anglo Saxon origins and derives from the Old English name Heringes-hege meaning ‘the enclosure of Hering’ or ‘of Hering’s people’.
Enfield – Field of Lambs
Enfield was named after the Anglo-Saxon word for lamb, which was ēan. Enfield was first recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book as a small settlement called Enefelde.
Barnet – Burning Woodland
Barnet derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘bærnet’, which suggests the clearing of woodland by burning. It was first recorded as Barneto in 1070.
Harrow – A Heathen Shrine of the Gumeningas Tribe
It’s thought that this name denotes a heathen shrine (hearg), built on Harrow Hill. Caroline Taggert notes that its earliest recording is Gumeningae Hergae, a heathen shrine of the Gumeningas tribe.
Hillingdon – Hille’s Hill
A ‘don’ usually denotes a hill in Anglo-Saxon place names, and Hillingdon is no different. It’s in the 1086 Domesday Book as Hillendone, suggesting a hill belonging to a man called Hille.
Read More: One Day in London: An Itinerary
Do you have any facts about the history of London boroughs? Let us know in the comments below, we would love to hear them.
How many London Borough’s are there?
There are 32 London boroughs. The 33rd principle division is the City of London, although this is not a borough.