Street and area names can tell us a surprising amount of history!

The information in this section comes mainly from The Origins of Oxford Street Names (Second edition, Robert Boyd, 2011) by Ann Spokes Symonds & Nigel Morgan.

Abingdon Road The main road leading out of Oxford towards the ancient market town of Abingdon. The name comes from 'Abba's dun (hill)'; it has been suggested that St Abba, a 7th-century saint, gave her name to Abingdon. In the 17th century the road was known as the Causey because it was a causeway across water meadows (see Grandpont Place). A milestone outside 309 Abingdon Road marks the point at which it is 5 miles to Abingdon (and a mile in the other direction to Oxford).

Baltic Wharf

Built on the site of Basson's Baltic Timber Wharf, which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was occupied by the timber merchant Tom Basson. Scandinavian timber (mostly pine) was brought here by boat; this was a period when many new houses were being built locally and there was a great demand for timber for joists, floorboards, doors, window frames etc. Basson also had a yard on the adjacent site which is now occupied by Pembroke College's Sir Geoffrey Arthur Building. The yard was set alight, probably by suffragettes, in November 1913.

Bertie Place

After the Bertie family, Earls of Abingdon, who were major landowners south of Oxford. See also Norreys Avenue and Wytham Street.

Brook Street

Probably after Moses Brooks who was a tenant of land here in the mid 19th century.

Buckingham Street

Possibly after the Dukes of Buckingham.

Canning Crescent

After George Canning (1770-1827), Prime Minister in 1827. He and his son Charles, 1st Earl Canning (1812–1862) were both graduates of Christ Church and Charles was Governor-General of India 1856-1862. When the Weirs Lane council housing estate was being developed in the mid 1920s, the Provost of Oriel, who sat on the City Council, suggested naming the newly-made local streets after British statesmen: Pitt (later changed to Chatham), Fox, Canning and Peel.

Chatham Road

Originally called Pitt Road, after William Pitt (1708-1778), 'Pitt the Elder', 1st Earl of Chatham, Secretary of State in the Seven Years War and later Prime Minister. When the Weirs Lane council housing estate was being developed in the mid 1920s, the Provost of Oriel, who sat on the City Council, suggested naming the newly-made local streets after British statesmen: Pitt, Fox, Canning and Peel. Pitt Road was officially renamed Chatham Road in 1961 as its former name was often confused with Pitts Road in Headington Quarry.

In the original proposal for residential development off Abingdon Road a 'Chatham Crescent' was planned as a close off the western side of Wytham Street. However, when the roads were developed in 1929-1934 this close was omitted; as a result the houses on this part of Wytham Street have exceptionally long gardens.

Chilswell Road

Near the village of South Hinksey there was a church at a place called 'Childswell', meaning 'Cilla's Well', which was nearby. 'Cilla' is a Saxon name in which the C is pronounced 'Ch'. Cilla was a person of rank who supposedly built the church, of which no trace remains. The well was accredited with powers 'to make women that were barren to bring forth children'.

Cobden Crescent

After Richard Cobden (1804-1865), one of the outstanding Liberal politicians of his day. His campaigning in favour of free trade was admired by the Oxford Building and Investment Company, a building society which laid out the street and was responsible for much of the housing development in Grandpont. Unlike all the other streets in Grandpont, Cobden Crescent is curved, because it follows the line of a culverted stream.

Cold Harbour
or Cold Arbour

The area at the southern end of the Abingdon Road. A rudimentary (and hence 'cold' as opposed to 'warm') place of refuge for wayfarers. Read more about the origin of the name here.

Devil's Backbone

The name for the path leading from the southern end of Hinksey Park to South Hinksey village. It appears with this name on an estate map of 1814, and therefore existed long before Hinksey Lake or the railway, both of which it now crosses on bridges. It was probably the main route by which villagers from South Hinksey travelled into Oxford and, until a chapel-school was built in New Hinksey in 1870, it was the way that residents of New Hinksey walked to South Hinksey to go to church at St Laurence's. The origin of the name is unknown, though it could be because the path would often be flooded in winter and any humps in it would stick up above the water like a string of vertebrae. Local resident and artist Bruno Guastalla has taken evocative photographs and made interesting sound recordings of the Devil's Backbone. The path is also sometimes known locally as Jacob's Ladder.

Donnington Bridge Road

Donnington Hospital, a 14th-century charitable foundation, was a major landowner in East Oxford prior to housing development there. The road bridge over the Thames linking South Oxford with East Oxford was opened in October 1962. It replaced an earlier high-arched footbridge and was the first road bridge to be constructed over the Thames in five centuries, allowing motor traffic to cross the river here for the first time.

Edith Road

Possibly after Sister Edith (died 1898), assistant superior to the Sisterhood of St Thomas the Martyr, whose convent was next to St Thomas's church, across the Thames from Grandpont.

Egrove Close

After Egrove Farmhouse, the old farm which was incorporated into Templeton College's site and whose lands included the fields on which the city's isolation hospital (later Rivermead Hospital) was built.

Folly Bridge

Originally called South Bridge. Named Folly Bridge after the six-sided tower with portcullis which was built at the southern end of the bridge in the 13th century. This was to deter any enemy approaching the southern gate of the city (which was on St Aldates, near where Christ Church now stands). By the 17th century the defensive gate was no longer in use, and the tower was viewed by locals as a folly, giving the bridge its current name. The tower was demolished in 1779 but its foundations survive in the river bed. Caudwell's Castle (1849), at the south-western end of the bridge, may have been built as a folly to reflect the existing name of the bridge.

Fox Crescent

After the statesman Charles James Fox (1749-1806). When the Weirs Lane council housing estate was being developed in the mid 1920s, the Provost of Oriel, who sat on the City Council, suggested naming the newly-made local streets after British statesmen: Pitt (later changed to Chatham), Fox, Canning and Peel.

Gordon Street

After General Charles George Gordon (1833-1885) who was assassinated shortly before the end of the Siege of Khartoum. The street was originally called Cross Street, as it formed a link between Lake Street and Post Office Street (later Vicarage Road). See also Stewart Street.

Gordon Woodward Way

After Gordon Woodward (1918–2002) who was a City Councillor for 23 years and Lord Mayor of Oxford in 1980/1. He served on the committee of the Rivermead Hospital (on whose site the street is built) for many years.

Grandpont Place

Grandpont means 'great bridge'. It is a causeway supported on more than 40 arches, running from Folly Bridge to the foot of Hinksey Hill, built by Robert d'Oilly in the late 11th century, along which the Abingdon Road now runs. In the late 1870s the name was applied to the proposed housing estate south of Folly Bridge, and one of the roads on that estate, Western Road, was originally to be called 'Grandpont Road'.

Green Place

Of uncertain origin – possibly after lush meadow grass here before the street was built. Or it could refer to Henry Greenaway, the owner of the two fields on which the New Hinksey suburb was built. Greenaway's land was bounded to the south-east by Madam's Lane, which went from the Abingdon Road, via a dog-leg, to the Devil's Backbone, which leads to the village of South Hinksey. Madam's Lane became subsumed by future housing development, though it remained an open area between the gardens of the houses on the southern side of Vicarage Road and the northern side of Norreys Avenue, until an extension to Green Place was built over part of it in the 1970s.

Hodges Court

After HF Hodges, the scorer of the first goal when Oxford City beat Bishop Auckland in the Football Association Amateur Cup Final in 1906. The road is built on the former Oxford City Whitehouse football ground.

Isis Close

After the Isis River, the name for the Thames as it passes through Oxford.

John Towle Close

After John Towle (1796-1885) who manufactured paper and cardboard at the nearby Hinksey and Weirs mills.

Jubilee Terrace

After Queen Victoria's golden jubilee of 1887, the year in which the terrace was built.

Kineton Road

After Kineton near Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. The building firm Kingerlee developed this and the adjoining streets in the early 1900s; the forebears of the founder of the firm, Thomas Henry Kingerlee, came from Kineton.

Lake Street

After Hinksey Lake, which was dug out for gravel to build the nearby Great Western railway embankment in 1850.

Leander Way

After the Leander Club in Henley-on-Thames, open to those who excel in rowing, such as Oxford and Cambridge rowing Blues and cup winners.

Lincoln Road

After the city of Lincoln in a series of parallel streets named alphabetically: Lincoln-Monmouth-Northampton-Oswestry. Oxford was in the diocese of Lincoln from soon after the Norman Conquest until the diocese of Oxford was established in 1542.

Long Ford Close

The 12th-century Chronicles of Abingdon Abbey refer to 'Long Ford' as a series of small fords along the line of what is now the Abingdon Road. A ford is a point where a watercourse is shallow enough to be crossed on foot or in a cart. These streams now run under the Abingdon Road (which is built on top of the Grandpont causeway) and are crossed via a series of bridges.

Marlborough Road

After the Duke of Marlborough, who was a major landowner here. The southern end, below Whitehouse Road, was originally called Archer Street after James Archer, an Oxford carrier and coal merchant, who laid out that part of the street for housing development in the early 1880s. As the road was simply a continuation of Marlborough Road, the separate name was soon dropped.

Monmouth Road

After the county town of Monmouthshire in Wales; in a series of parallel streets named alphabetically: Lincoln-Monmouth-Northampton-Oswestry.

New Hinksey

After the nearby villages of North and South Hinksey; New Hinksey was originally in the parish of South Hinksey. The earliest known mention of the place-name Hinksey is as 'Hengestesei' in c. 821, by Coenwulf, King of Mercia, with reference to Abingdon Abbey. The name is made up of the Old English elements 'hengest' meaning 'horse' and 'eg' ['ey' in modern spellings] meaning island or area of slightly higher ground above flood level on which a settlement could be built. Oxford includes several such islands - Osney, Botley and Iffley for example. [With thanks to Abigail Lloyd for this information.]

Newton Road

Probably after Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), philosopher, mathematician and scientist.

Norreys Avenue

After Montagu Bertie, Lord Norreys and 7th Earl of Abingdon (1836-1928). He had owned the land on which the street was laid out in the early 1890s. In the 16th century his ancestor Henry Norreys was MP for Oxfordshire, one of the richest and most powerful men in the county, and he was with Elizabeth I when she visited Oxford in 1566 and presented the city with its coat of arms. The beaver, one of the supporters on the coat of arms, is from the Norreys coat of arms. See also Bertie Place and Wytham Street.

Northampton Road

After the county town of Northamptonshire; in a series of parallel streets named alphabetically: Lincoln-Monmouth-Northampton-Oswestry.

Oswestry Road

After the market town in Shropshire; in a series of parallel streets named alphabetically: Lincoln-Monmouth-Northampton-Oswestry.

Peel Place

After Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850) MP for Oxford University in 1817 and Prime Minister in 1834 and 1841-1845. As an undergraduate at Christ Church he was noted for his hard work. When the Weirs Lane council housing estate was being developed in the mid 1920s, the Provost of Oriel, who sat on the City Council, suggested naming the newly-made local streets after British statesmen: Pitt (later changed to Chatham), Fox, Canning and Peel.

Salter's Close

Possibly after Rev HE Salter (1863-1951), a prominent Oxford historian who lived at Isis House at the northern end of the Abingdon Road. He was an authority on the history of Oxford street names and wrote the first book on the subject. Likely also to be after Salter's Steamers, the boat-building firm based at Folly Bridge.

School Place

After the nearby St John's chapel-school, which was replaced by the present New Hinksey School in 1892.

Stewart Street

Probably after Major-General Sir Herbert Stewart (1843–1885), who died of injuries sustained during the expedition for the relief of Khartoum. May also be after Lieutenant Colonel John Stewart (1845–1884) who accompanied General Gordon to Khartoum in 1884 as his assistant. John Stewart died in 1884 attempting to run the blockade from the besieged city. See also Gordon Street.


Origin unknown; may just be a pleasant-sounding made up name.

Sunningwell Road

After Sunningwell village, then in Berkshire, now in Oxfordshire, which is to the south of Oxford. The name means 'valley, hill and stream of Sunna's people'.

Thames Court

After the River Thames.

Varsity Place

On the site of the former Varsity Works, which were demolished in 1993 ('Varsity' meaning 'university'). The works were built as a glove factory but were requisitioned during the Second World War to produce electrical parts for military vehicles operated by the Goodrich Company. Later the building was used for manufacturing ice-cream before becoming H&E Engineering, a heating and electrical contractor.

Vicarage Lane

See Vicarage Road.

Vicarage Road

After St John's vicarage which was built in 1887-8 at the western end of the street. Originally the street was called Post Office Street because there was a Post Office where no. 66 is now. By 1881 it was called Church Street as it led to the chapel of ease (or chapel-school) which was built in 1870, before St John the Evangelist church was built in 1900. It was renamed as Vicarage Road in 1955 to avoid confusion with the many other Church Streets in Oxford at that time.

Weirs Lane

After the weirs which were on a loop of the river which rejoins the main Thames further south at Kennington. Weirs paper mill existed from about 1225 and was pulled down in around 1920. The lane led to this mill and to a footbridge over the weirs. There was also a punt ferry to take people across the river to Iffley. Much earlier there had been a ford crossing the Weirs mill stream, lining up with the Roman road which came down Boars Hill and past where Red Bridge is now, on its way towards Alcester [see  M Henig & P Booth, Roman Oxfordshire (Sutton, 2000)]. Later, a high-arched footbridge, called the free ferry footbridge, was built and, in 1962, Donnington Bridge. This was the first road bridge to be constructed over the Thames in five centuries, and it allowed motor traffic to cross the river here for the first time. Hence Weirs Lane ceased to be a cul-de-sac.

Western Road

After the Great Western Railway, which built the first railway line to Oxford, from Didcot, in 1844. The line terminated at a station just south-west of Folly Bridge and was approached by a road off the Abingdon Road. After the station closed in 1872 the site was cleared, the approach road was laid out for housing development and named Western Road (though originally it was going to be called Grandpont Road). There was another Western Road, in Headington, but this was renamed Holyoake Road in 1959 to avoid confusion with the road in Grandpont.

Whitehouse Road

Originally Whitehouse Lane, after a whitewashed house which stood near the site of the White House Inn (later called the Folly Bridge Inn but now the White House) at the eastern end of the street. The house belonged to Brasenose College and was part of Swindells Farm. The road was also sometimes known as Tuckwell's Lane, as it led to Grandpont Farm (situated just before you reached the railway tracks) which was owned by the Tuckwell family. They also owned gravel pits to the north of the lane, where the playing fields are now. In 1972 Whitehouse Road was widened at its junction with Marlborough Road, necessitating the demolition of 160 and 162 Marlborough Road. An extension to the road was built, curving north to serve the new St Ebbe's Primary School.

The name is variously spelled White House and Whitehouse (even on street signs).

Wytham Street

After Wytham Abbey, the home of Montagu Bertie, 7th Earl of Abingdon (1836-1928). He had owned the land on which the street was laid out (beginning in the 1890s). See also Bertie Place and Norreys Avenue.


With thanks to Crystal Dobson for collating a lot of this information.

The Weirs paper mill: (left) at the top right-hand corner of the 1900 Ordnance Survey map and (right) depicted in a painting of unknown date. Painting copyright John Burbank, and reproduced with his permission. There is another painting of the mill here. (Click on either image to close)

[Cold Harbour OS 1900 showing hospital and mills] [Towles paper mill, Cold Harbour, Weirs Mill Stream]

The free ferry footbridge over the Thames at the end of Weirs Lane in 1961, just as work was starting on the nearby Donnington Road bridge. Image from Carole Newbigging, The Changing Faces of South Oxford and South Hinksey, Book 3 (Robert Boyd Publications, 2003). (Click image to close)

[Donnington free ferry footbridge 1961]

Proposed layout of the Abingdon Road Estate in 1910, showing Chatham Crescent, which was never built. Image © Oxford City Council, Town Hall archives, estate plans ref: 8508. (Click image to close)

[Abingdon Road Estate]

Grandpont from the air, 1918. St Matthew's church and the Whitehouse football ground can be seen at the centre right of the picture; Whitehouse Lane (bright white in colour) runs westwards from the south-west corner of the football ground, across fields and out to Grandpont Farm. It then turns south-west to cross the railway line on a level crossing. Image © Oxfordshire History Centre. (Click image to close)

Grandpont from the air 1918