It's All In A (Street) Name

I've just started reading Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain by Sathnam Sanghera and I am utterly enthralled by it. Somehow, it is bursting at the seams with knowledge whilst a neat, clear narrative flows through it. In the first chapter, Sanghera describes how the legacy of Empire has found its way into our language, our food, our sport, our art... the list goes on. But I wanted to write a quick post on how Empire has influenced our street names.

I had not given much thought to it before but Britain's street names often have historical meaning. The ubiquity of Empire-inspired names throughout England suggests how influential it was and still is. And I wanted to look for such local names, to illustrate this poinr. For however proud I am of living in the fine city of Norwich, I would rather not be ignorant it's associations with Empire. And street names, being so visible and unavoidable, make quite a statement. To start with though, let me quote the book.

Sathnam talks about street names associated with his place of residence, Watford:

'Dominion Way, Union Approach, Atlantic Slope, Craftsman’s Way, and a few of these, like Empire Way and Engineers Way, still exist. Across the river, in Wandsworth, a residential area between Battersea Park Road and Falcon Road known as ‘Little India’ has road names such as Afghan, Cabul, Candahar and Khyber, commemorating the Second Afghan War of 1878–80, complete with the nineteenth-century British spellings of the places they commemorate...

Liverpool, a city which Karl Marx famously claimed ‘waxed fat on the slave trade’, has its imperial legacy reflected not just in its size, growing as it did from a handful of streets in 1207 to a vigorous eighteenth-century city, but also in a frieze around the handsome Town Hall illustrating trading routes and featuring lions, crocodiles, elephants and African faces...

In Belfast, Empire Awareness Day participants could be encouraged to visit Bombay Street, Kashmir Street, Cawnpore Street, Lucknow Street and Benares Street, all named in celebration of famous campaigns of the British empire...

Glasgow, the so-called second city of the empire, which from the mid-eighteenth century became a major port for rum, sugar and tobacco grown by slaves, participants in Empire Day 2.0 could be directed to the street names such as Jamaica Street, Tobago Street and Antigua Street...

Similar imperial street names existing across Britain, wherever terraced housing was being built at the height of imperialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.'

It was with this last quote that I felt compelled to do a bit of research into the area of Britain that I live in (Norwich) Does Empire even reach the street names here? Well, yes. For me, it made that attachment to Empire more real and the understanding of it more urgent. I encourage you to do the same.


This is what I found out about Norwich!


Born in India in 1803, Sir James Brooke ended up at the Norwich Grammar School after being sent to England to be educated. A Brooke ran away from school, and although was brought back by the headmaster, was forced to educate himself. By 1819 he was commissioned in the Bengal Army, and two years later, Lt Brooke was training a troop in the Indian cavalry at 19. Having gained a reputation as a soldier and he was persuaded to try and restore law and order to Sarawak off the coast of Borneo.

Counter to the usual trend of colonisation, the Brooke dynasty protected the interests of indigenous populations ,Western businessmen were banned from trading, and slavery was banned.


Albert Jarman Caley had begun selling a range of mineral waters and soft drinks in Norwich in 1863. He diversified to produce cocoa (1883), chocolate (1886) and Christmas crackers (1898). The business was purchased in 1918 by the African and Eastern Trading Company and underwent expansion at Norwich and mineral water and cider factories in London, Ipswich, and Banham. Caley's had become overcapitalised and unprofitable, and the new owner sought unsuccessfully to dispose of the business in the 1920s. Their mineral waters were famous, drunk by members of the Royal Family and by MPs in the Commons and by 1904, the firm was employing 700 people and their chocolates and crackers were being shipped all over the world.


Amelia Opie was novelist, poet, radical and philanthropist was born in Colegate in 1769. She wrote the book Adeline Mowbray in 1804 which was an exploration of women's education, marriage and abolition of slavery. The last years of her life were spent in a house on Castle Meadow with the street next to it named after her. She died at the age of 84 and was buried by the side of her father in the Friends cemetery at Gildencroft in Norwich.


David Livingstone, he was a Scottish physician, Congregationalist, and pioneer Christian missionary[2] with the London Missionary Society, an explorer in Africa, and one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era. He had a mythic status that operated on a number of interconnected levels: Protestant missionary martyr, working-class "rags-to-riches" inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader, and advocate of British commercial and colonial expansion.

I found this research interesting but it is an indicator of influential Empire was. Street names were one thing, and probably the most innocuous and innocent of heritages, but let us not forget the more pernicious effects of colonialism, still being felt today in very real ways. I will indeed write about these. But I thought I would start my journey into Empire in a more user-friendly way.

One slightly more profound conclusion to take away is that Empire is seemingly everywhere. You just need to open your eyes.

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