by Matthew Sweet
Monday, 18
January 2021
Spotted
15:13

Stop fighting over street names

Robert Jenrick's ideological battle with Birmingham Council is unnecessary
by Matthew Sweet
Birmingham City Council’s new road names. Credit: BCC

The war in Vietnam had Tariq Ali. Now the culture wars have their own street-fighting man. The housing minister, Robert Jenrick, assuring Telegraph readers that, contrary to their instinct that the matter might be a ludicrous waste of time when a thousand a day are expiring from Covid-19, that they really ought to summon the spunk for an ideological battle with Birmingham City Council.

Why is this so urgent? The council has named some roads after abstract concepts: Diversity Grove, Equality Road, Respect Way. The minister’s objections are semantic and psychological: “Abstractions never carry as much meaning as the local and the particular, and this vision of a woke future is dispossessed and unreal, even disconcerting.” This, he writes, is “what the future looks like with the past erased”.

We hear a lot about the erasure of history, particularly from non-historians. The development is a new-build on land once owned by Birmingham City University. Nothing has been erased, and I’m not convinced that Health, Education and Life Sciences Faculty Street would have fitted on the front of a council tax bill.

What about the supposed deleterious effects of living under an abstract concept? To assess this, we would need to consult the residents of the various Love Lanes, Victory Rows and Coronation Streets around the country. Maybe the inhabitants of Virtue Close, part of a growing development near Derby, could volunteer themselves for study? (Though I suspect many of them know that the name of their street, adjoining Clarissa Close and Grandison Close, is borrowed from the subtitle of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela [1740], and may not feel they need liberating from the association.)

Obviously this research will have to wait for a less plague-struck moment. But in the meantime, the minister’s intervention offers an opportunity to think about a couple of related points.

How, since suburbs first began spreading, new street names have formed a record of aspiration, pretension, and the changing zeitgeist. Diversity Grove would speak of its moment just as strongly as the terraces in Hull named after Anglo-Boer battles, or addresses such as Zangwill Road SE3, (named after a celebrated Zionist playwright) and Trilby Road, SE23 (memorialising the hypnotised model in the George du Maurier novel).

But it also speaks to a phenomenon much more wretched than municipal earnestness. Its opposite, really. If you’ve ever been screwed over by a property management company with a name like an earldom or a Cotswold village, you’ll know the kind of thing I mean. Questionable conduct by entities that trade under names that conjure a deep ancestral history upon which they have no claim.

Chartwell, for instance. When we hear that word, we’re meant to think of Winston Churchill’s country estate; the redoubtable old man puffing on a cigar and doing a bit of amateur bricklaying. News stories about the provision of free school meals have added another image: catering workers on industrial estates subdividing carrots and spooning tuna into dog poo bags.

Fight a battle over that, and someone might name a street after you.

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Simon Denis
Simon Denis
1 year ago

Disingenuous nonsense from Sweet. Using street names to push the buzz words of an all powerful ideological agenda is totalitarian. Not to stand up to it would be a dereliction of properly Liberal duty. And pretending that it doesn’t matter, whilst forgetting the instigators altogether, and blaming those who react to their provocations – these betoken three things, singly or in combination: stupidity, cowardice and connivance.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Smacks of renaming St Petersburg to Leningrad, pure Orwellian Ministry of Truth. Names chosen for silly marketing reasons, like naming a new road to a modern buildup ‘Deer Run’ or ‘Beech Crescent’ is just nothing but harmless drivel. Naming these places woke names is pure, underhanded, political agenda. Huge difference.

Jonathan Marshall
Jonathan Marshall
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Agreed. When I read about the Birmingham names “Sickbag Street” sprang immediately to mind.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

One of the most disingenuous articles I’ve read in a long time.

1st he uses the “haven’t you got something better to be doing” argument – a standard and weak argument, and in this case can also be used against the councils.

Of course the worst part of the article, the huge lie by ommision, he fails to mention that Jenrick is going to stop council officials arbitrarily renaming streets and removing statues. And here’s the really horrible bit: consult with locals – who usually fail to have the correct opinions.

Maybe I’m wrong but if councils were pulling down feminists, socialist and minority statues whilst changing road signs to “Empire Street” or “Patriotic Duty Road” Mr Sweet would perhaps be more concerned?

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Brilliantly put. It’s not so much Sweet’s identikit left wing silliness that grates as the cowardly dishonesty of his approach – a dishonesty which you have illuminated with a flash intellectual lightning.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

The names suggested for the streets mentioned came from the public during a consultation process run by Birmingham Council. So I guess, in your view, the public didn’t have the correct opinions.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Try reading the linked article, the public were allowed to submit suggestions that the ‘choosen’ community people, council and project officials then’ judged’.

Then read around a little and find that one Louise Kilbride who ‘won’ the competition is a committed Corbyn supporter, ex Director of a diveristy promoting company etc etc.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Well done, Mr Loze. Another morsel of socialist sophistry blown clean out of the water.

William Cameron
William Cameron
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

” consult with locals – who usually fail to have the correct opinions”

Exactly only opinions that are “woke” must be permitted.

Benjamin Jones
Benjamin Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

In a committee room somewhere……’We can’t consult the great unwashed, we’d end up with RoadyMcRoadface Road, StreetyMcStreetface Street and AvenueMcAvenueface Avenue!

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago

Bizarre piece. The objection should not be to preventing such nonsense. The “ludicrous waste of time when a thousand a day are expiring from Covid-19” is being displayed by the name-changing council, not the minister.

Yes, street names are an extraordinarily low priority – which should mean, “do not waste time changing them – especially not to ghastly, anodyne, awful [email protected] names.

Sweet also displays irritating arrogance in suggesting that the remarks of non-historians somehow carry less weight on such matters. I think we’ve heard enough from experts, thank you.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

We need to hear his views on statues next.

Jonathan Marshall
Jonathan Marshall
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

I rather think we can guess…

Scott Carson
Scott Carson
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

One of his points is that no road names are actually being changed, unless I’ve misunderstood the piece. It’s entirely new roads that are being given the [email protected] names, not existing roads being renamed.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott Carson

But he’d have to read the article properly to pick that up rather than just react according to his predetermined view of the issue.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

This is disingenuous. The renaming of streets is a live discussion; the destruction or removal of statues an ongoing risk.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott Carson

Sweet is playing a bait-and-switch game. Jenrick’s main comments concerned statues; moreover, the rot goes far deeper (e.g the idiocy of the Ted Hughes nonsense).

Birmingham has indeed chosen to blight new construction with those dreadful names; let’s not pretend that renaming streets with “problematic” associations is not on the agenda.

Cristian Ispir
Cristian Ispir
1 year ago

I have grown up in post-1989 Romania, where many streets had been renamed by the communists between the 50s and the 80s using abstract concepts like ‘Triumph Avenue’, ‘Labour Boulevard’, ‘Solidarity Street’, ‘Freedom Plain’, ‘Cooperative Way’ or ‘Production Street’. After 1989, some streets reverted to their pre-Communist names, others didn’t. Hodonyms are as efficient a tool as history books or political propaganda at imposing a group’s view of itself and of the world. And of overlaying the past with a new ideological coating.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 year ago

What about Woke Grove or Politically Correct Nerd Circus? Idiot council wearing virtue on their sleeves. To Hell in a handcart Road for the lot of them..

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago

‘Muggers Lane’ somewhere around Marble Arch.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

I look forward to Covid Close and cannot for the life of me understand why we do not yet have Asbo Avenues up and down the land.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

There is already a Corona Road in Lewisham…

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

I’m very pleased to hear that the Labour Council in Lewisham is ahead of the curve, as always. I lived under their jurisdiction for some years so I know how fast moving and forward thinking they are. I hope they will be the first to name a council block after Dr Fauci.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
1 year ago

Well spotted!
I soon hope to have some EnglishSpringer Spaniel puppies, one is to be called Corona and another Covid.

George Lake
George Lake
1 year ago

Well spotted!

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
1 year ago

I soon hope to have some EnglishSpringer Spaniel puppies, at least one is to be called Corona and another Covid, to commemorate these ‘happy times’.

(This was originally forbidden by the Censor, but eventually allowed on appeal)

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I soon hope to have a litter of EnglishSpringer Spaniel puppies, one is to be called Corona and another Covid, to commemorate these ‘happy times’.

Hopefully when I am just a “handful of grey ashes long long ago at rest”, they will bounding across the Arcadian countryside and springing with delight.

(This was originally forbidden by the Censor, but eventually allowed on appeal).

Richard Martin
Richard Martin
1 year ago

I rather think that (unusually) UnHerd has let itself down.
Matthew Sweet is probably an ace bloke with good things to say, but this article is fluff under the sofa. There are interesting and worthwhile things to say on this topic, but Mr Sweet does not say any of them. Spike it, UnHerd!

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

Let’s hope someone with a magic marker makes some creative improvements, such as Diversity Grovel, Equality Toad, Respect Wayne.

And why not a Brexit Way?

john freeman
john freeman
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Down our way there’s a Bullock Road . . .

bob alob
bob alob
1 year ago

Street names may mean nothing to the “anywhere” mindset or those with no respect for their families roots, in my locality when a new housing development is built we expect the street names to reflect what was once sited there, only when built on land with no history should a “modern” name be given to streets, local history is an important part of community cohesion and is important to many people, regardless of what this anywhere has to say and I would expect any local street renamed diversity to have the signage vandalised as soon as being installed.

Derek M
Derek M
1 year ago

“We hear a lot about the erasure of history, particularly from non-historians.” Perhaps that’s because these days so called historians are more interested in re-writing or erasing history, often by the means of critical theory.

David Bouvier
David Bouvier
1 year ago

Don’t think many Victory Rows or Coronation Streets are abstract concepts. They would be names reflecting an actual coronation or and actual victory in the lives of the locals.

As for Love Lane, you have to be a bit of numpty to not realise the name usually comes from euphamising either (urban) a prevelance of brothels or (rural) a secluded area used by ‘courting couples’. There are some others that recognise a connection with a prominent families of that name, or is a corruption thereof.

This article was built without proper foundations, and is collapsing.

Peter McKenna
Peter McKenna
1 year ago

Could do worse than take a few tips from Iain M Banks’s spaceship names, e.g.:

Profit Margin Drive
Break Even Way
Within Reason Avenue
God Told Me To Do It Road

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

There is a part of Amsterdam, recently redeveloped, with a street nomenclature that reflects the vibrant ‘new economy’. Thus there is a Softwareweg and a Netwerkweg. I kid you not, check out Google Maps.

Mark H
Mark H
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

That sounds like the Dutch, practical and rather literal.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
1 year ago

Can’t you understand what a cultural revolution is and what it is for? Thank goodness HMG have finally woken up.

I suppose you think it is OK for half of America to be silenced too?

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
1 year ago

Utter garbage. There are very few streets or place names named after abstractions, and for a good reason. We prefer things or people. And no, you wouldn’t be any happier being ripped off by ‘Diversity Financial Services’ than ‘Earlsfield Financial Services’. Prat.

William Cameron
William Cameron
1 year ago

History shows that those who proclaim the sternest virtues usually murder the largest numbers. Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot . All only permitted their opinions.

Glenn Baird
Glenn Baird
1 year ago

I’m slightly surprised that Birmingham, and other councils, haven’t monetised the allocation of street names yet.
Every town and village could have a Virgin Street, Sony Avenue or Google Grove.

David Collier
David Collier
1 year ago

I think I’d like to live in Humanity Close – but not quite there yet.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago

So it’s not worth pushing back on the council that thinks changing street names to work nonsense terms is important during a pandemic?

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago

Awww I was looking forward to there being an ‘Equality Street’ so I could sing biddlybiddlybiddly like Ricky Gervais. On the other hand… NO Birmingham Council, do your job instead of pratting about with stupid woke street names.

Sue Harris
Sue Harris
1 year ago

Agree with Matthew Sweet – there’s a lot worse. Where I live, the former market town now surrounded by vast and expanding tracts of car-dependent pseudo-vernacular commuter housing advertised as “rural communities” recently sprouted a monstrosity to be dubbed by the marketing men “Abbey View”. There isn’t, and never has there been, an abbey anywhere near, and the only view from the development is other similar excrescences. I’d rather the woke brigade than that faux-folk claptrap. “Abbey View” was eventually ditched as a name in favour of something pretend-rustic.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago
Reply to  Sue Harris

I went to university in a Canadian city which, like many such cities, had an extensive network of numbered streets and avenues, as well as its own “Alphabet City” of lettered avenues in the dodgy side of town. Many streets had actual names too of course, but if you lived there chances were your address was a street with a number or letter. During my time there I lived variously on: 4th Avenue, 5th Avenue, 13th Street, 6th Avenue, and 9th Street. I always wished I could, for once, live on some street with a cool name, but it was never to be. I think these cities grew too fast for the modern and practical founders to spend too much time dithering over street names.

David Bouvier
David Bouvier
1 year ago

If you have an actual grid pattern then numbering conveys useful information. (And perhaps naming cross-streets in alphabetical order would help with the other dimension).

Not many UK towns have such a regular pattern.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago
Reply to  David Bouvier

Good. They’re utterly French, and are, like all such things (metrics, the EU, Bastille Day, faux-Romanism), celebrations of violent Revolution. The British don’t do that sort of thing. The average Brit doesn’t think order and bureaucracy and ‘Reason’ to be a higher form of life, as all continentals do.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago

Good article highlighting that Jenrick is engaging in precisely the sort of unnecessary posturing that, when it comes from the left, generates so much outrage on this site. All the while Telegraph readers harrumph into their kippers about made up stories on street names they aren’t thinking about Scots Seafood Exporters pitching up at Downing Street to protest about the impact of Brexit. So, win win for Jenrick.