Here’s everything we learned from this list of alternative names considered for London’s boroughs

The predecessor authorities. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The LCC Municipal blog – which publishes all sorts of fascinating stuff about the history of London government – has just begun a new series on the naming of the London boroughs. The first instalment is online here, and if you're reading this, you'll probably enjoy it.

But wait! Don't click away yet, because the article includes an extensive round-up of the borough names that never were, and I’ve written a round up of the best ones, and what I learned from them. Here it is now.

Only seven boroughs were always certain of their names

They were: Croydon, Ealing, Haringey, Harrow, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.

With some of these, the reasons why are obvious. Harrow, the only borough that didn't change its boundaries in 1965, was already called Harrow. Why change it?

With others, the reasons are not obvious. The borough name “Haringey” is a typo for the area around the district of Harringay, and has been confusing Londoners for 50 years. God knows why they were so attached to it.

Three different boroughs could have been called Riverside

They were Hammersmith & Fulham, Barking & Dagenham and – leftfield choice this – Waltham Forest. Which isn't on the Thames. It did also consider Leaside and Lea Valley, though.

Barking, incidentally, also considered Thameside. Which makes sense, given it was one of only 15 boroughs which border the Thames.

The City of Westminster briefly considered Maryminston

No. The logic here presumably is that it was formed from Westminster, Marylebone, and Paddington, but all the same: no.

By the same logic, Camden considered St Holstead, St Bornstead and St Hamborn; Merton considered Wimmercham; Fordingham and Barham were possible names for Barking; and Sutton briefly discussed Carwalton. Lucky escapes all round, there.

Enfield seems to have considered having a number rather than a name

To quote the blog:

Enfield Chace, Edmonton, North Middlesex, Northborough, Edengate, St Andrews, Thirty Two (and variants)

Once upon a time I wanted to call CityMetric Three53, you know. Perhaps Enfield was desperately searching for a unique URL, too.

Several boroughs considered names based on counties

Bromley, which has still not come to terms with being in Greater London even now, considered West Kent, Nort West Kent and Kentgate, as well as Ravensbourne (it's a river). Waltham Forest considered Wessex – an in no way confusing name that was presumably intended to reflect the way it was previously in West Essex.

And no fewer than four boroughs considered names that included Middlesex: Enfield (“North Middlesex”), Barnet (“North Middlesex” again, plus “Central Middlesex & Barnet”), Hillingdon (“West Middlesex”) and Hounslow (“South Middlesex”). It's all very reminiscent of Thomas Hardy's attempt to rename most of the counties of southern England to be variants on Wessex.

But no borough wanted Surrey in its name

Proof, if proof be needed, that Surrey is the worst home county.

Barnet was particularly indecisive

I quote:


The large number of suggestions is on account of a detailed memo by RH Williams, the Town Clerk of Hendon which presented all of the options considered by the five authorities concerned.

Hendon, Hendon & Barnet, Northgate or Northgates, North Hills, Northern Heights, Northiam, Finchenbarne, Finchley, Whetstone, Barfindon, Dollis, Grimsdyke, Norbrook, Norgate, Noresex, Northsex, Northlands, Norlon, Dollis Bar, Dolbrook, Finchenbar, Finbardon, Finchendon, Finchelee, Brent/Braynte, Brentlea, Brent Bar, North Ridges, Great North, Great Northern, Brookways, Ossulton Gore, Central Middlesex & Barnet, Greater Hendon, Brent Valley, Henbarnley, North Middlesex, Hendon with Finchley, Norborough, Templewood

By my count, that's 42 different options. That seems to be asking for trouble, to me.

Bexley could have been greater

The name Greater Bexley was considered, presumably to reflect the fact that Bexley was one of just four councils that went into the new borough. (Bexley, Erith, Crayford and part of Chislehurst & Sidcup.)

The public aren't funny

The entries listed for Newham – result of merger between the county boroughs of East Ham and West Ham – included Hamstrung, Hamsandwich, Smoked Ham and Hamsweetham. “It will come as no surprise to learn that items marked (b) were not official suggestions,” writes LCC Municipal. I assume this means that these were the Boaty McBoatface of their day.

Some of the names are just lovely

I don't really have a joke to make about these ones, I just really like them. So here they are as a map:

Honestly, I really think my life would have been improved loads if I'd grown up not in Havering but in Liberty.

Some of them really aren't

One of the names listed for Waltham Forest is “Sorensen Spread”. The mind boggles.

Anyway, now you’ve read my nonsense, you should read LCC Municipal’s blog here. Can’t wait for part two.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.