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Putting politicians on the map is not a good idea

Reports suggest Margaret Thatcher will have a street in Madrid named after her.

By on Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Flowers laid outside the home of Baroness Thatcher in Belgravia

Flowers laid outside the home of Baroness Thatcher in Belgravia

It seems that Margaret Thatcher may soon have a street named after her, not in Grantham, or even London, but in Madrid (hat tip to Archbishop Cranmer.) One politician in the city is uncertain about this development, we read, as he does not want to see “the politicisation of the street map”. I have to say, I think he has a point.

For us English, politicising the street map is always something we associate with rather dodgy regimes. This probably reached its apogee with the late Nicolae Ceausescu who transformed large swathes of Bucharest from a charming city into a totalitarian nightmare, the centrepiece of which was the Boulevard of Victorious Socialism, leading up to his pharaonic palace. Stalin too was not averse to lavish bad taste architecture, and he had numerous streets named after him. But this sort of folly is not peculiar to the Left. Benito Mussolini did untold damage to Rome with his mania for new wide boulevards, the most damaging of which is the Via della Conciliazione, which leads up to Saint Peter’s. One is meant to come into St Peter’s Square as if by surprise, emerging from some dark medieval alleyway; but Mussolini made this impossible, and quite ruined Bernini’s masterpiece. He did the same, incidentally, at the bottom of the steps leading up to the Church of Aracoeli. This dramatic staircase was once accessed from a small piazza. Alas, no more. Now it is lost in a wide street of thundering traffic.

Of course, no one is going to demolish houses in Madrid to create the Boulevard of Victorious Thatcherism, but the mindset is the same, though the scale may differ. Redrawing or just renaming the map is a step that ought not to be embarked on without good reason. In Nairobi the avenue leading up to the station is called Moi Avenue, even though the man after whom it is named still lives. The other main street is called Kenyatta Avenue, named after Kenya’s first president. There is also a Mama Ngina Street: she is still alive, widow of the first president, and mother of the current president. It is rather annoying to deal with street names that make political points.

When the Knights of Malta under the leadership of Grand Master La Valette built their capital city, which is reputed to be the first planned city in Europe, they laid down various rules about the grid pattern, street width, and the necessity of having a saint’s statue on every street corner. And they also stipulated that each street should be named after a saint. The main street was named after the patron saint of Aragon, and thus was Strada San Giorgio, and remained so into the nineteenth century. Alas, someone in the colonial era decided to rename it Kingsway. When Malta became a Republic, the road was renamed Republic Street, as it remains to this day. I rather wish it was still St George’s Street.

At least Malta has seen no wholesale renaming of cities for political reasons, as has happened in Vietnam, Mexico and South Africa. Ciudad Juarez was once called El Paso del Norte, Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City, and Pretoria has been renamed Tshanwe, or will be soon. God forbid anyone should have the idea of calling Grantham ‘Thatcherville’ or ‘Iron Lady City’. It is not that I did not admire The Blessed Margaret (as Norman St John Stevas called her); but I like history more, and I think that we should stick to traditional names.

  • Jonathan West

    The same applies to buildings, and the church is not immune to making such mistakes.

    St Benedict’s School (attached to Ealing Abbey) in recent times has named buildings after Fr Bernard Orchard, Fr Kevin Horsey and Abbot Laurence Soper.

    It turns out that Fr Kevin Horsey was a prolific child sex abuser, never brought to justice before his death in 2006, and Fr Laurence Soper has done a bunk while supposedly on his way to a police bail appointment, having previously been arrested on suspicion of child sex offences. His whereabouts are currently unknown and a European Arrest Warrant has been issued for him.

    Oops!

    Both buildings have been renamed. The Horsey building is now the Hall Wing, and the Soper Pavilion is now the Centenary Pavilion.

  • Acleron

    Weird that Spain should do this. I was working there shortly after the Falklands War and the antagonism to the UK was very noticeable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexander.luciesmith Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Actually, I have just noticed or remembered something. Rabat, the chief town of Gozo, was renamed Victoria at the request of its Bishop in the Diamond Jubilee of the great Queen, who used to wear Gozitan lace. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria,_Gozo

  • Guest

    It wasn’t only Stalin. The Soviet Union was filled with Lenin Streets, Marx Squares and 50 Years of October Revolution Boulevards. It’s hard to fault the Soviets, though. They built ‘em.

  • Kevin

    “For us English, politicising the street map is always something we associate with rather dodgy regimes.”

    You lost me there.

    Presumably Scotland and Wales are included among the dodgy regimes, so we cannot look there for examples, but here is what a quick Web search throws up for pure English street map dodginess:

    The Birks Holt estate, Maltby, South Yorkshire has its streets named after Labour politicians, including Clement Attlee, Sir Stafford Cripps, Hugh Gaitskell and George Lansbury. 

    Attlee Close, Tividale, West Midlands.

    Stafford Cripps House, Fulham, named after the Labour Chancellor. 

    Keir Hardie estate, Canning Town, East London.

    Maybray King Way, Southampton, named after Labour MP for Itchen, Southampton and life peer Lord Maybray (Horace) King.

    Mellish Street, Isle of Dogs, London, named after Labour MP Bob Mellish.

    Alfred Salter Primary School, Surrey Docks, London, and Alfred Salter Bridge, named after a Labour politician.

    Nelson Mandela Gardens, Millennium Square, Leeds.

    Nelson Mandela House, Nyerere Estate, Peckham.

    (OK, the last one is made up. But where do you think the joke comes from?)

  • Ceile De

    Of course, La Vallette doesn’t just have a street but the whole city named after him.

  • $46579571

    After the Catholic Herald has managed to canonise Mrs Thatcher, I’m sure that there’ll be a street in Vatican City named after her.

  • Benedict Carter

    Dunno about that.

    They built (or rather, forced labour slaves built) various new towns but not all were given names from the pantheon of Marxist killers. Magadan and Norilsk were two. Most streets given Commie names were already there when they came along.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexander.luciesmith Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Yes!

  • Benedict Carter

    In Portugal, the most Catholic country in Europe (well, was), every village, street and park had a Catholic name until the end of the monarchy in 1910 when the Masonic Republic took power. Now everything is called the “Dr. Sousa de Pinhal Machedo Street” or similar.

    Not the same as “Rua da Senhora da Coracao Immaculada”, is it?

    My favourite Portuguese village names, both with a medieval story behind them, are “Triste Feia” (“Sad Ugly Lady”) and “Venda das Raparigas Judeas” or “Sale of the Jewish Girls”.

    And before the usual suspects start wittering on about the evils done to Jews by Catholics, the name recalls a Moslem slave market.

  • James M

    Princes Street in Edinborrow is so called after the sons of George III – Mrs. Thatcher is surely more deserving of commemoration.

    The proliferation of places & other whatsits named after living Popes strikes me as undesirable – that kind of thing should be done only after death, once it can be seen whether they deserve such honour. Otherwise Mount Ecumenism, and New Orientations International Velodrome, Hermeneutic of Continuity Senior Citizens’ Village, a monster statue of JP2 overlooking St. Peter’s Piazza, and Ratzingeropolis, cannot be far behind. Vanities like that should be left to worldlings such as dictators & their kind. Though a sculpture of St. Michael victorious over the blood-red dragon of Communism might be a good scheme.

  • Joe Zammit

    … and another street in Buenos Aires!

  • Joe Zammit

    Was he La Vallette or de la Vallette?
    A monument has been put up in Piazza San Giorgio i.e, Main Guard, in Valletta and tourists keep asking who that statue represents because to date no inscription, no name has been placed at the foot of the statue to tell viewers who that person is owing to the uncertainty of his precise name.

  • ZuZuLamarr

    Paris – and other parts of France – have various streets named after personages of note including King George V, John F Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Pompidou etc. Movingly, there are streets named after members of the French Resistance in towns and villages throughout France – which are truly deserving of their posterity.

    In Lourdes, there’s a long busy road named after another local hero and French rugby legend Prat. Even the familiar people involved in the story of Lourdes (St Bernadette Soubirous feast day was just the other day) such as Mayor Lacade, Cazenave, Baron Massy(if my memory serves me of its correct spelling) and St Bernadette herself…

    Manchester has various streets and closes named after people I’ve never heard of – Elizabeth Slinger Road is one such example. But, on a more comforting note, we have the world famous scientist in John Dalton Street, Whitworth Street, Alexandra Road (named after Queen Alexandra, consort of King Edward VII), Albert Square …

    India has changed many city names to disassociate itself from the days of the British Raj.
    Dublin did the same after 1916.

    No doubt Zimbabwe will soon have Mugabe Mansions (or, with the desperate state of their economy, Mugabe Maisonettes)
    I know! What about having a river named after Margaret Thatcher? After all, she sold a heck of a lot of people down it…

  • ZuZuLamarr

    In Tehran, there is a street named after the Irish hunger striker MP, Bobby Sands!
    Methinks it was a wind-up to Mrs Thatcher and Britain in the early 1980′s.
    Going back to Manchester street names, a vast stretch of Warwick Road near Manchester United’s ground at Old Trafford is called Sir Matt Busby Way – after their great manager and Papal Knight.
    The Late Lord Morris of Manchester (Labour and Co-Operative MP for Wythenshawe and tireless champion of the disabled, Alf Morris) has yet to have a prominent stretch of road named after him.
    Is it because he passionately cared about disabled people, their dignity and their right to be treated as human beings? –
    I bet he’s turning spin cycle in his grave right now. The disabled and vulnerable have once more become a group which society see perfectly fit to bully, verbally abuse and humiliate. Why? The ConDem Government want to stir up enough support from the chinless and otherwise ‘normal’ people to justify their method of persecution called ‘welfare reform’, as if the disabled and vulnerable haven’t enough on their plates struggling day to day as it is.
    One set of Roman Catholics s openly supporting and standing on the side of the disabled, marginalised and vulnerable.
    Another set of Roman Catholics are effectively pushing through further penalising the sick and disabled.
    The first set of RCs are popes, especially Pope Francis.
    The other set is a number of MPs willing to rush and push without costing them a thought for the genuine sick and disabled – not the shysters that occupy pen and ink in the newspapers and through the media on a regular basis.
    We don’t all go out to punch horse’s noses or do breakdancing with a plastic hip!
    Computer expert Alan Turing already has a part of the Mancunian Way named after him.

  • Joe Zammit

    The topic of this piece is precisely not to choose only late politicians for street names. Of course, politicians should not be excluded but other personalities who have contributed so much to the welfare of their co-citizens should be put up in street names as well. Thank God, the Catholic Church is full of these benefactors.