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Advance to Go: A guide to the London Monopoly board streets

Advance to Go: A guide to the London Monopoly board streets

Ever wanted to go and see the London monopoly board streets for yourself? Nicholas Boys Smith shares some little known secrets behind the streets

Monopoly was a game designed to criticise capitalism which became a worldwide capitalist success. It’s also a game which has defined for millions globally their knowledge of London’s streets but whose actual selection of 22 streets was cobbled together by the elderly boss of a printing firm and his secretary on a day trip down from Leeds.

"You will search in vain for an Angel Street in Islington"

One street is misnamed: it is Great Marlborough Street, not Marlborough Street. Two of them are not even streets. You will search in vain for an Angel Street in Islington. It was a coaching inn, a hotel and then a Lyons tea shop which, miraculously saved from 1960s destruction for “road widening”, now serves as a Co-Op bank. Nor does London have any street called Mayfair. There are, though, at least 121 streets within the neighbourhood of that name, nearly all of them sheening with that perennial London favourite: ready money.

Where do the Monopoly streets come from?

There is little evidence of where Victor Watson and Marjory Phillips went on their 1935 daytrip to London. But they did not head south or east. Only one street, the Old Kent Road, is south of the Thames. And only one, Whitechapel Road, is east of the City of London. Both, colour-coded brown, have suffered from the Monopoly ignominy of being the cheapest streets on the board for nearly a century.

London Monopoly board streets, Whitechapel Road

Even the City of London gets short shrift. Only one street on the board even touches the ancient city walls: Fleet Street, formerly Fleet Bridge Street, but which, since 1769, has merely bridged the drain channelling the largest of London’s now subterranean rivers into the Thames. 

So, if you want to understand London’s Monopoly Streets, what should you know? Most are from one period of her growth: the streets in the west central area that grew around the ancient cities of Westminster and London in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some of these streets were what we now call greenfield development—streets and squares carved from Middlesex fields and named after developing landowners (Leicester Square), passing fashion (Piccadilly) or sporting pass time (Pall Mall.) 

The story of Trafalgar Square

Others were brownfield development. My favourite tale is Trafalgar Square which we all know so well and yet so little. No Monopoly street demonstrates London’s infinite capacity for renaissance better. 

It all began with falcons. In 1273, Edward I ordered Thomas deErleham to look after his falcons when they were moulting and could not be used for hunting. The king offered Thomas nine pence a day and instructed him to perform his duties where the north side of Trafalgar Square now stands in the village of Charing (from the Anglo Saxon cerr meaning a turn and referring to the River Thames’s bend).

"No Monopoly street demonstrates London’s infinite capacity for renaissance better than Trafalgar Square"

In the 13th century, the court still primarily spoke Anglo-Norman French and the building in which the falcons were kept became known as the “Muwes” after the French muer meaning “to moult.”

Henry VIII began using the site as a stable instead, although the anglicised name “mews” stuck. It has become the standard name for any urban back-street of urban stable buildings in the English-speaking world. The world’s first mews really was at Trafalgar Square. Later, courtiers began to lodge there. It is a transition that has been echoed by all the mews in all the side streets of central London, as technology inserted cars and then spiralling land costs inserted people where once horses lodged.

Trafalgar Square, London monopoly board streets

Trafalgar Square

The architect, John Gwynn, first suggested turning the mews into a public square in his forgotten 1766 book, London and Westminster Improved (which also conceived of Regent Street and Waterloo Bridge), although work did not start until the 1820s. By 1835 the new square was named after Nelson’s naval triumph, agreed by William IV, a great admirer of Nelson, in conversation with Sir Thomas Hardy, Nelson’s captain on HMS Victory and in whose arms the hero had died (“kiss me Hardy”). 

Recently Trafalgar Square has been reinvented. Greater London’s first ever mayor, Ken Livingstone, closed the northern carriageway to cars, rerouted traffic round the square’s south and installed a prominent and elegant new staircase up to the terrace. Before almost no one lingered in Trafalgar Square—an analysis showed that only two out of 300 people walked through not round the square. Now nearly everyone does.

"There is remarkable consistency in the relative values of London’s Monopoly streets"

Other Monopoly streets have turned full circle. Whitehall evolved from being a public road through a royal palace to a maze of sub-let homes, offices and shops to being, again, a place of governance with the building of the great Victorian public palaces of Treasury and Foreign Office. 

But, as a 2016 study showed, there is remarkable consistency in the relative values of London’s Monopoly streets from 1936 to today. Streets can change completely and yet stay the same.

Nicholas Boys Smith founded the London-based social enterprise, Create Streets. His history of the city’s Monopoly streets, No Free Parking, is published by Bonnier Books. He is, of course, a Londoner.

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