How Messaline Avenue Got Its Name

Fran Leslie has found operatic origins for her street

Related Links

Do you know about the origins of your road name? Send information to

Town Centre: Calling All Residents

The Future of Acton Park Could be in Your Hands

A visit to Acton Park Cafe

Green Flag for Acton Park

Another Visit to Acton Park with Litterpick


Sign up for our free Acton newsletter

What are your views on Acton Park? Email or comment on the forum

Our house in Messaline Avenue was built in 1906. A major part of the road has three storey houses, with mock-Tudor overhanging rooms at the top, facing short terraces of well-proportioned two storey houses.

When we moved to Messaline Avenue, Mike, one of our new neighbours told us that it was one of only two roads in the UK to be named after an opera. He had met an old lady who had inherited the houses from her late husband. She said that the houses had been built by a property developer and speculator for rental. Around the time the street was built, his brother had put on an opera in Paris, called Messaline.

[Originally, the taller houses were occupied by lawyers and the like and the smaller houses opposite by teachers. The rented houses gradually fell into disrepair and Mike said that one house was so bad you could look up through the overhang and see the sky through the roof. When she died, several of the large houses, including ours, were put up for auction by the old lady's son, bought and renovated by speculators and resold.]

I knew from Robert Graves books I, Claudius and Claudius The God, that Claudius was forced by Caligula to divorce his wife and marry Messalina, a beautiful but scurrilously wicked woman. So recently, out of curiosity, I typed “Messaline” + “Opera” into Google's search engine and up came a Wikipedia page about Messaline a tragédie lyrique or opera, composed by Isidore de Lara and librettists Paul Armand Silvestre and Eugène Morand.. It had its premier in Monte-Carlo in 1899 to much acclaim and had notable productions at Covent Garden (1899), in Milan (1901), New York (1902), Paris in 1903, Warsaw in (1904) and Cairo (1907). There is a resumé of the plot in the article.

I clicked on the name Isidore de Lara and up came a biography of the composer who was born Isidore Cohen in 1858 and died in 1935. He was an English composer and singer who studied in Italy and France and taught at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He had great success with his operas, particularly Messaline, and he returned to London in the 1920s where he tried to create a permanent English nation opera company.

When I saw the birth name of Isidore de Lara, the pieces of the story fell into place. When we had book shelves built in our front room, we had the dado rail removed. On the back of one of the bigger lengths was written in an elegant hand in carpenter's pencil, the name Charles de Lay Cohen.

Could it be that Emanuel Avenue is named after Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist for Mozart's Magic Flute?

Fran Leslie


September 25, 2009