Messaline Avenue Mystery Part II

Nancy Duin pursues road name riddle

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Follow-up to Fran Leslie's story about how Messaline Avenue got its name.

In his book Acton from A to Z – 'a compendium of street names together with the history of Old Acton' – R N G Rowlands (in whose house I happen to live) reveals, among much else, the background to the naming of both Messaline and Emanuel avenues. He deals with the latter first:

Emanuel Avenue - Named from the family last owning Friars Place [a mansion that was sited on what is now the Friary estate] before that house began to fall into decay. The 1851 poor-rate book shows the landlord of Friars Place as Mrs Elizabeth Emanuel. She was the widow of Morris Emanuel, and a party to the Enclosure Commissioners' Award of 1859 [which redistributed Acton's common land to private owners]. By 1886, her son Henry was living at 6 Emanuel Avenue, the new road that he was building across the gardens of Friars Place. He was a partner in the firm of Davis & Emanuel, architects, whose work included the West London Synagogue and the City of London School for Boys. Connoisseurs of the bizarre in street-naming should now turn to 'Messaline Avenue' for the continuation of the story.

So, Fran, I'm afraid that Emanuel Avenue's name had a more prosaic source than Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist for Mozart's Magic Flute. But, as another entry in Mr Rowlands book shows, the musical spirit still lives on in one street:

Messaline Avenue - Development was begun in 1899 by Councillor James de Lara Cohen, son-in-law of Henry Emanuel, from whom he inherited the Friars Place estate. His brother, known professionally as Isadore de Lara (1858–1935), was a composer whose opera Messaline was given at Monte Carlo and Covent Garden in 1899. The central figure of this work was Messaline, Claudius's empress of atrocious memory. The libretto, and hence the lady's name, was in French. (Streets named after operas must be rare.)

Nancy Duin

October 22, 2009