Above: Stones End Street in Southwark.
If you have ever driven in France you may have passed through the countryside and therefore driven through quite small towns and even smaller villages. You may have noticed that, as you approach a village or town there is a sign by the side of the road with the name of the location written on it. Places in England have a similar system. However, in France, as you pass the point where the town or village boundary ends, there is another sign with the place name displayed again but this time it is ‘crossed out’ with a red line through it. That is not something we do in England.
In medieval England, there were no signs but you always knew when you were entering or leaving the parish boundary of a town. Wealthy towns had the roadway ‘paved’ right up to the boundary. At that point, the roadway usually changed to a dirt track. This did not happen in villages because most of them were not wealthy to have stones sets (often known as ‘cobbles’) to provide a durable surface on which carts could travel.
This practice also applied to London. The point where the stone sets on a road ended was usually called ‘Stones End’. In Southwark there is still a short street called ‘Stones End Street’. If you walk south along Borough High Street, you eventually pass the church of St George the Martyr. Continue southwards until you reach the Police Station. On the wall you will see a plaque recording the original site of ‘Stones End’ and giving a brief explanation. On the western side of Borough High Street, almost opposite the Police Station, is a short turning with the nameplate of ‘Stones End’. It is the last street in London to bear the name.
In earlier times there was also a point at the end of Whitechapel Road that was also called ‘Stones End’. John Entick (c1703–73) was an opportunistic hack writer who assumed the title of MA and the role of a cleric to promote a phoney scholarly reputation. He is little-known for his writing but he published a multi-volume ‘History & Survey of London’. When describing the road leading east from the City of London (a road we know today as Whitechapel Road which then becomes Mile End Road) he wrote ‘To the south east, we proceed into the Whitchapel Road and on the south side, as the stones end, stands the parish church dedicated to St Mary, founded about the year 1329 as a chapel of ease to Stepney.’
The ‘Stones End’ at Whitechapel is no more. Whitechapel Road, by the way, was named from the ‘White Chapel’ known as ‘St Mary Matfellon’. It stood on the south side of the road where there is now a large open space. Sadly the church was completely destroyed by bombing in the Second World War and was not rebuilt.