Holborn as a Name


The northern ‘edge’ of the streets around Fleet Street is the wider street just called Holborn. The old boundary of the City of London included some of the buildings on the south side of Holborn. The rest of the street is now part of the London Borough of Camden. The name of Holborn is therefore linked to one of the two areas of study under consideration at the moment. As will be explained below, it is also linked to the River Fleet and so it deserves a mention here today.

The road called Holborn, its eastern continuation as Holborn Viaduct and its western continuation as High Holborn all derive their name from the River Fleet. The river was variously called ‘Fleet’ and ‘Holborn’. Because of this anomaly, many people think that there were two rivers – one called the ‘River Fleet’ and another one called the ‘River Holborn’.

As is usual with any river, its course lies along the lowest contour of the land and, if there is a valley, it will flow through it. Geologically speaking it is actually the other way round – because it was the river flowing in the first place that usually caused the valley by erosion. The course of the River Fleet (where Farringdon Road and Farringdon Street are situated today) is a shallow valley with the land rising slightly on either side. Because of this, the River Fleet was described as ‘flowing in a hollow’. Streams are often described as ‘bournes’ and that led to it being called ‘hollow bourne’ or ‘hollow bourn’ which eventually led to ‘hol-born’ and ‘holborn’. Once the stream had been named ‘holborn’ the adjacent road took on that same name.

The name ‘Holeburne’ appears in a document of AD 959 and as ‘Oldborne’ in 1603. Both names derive from the Old English words ‘hoth burna’ meaning ‘stream in the hollow’.

It will be realised therefore that both the street called Holborn and Fleet Street both derive their names from being associated with the same stream. The name of Holborn by name is also to be found in the Domesday Book (1086).

To complete the story, the earliest recorded mention of the River Fleet was as ‘Fleta’ about the year 1012. There is a further spelling of ‘Flete’ in a document written about 1200. The name comes from the Old English word ‘fleot’ meaning an inlet or a creek. Originally the name applied only to the Thames-end of the River Fleet.


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2 Responses to Holborn as a Name

  1. Andrew says:

    Fascinating, Where is/was the source of the Fleet? Mount Pleasant and/or Islington?


  2. No, the source is much further north – at Hampstead Ponds and Highgate Ponds. From there is flows down to Camden Town and then to Farringdon Street.


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