Like many people, I was eagerly awaiting the release of the 1921 Census of England and Wales in January. I purchased several census images that first day but it was a few days later before I realised something rather sweet on one of them. Not particularly important in the grand scheme of things, but something of sentimental interest. My great-grandfather Leonard Langley, known as Len, was living with his first wife Eva in 1921, as I knew, but flipping over to the reverse of their census page I discovered that they named their house ‘Leneva’. This is, of course, a portmanteau of both their names.
Before the 18th century, all houses had names rather than numbers. In close-knit communities, everyone knew everyone else and where they lived. As urban districts and populations grew, and the postal service became established, there became a need to organise houses in a way that could be easily identified. In 1855 the Metropolitan Management Act was introduced, with a new Board of Works given the responsibility of regulating the naming and numbering of streets and houses. Over the course of the next fifty or so years, streets were gradually structured into a simplified numbering system. Another branch of my Southend ancestors, the Lewis family, had lived for twenty years at the address of 3 Grace Cottages, Milton Street, before their house was officially designated 64 Milton Street in around 1900. Of course, colloquially, many people would continue to use their old house names, but the post office had an easier job when people used the official street numbers.
By 1921, street-numbering was well-established in towns and cities but many people still liked the charm of having a house with a name, especially one they’d chosen themselves. In the interwar years, there was a huge increase in home ownership. In 1914, 10% of householders owned their own home; by 1939 this had risen to 33%. Low interest rates, rising incomes, increased availability of building society mortgages, the growth of suburbs, all contributed to the growth of the middle class, keen to own their homes. To many of these new home-owners, to name your own home, was to truly make it your own.
Naming a house after the householder was an established tradition dating from Medieval times, but I think ‘Leneva’ represents something more modern. Leonard and Eva married on the 15th of April 1914, when was 24 and she was 26. Both gave their residence as 17 Riviera Drive, where her parents lived. War was declared less than three months later, and Leonard soon enlisted, serving as a motorcycle dispatch rider in France (I’ve yet to find out which regiment he was with). ‘Leneva’, was probably their first marital home, after he returned. It was located two miles across town from Eva’s family, four miles from Leonard’s, and around the corner from his ironmonger’s business. Rather than naming their house for the surname of the male head of the household as tradition would dictate, Len and Eva chose to name their house after themselves. They had survived war and separation, and were finally beginning to build their lives together, perhaps four or five years into their marriage.