Sunnyside Road, W5

Place Name

Takes its name from a villa that belonged here to a General Scott in 1872 before development at the turn of the century. However, the property not only inspired a street, but a study of house names. Dr Laura Wright, a linguist at Cambridge University, wrote her book, Sunnyside: A Sociolinguistic History of British House Names after taking an interest in its origins. The name goes back to the Nordic practice of solskifte, a prehistoric method of dividing up land according to position of shadows. Its popularity as a house name began with Washington Irving, the American author of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, who was a contemporary Sir Walter Scott, of Ivanhoe fame. When Irving visited Scott at Abbotsford, the palatial house that he had developed out of an old farm called Clarty Hole, near Melrose Abbey, he was taken on walks around the area. “Sunnyside was the name of a picturesque stone steading close to Abbotsford that I presume Irving saw on his rambles with Sir Walter”, Wright explains, adding that this was why, when Irving could afford to create his own version of Abbotsford, he called it Sunnyside. It’s an idea confirmed in a letter he wrote to Scott declaring “there is a genial sunshine about you that warms every creeping thing into heart and confidence”. The name gained in popularity in on both sides of the Atlantic when Irving died in 1859. In America  Oliver Wendell Holmes described Irving’s property as “next to Mount Vernon [George Washington’s home] the best known and most cherished of all the dwellings in our land.” While a detailed obituary in the Illustrated London News included pictures of Sunnyside: the first four London Sunnysiders named their houses shortly afterwards. It was particularly popular in London among rich industrialist Nonconformists (especially Quakers) with Scottish family ties in the 1870s for their own grand suburban residences. However Scott was also author of Sewage Calcination and Cement Process, which may offer an entirely new interpretation as to why he chose this particular name for his home.

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