Things Named After Wallace: Alternative Realities

Things Named After Wallace: Alternative Realities

Alan Leyin

Thurrock Local History Society

On the Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund Website, George Beccaloni & Charles Smith (2008) contributed a posting ‘Other Things Named After Wallace’ The present posting takes a trip into an alternative reality by looking at the streetscape around The Dell, Wallace’s home from 1872 to 1876, in Grays, Essex.

On 24 November 1870, Alfred Russel Wallace wrote to Charles Darwin expressing his frustration and excitement, in equal measure, over the acquisition of a four-acre plot of overgrown, worked-out, quarry in South Essex (TQ 61702 78591), on which he had set his heart. The frustration was a result of the rather protracted negotiations with the landowner; the excitement came from Wallace’s (rather imaginative) vision of how that Victorian wilderness could be transformed into ‘… a splendid imitation of a Welsh Valley’ in miniature (Wallace to Darwin, 1870). With the site nestling between two of the locality’s principal residences, one might imagine the attraction. The house to the south (Grays Hall) commanded ‘… exquisite views of the river and opposite coast of Kent’; and the one to the north (The Elms) included a section of the same quarried seam – described, by a local Rector at the time, as a ‘… A Fairly land, with its deep and picturesque ravine and pleasure ground’ (Palin, 1871) – over which Wallace enthused.

With the difficulties of the negotiations having been overcome, by spring of the following year a jubilant Wallace was in a position to update Darwin on progress: ‘Now let me ask you to rejoice with me, for I have got my chalk pit’ (Wallace to Darwin, 1871). It was at the top of his newly-acquired defunct quarry in Grays Thurrock, Essex, that Wallace built The Dell (TQ 61765 78601). Along the western boundary of the property, still runs DELL ROAD, from where a Wallace-constructed driveway[1] once snaked its way through the wooded, chalk and gravel ‘precipitous slopes’ up to the family home.

The land immediately to the west of DELL ROAD – largely undeveloped during Wallace’s time – now hosts a housing development, spawned in the 1880s, continuing through to the 1920s and 1930s. With its roads named after prominent figures of the Stuart era, unsurprisingly, it is known locally as the ‘Stuart Estate’ (Brooks, 1963). On that estate, one can traipse around a rather uninspiring Stuart streetscape: STUART ROAD, CROMWELL ROAD, LENTHALL AVENUE – the Stuart association goes on. And within that cluster, one also finds RUSSELL ROAD (named after William Russell (1613 – 1700) who was General of Horse in the Parliamentary army) and WALLACE ROAD (probably named after James Wallace, (161? – 1678) a covenanter[2] who served as Lieutenant-Colonel in the Parliamentary army, later to become Governor of Belfast). (Brooks, 1963).

And it is here where an enticing alternative reality begins to emerge. At some point – possibly in the early 1990s[3] – one ‘L’, from the original RUSSELL ROAD street signs, got dropped; and the relevant nameplates (there are three) now all read RUSSEL ROAD – undoubtedly, an error; deviating, as it does, from its Stuart roots. However, with ‘Russel’ being a most unusual variant on ‘Russell’, the change – albeit erroneous – is likely to have been a conscious one. With RUSSELL ROAD (TQ 61475 78660) running directly into WALLACE ROAD, and adjoining DELL ROAD, one can see how easily an association with Alfred Russel Wallace could have been made. Possibly, an earnest Wallace-attuned council employee from the street nameplate department decided to take the opportunity to correct what he or she mistakenly considered to be a longstanding egregious error.

The two versions of the spelling continued to co-exist as a delightful local idiosyncrasy; of worry only to local estate agents. However, with increasing reliance on global mapping, the inconsistency has now taken a broader turn, to become a something of an issue. Although on, the road name retains the two ‘L’s, on Google Maps it is identified as RUSSEL ROAD (one ‘L’); as is the case for UK Grid Reference Finder, On the two last sites, entering a search for ‘RUSSELL ROAD’ (two ‘L’s) will lead you up a blind alley (Streetmap registers both variants). Perhaps, most significantly, the premier geographic interactive mapping site adopts ‘RUSSEL ROAD’.

Caption: RUSSEL WALLACE ROADS – with ‘Wallace’ looking a little tired

By conscious design or by random meme mutation – certainly by consensus – RUSSELL ROAD, Grays, Essex, has undoubtedly transmuted to RUSSEL ROAD. On that basis, although previous commentaries would have cited William Russell as being eponymously honoured in Thurrock’s streetscape, one can now contend, with a degree of justification, that the RUSSEL ROAD around Wallace’s former home commemorates (albeit not as originally intended) the naturalist. In a delightfully mischievous tongue-in-cheek paragraph of a parish guide to the area, John Webb et al (2014; p12) suggest that, with the existence of the nameplates RUSSEL ROAD and WALLACE ROAD, the absence of ALFRED ROAD in the immediate vicinity can only be explained by ‘… the existence of Alfred Street in the earlier Grove estate’ to the east of the town.

Our trip into an alternative reality beckons us further … In 1870, before Wallace had moved to The Dell, John Hampden – suffering from his own alternative reality: that the earth was flat – had issued a challenge to the scientific community to prove the convexity of the surface of any inland water; offering £500 to any person who devised a convincing proof. Wallace, initially, seemed a little cautious in taking up the wager, but after consulting with Charles Lyell – who, throwing caution to the wind, replied to Wallace, ‘Certainly, it may stop these foolish people to have it plainly shown them.’ (Wallace, 1905; p365) – he accepted. It was one he was to regret.

The rigour of Wallace’s experimental proof was unquestionable … to all except Hampden. In spite of Wallace’s proof being independently verified, Hampden refused to accept the evidence or the adjudication. Hampden protests became increasingly vitriolic, and rapidly escalated to physical threats and personal attacks on Wallace’s character; with many of the latter being played out in the national press. In 1871, having read one report, Charles Darwin expressed his sympathy to the troubled Wallace: ‘I was grieved to see in the Daily News that the madman about the flat earth has been threatening your life.’ – What an odious trouble this must have been to you.’ (Darwin to Wallace, 1871.) During Wallace’s time in Grays, the exchanges – Wallace had tried to reason with Hampden – culminated in a court case, heard at the Old Bailey in October 1872,[4] in which John Hampden pleaded guilty to ‘unlawfully writing and publishing a malicious and defamatory libel concerning Alfred Russell Wallace.’ (Old Bailey Proceedings, 1872). Hampden was ordered to apologise to Mr and Mrs Wallace; an apology that was, by order of the Court, to ‘… be inserted in twelve newspapers’. The affair should have ended there; but didn’t. Lyell’s rational opinion that scientific evidence ‘may stop these foolish people’ failed to take into account Hampden’s irrationality. In spite of the Court ruling, Hampden persisted with his libel and threats. And in 1875 – also during Wallace’s Essex period – Hampden was sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court to 12 months imprisonment and bound over to keep the peace for two years after his release. (The Times, 1875).[5]

Back to Thurrock’s streets … running westward at a junction from DELL ROAD, is to be found HAMPDEN ROAD – named after Wallace’s adversary, only in our alternative reality.[6]

Alan Leyin

May 2015


Beccaloni, G. & Smith, C. (2008) ‘Other Things Named After Wallace’

Brooks, J.E. (1963) The Stuart Estate in Grays. Journal of the Thurrock Local History Society. No 8 Autumn p15 – 27.

Darwin, C.R. (1871) Letter Darwin to Wallace, 12 July.[7] Darwin Correspondence Project. Letter 7858.

Old Bailey Proceedings online (1872) Trial of JOHN HAMPDEN (55) (t18721028-759).

Ordnance Survey/Philip’s (1994) Street Atlas West Essex. Southampton: Ordnance Survey; London: Philip’s

Palin, W.M. (1871) Stifford and its Neighbourhood. Past and Present. Printed for private circulation.

Thurrock Council (c1992) The Official Street Plan. Thurrock Council.

The Times (1875) Home Circuit. The Times. 8 Mar. p 11. The Times Digital Archive.

Wallace, A.R. (1870) Letter to C Darwin 24 November. In Marchant J (1916) Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences. vol I. London: Cassel & Company, Ltd. p225. [See also Wallace Correspondence Project: WCP1937]

Wallace, A.R. (1871) Letter to C Darwin 11 March. In Marchant J (1916) Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences. vol I. London: Cassel & Company, Ltd. p229. [See also Wallace Correspondence Project: WCP1940]

Wallace, A.R. (1905) My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions vol II. London: Chapman & Hall.

Webb, J. and Members of the Thurrock Local History Society (2014) Parish Guide to Grays. Thurrock Local History Society.

[1] Now, further transformed; given over to residential development.

[2] One upholding the organisation of the Scottish Presbyterian Church

[3] The Council’s official street plan (c1992) cites ‘Russell Road’; the edition of the Ordnance Survey/Philips Street Atlas (1994) cites ‘Russel Road’. Both variations continued to be used.

[4] Earlier cases had been brought.

[5] Even that failed to silence Hampden; the affair rambled on well into the next decade.

[6] Actually, John Hampden (1595–1643).

[7] There is a discrepancy regarding the date of Darwin’s letter, not relevant to this discussion.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith