Street names: Why was Synagogue Lane renamed?

Church Street, Melbourne
Church Street doesn’t have a church in it any more.

Little Queen Street, Melbourne, formerly Synagogue Lane
Nearby Synagogue Lane doesn’t have a synagogue in it anymore.

I got curious: How come only one of them got to keep its name?

Despite what appears to be a sign that is not particularly ancient, evidently the name change was some time ago — it’s shown as Little Queen Street in the second edition Melway from 1968.

Historian and author Robyn Annear’s web site says that in fact it was renamed Bourke Lane in as part of a “civic cleansing” ahead of the 1880 International Exhibition, and then later renamed again as Little Queen Street. She quotes an 1869 Colonial Monthly, which describes the area:

The blackest sheep of all the flock make their home here. It is dangerous to pass through the place in daylight, unattended, and open robberies have been committed at noonday.

Annear’s book “A City Lost and Found: Whelan the Wreckerโ€™s Melbourne” notes a Synagogue was on the NE corner of Bourke Street and Synagogue Lane from 1847 to 1929. (More notes here.)

Melbourne, Bourke Street synagogue, 1847-1929The Melbourne Synagogue history page notes that the original small 1847 building was rebuilt as a larger structure in 1855. PictureAustralia turned up this picture of it — certainly a grand looking building. Following its demolition in 1929, the New Melbourne Synagogue in Toorak Road opened in 1930.

Getting back to the lane name change, backing up the 1880ish date is this record of correspondence with the Public Works Committee in June 1878, requesting the name change.

This street names history poster puts an interesting light on it, saying “the new name reduced ‘annoyances’ directed at those attending Little Bourke Street synagogue.”

So perhaps it wasn’t an anti-Semitic move as might perhaps seem at first glance, but one designed to stop problems for the local Jewish population?

A report in Australian Jewish News last year appears to agree:

Alongside the shul ran a small road named Synagogue Lane. Today, it is known as Little Queen Street, with [Melbourne Hebrew Congregation life governor] Cohen suggesting the name may have been changed due to vandalism. However, the street sign displayed today pays tribute to the lane’s heritage.

It’s a little hard to tell for certain, as details are sketchy. Anybody got any further information on it?

(If I had the time, contacting Robyn Annear or the Synagogue might be options — but I think I’ve done enough digging for now.)

Update July 2015: I notice City Of Melbourne has updated the sign. It still mentions the old name of the lane…

Synagogue Lane sign

As Alexandra noted, it’s got a typo — it should be “formerly”, not “formally”.

Nice to see whoever runs the City Of Melbourne Twitter account has a sense of humour:

I’ve also found this eMelbourne page which gives a year for the name change:

In 1868 the name of Synagogue Lane was changed to Little Queen Street because the former name ‘has unfortunately acquired a notoriety’.

Street name clusters

On my day off yesterday we sauntered down to Jaycar in Cheltenham for electronic gadget goodness. I noticed looking at the map beforehand that a bunch of the streets are named after newspapers: Argus St, Herald St, Age St, Times St. No Sun St that I could see.

There are plenty of clusters of street names about the place. Some of the others that spring to mind include:

MurrumbeenaMurrumbeena has streets named after Australian cities — Brisbane St, Perth St, Adelaide St, Sydney St, Melbourne St, Hobart Rd.

Elwood/St Kilda — lots of writers and poets: Tennyson St, Dickens St, Milton St, Chaucer St, Wordsworth St, Shakespeare Gv, Shelley St, Byron St, Mitford St, Southey St… and of course Poets Gv. There’s probably a few others around there that more cultured persons than me might recognise, too.

Elwood near the beach: Spray St, Tide St, Beach Av, Wave St, Foam St. Maybe Docker St as well?

Caulfield South, around the area once called Camden Town, formerly occupied by a camp site for timber workers — Olive St, Poplar St, Birch St, Cedar St, Sycamore St, Larch St, Almond St, Teak St, Beech St, Maple St. Would Jasmine and Filbert count too?

Perhaps this sort of thing saved time when large numbers of streets had to be named, and it might save agonising over who in a local community should get a street named after them and who shouldn’t.

Thankfully most of them are more imaginative than what they ended up with in Parkdale: First St, Second St, Third St, Fourth St, Fifth St, Sixth St, Seventh St, Eighth St. Then they threw caution into the wind and made the last couple in the group Bethell Av and Stewart Av.