Recently I had the opportunity to reconnect with many of the people who I grew up with in the small mining town in the United States where, in 1960, my parents moved my brother and I to from our ancestral home of England.

This has provided many a fantastic walk down memory lane, as some of the people who I grew up with still live in this rugged mid-western town, which I have so many fond childhood memories of exploring with them during the ten formative years that I lived there. A few of my neighbourhood mates still live on the same street that we had many a notable adventure on and which we recall in the sharing of stories and rarely seen photographs we have uncovered.

Although moving to a new country was a challenge for my parents, they did find some comfort and a connection to their home country of England in the names of the 12 or so streets that reached out from the centre of town in alphabetical order. Streets with names such as Andover, Arlington, Coventry, Guildford, Hampshire, Leeds and Brandon Road, the street we lived on, which are the names of well and not so well-known locations in England today.

Watford Observer:

Our new home town was built by the Erie Mining Company in the early 1950s for its workers, many of whom had been recruited directly from the mining towns in England or some others, like my dad, who had heard about the prospects of gainful employment at the mine and made the big move. This is no doubt why, when it came to naming the streets of their new home town, they choose names of places familiar to them and which they would always have an emotional and historic connection to.

Naming streets after people, places or events is just one way to keep history and heritage alive as well as providing a long-term, long distance connection between the childhood friends and neighbours who grew up on them.

This can be seen locally in the more than 2,000 new family homes that sprang up all around Leavesden Hospital after it closed, with the residential streets being given names like Mallard, Lapwing, Oriel and Nightingale, taken from the male wards of the hospital that had all been renamed after birds some time after 1948.

Watford Observer:

The streets on the south side of the old hospital site carry the names of the many types of trees that would have been found in abundance on the hospital grounds, along with Stewart Close and Stewarts Lodge, both named after Dr R H Stewart, head superintendent of the hospital from the late 1920s to the mid-1930s, who was recognised for his innovative and forward-thinking methods of caring for patients in a mental health hospital like Leavesden as well as a frequent contributor to the British Medical Journal.

Watford Observer:

Other streets that border this side of the site carry the names of castles such as Arundel, Cardiff, Sterling and Balmoral, which were originally names given to the wards of the Abbots Langley Hospital by its nurses in the late 1970s and which live on to this day.

Most recently, the streets of the new housing development along Woodside Road in Leavesden bear the names of the four crewman and one passenger of a Halifax III Bomber that crashed onto a field on nearby Fortunes Farm on May 25, 1945.

Watford Observer:

Picture: Stephen Danzig

It has been 26 years since the hospital closed and I am sure that many a young person who grew up in the new houses and on the new streets that surround the old hospital site have created their own special memories of the people, places and events that made up their childhoods and contributed to who they are today in the same way growing up on Brandon Road did for me some 60 years ago.

Some people may not know the historical meaning of the name of the street they grew up on. Which is fine.

As long as we do not let any ghosts from the past, which are most often not known or cared about by the current residents of these few streets, remove our historical connections to the streets and towns we grew up in and the memories we made there, we should be okay. Connecting with our past can shape how we understand ourselves today. The relationships we have and maintain with the places and people from our past can deeply influence our perspectives.

Professor Stephen Hawkins once stated: “It is the past which tells us who we are, without it we lose our identity”.