There are dozens of streets in Plymouth, hundreds in Devon, tens of thousands around England, goodness knows how many around the world, that owe their names to a type of tree. Many of our earliest street names came from old field names – generally the field that was lost in the construction of the housing that was built upon it. In later years, as areas became more built up it became increasingly common, particularly from the late-seventeenth century onwards, to name streets after trees to help confer the notion of “suburban gentility” on a development.
In London the humble Elm is easily the most popular –there are more than 125 in Greater London alone, in Greater Manchester the Elm is a less common a name than Beech, Ash, Hawthorn, Birch and Oak.
Plymouth has half a dozen Elms, although the one “Elm Road” (in Mannamead) was originally known as Hell Lane – “it apparently got its derogatory name because it was so steep and rough, it was hell to drive along” (Arthur Norman – Old Street Names of Plymouth – typescript). Known as Hell Lane in the late nineteenth century it became Elm Lane for a time before the current Elm Road was adopted.