How Henley-on-Klip's got its name

Prestige Value! So, what can we deduce from Horace's choice of names? Well, the obvious starting point is his choice of "Henley-on-Klip" itself. It's clear from his papers that Horace's ambition was to try and replicate Henley-on-Thames as much as possible, starting with the name, and all the positive associations that went with it. And he evidently chose Henley-on-Thames as it is one of the most beautiful and well-known towns in England, being internationally famous for the Henley Royal Regatta, one of the highlights of the sporting year and the social season, along with Royal Ascot and Wimbledon.

There had been a huge influx of British migrants to South Africa over the previous 80 years, including Horace and three of his elder brothers, and he clearly wished to appeal to their fondest memories of England. Remember, back in 1904, Henley-on-Klip only existed in Horace Kent's mind, and the "streets" and plots of land shown on the maps were only defined by a few surveyor’s stakes hammered into the ground. So Horace embarked on a massive marketing campaign to try and lure smallholders and businessmen from Johannesburg to come out and buy plots of land. And what better way than to give the Village, and indeed the roads, familiar or prestigious names. Some of the names, one might instantly recognise for their prestige value, such as Oxford and Windsor, whereas others would have had more prestige at the time, such as Runnymede (one of those roads that has since disappeared), which is famous as the place where King John signed Magna Carta in 1215.

How Henley-on-Klip's streets were named
'Under continuous construction'
Check in regularly to see fascinating updates as new information is uncovered

With immeasurable thanks to Richard Kent ( Great-Great Grandson of Adv. Horatio 'Horace' Couch Kent) for sharing his interest, devoted research, dedication and insight into the history of our Village's rich history.

There are fifty five street names in Henley-on-Klip, plus five that were shown on early maps of the village, and they are probably the most unusual collection of street names anywhere in South Africa. So you might be curious to know where they come from, and I hope to show you (all except one!) Some names, like Oxford, Cambridge and Windsor, clearly come from England, while others like Marlowe and Mapledurham are also clearly English. But why were those particular names chosen? And what about those other names like Ewelme, Speen, Aston, Hearn, Christie, Gordon and Fraser? 

I can shed a bit of light on all of these, because Horace Kent, the founder of Henley-on-Klip was my great-great-grandfather, and I have a collection of his old papers and his original map of the village. I also recognise many of the street names as the names of familiar villages and towns from my childhood growing up in Goring Heath, within 15km of Henley-on-Thames, Goring, Streatley, Cleeve, Shiplake, Caversham, Sonning, Wargrave, Mapledurham, Fawley, and Ewelme. To help you keep track, I’ve highlighted all the places which have streets in Henley-on-Klip named after them by showing their names in blue. The 150km length of the River Thames between London and Oxford and its surrounding area is some of the prettiest countryside in England, and has been called “the cradle of England” with good reason. Many key events in the history of England have happened along its length, and its history goes back thousands of years, with many of the settlements dating back to before Roman times.

Windsor Castle

It’s All About the River 

The 150km length of the River Thames between London and Oxford and its surrounding area is some of the prettiest countryside in England, and has been called “the cradle of England” with good reason. Many key events in the history of England have happened along its length, and its history goes back thousands of years, with many of the settlements dating back to before Roman times. 

Many of Henley-on-Klip’s street names come from these ancient and beautiful towns and villages that lie close to Henley-on-Thames, so may have been chosen for that reason alone. But others are further away, and many pretty villages near Henley aren’t included, so there are clearly some other factors at work, and that’s what I have been trying to figure out. 

Could an 1889 bestseller have been the inspiration behind Henley-on-Klip’s street names?

I have a theory that Horace’s choice of street names in 1904 might well have been influenced by the massive success of the book “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome. It’s a brilliant novel that was published in 1889, only nine years before Horace left England for South Africa, and was an instant best-seller. It’s never been out of print, and is still hugely popular today, recently being voted No.25 on the all-time list of best-loved English novels. It’s based on the real-life experiences of Jerome and two of his friends, who all loved boating, and it describes a hilarious (though fictional) three-week boat trip taken by the three friends and their dog Montmorency along the Thames from Kingston-upon-Thames, near London, to Oxford and back, in a camping skiff (a small rowing boat). This would have been a typical boating holiday at the time, at the height of the 1880s craze in England for boating as a leisure activity.

Richard Kent sourced a site with an e-Book of Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat”. Click the book’s cover image on the right to navigate to the download page.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (1889)

With very few exceptions, the current street names in Henley-on-Klip are exactly as shown on the earliest maps of the town – the one in the Henley Museum dated 1905, and the one which I have, dated 1912, which belonged to Horace. Of the 60 street names shown on these original maps, 40 are the names of towns and villages on or near the exact stretch of river described by Jerome K. Jerome, and 21 of these are actually mentioned by name in Three Men in a Boat. That seems far too many to be just coincidence! 

How Henley-on-Klip's streets got their names ... an educated and highly plausible analysis by Richard Kent

It is interesting to note which place names weren't chosen, as well as those that were, because Horace clearly avoided the larger commercial centres along the Thames, such as Maidenhead, Reading, Slough, Staines, and Kingston, in favour of the smaller and more picturesque towns like Abingdon and Marlow. And many of the street names are those of quite small villages, but which were apparently chosen for their proximity to the Thames, and to Henley-on-Thames as well as their picturesque setting. So, within a few kilometres of Henley-on-Thames you can find Taplow, Bourne End, Bisham, Hurley (and Hurleyford Farm), Aston, Fawley, Wargrave, Shiplake, Sonning, Caversham, and Mapledurham. These are all pretty villages, and some of them are particularly well-known for the fabulous stately homes that also go by their name, such as Mapledurham House and Fawley Court both of which have beautiful gardens running right down to the river.

Source: Thank you, yet again, Richard Kent for sharing your impeccable research and insightful interpretation of our Village's history with the Henley-on-Klip community.

Around Cholsey and Oxford

Goring, Streatley, Cleeve, Shillingford, Nuneham and Iffley

After Mapledurham, heading west up the river, there’s something of a gap, as Horace apparently skipped over the delightful villages of Pangbourne and Whitchurch. But then there is another cluster of villages clumped closely together along the river between Goring and Oxford. These include Goring, Streatley, Cleeve, Shillingford, Nuneham Courtney, Sandford and Iffley, with Oxford to the north, and Eaton and Eynsham just beyond Oxford. 

Why this particular cluster? Well, this is easily explained by the fact that Horace and his family lived at Cholsey, just north of Cleeve, in the 1890s. Horace’s eldest son Percy went to Oxford University from 1893 to 1897, and with boating being so popular at the time, the whole family probably explored every inch of the river between Goring and Oxford, as well as further afield. Percy was also courting his fiancée, Mollie for four years while living at Cholsey, so they must have enjoyed many a romantic boating trip along this stretch of the Thames! 

Outlying Villages

Burnham, Chalgrove and Ewelme

There are a few “outlying” villages that are in the same area, and only a few kilometres from the Thames, but not actually on the river, including Stanmore, Burnham, Speen, Chalgrove and Ewelme. How to explain these? Well, let’s take Ewelme as an example, since there’s an easy explanation here. Ewelme is only 8km from Cholsey, where the Kent family lived in the 1890s, and while there, Horace’s eldest son Percy fell in love with Mollie Simcox, the daughter of the Rector (vicar) of Ewelme. They were married by Mollie’s father in Ewelme in 1900, and had been engaged for four years before that, so Ewelme was clearly well known to the Kents. 

Chalgrove is only 8km from Ewelme, so there may also have been some family connection with the Kents or Simcoxes, or maybe they had friends who lived there, though you can also reach it by boat from the Thames, up the River Thame and the Chalgrove Stream. Similarly for Burnham and Speen, there may have been some connection with family or friends which I’ve not yet managed to track down. Or they may have just been favourite places to visit. 

Ewelme, home of Percy Kent's beloved Mollie Simcox

Educational institutions as inspiration for Henley-on-Klip street names

Rugby, Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Tonbridge, St. Andrews, Baliol, Trinity and The Oval

Another strong theme in Horace’s choice of names is that of education. Back in the 1880s, while living in London, Horace had masterminded the construction of a new school in south London – the West Kent Grammar School, and had seen the transformative effects of education in his eldest son Percy, who progressed from West Kent Grammar, to Colfe’s School, Rugby School and then Oxford University. In a letter of Horace’s from 1906 to the Henley School Governors, he says that it has been “a long cherished ideal on my part to assist in achieving the foundation of an Educational Agency“. So, one of the first things he did at Henley-on-Klip was to reserve a large block of land (including The Oval) on which to build a school, and to form the “Henley School Governors Trust”, to try and raise funds. Sadly Horace never managed to raise enough money to build a school at Henley-on-Klip. But his commitment to education has left its imprint on its street names: Rugby, Tonbridge, Abingdon and Winchester are among the top schools in the UK, and Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and St Andrew’s are all top universities. All eight of these have streets named after them in Henley-on-Klip. Interestingly, Horace didn’t find room for Eton or Harrow Roads (both top schools in England), whereas Johannesburg has roads named after both. Maybe he felt they were too elitist as schools, and didn’t fit his inclusive model of education. In particular, his documents make clear that he planned to build a school for girls as well as one for boys – a clarity of purpose that was well ahead of most of his contemporaries.

Horace also had family connections with Rugby, Oxford and Tonbridge. His eldest son Percy (my great-grandfather) went to Rugby School and then Oxford University in the 1890s as mentioned before. And Horace’s father John Kent lived in Tonbridge towards the end of his life. A further connection with Rugby School is the park which is now called The Oval. This is at the heart of the land where the school was intended to be built. The 1905 map notes this land as belonging to the Henley School Governors, but by 1912 the map shows its name as “The Close”. This was clearly in homage to the playing fields called The Close at the heart of Rugby School, where the game of rugby was invented in 1823, and where four generations of Kents (including me) learned to play their rugby and cricket. There are two further “aspirational” names in the shape of Baliol Road
and Trinity Road. Balliol College, Oxford, was and still is renowned for producing future Prime Ministers, including Herbert Asquith in Horace’s day, and Boris Johnson today.

Trinity is the most popular name for churches and colleges in the UK – Oxford Cambridge both have a Trinity College, and the main church in the centre of Henley-on-Thames is the Holy Trinity Church. So we actually have a trinity of choices for the origin of Trinity Road!

Ewelme, home of Percy Kent's beloved Mollie Simcox