Direction sign for Fitzrovia.
Questions about the origin of the name Fitzrovia. Photo: Fitzrovia News.

According to most sources, the name Fitzrovia was first used in the late 1930s and appeared in print for the first time in 1941. But it appears to have been used earlier — as much as 100 years’ ago.

The conventional story goes that the name got used in the 1930s after the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street where a group of writers and artists used to gather.

It may have been coined by the founder and editor of Poetry London M. J. Tambimuttu, known as Tambi, who used the name to describe a tour of pubs from Soho to Charlotte Street. It first appeared in print in a newspaper column by Tom Driberg in 1940 but was later popularised by the chronicler of 1940s Fitzrovia life Julian Maclaren-Ross.

However, a recent article by a London news publisher finds the name was used before. “It’s not hard to find earlier mentions,” writes M@ in Londonist. An article from 1930 in the Socialist Review refers to a “district of London which is sometimes known as Fitzrovia”, which suggests the name was around at least as far back as the 1920s.

The name fell out of use from the 1950s but was again popularised from the early 1970s. Tower, the first community newspaper for the neighbourhood, didn’t use the name until May 1973.

Originally the name is derived from the Fitzroy family and its Southampton Estate. The latest edition of Camden History Review has a lengthy article by Martin Sheppard on The rise and fall of the Southampton Estate.

“In 1768 Charles Fitzroy, later 1st Baron Southampton, had acquired the freehold of a large area of north London, including what became Fitzrovia,” writes Sheppard. Fitzroy Square is named after the Fitzroy family and nearby Warren Street is named after his wife Anne Warren.

FitzRoy is an Anglo-Norman name meaning “son of the king”, generally attached to a monarch’s illegitimate children. Community activists and property developers alike have reason to be grateful to Barbara Villiers for having unwittingly created the affectionate term “Fitzrovia”.