Percy_Avenue.jpg Percy Avenue sign (2020). Mike Gooch. Word on the Street image collection.

Percy Avenue in Stratford is, like almost all the other streets in the town, named after a character from a Shakespeare play. The name Percy appears in several of Shakespeare’s plays, but the most notable is Henry Percy in Henry IV, Part I.

The character was based on Sir Henry Percy, an English nobleman often known as Sir Harry Hotspur. He was born in 1364 and rose to prominence as a captain in the Anglo-Scottish Wars. Percy was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, although there are differing accounts as to quite how. The legend that he was killed by the Prince of Wales has been attributed to Shakespeare’s account in his play.

Followers of English football may also recognise a connection. The name of the London club Tottenham Hotspur F.C. acknowledges Henry Percy (Harry Hotspur), whose descendants were said to own land in the neighbourhood of the club’s first ground in the Tottenham Marshes.

A welcome coincidence, and perhaps why the name Percy was chosen, is that the developer was Mr Percy Thomson. Apparently his father was a lover of Shakespeare, and it’s said that he was named after the Shakespearean character.  

Percy Thomson was born in Dunedin in 1884 and arrived in Stratford in 1910 to open a legal practice. He served on numerous boards and committees, as well as serving twice as mayor, 1929-1933 and 1938-1947. He was awarded an MBE in 1946 and died in 1962.

Thomson left a generous bequest to Stratford for an art gallery, herbarium and arboretum. The Percy Thomson Trust administers all three which are known respectively as the Percy Thomson Gallery, Thomson Herbarium and Thomson Arboretum.

This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.

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