Ed Ley: The Englishman recording the stories of Prague’s streets, one by one

Malá Strana

In recent years Ed Ley has won fans on social media for his in-depth research into the streets of the Czech capital. Indeed the Englishman has already explored the stories of all the streets of Pragues 2 and 3 in daily postings on Twitter/X – and is now halfway through the city centre Prague 1. How did he get started? And what are some of the most remarkable facts he has turned up? I discussed these questions and much more with Ed Ley at our studios.

Where are you from, and what do you do, Ed?

“I'm from the UK. I was born in London and grew up in Brighton, but I live in Prague.

“A lot of the fascinating names will be in streets which people definitely wouldn't go to as a tourist, and probably not as a local either.”

“And I work in development aid, so essentially I work for a firm where we review projects which are financed by international donors, such as the EU, the UN and national governments. So rather interesting.”

I gather you travel a hell of lot for work, from what I see online?

“Quite extensively, yes. I'd say I'm probably out of Prague maybe about 40 percent of the time, which does sound quite extreme, but the job is fascinating, the travel is fascinating – and obviously Prague is always a wonderful city to come back to.”

How did you wash up here in Prague?

“Well, me and Prague – it’s actually quite a long-term relationship. I first moved here into 2006 and, as so many people do, I worked as an English teacher. I did that for a year.

“And then I went back to England, where I started training for what is now my current job. But obviously I'd made friends in my year here and Prague was always something like a second home.

Ed Ley | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“So I was visiting one weekend in 2015 and I just had a lovely weekend with friends and I thought, Hang on, maybe I could give this a second shot and, being 10 years older, do it better than I had the first time.

“And I came back in 2016 and have no intention of leaving.”

What is it about Prague that makes it so appealing to you?

“It’s hard to know where to begin, but maybe, especially after seven or eight years in London, Prague is just that perfect size.

“I know there are many Czechs who would laugh at me if I were to say that I thought Prague was small and compact, but that's honestly how I feel it. I love the relative ease of getting from place to place.”

Half an hour will get you anywhere, more or less.


The reason Ed that I wanted to speak to you today is because you have a fantastic series of tweets looking at the histories of Prague streets. You started with Prague 3, is that the case?

“That's right, yes. That's where I live.”

What was the motivation to begin this project, or was it a project when you began it?

“Well, a friend had posted online asking where the name of his street came from. And I've always been someone who, I guess, likes trivia; when I was a kid I was always learning of the capital cities, number one hits, etc.

Hartigova street | Photo: ÚMČ Praha 3
Konevova street | Photo: Kateřina Ayzpurvit,  Radio Prague International

“And I saw this post and I thought, That's the sort of thing that I feel I should know, and I wanted to find out.

“Then I got back to Prague later that day because – surprise, surprise – I was travelling for work, and I went out that evening.

“My main street close to me at that time was still called Koněvová. And that was quite a hot topic at the time because of course Konev was a Soviet general and there were lots of calls, for several years, for the street to be changed to a different name.

“Of course, as we now know, that street is called Hartigova, Hartig having been the first mayor of Žižkov and essentially the founder of the district.

“And that evening I went out and I took a picture of the street sign for Koněvová and thought, I'm going to write about that. Then something within me decided to take pictures of another 10 street signs around there.

“Originally the plan was really just to walk down Koněvová and write about each of the streets that led directly off it, but it just became too interesting to stop.”

How many streets did you do in Prague 3 alone?

“I believe it was approximately 190. And actually since I completed Prague 3 an additional street has sprung up, quite near me actually, specifically Dagmar Burešové, after the famous lawyer and dissident.”

Your research seems to me really extensive and detailed and impressive. What are your resources? Where are you finding the information that you find?

Nuselský most  (Nusle Bridge) | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio

“Well, it’s actually varied a little bit, based on the district. When I was starting with Prague 3 interestingly there was actually a fan page for Viktoria Žižkov, which included a list of all the streets and their origins, so that was a good base.

“But also I would use Czech Wikipedia. I'm currently writing about Prague 1 and obviously many of the streets on there get their own post, which is very helpful.

“I also, I must admit, check the Radio Prague archives for interesting stories; that was particularly interesting when I was writing about Nuselský most, Nusle Bridge, about a year ago.

“There's a street in Prague 2 which is called Lumírova. And Lumír was a character in the Dvůr Králové and Zelená Hora manuscripts, which were literally hoaxes.”

“And I also try YouTube, just to see if there are any news stories or any recent events on each of the streets. So it's a variety.”

Do you come across much stuff on YouTube that's useful?

“It depends. Yes. At the moment I'm currently writing about the center of Prague, so I recently wrote about Národní. So obviously there was a wealth of material for that, in particular related to the protests on 17 November 1989.”

Are there any particular stories that you have unearthed in your research that have particularly blown your mind? Or things that really made you go, Wow?

“And currently reposting the Prague 2 series on there.”

“Yes, actually there's a street in the southern regions of Prague 2 which is called Lumírova. And Lumír was a character in the Dvůr Králové and Zelená Hora manuscripts, which, in the briefest terms, were literally hoaxes from the 19th century, which were produced in order to look like Slavic epics from the 15th century.

“There was quite a fierce debate about whether they were real or not, but they did achieve the goal of increasing interest in Czech culture and patriotism.

“Lumír was one of the characters in those. And it fascinates me that even though it was established that the documents were not real, and therefore Lumír was never a Czech prince who existed, the street still bears his name.”

Wow, that's fascinating. Any others that have been particularly interesting to you?

“Well, there’s different categories, I suppose. I really love like the in-depth stories like that or just the opportunities to get to read more extensively about well-known figures who you might not actually know as much about as you think you do.

“So Václav Havel Square came up recently and it was great to really dig into that.

“But as we're in Vinohrady at the moment there's a lot of streets around here which are named after countries and cities. Those were specifically named in 1926, actually, and they were named after allied states in World War One.

“There's a lot of streets in Vinohrady which are named after countries and cities. Those were named after allied states in World War One.”

“I quite enjoy the streets as a bit of a challenge. There are the streets Anglická, Americká, Francouzská and I'm thinking, I can't just write, That's France or That’s England – I have to add something to that.

“So I've enjoyed trying to find other avenues to go down. So for Americká and Anglická, for example, I started to make lists of famous people from each country who were of Czech origin. And that was quite fascinating.”

What about the response you get on Twitter – do people react more to well-known places, or if you've got a really great little story you’ve found?

“I'd say it's a combination. Now with the Prague 1 series at the moment there's obviously quite a lot of photos that I’m posting in each post – and people react well to nice photos on social media, this is a fact.

“But also a lot of the really fascinating street names will be in streets which people definitely wouldn't go to as a tourist, and probably not as a local either.

“Yes, for example with the Lumírova story people really do take to that kind of tale.”

Do you ever feel like you're getting kind of too far into the weeds? For example, in Jarov in Žižkov there are the streets Na vrcholu, K vrcholu and Pod vrcholem [On the Peak, To the Peak, Beneath the Peak] – all so similar. Where do you go with that?

“Well those were actually some of the first 10 or 15 posts I wrote about, so back in the day. I must say my posts were somewhat briefer than they are now.

“I think in those cases I remembered that not everybody who is reading these is a Czech speaker, so I decided to add some grammar lessons about prepositions, for example.”

You're now doing Prague 1. How far into Prague 1 have you got?

“I've done the entire west bank of the Vltava, so in particular Hradčany and Malá Strana. I'm currently in the New Town.

Malá Strana | Photo: Lenka Žižková,  Radio Prague International

“I have an A to Z map of Prague where each time I've done a street I highlight it. And on paper, literally on paper, it looks like I've got quite far, but in the Old Town there were so many absolutely tiny streets and so I suspect there may be another 200 of these to go, even though I've done 120 already ¨

Assuming you stay in Prague for a long time, how far can you imagine going with this project? Will you eventually end up in, like, Prague 13, wherever that is?

“That is the plan, yes. I don't know off the top of my head where Prague 13 is exactly, but I look forward to the idea of having the opportunity to find out.”

Generally speaking what would you say you have gotten from this project, from the whole process of doing this research?

“This might sound slightly cheesy, but when I was writing about Národní, for example, I really took time to look at lots of the individual buildings, do a bit of research, find out what they were.

Vodičkova street | Photo: Radio Prague International

“And on a thoroughfare like Národní or Vodičkova, which I wrote about a couple of days ago, it's so easy to pass through when you're waiting for your tram and not really look at anything, and not really think about the history.

“But in a way it's almost a bit like falling in love with someone all over again. Walking down these streets which I’ve walked down 100 times is now a completely different experience, and I'm really seeing how beautiful they are for the first time.”

For people listening to this who would like to read your research, where can they find it?

“Okay, it's on what I believe we're calling X formerly known as Twitter at the moment. That’s under my own name, @ed_ _ley.

“I try to post every day on there. Also I'm gradually transferring all these onto a website which has the name of whatsinapraguestreetname.com, which I like to think is fairly clear.

“And currently reposting the Prague 2 series on there.”

Author: Ian Willoughby
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