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Seventh Edition: 2012
13 Plevna Terrace, Bingley, West Yorkshire
The Plevna MysteryI grew up in Plevna Terrace in Bingley, England and, as children do, never thought about what Plevna meant, until by accident I came across it in an historical atlas. There it was on the map, in Bulgaria, near the Danube River. And it said there had been a battle there in 1877 in which the town was taken from the Turks by the Russians after a siege of 143 days. Since our house in Bingley was built in the Victorian period it seems our street was named after that battle. However, since it was a battle that did not involve Britain at all why was it so named?
A RUSSIAN CRUSADE
Once I thought I'd found the answer in a television
program about Catherine the Great. As ruler
of Russia she was very into making a good impression on Europe,
and thought it would be estimable to conquer Constantinople
from the Moslems and restore it as Byzantium, the capital of the Orthodox
Church. Catherine thought Europe would join her
with great enthusiasm -- like a Christian crusade.
But with very little study I found that was not the case; I was quite a few generations off. Indeed Catherine
did propose a war with Turkey, but the battle of Plevna was
not until 81 years after her death.
THE TURKISH VERSION
Then I found a Turkish description of the battle:
"a handful of soldiers of a bedraggled army of Turks stopped cold the enormous forces of the Czar of Russia.... Pinned-down by a huge infantry surrounding them, being bombarded day and night by heavy artillery positions from all sides. They were cut off from all civilization.
The first Russian attack failed.... Europe was electrified
by the news of Russian defeat at Plevna. People could hardly
believe that the mighty Russian hordes had been defeated by a
handful of Turks. The name of Osman Pasha rang throughout the
world.... The Czar gave orders for Plevna to be starved into
submission. Thousands and thousands of fresh Russian troops were
brought to the scene for the purpose of encircling and blockading
the little town.
On December 10 the last battle of Plevna occurred. [Outnumbering the Turks almost 5 to 1, the Russians drove the Turks back across the Vid and wounded Osman in the process.] Believing that Osman was dead and not just wounded, the grief-stricken Turkish soldiers were in disarray.... surrendered to the Russians. All Europe was entranced by the heroism of Osman Pasha and his men. All over the continent of Europe, especially in England, hundreds upon hundreds of newborn babes were named after the Turkish general: Osman Pasha the "Turkish Tiger, who tamed the Russian bear." <http://tallarmeniantale.com/plevna.htm>
A Turkish version would obviously favor the Turkish side of the story, but could the conclusion about English babies being named after Osman Pasha be true or a wild exaggeration?
One of our readers however has found a baby being named after Plevna: "My grandmother's cousin was named Plevna Mary Davies. She was born in Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire, Wales in the last quarter of 1883.
THE RUSSIAN VERSION
For full Russian accounts of the Seige of Plevna see http://www.globusz.com/ebooks/Europe/00000036.htm
|In 1913 A.Hilliard Atteridge wrote in his book "Famous Modern Battles" that "Osman Pasha's defence of Plevna showed in the most striking way the value of improvised earthworks held by determined men armed with the new rifle ... It is strange how this confidence in bombardment lives on after a century of failures".|
July 20-December 10 1877
It seems as if both sides are proud of this massacre: I came across two places named after Plevna in honor of the Russian side "A large new factory building, completed in 1877, of the Finlayson & Co cotton mill in Tampere, Finland was named Plevna commemorating the battle and the Guard of Finland that took part on the Russian side." and "Plevna Chapel on St Elijah's Square in Moscow, opened in 1882, commemorates the Russian soldiers who died in the Battle of Pleven."
So I can understand that the Russians, Bulgarians Rumanians
Finns and the Turks would honor their parts in the battle, but
why did England commemorate it?
Funny Street Names
I have found five Plevnas in the Americas: Plevna Montana MT59344 population 138, Plevna Kansas KS67568 population 99, Plevna North Madison County AL, and Plevna in Missouri MO67568 population 0. There is a larger Plevna in Ontario KOH 2MO population well over 200. Also I have found a Plevna Court in Parkwood, Perth, Australia.
Why were they so named? It is possible some Plevnas were named by Bulgarians immigrants but all the explanations I've received tell otherwise:
In 1877 the town of Buckshot, Ontario had to change its name but there was so much argument about it that a resident said this reminded him of the conflict in Plevna -- hence the name: Plevna Ontario
STILL THE QUESTION
Still my question remains unanswered: why this commemoration of a foreign war? Must we go further back in history to understand the circumstances? For the circumstances that brought about the situation in Plevna we must look back a long way.
THE TURKISH PAST
How did the Turks get there? In 1300 The Turks were fleeing from the advance of the Mongols when they settled in Asia Minor. And when the Byzantine Empire fell they took Constantinople in 1453. By 1541 they had conquered Hungary and by 1683 had conquered nearly all the land surrounding the Black Sea. The Russo-Turkish border then lay by the Dnieper river in the Ukraine. However the Ottoman Empire then began to decline. Here we go back to Catherine the Great when in 1770 with the aid of English officers her fleet defeated the Turks to conquer the Black Sea, determining Turkey's decline as "the sick man of the Bosphorus". In 1783 Russia annexed the Crimea and Potemkin developed the "New Russia" there, and soon took the entire Northern coast of the Black Sea as Russian, and so it remains to this day.
In 1853 Russia wanted to push further South but by this time England had switched sides. In the 1840s Palmerston and other British leaders expressed fears of Russian encroachment upon its Empire in India and Afghanistan, and advocated finding an opportunity to weaken this threat.
Britain had opposed Russia occupying Constantinople as it feared this would lead to Russia dominating the Near East.
When the Tsar sent his troops into the "Danubian Principalities" the United Kingdom, seeking to maintain the security of the Ottoman Empire, sent a fleet to the Dardanelles, where it was joined by another fleet sent by France. At the same time, however, the European powers hoped for a diplomatic compromise. The representatives of the four neutral Great Powers - United Kingdom, France, Austria and Prussia - met in Vienna, where they drafted a note which they hoped would be acceptable to Russia and Turkey.. [but they did not agree]. The United Kingdom and France set aside the idea of continuing negotiations, but Austria and Prussia wanted to continue the diplomatic process. [Although Austria did not declare war it refused to guarantee its neutrality. Russia feared that Austria would enter the war] The Sultan declared war, his armies attacking the Russian army near the Danube. Russia responded with warships, destroyed the entire Ottoman fleet, thereby making it possible for Russia to land and supply its forces on the Turkish shores fairly easily. The destruction of the Turkish fleet and the threat of Russian expansion alarmed both the United Kingdom and France, who stepped forth in defence of the Ottoman Empire. In 1854, after Russia ignored an Anglo-French ultimatum to withdraw from the Danubian principalities, the United Kingdom and France declared war.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimean_War>
Austria occupied the Danubian principalities. In 1854 British and French Solders landed in the Crimea: siege of Sebastapol [home of the Tsar's Black Sea fleet]. An Allied victory but losses of 150,000 men owing to cholera and the winter cold. 1856 Peace of Paris: Russia lost the Danube Delta, the Black Sea was neutralized, and a European protectorate of Turkish Christians with a guarantee of the integrity of the Ottoman Empire and Danubian Principalities. <The Anchor Atlas of World History p.69>
CONSEQUENCES FOR BRITAIN
Crimea showed that Britain lacked an experienced land army. .... During the war, over 26,000 British troops were estimated to have been killed. The result was inconclusive, and... the only major result of the war was to forestall the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire for several decades more. The Crimean War revealed Britain to be an economic and social power, but a rather weak military power...... Thus, after the Crimean debacle, Britain avoided major military engagements with the major powers, relying instead on the strategies of balance of power and spheres of influence to exert her global geopolitical power and influence.... The period that resulted was termed the era of "splendid isolation" wherein Britain avoided major conflicts.
Russia lost prestige as a result of defeat in the 1854-56 Crimean War.... and resented restrictions on movements in the Black Sea, which were part of the 1856 treaty... Russia wanted to send warships through the Bosphorus.... Russia regarded itself as leader of the Pan-Slav movement and thought it had a mission to liberate Balkan Christians from Ottoman oppression.
THE BRITISH CONNECTION AT LAST
Finally I stumbled across the historical connection with England:
So there we have British participation at last, it was the
British Navy not the Army who makes our link with Plevna.
IN MORE DETAIL
The siege had held up the main Russian advance into Bulgaria and captured the world's admiration. The fall of Pleven freed up Russian reinforcements... who decisively defeated the Turks in the fourth battle of Shipka Pass....began to move southeast towards Constantinople. Blocking the route was the Turkish fortress at Plovdiv under Suleiman Pasha. On January 17, 1878 Gourko stormed the city. The defenses of Plovdiv were strong but superior Russian numbers overwhelmed the defenses and the Turks retreated almost to Constantinople. At this time foreign powers intervened and Russia agreed to the Treaty of San Stefano. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Plovdiv>
ISTANBUL WAS CONSTANTINOPLE
Founded 660 BC as Byzantium [Gk Byzantion]. Renamed Constantinople in 330AD after Emperor Constantine. He had named it Nova Roma, as the new capital of the Roman Empire, but that never came into common use. Sacked by 4th Crusaders in 1204. Re-captured by Nicaean forces 1261. Taken by Turks in 1453. The Ottoman Turks in common usage called the city Stamboul or Istanbul (Turkish: stanbul; contraction of the city's previous Greek name Constantinople, or from the Greek "eis tin poli" (to the city), but still officially used "Constantinople". In 1923 the capital of Turkey was moved East to Ankara. In 1930 Constantinople was officially renamed Istanbul.
Today Plevna is spelled Pleven by the Bulgarians. Plevna was
the Russian spelling. It was only a village at the time of the
siege but it now has a population of 138,000.
Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke was an English Liberal Member of Parliament [Chelsea] and reformist politician. Despite being imperialist he was a radical within the party, accomplishing franchise for women, legalizing labour unions, improving working conditions, and pushing for universal schooling.
The Situation in England
DREAMS OF A NEW GREECE
Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, Liberal, was notably a Phil-Hellene, who "dreamed of a new Greece"--a "force of the future instead of a force of the past; a force of trade instead of a force of war; European instead of Asiatic; intensely independent, democratic, maritime." Here, and not in any Slavonic State, did he see the rightful successors to the Ottoman dominion.
"...in May, 1876, after disturbances in Bulgaria had been repressed with appalling [Turkish] ferocity, Mr. Disraeli's Cabinet positively refused to join in a demand for certain reforms to be carried out by Turkey under European supervision... Our Government had refused to sign the Berlin Memorandum on account of a reference in it to the possible need of taking "efficacious measures" to secure good government in Turkey... Meanwhile Servia and Montenegro, feudatory States of the Porte, had gone to war with their overlord; and in order to induce the Turks to grant an armistice, Russia and Austria proposed to England a joint naval demonstration, carried out in the name of Europe, by England and France... Further, at the same moment England again separated herself from the other powers by sending an Ambassador - Mr. Layard - to Constantinople... The effect was to encourage Turkey to count on English support, and Russia, unable to secure concerted action, declared war single-handed. CW Dilke.
Sir Charles himself was in a great difficulty, being as he
says, "anti- Russian without being for that pro-Turk."
Sharing to the full the general detestation of these massacres,
of which the earliest complete exposure had been made public
by him, he held that there ought to be armed intervention. But
he knew too much of Russia's action in conquered provinces to
feel that the matter could be settled satisfactorily by allowing
Russian influence to replace Turkish control. "The world
could not afford to see 120,000,000 of Slavs united under the
sceptre of an absolute despot, holding at Constantinople the
strongest position in all Europe, stretching from the Adriatic
to Kamskatka and the Behring Straits, and holding in Corea the
strongest position in the Pacific." Then he recalled the
record of "that Power with which the Liberals of England
were to strike alliance--an absolute autocracy of the purest
type, the Power which crushed Poland, the Power which crushed
Hungary for Austria." And by what methods! The long story
of violation "both of the public and the moral law".
DIZZY AND VICTORIA
The British Prime Minister 1874-1880 was Benjamin Disraeli, a Conservative. Unlike William Gladstone, Disraeli got on very well with Queen Victoria and she made him a Lord. She approved of Disraeli's imperialist views and his desire to make Britain the most powerful nation in the world. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878 Disraeli gained great acclaim for his success in limiting Russia's power in the Balkans. <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRdisraeli.htm>
A diary about Queen Victoria mentions that "In September,
when the war between Russia and Turkey was raging, her Majesty,
Princess Beatrice, the Duchess of Roxburgh, &c., spent a
week at Loch Maree Hotel, enjoying the fine Ross-shire scenery,
making daily peaceful excursions, to which such a telegram as
told of the bombardment of Plevna must have been a curious accompaniment." Life of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen, (Victoria) Vol
Reports reached London that ... the road to Constantinople was wide open. Disraeli again fumed and stormed while Queen Victoria swamped him with a deluge of almost hysterical letters demanding immediate action. "There is not a moment to be lost or the whole of our policy of centuries, of our honour as a great European Power, will have received an irreparable blow! . . . Oh, if the Queen were a man, she would like to go and give those Russians, whose word one cannot believe, such a beating! We shall never be friends again till we have it out This the Queen feels sure of." Even Disraeli was moved to remark, "It is something to serve such a sovereign."
DIZZY'S FOREIGN AFFAIRS
"The very phrase 'foreign affairs' makes an Englishman convinced that I am about to treat of subjects with which he has no concern." Benjamin Disraeli
"You all seem to me to be living in Drowsy Hollow, while
Dizzy is consulting his imagination, and Hartington politely
bowing" CW Dilke.
Early in September, 1876, public indignation was set ablaze by Mr. Gladstone's famous pamphlet, which demanded that the Turk should clear out of Bulgaria, "bag and baggage." Dilke wrote that "Foreign affairs had suddenly risen out of complete obscurity into a position in which they overshadowed all other things, and left home politics in stagnation.... These complications were destined to bring Mr. Gladstone back into an activity not merely unimpaired, but redoubled, and to shake the power of Mr. Disraeli to its fall... In 1878, William Ewart Gladstone [born in Liverpool] came out of retirement to reclaim the leadership of the Liberal party and unleash a lethal rhetorical assault against his archrival, Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. In a series of marathon speeches to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands, Gladstone eviscerated Disraelian foreign policy as a disastrous mixture of vainglorious imperialism, cynical realpolitik and fiscal improvidence. His speech of Nov. 27, 1879, in which he set out his principles of foreign policy, reads amazingly well today [2006, in opposition to George W Bush in Iraq] "The first thing," he argued, "is to foster the strength of the empire by just legislation and economy at home."
GLADSTONE VERSUS DISRAELI
Early in May 1876, a revolt against Turkish rule began in
Panagyurishte in Bulgaria. The Turks responded with vicious reprisals
in which many Bulgarian men, women and children died...between
10,000 and 25,000. When news of these events arrived in London,
the Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, reacted by
casting doubt on the accuracy of the reports, contemptuously
describing them as 'coffee-house babble'... As the Eastern Question
Association organised hundreds of meetings, condemning both the
atrocities themselves and the government's refusal to condemn
them, Disraeli remained unmoved. 'Our duty at this critical moment,'
he said in August, 'is to maintain the Empire of England.'
Disraeli and Gladstone were both politicians of extraordinary ability - but their personalities clashed and they heartily loathed each other.
"The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune; and if anybody pulled him out, that I suppose would be a calamity" Benjamin Disraeli
January 5 Battle of Shipka Pass IV.
On February 12 Disraeli again ordered the fleet to steam to Constantinople. This time the orders were carried out, though, on the request of the sultan, the ships anchored on the Asiatic side of the Sea of Marmora; Thus Russian soldiers were quartered at San Stefano, ten miles from Constantinople, while British warships rode at anchor across the Straits less than fifty miles away. Peace hung in the balance in this precarious manner until finally the Turks and the Russians signed the Treaty of San Stefano on March 3, 1878.
Schouvalof, the Russian Ambassador, had on March 4th summed
This map showing the shrinking borders of the Ottoman Empire
is available on the Web through the generosity of the Perry-Castaneda
Library Map Collection, at the University of Texas in Austin.
The source page has a URL of http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/
BY JINGOThe attitude of some of the British people of this period cannot better be expressed than by the "Macdermott's War Song" written and composed by GW Hunt in 1878 and performed by "The Great" GH Macdermott at the London Pavillion. Listen here to the tune of the chorus:
MACDERMOTT'S WAR SONG
The "Dogs of War" are loose and the rugged Russian
We don't want to fight but by jingo if we do.
The Turk has got his faults, of crime he bears the taint,
We don't want to fight but by jingo if we do.
The misdeeds of the Turks have been "spouted" through
We don't want to fight but by jingo if we do.
May he who 'gan the quarrel soon have to bite the dust.
Verse 1 3 and 4 from Aline Waites and Robin Hunter, The Illustrated
Victorian Songbook, Michael Joseph Ltd., London, 1984; pp. 180-184.
The second verse is from Forbes Stuart's Stries of Britain
in Song (Longman Young Books, 1972, pp. 198-201.
Music-hall singer GH "the Great" Macdermott found this piece immensely popular at the London Pavilion. It became a rallying-cry among those who supported British military action against Russia in 1878. It was said thet the song was inspired by the sending of the British fleet to Turkish waters to block Russia's advance.
The term Jingoes was coined by G. J. Holyoake : "One Sunday afternoon [March 10, 1878] a meeting was held in Hyde Park in support of Mr. Gladstone's [Liberal] policy on the Eastern Question.... and a conflict ensued.... Afterwards a portion of the assembly set out to Harley Street, and broke Mr. Gladstone's windows....I entitled my letter to the Daily News "The Jingoes in the Park."... I had certainly intended to mark, by a convenient name, a new species of patriots who... had begun to infest public meetings.... Their characteristic was a war-urging pretentiousness which discredited the silent, resolute, self-defensiveness of the British people.... The Irish World (March 30, 1878), of New York, gave a cartoon, in which the British Lion, with a knife and pistol in his belt, a revolver in one hand, and a waving Union Jack in the other, is calling upon the Jingoes in the park to follow him to demolish Mr. Gladstone's house....The Jingoes are mainly the habitués of the turf, the tap-room, and the low music halls, whose inspiration is beer, whose politics are swagger, and whose policy is insult to foreign nations." G. J. Holyoake. <http://www.gerald-massey.org.uk/holyoake/c_life_7.htm>
The earliest written instances of "jingo" (around 1670) report it as a exclamation routinely used by conjurors who shouted "Hey jingo!" when making an object appear (as opposed to "Hey presto!" when they made something vanish). "Jingo" probably arose as a euphemism for "Jesus," [or St. Gingoulph]... The expression "By jingo!" was very popular from the 17th through the 19th centuries. <http://www.word-detective.com/041798.html>
A NORTHERN ECHO
Another critic of the Jingoes was W. T. Stead, Editor of the Darlington Northern Echo and the Pall Mall Gazette, and founder of The Review of Reviews, who had a pro-Russian stance. "It was during the war, while Plevna was still standing... I had been urging my countrymen daily for a year past to do, in concert with Russia, what her countrymen, at infinite sacrifice of blood and treasure, were now doing alone.... We had one object-the liberation of the Slavs, and one formula by which it was to be obtained-the establishment of good relations between Russia and England. In the face of a public already in the full fierce flush of the Jingo delirium we raised together the banner of the Anglo-Russian alliance, and under that flag we have fought together as comrades wherever and whenever a blow could be struck in the good cause.... I remember as late as Christmas, 1877, being assured... that all fear of English intervention, even to save Constantinople, was entirely out of the question.... Alas, less than two months after that conversation... Lord Derby resigned as a protest against the burlesque Chinoiserie of bringing the Sepoys to Malta, all but the most persistent optimists despaired of peace." <http://www.attackingthedevil.co.uk/reviews/novikoff.php>
Bismarck and Disraeli at the Congress of Berlin
THE EASTERN QUESTION IN 1878
"... At the beginning of 1878 Parliament was summoned
a month earlier than usual to tranquilize public feeling--a result
not thereby attained, for the Russians, now completely victorious,
were but a short distance from Constantinople."CW Dilke.
British preparations for war pressed on until:
THE SECRET AGREEMENT
But 'At the end of the month (May) the secret agreement was signed with Russia, and revealed to us by the Globe. May 31st... it then appeared that the military preparations of the country must have been intended to keep up the spirits of the Jingoes while their cherished principles were being sacrificed behind their backs. The Daily Telegraph, which was the Jingo organ, said: "If such a compact has been concluded, this country has fatally descended from the lofty position occupied by the Salisbury despatch." What the Government had done was to give up all the points for which they had made their enthusiastic followers believe that they would fight, and at the same time in the Anglo-Turkish Convention to declare that their successors should fight for what was left. This may have been a prudent policy, but it was not a policy which carried with it the necessity for bringing Indian troops to Europe or spending eight or nine millions sterling upon apparent preparations for immediate war.' CW Dilke. < The Life of the Rt. Hon. Sir Charles W Dilke VI, by Stephen Gwynn chapter XVI>
Due to British pressure and a British threat of war against
Russia, the Congress of Berlin was convened:
THE EASTERN QUESTION IN THE NORTH
Sir CW Dilke wrote "Those who supported Mr. Gladstone identified themselves unreservedly with the Slav as against the Turk. But by others the demand for ejection of the Turk, "bag and baggage," from Bulgaria was construed as an invitation for Russia to seize Constantinople, and thus as a direct infringement of British interests in Egypt and the Mediterranean. Lord Beaconsfield skillfully played upon this feeling, and there ensued a condition of affairs in which Mr. Gladstone made triumphal progresses through the north of England, and was hooted weekly in the streets of London".
But was the public attitude ambiguous in the North of England where my Plevna Terrace was named? Was it named by anti-Turkish Liberals, or anti-Russian Liberals, or was it named by anti-Russian Conservatives? Or was it named by Jingoes who just wanted to go to war, in "the old facing-both-ways style"?
Or should we look at it a better way? Did the battle not conclude in favour of the Bulgarians, Rumanians and Greeks? For in retrospect it seems the British Government did not really want to give aid to either of the warring sides.
"The real cry for the country is not sympathy with Russia, still less with Turkey, but complete freedom for the Slav and Hellenic nationalities." Randolph Churchill, Feb 7th 1878.
THE IMPORT OF NAMING
Imagine building something as big as an ocean liner and deciding what to name it. That's not something taken lightly. Not a casual affair. It's just like that with a street, and a street name may last for many hundreds of years.
In conclusion the multiple meanings of the Plevna incident are so contradictory that I can't see why anyone would want to name another place after it. But they did so in at least twenty-two locations, so we may think of it as if there are enough Plevnas around the world to memorialize all aspects of that crisis in history.
Of these places called Plevna it seems to me that they may have been named pro-Russia in 1877 before opinion turned against Russia in 1888. They were named in praise of Russia liberating Bulgarian Christians oppressed by the Turks. And it is recorded that this pro-Russian attitude persisted in many Liberal followers of Gladstone although Sir CW Dilke was for Turkey ruling Constantinople.
However when popular opinion became unhappy about the idea of Russia taking Constantinope it may be that some pro-Russian namers were embarassed and regreted their choice. Or perhaps they stuck fast to their selection to express that their approval of Russian action went as far as Plevna but not as far as Constantinople.
But look at another way, if they were named after 1878, then the Plevna sentiment must have been pro-Turkish, for England had virtually declared war on Russia. So should we just go with Disraeli and Queen Victoria and the Jingoes and go for pro-Turkish Plevna Terrace despite the Turkish attrocities?
No, I'm sorry, I still don't get it. I can't figure it out which side my Plevna Terrace was celebrating in its name. Perhaps it was left ambivalent, so that whether the homeowners were Liberal or Conservative they could memorialize whichever they wanted.
My conclusion is that Plevna was just famous: the newspapers were full of it because it was such a bloody siege. Hence Plevna became a nick-name for any place where there was a protracted jingoistic confllct.
The Danube is the key to Britain's involvement. Russia's goal was obviously to annex Istanbul and control the Black Sea. All of Europe opposed that. Particularly Austria because the Danube's Estury is in the Black Sea, therefore Austria's only access to international trade via the Atlantic is to sail through Istanbul. Britain was involved for wasn't Queen Victoria related to the King of Austria, the Hapsburgs?
This 1852 map of Bingley, Yorkshire shows an un-named road where Plevna Terrace was later built.