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June 25, 2023

Why are London’s station names so aggravating?

Here are no fewer than 31 London station names with which we have an issue.

By Jonn Elledge

Where to start? Well, there’s an area of London called Marylebone. It’s not altogether clear that Marylebone station is in it.

1. Marylebone

Well, I guess it is now because the definition has shifted to include the station, but… look where Marylebone station is compared with Marylebone High Street.

Historically, Marylebone was the bit across Oxford Street from Mayfair (an area more easily reached from half a dozen other Tube stations). Marylebone station should probably be called something else that people can actually pronounce.

Exactly what it should be called, though, is difficult to say. It’s in an area sometimes referred to as a Lisson Grove, but that somehow lacks the gravitas necessary for a mainline station.

It almost revelled in the name Great Central, after the railway company that built it. But this was a hilariously overblown name for both the company (which arrived several decades later than most of its rivals and consequently found it didn’t really have anywhere left to build railways to), and the station (which was originally meant to have ten platforms, but could only afford four because, well, see above).

You can still see the name Great Central on the walls of Marylebone Tube station (served, quite pitifully, by the Bakerloo line and nothing else). I’m tempted to suggest we should call the station that just for fun, but if I did that some git would be writing nonsense about what a stupid name it was. (Specifically: me.)

At any rate, we’re probably stuck with Marylebone.

2. Euston Square

Neither on a square nor that close to Euston.  It is, however, the Euston stop on the Circle line, so at last Euston Circle would be descriptive. Even if…

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3. City Thameslink

…naming stations after the routes they’re served by is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Think this through. There are two lines in London whose names end in “& City”. City Thameslink is on neither of them. What’s more, there are three different stations on Thameslink that serve parts of the City (Farringdon is technically just outside). What use is “City Thameslink” as a name? What is the point of it?

Call it Ludgate. Or Ludgate Viaduct. Or frankly anything else but City Thameslink, which is the single worst name in the world. Call it Malcolm for all I care.

4. Regent’s Park

Okay, the name here is kind of fine – it is a Tube station near Regent’s Park. What else are we going to call it?

Except that there are two other stations that have just as much claim to be called Regent’s Park (Baker Street and Great Portland Street, since you asked.) And the Tube map shows the Bakerloo line crossing the Circle at Baker Street and so implies that the park is somewhere in the vicinity of Broadcasting House, and that’s really annoying.

5. Liverpool Street

The eponymous Liverpool Street is so small that it’s long been dwarfed by the station that shares its name. The station should obviously be called, like the one it replaced in 1874, Bishopsgate.

The reason it isn’t called that, one assumes, is that Bishopsgate survived for decades as a goods station, and calling another station Bishopsgate just because it was substantially closer to the area called Bishopsgate would have confused people.

But the goods yard is long gone, so maybe we should rename the thing. If only to reduce the chances of Americans who think they can ask directions “to Liverpool” (in the manner they’d ask directions to Madison or 59th or Fifth) and find their way to the City of London, instead ending up on an intercity train hurtling towards Crewe.

(Related: In Cambridge, trains terminating at London Liverpool Street and Liverpool Lime Street used to go from adjacent platforms.)

6. Clapham Junction

Very obviously in Battersea, the better part of two miles from Clapham. It’s genuinely only called Clapham Junction because Victorian snobbery meant that nobody wanted to admit to going near Battersea. They might just as well have called it South Chelsea.

7. Goodge Street

Another tiny street that doesn’t deserve its own station. Should obviously be called Fitzrovia, which is much prettier. Fitzrovia is the name of the romantic heroine from one of those Shakespeare plays set in generic Italy; Goodge is a Dickensian schoolmaster plotting to do unspeakable things to your children.

8. Warren Street

Even tinier street – so tiny you can use Warren Street station every day and probably still not be quite sure which one Warren Street is. I’m not pretending there’s a better name to hand, but it’s bloody infuriating, that’s all I’m saying.

9. Custom House for EXCEL

Oh, bugger off, what’s next? “Camden Town for London Zoo”? “Hammersmith for the Eventim Apollo”? “Gants Hill for Grandma’s House”?

10. Stratford International

London station names
Stratford International rail station – home of no international rail journeys. (Photo by Archer Photo/Shutterstock)

Stratford International is so named because it’s the Stratford stop on HS1, a line built to speed Eurostar trains from London to the continent.

Guess how many international trains stop here. Go on, you’ll never guess.

So, yes, unless there’s been some kind of revolution in Faversham, the answer is nil.

There’s a reason for this: Stratford was expected to be the London stop on the high speed trains that ran from the north of England to Paris and Brussels, skirting the edge of the capital on their way. For various reasons, most notably the rise of low cost airlines, such a route has never actually materialised.

They kept the name, though, so if you so wish you can visit a station called Stratford International that is neither served by a single international train nor particularly convenient for Stratford. Passes the time, I suppose.

11. Totteridge & Whetstone

Make Your & Mind Up.

12 & 13. Edgware Road

The name of two different stations, both on the Edgware Road but on different sides of the Westway. No one in their right mind would ever change trains between them, because you can do so much more easily at Paddington or Baker Street, but even if you did, there’s a bloody big flyover in the way.

Why at least one of the bloody things has never been renamed to make things less confusing – for tourists, for Londoners, for the emergency services who’d get called in if one of the things was on fire – is a mystery for the ages.

14 & 15. Bethnal Green

There are two Bethnal Green stations, too, on entirely different lines (Central and Overground), and they’re not even that close together. Since they’re both in the hands of TfL now, surely it’s time to rename the Overground one? “Weaver’s Fields” is nice. Or even “Bethnal Green South”, though that would as a side effect point out that the map is wrong yet again.

16. Elephant & Castle

Is there any station anywhere in the world whose name oversells it quite so much as Elephant & Castle? “Brutalism & Roundabout” is more apt. “Traffic Jam & Shopping Centre.”

17. Abbey Road

I mean, we all love that poster that they put up to help Beatles fans find their way across town, sure. But which idiot decided to give a station that didn’t open until 2011 the same name as a street that had been a tourist landmark for four decades, and was eight miles away on the other side of London?

18. Grange Hill

Play the theme tune.

19. Bromley-by-Bow

But not, however, by Bromley.

There is actually an area called Bromley near that station, after which it is named: it just happens to not be anywhere near the major suburban town or borough of the same name.

To make matters worse, there’s another area of the London Borough of Bromley called Plaistow. This is entirely different from the east London area called Plaistow, which is served by a station two stops east of Bromley-by-Bow. I sometimes think this whole town is one big practical joke.

20. King’s Cross

Named after a monument to King George IV (1820–1830), erected in the year of his death and demolished 15 years later because he hadn’t been that good a king and anyway it was rubbish.

I mean, we’re stuck with the name now, but let’s not pretend this state of affairs is in any way morally acceptable.

21. St Pancras International

Tell me one story about the martyrdom of St Pancras that means he deserves to have London’s nicest station named after him. Go on. Who was he? How did he die?

Wondering about this as we were, we decided to do some research, and, bizarrely, there seem in fact to have been two St Pancrases. One was an early Christian who got stoned to death in Sicily in 40AD… and the other was a 4th-century teenager, who lost his head.

22 & 23. New Cross/New Cross Gate

“Brian. You know how we’ve got these two stations which are quite near each other, and are both on the East London line, but which serve two entirely different bits of the national rail network?”

“Yes, Nige?”

“Well, how about we give them nearly identical names? So that people will never be quite sure if they’ve got off at the right place for their train, or whether they’re going to have to walk a third of the mile up the road?”

“Sounds like a great plan, Nige. Pint?”

24. Cyprus

Well, this is disappointing.

25 & 26. Hayes/Hayes & Harlington

Hayes station is the terminus of a suburban branch line in the Hayes area of Bromley. Hayes & Harlington station is a stop on the Elizabeth line just north of Heathrow Airport. These two places are nowhere near each other. It’s just nonsense really, isn’t it?

27 & 28. St Margarets

There are two stations called St Margarets served by London’s suburban train network. One is south-west, near Twickenham; the other is just north of the city on a branch line to Hertford.

I’m not saying that people confuse the two a lot, but nonetheless, this is deeply stupid.

29 & 30. Rainham

There are two bloody Rainhams as well – one in the suburban Essex bit of zone 6, the other across the river in the Medway bit of Kent. Where, helpfully enough, there’s also another bloody Newington. So there goes that idea.

31. Watford

If you find yourself getting the Metropolitan Line all the way to Watford, then you’re probably already having quite a bad enough day without discovering that you’re still about a mile and a half from bloody Watford.

[Read more: London Overground to be split into separate lines and renamed]

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