Earl's Court Or Earls Court? A London Apostrophe Guide

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By M@ Last edited 25 months ago
Earl's Court Or Earls Court? A London Apostrophe Guide
Photo by Doug in the Londonist Flickr pool

We've all argued about them. Apostrophes. Are you obsessive about possessives? Do you want to deploy your red marker pen every time you see Kings Cross? We thought it was high time for a definitive list of when to use an apostrophe in London place names.

With apostrophe

Earl's Court: Confusion reigns. The tube station always has an apostrophe. The A-Z uses one, including Earl's Court Road and Earl's Court Gardens. Street signs for these roads, however, lack an apostrophe. Wikipedia is woefully inconsistent. The now-closed exhibition centre lacks the mark. If you need a rule, use an apostrophe for the tube station and area name, but not for the streets and exhibition centre. The area was once owned by the earls of Oxford, so an apostrophe is historically justified.

King's Cross: Like Earl's Court, the apostrophe has the weight of history behind it; the place name comes from a 'cross' or monument to King George IV. Most official bodies now include the apostrophe (except National Rail for some reason), but it has wandered in and out of favour across the decades. We looked at this one in more detail a few years back.

King's Road: Another place of fuzzy punctuation. The A-Z hedges its bets by using an apostrophe on the eastern stretch of the road, while dropping it for the less fashionable western end. We have no idea why. Street signs also vary, but are not in agreement with the A-Z's whims. The route was for centuries a private royal road, so the apostrophe has historical weight. Whether or not we should call it 'The King's Road' is a whole other argument.

Queen's Park: Applied consistently to the area and station, though not QPR football club (but then they don't play in Queen's Park).

Queen's Road (Walthamstow): Older street signs use an apostrophe, newer ones do not. The station, meanwhile, resolutely uses the apostrophe, so we're taking that as the official word. See also Queen's Road (Peckham), below.

Regent's Park: Deffo with an apostrophe. And officially, if pompously, The Regent's Park.

St James's Park: Often written erroneously as St James' Park or merely St James Park, the correct form is clearly shown on any literature by the Royal Parks.

St John's Wood: Apart from a couple of estate agent sites, the apostrophe is almost universally applied. The LU station has an apostrophe almost everywhere, except when you get to platform level. The area is named for the Order of the Knights of St John, who owned the land.

St Paul's: The Cathedral of St Paul should surely always sport an apostrophe, and we can't find any serious counter-examples.

Shepherd's Bush: Nearly all authorities use an apostrophe, including the stations. The one contrarian is Shepherds Bush Market, and the odd street sign. If in doubt, just call it The Bush.

Photo by Rob Emes in the Londonist Flickr pol

Without apostrophes

Barons Court: Unlike its more lordly neighbour Earl's Court, lower-ranking Barons Court nearly always lacks the apostrophe. It's a made-up name — no baron ever controlled the land — so the lack of possessive apostrophe is satisfying.

Bounds Green: Although the area gets its name from former landowners the Bounde family, convention always omits an apostrophe.

Bowes Park: As with its neighbour above, Bowes Park is named for a family, but always lacks the possessive punctuation.

Canons Park: Named after the canons of St Bart's in Smithfield, who once owned the land. Monastic types are keen on abstinence and have always forgone the apostrophe.

Colliers Wood: Some variation here. The A-Z uses an apostrophe for the area, but not the road. Like Transport for London, it also lists the tube station without an apostrophe. The name derives from a time when charcoal burners operated in the woods here. We're calling this one as 'no apostrophe', partly to conform with the station name, but also because we don't want to get into a debate about whether it should be Colliers' Wood or Collier's Wood.

Crews Hill: Similar deal to Bounds Green and Bowes Park. We might also add Devons Road, Gallions Reach (named after the Galyons family, not the big ships), Gants Hill, Golders Green, Haydons Road, Highams Park, Palmers Green, Ponders End, Rayners Lane, Raynes Park, Whipps Cross and no doubt many others. All are named after a one-time land owner, but nearly always omit the punctuation.

Parsons Green: This posh area of Fulham has predictable preachy etymology and was traditionally written as Parson's Green. These days, it's rare to see the punctuation, reinforced by the name of the tube station.

Queens Road (Peckham): Unlike Queen's Road Walthamstow, this street uses the apostrophe on both the A-Z and in the station name. Alas, the road signs demur, and leave out the mark. We could argue about it, or we could just go for a pint in Beer Rebellion, which is a much better use of time.

St Johns: Saintly place names usually include a reverential apostrophe, but not so this district of Lewisham. Most references to the area lack the mark (including, importantly, the train station), but the namesake church does include one. A similar situation occurs in St Margarets, Richmond.

Wrong, surely? Photo by Veronica Aguilar in the Londonist Flickr pool

In conclusion

It looks like there's no rhyme or reason to apostrophe use. Those looking for a comforting rule will not find one. The presence of a tube or train station can help crystallise a particular convention, but even then apostrophes come and go over the decades with the whims of fashion. We could stipulate that anywhere named after a landowner should include the possessive apostrophe, but few place names actually behave like that (see Crews Hill and entries therein).

Ultimately, it doesn't really matter. Apostrophes are important in general writing (Londonist is a web site that knows its shit, versus Londonist is a web site that knows it's shit, for example). They are less important in place names. Nobody will misunderstand you if you write Kings Cross instead of King's Cross. Place names are simply labels for locations, not descriptions, and their apostrophes could be universally scrapped with no loss of clarity. Removing the apostrophe also gives a cleaner word and fits better with modern methods of communication, such as texting, website URLs and tweeting (where an apostrophe would eat into that 140 character limit).

Still, we all like to argue about them. Long live the equivocal apostrophe.

See also

Last Updated 11 March 2016

Geoff Marshall

Shepherd's Bush is known as 'She Bu' !! ("Shay-Boo"), oh yes!

Chris H

Given that the court of many earls used to be west of London, the correct name should be Earls' Court. So both rail and road are technically incorrect.

Peter Hogan

both the 1893 60" os map and the 1950 1:1250 os map show baron's court road - .'. it takes an apostrophe.

Laura Nunn

"Estate agents sites" or "Estate agents' sites"? That will be three guineas please.

HHGeek

There's a road in Stepney that's all of what, 100 m long? The sign at one end is Steel's Lane, at the other it's Steels Lane. A-Z has the former.

Kate J

Always good to read some punctuation pedantry. Except that the hospital (and fomer priory) in Smithfield should properly be given as St Bartholomew's or Bart's (with or without apostrophe), never St Barts, which is a Caribbean island. Another distinction which I could go on about ad infinitum. With illustrations.

Simon M

In Westminster there's a lane called King's Scholars' Passage. One side of the road has it Scholar's, the other, older sign has it correctly as Scholars'. A few years ago Westminster used to have an illiterate sign officer who got loads of them wrong until a local resident association pointed it out.

Rudi Hayen

Whether the name is historical or was made up, whether or not the A-Z uses the apostrophe, however the street sign or tube station or platform spells things is only a matter for Masterminds, Eggheads and the like. Whoever really cares about correct language and especially about wide, non-elitist access for all (both users and learners) can only advocate transparency and consistency. So either apostrophes for all possessive cases or none at all (remember good old GBS), please!

Chris Page

And what about that hospital on the south bank of the river, at the eastern end of Westminster Bridge? That one REALLY annoys me. Why is the apostrophe always there, yet the subsequent letter S always absent? And does anyone ever pronounce it without the missing S?

dncn

Wikipedia says Barons Court is named after the Irish lands of the 19th century landowner. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wik...

Paul R

"St James's Park" may be the current official LU spelling, but the very last roundel on the Eastbound platform at St James's Park station still says "St James' Park." :-)

JOHN SHIRLEY

The Queens Park Rangers programme editor made a specific decisions to drop the apology in the 1960s, because he thought the programme cover looked better without it. But they still refer to themselves as "the R's", rather than "the Rs", for no apparent reason.

Puffer

Whilst an apostrophe denotes ownership (or at least possession), it is not needed when the qualifying word is merely descriptive - so we can say 'games master' or 'buildings insurance' quite correctly without an apostrophe. (The key is 'Does the term make sense in the singular, without the plural 's'?) Interestingly, one could make a case for both 'infants school' and 'infants' school' - but scarcely 'infant's school'.) On that basis 'Queens Road', for example would be acceptable if it was a road associated with queens in general and not just one (Victoria?) in particular. And so would be Bowes Park (if the family name was Bowes, not Bowe) and other similarly-named places.

It is equally important to realise that the lines of the London Underground are NOT all 'tube' lines and to use the term 'tube station' for any Underground station (such as Parsons Green) is wrong. And we should refer to 'railway stations', please, not 'train stations'!

Susan

'Removing the apostrophe also gives a cleaner word and fits better with modern methods of communication' - really? In Australia, a government body banned apostrophes from all place names - right down to street names - decades ago. This has left us with Kings Cross, Crows Nest, Batemans Bay, St Georges Terrace, Princes Highway, Cooper Creek (rather than original Cooper's Creek) and - worst of all - Fishermans Bend. There is nothing clean or better for modern communication about Fishermans Bend: it simply makes whoever uses it look illiterate.

I'm also unconvinced that punctuation marks are dirty - I thought they aided understanding.