London Rebranded: The Capital's Changing Names, Mapped

By M@ Last edited 12 months ago
London Rebranded: The Capital's Changing Names, Mapped
The Ram Quarter, writing on a brick wall

Mapping the 'Quarters', 'Districts' and other neologisms that now cover London.

100 years ago, the word Fitzrovia was yet to be coined. 80 years ago, nobody talked about the 'South Bank'. 60 years ago, Chinatown would conjure images of Limehouse, not Soho. 50 years ago, Canary Wharf was little-known outside the docks. 15 years ago, nobody said 'Midtown'. Today... nobody says Midtown.

Nothing is eternal in a city like London, and that includes the place names. New Cross was once known as Hatcham. The village of Garratt, famous for its mock mayoral elections, long ago vanished into the sprawl of Wandsworth.

In recent years, the pace of change, or proposed change, has accelerated. Neighbourhoods right across the capital are looking for pseudonyms, as property developers, business improvement districts (BIDs) and the occasional cultural or residents' group seek swankier names to attract attention or deposits.

The most egregious example is Midtown, coined in 2010 by the local BID to encapsulate the traditional areas of Holborn, Bloomsbury and St Giles. Many more examples are competing for recognition, from Tyburnia to London's Luxury Quarter. Some areas are pluripotent with possibilities. Someone who works in Shoreditch, for example, might speak of Tech City, the Silicon Roundabout, SoSho or Hoxditch. Or maybe just plain Old Street.

A builders' hoarding for Brain Yard, namechecking Midtown
Brain Yard, a recent development on Gray's Inn Road, which uses Midtown in its spiel - long after we thought the term had been discontinued. Image by Matt Brown

Back in 2015, we started ↓ this here map ↓ to keep track of this dizzying range of rebrandings. It shows name changes and coinages since the year 2000. We've left off older examples, such as Broadgate and Banglatown, so as not to overwhelm the map. Purple areas = 'Quarters', orange areas = 'Villages', green areas = 'Yards', blue areas = 'everything else'.

London's Quarters

The commonest form of rebranding is to dub the area a 'quarter'. Most things in life have four quarters. Not London. We have at least two dozen, mapped above in purple. Many are new developments seeking an independent identity from the surrounding area. The transmutation of the old Young's brewery in Wandsworth into modern apartments is known as the Ram Quarter. A new arrangement of flats at the tip of the Isle of Dogs is termed the Parkside Quarter. The Queensbridge Quarter might make investors salivate more than plain old Haggerston.

Other Quarters are conjured up by BIDs, business groups seeking to unite and promote local commerce under one umbrella. Examples include the sizeable Waterloo Quarter, and the linear Baker Street Quarter. The part of Southwark once rebranded as the London Bridge Quarter is now re-rebranded as the Shard Quarter.

The Shard Quarter
Image by Matt Brown

A final category sees areas of town redubbed for cultural reasons. The largest is London's Artist Quarter, which effectively encapsulates the whole East End (and is therefore not shown on the map). This exists to support and promote the arts community in east London. More recently, the Knowledge Quarter was created to do something similar for intellectual organisations in north-central London. With its origins in the British Library, the Knowledge Quarter includes such powerhouses as UCL, the British Museum, Wellcome Trust, The Guardian, Central St Martin's, the Francis Crick Institute and Google, all of which have a presence within a short walk of King's Cross.

London's Villages

Another popular strategy is to conjure up a sense of community by rededicating an area as a village (shown in orange on the map). A notable example is Tony Blair's 'hood of Connaught Village, a classy quadrilateral based around Connaught Street and Square. This itself nests within the wider area of Tyburnia, a name popular in the early 19th century now resurrected to give a melliferous label to the roads south of Paddington. On the other side of Edgware Road you'll find Portman Village, part of the Portman Estate particularly replete with restaurants, bars and exclusive shops who all benefit from being promoted collectively.

North of Camden Town, the lower slopes of Haverstock Hill have been redubbed Steele's Village (the apostrophe comes and goes). The renaming makes some kind of sense, as the area is not quite Chalk Farm, nor yet Belsize Park, but somewhere in-between. Steele's Village, named after local notable Richard Steele and his splendid namesake pub, is unusual in that its origins lie within the community rather than a top-down imposition from a business or property group. They've even got the name onto the local bus stop.

These folk love their rebrand so much, they even took it to the Olympic torch relay in 2012, just down the hill. Image by M@.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

What used to be known as 'Stratford Marsh', or 'the Lower Lea Valley', or 'where on Earth?', now enjoys a most august appellation. Since the close of the London 2012 games, the land has been known as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, one of the biggest rebrandings in London's history.

The vast area is further subdivided into smaller development zones, whose names were mostly chosen by public competition. The first to be built was East Village (itself a renaming from the Athletes' Village of the games), and Chobham Manor was next.

These have since been joined by further residential areas known as Sweetwater, Eastwick (including Here East, itself a rebrand of iCity) and Pudding Mill. The newly emerging East Bank, with branches of the V&A and Sadler's Wells among others, is a sector for learning and culture within the park. It was previously called 'Olympicopolis' in a clumsy parallel with South Kensington's Albertopolis. Two 'International Quarters' are earmarked as future commercial zones, and these also form part of an acreage known as Stratford City. It's all very confusing, but we're sure it'll all be settled down in 20 years.

Regeneration has its dangers. Image by M@.

The Whole Nine Yards

Vinegar Yard, Southwark, with lots of empty orange tables and some giant ants clambering on a train carriage
Vinegar Yard. Beware of giant ants. Image: Matt Brown

A more recent phenomenon is the emergence of 'Yards' — little courts or chains of courts rescued from obscurity to new commercial purpose. Examples here include the unpromisingly named Vinegar Yard, a mecca for street food, booze and giant ants. Elsewhere in Southwark you'll find the emerging Borough Yards, built into the congeries of rail arches that frame Borough Market. Bankside Yards is under slow construction a little further upriver. Farringdon, meanwhile, has its Cowcross Yards, a rebrand for an already existing nexus of restaurants and bars tucked away off Cowcross Street.

Cowcross Yards in Farringdon with a street art cow licking its lips
Cowcross Yards. Image by Matt Brown

Other rebrands

We've barely scratched the surface. The blue bits on the map show all the other name changes (or would-be name changes). The Candy Brothers once suggested by implication that Fitzrovia should be called NoHo as a Manhattan-style northern playmate for Soho (even though the 'So' in Soho has nothing to do with being south). We still hear it occasionally uttered, but normally in an ironic way. See also SoSho for South Shoreditch; SoBo for south of Borough; and the ultimate NoGo representing North of Goldhawk Road.

Northbank's an interesting one. This recent coinage, also the name of the local BID, incorporates the riverside streets between Trafalgar Square and the far side of Aldwych, promoting them for culture and commerce. The idea's attracted plenty of derision, but is it really so different from the creation of the South Bank as an identity? One of the area's key organisations, King's College London, almost rebranded as King's London in 2015, before thinking better of the idea.

The regeneration of former council housing has led to much discussion and argument about gentrification. One side effect is the preponderance of new names on the landscape, as developers seek to disassociate their creations from their less flashy past.

The now demolished Heygate Estate has successfully pupated into a development known as Elephant Park. Over near Blackheath, the 1960s Ferrier Estate has transformed into Kidbrooke Village (including a section called Blackheath Quarter). And the defunct Wornington Green Estate in North Kensington should now be referred to as Portobello Square, perhaps the ultimate triumph of nominative gentrification.

Farewell Heygate Estate... Hello Elephant Park. Image by M@.

Our map, we suspect, has many omissions. Please remind us of any further examples in the comments below. Note, to give this a sensible cut-off point, we're only mapping names suggested after the year 2000. We've also avoided Estate Agent lingo like 'Blackheath Borders' (Lewisham) and 'Archgate' (Archway), as there are simply too many possibilities.

See also: A previous discussion about area rebranding.

This map and article were updated in April 2023, in response to this excellent article in the Financial Times.

Last Updated 28 April 2023