Bits Of London That People Mix Up

M@
By M@
Bits Of London That People Mix Up
London Bridge is Falling Down

Which bits of the capital do you mix up?

Once upon a time, when the world was young and I could still afford to live in West Hampstead, I decided to throw a party — mostly to show off that I could still afford to live in West Hampstead.

The big day came, and guests started arriving. But one of my best friends, usually so reliable, turned up two hours late, all a-fluster. It transpired that he'd misread my instructions to catch the Jubilee line to West Hampstead and had instead found himself in distant West Ham.

This was the year 2000, before smartphones, when a lost traveller had to do something scary like consult a paper map or use a phone box to work out where they'd gone wrong. But it's still possible to get bits of London mixed up today, as the following examples show.

Tower Bridge versus London Bridge

Do an image or video search for "London Bridge is Falling Down". Here's what I get:

An image search results showing lots of pics of Tower Bridge, even though the search was for London Bridge.

Of the top 10 hits, eight show representations of Tower Bridge, rather than the plainer London Bridge. The genuine span features in just one image, and it's not even the modern concrete one (which, given the song's lyrics, is probably for the best).

The confusion between the bridges is sometimes deliberate. Tower Bridge makes for much better visuals when you're, for example, putting together a children's animation. And it is, after all, 'a' London bridge, if not 'the' London Bridge. But genuine mix-ups are also very common, especially among overseas visitors and Noughties popstars.

The Duchess of York stands in front of London Bridge... or is it pop singer Fergie in front of Tower Bridge... oh we don't know.
Not to be confused with Sarah or Alex Ferguson.

Famously, the guy who bought the previous version of London Bridge and shipped it to Arizona is said to have thought he was getting Tower Bridge. This story from the 1970s is probably bogus, but its existence is telling. It shows that the Gothic span now casts a cultural shadow much greater than its visually mundane (but historically important) neighbour.

Abbey Road versus Abbey Road

A poster stands on a train platform with instructions on how to get to Abbey Road
Image by kiteinthewind under creative commons licence

It's one of the most famous album covers of all time — and one of the most frequently recreated. Tourists flock to Abbey Road studios in St John's Wood to line up like the Beatles on the nearby zebra crossing.

Not all of them make it, however. You see, London has many Abbey Roads, and one of them even has a station — one of the less-used DLR stops over on the branch to Stratford. No small number of Beatles fans have clocked Abbey Road station on the tube map and set off on a Magical Mystery Tour to this east London hub of railway sidings and light industry.

So heavy is the fooled Fab Four footfall that TfL have even put up signs to help them Get Back to where they want to be. (It's an unwritten rule that any informal writing about the Beatles has to include song lyric puns. Has to.)

Coincidentally, the two Abbey Roads are short bus rides from West Hampstead and West Ham, in neat resonance with my opening story.

Bow Church versus St-Mary-le-Bow Church

A church spire rises into a clear blue sky, with just a hint of white cloud. To the top right, some closer building is doing its best to photo-bomb.

You have to be born within the sound of Bow bells to be a true Cockney — so the saying goes. But where are Bow bells? You might imagine they'd be in the East End of London, long established as the heart of Cockneydom. And, indeed, here we find a Bow church. It's on Bow Road, with Bow-referencing DLR and tube stations nearby. You can even order a pint in the Bow Bells pub. This church is very much on the map, and has been since the 14th century.

But it's not the Bow church. Not the one that bestows Cockney credentials. Here, we have to look to the Christopher Wren edifice of St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside, within the City of London. In medieval times, the Square Mile pretty much was London, with places like the other Bow regarded as outlying villages. So historically to be a Londoner and a Cockney, the more central Bow church (which long predated Wren's rebuild) makes more sense.  

Incidentally, there were no true Cockneys born between 1941 and 1956. An air raid in the second world war destroyed the historic bells, and it took 15 years to replace them. Since no maternity ward is now within earshot of Cheapside, the population of true Cockneys must be tiny.

Westminster Abbey versus Westminster Cathedral

Two cathedral style buildings. The one on the left looks all gothic and proper churchy. The one on the right is a stripy show-off tower.
Westminster Cathedral (left) and Westminster Abbey (right)... or is it the other way round? I'm so confused... they're just too similar.

Westminster Abbey is a funny old place. Despite its name and towering reputation, it's neither an abbey (having no monks or nuns) nor a cathedral (having no bishop). Its official status is a 'collegiate church' within the Church of England, and a Royal Peculiar (responsible directly to the Sovereign rather than a bishop). It's gorgeous, magnificent and very, very old. Needless to say, it attracts many tourists.

Westminster Cathedral stands only a few hundred metres away. It is a proper cathedral, this time of Roman Catholic persuasion. It too is a magnificent building, a late-Victorian neo-Byzantine structure, with a glittering interior and a landmark bell tower (which you can ascend, in what was once London's tallest lift).

Although they could scarcely look more different, the two great ecclesiastical buildings are often confused simply because of their similar names and locations. The way to tell them apart is the entrance fee (lots, versus nothing) and... well, just look at them.

Millwall versus Millwall FC

The pointy edges of two football stands look a bit like the bows of ships.
The stands of The Den resemble the bows of ships built in the old Millwall dockyards. Well, we think so anyway.

Historically, Millwall was a community situated on the south-western portion of the Isle of the Dogs. It was best known for shipbuilding, for it was here that Brunel's gigantic SS Great Eastern was launched in 1858. The place name is still in good use today, but many people will hover over South Bermondsey when asked to point to Millwall on a map.

The reason, of course, is football. Millwall FC was founded on the Isle of Dogs in 1885, with most of its players drawn from a local canning and preserve factory. The team stayed put for just 15 years before decamping to the other side of the river — first to New Cross, and then a little north to the current site of The Den. The area is now closely identified with Millwall, to the point where some people use it as an informal area name.

Football teams have form at this kind of thing. The most famous example is perhaps Arsenal who, in 1913, decamped from their sulphurous cradle in Woolwich to a stadium in far-off Islington. The local tube station was quickly rechristened 'Arsenal', although the name has never quite caught on for the wider area, still referred to by its historic name of Highbury.

And a roundup of miscellaneous mix-ups

Plaistow tube station on the tube map
There is more than one Plaistow. Image: Shutterstock

If people can conflate West Ham and West Hampstead, then the gazetteer of London is ripe for further mix-ups. Some place names even crop up in more than one location.

Hayes is one example. You'll find decent-sized communities of that name in both Hillingdon and Bromley. The latter borough also contains its own Plaistow, not to be confused with the more populous Plaistow of the East End, a short walk from the fellow confusion hubs of Abbey Road and West Ham. And Bromley itself is ripe for confusion. It is the name of a London borough and town, but also the unrelated Bromley-by-Bow, whose church we met earlier. What a tangled web we weave. Other examples include Belmont (Harrow and Sutton) and Grove Park (Hounslow and Lewisham). Diamond Geezer has still more.

It would also be pretty easy to get confused by London's more generic place names. How many people have trouble separating Southgate, Southfields, Southall, Northfields, Northolt, Northwood, Norwood, and the like? The tube map includes several further place names that are almost identical to one another, such as the Walthamstow stations of Queen's Road (Overground) and Blackhorse Road (tube), which should not be confused with Queens Road Peckham (Overground) and Blackhorse Lane (tram). And this is before we get into historical quirks, like how Embankment and Charing Cross tube stations have switched names several times.

Clapham Junction is often conflated with Clapham proper, when the former is actually part of Battersea and quite a trek from its leafier namesake. Do people mix up Tate Modern and Tate Britain? Does anyone assume Victoria Park is near Victoria station? Kensington and Kennington must throw a few people. And is it only idiot anti-vaxers who mix-up Television Centre and Broadcasting House?

The list could go on. We'd love to hear about your own capital confusions in the comments.

Last Updated 03 November 2021

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