London Landmarks That Have Changed Their Names

By M@

Last Updated 14 May 2024

London Landmarks That Have Changed Their Names
Big Ben speaking
Today it's the Elizabeth Tower, but do you know it's original name? Clue: it's rubbish. Image: Matt Brown

Change is inevitable (except from parking meters). Here's a look at the many famous London places that once went by other names.

Areas, streets and buildings may be known for generations by one name, only to change overnight on the whim of an authority or owner. Streets have changed name in the wake of notorious murders, or to celebrate new heroes. Skyscrapers rebadge to suit the needs of new owners. Whole neighbourhoods — Hatcham, Agar Town, Garrat — can disappear from the map. Even London itself has gone by various names. Founded by the Romans as Londinium, it was later known as Augusta, then Lundenwic/Lundenburgh before finally settling on the modern name.

The pace of change seems ever quicker these days, so we thought we'd take stock of a handful of the more prominent examples. This list could run into the tens of thousands, so we've hand-picked examples that are either very recent or historically interesting. In alphabetical order...

Clock Tower -> 'Big Ben' -> Elizabeth Tower

For most of its history, the world's most famous clock tower lacked a meaningful name. It was officially called the Clock Tower, but nobody called it that because, well, it's generic, ambiguous and dull. Some people erroneously called it St Stephen's Tower, which is actually a smaller tower to the south. The vast majority knew it as 'Big Ben', a nickname that persists today even though the tower was officially named the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee.

As any school child will tell you, 'Big Ben' is technically the name of the bell and not the tower. But that's not quite right, either. 'Big Ben' is not the bell, but one of five bells. And 'Big Ben' is itself a nickname for what is officially called 'the Great Bell'.

Emirates Air Line -> IFS Cloud Cable Car

Sponsorship and naming rights were baked into the cable car from its opening in 2012. Emirates sponsored the maligned line for its first 10 years, followed by the current sponsors whose name we can never quite remember and have to google each time we talk about them. The attraction enjoyed a brief unsponsored spell in-between when it was known simply as the London Cable Car. Any right-thinking person should avoid any of these names and call it the Dangleway, as coined by Diamond Geezer before it ever opened.

Many other examples of naming rights can be found around town. For example, the British Airways London Eye becoming the Coca-Cola London Eye, now the London Eye.

Gillespie Road tube station -> Arsenal tube station

The cable car wasn't the first transport link with a commercial hook-up. The granddaddy of them all was when Herbert Chapman managed to get his football club permanently fixed on the tube map. Arsenal's roots were in Woolwich, but they moved north of the river to Highbury in 1913. The local tube station was originally known as Gillespie Road, but campaigning from Chapman and others saw this change to Arsenal (Highbury Hill) in 1932. Glazed tiles on the platforms still proclaim the station as Gillespie Road almost a century later.

Other tube changes: Arsenal is just one of many tube stations to change names over the years. Glancing down this list on Wikipedia, something like half of all stations have rebranded at some point. Charing Cross, for example, has variously been known as Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross (Strand) and Strand.

GPO Tower -> Telecom Tower -> BT Tower -> MCR Hotels Tower?

BT Tower next to a mural with a quote about white heat of scientific revolution
Image: Matt Brown

This building has had more names than David Bowie. During its early years, the Fitzrovia landmark was known variously as the General Post Office Tower, the GPO Tower or simply the Post Office Tower (especially after 1969 when the GPO became the Post Office). In 1979, the Post Office gave up its oversight of telecommunications, a job which now fell to the state-owned British Telecom. The tower followed suit, and was renamed the British Telecom Tower, or simply the Telecom Tower. This lasted about a decade before the name changed to the BT Tower, reflecting the company's own rebranding in the wake of privatisation.

A new chapter in the tower's history opened in February 2024 when it was announced that BT would sell the building to MCR Hotels. What the company will call their new asset remains to be seen, though we hope it's something more inspiring than the MCR Hotels Tower.

Heron Tower -> 110 Bishopsgate/Salesforce Tower

The Heron Tower upper floors
Image: Matt Brown

The Heron tower is the blocky edifice on Bishopsgate that has the Duck and Waffle restaurant on the top floor and a giant fish tank on the ground floor. The 46-storey tower was the tallest building in the City when completed by Heron International in 2011.

What few visitors realise (or would care about) is that its name has been in dispute. Back in 2014, moved in as the building's biggest tenant, securing naming rights as part of the deal. The dreamily named Salesforce Tower was born. Or was it? Other tenants — who included competitor companies — kicked up a fuss at the ugly rebrand. Eventually, the City of London ruled that the tower should be officially known as 110 Bishopsgate, but that Salesforce could use their name on an informal basis. Everyone still calls it the Heron Tower, or the Duck & Waffle Tower.

London Museum -> Museum of London -> London Museum

It's been known as the Museum of London for almost half a century. So it came as a bit of a jolt when the venue announced it would become the London Museum, when it reopens in Smithfield in 2026. The rebrand is actually a retrobrand, for this is a return to the venue's nominative roots.

From most of its history (1912 to 1976) the place was known as the London Museum. It started off in Kensington Palace, moved to Lancaster House for a few decades, and then toddled back to Kensington Palace again in the 50s. A few years later, the collection was merged with the Guildhall Museum, and the hybrid reopened as the Museum of London, at the familiar London Wall site.

London Overground -> Windrush line, Sufragette line, Mildmay line, etc.

The much anticipated splitting up of the Overground into six separate lines was finally announced in February 2024. Each of the newly coined lines reflects some area of social history connected with the route. It's hoped that the split will help people navigate what was previously an unwieldy tangle of orange lines, and more quickly spot if their particular branch is closed or delayed. It's a resolution rather than a dissolution, however. London Overground will remain as the overarching brand, much as London Underground is the collective term for the many individual tube lines.

Millennium Dome -> O2 Arena -> North Greenwich Arena -> O2 Arena

The Millennium Dome was, of course, built in the late 90s as a focus for Britain's Millennium celebrations. Its cost overruns and lacklustre contents invited easy comparisons with a white elephant. But in the commercial hands of AEG, the vast entertainment venue has flourished and it now claims to be "the world's busiest arena". It's had a series of name changes along the way.

On 31 May 2005, the vast tent became the O2 after the telecoms firm snapped up the naming rights. They've held on to them ever since, except for a brief spell in 2012. As a venue for the London Olympics and Paralympics, the building was not permitted to carry a sponsor name. For that long, glorious summer it was instead dubbed the North Greenwich Arena, before reverting back to the O2.

Both the O2 Arena and O2 phones are a trifle haphazard when it comes to typography. Sometimes the 2 is subscripted and sometimes not, and sometimes it varies within the same press release.

Museum of Childhood -> Young V&A

Inside Young V&A in Bethnal Green
The new-look Young V&A. Image: Matt Brown

The Bethnal Green institution picked the right time to close for a major refit — spring of 2020 just before Covid would shut all museums for months. It also took the opportunity to rebrand. The museum had always been part of the V&A — indeed, its iron frame was transported to the East End from the South Kensington Museum (see below). The renaming makes the link more apparent, but is arguably less charming.

Museum of Manufactures -> South Kensington Museum -> Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)

The V&A was borne out of the profits of the 1851 Great Exhibition. It originally opened in 1852 as the Museum of Manufactures, housed at Marlborough House and then at Somerset House. Neither were ideal, and a plot close to the site of the Great Exhibition was secured for a new permanent home. The nucleus of today's vast building opened in 1857 when the 'Museum of Manufactures' officially became the less-stodgy but also less-descriptive South Kensington Museum. That name held until 1899 when, in the twilight of her long reign, Queen Victoria bestowed the title of Victoria and Albert Museum upon the building. The name is still used today, although the abbreviation of V&A is more commonly deployed.

National Westminster Tower -> International Finance Centre -> Tower 42

Tower 42, formerly the Natwest Tower
Tower 42 from above. Image: Matt Brown

Once Britain's tallest building, this City skyscraper is now merely the 18th loftiest in London. It was designed as the headquarters of the National Westminster Bank and, famously, takes the form of the company's logo when seen from above. The building opened in 1980 officially as the National Westminster Tower, but was commonly called the NatWest Tower from the get-go.

NatWest refurbished the skyscraper in the late 90s. This came with a rebrand to the yawnsome 'International Finance Centre'. It didn't catch on. With the new millennium came new owners, who opened the upper floors as a bar (since closed) and restyled the place as Tower 42 in deference to the number of floors. Today, some people call it Tower 42 and some still plump for the NatWest Tower, even though that company moved out more than a quarter of a century ago.

Petticoat Lane -> Middlesex Street

"It is the same filthy, badly-paved street as it ever was," wrote an anonymous hack in 1845, shortly after the ancient Petticoat Lane had been renamed Middlesex Street, with hopes of a smarter image. "Petticoat-lane it is still called and is likely ever to be so,” predicted the journalist. He was right. 180 years later, the area still goes by its ancient name thanks largely to the fame of the clothes market that's thrived here since Tudor times.

And finally...

The Big Smoker -> Londonist

Yes, even we once had a name change. The site was founded in 2003 as the Big Smoker, but changed to Londonist a year later. So we're either 20 or 21 this year depending how you count.