A Map Of London Nicknames: From The Gherkin To The Silicon Roundabout

By M@ Last edited 7 months ago

Last Updated 11 October 2023

A Map Of London Nicknames: From The Gherkin To The Silicon Roundabout
A map of places with nicknames in London
Click or tap for larger version. Background image (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, creative commons licence.

We've mapped the various nicknames of London buildings, areas and transport links.

Sometimes it seems like every new building must have its nickname: the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater... even the Can of Ham. But the urge to rename is an ancient one. Bethlehem hospital was popularly known as Bedlam from medieval times.

In Victorian times, the Devil's Acre and Pedlar's Acre were informal names for areas of Westminster and Lambeth. Dickens rechristened St Olave's as St Ghastly Grim because of its skeletal gateway, while Arthur Morrison rebadged the Old Nichol slum as The Jago. Petticoat Lane was once a genuine thoroughfare, but was renamed Middlesex Street some 200 years ago. Its famous market still lives on by the traditional name — a remarkable feat of folk memory. Big Ben was first the nickname of the Great Bell of Westminster, and later of the tower itself.

The 20th century was also a fertile time for nicknames. Denmark Street became Tin Pan Alley in homage to the musically gifted quarter of New York. Nearby, Cecil Court became known as Flicker Alley thanks to its early film associations. Waterloo Bridge, built during wartime by a partly female workforce was dubbed the Ladies' Bridge. A growing enclave of Asian businesses forged a second Chinatown near Leicester Square, the successor to the 19th century Chinatown near Poplar. It has become so established that it might now be considered an official name.

A green plaque to Flicker Alley otherwise known as Cecil Court

That's a common story, actually. Bakerloo started off as a semi-mocking nickname for the Baker Street to Waterloo tube, but it eventually stuck as the official name. The Tube itself was once a nickname (The Tuppenny Tube) that quickly graduated to officialdom. Fitzrovia only got its name in the 1930s. Previously, it had been considered a northern extension of Soho. (Which, itself, must have started out as a nickname — usually attributed to a hunting cry oft-heard in the area when it was still fields.) None of these appear on our map, as they have all progressed firmly into the territory of "proper place name".

The can of ham skyscraper
The "Can of Ham" skyscraper in the City

Who can blame Londoners for wanting to make their own mark on the city, rather than go along with the official name tags? If you're going to call your erection the ArcelorMittal Orbit, or the IFS Cloud Cable Car, is it any wonder that someone's going to call them The Squiggle or The Dangleway? This is why top-down rebrands like "Midtown" seldom work. The citizens of the Big Smoke will always have the final (and unofficial) word.

Got a suggested addition to the map? Please leave a comment below. All photos by Matt Brown.