The Badly Punctuated Street Signs Of London

By M@ Last edited 12 months ago

Last Updated 24 May 2023

The Badly Punctuated Street Signs Of London
A mix of street signs with conflicting punctuation

Look carefully at London's street signs. They're often at loggerheads.

You'd think that street signs would be accurate and consistent. After all, they are not cheaply made, and must presumably go through various stages of check and approval. But it's remarkable how often we find errors or discrepancies.

Sometimes this is down to a slight name change. Councils have been known to simplify street names by ejecting punctuation. In such cases, old signs and newly installed signs will clash. Sometimes, though, it seems to be down to genuine blunder or sloppiness (see our articles on London tpyos).

Here, we've compiled examples of dodgy or conflicting punctuation across London street signs. We suspect there might be many further examples out there, so do speak up in the comments. We do love a bit of pendantry.

See also: our guide to correct apostrophe usage in London place names.

King's Scholars' Passage Vs King's Scholar's Passage

Two signs saying Kings Scholars Passage with different apostrophe use

This characterful passage to the east of Victoria station is doubly notable. For one, it follows the course of the long-buried River Tyburn (which then continues beneath Tachbrook Street). For another, it's a very rare street name to contain two apostrophes. But where should they go?

The two signs shown above can be no more than five metres apart, on facing walls of the road. But they differ subtly in name. One has Scholars', implying multiple students, while the other has Scholar's, a singular pupil. The former is probably 'correct', given the name refers to the King's Scholars' Pond, a place where multiple Westminster School boys would go to swim.

If we're being doubly pedantic, it should probably be Kings' rather than King's, given that the school has spanned multiple monarchs.

Tweezers Alley Vs Tweezer's Alley

Two signs saying Tweezers Alley, but with different apostrophe use

This little-known thoroughfare skulks on the slopes north of Temple station. It has a doubly troubling name. Not only does it suffer from apostrophe abuse but, since road merging and redevelopment a decade ago, is no longer an alley but a bona fide two-way road. The pair of signs on the modern block that forms the north wall of the road both opt for Tweezers, while the older sign to the east has the possessive Tweezer's.

Ian Visits reckons that the alley's curious name can be traced back as far as the 13th century, when a forge is mentioned here. Hence the 'tweezers' may be a reference to a metalworking tool. But nobody really knows. Tweezers would seem to be more sensible than Tweezer's, as the latter would imply the possession of a person with the unlikely name of Tweezer.

Theobalds Road Vs Theobald's Road

Two street signs showing Theobalds Road. The one on the left has no apostrophe while that on the right does
Images via Google Street View

Even major streets can suffer from apostrophe confusion. Theobalds Road, north of Holborn, is almost always written without an apostrophe, and this is largely reflected in the street signs. But there is one contrarian among their number that does sport an apostrophe, and it's an old "Borough of Holborn" plaque at the western end of the street.

Leaving the apostrophe out makes most sense historically. It's named after Theobalds Palace near Cheshunt, which is always written without an apostrophe

Lambs Conduit Street and Gray's Inn Road

Lambs versus Lamb's conduit street on two street signs

Theobalds Road must be some kind of epicentre for punctuation clash, for its junction with Lamb's Conduit Street provides yet another example. Most signs on the street opt for Lambs, but a couple stick an apostrophe in there.

This is a tricky one to pronounce judgement on. The street is named after a William Lamb (or Lambe), so the possessive apostrophe would seem appropriate. However, his eponymous conduit was built in the 16th century in a time before apostrophe use, and was hence known as Lambs Conduit. So if we want to reflect historical usage, then this would seem an equally valid way to do so. You can argue the toss either way. The A-Z, Google Maps, Wikipedia all style it Lamb's Conduit Street, while Camden Council flits between both forms, as on the street signs.

Perhaps we should just abbreviate it to Lacon Street, following the style of Lacon House which stands on the corner of Theobald's and Lamb's Conduit.

Two signs for Gray's Inn Road or Grays Inn Road

The local aberrations do not stop there. Head east one more junction and you'll find these two signs on diagonally opposite corners. Nobody seems to agree on whether Gray's Inn should be Grays Inn or vice versa. As with Lamb's Conduit, you can argue the punctuation point either way. For what it's worth, the legal enclave after whom the street is named, Gray's Inn, does include an apostrophe.

London's longest street name

A sign showing the very long street name of St Martin-in-the-Fields Church Path. It is compared with a more recent photo, in which an extra hyphen has been added (joining the and fields) to make it correct

Spot the difference. The image on the left is from 2018, while that on the right is from 2023. Somewhere in the interim, a rogue grammar ninja has added an extra hyphen to the name, improving the punctuation. To be clear, this is exactly the same sign, as can be seen from comparison of scuff marks. The phantom copyeditor made their mark using gaffer tape, or similar.

At 36 characters (including spaces), St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church Path is, we reckon, the longest street name in London. Unless you know better.

And the famous tube station disagreement

Two tube roundels from St James's Park. The one on the left uses the apostrophe form of James' while the other shows James's

Dodgy punctuation isn't limited to street signs. A well-known apostrophe clash can be found at St James's Park tube station, where competing roundels go for different ways of indicating a possessive. The version on the right, St James's Park, is the more conventional way of writing the park's name, and is used by TfL in all other places as well as Royal Parks.

Incidentally, St James's Park is the only station on the network to carry Grade I-listed status throughout the whole building — which might explain why the conflicting signage has never been changed. It's difficult to remove or replace the features of a building protected in this way.

And a corrected typo...

Cinderella path street sign, in NW11, with a cul-de-sac symbol. The first letter E has been pasted over an earlier misspelling of A

Here's something a little different in Golders Green. Look closely at the sign and you'll see that the spelling has been corrected from Cindarella to Cinderella. One wonders if it changes back again at midnight.

Wagon Road Vs Waggon Road

A google street map focusing on Wagon Road which is also spelled Waggon Road

Look at the east-west road, two-thirds of the way up this map, and you might suspect a typo on Google's part. But no. This minor road at the extreme north of London really does roll by two names. The change comes on the Barnet-Hertsmere border. The London Borough goes for the less common spelling of Waggon, while the Hertfordshire borough uses the more familiar Wagon. No idea why. We thank Michael Reeve for pointing this one out.