Our series on London etymology continues with a look at the stations of the Circle line. Find out how your local station got its name. See also Bakerloo, Central, District, Hammersmith & City, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria lines.
Note: If you've read other instalments in the series, you'll be familiar with the entries below. Every station on the Circle line is also part of another line — District, Hammersmith and City, or Metropolitan.
An uneasy beginning on our etymological tube ride, for nobody is quite sure as to the origins of this place name, first recorded in 1294. Some sources suggest it derives from Hammoder's Hythe (a safe haven belonging to Hammoder); others, perhaps more satisfyingly, strike a concatenation of 'hammer' and 'smithy'. Hammersmith may have been an area important for metal working. Can we rename it Thor's Town?
We can be more hawkish with the next station's origins. Goldhawk Road is probably named after a John Goldhawk who owned an enviable amount of land in Fulham during the 15th century.
Shepherd's Bush Market
One of London's newest station names, Shepherd's Bush Market was so anointed in 2008, to avoid confusion with the two other Shepherd's Bush stations (Central line and Overground). The 'Market' part refers to the longstanding market alongside the H&C rail viaduct. The shepherdic origins are more woolly. Shepherd's Bush is likely to have been a rest stop for sheep farmers making their way to Smithfield Market from the west. On the other hand, the name could recall a person by the name of Sheppard. Nobody really knows. The sheep are long gone, unless you're into predictable metaphors regarding people who flock to Westfield.
Originally known as Turvens Lane, the former home of the BBC was renamed Wood Lane at some point around 1830. Alas, the etymology is very dull. Wood Lane was named after some nearby woods.
Another tube stop named after a wealthy gentleman. Edward Latymer was a London merchant in the times of Queen Bess and King Jim. He left much of his fortune to good causes within the Hammersmith area, and founded the Latymer School, which still thrives today. Latimer Road ran through his property and eventually took his name, thence the tube station which opened in 1868.
Yet another wealthy individual is celebrated at this stop. James Weller Ladbroke built up the local housing in the mid-19th century and chose his own name for the main road (well, wouldn't you?). The family association goes back much further, though. JWL's ancestors had gazed out over this formerly rural land since at least the early 17th century. As a sombre side-note, the station was the scene of an almost totally forgotten tragedy. In 1862, during construction of the line, six workers were killed when a viaduct collapsed. As far as we know, this was the earliest fatal accident on the London Underground, and before its public opening.
Known as Westbourne Green from the middle ages, this area takes its name from the long-buried River Westbourne, whose name itself means western river or stream. We'll encounter it again once we've looped round to Bayswater, and almost see it at Sloane Square.
The original Royal Oak was a tree in Boscobel, Shropshire, which served as a hiding place for the future Charles II while fleeing the Roundheads. After Charles gained the throne, many English pubs took on the name of The Royal Oak in commemoration, and it remains the third most popular pub appellation in England. The one in west London gave its name to the tube station in 1871. It is still going strong, though sadly rebranded as The Porchester. This is one of six tube stations to be named after pubs.
Named after an immigrant bear with a proclivity for marmalade. Or was it the other way around? Actually, the west-facing station and the wider area carry a name from Anglo-Saxon times, probably after a local land-owner called Padda (the exact name is uncertain), with 'ton' or 'tun' meaning 'the village of'.
The old Roman route of Watling Street takes many names along its course. Where it twists north at Marble Arch, it likes to be called Edgware Road (because, after miles of light industry and noisy slipways it does eventually reach Edgware). That name recalls an otherwise forgotten Anglo-Saxon chieftain called Ecgi, associated with a fishing pool (weir or ware) in these parts.
Sherlock's home is named after its builder, William Baker, who laid out the street in the 18th century. We've always had the ambition to open a patisserie here, called Baker's Treat of Baker Street.
Great Portland Street
The station is, of course, called after the street of the same name. This in turn takes its cue from the Second Duke of Portland, who owned the land from 1734.
As many a luggage-burdened tourist has found to their cost, Euston Square tube isn't particularly convenient for Euston station. Though not a long walk, the route follows one of inner London's noisiest roads. If you choose the wrong exit, you must also deal with the dangerously unsignalled crossing outside Wellcome Collection. The station's not even well named, for the Square it denotes is the grassy area immediately in front of the mainline station, now occupied by the HS2 dig and some traumatised trees. We think the station should instead be renamed 'Wellcome' after the Wellcome Trust in whose building the main tube entrance lies. This would celebrate the inestimable contribution that this charity has made to human health; it would also be delightful to see such a homonym on the tube map.
Now to stop dithering, how did Euston get its name? The mainline station was built on land owned by the Dukes of Grafton, whose ancestral home is Euston Hall in Suffolk, situated near the village of Euston. The village name was first recorded in Domesday Book, suggesting an Anglo-Saxon origin, and perhaps deriving from 'Efe's Tun', a farmstead belonging to a person called Efe.
King's Cross St Pancras
The derivation of King's Cross is well known. Until the 19th century, the area was called Battle Bridge after a local crossing of the River Fleet. The modern name comes from an unpopular memorial to the reviled George IV, which blighted the area between 183o and 1845. St Pancras, meanwhile, was an early Roman saint, martyred for impersonating a glandular organ of the endocrine system (we like to imagine). Augustine supposedly brought relics of the martyr to England, inspiring several churches dedicated to the saint. London's St Pancras church still stands (though much rebuilt) and is often said to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in the country.
A common name across the country, Farringdon usually means a fern-covered hill. Here, the link isn't so direct. The land took its name from Nicholas and William de Faringdon, aldermen who owned the land in the early 13th century. They may well have come from another place called Faringdon, with a fern-covered hill at its origin. Two City wards (Farringdon Within and Farringdon Without) took on the name, followed by the later street, road and Underground station (one of the originals to open in 1863).
One of the few London place names left to us by the Romans, Barbican recalls part of the fortifications of Londinium. This was revived as burgh kennin in Anglo-Saxon times, meaning the town watchtower. The brutalist Barbican Centre and estate continue the theme of defensive walls and raised viewpoints.
Named after a small gateway or postern in the city walls hereabouts. The 'moor' part indicates marshy ground. This was possibly caused by the wall itself, which interrupted the flow of the River Walbrook, backing up the water.
The mainline station dates back to 1864 and takes its name from the local road. This itself was only named in 1827, in honour of Prime Minister Lord Liverpool. If we trace further back, the PM's title obviously comes from the city of Liverpool. This was first recorded in 1190 as Liuerpul, which probably means a pool or creek of muddy water. Hence, this station is the only tube stop to be named after a Scouse bog.
The station is clearly named after Aldgate, one of the ancient entrances to the City of London. But how did Aldgate get its name? The short answer is 'nobody knows'. The long answer is 'Perhaps it's simply the old gate into the city, or maybe it's from Ale Gate because it had a tavern attached to it. Then again, it could be named after an Anglo-Saxon called Ealh, or maybe it's a corruption of East Gate. Could it derive from Aelgate, which would have meant a gate that is open to all?'. Feel free to make your own speculation in the comments.
One of London's traditional sites of execution, Tower Hill has a very simple etymology. It is a hill beside the Tower of London.
Named after the Monument to the Great Fire of London, a huge column designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, which stands above the station.
Counter-intuitively, this station and the street it inhabits have nothing to do with either religious canons or fighty cannons. Cannon Street is, rather, a 17th century shortening of Candelwrichstrete — the street of candle makers, as first noted in 1190. The origins are still hinted at today; Cannon Street falls within the Ward of Candlewick, one of 25 ancient subdivisions of the City of London.
Named after the Lord Mayor's official residence, which stands nearby. But not that nearby. One of our favourite London facts: Mansion House station is the third closest station to Mansion House (Bank and Cannon Street are closer).
One glance at the area's most characterful pub, opposite the station, will show you where this name came from. The Dominican monks who — like so many Londoners since — favoured black garb, once held a priory here.
The Inner and Middle Temples stand nearby. These are not holy places of worship, but enclaves of the legal profession. The lawyers moved in during the 14th century, on the land formerly owned by the Knights Templar — hence the name.
Previously called Charing Cross, then Charing Cross (Embankment), then Charing Cross Embankment, this station finally settled on its current name of Embankment in 1976. Its origins are fairly obvious. This was one of the stations built within Joseph Bazalgette's Victoria Embankment in the 1860s.
Walter Thornbury, one of the more readable Victorian historians of London, says that the origin of Westminster's name are 'clear to the veriest child in such matters'. It denotes the minster (abbey) that is to the west of the main body of London (what we now call the City or the Square Mile). There may once have been an Eastminster, too, somewhere near Aldgate.
St James's Park
The station, somewhat predictably, takes its name from the adjacent St James's Park, which itself is named after the nearby St James's Palace. Why was this 500-year-old palace so dedicated? It was built on the site of a medieval leper hospital in memory of St James the Less. Why did the hospital choose that saint? The answer is lost in the mists of time. Curiously, the station displays signs with conflicting apostrophes: sometimes St James's Park, sometimes St James' Park.
Named after Victoria mainline station, which was in turn named after Victoria Street which, like so many things in London, honours a certain queen. Had you attempted to catch the tube here at the start of Victoria's reign, you would have got very wet. Victoria station was built on the site of an old basin serving the Grosvenor Canal, remnants of which still exist on the Chelsea river front.
He helped to establish the British Museum, and sort-of invented hot chocolate. Quite right, then, that Hans Sloane (1660-1753) should be honoured with an Underground station. The long-lived gent owned the Manor of Chelsea from 1712, and his name pops up all over the place. A 'Sloane Ranger' or Sloane was once a popular term for an upper-middle-class fashionista — the type who might frequent this posh neighbourhood — though we've not heard anyone use it for about a decade.
If you're visiting the station, look up to see a great metal pipe overhead. This carries the River Westbourne (now a sewer), which gives its name to Bayswater and Westbourne Park elsewhere on the line.
This station gets its name from another forgotten Saxon chappie. This time, Mr Cynesige or Kenesigne, no known relation to the fellows who gave us Kenton and Kennington.
The name is linked to Maria, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh, who built a house on the street (at the time called Hog Moore Lane) in 1805.
High Street Kensington
See South Kensington, but head north-west a bit and add a high street.
Notting Hill Gate
A bit of a mystery on Hugh Grant's doorstep. Notting Hill is recorded from the 14th century under various knutting, nutting and knotting guises. The most likely origin is from a personal name such as Cnotta, with the 'ing' bit meaning 'people of', as with Ealing. Or, to paraphrase Michael Caine (who filmed part of the Italian Job here), "Cnotta's lot of people know that".
(This, incidentally, is the best pun we've ever written. Unfortunately, it won't work at dinner parties unless you happen to be talking to local historians with an interest in film history.)
Bayswater might look pretty landlocked today, but the district stands close to one of London's lost rivers. The Westbourne still flows through the area, but is now relegated to a sewer. The Bays part is thought to come from the Bayard family, who owned land here in the 14th century. The name was recorded as Bayard's Watering in 1380.
And then we're back round to Edgware Road and Paddington, which are visited twice by the Circle line, in a most confusing way.
Other etymological explorations on Londonist:
- How London got its name
- How London's terminal stations got their names
- How the tube lines got their names
- How London's parks got their names
- How London's rivers got their names
- How London's bridges got their names
- How London's odd suburbs got their names
- How London's churches got their names
- How London's markets got their names
- How London's alleyways got their names
- How London's castles and palaces got their names
- How London's squares got their names
- How London's hills got their names
- How London's football teams got their names
- How London's airports got their names