How The Elizabeth Line Stations Got Their Names

M@
By M@
How The Elizabeth Line Stations Got Their Names
Underground, in a white Elizabeth Line tunnel, a signpost says What's in a Name?

Our series on London etymology continues with a look at the stations of the Elizabeth line. Find out how your local station got its name.

Core stations

Paddington

Named after an immigrant bear with a proclivity for marmalade and monarchs. 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'.

Bond Street

Named after Thomas Bond (ancestor of the fictional James) who owned the land on which the street was laid out in the 17th century. Bond Street itself is fictional — only New Bond Street and Old Bond Street now exist in the area.

Tottenham Court Road

Curiously, the names of Tottenham in north London and Tottenham Court Road are not directly related. TCR (as, thankfully, no one seems to call it) was formerly the road that led to the manor of Tothele, later Tottenhall, situated roughly where this road intersects the Euston Road. Like Tottenham, the manor was named after a local land holder called something like Tota.

Farringdon

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, underground station (one of the originals to open in 1863), and now Elizabeth line.

Liverpool Street

A purple Elizabeth line roundel with Liverpool Street written below

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 Liz line stop to be named after a Scouse bog.

Whitechapel

Two workers in orange high-vis stand on the left, with a tunnel circle (blocked by unexcavated earth) beside them
The dig at Whitechapel in 2013. Image by the author

Unlike many stations in this list, the nominative origins of Whitechapel are undisputed and recorded. The church of St Mary Matfelon, whose remains can be found in Altab Ali Park, was initially built of white chalk rubble. The distinctive shine led to its nickname of the 'white chapel' which was applied to the local area as early as the 13th century.

Canary Wharf

A yellow escalator saying "Canary Wharf" rises through a grey station
The escalators in 2018. Photo by the author.

The station was one of the first to be fitted out — the escalators, complete with (canary) yellow trim, were working here as early as 2014 when we paid a visit. Now a booming business district of countless skyscrapers, Canary Wharf was until the 1980s a low-rise commercial dock. One area catered for fruit-laden ships from the Canary Islands, hence the name Canary Wharf. In a pleasing etymological loop, the Canary Islands got their name from the large dogs (canines) found there, while Canary Wharf just happens to lie on the Isle of Dogs.

Custom House

A large mural says Custom House on a picture of a house - but it's all crumpled
A peculiar mural at Custom House station. Image by the author.

Today, Custom House is dominated by the ExCeL events centre, but rewind a few decades and the area was a commercial hub of a very different character. This was the heart of the Royal Victoria Dock, with warehouses and cranes as far as the eye could see. Among the buildings was a prominent custom house, for the collection of customs duty on incoming goods. Today, you'll only get charged the Oyster fare — though not necessarily the correct one.

Woolwich

It's quite rare that we find a London place name whose origins are exactly what you might think, but Woolwich is one of them. This was, once upon an Anglo-Saxon time, a trading place for wool. The area later transitioned to a very different industry, manufacturing guns and cannons for the Royal Navy. Hence the name of the nearby Woolwich Arsenal DLR station and, ultimately, the football team who were once based here.

Abbey Wood

The remains of an abbey in the foreground, with a treeline in the background
There's the abbey; there's the wood. Image by the author

The end of the line still betrays its origins. Take a short walk south-east of the station and you'll find the remains of an abbey on the edge of a wood. The religious building was Lesnes Abbey, founded in the late 12th century — supposedly by someone who felt really bad about murdering Thomas Becket. The abbey was closed, along with all the others, by Henry VIII during the Dissolution, but substantial remains still exist. The nearby Lesnes Abbey Wood is a nature reserve and a joy to explore.

Paddington to Heathrow and Reading

Paddington

See 'Core stations' above.

Acton Main Line

Stations with 'Acton' in their name are legion. The name comes from Old English and means an enclosure surrounded by oaks. It's the same 'Ac' we get in acorns. Here, the 'Main Line' bit differentiates this Acton from those on tube lines and the Overground.

Ealing Broadway, and West Ealing

Neighbouring Ealing also has an abundance of stations. Ealing is of the oldest names in the London region, attested from around 700. There once, it seems, was a local chieftain known as Gilla, whose people were the Gillingas. This slowly transmuted into Ylling then Ealing. The 'Broadway' was (and is) simply the main road through the town.

Hanwell

This historic area was first recorded in 959 as Hanewelle and its name has changed little since. Where it comes from is uncertain. The leading theory has it as a portmanteau of 'Han' (a stone) and well (as in the water source) — so a stone by a well. A more evocative explanation suggests that the 'Han' instead comes from the word for cockerel. Hanwell stood on tribal borderlands, and the cockerel was a symbol of the border between night and day. Hence, Hanwell was the well on the border.

Southall

Southall's origins are more certain. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon for 'southern corner' (i.e. of a wood or farm land). It once made a matching pair with Northolt (originally North heal), which was the northern corner.

Hayes & Harlington

Two names to tackle here. Hayes simply means 'overgrown with brushwood' (and it's a similar story with London's other Hayes, down in Bromley). The Harlington bit is first recorded as Hygereding and is doubtless named after a person — something like "Hygered". Perhaps an ancestor of Hagrid from Harry Potter?

Heathrow Airport (various terminals)

A small grassy airfield, one of the earliest in the London area, opened here in 1930 beside the sleepy hamlet of Heathrow. This settlement was first recorded in 1410 as La Hetherewe, meaning simply a row of houses on a heath. It's changed a little bit over the centuries.

West Drayton

A purple Elizabeth line roundel outside a red brick building
The Elizabeth line roundel at West Drayton. Image by the author.

The edge of the Oyster zones can be traced back (in name, if not payment validity) to the 10th century, when it was known as Draegtun. We'd love to explain how this was the border 'town of dragons', but the reality is that the 'Draeg' meant 'drag'. This may have been a reference to dray horses, or an area with lots of ploughing. The 'west' bit was added as early as the 15th century, probably to differentiate from the area now called Drayton Green in Ealing.

Iver

The shortest name on the Elizabeth line (and, indeed, the tube map along with Oval) probably comes from the Old English for 'brow of a hill'. An alternative but unverified explanation is that the land was owned by Roger de Iveri, who came to England with the Conqueror and snatched up other parts of Buckinghamshire.

Langley

Langley (USA) is famous the world over as the headquarters of the CIA. Our Langley's a bit more humble, though it does have a Grade I-listed church and, according to Wikipedia, "is reputed to be haunted by a ghost in a yellow coat". The name lang-ley suggests a long clearing (-ley is a common suffix, cf. Bromley, Bexley, Finchley...,  and usually means a place where the woods opened out).

Slough

Slough station under a blue sky
Image by Harry Rosehill

One of the most mocked names in England has been through a whole host of spellings (Slo, Sloo, Le  Slowe, Slowe and Slow) before settling on its modern appearance. First recorded in 1196, its origins are mysterious. It may refer to literal sloughs — areas of marshland or swamp formed by run-off from the Chiltern hills. Alternatively, it might recall sloe bushes that once grew in the area. As sloes (otherwise known as blackthorns) grow just about everywhere that latter and more salubrious explanation seems a little hopeful. Still, the town's worth a visit, as we explored in a previous article.

Burnham

If you've read up on the origins of place names before, then you'll probably be aware that 'burn' or 'bourne' usually relates to a stream. Think Holborn, Westbourne, Kilburn, etc. Burnham is no different, and likely gets its name from a homestead (ham) on a stream (bourne) — doubtless some minor tributary of the nearby Thames.

Taplow

If we had our way, the contactless readers at this station would be placed at knee-height, forcing people to tap-low. Fortunately, less pun-driven heads run the network. Taplow's another of those places named after a prominent Anglo Saxon. In this rare case, we actually know something about Mr Tæppa. His burial place or barrow (the 'low' of Taplow) is still visible. The mound was excavated in Victorian times, and many of the grave goods can now be found in the British Museum.

Maidenhead

Probably nothing to do with virginity, the pretty town of Maidenhead stems from 'Maiden Hythe'. The 'hythe' bit is a common suffix meaning wharf (see also Rotherhithe, for example). The Maiden part is more tricky to unpick. It may be an adjective denoting newness (i.e. the new wharf), or it could refer more literally to maidens — perhaps a place where women would gather for some lost reason. Alternatively, there could be a connection to timber (moed) or even rubbish (midden).

Twyford

This is another case of "go on, see if you can guess". Names ending in -ford are nearly always just that: places where you could ford a river. The "twy-" bit, meanwhile, suggests two, or double. So Twyford is a place with two fords over a river. The river in question is the Loddon, a prominent tributary of the Thames.

Reading

The Elizabeth line terminates at what is sometimes reckoned the largest town in England (as opposed to city). Reading has possible Roman roots, but began to flourish as an Anglo-Saxon town in the 8th century, when it is first recorded as Readingas. It's probably named after a tribal leader called Reada.

Liverpool Street to Shenfield

Liverpool Street

(See 'Core stations')

Stratford

The name comes from the point where the ancient road through Mile End intercepted the River Lea. This was originally a ford, and hence Stratford — the ford of the street — arose. A later bow-shaped bridge over the river gave us the additional name of Bow.

Maryland

Quite how this area east of Stratford got its name is something of a mystery. It first appears on a map of 1696 where it's labelled as Maryland Point. According to hearsay, the land was purchased, and named, by a merchant returning from the colony of Maryland in America. If true, then a likely candidate would be Richard Lee, an ancestor of the famous General Lee, who does seem to have held land in Stratford after returning from the region. Lee was a slave owner, which has prompted calls for TfL to rename the station. The link to Lee, and Maryland USA, is not firmly established, however. Maryland may alternatively be yet another Anglo-Saxon derivation, based on the words maere and mearc, which denote a border.

Forest Gate

An old map of east London
The site of the original forest gate (red arrow) from a map c.1805. Maryland Point is also shown.

Much as we love Forest Gate, dense forest is the last thing you'd think of when wandering around the area today. Head a little north, however, and you'll reach Wanstead Flats, which is to this day considered part of Epping Forest. Back in the day, this region was a mix of woodland and open fields full of livestock. And there really was a 'forest gate', located quite close to where today's Forest Gate station stands. It kept animals from wandering down to Romford Road. The gate lasted until 1881.

Manor Park

Nothing too exciting here — the area takes its name from the local manor house, which once presided over the manor of Little Ilford. A small, triangular area of land adjacent to the station is also known as Manor Park. However, the area is dominated by the City of London Cemetery which covers some 200 acres to the north, and is home to about a million of the London departed.

Ilford

The River Roding passes to the west of the town centre, so it doesn't take a psychogeographer to work out that Ilford is probably named after a ford on that river. So why do we visit Ilford and not Rodford? Traditionally, the lower Roding was known as the Hyle (meaning trickling stream). Drop your H on Hyle-ford and you get the answer.

Seven Kings

You'd think a part of town with connections to seven monarchs would be a little better known. But no king has ever visited Seven Kings, so far as is known. The name instead comes from a personal name, possibly a fellow called Seofoca.

Goodmayes

An avenue in a park, lined with lime trees
The leafy Goodmayes Park. Image by the author

Goodmayes was all fields a little more than a century ago, with no notable settlement bar a few farm houses. The name probably comes from a local farmer or land owner — John Godemay in the 14th century is the leading candidate.

Chadwell Heath

The area is first noted as Chaudewell in 1254, which suggests a cold spring. The nearby heathland, now largely built-up, was known confusingly as Blackheath until the 17th century.

Romford

It looks so simple on paper, but prepare to be confused. As with Ilford, Romford was the site of a ford over a river. If you glance at the map, you'll see that river is the Rom — so it would be easy to conclude that Romford was simply the ford over the Rom.

Not so fast. The town was called Romford before the river was called the Rom. It is thought to derive from 'broad or spacious ford' in Old English. The river was later called the Rom in a back-formation from Romford.

Gidea Park

Once upon a time, let's call it the 15th century, a mansion house stood here by the name of Geddy Hall. The house, built by a Thomas Cooke, was noted for its pike, and these supposedly are the origin of the name ('ged' being pike, and '-ea' meaning water). The land was developed as a garden suburb in the early 20th century and given the name Gidea Park (though the term had been used earlier for a golf course).

Harold Wood

The London suburb that sounds most like an early 20th century entertainer, Harold Wood's roots (in every sense of the word) go back much further. The bosky terrain was named after King Harold, as in the one who was slain by the Conqueror. He held much of the land around here in the 11th century (and is potentially buried not too far away in Waltham Abbey).

Brentwood

The woods fringes of Essex continue in Brentwood. Here the name has something to do with burning. It may be that the area was once a charred region of forest, or else a place where charcoal burning was practiced.

Shenfield

And so we reach the end of the line. Shenfield is recorded in the Domesday Book as Chenefield, which means "good lands". They just got even better with the arrival of the Elizabeth line.

Last Updated 20 June 2022

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