Our series on London etymology continues with a look at the stations of the Northern line. Find out how your local station got its name.
High Barnet branch
The borough of Barnet contains plenty of Barnets — High Barnet, Chipping Barnet, Friern Barnet, New Barnet... All derive their names from the Anglo-Saxon word 'bærnet', which suggests the clearing of woodland by burning. It was first recorded as Barneto in 1070. If you're of a certain age, you will now have 'Just one Cornetto' rattling round your head. Sorry.
Totteridge & Whetstone
Two adjacent villages united in one station. Totteridge stands on high ground between the valleys of the Folly Brook and Dollis Brook — hence the 'ridge'. The first part probably derives from a personal name such as Tata. Whoever Tata was, he probably gazed upon the same yew tree that still greets visitors to the village today — it's thought to be 2,000 years old.
Whetstone, a little farther east and less charming, has slightly muddled origins. Some say it refers to an old stone used to sharpen swords before the Battle of Barnet (1471), and point to the stone that still stands before the Griffin pub. The name was first attested a decade before the battle, however, and more probably derives from 'west town'. The Knights Hospitaller owned land in Friern Barnet, but moved their settlement west to this area sometime after 1340.
This pleasant suburb was built up in the late 19th and early 20th century. The estate and its tube station take their name from Woodside House in nearby Whetstone, built in 1840. Developer Henry Holden (no known relation to Charles) later acquired its grounds and coined the name Woodside Park for the new estate he built there. The original house presumably got its name from some woods, to the side.
West Finchley, Finchley Central, East Finchley
For once, the etymology is exactly what you'd expect. The various Finchleys all hark back to a clearing or open space (ley) populated by finches. How delightful is that?
Mill Hill East
We always feel a little sorry for this tube station, out on its lonely spur, and well away from Mill Hill town centre and the older village and school. Its etymology is pretty guessable. You can't miss the great hill before you, and it only takes the daintiest of intellectual leaps to suppose there was once a windmill on top. Indeed, you can still find an open space called the Mill Field up on the Ridgeway, but no sign of any corn-grinding sails.
Another station whose etymology can be more-or-less guessed. Highgate was the site of a high gate. Specifically, an opening into the hunting lands of the Bishop of London. The name gained further resonance when a toll gate was built here, controlling traffic heading north out of London. The Gatehouse pub is on the site.
London Bridge isn't the only Northern line stop to be named after a span. Archway takes its name from the bridge that carries Hornsey Lane over the A1. The first version opened in 1813, but was replaced at the turn of the 20th century. It has long been a notorious spot for suicides.
Named after the Tufnell family, who developed much of the housing here in the 19th century. Sorry. This one's not very exciting.
You might expect that Kentish Town has something to do with the county of Kent. You would be wrong. What we need to do is find the now-buried River Fleet (hinted at by Anglers Lane) and head upstream. Eventually, you'll reach Caen Wood on Hampstead Heath and the associated Kenwood House. Kentish Town is from the same root, and probably means 'the bed of the waterway'.
Named after Charles Pratt, 1st Earl of Camden, who owned land here in the late 18th century. Camden Place was his seat in Kent, itself named after William Camden who lived in the property from 1609.
T'other terminus of t'Northern line recalls an otherwise forgotten Anglo-Saxon chieftain called Ecgi, associated with a fishing pool (weir or ware) in these parts.
Clearly, some kind of arboreal inferno has inspired this station name. The charred tree above can be found in nearby Watling Park. Trouble is, it's a willow, not an oak. The eponymous tree is long gone, but was first alluded to in 1754 in the name of a field.
The name Colindale sounds topographical — cols and dales are both landscape features. But this particular Colindale takes its name from the Colinn family who owned the land in the 16th century. Whoever hoards the freeholds today must be raking it in. Few areas of London have seen so many new residential developments in the past decade.
Hendon is an Anglo-Saxon name, simply meaning 'high hill' or even 'at the highest hill' (Wikipedia). This seems a little fishy. Nearby hills to the north (Mill Hill), south (Hampstead), east (Finchley) and west (Harrow) are all significantly higher.
The River Brent carries a truly ancient name, pre-dating the Romans. It's a Celtic word that could have various meanings, including 'elevated' or associated with the goddess Brigantia. The river has in turn given its name to the borough of Brent, Brentford and the area of Brent Cross (plus its shopping centre). The 'Cross' refers to a nearby crossroads.
Golders Green was originally Godyere's Green — an open space adjacent to land held by the Godyere family in the 14th century.
The deepest platforms on the network can be found at Hampstead. I give you this fact to compensate for the boring etymology that follows. Hampstead simply comes from the Anglo-Saxon term for homestead. Berkhamsted and Wheathampstead are similar examples.
Frank Skinner once claimed to have bought a house in Belsize Park simply because he liked the naughty sound of its name — the most expensive joke he'd ever made. Sadly, Belsize does not have a lewd etymology. It derives from the 14th century name Bel-assis, meaning 'beautifully situated'. It most certainly is beautifully situated, unless you try and reach it by bicycle, in which case Haverstock Hill will slay you.
What kind of maniac farms chalk? It will grow, but the process takes millions of years. Actually, the name's a corruption of Chalcot Farm, which was the main landmark here 200 years ago. This in turn is thought to derive from Caldicot, from the Anglo-Saxon for 'cold cottages', though no one can really explain what that means.
Charing cross section
Did you know that Mornington Crescent is named after the Duke of Wellington's brother? Richard Wellesley, though forever in the shadow of his younger sibling, was no slouch. He served as Foreign Secretary, Governor General of India and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He was also the eldest son of a peer, and so succeeded to the title of Earl of Mornington. Mornington was also great-great-great grandfather of Elizabeth II. This tiny tube station really does have hidden connections... even before we consider its status as the ultimate insider joke on Radio 4.
The 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.
Another station deriving from a personal name, though this one's unusual in being (a) not Anglo-Saxon, and (b) female. Anne Warren (1737–1807) was the wife of Charles Fitzroy, first Baron Southampton, who owned and developed the land.
To continue the run of stations named after people, this one remembers John Goodge who built up the land here — formerly known as Crab Tree Field — from 1746.
Tottenham Court Road
Curiously, the names of Tottenham in north London and Tottenham Court Road are not directly related. TCR 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.
The square was developed in the 1670s on land belonging to the Earl of Leicester. His title ultimately derives from the Ligore, a Celtic tribe about which little is known, who occupied the area around Leicester before the Romans built their town (cester).
A name of two halves. For the Charing bit, look to the river. It comes to us from the Old English word 'cierring', which means 'turning' — a likely reference to the sharp bend in the Thames at this point. The Cross relates to the final Eleanor Cross, a series of monuments marking the nightly resting places of the eponymous queen's body, following her death near Lincoln in 1290. The original London memorial has long vanished, but a Victorian pastiche can still be seen in the taxi rank of the station. Further references can be found in David Gentleman's wonderful murals down on the Northern Line platforms.
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.
The rail station opened to the public in 1848, when the area was already known as Waterloo. The nearby bridge (or a former version thereof) was under construction at the time of the battle (1815). It was to have been called Strand Bridge, but the military victory immediately prompted calls for a 'Bridge of Waterloo'. The span opened two years later as the slightly snappier Waterloo Bridge, begetting Waterloo Road, the name of the wider area and — three decades later — the mainline station and later tube station.
See Charing Cross branch.
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 statue of the even more unpopular George IV, which malgraced the area between 183o and 1845. St Pancras was an early Roman saint, martyred for impersonating a glandular organ of the endocrine system (we imagine). Augustine supposedly brought relics of the martyr to England, inspiring several churches dedicated to the saint. London's still stands (though much rebuilt) and is often said to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in the country.
One of six tube stations named after pubs, Angel recalls a once-famous coaching inn at the junction of the Great North Road (A1) and Pentonville Road. It survived into the 20th century. The inn lives on in the name of the tube station (opened in 1901), in a Wetherspoon pub adjacent to the original site and, of course, on the Monopoly board.
Old street is, indeed, very old. The name was first recorded as Ealdestrate around 1200, Eldestrete in 1275, and le Oldestrete in 1373. In other words, it was already known as the 'old street' when Robin Hood was prancing about in Sherwood Forest. It's never been conclusively shown, but the route is probably Roman in origin — hence, almost 2,000 years old.
Named after a small gateway or postern in the city walls hereabouts. The 'moor' part indicates marshy ground without. This was possibly caused by the wall itself, which interrupted the flow of the River Walbrook, backing up the water.
We'll give you one guess. That's right.
No medals, either, for intuiting how this station next to London Bridge got its name. The mainline part does, however, bear the distinction of being the capital's oldest central terminus. It opened on 14 December 1836 — one of only three remaining pre-Victorian stations (Greenwich and Deptford, on the same line, are the others).
For much of the city's history, central London was simply the core of the Square Mile, plus a smaller settlement across the bridge known as the Borough of Southwark. Because London had no other notable suburbs, Southwark was effectively the only borough. You could get away with calling it 'the Borough' without fear of confusion. (Westminster, which grew upriver from the late Anglo-Saxon period, was not subject to the City and was considered a separate town.) The Borough name has survived into modern times and, thanks to the tube station and historic market, shows no sign of vanishing even though London now has dozens of boroughs.
Elephant & Castle
Any number of spurious explanations for the name have been offered (Infanta da Castilla, anyone?), but in all probability Elephant and Castle is simply named after a pub. We've got more detail here.
Kennington to Morden
Kennington is first recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) as Chenintune. Like Kensington, it probably comes from the personal name of a local land owner; Mr Cena (probably not John), let's call him.
It's the nearest station to the Oval cricket ground, which got its name from its oval plan. That's the obvious explanation, but it's not quite correct. In fact, the Oval name goes back to a 1790s housing development arranged in an oval shape. The sports ground came later and took the name of the development. Perhaps equally surprisingly, a Lord's tube station could once be found on the Met line near the St John's Wood cricket ground.
A 'stoc', in Old English, is a post or tree stump. A well is a well. So this south London area is named for a stump beside a well. The idea has modern resonance. One of Stockwell's most obvious landmarks is a stumpy building at the top of a well or shaft. It is the entrance to the deep-level shelter dug during the Second World War.
Clapham North, Common and South
The trio of Claphams may owe their name to a former land owner called something like Cloppa. A derivation from the Old English Cloppaham, a home on a stubby hill, is also possible.
Belgo should open a branch in Balham, for the name was first recorded in the Domesday Book as Belgeham. It probably means something like 'homestead in a rounded (bal) enclosure'.
Tooting Bec and Broadway
"You should have seen the traffic on the A24 yesterday."
"Yeah, most of 'em. People should have more patience."
Poor Tooting's been the butt of many a joke thanks to its unusual name. By contrast, its derivation is both disappointing and uncertain. It may refer to a place governed by a chap called Tota (yes, another one), or else stem from the Old English verb tout, indicating a look-out tower. The Bec of Tooting Bec comes from Bec Abbey in Normandy, which gained the land after the Conquest. Broadway comes from the generic name for the high street that passes by the station.
There was once a wood in Colliers Wood, to the east of the high street (an old Roman road). It lasted into the late 19th century, when it was cleared for development. The first part of the name has nothing to do with mining, but instead references charcoal burning.
The 'don' of Wimbledon denotes a sizeable hill, which is still very noticeable. The name predates the Conquest, and is first referred to as Wimbedounyng in 967. It probably harks back to a personal name — Wynnman has been suggested.
We complete our journey south at Morden, thought to derive from Mawr (great or large) and Dun (fort). Alternatively, it may mean 'the town on the moor'.
Northern line extension
Battersea Power Station
Self evidently, this new tube stop is named after the nearby power-station-turned-housing-development, which was originally designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. The name Battersea is one of the oldest recorded in London. It was first mentioned in the seventh century as Badrices īeg, meaning Badric's island. Badric sounds like the name of a man accustomed to thrashing people. Wonder what he'd make of the changes to his manor.
Like Seven Sisters, Nine Elms undoubtedly gets its name from a group of trees. The name was first recorded around 1645.
Other etymological explorations on Londonist
- How the Victoria line stations got their names
- 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