Our series on London etymology continues with a look at the stations of the Victoria line. Find out how your local station got its name.
The name was first recorded in 1075 as Wilcumestowe, and probably means 'place of welcome'. Why it was deemed particularly welcoming is not apparent. Local band East 17 were clearly scholars of Anglo-Saxon toponymy. Their singles 'House of Love' and 'Stay Now' can be seen as a modern-day celebrations of Walthamstow's cordial embrace. The 'central' bit distinguishes this stop from nearby Walthamstow Queens Road and the intended station on Wood Street that was never built.
The station might carry a tiling pattern featuring a black horse, but the equine connection is spurious. The road after which the station is named is a corruption of Black House Lane, referring to the local mansion house.
One of those places named after an otherwise long-forgotten farmer. Mr Tota held these lands at some point before the Norman conquest. This part of Tottenham brushes up against the River Lea, from which goods would have been unloaded from boats and, hence, it is the hale, meaning a place of hoisting.
A ring of seven trees can still be found on Page Green, not far from the tube station. They were planted by seven sisters, drawn from the local area. They are not the originals, but carry on a tradition that dates back to at least the 17th century. The earliest recorded circles were of elm trees. The modern seven sisters planted in 1996, are hornbeams. We dug into this curious history in a previous article.
Finsbury's park is nowhere near Finsbury — which is to the north-west of the Square Mile and name-checked in Finsbury Square. Finsbury once had parliamentary borough status, but the name is little-used today. At the mid-point of the 19th century, the area had become densely packed with ramshackle housing and the people needed green, open space. The site a couple of miles north was chosen, and Finsbury Park was opened in 1869. The original Finsbury supposedly got its name from a man called Finn, whose manor house was located in the area. We're tempted, alternatively, to suggest that it might have something to do with fens, given how marshy the land of these parts once was.
Highbury and Islington
Two names to unpack. Highbury simply means the 'high manor' of medieval times, which distinguishes the spot from a later manor built on lower ground. Islington denotes a hill (don) governed by a Mr Gisla. Old records call the place Giseldone (1005) and Gislandune (1062). The area was known as Isledon well into the 17th Century.
King's Cross St Pancras
Another duo of names. The derivation of King's Cross is well known. Until the 19th century, the area was known as 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. 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.
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.
You may well have noticed, but there is no circus at Oxford Circus. The word, also used in St Giles Circus and Piccadilly Circus, means a place where traffic circulates — even though you can't exactly U-turn at any of them these days. The 'Oxford' part is confusing. Oxford Street does sort-of lead to Oxford, if you take the right forks later on, but the name is also reflective of the Earl of Oxford, who developed land either side of the street.
The above picture notwithstanding, Green Park isn't entirely green. In spring, banks of daffodils can be enjoyed throughout its 40 acres. Unlike other Royal Parks, however, it lacks formal flower beds. An old myth attributes this dearth to Catherine, wife of Charles II. She supposedly spotted the merry monarch plucking flowers in the park for his mistress. In wroth, she ordered that all flowers should be removed from the park, and it has remained barren ever since. Nice story, but the truth is probably more prosaic. The open space was originally called Upper St James's Park, but changed to The Green Park in 1746. The name probably reflected its nature at the time — open meadow with few trees.
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.
Nobody knows how Pimlico got its unusual name, though there are many theories. The commonest proffers a Mr Ben Pimlico, who supposedly sold nut-brown ale from a pleasure garden in the area. Ben Pimlico was an historically documented figure, but his base of operation was Hoxton. Perhaps a later pleasure garden took the name in imitation, and then became more famous.
Falkes de Breauté was a 13th century knight who built a hall in this part of south London. It became known as Falkes' Hall and eventually Vauxhall. His legacy continues in several other guises. The Vauxhall car company uses Falkes' griffin device for its own logo. Meanwhile, the Russian term for a mainline rail station is pronounced vokzal, and may well have a connection to the London area.
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, and shown in the photo above.
We finish as we started, with another place of Anglo-Saxon welcome. Brixton probably recalls an old meeting place atop Brixton Hill. The name is thought to come from Brixi's stone — a lithic landmark around which the people of Brixi would gather. Actually, 'People of Brixi' would make a good name for a club night. Get on it, somebody.
The series will continue with the Northern line...
Note 1. We've labelled the Warren Street tile pattern as a maze, just to bait the pedants who will enjoy pointing out that it's actually a labyrinth. Let's see how long it takes for someone to say so in the comments.
Note 2. We'd like to acknowledge Diamond Geezer's blog, which is also probing the etymology of Victoria line stations as part of a series marking the line's 50th birthday. We had the idea independently, sparked by the anniversary.
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