Our series on London etymology continues with a look at the stations of the Metropolitan line. Find out how your local station got its name. See also Bakerloo, Central, Hammersmith & City, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria lines.
Amersham, Chesham and Watford branch
The London Underground serves more than just London. The farthest eight stations of the Met line — as far as Moor Park — lie within Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. Amersham is one of three termini up here in the home counties. The village is first recorded in Anglo-Saxon times as Agmodesham and implies the dwelling ('ham') of somebody called Ealgmund.
At 25 miles (40 km) out, Chesham is the most distant underground station from the centre of London. This pleasant Chiltern town stands on the River Chess. Was this named after the village, or the other way around? A bit of both, probably. The settlement was first mentioned a century before the Conquest as Cæstæleshamm, which loosely translates as 'the river meadow at the pile of stones'. So the village name echoes the river, which would later take the name Chess from the village. Some historians have alternatively suggested a link to the word 'Caster' or 'Cester' — denoting a fortified Roman town (as in Manchester or Winchester), but only small-scale Roman remains have been found in the area.
Chalfont & Latimer
No other name on the Underground conjures up the idyll of the English village quite so much as Chalfont & Latimer. Indeed, it's named after no fewer than four villages — Chalfont St Giles, Chalfont St Peter, Little Chalfont and Latimer — making it the most democratic tube station name. Chalfont simply means 'chalk spring', of which the area is replete. Latimer, meanwhile, is a personal name. It refers to a William Latimer who held the land in the early 14th century.
The third 'Ch' in a row marks the boundary between Bucks and Herts (and anciently, between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex). The 'wood' part is readily guessable. Chorley probably comes from the Old English 'Cerola Leah', meaning a clearing in the woods containing a meadow. Alternatively, it may refer to ceorls, one strata of the peasant class in Anglo-Saxon England, from which we get the word 'churl'. Either way, this is among the most rustic of tube station names.
The tube begins to get more suburban as we enter Rickmansworth, a pleasant town where the rivers Colne and Chess merge in a baffling dance of waterways. The longest word on the tube lines (jointly with Knightsbridge), Rickmansworth is named after a chap called Ryckmer or Ricmaer, which may be a non-native name from the continent. He seemingly owned a farm or enclosure in these parts during the early Middle Ages. Domesday Book has it as the even more verbose Prichemaresworde.
In English place names, the suffix -ford almost always denotes a crossing point (a ford) over a river. The town grew up on the banks of the River Colne, making a ford over this waterway the most likely candidate. The origin of 'Wat-' is a bit wishy-washy, in more ways than one. It may derive from the Old English word 'waet', which has a sense of marshy, or else from other words meaning wading or hunting. Yet another theory would have the town named after nearby Watling Street. It's at least an hour's walk, however, between the town centre and that ancient road.
Forest land inhabited by crocodiles, we would love to report. The less snappy truth is that this area to the south-west of Watford probably gets its name from a person called Croc or Croca. Or it may be another way of saying 'clearing in the forest'.
This well-to-do neighbourhood takes its name, fittingly, from a palatial Palladian mansion house, which still stands nearby. Once home to the ill-fated Duke of Monmouth, this pile was itself built on the site of another posh home called The More, once owned by Cardinal Wolsey and later inhabited by Catherine of Aragon. Where the 'More' name came from is uncertain, though it probably has an unexciting origin in moorland.
Northwood and Northwood Hills
A simple derivation, Northwood was once the wooded land north of Ruislip. Curiously, Northwood station (76 metres) is at higher elevation than Northwood Hills (68 metres), if this map tool is to be believed.
A choice place name for writers of limericks, Pinner was originally Pinnora, which means the hill of a fellow named Pinn. It seems that the place lent its name to the nearby watercourse, which is now the River Pinn. We'll paddle in its waters again when we get to Ruislip.
Harrow, also the name of the London Borough and a component of four other tube station names, is thought to come from the Old English word 'hearg', meaning a heathen temple. The long-lost mystical landmark was probably sited where today you'll find St Mary's Church (the prominent steeple on Harrow Hill).
This branch follows the same route as part of the Piccadilly line as far as Rayners Lane, so if you've already read our article on that route, then you can skip the following.
Unlike the other three western termini of the Metropolitan line, Uxbridge does lie within the Greater London boundary. The town is named after an ancient bridge, which spanned the River Colne to the west of the town (a modern successor still does the same beside the Swan & Bottle pub). The unusual prefix derives from the Wixan tribe, Anglo-Saxons who settled here in the 7th century. We can thank them, too, for nearby Uxendon.
A 'don' usually denotes a hill in Anglo-Saxon place names, and Hillingdon is no different. It's in Domesday Book as Hillendone, suggesting a hill belonging to a man called Hille, Hilla or Hilda — probably where Hillingdon Hill rises near Uxbridge. The once localised name has widened its geography to encompass a whole London borough.
Half as good as Twickenham? We couldn't possibly comment. But the name is ancient. The suffix -ham is extremely common, and simply refers to a collection of dwellings; a home. The Icken- bit probably refers to a personal name. It is first recorded in Domesday Book (1086) as Ticheham, so we're probably looking for a Mr Tichea or some such.
Ruislip and Ruislip Manor
Ruislip, pronounced rye-slip, makes indirect reference to the nearby River Pinn. The name is Old English for 'leaping place on the river where rushes grow'. We wouldn't recommend leaping into the Pinn these days, but a delightful and unexpected beach can be found at Ruislip Lido. Ruislip Manor is the name of a housing estate built last century on lands that once formed the heartland of the Manor of Ruislip.
East is east, and the cote was a cottage. Eastcote is literally the cottage to the east (of Ruislip). The horsey Berkshire village of Ascot shares the same origins.
Said to be named after Daniel Rayner, a local farmer who once owned the land upon which the Metropolitan line was constructed in the first years of the 20th century. The Piccadilly line swung this way from 1933.
See North Harrow.
This most ancient part of Harrow can be seen for miles around thanks to the prominent hill and church spire of St Mary's. As we saw at North Harrow, the name probably comes from the Old English word 'hearg', meaning a heathen temple — a long lost structure that may have been replaced by the church.
Little more than a century old, this suburban district beneath Harrow on the Hill is most noted for its hospital (which featured in both Green Wing and Fawlty Towers, a little wiki tells us). The name is imported from Worcestershire, home of the Churchill-Rushout family who developed what was previously farmland.
Northern Wembley is known as Preston, a name that probably goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. It possibly comes from a contraction of the Old English word for priest and 'ton', a farm. So this was a farm owned by the clergy. The station stands on Preston Road itself.
Now a modern residential and creative district beside the famous stadium, Wembley Park has long been a major draw for those seeking sport and recreation, and almost got its own version of the Eiffel Tower. Wembley's name is Anglo Saxon and means the open space (lea) belonging to someone called Wemba. When football fans chant Wemba-lea, Wemba-lea, Wemba-lea, they are bang on the nail.
Finchley Road is the road that leads to Finchley. It was the motorway of its day, speeding coaches north along a well-surfaced turnpike that avoided the hills to the east. Finchley itself harks back to a clearing or open space (ley) populated by finches. How delightful.
From here, the Metropolitan line tracks the Hammersmith & City line, so if you've already read that article, then you can skip the following stations.
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.
The street known as Euston Square and the mainline station itself were 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 and boy-martyr. Augustine supposedly brought relics of young Pancras 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.
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.
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).
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 (albeit indirectly).
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.
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