How The Piccadilly Line Stations Got Their Names

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How The Piccadilly Line Stations Got Their Names

Our series on London etymology continues with a look at the stations of the Piccadilly line. Find out how your local station got its name. See also Bakerloo, Central, Hammersmith & City, Jubilee, Northern, Victoria.

Uxbridge to Cockfosters

Uxbridge

Swan and Bottle, Uxbridge.
The Swan and Bottle.

If you've ever drank at the riverside Swan & Bottle pub, then you've penetrated the very heart of this north-west town. The bridge here, spanning the River Colne, is a successor of the one that put the 'bridge' in Uxbridge. 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.

Hillingdon

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.

Ickenham

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/Ruislip Manor

Ruislip, pronounced rye-slip, makes 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.

Eastcote

Eastcote village hanging sign.
'Eastcote: we are interesting, honest'.

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.

Rayners Lane

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.

South Harrow

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). South Harrow is actually south-west of the centre. Before a ton of housing was built in the 20th century, this was largely fields and the lost village of Roxeth (meaning rooks' heath).

Sudbury Hill/Sudbury Town

The '-bury' is from the Old English for a manor house. So Sudbury is simply the southern manor (relative to Harrow).

Alperton

Another Old English name, based on the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Albert. A village or farmstead associated with this otherwise forgotten man grew up here.

Park Royal

Park Royal tube station.
Classic Charles Holden tube station.

The regal name belies the industrial character that has long characterised Park Royal. Before all that came, the open land was used as a showground for the Royal Agricultural Society from 1903. The showground was short-lived, but coincided with the opening of this underground station; hence the name.

North Ealing/Ealing Common

One of the oldest names in the London region, Ealing is attested from around 700 CE. There once, it seems, was a local chieftain known as Gilla, whose people were the Gillingas. This slowly transmuted into Ylling then Ealing. The common land still survives, close to Ealing Common tube station.

Acton Town

The Actons are legion, with three more on the Central line and others on the Overground and other rail routes. The name comes from Old English meaning an enclosure surrounded by oaks.

Turnham Green

The pun-maker's favourite tube station bears a hidden reference to the River Thames. Rather than referring to a small settlement, as was the case at Ickenham, the '-ham' here derives from the Old English word hamm, meaning a watery, meadowy kind of place. That's because the hamlet stood close to the (then much-wider) Thames. The river is very twisty hereabouts, and the 'Turn-' prefix supposedly reflects that ('turn' being an Anglo-Saxon word meaning circular).

Hammersmith

Hammersmith's novelty tube clock.
The novelty clock at Hammersmith tube station.

Hammersmith has disputed origins as a place name. Some sources suggest it derives from Hammoder's Hythe (a safe haven belonging to Hammoder), others, perhaps more satisfyingly, suggest it's simply a concatenation of 'hammer' and 'smithy', denoting an area important for metal working.

Barons Court

A name invented at the end of the 19th century to encompass new housing developments. It (probably) has no historical association, and was chosen as a pairing with nearby Earl's Court (much as Queensbury nodded to Kingsbury).

Earl's Court

Earl's Court, by contrast, does have noble origins dating back to the Norman Conquest. The land was held for more than 500 years by the Vere family, Earls of Oxford. Their manorial court was located very close to the where the underground station stands today.

Gloucester Road

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. One of two stations on the line to be named after women (see also Arnos Grove).

South Kensington

South Kensington is roughly south of Kensington, which 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.

Knightsbridge

There was once a bridge at Knightsbridge. It spanned the River Westbourne, which now runs through the same sewer that can famously be seen at Sloane Square tube. The knight is a little more mysterious. The name is first recorded as far back as 1046, when Edward the Confessor was new to the throne. Fanciful stories of jousting tournaments and armour-clad battles have been used to explain the chivalrous name, but nobody knows for sure. The Old English word 'cniht' can represent young people in general, so this may simply have been a bridge where medieval youths once hung out playing Poohsticks or something.

Hyde Park Corner

Henry VIII acquired the land we now call Hyde Park as his own private plaything following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. Previously, it was under the control of the canons of Westminster Abbey, and known as the Manor of Hyde. This in turn is thought to be a corruption of the Manor of 'Eye' or 'Eia', an Anglo-Saxon term meaning island, and from a time when the lands around the nearby River Westbourne were marshy. Rather appropriate, then, that Hyde Park Corner is essentially an island site surrounded by a busy gyratory.

Green Park

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.

Piccadilly Circus

The circus and station take their name from the street of Piccadilly, which has a fascinating etymology. It harks back to a 17th century tailor named Roger Baker, who gained his fortune making frilly collars called piccadils. His house and shop on what was then known as Portugal Street soon came to be known as Pickadilly Hall. The peculiar term soon spread to the wider area.

Leicester Square

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).

Covent Garden

The old fruit and vegetable wholesale market dates back to the 17th century – the first record of a market here is from 1654, and Charles II granted a charter for it in 1670. The name is older – the land was owned by Westminster Abbey during the Middle Ages, and was referred to as 'the garden of the Abbot and Convent of Westminster in the 13th century. The name Covent Garden (‘covent’ being a corruption of ‘convent’) had evolved by the 16th century. The market relocated to Nine Elms in 1974.

Holborn

Traditionally pronounced with as few letters as possible (O'b'n), Holborn's name has watery origins. It stems from either 'old bourne' or 'holl bourne' (old brook or hollow brook), and probably describes a long-lost tributary of the nearby River Fleet.

Russell Square

A statue of Francis Russell in Russell Square.
Francis Russell, wearing an anachronistic Votes for Women sash.

The Dukes of Bedford, who held and still hold large swathes of Bloomsbury, carry the family name of Russell, which immediately explains why the area's largest square should carry that title.

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.

Caledonian Road

We're north of centre again, but not so far north as to reach Caledonia, the ancient name for Scotland. The road, and tube station do have Scottish links, however. The Caledonian Asylum was originally set up in 1815 to help Scottish children orphaned by the Napoleonic Wars. The institution moved to Islington in 1828, and became so well known that its name was bestowed on the major thoroughfare we still call Caledonian Road.

Holloway Road

The origins of this name are disputed, with three theories sharing similar credibility. It may be that Holloway is simply low-lying (a hollow) compared with the hills of Highgate and Islington. Alternatively, the name might recall a pronounced dip along the centre of the road, worn in by centuries of cattle on their way to Smithfield Market. A third suggestion paints Holloway as a corruption of hallowed-way, a reference to a pilgrimage route up towards Norfolk.

Arsenal

Tiles at Arsenal tube station, giving the former name of Gillespie Road.

Named, of course, after the local football team — a rare example of a commercial enterprise finding its way onto the tube map. Most people know that the Gunners originally played in Woolwich, and that their modern name (and nickname) comes from the Royal Arsenal munitions complex, based at Woolwich since the 17th century. The club moved to Highbury in 1913. Some smooth talking by the management persuaded London Underground to change the nearby tube station from Gillespie Road to Arsenal in 1932. You can still see the old name on the tiles at platform level.

Finsbury Park

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.

Manor House

The only station on the Piccadilly Line named after a pub. The Manor House inn was a well-known stop along the Green Lanes turnpike, perhaps named after the local manor house of Brownswood. It opened at the start of the 19th century and had a distinguished history. Queen Victoria is thought to have stopped here during a journey in 1843. In the 20th century it became a music venue, hosting the likes of Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac and Jimi Hendrix. Today, the building is an organic cafe and supermarket.

Turnpike Lane

A turnpike, as you no-doubt know, was another name for a toll road — very common in the days before motor vehicles. The one remembered here is the Stamford Hill and Green Lanes turnpike. The toll gate stood roughly where Costa can be found today.

Wood Green

No hidden surprises with this place. The medieval village of Wood Green grew up in a green space close to the woods of Enfield Chase.

Bounds Green

This name recalls the le Bounde family, who owned the land in the 13th century. The name lived on in a local farm, and was perpetuated with the coming of the tube line in 1932.

Arnos Grove

The link is not definitive, but this name is reckoned to come from the family of Margery Arnold, who held land in the area in the 14th century. She's mentioned on documents from the time, and thereafter we see Arnold's Grove becoming Arno's Grove and then Arnos Grove.

Southgate

Southgate tube station.
Southgate tube.

In recent times, this station has been conflated with the popular England football manager. Its origins lie not with a person, however, but a place. Indeed, a gate. The village of Southgate formed around the southern gateway into Enfield Chase, the royal hunting grounds.

Oakwood

The station was named after the nearby Oakwood Park, which itself was named after Oak Lodge, a prominent local building. That in turn was, of course, inspired by the namesake tree, which grows in abundance across Enfield Chase.

Cockfosters

We end this branch of the Piccadilly line with a snigger, and the observation that this section of the Piccadilly line contains stations that begin with a cock, arse and hollow. Juvenalia aside, Cockfosters has uncertain etymology and is first recorded in the 16th century. It perhaps recalls the 'cock forester', or chief forester who may have lived nearby. Alternatively, it may derive from a personal name, or the name of a prominent house.

Heathrow branch

South Ealing

See North Ealing/Ealing Common above.

Northfields

Self-evidently an old agricultural term that outlived its original purpose when housing was built here. The area might have a boring name, but it's seen its share of exciting residents. Notable locals include tightrope maestro Charles Blondin, US President John Quincy Adams, singer Dusty Springfield, and endearingly unpredictable weather forecaster Tomasz Schafernaker.

Boston Manor

Named after that Jacobean mansion house that you never quite get round to visiting. The place has nothing to do with the Massachusetts city where local boy John Quincy Adams finally settled. Rather, it harks back to a medieval personal name. Bordwadestone is first recorded in the 14th century and simply means 'the farm of Bord'.

Osterley

This part of London is the capital's answer to Derbyshire, with grand mansions and stately homes all over the place. Osterley is best known today for Osterley House, former home of Tudor finance king Thomas Gresham. But the name is much older. Osterley was first mentioned in the 13th century (minus its terminal 'y'). Its name could mean either 'hillock' or 'land for sheep', either of which suggests humble beginnings for this affluent corner of London.

Hounslow East/Hounslow Central/Hounslow West

The Hound from Game of Thrones. Possibly a Hounslow boy.

Hounslow may have canine origins. The name means something like 'mound of the hound' in Old English — though whether the reference is to a dog or a nickname of the landholder is not known.

Hatton Cross

Another fairly dull etymology. Hatton simply means a farmstead on the (Hounslow) heath. The cross is less certain; probably a reference to the crossroads with the old Roman road to Staines.

Heathrow Terminals 2,3, Heathrow Terminal 4, Heathrow Terminal 5

Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3 roundel.
Spot the anachronism.

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. That's an unsatisfactorily boring one to finish, so we'll end with a bit of trivia. These three stations are the only ones on the network to feature numerals in their official names. Further, Heathrow Terminals 2,3 is the only tube station name to include a comma. It is also boasts the most recent change. Until demolition of Terminal 1 began in 2015, the stop was known as Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3.


See also Bakerloo, Central, Hammersmith & City, Jubilee, Northern, Victoria.

Other etymological explorations on Londonist:

Last Updated 20 November 2018