How did (more of) the world’s major rail terminals get their names?

Never called Great Central: Marylebone, 1921. Image: Getty.

Last week on these pages, I published this piece about how the world’s major rail terminals got their names.

Having pondered the matter for, oooh, minutes, at least, I concluded that there were five main categories:

  • Stations named for their location (streets, districts, compass points or landmarks);
  • Stations named for their function (Union Stations, Hauptbahnhof);
  • Stations named after their destination;
  • Stations named after the company that built them;
  • Stations named to commemorate someone or something (kings, politicians, battles and so forth).

At the end of the article, I noted that – surprising as it may seem to those who’ve had to endure my company for any length of time – I do not in fact have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every railway in the world, and that I’d no doubt missed a few. If I had, I suggested, people should write in.


People wrote in. A lot of people.

Here are some of the things they said.

Things I meant to include but totally forgot

Several people pointed out that Edinburgh Waverley is named not for a person or an event, but for Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels. Annoyingly, I knew this, and had meant to crowbar it into the “commemorative section”, but forgot. Also, in retrospect, I’m not entirely sure it fits.

A couple of people also mentioned Brussels Midi. That sounds like it should mean “central” (middle), but actually it means “south”: it’s named after the direction the sun is in at noon. So there you go.

“Functions” I’d missed

Adrian Austin noted there’s a category of stations named after functions that I’d missed:

Bradford Interchange (and, pre-Metrolink) Bury Interchange. Of course it is still called that but now on a tram line rather than heavy rail...

Nick Lester-Davis had a few of these, too:

Cardiff Central used to be known as Cardiff General, as was Reading General.   Perhaps this is the nearest equivalent to ‘Union’ or ‘Hauptbahnhof’.   Workington used to be called Workington Main and this also fits. There’s also ‘high/low level’ (Wolverhampton, Heath, Shotton, etc)

He also pointed to a number of stations called things like “Exchange” as something that didn’t fit, though I’d put it in the “function” category, too. In fact, here’s Tim Lidbetter to back me up on that:

“General” or “Exchange” was often used for an interchange station between two or more companies. I think the only survivor is Wrexham General (which also still has a Central and used to have an Exchange as well)

Tim also points out something entirely obvious that I’d missed because I was focused on terminals, not all stations: “Junction” is a modifier based on function, too.

“Companies” I’d missed

Tim also pointed towards a few more stations named for the company that built them:

Company names appear in stations such as Wigan North Western (the LNWR), Sheffield Midland, etc. When Peterborough had two stations, the “North” station was near the west gate of the city and the “East” station was near the south gate – being named after the Great Northern and Great Eastern railways respectively.

So did Nick Lester-davis:

Stations named after the company that built them: Leicester, Rugby and many others had ‘central’ stations not because they were central but because they were built by the Great Central. Gainesborough Central still exists.   Others named after their company include Bedford Midland.

Things I just got wrong

Quoth Richard Gadsden:

Bristol Parkway isn’t named for the function. Parkway stations (in the functional sense, ie out-of-town park and ride stations) are named after Bristol Parkway, but Bristol Parkway is named after the road that’s next to it – also known as the M32.

Oops.

Tim Lidbetter:

The Great Central railway’s London terminus was always called Marylebone, although the Bakerloo tube’s station serving it was originally called Great Central.

Ah.

Marcus Schodorf:

Just a point of contention with your latest article on rail terminal names. Grand Central Terminal wasn’t built to consolidate several different rail companies, it was built solely for the New York Central railway, thus Grand Central. The NY Central did later merge with the Pennsylvania RR, but that was way after they built their stations.

While we’re on the subject, from Randy Alfred of Yale:

It’s Grand Central Terminal, not “station,” because no trains run through it. This is an American thing. Grand Central Station is a U.S. post office branch.

So, there you go.

And finally...

Two vignettes about stations which don’t fit into any of my categories. This one from Kevin Montgomery doesn’t technically concern a terminal, but what the hell, it’s interesting:

One possible sub-category suggestion? Stations named after companies they were built for, rather than built by. Am thinking of the bizarre little station in Inverclyde, Scotland called IBM.

IBM was built for the company by BR with massive subsidy from Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive in mid 1970s. All part of the efforts to attract investment to deprived areas, so IBM didn’t contribute as far as I am aware

The station was odd as for years it only served the factory. You weren’t supposed to be allowed to use it otherwise. Greenock being Greenock that was untenable.

The factory is unfortunately long gone, and it’s now part of a business park. This has impact on passenger numbers and I suspect eventually it will be shut.

Then there’s this from Christopher McCanna:

Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station was previously named Spencer Street station after its location. However, after a complete rebuild, it was renamed to Southern Cross in 2005. 

A news article from the time quotes the then state premier describing the name as

“It stands for our federation because it’s the heart of our national flag... and it also stands for democracy and freedom because it flew over the Eureka Stockade, which was only two years before we had a full democracy and a vote for a government in Victoria.”

So it’s not really named after a particular event, but rather a literal constellation and a figurative concept around democracy.

Incidentally: I will, eventually, finally get around to writing the piece on the taxonomy of metro station names that I’ve been meaning to do for years. If you have any thoughts on that, you know what to do.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Where actually is South London?

TFW Stephen Bush tells you that Chelsea is a South London team. Image: Getty.

To the casual observer, this may not seem like a particularly contentious question: isn’t it just everything ‘under’ the Thames when you look at the map? But despite this, some people will insist that places like Fulham, clearly north of the river, are in South London. Why?

Here are nine ways of defining South London.

The Thames

Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

It’s a curvy river, the Thames. Hampton Court Palace, which is on the north bank of the river, is miles south of the London Eye, on the south bank. If the river forms a hard border between North and South Londons, then logically sometimes North London is going to be south of South London, which is, to be fair, confusing. But how else could we do it?

Latitude

You could just draw a horizontal line across a central point (say, Charing Cross, where the road distances are measured from). While this solves the London Eye/Hampton Court problem, this puts Thamesmead in North London, and Shepherd’s Bush in South London, which doesn’t seem right either.

Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

And if you tried to use longitude to define West and East London on top of this, nothing would ever make sense ever again.

The Post Office

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Some people give the Post Office the deciding vote, arguing that North and South London are defined by their postcodes. This does have some advantages, such as removing many contentious areas from the debate because they’re either in the West, East or Central postcode divisions, or ignoring Croydon.

But six of the SW postcodes are north of the river Thames, so we’re back to saying places like Fulham and Chelsea are in south London. Which is apparently fine with some people, but are we also going to concede that Big Ben and Buckingham Palace are South London landmarks?

Taken to the extreme this argument denies that South London exists at all. The South postcode region was abolished in 1868, to be merged into the SE and SW regions. The S postcode area is now Sheffield. So is Sheffield in South London, postcode truthers? Is that what you want?

Transport for London

Image: TfL.

At first glance TfL might not appear to have anything to add to the debate. The transport zones are about distance from the centre rather than compass point. And the Northern Line runs all the way through both North and South London, so maybe they’re just confused about the entire concept of directions.

 

Image: TfL.

But their website does provide bus maps that divide the city into 5 regions: North East, South East, South West, North West and the Centre. Although this unusual approach is roughly speaking achieved by drawing lines across and down the middle, then a box around the central London, there are some inconsistencies. Parts of Fulham are called for the South West region, yet the whole of the Isle of Dogs is now in North East London? Sick. It’s sick.

The Boundary Commission

One group of people who ought to know a thing or two about boundaries is the Boundary Commission for England. When coming up with proposals for reforming parliamentary constituencies in 2011, it first had to define ‘sub-regions’ for London.

Initially it suggested three – South, North East, and a combined North, West and Central region, which included Richmond (controversial!) – before merging the latter two into ‘North’ and shifting Richmond back to the South.

In the most recent proposal the regions have reverted to North Thames and South Thames (splitting Richmond), landing us right back where we started. Thanks a bunch, boundary commission.

The London Plan

Image: Greater London Authority.

What does the Mayor of London have to say? His office issues a London Plan, which divides London into five parts. Currently ‘South’ includes only Bromley, Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Sutton, and Wandsworth, while the ‘North’ consists of just Barnet, Enfield, and Haringey. Everywhere else is divvied into East, South or Central.

While this minimalist approach does have the appeal of satisfying no-one, given the scheme has been completely revised twice since 2004 it does carry the risk of seismic upheaval. What if Sadiq gets drunk on power and declares that Islington is in East London? What then?

Wikipedia

 

Image: Wikimedia Commons/CityMetric.

The coordinates listed on the South London article lead to Brockwell Park near Herne Hill, while the coordinates on the North London article lead to a garden centre near Redbridge. I don’t know what this means, so I tried to ring the garden centre to see if they had any advice on the matter. It was closed.

Pevsner Guides

Image: Wikimedia Commons/CityMetric.

Art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner might seem an unlikely source of help at this juncture, but we’ve tried everything else. And the series of architectural guides that he edited, The Buildings of England, originally included 2 volumes for London: “The Cities of London and Westminster”, and “everything else”. Which is useless.

But as his successors have revised his work, London has expanded to fill 6 volumes: North, North West, East, The City, Westminster, and South. South, quite sensibly, includes every borough south of the Thames, and any borough that is partly south of the Thames (i.e. Richmond). And as a bonus: West London no longer exists.

McDonald’s

I rang a McDonald’s in Fulham and asked if they were in South London. They said no.

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