Here are several dozen of the depressingly high number of bits of British infrastructure named after the royal family

“What d’you reckon? Shall we name it after us?” Image: Getty.

Tomorrow is the royal wedding – so some wag at Great Western Railway has done this to Windsor & Eton Central station:

Which inspired reactions such as this:

I’m with Matt. I’m sure Harry and Meghan are perfectly lovely people, and I wish them every happiness, but the assumption that this entire country is going to start frantically tugging its forelock every time a member of the royal family so much as blinks gets right on my wick.

More than that, there’s a widespread national assumption that naming large bits of the public realm after specific members of a hereditary ruling dynasty is in some way a neutral act. Here is a partial list, garnered from roughly seven minutes on the internet.

  • The Victoria line (known before completion as the Viking line)
  • The Jubilee line (known before completion as the Fleet line)
  • The Elizabeth line (known before completion as Crossrail)

(London, you will note, has not been able to build a new underground railway line without naming it after the royals in nearly a century.)

  • London Victoria station
  • The Queen Elizabeth Bridge, which carries the A332 Windsor by-pass across the Thames in Berkshire
  • The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, which carries the London orbital motorway across the Thames Estuary between London and Essex
  • The Queen Alexandra Bridge, across the River Wear in Sunderland (this one’s named after the wife of King Edward VII)
  • Princess of Wales Bridge, Stockton-on-Tees
  • King George VI Bridge, Aberdeen
  • King George V Bridge, Lincolnshire
  • King George V dock
  • King George V DLR station, which is named after it
  • The Royal Victoria Dock
  • Royal Victoria DLR station, which is named after it
  • The Royal Albert Dock
  • Royal Albert DLR station, which, oh, you guessed
  • Prince Regent DLR station – that one’s named after Prince Regent Lane, which connects to
  • Victoria Dock Road
  • Victoria Park, London
  • Victoria Park, Aberdeen
  • Victoria Park, Belfast
  • Victoria Park, Bournemouth
  • Victoria Park, Cardiff
  • Victoria Park, Hartlepool
  • At least 15 other Victoria Parks in Britain (I got tired of copying them all out)
  • Just to mix it up a bit, there’s a Royal Victoria Park, in Bath
  • King George Hospital, Ilford
  • Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow
  • Princess of Wales Hospital, Ely
  • Princess Royal University Hospital, Farnborough
  • Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King’s Lynn
  • Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Welwyn Garden City
  • Queen’s Hospital, Romford
  • Another Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich. That one’s quite near
  • Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup

I’m bored now so I’m going to stop. I don’t know how many schools there are named after dead members of the royal family, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess “quite a lot”. There are probably a few named after non-dead members of the royal family, too, but I’m guessing.

I assume the reason for all this is that the royal family are seen as neutral national symbols. Only a tiny share of Britons consider themselves republicans, and the career of Donald Trump is a reminder that elected heads of state are not always all they’re cracked up to be. For all its obvious theoretical flaws, in practice constitutional monarchy seems to work, so there really seems little reason to change it.

But the royal family are not neutral: they represent a particular political and social model, a class system based on hereditary privilege.

And even if they were neutral… My god, Britain – do we really have to be quite so crawling about all this? It’s making us look ridiculous.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.

“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.