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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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

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