Here are London’s 31 most aggravating station names

Just think what might have been. Image: Sunil060902/Wikimedia Commons.

1. Marylebone

There’s an area of London called Marylebone. It’s not altogether clear that Marylebone station is in it.

Well, I guess it is now because the definition has shifted to include the station, but... look where Marylebone station is compared to Marylebone High Street.

Historically, Marylebone was the bit across Oxford Street from Mayfair (an area more easily reached from half a dozen other tube stations). Marylebone station should probably be called something else that people can actually pronounce.

Exactly what it should be called, though, is difficult to say. It’s in an area sometimes referred to as a Lisson Grove, but that somehow lacks the gravitas necessary for a mainline station.

It almost revelled in the name Great Central, after the railway company that built it. But this was a hilariously overblown name for both the company (which arrived several decades later than most of its rivals and consequently found it didn’t really have anywhere left to build railways to), and the station (which was originally meant to have 10 platforms, but could only afford four because, well, see above).

You can still see the name Great Central on the walls of Marylebone tube station (served, quite pitifully, by the Bakerloo line and nothing else). I’m tempted to suggest we should call the station that just for the LOLs, but if I did that some git would be writing nonsense about what a stupid name it was. (Specifically: me.)

At any rate, we’re probably stuck with Marylebone, but if you do have anything better do write in.

2. Euston Square

Neither on a square nor that close to Euston.  It is, however, the Euston stop on the Circle line, so at last Euston Circle would be descriptive. Even if...

3. City Thameslink

...naming stations after the routes they’re served by is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Think this through. There are two lines in London whose names end in “& City”. City Thameslink is on neither of them. What’s more, there are three different stations on Thameslink that serve parts of the City (Farringdon is technically just outside). What use is “City Thameslink” as a name? What is the point of it?

Call it Ludgate. Or Ludgate Viaduct. Or frankly anything else but City Thamelink, which is the single worst name in the world. Call it Malcolm for all I care.

4. Regent’s Park

Okay the name here is kind of fine – it is a tube station near Regent’s Park. What else are we going to call it?

Except that there are two other stations that have just as much claim to be called Regent’s Park (Baker Street and Great Portland Street, since you asked.) And the tube map shows the Bakerloo line crossing the Circle at Baker Street and so implies that the park is somewhere in the vicinity of Broadcasting House, and that’s really annoying.

5. Liverpool Street

The eponymous Liverpool Street is so small that it’s long been dwarfed by the station that shares its name. The station should obviously be called, like the one it replaced in 1874, Bishopsgate.

The reason it isn’t called that, one assumes, is that Bishopsgate survived for decades as a goods station, and calling another station Bishopsgate just because it was substantially closer to the area called Bishopsgate would have confused people.

But the goods yard is long gone, so maybe we should rename the thing. If only to reduce the chances of Americans who think they can ask directions “to Liverpool” (in the manner they’d ask directions to Madison or 59th or Fifth) and find their way to the City of London, instead ending up on a Virgin intercity train hurtling towards Crewe.

(Related: In Cambridge, trains terminating at London Liverpool Street and Liverpool Lime Street used to go from adjacent platforms. Larks.)

6. Clapham Junction

Very obviously in Battersea, the better part of two miles from Clapham. It’s genuinely only called Clapham Junction because Victorian snobbery meant that nobody wanted to admit to going near Battersea. They might just as well have called it South Chelsea.

7. Goodge Street

Another tiny street which doesn’t deserve its own station. Should obviously be called Fitzrovia, which is much prettier. Fitzrovia is the name of the romantic heroine from one of those Shakespeare plays set in generic Italy; Goodge is a Dickensian schoolmaster plotting to do unspeakable things to your children.

8. Warren Street

Even tinier street – so tiny you can use Warren Street station every day and probably still not be quite sure which one Warren Street is. I’m not pretending there’s a better name to hand, but it’s bloody infuriating, that’s all I’m saying.

9. Custom House for EXCEL

Oh, bugger off, what’s next? “Camden Town for London Zoo”? “Hammersmith for the Eventim Apollo”? “Gants Hill for Grandma’s House”?

10. Stratford International

Stratford International is so named because it’s the Stratford stop on HS1, a line built to speed Eurostar trains from London to the continent.

Guess how many international trains stop here. Go on, you’ll never guess.

So, yes, unless there’s been some kind of revolution in Faversham, the answer is nil.

There’s a reason for this: Stratford was expected to be the London stop on the high speed trains that ran from the north of England to Paris and Brussels, skirting the edge of the capital on their way. For various reasons, most notably the rise of low cost airlines, such a route has never actually materialised.

They kept the name, though, so if you so wish you can visit a station called Stratford International that is neither served by a single international train nor particularly convenient for Stratford. Passes the time, I suppose.

11. Totteridge & Whetstone

Make Your & Mind Up.

12 & 13. Edgware Road

The name of two different stations, both on the Edgware Road but on different sides of the Westway. No one in their right mind would ever change trains between them, because you can do so much more easily at Paddington or Baker Street, but even if you did, there’s a bloody big flyover in the way.

Why at least one of the bloody things has never been renamed to make things less confusing – for tourists, for Londoners, for the emergency services who’d get called in if one of the things was on fire – is a mystery for the ages.

14 & 15. Bethnal Green

There are two Bethnal Green stations, too, on completely different lines (Central and Overground), and they’re not even that close together. Since they’re both in the hands of TfL now, surely it’s time to rename the Overground one? “Weaver’s Fields” is nice. Or even “Bethnal Green South”, though that would as a side effect point out that the map is wrong yet again.

16. Elephant & Castle

Is there any station anywhere in the world whose name oversells it quite so much as Elephant & Castle? “Brutalism & Roundabout” is more apt. “Traffic Jam & Shopping Centre.”

Or, just to annoy the Hackney yummy mummy contingent: Newington.

17. Abbey Road

I mean, we all love that poster that they put up to help Beatles fans find their way across town, sure. But which idiot decided to give a station that didn’t open until 2011 the same name as a street that had been a tourist landmark for four decades, and was eight miles away on the other side of London?

18. Grange Hill

19. Bromley-by-Bow

But not, however, by Bromley.

There is actually an area called Bromley near that station, after which it is named: it just happens to not be anywhere near the major suburban town or borough of the same name.

To make matters worse, there’s another area of the London Borough of Bromley called Plaistow. This is entirely different from the east London area called Plaistow, which is served by a station two stops east of Bromley-by-Bow. I sometimes think this whole town is one big practical joke.

20. King’s Cross

Named after a monument to King George IV (1820-1830), erected in the year of his death and demolished 15 years later because he hadn’t been that good a king and anyway it was rubbish.

I mean, we’re stuck with the name now, but let’s not pretend this state of affairs is in any way morally acceptable.

21. St Pancras International

Tell me one story about the martyrdom of St Pancras that means he deserves to have London’s nicest station named after him. Go on. Who was he? How did he die?

Wondering about this as we were, we decided to do some research, and, bizarrely, there seem in fact to have been two St Pancrases. One was an early Christian who got stoned to death in Sicily in 40AD...

Here’s his altar. Image: G. Dallorto/Wikimedia Commons.

....and the other was a 4th century teenager, who lost his head.

See? Don’t say we never teach you anything.

22 & 23. New Cross / New Cross Gate

“Brian. You know how we’ve got these two stations which are quite near each other, and are both on the East London line, but which serve two entirely different bits of the national rail network?”

“Yes, Nige?”

“Well, how about we give them nearly identical names? So that people will never be quite sure if they’ve got off at the right place for their train, or whether they’re going to have to walk a third of the mile up the road?”

“Sounds like a great plan, Nige. Pint?”

24. Cyprus

Image: Google Street View.

Well this is disappointing.

25 & 26. Hayes / Hayes & Harlington

Hayes station is the terminus of a suburban branch line in the Hayes area of Bromley. Hayes & Harlington station is a stop on what will be Crossrail just north of Heathrow Airport. These two places are nowhere near each other. It’s just nonsense really, isn’t it?

27 & 28. St Margarets

There are two stations called St Margarets served by London’s suburban train network. One is south west, near Twickenham; the other just north of the city on a branchline to Hertford.

I’m not saying that people confuse the two a lot, but nonetheless this is deeply stupid.

29 & 30. Rainham

There are two bloody Rainhams as well – one in the suburban Essex bit of zone 6, the other across the river in the Medway bit of Kent. Where, helpfully enough, there’s also another bloody Newington. So there goes that idea.

31. Watford

If you find yourself getting the Metropolitan Line all the way to Watford, then you’re probably already having quite a bad enough day without discovering that you’re still about a mile and a half from bloody Watford.

That said, they’re never going to rename this one for the very good reason they’ll be scrapping it altogether by the end of the decade, when the Watford branch will be re-routed along an old line to Watford Junction. The replacement for Watford station will be the vastly more poetically named Cassiobridge.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

I do so love a happy ending.

UPDATE: The above was written in 2016. Since when the whole scheme has been cancelled. Boo.

If that isn't enough for you, this post is a sequel of sorts to this one, about Crossrail. 

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.