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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City of Ruin: On Resident Evil’s Raccoon City

Photo: Wikipedia via Creative Commons

With the release of Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 2 on Friday 25 January, gamers will return to the terrifying streets of one of the most iconic cities in video games: the zombie-infested Raccoon City.

Despite first being mentioned in 1997’s original Resident Evil, that game took place entirely in a mansion outside the city and it wasn’t until the 1998 sequel that we actually got to explore Raccoon City itself.

Since then, it’s become a recurring location in the games series and various spin-off media, even though – and this is an unavoidable spoiler, so abandon this article now if you’re planning to go into the remake completely cold – Resident Evil 2 ends with the city being comprehensively nuked by the US government.

In fact, the series returned to Raccoon City a year later in 1999’s Resident Evil 3, an asset-reusing fill-in instalment that cleverly loops around the events and locations of Resident Evil 2 and gives the player another, more detailed look at the city’s final destruction.

Raccoon City RIP, from Resident Evil 3. The author of this piece was not allowed to have the piano theme from the credits as music at his wedding.

Since then, the 1998 fall of Raccoon City has been revisited in the two Resident Evil Outbreak titles, in the Umbrella Chronicles and Darkside Chronicles light gun Wii games, and in the shockingly mediocre online shooter Operation Raccoon City, as well as the Milla Jovovich-starring live action film series.

Although the plot line of the main game series has moved on to new locales and time periods from 2005’s Resident Evil 4 onwards, the franchise clearly left a part of itself on the streets of Raccoon City in 1998, and can’t help but repeatedly return. But why?

To answer that we need to look at what kind of games the Resident Evil series are, their genre roots and the continuity that’s built up within the games themselves – and how these elements have created an eccentric idea of an average American city.

The original Resident Evil had horror game precedents in titles like Alone in the Dark and the film adaptation, Sweet Home – even sharing a developer, Capcom, and a director, Shinji Mikami, with the latter – but it twisted these influences and precedents to create a new sub-genre: survival horror.

The survival horror genre is distinguished by the cautious, steady exploration of a contained environment, facing off against horrific creatures that constantly threaten to overpower the player, who must conserve scarce resources like ammo and health top-ups. As opposed to game genres where environments are dashed through while shooting wildly, survival horror games, and their steady pace, demand locations that reward attention.

The live action introduction to the characters in the original Resident Evil. Mysteriously this technique hasn’t been used in the series since.

The first game, called Biohazard in its native Japanese but renamed Resident Evil in English, opened with a ridiculous live-action video in which an elite team of cops – as seen in the video above – wind up in the creepy Spencer Mansion located in the Arklay Mountains near Raccoon City. There, our heroes, part of the elite and very coolly acronymic STARS team, face off against zombies and other genetically engineered monsters created as weapons by the evil Umbrella Corporation.

Player characters, Chris or Jill, move from room to room in the mansion, fighting off monsters and making progress by solving baroque puzzles where rooms are locked by mysterious keys and booby trap devices. As the plot unfolds Chris and Jill realise that they’ve been set up, acting as experimental subjects to provide data about the combat efficiency of Umbrella’s Bio-Organic Weapons, or BOWs for short.

Gameplay from the original Resident Evil. NSFW due to gore and terrible voice acting.

Although we don’t go near Raccoon City in the first game, it sets several precedents that shape the urban space encountered in the sequel. The game relies on confined spaces and environments in which the player struggles to escape a looming zombie, with doorways to pass through to move from one small area to another. As well as building tension this is a technical issue – the dramatic fixed camera angles allow the backdrops to each screen to essentially be pre-rendered still images on which animated characters and interactive items move, allowing in turn for a much higher resolution in the backgrounds than was possible for moving 3D environments at the time – which lends the world of the game a distinct, atmospheric feel, the sense of a real, detailed place.

The fiction of the game justifies the Spencer Mansion’s weird layout and complex locks partially through its use by the Umbrella Corporation as a secret laboratory and testing facility, and partially through the story of the Mansion’s eccentric architect, George Trevor, who installed all these traps and puzzles on the orders of Umbrella’s founder, Ozwell Spencer. These narratives are told through documents found around the Mansion and its grounds.

The final element here is one of genre. If you’re a Resident Evil newcomer, you may well have read the past few paragraphs and thought “this makes absolutely no sodding sense whatsoever”, and you wouldn’t be wrong. The most obvious genre precedents for the series are the zombie films of filmmaker George A Romero, but the series also takes influence from the considerably less coherent European knock offs Romero inspired, all through a lens of Japanese horror, which is far more prone to abstraction and nightmare logic as well as post-Hiroshima concerns about mutation.

These overlapping influences shaped Raccoon City itself – a city in the mid-western United States, created by Japanese game developers in the mid to late 1990s taking influence from zombie films of the 1970s and 1980s, some of which were shot in Europe. Factor in the technical and gameplay requirements, and you end up with a uniquely skewed vision of an American cityscape.

The original Resident Evil 2 opens with the zombie outbreak well underway, and protagonists Leon and Claire stranded in a Downtown area overrrun with the undead. The narrow streets are rendered narrower by crashed cars and barricades, evidence of the carnage that has occurred and failed defensive efforts. The opening scenes of the game are a hectic dash through cluttered streets and a crashed bus to get to a gun shop and the game’s first major environment, the Raccoon Police Department. Resident Evil 3 revisits Downtown and the RPD, filling in restaraunts, shopping streets, an area under construction, an electricty substation, the City Hall, a gas station and a tram station.

The unusually narrow streets of Raccoon City as seen in Resident Evil 3.

Resident Evil 3 also adds the adjacent Uptown area with warehouses, sales offices, bars and residential streets that border on tenements in their density and narrow alleys. Between the two games the ruined city is a beautiful example of stage-managed desolation, with distant screams and evidence of horrors past strewn across the cluttered chaos. It’s also ridiculous, a toytown version of a city where industrial, residential and commercial activities are piled upon each other. The George Trevor school of architectural madness is also in full effect, with the RPD building being a converted art gallery complete with doors that are opened by manipulating statues, and gates to City Hall that unlock when a clock outside is completed.

An eccentric approach to architecture and city planning is one hand wave explanation for why Raccoon City doesn’t make much sense, another within the fiction is that it’s an Umbrella Corporation company town, with their labs and facilities scattered across the city. Every business and facility can hide a lab or storage area for Umbrella. In Resident Evil 2, the sewers and a cable car trip lead to a dead factory hiding a lab facility in the Raccoon City outskirts, an underground lab revisited (or pre-visited?) in Resident Evil Zero and the Outbreak games.

In Resident Evil 3 a disastrous jaunt in a tram leads to the city hospital which hides a lab full of reptilian monstrosities, then on through the park, across a dam and into another dead factory hiding another laboratory. 

As much as anything makes sense in Raccoon City, there’s a sort of logic to seeing the city as a giant laboratory in which the local population are bred as guinea pigs, who can be snatched up and experimented upon in the individual facilities across the city. It’s a groteseque but not entirely inaccurate caricature of urban space where the masses live and die at the whim of the corporate forces who shape the city for their own purposes. The cramped urban spaces of Raccoon City, where industrial, residential, and commercial areas pile up on each other in a mass of twisty, narrow streets that are barely more than corridors, add a level of dream logic to this scenario, making for an evocative urban nightmare.

The boring, sensibly proportioned streets of Operation: Raccoon City

While the Outbreak games added new areas to Raccoon City – a zoo, a university by the sea – their adherence to the oppressively warped architecture and geography of the series made these additions of a piece with their predecessors. Other adaptations have been less successful: the Chronicles and Operation Raccoon City games turned the streets into open boxes for less contained, run-and-gun-type play, completely losing the rich detail and claustrophobia that made Raccoon City such a unique place and turning it into... well, something resembling a real city, with streets wide enough for cars and buildings with sensibly broad corridors. That nightmarish quality was entirely lost.

Hopefully the Resident Evil 2 remake released this week will, amongst all its high definition upgraded gore, retain Raccoon City’s convoluted, unrealistic geography. The story of an apocalyptic event reducing an American city, the supposed apex of Western civilisation, to carnage and despair will always have a certain perverse appeal, and the fall of Raccoon City, in all its nightmarish eccentricity, is one of the greatest iterations of that story. Long may we keep being allowed to revisit it.

Resident Evil 2 is released for PS4, XBox One and Microsoft Windows on 25 January 2019.