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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“The British have no food culture” – but London’s multicultural suburbs do

Bagels, of the sort one might find in Ilford. (These are actually at Katz's Delicatessen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.) Image: Getty.

Last month, Angela Hartnett went on Desert Island Discs and said that the British don’t have a food culture: there are just some people who have money and can afford to pay for good food.

Hartnett is a deity in the culinary pantheon, and is unusual in that she is both a shining star and an eminently sensible person. A woman of such no-nonsense credentials that she laughed in the pock-marked face of Gordon Ramsey, and lived to tell the tale. She takes none of this cheffy, foodie willy-wangling seriously, because it is, after all, “just a plate of carrots”.

So I found her comment fascinating, and shaming. It feels true. I feel it as I walk up Islington’s Chapel Market on a Sunday, from the farmers’ market end to the daily market end. I felt it when I squealed with delight when my partner told me we were getting a Whole Foods at the end of the road, and when I moaned with disappointment when it turned out he was kidding. (We were, in fact, getting a joinery and an HSS Hire.)

I feel it when one of my neighbours at our housing co-op has to sign for my veg box or wine discovery crate, or when the Ocado van pulls up. I feel it when I drop off my food bank donations by the till at Waitrose or, worse, when I get an Uber to take it round in person. In Islington. Islington. Say it twice, for there are indeed two Islingtons.

But it also feels totally untrue. Who is the “we” here? Who are the British of whom we speak? What is this beige buffet of Britishness, class-ist, philistine, pale and bland as white bread?

I find all this talk of class alienating, because I – and I am inherent to any we I can participate in – was raised in a vibrant and class-fluid food culture. I’m sure it combined many diverse aspects of class, wealth and virtue signals, but it did so in such a mishmash that you could not hope to decode it, even with a copy of Debretts and minor public school education. I speak, of course, of the ancestral homeland, the Old Country.

Ilford.

 

Ilford: unexpectedly foodie. Image: Geograph.co.uk.

Ilford is a London suburb on the Essex/East End border, which, like a reverse Mecca or a shit Jerusalem, unites travellers from across the world in the fervent desire to get the hell out, go mad, or kill everyone. And, like Jerusalem, it has its Jewish, Muslim, and Christian quarters, with further fractions etched out by Hindu, Sikh and Chinese diasporas, waves and tides of 20th century immigration ebbing and lapping on the shores of the Cranbrook Road. It became home to the refugees of innumerable wars and disaster areas: Ugandan Indians, Kurds, Rwandans, Bosnians, Serbs and Croats. And the economic migrants, Nigerians, Polish, Hungarian. It was an Ithaca: a place you had hoped would be journey’s end, but was in fact a bit of a disappointment. A rest rather than a new beginning. A bad motherland, to which we are all ambivalently attached.


Say what you like about Ilford, but it is a place where you’ve been able to find tahini, turmeric and jackfruit since decimalisation. Most of these items, you could buy at any hour of the day or night, and be served by a tiny child who had been left to mind the shop whilst the adults were at second jobs or night school, at the mosque or synagogue, or in prison. Purchase and consumption of these items signified nothing, except the taste of home.

And it really didn't matter whose home. On festivals we would exchange samosas or jalebi or pierogi or hammantashen or honey cake with our neighbours and drink masala chai three doors down. There is a whole world of dumplings, and a season for each one. We consumed a lot of chicken: fried pieces in boxes, or in a soup lovingly simmered for the precise amount of time to extract the maximum amount of guilt.

On a Sunday mornings you can wander along Barkingside High Street, which is by any normal metric an utter shithole, and join a queue for fresh Sri Lankan curries or Jewish bagels or Italian gelato. There is an egg-free cake shop, British, Halal, Kosher and African butchers and fishmongers. There are four Jewish delis and bakeries, ranging from the glatt to the glitzy. There is no shortage of grilled meat, kebabs, chicken shops, noodle bars. Vast banqueting suites accommodate large celebration meals, and local cooks cater for weddings of some thousand guests, often in marquees in suburban back gardens.

You could accuse us having no culture in Ilford – the cinema long ago became a bingo hall which became a mega-mosque which became flats – but you cannot say we have no food culture.

That said, and without wanting to sound racist against, y’know, white people, I do kind of agree that the British in general have no food culture. I can go to the house of any of my Indian, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Israeli, Nigerian, West Indian, or Scandinavian friends, safe in the knowledge and mutual understanding that I am going to be fed. And time and again I have been baffled and outraged by friends (only ever the white, British ones; and the whiter and more British they are the more likely this is to happen) turning up at my house, having already eaten, as if I wasn’t going to feed them like foie gras geese from the moment they arrived to the second they left.

Food is my culture. I feel a twitch on the end of each strand of my DNA, like the taste of madeleines on a thousand foreign tongues. I feel it in my bones and the bones of my ancestors as they dissolve into distant soil: come, sit, eat.

A London curry house in action. Image: Getty.

In Pygmalion, Professor Henry Higgins boasts that he can pinpoint here a person is from by listening to the way they talk. “I can place any man within six miles. I can place him within two miles in London. Sometimes within two streets.” I once had a linguistics tutor pull the same trick on me. It was creepy.

But I would defy him to do the same thing now. Talk to a young Londoner. The ubiquity of Multicultural London English is a great leveller. On the top deck of the bus, you can’t tell the schools apart. And whilst there is a huge gulf between rich and poor, and the extremes of both in this capital are truly horrifying, there is a Multicultural London way of speaking.

There is a Multicultural London way of eating, too. In the centre of town, and in the places where being Minority Ethnic is not a minority position, there is a London Multicultural Food Culture which is divorced from class. An immigrant, diasporic, food culture. A sense of the importance and significance of food and meals and flavours. An appreciation of our own and your neighbours’ diverse food heritage. A love of the marketplace and the communal table. An ear for languages where foreign is the same word as guest and friend. The importance, virtue, culture, and significance of hospitality.

Also, to be honest, some asshole’s going to sprinkle sumac and pomegranate seeds on your kebab wherever you are, from Ilford to Islington. What you are prepared to pay for it, in what environs, and with what brand of soap in the bogs, is another story. And this is where the the conversation goes full circle: if you have no food culture, but you do have money, you can afford to buy one in, from the Connaught or Ottolenghi or Whole Foods or Deliveroo or Blue Apron or the DietChef.

Maybe I’m guilty of over-romanticising the immigrant food experience. The food of poverty, the bread of affliction, the cheap cuts of meat, the over-reliance of sweet treats, the economic and social impoverishment of generations of immigrant women slaving over hot stoves to feed the family on a pittance whilst the neighbours turn up their noses. We should talk of the dietary diseases more prevalent amongst People of Colour and second generation immigrants. We should talk of the chicken shops around the school gates. We should talk about the amounts of money spent on marketing crap food at kids and the totally other amounts of money being spent on school meals, home economics lessons, growing spaces, playgrounds. We should talk about those food banks.


My partner is from white, British working class stock. They do things differently there. I now too turn up Having Already Eaten, because I learnt the hard way: line your stomach, or you’ll end up singing/falling over/throwing a chair/throwing up/getting naked by 3pm at a Romford wake because you assumed that lunch would be served. It’s only five miles from Ilford and Romford, but it may as well be 500 or 5000.

I don’t know what they make of me and my food. Foreign muck? Posh nosh? Do I give off wafts of a different culture entirely, like the tell-tale scent of frying onions and or slow-cooked sabbath cholent? Like the banquet of curry smells from next door when all their kids are home from university, the eye-watering wince of vinegar being boiled for pickles, or the uric tang of a hot pho pot bubbling away two doors down or the unseasonal barbecue from the house behind, a familiar-unfamiliar meat, like mutton or goat?

Throw the windows of your semi in Ilford open on a spring morning and you’ll get waves of bacon, chai, cholla bread. And the sounds of TVs in a dozen languages, and music in a dozen different keys, and Sikh builders shouting at Polish builders, and the soft shoe shuffle of the Lubovitchers and the revving engines of the rudeboys before we all go home for Sunday lunch.

Sunday lunch: maybe that’s something we can all agree on. That you should have a Sunday lunch with your mum or your auntie or your nan and whoever else is around. You gather at table, at your folks’ house or the Toby Carvery or your uncle’s restaurant, with a mountain of roast beef or bags full of bagels and plastic containers from the deli or six different curries and chutneys, with the old folks telling the same story for the hundredth time, and the ageless bickering of siblings and the screaming of babies. Maybe we can agree on the Great British Sunday Lunch, whatever the menu, as our shared food culture.

Leave room for pudding.

Sara Doctors writes about food and culture, and tweets as @UnusualSara. A version of his article first appeared on her blog.

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