This week marks the 150th anniversary of the London Underground. The Metropolitan Railway line, completed in 1863, then running from Paddington to Farringdon Street, was the first part of the London Underground to be built, and was the first Underground railway up and running in the world. More than 2,000 workers built the line, and the first carriages were pulled by steam before electrification was introduced in the early twentieth century.
Today, the Tube, as it quickly became known, is often an area of frustration in many commuters’ lives, though we have to admit that without it we would be stranded (probably somewhere near the M25). In honour of its longstanding service, here are ten little-known yet interesting facts about the locations in which underground stations can be found today:
- Bakerloo, the underground railway line which opened in 1906, had its name coined by the Evening Standard, because it ran from Baker Street to Waterloo. This portmanteau proved very unpopular when it was introduced, with many deeming it rather vulgar and undignified.
- Piccadilly, from which Piccadilly Circus gets its name, stems from the nickname for a house belonging to one Robert Baker, a tailor who made his fortune from selling piccadills or piccadillies – a term for collars fashionable at the time.
- Maida Vale in West London has even more impressive beginnings than a well-known recording studio. The area (and tube station) gets its name from the Battle of Maida in southern Italy, where British troops were victorious over the French in 1806.
- Pimlico, an area and station found in Westminster, is almost certainly a relic from native America. Richard Coates argues that the name is transferred from the Pamlico Indians of North America who lived alongside the Pamlico River, near to Sir Walter Ralegh’s Virginia, founded in 1585-7. It is thought the exotic sounding name of Pimlico returned with one of the colonists.
- Rayners Lane station in Harrow opened in 1906. The name is said to come from an old shepherd who lived in a solitary cottage along the lane towards the end of the nineteenth century.
- Marble Arch, from which Marble Arch station takes its name, was originally located in front of Buckingham Palace, until the new east range of Buckingham Palace was constructed in its place. The magnificent Arch now famously sits in the middle of a large traffic island.
- Old Street was old in the thirteenth century! The street from which Old Street station takes its name was an important route into the city well before the introduction of underground railways.
- Chalk Farm, a tube stop and area in North London, is not built on chalk, but rather clay. Called Chaldecotein 1253, meaning ‘the cold cottage(s)’ from old English, which may refer to inhospitable dwellings, the transformation of the original name of this area is simply due to phonetic changes.
- Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs has absolutely nothing to do with the canary bird, and has much more humble beginnings than the impressive commercial property that it now comprises might suggest. Canary Wharf was the name given to a fruit factory built there in 1937, processing fruit from the Spanish island of Canary (Gran Canaria), from the Latin Canaria insula, that is ‘isle of dogs’, referring to the apparently large dogs once found on the island.
- Mile End, called so because it is approximately one mile east of Aldgate, is steeped in British history, being the location for the peasants’ revolt of 1381, when the men of Essex met Richard II and successfully acquired the abolition of feudal serfdom.
The information in this article is taken from A Dictionary of London Place Names by A. D. Mills, now in its second edition.
Image credits: 1) The London Underground in motion. Photo by Jessica C, 2005. Creative Commons License. (via Wikimedia Commons). 2) Marble Arch. Photo by Stephen Mckay, 2007. Creative Commons License (via Wikimedia Commons). 3) Canary Wharf Tube stop. Photo by Mike Knell, 2006. Creative Commons License. (via Wikimedia Commons).