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How 12 tube stations got their names

David Clack

Ever sat on the tube staring at the station names wondering what it all means? New book ‘Why Do Shepherds Need A Bush?’ by David Hilliam has got the answers. And it turns out we were waaaaay off.


What we’d always assumed: Something to do with an old witch who lives in the station. That’s why it’s now closed – she got battered one night and turned a load of commuters into pigeons. 


But actually… When the Saxon King Alfred (871–899) defeated the invading Danes, he generously allowed some of them to live on in this area, under his rule. The settlement was known as Aldwic – the ‘old village’. 


Canada Water


What we’d always assumed: Named after the many Canadians who once enjoyed drinking in London’s only ice hockey-themed bar, now an All Bar One.


But actually… Canada Water is a lake and wildlife refuge in Rotherhithe. The lake is named after Canada Dock, which used to be on this site and was principally used by ships importing and exporting goods from Canada.


Goodge Street


What we’d always assumed: Named after legendary England batsman Graham Gooch, who was too polite to point out TfL's spelling error.


But actually… In the eighteenth century this land was called Crab Tree Field and Walnut Tree Field. It belonged to a carpenter called John Goodge. On his death in 1748, his nephews developed the land for building.


High Barnet 


What we’d always assumed: Static electricity built up in the ticket halls during peak commuting hours causes everyone’s hair to stand on air, giving them a ‘high barnet’. 


But actually… The Saxon word baernet meant a ‘burning’ – in other words, a clearing in the forest made by burning the trees and undergrowth.




What we’d always assumed: Rebranded by estate agents in the 1990s, hoping people would confuse it with significantly posher Kensington.


But actually… Probably derives from the name of a Saxon chief known as Cœna and means ‘the farm or estate of Cœna’s people’. Alternatively, there is a possibility that it may derive from the Old English kynig-tun, or ‘king’s town’, for it was once a royal manor. 




What we’d always assumed: Named after Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, who’s actually a time-travelling cyborg, which explains why he’s so utterly dull. 


But actually… ‘Leofsa’s village’. In other words, the ham, or ‘homestead’, of a Saxon chief with this name.




What we’d always assumed: Someone nearby once tried to build a house out of limes, back when Londoners were still blissfully ignorant about the structural integrity of stacked citrus fruit. 


But actually… The lime kilns, or ‘oasts’, around this dockland area gave Limehouse its name – for the ‘house’ part is a corruption of the Old English word ast, meaning ‘kiln’. 


Marble Arch 


What we’d always assumed: No idea. But it’s definitely nothing to do with that massive arch made of marble. Too obvious. 


But actually… Marble Arch, constructed out of Carrara marble and one of the most famous landmarks in London, is rather oddly sited. Originally, in 1827, it was set up in front of Buckingham Palace, during the reign of George IV. However, it did not find favour with Queen Victoria and so it was moved to its present site in 1851.




What we’d always assumed: Given an vaguely sniggersome name to alleviate the sheer tedium of riding the DLR.


But actually… This area is named after the nearby Mudchute Park and Farm. This was originally a piece of derelict land created in the nineteenth century from the spoil from the construction of Millwall Dock.


Shepherd’s Bush


What we’d always assumed: Something to do with pubes. Got to be. 


But actually… This name derives from the widespread practice among shepherds of clipping and trimming a suitable tree or bush into a sort of upright shelter which was lined with straw so that they could stand, leaning back, to watch their sheep in comfort.


Tooting Bec


What we’d always assumed: Named after a flatulent Victorian called Bec.


But actually... The ‘Tooting’ part is Saxon, and means ‘place where Tota’s followers live’ and ‘Bec’ refers to the fact that in medieval times the land here was owned by the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary of Bec in Normandy. 


‘Why Do Shepherds Need A Bush?’ by David Hilliam, published by The History Press, is out now, priced £8.99.

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