Pimlico. Goodge Street. Tufnell Park. It’s not something we tend to notice when zipping from one station to the next, but so many of our city’s streets and tube stops take their names from men. Ben Pimlico was a brewer famous for nut brown ale. John Goodge was a carpenter and William Tufnell was a wealthy landowner. All three have London underground stops that bear their surnames, and whether or not we notice it on our rushed commutes, that cements them into our history. What if the gendered infrastructure of the capital actually had a gender balance, and used its place names to reflect the women who had shaped those very areas for the better?
A new public history project led by author Reni Eddo-Lodge and actor Emma Watson is trying to explore that very question by renaming all 270 stops of the TfL tube map after influential London women and non-binary people. It’s a move inspired by a similar map of the New York subway created by writers Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro for the book ‘Nonstop Metropolis’.
When a revised version of the map was released, Solnit reflected on the project, writing: ’How does it impact our imaginations that so many places in so many cities are named after men and so few after women? What kind of landscape do we move through when streets and parks and statues and bridges are gendered […] and it’s usually one gender, and not another? What kind of silence arises in places that so seldom speak of and to women? This map was made to sing the praises of the extraordinary women who have, since the beginning, been shapers and heroes of this city that has always been, secretly, a City of Women. And why not the subway? This is a history still emerging from underground, a reminder that it’s all connected, and that we get around.’
Eddo-Lodge and Watson’s project is called City of Women London and is being launched in partnership with The WOW Foundation, which runs the Women of the World Festival every year at the Southbank Centre. A community of historians, writers, curators, community organisers, museums, and librarians are being consulted to help decide which names will appear on the map, but the public are also encouraged to send their own submissions via this form or email at email@example.com.
As acknowledged by the organisers, this won’t be the first time the London Underground route has been reimagined in such a way. In 2017, art collective Thick/er Black Lines launched the Tate workshop and exhibition ‘We Apologise for the Delay to Your Journey’, a reworking of the tube map which renamed stops as after Black British women/femme artists and cultural workers. In its submission form, City of Women London states that it hopes that this project will ‘further contribute to the way London is imagined, navigated, and lived’.
Since news of the project was announced earlier this week, Twitter has been fired up with suggestions of women to include. Many have nominated community activist Olive Morris for the Brixton tube stop and Notting Hill Carnival pioneer Claudia Jones for Ladbroke Grove. It’s not limited to historical figures either – in the New York edition, stops were reimagined as Yoko Ono, Grace Jones and Cardi B. What matters most is that they are somehow significant to a chosen area of the city (think of what Zadie Smith’s writing means to Brent, or why Amy Winehouse is so irrevocably linked to Camden).
When the names are eventually decided, a final design of the map will be published and later released as a book on International Women’s Day 2021. If you know of a brilliant activist, artist or author from your area who absolutely deserves to be honoured in tube-stop form, you can submit their name and the reason for the nomination here. Who knows? Maybe it will change the way we think on our commutes. Instead of passing listlessly from one stop to the next, maybe we’ll pause to think of Olive Morris, or Andrea Levy, or Claudia Jones, or another name that truthfully speaks to the history of our city, and to you.
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