This story is indeed an odd one. In the depths of Suffolk and Broads National Park, Tingdene Broadlands ironically has a fully functioning Rail network adjacent - Oulton Broad South Station. One of our lodge owners occasionally visits central London for the day for a spot of shopping, sight seeing, a glass of wine, hopping on and off the tube and then returns to their lodge retreat for the evening by train.
In conversation with one of our team the question was asked ' ...where do London Tube stations get their strange names from?'
Our response was ' we had no on idea whatsoever on this subject!' - however as this seemed no doubt like an interesting topic we though we would delve deeper and fight out more! After all if we have any overseas visitors to the park we can woo them with our knowledge & history of our famous capital!
Scan a map of the London Underground for the first time, and you’ll likely notice that it is more than the ground-breaking design that seems imaginative. The names of the stations, too, can seem curiously, even bizarrely, whimsical. Some seem suited better to a medieval fantasy (Knightsbridge, Queensway) or a children’s book (Piccadilly Circus, Elephant & Castle) and others still make Londoners giggle (Shepherd’s Bush, Cockfosters).
But these names weren’t chosen simply to give city-dwellers an alternate world to imagine as they hurtle beneath the capital. Some of their origins, in fact, date back millennia.
Elephant & Castle: One of the more whimsical (and perplexing) station names, this one in south London, oddly enough, most likely comes from the Worshipful Company of Cutlers– a medieval guild of craftsmen who made swords and knives. Granted in 1622, their crest included an elephant… carrying a castle. It’s usually believed that the elephant referred to the ivory that they used for their handles. And the castle? Possibly included to show the scale of an elephant, as few Europeans in the Middle Ages would have ever seen the creature before. Given that the cutlers likely supplied arms to King Henry V at the decisive Battle of Agincourt in 1415, though, there might be an argument that the elephant here, with the tower on its back, is a symbol of support for the state.
Either way, when an inn called the Elephant and Castle operated here by the 18th Century, it was likely in homage to cutlers in the area, writes Cyril M Harris in his book What's in a Name?: Origins of Station Names on the London Underground. The cutlers may be long-gone from the neighbourhood, and the pub may have been demolished in 1959, but their influence lives on at the nearby shopping centre – where the pub’s old frontage now hangs – as well as in the name of the station, which serves the Bakerloo and Northern Lines.
Today, this area of west London, with the Tube stop of the same name, is known for its pricey flats and upmarket stores (both Harrods and Harvey Nichols have their flagships here). But as appropriately noble as it sounds, the name Knightsbridge – first recorded in 1046 as Cnihtebricge, evolving into Knyghtsebrugg by 1364 – recalls a much rougher past.
The word ‘bridge’ comes from Old English ‘brycġ’, of the same meaning. Here, it refers to a crossing over the West Bourne River – one of the ‘lost rivers’ of London, which was re-routed through an underground sewer in the 19th Century. A ‘knight’, on the other hand, meant a boy or young man, particularly one in someone’s employment. The young men referred to here might have been employed to keep up – or even defend – the bridge. Or perhaps they just loitered: “one explanation for the name Knightsbridge is that it was a place where the local yoof hung out”, writes Caroline Taggart in The Book of London Place Names. Things didn’t go much better for Knightsbridge over the ensuing centuries, when it was seen as out of the way enough to house lepers, slaughter animals or – in the 18th Century – for highwaymen to hold up passersby.