Aug 5, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The London Underground

The London Underground is the world's first underground railway. When it opened in 1863 it used steam locomotives and the carriages were gas lit. Can you imagine? It must have been pretty spooky down there. *Takes a break and furiously scribbles half-a-dozen horror story ideas into notebook*

Aaanyway, to get back to the point, I thought I'd try to find out something about the history of the station names, which I find completely fascinating. Let's crack open the ol' Wikipedia, shall we?

Blackfriars goes back to 1317. The word comes from the French frère meaning 'brother', from the Dominican friars and their black robes. Their priory was located in the area that's called Blackfriars nowadays.

Elephant&Castle. This one was a bit of a bummer. The name is derived from an old coaching in of that name. I did stumble on a fun tidbit in the coaching inn article on Wikipedia: "The Cock" and "The Bull" were two famous coaching inns along the old Roman road, where many tired travellers had a few pints and told tall tales. Thus we get the term "cock-and-bull story." Another origin might be a reference to Aesop's fables, and then the inns could have taken their names from the expression, maybe to encourage people to tell tall tales in their establishments.

Marylebone. The name comes from a parish church dedicated to St Mary, which was built on the bank of a small stream or "bourne," called Tyburn or Tybourne. So no bones involved at all? Bah!

Ravenscourt got its name from a guy who bought the manor and estate in the area, Thomas Corbett, who named it that because he had ravens on his coat of arms. (Narcissistic much?) It's also a pun on his name, because corbeau is French for "raven."

Seven Sisters apparently originates from seven elm trees planted in a circle around a walnut tree in an area called Page Green. No one knows exactly why they were planted, but there's some speculation that the place might have been a sacred grove or a pagan place of worship. Nowadays the trees are hornbeam, planted in a ceremony led by five families of seven sisters. That's kind of cool, I think.

Hope you enjoyed that. Do you have a favourite underground station in London? Where does its name come from?


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