diamond geezer

 Thursday, May 09, 2019

London's Least Used First Letter

Imagine a complete gazetteer of London including place names, landscape features, station names, tourist attractions, etc... the full range of locations. Now imagine flicking through the 26 alphabetical sections in its index. There'd be countless entries for certain letters, but very few for others. These, I reckon, would be the five fewest.


Unsurprisingly there are no locations in London beginning with X.

Indeed there are no places in the entire UK beginning with X, according to Wikipedia's strangely comprehensive List of United Kingdom locations. In London's case that's no suburbs, no stations, no roads... perhaps the odd nightclub and a dozen Chinese restaurants, but nothing of any geographical significance. That said, the index at the back of a London A-Z isn't completely blank for the letter X. There is a single entry, which is Xylon House in Worcester Park.

I went to Sutton to have a look.

Here's the building in question at the very top of Central Road. That's Sainsbury's end rather than the Waitrose end. Sainsbury's fills the entire ground floor, above which are two floors of offices (home to Keith Michaels car insurance and the team from Trinity Homecare), above which is a row of eight flats. For Worcester Park it's quite modern, very much at odds with the rest of the shopping parade in this archetypal Thirties high street. There's just one catch, the building's been renamed. It was Xylon House at the start of the 1990s, but by 1996 had become Harcros House, and today it's dull old Central House. Amusingly there's a map of the local area on the front wall beside the cashpoint, courtesy of the same company who print the A-Z, and that shows Xylon House on this very spot. But there is no Xylon House because the London A-Z is two decades out of date, so 'X' is very much the letter London forgot.


London's second least used index letter has to be Z. Again no names of suburbs, boroughs, stations etc start with Z, but unlike X there is a well known London attraction that instantly springs to mind. London Zoo is as well known as they come, and is officially known as ZSL London Zoo after the Zoological Society of London. This ticks all the Z boxes, twice.

Because of this, a London bus stop exists whose name begins with Z. In fact there are four, the others being a bus stand in Thornton Heath called Zion Road and two stops called Zangwill Road off Shooters Hill Road in Kidbrooke. Zangwill Road is also one of sixteen entries in the 'Z' section of my London A-Z, confirming that there are Zs out there if you know where to look. Just not very many.


It's arguable whether J or Y comes third in the Least Frequent Initial Letter stakes, but I'm going with J. No London boroughs start with J, nor London constituencies, nor the names of any London suburbs. Admittedly the B12 bus goes to Joyden's Wood but that's marginally in Kent, with the Greater London boundary slicing off a small portion of the ancient woodland of the same name. As for stations, none of London's tube stations or railway stations begin with J, indeed only two stations in the whole of England start with that letter. But London can manage a disused station, so that's something, namely Junction Road.

Junction Road was one of two stations between Gospel Oak and Upper Holloway on what's now the Goblin, part of the London Overground. It opened in 1872 and was initially very popular, but once a tube station opened at Tufnell Park two minutes down the road all went rather quiet. John Betjeman was even inspired by the solitude to write a poem called Suicide on Junction Road Station after Abstention from Evening Communion in North London, which ended badly, thus.
Six on the up side! six on the down side!
    One gaslight in the Booking Hall
And a thousand sins on this lonely station—
    What shall I do with them all?
The station closed for good in 1943, was demolished in the 1950s, and all that remains is a road called Station Road branching off from Junction Road. Other roads beginning with J are more common, thanks to large number of streets named after Jacobs, Janes, Jameses, Johns and Juliets, and some are even well known like Jermyn Street in Piccadilly. The most prominent J in London is undoubtedly the Jubilee line, which is a biggie, but the absence of anywhere specifically called J-something relegates J to third place in my list.


Again no stations begin with Y, either on the tube or on the railway network. Again there's one disused station, namely York Road on the Piccadilly line north of King's Cross, extant 1906-1932. Again several street names begin with Y, about half of that total being called York Road, York Street or York Something. But where Y really scores over J is that not one but two London suburbs begin with the letter, both of them in Hillingdon.

Yeading's on Hillingdon's eastern side, between Hayes and Northolt, and I blogged about the place in depth in January. It's never had a station because no railway goes within a mile of the place. Yiewsley's on the western side, adjacent to West Drayton, indeed between 1895 and 1974 its station was called West Drayton and Yiewsley. More importantly, between 1911 and 1965 the local local government area was called Yiewsley and West Drayton Urban District, which is a huge tick in the 'starts with Y' box. Poor old J, Z and X never boasted anything as big as that.


There are lots of Qs in London, mainly thanks to the fact that we've had a queen not a king for the majority of the last 200 years. Queensbury and Queen's Park are actual London suburbs starting with Q, each with an actual station that begins with Q too. Further Q stations exist at Queensway, Queens Road Peckham and Queenstown Road (Battersea). Several hospitals start with Q for royal reasons, ditto reservoirs and theatres, not to mention the enormous post-Olympic park in E20. And beyond Q all the other letters of the alphabet suddenly become increasingly popular (I for Ilford, K for Kensington, V for Vauxhall, and tons and tons of Bs, Cs, Ss and Ws), so let's not go there.

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