The Morden-Edgware Line #5

The Morden-Edgware Line #5

Transport names can be something of a botch job. Even the most interesting names have fallen to misuse. The Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton for example became the Old, Worse, and Worse, the Midland and Great Northern the Muddle and Get Nowhere. Fortunately London’s tube system hasn’t suffered such vagaries, except perhaps the Northern Line which for years had the dubious honour of being known as the Misery Line. Evidently long names such as the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway or the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway were cumbersome and so we got the Piccadilly and the Bakerloo. With the Morden-Edgware Line there were attempts to try and shorten it for example Mordenware, which didn’t work very well.

Renaming the Morden-Edgware Line:

It is perhaps for those reasons cited above that the LPTB wanted simple descriptive names for its underground lines. Indeed one would wonder why the Euston to Clapham line (and eventually through to Golders Green/Edgware as part of the Hampstead Tube system) couldn’t simply be known as the City Railway. The problem there was there was already such a line. This was the Waterloo and City – which was alluded to as the City Railway in a fair amount of signage.

The City Railway really did exist! Bank station 1927. Source: LT Museum.

The quest for a new tube line name began almost as soon as the plans were extolled for an extension south to Morden and Sutton. In fact the authorities put out a competition in order to find a new and easily remembered title for the entire Morden-Edgware-Highgate system. The Sutton bit that was proposed south from Morden never got built however a new name for the combined Charing Cross Euston and Hampstead and City and South London lines was sought. This as one will see, had a name of sorts by 1923 – perhaps it was more of a description rather than any sort of attempt at a proper name because nobody wanted a tube line where its name had to be rolled off the tongue for quite a few seconds!

Anyone got a new name for the ‘Charing Cross, Euston, Hampstead, Highgate, Clapham Common and Sutton Railway?’ Source: Twitter.

Even after 1924 a new name still hadn’t been found for the line apart from some weird suggestions that were rejected. Upon the opening of the line through to Morden in 1926 the situation of procuring a name for the full works still evaded the authorities.

It wasn’t until the new LPTB was set up that attempts at giving a name to the line was made. The LPTB did in fact decide for a short time to describe the combined Hampstead and City and South London Lines the Edgware Highgate and Morden Line. This naming was merely a stop-gap until a more suitable name could be agreed.

In fact the LPTB did come up with a new name for the line and it was to be known as the Hampstead line. This would be the section from Morden to Edgware. The section (including the yet to be completed sections from Alexandra Palace, Bushey and High Barnet leading south to Finsbury Park and Moorgate) would be known as the Finsbury Line. This arrangement wasn’t a problem of any sort for those lines were in fact to be worked separately – and this clearly explains the reasons for an additional platform and flyover at Edgware station. By this means the Hampstead line trains would terminate at Edgware whilst the Finsbury line trains would continue to/from Bushey Heath. The extra platforms and the flyover that led from these to the Mill Hill/Finchley line were indeed built but never used.

Since many kept shortening the Edgware Highgate and Morden line to Edgware-Morden line right from its inception in 1932, the LPTB decreed that it should be known as the Morden-Edgware Line – and that was made official in 1935. It is entirely possible the LPTB had used that convention instead of the mooted Hampstead line as Morden-Edgware was no doubt more descriptive than just the Hampstead line. And what that likely meant was once the Finsbury line had been completed the Morden-Edgware line would be a complete and fully fledged London Underground route.

Evidently its a reason why the LPTB expended so much on creating that particular brand with route maps, station exterior branding, station signs, direction signs, train branding and so on. In a sense its also a mystery WHY the LPTB eventually decided to throw all that away and rename it all the Northern line!

In view of the forthcoming Northern heights programme and the considerable extension of the tube line to include the Northern City Line route to Finsbury Park and thence onward to Highgate and Muswell Hill, and further north and north west towards Finchley, High Barnet, Mill Hill, Edgware, Elstree and Bushey Heath, it was felt a new name for the envisaged network of tube lines would be needed. Morden-Edgware simply wasn’t a sufficient enough name for this new complex of tube railways. Anyway a competition was promoted by the LPTB and entries were invited. It doesn’t seem as if there were many suggestions…

City West
Cross Town
Greater London
North and South

One might wonder why Edgmor/Edgemore and Edgmorden (three oft cited examples) haven’t been included in the above list. The simple reason is these were conceived in 1924 for the new line between Edgware and Morden. A news cutting for 1st December 1924 on the re-opening of the CSLR discusses new names for the line and Edgmor was one suggestion whilst a different news item suggested it be Edgemore. Naturally these names were offered up in advance of the full opening of the line between Morden and Edgware. What it means is when one finds writers referring to these as part of the attempt to come up with a name for the tube line in the late 1930s, that is quite wrong.

Interborough seems somewhat an odd choice for it is a New York subway – however the intention here was in the sense that the Interborough was the Big Apple’s first proper subway tube and similarly built also with cast iron tunnels much like London’s underground. There was in fact a seriousness behind the name for it both celebrated pioneering tube railways as well as denoting that London’s newly named tube line would no doubt be ‘inter-borough’ by way of its serving far more than ten of the old London boroughs en route. Not only that it would too respect the fact it was an American – Charles Tyson Yerkes – who rescued London’s underground system at a time when it seemed construction of the various lines might cease altogether.

One name that has been referred to a few times – but not ever mentioned by many transport writers – was the line being known as the ‘Test Tube’ – that was for all the wrong reasons however – and that in itself became the source of a number of jokes which varied in nature such as ‘Name of the underground that goes to the Oval’? The ‘Test Tube’!

The ‘Test Tube’ at Tooting Broadway during its opening week. September 1926. Source: Facebook.

Neither Edgmor/Edgemore nor Edgemorden were used when the full City & South London extension to Morden had opened in 1926. It was still un-named when the line was opened from Clapham Common to Morden on 13th September 1926. On that very day however an attempt at giving the line a new name was made! The minister officiating at the opening the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport – Lord Moore-Brabazon, who had driven the inaugural train from Clapham – imply as the new line still didn’t have a name to it he proposed it be called the ‘Test Tube’ and added this was ‘in the sense that it would be a test of London’s support’. No doubt he meant the greater any financial profit could be procured the more chance further new tubes could be built.

The special service with Lord Moore-Brabazon driving the train arrives at Morden from Clapham. 13 September 1926.

The Test Tube was indeed suggested in a moment of jest yet indicated also the Government’s thinking on transport. There were indeed those who were annoyed Moore-Brabazon had suggested such a name, but not only that it too informed the public the Government’s intentions on facilitating transport improvements were somewhat less than honest. The Secretary of the Middlesex Federation of Ratepayers Associations wrote a letter to The Times (28th September 1926) criticising Brabazon’s claim that profitable transit lines could be a thing and they further indicated such Government attitudes were exactly why the pressing need for new tube extensions – especially in North London – got ignored.

Moore-Brabazon who opened the Morden extension advocated the City & South London/Highgate/Edgware line be called the ‘Test Tube’. The poster can be seen at Morden station.

In terms of the uncertainty surrounding the future name of the new line (CSLR plus Hampstead tube plus new extensions) the railway most certainly was the Test Tube for a long thirteen years from December 1924 to August 1937! Talking about unwanted names – let’s not forget during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s it too was unofficially known as the Misery Line!

Brabazon certainly did advocate calling the yet to be Northern Line the Test Tube!

In terms of the other names I’m not so sure about Medgway or Mordenware as it hasn’t been possible to find when these first originated even though these too are almost certainly 1920s rather than 1930s suggestions. Medgway is an amalgamation of Morden, Edgware and Tooting Broadway, whilst Mordenware is pretty obvious. According to Wolmar (2009) these were ‘ghastly suggestions’ from The Times. One other ghastly name that’s alleged to have been made is the oft cited Tutancamden (it was in fact Tootancamden according to sources prior to WWII.) Indeed many writers during the war years extolled upon the fact the Northern line could have been named after an Egyptian Pharaoh (see City Metric or MyLondon for example) Quite a few 1940s authors were almost laughing at the fact someone had dreamt up the Tutancamden Line. Sadly no original source citing that particular name, which would have been be circa 1922, hasn’t been found!

Following on from the merger of the City and South London Railway and the Hampstead Tube the whole line remained incognito and continued to be referred to by its old names. Then came the Edgware Highgate and Morden Line and then the Morden-Edgware Line. That’s three clear re-names for the Morden Edgware group of lines within four years. And then the fourth which came was Northern Line – making that a record of four different names for a London tube railway in just under seven years! The Morden-Edgware was the most successful of those brief attempts prior to it becoming the Northern Line.

Finding a good name for the tube line proved to be quite problematic. For a while it seemed the Morden-Edgware Line would hold its stealth, but the LPTB wanted something with more oomph.

List of alternative names for the Morden-Edgware Line. Source: Twitter.

The internal memo (shown above) that was written in 1937 indicates the LPTB were getting a bit miffed at the attempts to find a new name for the line. That memo lists alternative names which had been put forward and none of these seemed to offer any potential except one which was the ‘Northern.’ This they described as a ‘default’ but ultimately as history showed, they had bitten off more than they could chew!

It was in July 1937 when LPTB announced the Morden-Edgware Line would become known as the Northern Line. The date this change would take place was the 28th of August 1937. In a way the new name was a harbinger of the failures that would befall the tube line. That is examined in depth in the next couple of posts on the Morden-Edgware line.

The southern most tube station of all! Morden in 2023 with part of its rather ugly oversite development visible.

Some parts of the London Underground system continued to show Morden-Edgware Line branding and signage for a few more years despite this change over. Indeed the line was described as such regularly in official documents and Hansard until the 1950s. One example of Morden-Edgware signage staying well into Northern Line days can be seen here.

In reply to a question the above tweet (the ‘X’) tells us the Northern Line had four renaming’s:

City & South London Railway
Hampstead Tube
Morden-Edgware Line
Northern Line

Actually the total should be five:

City & South London Railway
Hampstead Tube
Edgware, Highgate and Morden line
Morden-Edgware Line
Northern Line

If the Charing Cross, Euston, Hampstead, Highgate, Clapham Common and Sutton Railway was inclusive, the total would have been six! Whether that name was used to any great extent is not known however.

Continued in part six – the Northern Heights Scheme.

Note: The feature image is extracted from a 1926 poster used to publicise the new extension to Morden. I discovered the poster in a unrelated archive – evidently the London Transport Museum has never seen it nor does it have a copy! The quality of the poster wasn’t very good thus the ‘Morden’ element of that had to be done in the best way possible in order to achieve a good repro.