TfL accused of ‘Disney-fication’ of London Overground with new line names

Conservative assembly member slams illogical name choices in last week’s renaming of routes, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

London Overground and (inset) Andrew Boff
London Overground and (inset) Andrew Boff

The London Overground’s new line names faced criticism at City Hall on Tuesday (20th), amid accusations that they were an attempt at “Disney-fying” history.

Issues over the historical and geographical accuracy of the names announced last week were raised by Tory assembly member Andrew Boff.

Speaking at a meeting of the London Assembly’s transport committee, Boff said he had “no objection to solving that mass of orange” by giving each of the overground’s six lines an individual identity.

But he said was unsure why some of the pre-existing names for the routes were not officially adopted, such as the ‘Goblin line’ – a popular moniker for the train linking Gospel Oak with Barking Riverside.

Transport for London (TfL) commissioner Andy Lord replied: “I don’t think anything’s wrong with ‘Goblin’, assembly member Boff, but it’s not an official name of the railway.”

Boff said: “But it’s what residents in the area call it. I live in the area – that’s the name of the line. I just wondered why you didn’t make it a bit easier for people to adopt the new names?”

The ‘Goblin line’ has been officially named ‘the Suffragette line’, chosen according to City Hall because it “celebrates the working-class movement born in the East End that fought for votes for women”. They added: “Barking was home to Annie Huggett, the longest surviving Suffragette.”

Boff pointed out that promotional materials promoting the new line name included a picture of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. The image was included in photos and videos issued by the TfL and Mayor of London social media accounts.

“Millicent Fawcett was not a Suffragette – in fact, she didn’t support the Suffragettes. Is this the Disney-fication of history?” Boff asked.

Lord said the lines had been named based on “quite significant consultation with various groups, to reflect the history and local communities that the lines pass through or serve”.

He added: “We are never going to be able to satisfy 100% of people on any choice of names. I think we’ve come up with a set of names that reflect, appropriately, parts of London’s culture and history, [and the] successes of various groups that have made a significant contribution.

“I’m not aware that we’ve issued anything that is incorrect.”

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The Tory assembly member repeated that the decision to use Millicent Fawcett’s image in the promotional materials “seems rather bizarre, when she most clearly was not a Suffragette, [and] in fact opposed the Suffragettes”.

Seb Dance, London’s deputy mayor for transport, responded to Boff by saying that the term ‘Suffragette’ was “actually coined by the Daily Mail as a term of insult” but that the name had since been co-opted by those who supported votes for women.

Fawcett was leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). She took a moderate approach to obtaining the right to vote through peaceful and legal means – in contrast to the militancy and direct action of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), led by Emmeline Pankhurst. The name ‘Suffragette’ was indeed coined by a Daily Mail journalist, but was used specifically to refer to members of the WSPU.

Boff also questioned the decision to name the line from Stratford to Richmond and Clapham Junction the ‘Mildmay Line’.

“This is more Disneyfication, isn’t it?” said Boff, explaining that TfL’s publicity had claimed the line was named after Mildmay Hospital, despite its route going “nowhere near it”.

The Mildmay Mission Hospital in Shoreditch was founded in the late 1800s by the members of the Mildmay Mission – which itself was founded at a church on Mildmay Grove, in the part of Newington Green which the line passes through.

The hospital played an important role during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, and became famous due to numerous visits from Princess Diana.

Dance said the line was therefore named only “in recognition” of the hospital, rather than suggesting a geographical closeness to it.

“It’s a very poignant recognition – one I should say that the staff and patients at the Mildmay Hospital have been really appreciative of,” said Dance.

“It recognises the fact that for so many people who suffered with HIV and AIDS, they were under-recognised, they were discriminated against.

“The recognition of that community through a simple gesture of naming a line that is easy to remember, that people recognise – it doesn’t matter that the vast majority of people using the Mildmay Line will not be travelling to Mildmay Hospital.”

Boff asked whether TfL would consider adding numbers to each of the tube and overground lines as an extra way of distinguishing them from each other.

He said: “Is it not time that we considered at least adding a number to our lines, to make it easier for tourists to get around? It’s a breeze to get round the Paris Metro, because they’re numbered.”

Dance said it was an “interesting suggestion” but London’s “tradition” was to use names.

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