How to pronounce selected London place and street names
The correct pronunciations of some London place names are totally unguessable. For example, outsiders can’t reasonably be expected to know how to pronounce Southwark or Beauchamp Place or those Thames islets called ‘eyots’.
Even official sources make mistakes. When they were first introduced, the recorded announcements on the tube got east London’s Plaistow wrong. A chorus of cockney complaints prompted London Underground to implement a swift correction.
Some pronunciations that are obvious to Brits can be baffling to everyone else. The American writer Jean Hannah Edelstein has blogged about her time as a London resident: “The first place I lived was Great Dover Street, an LSE hall of residence in Borough, which was pronounced ‘burra’, which I only learned when I got to the tube stop and heard it announced. Which I couldn’t quite believe.”
Certain well-known London addresses can be famously difficult for foreign visitors to articulate properly. Leicester and Grosvenor Squares are classic instances. And this author has eastern European friends who speak excellent English yet are incapable of saying ‘Thames’ right.
A handful of the places listed below may seem curious inclusions. For example, how else could ‘Cheam’ be pronounced? Guidance in such apparently unambiguous cases is usually given because the author has noticed people arriving at Hidden London via a search for something like “how to pronounce Cheam”, without at that time being able to find the answer they sought. Aldersgate, Fitzrovia and Leadenhall are other examples of inclusions based on past user searches. And given the many quirks of London speech, who can be blamed for wanting to check whether some place name is really pronounced as it’s written?
Please make contact if you’d like to suggest a place name that should be added to this guide.
Agar Town AY-gar town
Arnos Grove AR-noss grove, i.e. as though it never had an apostrophe
Beauchamp Place BEE-chəm place
Berkeley Square BARK-lee square
Bow to rhyme with go
Bowes Park boze park
Buckingham Palace Like almost every place name ending in ‘ham’ (and London has dozens of them), the ‘h’ is silent in British English
Cadogan Square kə-DUG-ən square
Carshalton Nowadays car-SHAWL-tən but formerly case-HOR-tən (apparently)
Castelnau is usually pronounced as in ‘neither castle nor city’ but minorities prefer a couple of French-influenced variations
Chessington is pronounced CHEZZ-ing-tən by many locals
Cheyne Walk CHAY-nee wark
Chiswick Eyot CHIZ-ik ait
Clapham CLAP-əm, despite the jokey, mock-posh claahm occasionally affected by some residents
Cockfosters is pronounced exactly as it looks – unlike, say, Cockburn’s port (which is pronounced Co’burns)
Colney Hatch CONE-ee hatch
Conduit Street Purists say CUN-dit; ordinary people say CON-dwit or even CON-dew-it
Coulsdon Widely pronounced COOLZ-dən but purists insist it should be COALZ-dən
Cubitt Town KEW-bit town
De Beauvoir is pronounced də BEE-vər by purists but à la française by most locals
Friern Barnet ‘Friern’ is usually pronounced as in friar by locals, but some prefer FREE-ən
Gidea Park GID-ee-ə park
Gower Street ‘Gower’ is pronounced to rhyme with power
Greenwich GREN-itch (Queen’s English) or GRIN-idge (local preference)
Grosvenor Square GRO-vənə square
Havering-atte-Bower HAY-vəring AT-tee bour (as in sour)
Haverstock Hill HAV-ə-stok hill
Heneage Lane HEN-idge lane
Holborn Usually HO-bən, though some articulate the ‘l’
Jermyn Street Hidden London believes it is perfectly acceptable to pronounce ‘Jermyn’ as it looks, i.e. JER-min; however, there is also a ‘German’ school of thought (i.e. JER-mən), while tiny minorities advocate jer-MAIN and JAR-mən
Lansbury American readers may pronounce Angela Lansbury’s surname as LANZ-beh-ree but in London English it’s more like LANZ-bree – and the same applies to this estate in Poplar, which is named after her grandfather
Leamouth Like almost all British place names ending in ‘mouth’, the second syllable is pronounced with the indeterminate vowel sound, so it’s LEE-məth
Leighton House LAY-tən house
Leman Street LEM-ən street (locally preferred, as in ‘lemon’) or LEE-mən street
Leicester Square LESS-tə square
Lewisham LUI-shəm nowadays, formerly LEWIS-həm
Maida Hill and Maida Vale Although these localities indirectly take their names from Maida in Calabria, there is no hint of Italian in their London pronunciation, which is simply as in ‘made a hill and made a vale’
Marylebone MA-ree-li-bən (Marrylibun) or MAR-lee-bən (NB Some guides do not accept the validity of the Marrylibun pronunciation; Hidden London finds this baffling as it’s the one most people use)
Millwall is pronounced exactly as it looks – but cockneys tend to put more emphasis on the second syllable than might be expected
Nower Hill ‘Nower’ is pronounced to rhyme with slower
Osidge rhymes with sausage
Pall Mall Usually as in pallet and mallet but it was formerly pronounced pell mell
Petrie Museum ‘Petrie’ is pronounced as in ‘peach tree’ (but without the ‘ch’)
Pield Heath peeld heath
Plaistow (Bromley) Usually PLAY-stoh
Plaistow (Newham, the better-known Plaistow) PLAR-stoh
Platt’s Eyot The words ‘eyot’ and ’ait’ are used interchangeably to denote the small islands of the Thames and the two are pronounced identically, as in eight
St Martin’s-le-Grand is pronounced English style, with no French influence
St Pancras sənt PANK-rəss
Savile Row SAV-əll row
Smitham as in with ’em
Southwark SUTH-ək (as in southerly)
Somers Town SUM-mərs town
Spitalfields Once you know that this place was originally the ‘hospital fields’, it’s easy to remember how to pronounce it
Stroud Green ‘Stroud’ rhymes with ‘cloud’ not ‘clued’
Surrey Quays SURR-ee keys
Theobalds Road Apparently, TIB-aulds is strictly correct, but everyone pronounces it as it looks
Tottenham TOT-ənəm (the same applies to Tottenham Court Road, although the names of the district and the street possess only an incidental etymological connection)
Warwick Avenue WORR-ick AV-in-nyu
Woolwich WOOL-idge or WOOL-itch
Yiewsley YOU-zly, to rhyme with muesli
Stressed syllables are capitalised
A rotated ‘e’ (ə) indicates a schwa – the indeterminate vowel sound
A superscript letter indicates one that is optionally or barely articulated
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