There is a story that crops up ever so often that during the Tutankhamun mania of the mid-1920s, the Northern line was nearly named the Tootancamden line.

This odd little story from the 1920s is timely though, thanks to the forthcoming Tutankhamun exhibition in London. So you might hear the story of the Tootancamden line being repeated a fair bit over the next few months, especially by people copy/pasting from Wikipedia.

But, how accurate is the claim?

The extension to the Northern line from Clapham Common to Morden was under construction between 1923 and 1926 which was right in the height of Egyptomania following Howard Carter’s discovery of the famous tomb in 1923.

So it’s quite possible that the unnamed extension could have been given a fashionable name that was also a pun on the fact that the line went through Tooting and Camden – Tootancamden.

When it was completed, the line was known as the London Electric Railway – with two black lines, the Hampstead and Highgate line, and the City and South London Railway. It soon became known as the Morden-Edgware line but was only formally renamed the Northern line in 1937.

But back to the 1920s…

The most cited report for the Egyptian inspired name comes from The Long Week-End: A Social History of Great Britain 1918-1939 by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge, where they state that “it was seriously proposed, for example, that the Underground extension from Morden to Edgware, then under construction, should be called Tootancamden because it passed through both Tooting and Camden Town”.

That comment is repeated by an awful lot of other publications and even academic papers.

The problem is that as far as I can tell, not only is the very first reference to there being any such suggestion, it’s also the only independent reference to the naming proposal – and if it had, as the book says been a serious proposal, then copious amounts of evidence would back up the claim.

However, nothing, not a single other comment can be dug up from any of my usual historical resources.

Lots of people are citing the book as a source for the story, but no one is citing any other source for the story. It’s all down to this one solitary claim.

So, while it’s possible that there is a document somewhere suggesting that the line be called the Tootancamden line, it was certainly not a serious proposal, and wasn’t widely supported either. Frankly, Graves oft-cited book was written at a time when hearsay was more acceptable as a historical source and Graves was not above a bit of embellishment when a good story presented itself.

Which is a bit of a pity as it is a fun story to tell.

Sorry.

With talk of splitting the Northern line in two though – maybe it’s time to resurrect the suggestion and campaign for one of the two branches to be renamed the Tootancamden line when they are finally split.

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3 comments on “Was the Northern line nearly named after Tutankhamun?
  1. ChrisC says:

    Is this the same Robert Graves who wrote ‘I Claudius’ (sometimes called I Clavdivs) ?

  2. Geoffrey says:

    The Northern Line needs to be renamed before the Battersea Power Station Extension opens. The line through Charing Cross which then will either turn round at kennington or go on to Battersea (never again to Morden)should be named the Strand Line and retain the Black Colour on the map and the line through Bank should be Lombard Line and have Gold Colour. Nort of Camden Town the two lines would share track and the map colours adjoin like Picadilly Blue and Metropolitan purple beyond Rayners Lane. The lLine reflect the major street names at Bank and Charing Cross stations.

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