Thursday, 12th December 2013

by Joshua Gaskell

Johnson revealed he was considering sponsorship of tube stations, saying if Samsung wanted to change Tottenham Court Road to the company name, he was not against the idea in principle so long as the right fee was paid., Tuesday 3rd December 2013

I decide to write an open letter. Not to send, just to get it off my chest.

Dear Mr Johnson,

I am writing to urge you to abandon your plans to allow the sponsorship of tube stations.

It may seem like a small thing to you, but the language, imagery, and intent of street (and below street level) architecture, and (even functional) public art have a part to play in people’s sense of place, continuity, and psychogeography.

Tottenham Court Road is so named because it led from the parish of St Giles in the Fields (the location of the tube station) to Tottenham Court, the manor house of a man named Totta, on record a thousand years ago as Thottanheale, which stood where Euston now does, three stops up the Northern Line. The name has meant something for dozens of generations, and it still does. An illustrious and traceable family history may make other kinds of local history seem parochial or less important to you, but your office carries with it a duty to exercise stewardship on behalf of us all.

And anyway, didn’t someone once almost say that the Tory party is the Church of England not at prayer? You must know what it says in the Bible about Mammon? It says, ‘Ye cannot serve [it and] God.’ Your proposal is an example of big-C Conservatism at its most vicious; that is, not even constrained by the human face of actual, small-c conservatism. The signs on a few National Rail platforms have already been vulgarised by adverts, and I hope the men and women of the RMT set their jaws and face this one down.

Some people might say that I’m over-reacting. After all, it’s not the name of the street you’re proposing to change, just the name of the station, which it has only born since 1900. But if the only question is of the right fee, then why not start renaming streets? Give people a couple of decades to swallow this outrage, then visit the next, eh? If people greet these inchmeal incursions with apathy and a naive acceptance of your global race and austerity yarns, then you’ll get your way and – whoops! – another thirty years have past: a bond of trust has been abused, something of value may be lost, and people haven’t got the time, the blood, or the billions to get it back.

A sign saying ‘Tottenham Court Road’ is there to help people get from A to B; it is placed there, disinterestedly, by TfL, which is answerable to the GLA, which is answerable to Parliament, which is answerable to, er, the People. A sign saying ‘Home of Samsung’ is there for… other reasons; it is placed there, interestedly, by Samsung Group, which is answerable to its shareholders.

In short, please do not outcry our public infrastructure and civic history to a conjurer of electronic tricks. It is not your fucking place, sir. So draw the line.

Yours sincerely,
Donald Pincher, SE23.