Going Up to London

“When are you next up in town?” I ask my colleague who lives in the north of England.

“Down,” she says, “Look at the map. You come down to London, not up.”

But it’s always been coming ‘up’ to London, no matter where in the country one lives. (A similar thing pertains in Oxford – you go ‘up’ to College, and you can be ‘sent down’ (expelled) from the University.) Is this simply London’s sense of self-importance, or is there another reason?

Today, reading Judith Flanders’ “The Victorian City”, (a very good book – recommended) all became clear. In the early days of the railways as the companies planned their routes and schedules, they needed to distinguish the primary direction on each stretch of track. Hence ‘up’ lines – going towards London – and ‘down’ lines – going away. 

This was so all-pervasive (it lasted until at least after WW2) that it’s stayed fixed in many minds – so we still go ‘up west’, or ‘up to town’ (the centre of the city) regardless of the actual direction of travel.