In Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall the society woman who ships girls to Rio is called Lady Metroland. Her husband, Viscount Metroland, takes his 'funny name' (as Paul Pennyfeather sees it) from a fantasy fiefdom of the London Metropolitan Railway, an advertising man's conceit which tickled the imagination of the public in the 1920s. Metroland was the commuter catchment area for the line running north-west from Baker Street station through a string of 'unspoiled' arcadias and ancient pocket boroughs into the Chiltern Hundreds and the Vale of Aylesbury. The originators of successful brand names deserve to be remembered. According to Alan Jackson's London's Metropolitan Railway (1986), the name Metroland was the inspiration of James Garland, a copywriter in the company's publicity department, who was laid up with flu but leapt out of bed in high Archimedean excitement when the name entered his head. The public first heard of Metroland in 1915, when the railway used it in a penny booklet listing country walks. The ultimate intention was not merely to attract rail passengers but to encourage residential building in areas cannily retained by the company's Surplus Lands Committee. However, 1915 was hardly the time to embark on grand building projects. As a schoolboy at that time I played in half-built houses abandoned, with ladders and unemptied privies, by their builders, in whose homes window cards proclaimed: 'This House has sent a Man to fight for King and Country.' Those who came back from the wars were promised 'homes for heroes', but all too few heroes could afford to live in the sylvan recesses of Metroland, where 'jaded vitality and taxed nerves' were soothed away by pure air, and (as a song said) hearts were lighter and eyes were brighter.
LRB 2 December 2004 | PDF Download