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Contributing Advent 16: St. Johns vs. St John's

I already wrote about comparing OS Locator data with OpenStreetMap for day 2 and day 8, but there are plenty of other highlights in London that I can easily have a look at. So a certain lunch time walk brought me to the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. I first looked at Camborne Mews (which OS Locator had as Cambourne Mews) and Cowling Close (which OpenStreetMap had as Cowling Cross).

But the more interesting thing to look at was the last one of the three. Apostrophes are always a tricky part, both for mappers as well as councils. I had already run into St. Marks Road back in 2010 but ITO World now also flagged up St. Johns Gardens. Both segments were mapped as St. John's Gardens in OpenStreetMap. OS Locator has the street as two different names. For the western segment it has St John's Gardens:

For the eastern segment it has St Johns Gardens:

These images are extracts from another comparison tool between OS Locator and OpenStreetMap, called OS Locator musical chairs, made by Robert Scott.

In any case, after visiting Cowling Close slightly to the west, I came through Clarendon Road and there on the corner with St John's Gardens, I spotted the following sign:

Ah! So I concluded, the name of the street is St John's Gardens, with apostrophe.

I continued along the road towards St Johns Church, and on the corner with Lansdowne Road I found the following two signs:

Argh, both without apostrophe! On the north end around the church, on the corner with Lansdowne Crescent, there two more signs without apostrophe (sorry, one was too blurry to add here):

I took another photo on the corner with Ladbroke Grove but didn't pay much attention to it and assumed it was without apostrophe as well. So with five signs saying St Johns Gardens (without apostrophe) and sign with St John's Gardens (with apostrophe), the street is surely just called St Johns Gardens. Back home, I then edited OpenStreetMap to say that the name of the streets are St Johns Gardens and not St John's Gardens.

Just now, while writing the article I had a better look at the sign on the corner with Ladbroke Grove:

And yes, there is indeed an apostrophe… What surprises me most however is that it's really up to the council to decide the spelling of street names, and convey that information to Ordnance Survey. Apparently, they can't make their minds up on what to print on the signs, and what to tell Ordnance Survey (considering they had two parts of the same street with two different names). In any case, OpenStreetMap maps what is on the ground, and right now, with three against two, St Johns Gardens (without apostrophe) wins.


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That kind of "schrödinger's apostrophe" is quite frequent with English street names. Between typos, technical restrictions, and olde spellings, it's often impossible to tell.

Often I end up tagging "name=John's street" and "alt_name=Johns street".

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