London: Piccadilly Line

[Still needs work on…most of the suburban parts on the western branches; and South Kensington to Covent Garden.]

One chilly Sunday in November 2008 I cycled all the way from Lambeth up the Piccadilly Line to Cockfosters – a distance of about 14 miles. What enticed me was the prospect of finding Charles Holden’s wonderful 1930s Art Deco stations on the later part of the route, but I hadn’t anticipated the enormous interest and charm even of the older stations in the middle of London, including particularly Leslie Green’s Tube stations; nor had I realised the sheer pleasure of a “big project” to explore the whole of London. It turns out this is a great way to discover places I’d never have found otherwise – and to learn a lot of history and geography – and to become a complete bore on the subject of the Tube! And so began my Grand London Project. It could of course encompass all the bus routes, the overground rail routes, the main roads (A1, A26 etc), the parks, canals, walks and cemeteries…ooh yes, particularly those glorious Victorian cemeteries. But for the moment we’ll get to work on the Tube lines.

The line began as the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (GNP&BR), but if you want tedious detail have a look at the Wikipedia article on the Piccadilly Line. On a more interesting note, it can reasonably claim to be London’s premier tube line: it stops at Heathrow airport, a lot of hotels, shops and tourist attractions; it and runs out to generally pleasant suburban areas; it also hits a lot of theatre and entertainment areas, including of course Piccadilly Circus. It is, of course, not just a single stretch of track: it has three “ends”, one of which is actually a loop. The basic idea is that all services run on the eastern part, while the western branches get half each: but in addition, some trains only go part-way and then turn round at Northfields, Rayners Lane or Arnos Grove. Strictly the Heathrow part is a subordinate branch, but in detail the various routes are:

  • Heathrow Terminal 5 – Cockfosters
  • Heathrow Terminal 4 – Cockfosters via Terminals 1,2,3
  • Uxbridge – Cockfosters
  • Rayners Lane to Cockfosters
  • Northfields – Arnos Grove
  • Beyond Rayners Lane the route is shared with the Metropolitan Line, so life isn’t quite as bad for those far-flung people as it might seem.
  • Late evening services terminate at the Oakwood depot instead of Cockfosters.
  • Turnham Green is only a stop during early mornings and late evenings: since Acton Town – Earls Court is also a District Line route, it’s served during the day by the District Line.

In terms of writing up my journeys it feels best to cheat, as usual, and write it up in a generally west-to-east sequence as if I were doing it all in one day. I have in fact cycled various parts of the Piccadilly Line in both directions, though not yet all of it – sometimes in bright sunshine and other times in fog and rain, so things may get a little confused. And for the section from Acton Town to South Kensington we’ll be traversing the same route as the District Line but in the opposite direction – but perhaps we’ll spot something different doing it this way!

Piccadilly Line Map

As well as the stations shown on the map, the Piccadilly Line has rather a lot of closed stations and also a completely fictional one. Partly this is just due to the ravages of time, but it also seems to reflect the changing needs and circumstances of a line which has grown up in various stages. These stations attract their own following, not least because some are still in use as film sets or practice areas for the emergency services – so for the record, the closed ones are Aldwych, Brompton Road, Down Street, Osterley & Spring Grove, Park Royal & Twyford Abbey, and York Road. And Vauxhall Cross is a completely fictional invention for the James Bond film Die another Day.

But we’ve talked enough. Let’s get going with the Heathrow stations, in the hope that this might help anyone arriving in Britain from “across the pond”.

Heathrow Terminal 5

The Terminal 5 station is very new, functional, and just a touch boring – but at least as an introduction to Britain it’s not a screaming embarrassment. When I last came through, the only part of Terminal 5 that really knew what it was doing, so I’ll offer a few thoughts here for the tired tourist. Terminal 5 only serves British Airways so there may be differences for the other terminals – but largely it’s the same story. There are of course endless websites about Heathrow, including the official Heathrow website and the Wikipedia article on Heathrow.

  • Tourists arriving at Heathrow typically want to get into central London. There are many options, but the Piccadilly Line is the only one I’d generally recommend to anyone who wants to hang onto some of their money. If your journey might take you through Paddington there are other possibilities, but I wouldn’t be enthusiastic about them unless Paddington is an obvious point on the journey.

    L Taxi: very slow and horribly expensive (£100), and you’ll have a London cabbie moaning into your ear all the way. Don’t even think of it.

    J Piccadilly Line: slow (about an hour) but affordable (£4.50 on an Oyster Card), and good if your destination lies close to the Piccadilly Line itself or a connecting line – which it probably does. It’s also a chance to chug along through interesting places like Osterley and Boston Manor, and to consider social development in the 1930s – which to my mind counts as a plus. But I have to admit there’ll be moments when you think “will I ever get there?”

    K Heathrow Express train to Paddington: quick (about 25 minutes) but expensive (£23 if bought on the day; £18 if bought in advance), and you’ve then got the challenge of getting from Paddington to wherever you want to go.

    K Heathrow Connect to Paddington: mid-speed (about 30 min), mid-price (£8), and rather erratic timetabling: it’s essentially the Heathrow Express but stops at stations along the way.

    K Bus, coach etc – most are standard regular services, but none of them is stunningly good. And beware in particular of the men who molest you just after customs and try to sell you tickets for “the quickest way into London”: these seem to cost about £18 and involve getting a coach to Paddington – so I suspect it’s hopelessly slow and there’s no gain over the Heathrow Express. And again, you’re left with the challenge of getting from Paddington to wherever you want to go.

Assuming you choose to go with the Tube, here are a few other observations…

  • Whether or not you choose to take the Tube from Heathrow, buy an Oyster card before you make any journeys on the Tube or the regular London Buses, rather than thinking you’ll just pick up tickets as you go. It’ll save you a huge amount of money overall on your stay in London.
  • The Heathrow end of the line is a long way from central London, so it takes at least an hour to get between here and places like Holborn or Russell Square. You should usually add another hour onto that for all the airport processes – i.e. security, check-in, etc or immigration and customs – which means it’s at least 2 hours from hotel to plane, or plane to hotel.
  • The layout of the Tube stations at Heathrow is a bit strange. It is in fact exactly as shown on the map, so it’s worth looking at the Tube Map carefully. Trains going to London spend a lot of time shuttling backwards and forwards round the loop before eventually launching out into the big wide world. In particular, from Terminal 5 they seem to go to Terminals 1,2,3 then Hatton Cross, then back to Terminal 4 and then through Terminals 1,2,3 and Hatton Cross again. So don’t plan on getting to London very quickly. (I landed at 8.20am but didn’t get to Barons Court until about 10.10am.)
  • The line can be incredibly busy at rush hour or other busy tourist times. It still runs, and there are lots of trains – but you may not get a seat and you may find commuters scowling at your luggage and kicking it. Scowl back, and make a point of bumping into them.
  • Terminals 1, 2 and 3 share a station called Terminals 1,2,3. Presumably this is because if you had to say “This train is for Stations Terminals 1, 2, and 3, and Terminal 4”, it would sound confusing.
  • Going back to Heathrow, be careful to get on a train going to the right terminal: some go to Terminals 4 and 1,2,3 while others go to Terminals 5 and 1,2,3. It’s possible to travel between Terminals 4 and 5 once you get there, but it takes forever so it’s better to get this right well in advance. A good strategy is:
    • For a start, make sure you’re going in the right direction: i.e. west, and not towards Cockfosters, Oakwood etc.
    • If the train is for Rayners Lane or Uxbridge, don’t get on it at all: it’ll take you up the wrong branch and you’ll miss your plane.
    • If it’s only going to Northfields, get on it anyway and change there for Heathrow. If it’s for Heathrow directly, get on it.
    • Once on a Heathrow train, be careful to work out which terminals it’s going to. If that doesn’t include your terminal (4 or 5) change at somewhere like Northfields or Osterley once the crowds have dispersed and you can get some fresh air. The right train (5 or 4) should come along in 5 minutes.
  • Another point to note when going back to Heathrow is that the Piccadilly Line runs underground at both ends of your journey, so mobile phones will only work for about 20 minutes on the middle section (roughly Barons Court to Hatton Cross.) There are signs on the trains which warn you about this – essentially they’re saying “don’t wait ’til the airport before making any last minute calls”.

At this point I have no photographs of my own to offer (you’re not allowed to take any inside the terminal) and I haven’t cycled this part of the line, so apart from some placeholders we’ll skip on quickly until we get to Acton Town…

Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3


Heathrow Terminal 4


Hatton Cross


West Hounslow


Hounslow Central


East Hounslow




Osterley & Spring Grove


Boston Manor




South Ealing

South Ealing holds the rare distinction of being one of only two Tube stations with all 5 vowels in its name – the other being Mansion House. It’s cute the way these two names are very short, whereas longer station names like Totteridge & Wealdstone obviously don’t qualify. Arguably there are two more – Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich and Heathrow Terminal Four – but since the first one is on the Docklands Light Railway and sounds like a crazy made-up name, and the second is only obtained by spelling out the number 4, I don’t really think they count.


From Uxbridge to Rayners Lane everything is duplicated by the Metropolitan Line. I haven’t surveyed it either, but at least we can add the line’s purple colour here while they run alongside each other.


Hillingdon station was rebuilt in the 1990s and should have been a much better job than it is. It’s ended up a windy, peeling structure perched atop the A40 where none of the doors and gates seem to go the right way. Useful enough as a place to park if you want to ride the train – slowly – into London, but apart from that it’s well worth giving it a miss!


The sort of place that seems to invite vandalism to its road signs, in the manner of Kickenham, Pickenham, etc. I’ll leave you to work out the ruder ones, and to sympathise with the residents of Uckington near Cheltenham.


“There has to be more to Ruislip than this”, and indeed there probably is. For the moment, my photos of everything from Ruislip to Rayners Lane are drawn from a trip I made primarily to scope out the Central Line, but where I had the brilliant idea that by cycling up the Piccadilly Line first I could knock off a few more stations. It worked, but it wasted most of the afternoon – and I have a feeling I really must go back and do these places in more depth some day. After all, Ruislip has a mediaeval village centre; it has many franchised coffee houses, fast food outlets, restaurants, hairdressers, bakers and supermarkets; and it’s served by no less than five London Underground stations (Ruislip, Ruislip Manor, Ruislip Gardens, South Ruislip and West Ruislip.)

Where did I learn all this fascinating stuff? From the desperate to prove it’s interesting Wikipedia page on Ruislip, of course – whose last throw amounts to “Ruislip is part of the only parliamentary constituency in London with no Night Bus”. As a Wikipedia author myself I’ve been slapped in the past for writing less irrelevant stuff than this, so I’m not impressed.

For the moment, here is typical housing in Ruislip, and the Station looking every bit like a toy one. Could I face living here? Ooh yes, I think so.

St Martin’s Cottages, Ruislip

Typical Ruislip

Ruislip Station with a Piccadilly Line train

Platform looking westbound

Ruislip Station from the road

Station Roundel

Ruislip Manor

No, we’re not out of Ruislip yet. Three of its Underground stations are on the Central Line, but Ruislip Manor is on the Piccadilly, so here goes…and apart from Uxbridge itself this is the first of Charles Holden’s “normal” stations we encounter on this branch. It doesn’t look like one of his best, but I don’t think that’s his fault – these stations that are sort of “wrapped under” the railway line don’t give much scope for free expression, though he did a decent job at places like Eastcote, Greenford, Alperton and here. One thing that is worthy of note (though only marginally) is the new platform, recently rebuilt and resplendent with its rumble strip and a generally “cleaned-up” appearance. In fact all the station platforms out this way have been re-worked like this, and though we take them for granted it’s good to see things are being looked after.

Ruislip Manor station

Station Roundel

Spanking new platform surface

My intention on this trip was to get to the Central Line before dark, but by the time I’d got to Ruislip Manor it was already 3.30pm; I was fair tuckered out and desperately in need of a coffee. Thinking “I must support local business” I wandered up and down the main street looking for somewhere likely. It seemed there was plenty of grotty instant coffee on offer, and a couple of places that called themselves “bakeries”. In the suburbs this seems to mean one of two things – either an enlighted bread shop selling healthy food and good coffee, or a sickly hangover from the 1950s selling sugary concoctions like cream horns and doughnuts, always overheated and smelling of fat, and staffed by rather limited young women. Ruislip Manor seemed to have plenty of the latter, but it took a while to find a middle-eastern restaurant that looked like it could rustle up a good coffee.

I marched in and demanded a large double-shot cappuccino…then when it arrived I found I had no money to pay for it. “No problem,” said the man, “have it anyway.” So I sat outside feeling very guilty, slurping away and playing with my camera. (And the coffee was indeed very good.) At that point a large man at the next table started up: “Nice camera…” and we got talking. He’d apparently spent a life in software engineering but maintained an interest in photography…and I felt an overwhelming urge to sneak a photo of him. I told him I was shooting his strawberries and cream, but as you can see I got one of him as well, knowing I’d tell the tale someday.

Eventually I took my cup back and asked the server where the nearest bank was, making a fuss about being determined to pay up. He told me, and I went in search. It turned out to be a lot further than I’d expected, but I got some notes. Then had to turn them into change, so I stopped at a newsagents to buy some chocolate and a banana. After about an hour it was back to the restaurant to drop a pound generously on the counter, with much thanks and smiles. Then I cycled off, thinking “at last I can escape this place and stop looking a complete twit.”

Half a mile up the road I realised I’d lost my map somewhere. Retraced my tracks…which led me all the way to the restaurant…where they hailed me with “you left your map on the seat, sir”. Groaning with embarrassment as “they must think I’m a complete incompetent by now”, I thanked them and ran…

Large man at the next table…

…tucking into his strawberries & cream

All told, I’d spent nearly two hours in Ruislip Manor just going up and down the main street, and it made me think I owed my new home town some proper respect. So I photographed two churches on the way out…neither was very inspiring, but as usual they seemed to be the only really significant buildings. I’m sure both are thriving in their ways, but to the slightly jaded traveller they both seemed to ooze indifference.

Ruislip Baptist Church

Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart


Eastcote has a certain historic interest, but there’s little to say here about Eastcote at present: these days it seems just to be yet another decent place where ordinary people go about their lives, many of them commuting into London on the railway. It brings the first sighting on this branch of a “standalone” Charles Holden station with a “box” ticket hall, but other than that I have nothing to say here.

Eastcote Station

Rayners Lane

South Harrow

Sudbury Hill

Sudbury Town

On my first cycle trip out this way I made Sudbury Town my last stop, and I didn’t regret it since it gave me time and an excuse to have a good poke around. It’s another of Charles Holden’s “boxes”, again generously proportioned and making you feel that in some way you matter, at least while you’re in this honourable little space. And again, although it follows a recognisable style it’s just different enough to be unique.

Good solid Sudbury Town Tube Station


A nice tidy little old Kiosk

A big round 1930s waiting room on the platform

Phew…it was nice to sit down!

Girl with crazy spectacles. Note the reactions of the other passengers!

Other than the station, there didn’t seem to be much of any note about Sudbury: just nice people living decent lives in a place with things like golf courses and good supermarkets. Very “Piccadilly Line”.


On my first cycle trip out this way I managed to ride past Alperton station without even realising it was there. Admittedly it’s on a bit of side turn…but really! My later trip along the Central Line provided a good opportunity to catch up, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The station is another of Charles Holden’s lofty “boxes”, though the height is probably stretched this time because the track runs at a high level above the apparent roof line of the station (you can just see one of the platforms on the left of the first picture.)

Alperton Station

A solid “modern” clock on the usual English Bond brickwork

The big lofty ticket hall

Looking up to the platform level

Station Roundel

The Platforms

Apart from the station there seems little to say about Alperton. Wikipedia notes “it has an astonishingly high proportion of Indians – about 75%” but doesn’t really give any justification or comment on this; to me it seemed just like most moderately thriving London suburbs. There seem to be no great tourist attractions, no great eyesores; just ordinary folk doing normal stuff. The Grand Union Canal passes nearby, so it may feature again on some other trip…but apart from that it’s farewell to Alperton!

Park Royal & Twyford Abbey

I’m noting Park Royal and Twyford Abbey station here only because it once existed but now doesn’t, and it’s now one of the Piccadilly Line’s “lost” stations. It was originally built to serve some new Royal Agricultural Society showgrounds, but these folded after a few years and the station fell into decline. When the Piccadilly Line was extended out to Uxbridge in the 1930s the station was moved to a better location on the A40, and the shed that had been the original station was demolished.

The original Park Royal & Twyford Abbey station

The story is actually a little more complicated, in that while the station was “live” its tracks were used by the District Line and were only taken over when the Piccadilly Line was extended. So although Park Royal & Twyford Abbey station sat on what is now the route of the Piccadilly Line, no Piccadilly Line train has ever stopped here!

“Twyford Abbey”, of course, sounds like the sort of place that should still be in existence and open as a tourist attraction. I had had it in mind to track it down when I did my Central Line trip, but my bizarre encounter with the Associate Vicar at Hangar Lane rather distracted me. What I didn’t realise at the time was that Twyford Abbey is actually just round the back of his church, accessible through a hole in the fence. I’m not sure I’d ever want to go back and risk him questioning me again, but here are links to an affectionate video recce by someone else and a set of photographs at Gathering Dust

It turns out Twyford Abbey has never really been an Abbey, but acquired the name around 1806

Twyford Abbey started life in middle ages as the West Twyford manor house. It belonged to the lords of the manor of West Twyford who owned the surrounding land. By 1593 it was the only inhabited house in West Twyford, with a small private chapel.

West Twyford manor house was partially demolished around 1715 and the chapel rebuilt around that time.

In 1806 the manor house was sold to Thomas Willan, a stagecoarch proprietor. He wanted to turn the house into a ‘Gothic’ mansion. Architect William Atkinson designed an extension around the original house in a Gothic style, filled the genuine medieval moat and altered the church.

In keeping with the spirit of the age Willan gave his house a romantic pseudo-monastic association, calling it ‘Twyford Abbey’. In 1816 Twyford Abbey was described as ‘striking and extremely fine’.

This was the only building in the area, and soon the name Twyford Abbey was applied to the whole of West Twyford.

In 1902 the Abbey was bought by the Alexian Brothers, a Roman Catholic order who set up a nursing home there. St. Mary’s church, disused at the time, was re-opened for weekly services in 1907.

The Alexian Brothers enlarged and changed the house several times.

The nursing home closed in 1988 and as a result the Abbey now appears to be neglected.

Park Royal

Our next stop is the “modern” Park Royal station. This one is responsible more than any others for my love of Charles Holden and the 1930s, since Open University TV programmes in the 1970s used to feature it as a classic of 20th century design. It has all the right features – a covered bridge, a nice piled up effect down to the platforms, a round superstructure, a tower which cheerfully bears the UNDERGROUND logo, a nice tidy frontage with little shops, and an accompanying development of shops and houses to create a community in the open fields of the 1930s. Aired on Saturday mornings while I was still in bed, and repeated at least once a term, I knew all about this station before I’d even seen it – and likewise the weir on the River Thames at Teddington, and the history of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Park Royal Tube Station – platform level

Park Royal Tube Station – street level


…and again

A station like this surely proclaims “all is well with the world; happy contented people live here.” Well, I can dream…though North Ealing suburb turns out to be even more utopian…

North Ealing

Much of North Ealing is a built-up, busy area – but the station seems to take us back into the country. Nearby is also the gorgeous Hanger Hill Garden Estate.

North Ealing Tube Station

Hanger Hill Garden Estate

Hanger Hill Garden Estate again

Lovely crocuses crowd round the pond

Ealing Common

From Ealing Common we’re joined by the District Line, so we’ll add a green stripe here. Ealing Common seems a friendly place, getting more cosmopolitan (i.e. ethnically and socially mixed) but not in a bad way. There’s nothing else to say, but the station is a pleasant octagonal configuration in what looks like Holden’s “Northern Line” style.

Ealing Common Tube Station – Exterior


Acton Town

I’ve already noted these 1930s buildings have a gorgeously “1960s Children’s TV” look to them, and Acton Fire Station is a classic. On the day I passed they had a man painting the windows. I was in ecstasy – it could so easily be a story from Trumpton!

Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb: the Trumpton Fire Brigade

Acton Town is another square box like Sudbury Town and (yet to come) Oakwood, but again the disposition of the windows is just different enough to give it its own character.

Chiswick Park

Chiswick Park is a lovely 1930s station, though not actually on the Piccadilly Line. It was actually built as part of the 1930s Piccadilly Line extension, but although Piccadilly Line trains whiz through they’ve never actually stopped here.

Isn’t this just perfect? I remember this sort of station from my childhood days playing with model filling stations and little wooden railways. It’s also the style I think I remember from all those great children’s TV programmes – Camberwick Green, Chigley, Trumpton …which is odd, since looking back at them now their buildings mainly use Victorian styles!

Turnham Green

Turnham Green does get a stop on the Piccadilly Line, which is just as well since there are some interesting photos here (well, mildly interesting…)

Turnham Green Tube Station

Ha Ha!

It’s rather a nice area…

…where traditional British transport lives on

Ravenscourt Park, Stamford Brook

Oh dear – two more stations that have snuck in from the District Line. These are pleasant little communities, but their stations are a bit uninspiring…

Ravenscourt Park Tube Station

Stamford Brook Tube Station


Hammersmith has a name as a good area – it claims to be on the river, a good stopping point before getting in to “the Smoke” and opposite posh Richmond; it also connects to four Tube lines and various overground rail links. But for my money it’s not that great…after all, it’s got that dirty great flyover through the middle.

Under the lovely Hammersmith Flyover

Above the flyover towers the London Ark. Wierd!

Not just one station…

…but two!

It’s obviously a wealthy area, though, since I found at least two Victorian churches putting themselves through complete makeovers – not only reordering the insides, but rebuilding substantially and even cleaning their dirty brickwork. To do this these days suggests they’re big thriving evangelical congregations and have very deep pockets. I can only say I’m impressed.

St John the Evangelist – a church undergoing a complete make-over

Amusing, though, to see different pleasures on offer just opposite

Another church – St Paul’s – doing the same.
I’ve never seen a church with such expensive scaffolding!

You could read this ironically.
The Alpha Course – is this really “it”?

Barons Court

Barons Court is just off the horrible A4 road and bears out my theory that things can get a lot better just 100 yards from the major highways. Here’s a joyous little old station in the middle of a vibrant community, and beautifully preserved to boot. If you’re ever feeling fed up driving down the A4 it’s almost worth detouring for a couple of streets just to get cheered up a bit.

Barons Court Tube Station is a jolly, pretty affair…

…with a gorgeous interior in the classic style

oooh…I’ve come over all trembly!

The local architecture is familiar to anyone who’s ever trekked down the A4 and got stuck in a traffic jam. Of particular note are these “artists’ houses” built with huge north-facing windows in the roof, supposedly so they could set up their studios and do great things while flooded with light. I have to say today the houses look a bit pokey, particularly round the back – though presumably those big attic rooms are still an attraction. There’s also a nice swathe of 1930s building, again designed to soak in the light and give people “improved” living.

Victorian houses for ‘artists’, with big north-facing windows…

…and lovely curvy 1930s flats

Down below, the station continues to live up to its promise. Barons Court is the last station where the District and Piccadilly Lines both run on the surface: after here the Piccadilly disappears into a tunnel and goes truly underground. So although both lines go through Earl’s Court, Gloucester Road and South Kensington, they’re separated vertically by about 80 feet and sets of escalators. This only matters if you’re a cyclist, but it means that if I want to take my bike from central London to the outer reaches of the Piccadilly Line I have to bring the bike on the District Line to Barons Court and then switch over to the Piccadilly. It’s never a chore, though, when the transfer point is as pleasant as this…

Piccadilly Line train eastbound

Barons Court, early one summer morning

London Underground have clearly tried to set Barons Court up in as much an original condition as they can manage: so not only the upper structures but also the platform furniture have a nice original feel. The benches are indeed original; I’m not so sure about the “Self Winding Clock Company”, but it looks great anyway.

Original Barons Court bench

Self Winding Clock Company (presumably electric!)

Station Roundel

West Kensington

West Kensington is another station where Piccadilly Line trains rush straight through…but again I hadn’t read the map closely enough to realise this!

The A4 road runs west out of London much as Route 40 runs out of Baltimore – which means lots of traffic, squeegee men and rough housing. There are good people trying to live here, and just a street or two away it can be quite pleasant, but life is tough when you’ve got a major highway just outside your window.

The Famous 3 Kings is, well…quite famous

West Kensington Tube Station – definitely District Line, not Piccadilly

Squeegee merchants leap out at the traffic

This new Tesco means the area’s going UP!

The depressing scene on the A4…

…and again. You wonder why people bother doing the place up

Earls Court

Earls Court started as a nice Victorian station with light-brown ceramic tiles at one end of a long platform – then it grew a round 1930s ticket hall at the other end when the massive Earls Court Exhibition Halls opened. So far so good, but sometime in the 1960s that ticket hall grew an extra layer on top. This “souffle dish” claims to be an Operations Room, though with its baffled glass windows it looks more like a secret surveillance centre.

Original Earls Court Station

Looking up

That “souffle dish” looks very suspicious

The round ticket hall – interior

Earls Court Exhibition Centre

Underground at Earls Court

Gloucester Road

By now we’re into the happy, messy dormitory area that’s the bottom end of Kensington. It’s a lively, thriving place full of professional, office and ‘learning’ people: some have money, some don’t have it yet, but the mood is generally aspirational. The Tube here runs three different services – the Piccadilly, District and Central Lines – and the station is a two-building affair.

Bakerloo / Piccadilly /Northern Line style

District Line style

South Kensington

At South Kensington we join the District and Circle Lines as well: a reflection surely huge popularity of “the museums” – meaning the Natural History MuseumScience Museum, and Victoria & Albert Museum – as well as the Albert Hall. It’s always horribly busy (DO NOT THINK of visiting the museums on a Saturday afternoon!) as well as being actually quite a long way from the museums: even once you’ve got through the crush of the trains you’re faced with either a long march down a creepy tunnel or a confusing walk above ground. You’d think someone would have designed it better – and in fact someone did: there was originally a Brompton Road station just next door to the V&A.

Brompton Road

The Brompton Road station building is still there, but these days it’s just the back of someone’s office: apparently the public never really made much use of it and the station was closed in order to speed up the trains. But the platforms are all still there down below on the Piccadilly Line, and if the train ever stops there…oooh!

Brompton Road Tube Station,
clearly of the “Piccadilly / Northern / Bakerloo Line” type

South Kensington Tube Station,
much more a “District Line” type

Nearby are two famous churches. Brompton Oratory, built by Cardinal Newman, is the more beautiful and is Catholic; behind it is Holy Trinity Brompton which is Anglican Evangelical, home to baled-out city financier Nicky Gumbel who has made a fantastic second career out of the Alpha Course. The building is clearly one of those 2nd-grade Victorian church buildings that could well be knocked down…but since it’s heaving these days that’s not going to happen until hell freezes over. And that’ll only happen when HTB manages to convert everyone, which despite their wildest claims is still some way off.

Brompton Oratory

Holy Trinity, Brompton

The area is full of rich red late-Victorian brickwork in expensive blocks of generously-proportioned flats. The Victoria & Albert Museum echoes this style and is of course another favourite destination.

Lovely warm red brickwork

Victoria & Albert Museum


There’s nothing interesting at all in Knightsbridge…well, apart from Harrods and a hundred other things. Even for the most ardent socialist Harrods is well worth a visit, since much of it is so gloriously ‘over the top’. You’ll never forget the fish hall or the Egyptian staircase, or the Diana & Dody Memorial. Nor, indeed, the outrageous prices or the foul smell of drains in the basement one Saturday.


Knightsbridge Tube Station – always busy

Hyde Park Corner

Hyde Park Corner station used to stand rather grandly opposite the park; but when they built the huge gyratory traffic system in the 1970s the station moved entirely underground. Happily the old station survives as the Pizza on the Park, recognisably still a former Leslie Green Tube Station with the familiar dark red tiles and characteristic half-moon windows. It’s quite a nice restaurant too, even though I did tip a whole cellar-full of salt over my pizza the last time I ate there.

No sign of the station above ground nowadays…

…but the old grandeur lives on

Attractions here include, of course, Wellington Stuff, the Aussie War Memorial, the New Zealand War Memorial and Hyde Park itself.

Apsley House

Royal Artillery Memorial

leads us to the famous Circus. The word derives from a form of stiff scalloped collar known as a piccadill, made famous hereabouts Tmade famous hereabouts by a tailor named Robert Baker, who made a fortune around 1600 selling them from his shop on the Strand. He bought a huge tract of land was what was then open country, and built a huge house there which became known as Piccadilly Hall – and the name then transferred to the whole area.
The area is scattered with gentlemen’s clubs – which here means polite places like the Reform Club, Whites etc, and not the smutty sort like Spearmint Rhino; there’s plenty of seedy history as well, but it tends to have more to do with dualling and gambling than the Spearmint Rhino sort of stuff.

Vauxhall Cross

Down Street

Between Hyde Park Corner and Green Park the line runs just north of Piccadilly (which is actually a road, for any who don’t know), and used to include a stop at Down Street. Looking at the map you get the impression the stations are a bit thick on the ground here. Perhaps this suited a wealthy clientele in Mayfair, but it also ran a risk that too many stations would mean little traffic in some of them, and that train journeys would become over-long. In any case in Mayfair people can generally afford taxis, so they didn’t bother taking the Tube…so all of this combined to make it a sensible move to close Down Street Station in 1932. The building hing on, though, and had a re-incarnation during the Second World War as government offices where a lot of Cabinet functions were pursued. So Churchill and others were frequent visitors.

Links to…, the Underground History website on Down Street, including a marvellous photo tour

Green Park

From Green Park we continue along Piccadilly, and to characterise it I’d say we change from “posh reticent” to “posh commercial”. Expensive Mayfair is still to the north, while on the south Green Park abruptly gives way to built-up St James’s – and through it all runs Piccadilly. As we start out we’ll enjoy a grand view of Green Park Station itself, and then move on to the Ritz Hotel.

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz will set you back about £40 per person, and “tourist attire” is absolutely not allowed. But you can eat as many sandwiches as you want, and for a mere £12 more they’ll throw in some champagne. All the women I know who’ve been there say it’s absolutely worth the money…but I rather suspect they go as much for the restrooms and the general ambience as for the food. I suspect we blokes weigh up the cost on different criteria.

St James’s grew up basically around the front yard of the monarch’s palace – so not surprisingly it’s still the centre of lots that’s expensive and exclusive, and the street design is still basically 18th century. In the quieter streets are some of the best Gentlemen’s Clubs; but there’s shopping too, with the Burlington Arcade, Fortnums, Savile Row and Jermyn Street nearby. Having just myself bought 5 shirts from T M Lewin of Jermyn Street I can hardly lay into them too fiercely, but I don’t see myself ever paying £1500 for a Saville Row suit! And I did buy my Lewin shirts in the sale.

Next we come to the Royal Academy, again a centre of the Arts and learning, and sometimes well worth a visit.

The main courtyard, with some daft steel sculptures…
…and with Anish Kapoor’s wonderful steel balls

Just over the road is Fortnum & Mason’s, who claim to be “the Queen’s Grocers”. I find the place induces vomiting: it feels to me like some old dowager has filled her house with silly foods and is selling them at ridiculous prices, with scant attention to modern hygiene – but there we go. If the Queen has any sense at all she’ll pop down to the Tesco Express at Victoria for those things she’s forgotten to get in…

Fortnum & Mason’s is all just too ridiculous…

…so I expect Liz pops out to Tesco Express

Sadly, because of all the up-market activity there aren’t many who actually live in Piccadilly any more, so the local church has to find a unique selling point to attract a clientele – and St James’s Church makes a point of appealing to the upper end of the arts and theatre community. This isn’t inappropriate given its proximity to Piccadilly Circus and all of London’s entertainment, though it does seem to have produced a rather slack attitude to things like doctrine, belief, morals and, orthodoxy which some would find difficult…and some very odd things in the churchyard. But it is a lovely church, and they do need a good few millions to fix it up. And they are providing at least one social service…

Lovely interior of St James’ Piccadilly

Close up of that fantastic window

Beautiful deep carving on the pulpit

Looking back to the magnificent organ

A rather fine font

Close-up of Adam and Eve

In the churchyard there’s a counselling caravan…

…honest, I kid ye not!

This just about gets us to Piccadilly Circus, so we’ll draw a line here and fight through the crowds.

Piccadilly Circus

“Piccadilly Circus” is a byword in Britain for anywhere there’s a crush of people, a melee, an unruly hubbub. The worst happens in the evening, when being at the centre of theatreland there are hordes of people just waiting around, watching anything that’s happening and up for fun; but it’s pretty busy for most of the day. ON the whole it’s good-natured, though London’s smallest Police Station is on hand if there’s any trouble.

There’s a decent Wikipedia Article on Piccadilly Circus, where we learn that the statue known as Eros is not Eros at all: apparently he’s really Anteros, a hero of selfless Christian Charity – but the “love” interest seems to have won out. There are also “huge” advertising boards which light up the night with their twinkly lights and roaring animation. I say “huge”, but actually they’re greatly scaled back from what they were in the uncontrolled 1960s and now only cover one building. By the standards of Times Square in New York it’s very tame indeed, but at least the nice Regency architecture is now visible again. Interestingly the boards here even show a traffic report that the District Line is part closed…though that’s hardly news.


…though actually “Anteros”, shooting gifts of Christian charity

Not quite Times Square

Entrance to the Underground

Here is someone else’s panoramic view of the Circus…somehow, miraculously, nearly empty…

Panorama of Piccadilly Circus

Being so busy, and such valuable real-estate, Piccadilly Circus has often been eyed-up for redevelopment: but no scheme seems to catch the public’s imagination compared with the attraction of these rather nice buildings and the general buzz of the area. The one big rebuild which did get the go-ahead was underground, when the Tube station was enlarged in the 1920s. The architect for the scheme was again Charles Holden, and it clearly generated a lot of public excitement – the schematic posters which show the full complexity of it all are still regularly wheeled out at exhibitions and at the London Transport Museum. These days the station is once again too small, though in quieter hours Holden’s sensible proportions and generous marble finishes are still a pleasure.

The elegant Ticket Hall

There are two others things to note in the Tube Station: one is a curious “linear clock” (I say curious because I don’t think it really deserves the term “interesting”); the other is the odd fact that on both platforms on the Bakerloo Line there are places where you can see both tunnels. I haven’t investigated this in great detail so I can’t say whether it’s really amazing or just a bit dull – but I suspect it’s a good foundation for a murder mystery.

The fabulous linear clock

Both tunnels in view at once

Leicester Square

Fighting our way through the theatre district we come to Leicester Square.This is the heart of London’s entertainment area so the place is awash with theatres, cinemas and restaurants…and a few more dodgy entertainments as well.

Whether there was ever a station above ground at Piccadilly I don’t know, but here we have an original Leslie Green one with the usual 2-storey red ceramic walls, arched windows and later additions on top. We’ll see plenty more of these as we go up the line.

Leicester Square Tube Station

Classic red ceramic walls

Unusually, the station decoration here incorporates a panel for a different organisation – here the offices of J Wisden & Company. Wisden publish the annual yearbook for Cricket (hence the bats, ball and wicket) and to those who love the game “Wisden” has a status not far short of the Torah or the Koran.

J Wisden & Company

London’s Hippodrome Theatre is next door

The mighty Cambridge Theatre is up the road…

…recently featuring Monty Python’s Spamalot,
and now Priscilla, Queen of the Desert!

Covent Garden

Just up the road (literally just 260 metres away) is Covent Garden station. The station is always heaving, but rebuilding it in a conservation area isn’t really an option, so Transport for London resort to all sorts of subterfuge to persuade people that it’s more fun to get off at Leicester Square and walk. It doesn’t really work, of course.

Covent Garden itself is named mainly for the fruit and vegetable market, which sadly isn’t there any more. But perhaps things aren’t so bad: having such a thriving market in the middle of the busiest part of town really didn’t work so well, so in 1974 it all decamped down to Nine Elms at Vauxhall. That’s definitely a day out sometime…as are the Royal Opera House, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Royal Ballet School and hundreds of other cultural institutions which still operate around the original market site. Pygmalion and My Fair Lady made the scene famous with Eliza Doolittle as the cockney flower-girl rescued by Professor Henry Higgins when he came out of the Royal Opera House and found her in the market: but nowadays Eliza don’t live here any more. The old market halls are full of up-market entertainments, including half-naked jugglers (usually male) and half-naked string quartets (usually female) hacking their way through Vivaldi for the ogling crowds. And, if you’re lucky, an occasional student production of Pygmalion or My Fair Lady…

A curious connector at the Royal Ballet School

Inside Covent Garden – the Apple Market restaurant

A juggler struggling to stay upright

Bashing out Ravel’s Bolero

Most of the time the place is just too busy to be pleasant, but on Sunday mornings it can be tolerable up to about noon. Happily once the crowds get really dense you can decamp into the wonderful London Transport Museum, one of my favorite places in the capital. By the time you come out laden down with posters and books about the Underground it’ll be time to go home.

On the Buses

A early “cattle-truck” on the Tube: positively spacious compared with the Victoria Line!

The Tube station is another classic “Leslie Green” one from the 1890s, and again we see later additions above the original two stories. Inside the station it has a more modern look, but there’s plenty of original tiling down at platform level.

Covent Garden Station: red tiles, arched windows, distinctive lettering

A nice corner shot

Inside, the tiles are original but everything else is modern

Original tiling

On the way to Holborn there’s not a lot to get excited about, but people do normally stop and stare at one huge pile of stones and ask – is it a church? A town hall? An insurance company headquarters? Well, no – it’s the United Grand Lodge of England, known to itself as UGLE but better understood as the headquarters of the Masons. The UGLE is actually open to the public, and since it contains all sorts of central halls and library functions and is one of London’s best Art Deco buildings I guess I must get along some day: but I don’t suppose I’ll get to see what Masons really do in their private ceremonies.

It’s curious to look at what UGLE puts out about itself: they run a good website ( and even publish a nice little booklet called “So you’re thinking of becoming a Mason” which is full of interesting facts but doesn’t tell you how you actually become a mason. It’s even more curious to read on Wikipedia etc about the history of struggles within Freemasonry to deal with questions like Ancientism and Modernism, would they accept Atheists, how can they claim to be non-religious yet still open every session with a prayer to God, why UGLE is actually a very delicate compromise between differing approaches, etc etc. You’re left wondering whether they really are a secret all-powerful conspiracy or just a bunch of blokes who take themselves a little too seriously. But then they’d want to keep you guessing like that, wouldn’t they…and although they say they “don’t do it for any gain” there must presumably be some reason why they keep on doing it…

United Grand Lodge of England

Station roundel


Next up the line is Holborn, but pronounced “Hoburn” or even “Ho-bun” for centuries by silly Londoners. On the face of it, Ho-bun is a rather ill-defined and potentially dull business area, but it’s actually very long-standing London borough with a long history, well-defined boundaries and considerable cachet. There’s a noticable shift up to “business-headquarters-quality” in the environment here: nearby are the British Museum, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Sir John Soane’s Museum; while a recent addition on the corner of the London School of Economics has been Richard Wilson’s ‘Square the Block’ – a fake bit of masonry which appears to show the corner of the building collapsing into the street.

British Museum

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Square the Block

The station was deliberately built where the Piccadilly crossed the Central Line, though it was many years before the connection was made: at that point the original Leslie Green station was replaced with the current one by Charles Holden. Green’s was of course a lovely old red ceramic-tiled one like Covent Garden: Holden’s is no less lovely but is clearly his “Portland Stone” style developed for the Northern Line extension to Morden, with it’s stripped-back classical look and the inclusion of the “roundel” in the facade itself.

The main entrance – just doing its job

The elegant north entrance

Station Roundel

The second longest escalators on the Underground

Apart from this, Holborn has lots of shops, some of them rather up-market; and there are lots of “business colleges” where (I presume) foreigners come to pay money to learn how to use Word and Excel. There are also loads of company headquarters, but who wants photos of insurance companies…? Time to move on.


Russell Square

Holburn may be the heart of business London but northwards a different mood kicks in: knowledge and education (the British Museum and London University) combine with quiet stylish side roads and squares, while a creeping tattiness sets in on the main drag as we approach Kings Cross. Some of London’s best Squares are here – Russell, Bedford, Bloomsbury, Tavistock – and they’re al great places just to hang out.

Russell Square on a good day

Some gorgeous peonies in the square

The very grand Hotel Russell…

…and the hideous Imperial Hotel!

Close nearby are the Charles Dickens Museum, Coram’s Fields and the Foundling Hospital – but since I haven’t visited any of them yet we’ll hurry on to our next stop – horrible Kings Cross.

Kings Cross / St Pancras

The Piccadilly Line crosses the Circle Line at the next junction, but if you look at the Tube map it’s quite hard to work out what’s going on. Truth is, St Pacras and Kings Cross Stations are right next to each other, and the Tube is squeezed in rather inelegantly between them. I couldn’t be bothered to go in and look for it, but here are photos of the main-line stations above ground.

The story is of course that in the days of Victorian business enthusiasm various railways companies built into London and developed great stations and hotels at the London ends of their lines. They made little effort to join these up – after all they were founded on competition – so the result is that even today there are about 8 great railway stations in London and only the Circle line makes any attempt to connect them. This means that even now it’s murder catching a train from one side of Britain to the other if it goes anywhere near London.

St Pancras claims to be the terminal for lines to the north, but this really means the northern Midlands, the North West and Glasgow. Kings Cross is the terminal for the “true” north, meaning Newcastle, the North East and Edinburgh.

St Pancras is now also the international terminal for the Eurostar train, which has meant that at least it’s an economic proposition to restore its glorious Victorian gothic hotel. It’s going to re-open as a new Marriott Renaissance hotel…and I for one will be queuing up to see inside!

In stark contrast to St Pancras, Kings Cross is a shabby affair, clearly just a big shed for trains and passengers. But perhaps it’s more true to the style of the area – beyond here it gets pretty “ordinary”.

Kings Cross Station

A dull-looking church, but evidently plodding on

Pentonville Prison

Typical store fronts on the road

York Road

Caledonian Road

It’s surprising how immediately beyond the Circle Line everything becomes pretty “ordinary”. Not horrible or bad, but nevertheless not the sort of place you’d choose to live unless you had to. Many do have to, of course, and life goes on…

The next two stations are again largely traditional sort, with Caledonian Road keeping up the spirit well:

Again, the local housing is ordinary but functional, particularly when it’s “social housing” as here. Though as always in London, the detailing of the brickwork is well above average.

Holloway Road

Holloway Road is a particularly cute example of an old-style, but for some reason I didn’t take a photograph of the exterior. I did, however, make friends with the station master! He took me into his back office and showed me lots of old photos of the station, then he pointed out all the original features that they’ve managed to preserve. Particularly charming, of course, are the original ticket windows…

Holloway Road interior

Detail of the ceramic tiles

An original ticket window


Just up the road we come to the new Arsenal Stadium, where (just in case you don’t know) football (aka soccer) is played with a passionate following that most religions can only envy. The stadium is sponsored by Emirates Airlines, so they get their name all over it.

At a more mundane level, churches and homes go on just as usual. Tucked in among these is Arsenal Station itself, which has a look suggesting they just knocked a house down and put it the station there instead!

The new Arsenal stadium…far from ordinary!

Ordinary church…

Ordinary houses…

…with the odd bit of cheery decoration!

Arsenal Station tucked in between two houses

Beyond Arsenal we’re still on the “ordinary” turf of Haringey, though there’s a mildly interesting touch of history here. Haringey used to be home to a big arena which was a big home of ice-skating and boxing. In 1954, however, Billy Graham chose to base his crusade to England there, and the rest is history. Actually it really is history: the arena has been swept away and God has been ousted by Sainsburys. But there are still people around whose lives were changed forever by those crusades…

The Billy Graham Sainsburys

The Beaconsfield pub over the road, with thundering traffic

Round the corner there’s a problem with one of the fixing points on the signs. It seems symptomatic of the “misplaced apostrophe” so common in English these days…

A dropping apostrophe

Finsbury Park

Just up the road we come to the next natural breakpoint: Finsbury Park. Whatever was here originally, Finsbury Park is now a spanking new station not only serving the Piccadilly Line but also the Victoria, and a bus interchange as well. Ooh…get off the bus and straight onto the train – what a good idea!

These later pages about the Piccadilly Line bring us to the real justification for my cycle ride: to see the 1930s Art Deco stations that run from Manor Park out to Cockfosters. The team who extended the line from Finsbury Park came up with a wonderful set of stations; all in Art Deco style, each of them subtly different but working to a common unifying scheme. Art Deco is great for stations – conceptually it embodies ideas of travel, speed and electric power, while physically it exploits the new materials of reinforced concrete and industrial glass so as to allow huge airy spaces. They may be a bit tight for today’s passenger numbers, but these stations are a world away from the pokey places in the inner city.

Manor House

The first station after Finsbury Park is a bit unpromising: Manor House looks more like it’s a changing room in the park than a tube station. Even the Subway entrance seems more imposing…

Manor House Station…

…with a rather classic Tube subway

Turnpike Lane

Turnpike Lane, however, gives us our first sight of many characteristic Art Deco touches: a big sweeping canopy, large areas of brick and glass, a concrete ‘lid’ and a celebratory tower.

Wood Green

Struggling up the hill, we find similar ideas at Wood Green – though this time a vast curving wall dominates. The brickwork on these buildings is gorgeous: it’s a beautiful English bond with lime mortar, which is time-consuming and expensive but makes a really strong wall. We don’t build ’em like this any more!

Bounds Green

Up and over the top of the hill we come to Bounds Green. This time the idea is octagonal, but we’ve still got the big brick walls, the generous windows and a tower that serves no purpose other than…well, Art Deco just likes towers.

On the way to Arnos Grove there’s another typical public building of the time: the Arnos Pool and Public Library. You can see the same elements – curves, brickwork, flat roofs, glass and a tower – and also that astonishing asymmetry which just seems to work. This library building here is like a warm cocoon – just like hundreds of others at universities and elsewhere across the land.

Arnos Grove

Arnos Grove is one of the best loved of the Art Deco stations. Even on a chilly November day there’s a friendliness to it that makes it well worth a visit.

On our journey along the Piccadilly Line we’re now well out into suburbia, and Arnos comes with a very pleasant park. The sun even came out for about 10 minutes while I cycled through…


The next station is Southgate, obviously a newly-developing suburb of the 1930s with another circular station and a shopping centre that wraps round it. Stores this shape are hopeless for the modern giants, but for the cafes and convenience stores that cluster round the station this place still seems to work.

Southgate Station shopping centre

Southgate Station (note the Martian feature on the roof)

Southgate Station – ticket hall interior


By the time I got to Oakwood it was 3.15 and nearly getting dark …well, this is a northern latitude in winter. The station here is geometrically less interesting – just a square box – but it’s about 3 times the area of the previous ones and its the highest of the lot. There’s Cockfosters after this one, but it’s a ‘downstairs’ station and you get the feeling Oakwood’s site presented more of an opportunity to show off. It doesn’t need to be this big, but once again Charles Holden gives us a lovely sense that we ordinary folk matter.

A very grand station…

…and vast inside

Classic 1930s clock (and the brickwork still perfect!)

Classic ticket booth too, with a grumpy ticket clerk

A big surprise on the way out of Oakwood was to find Oak Hill College. Oak Hill is a well known Theological College, strongly evangelical in its outlook: a number of my friends have trained there before going into the ministry. I guess I’d never bothered working out where Oak Hill is other than “north London somewhere”, but I’d certainly assumed it was somewhere a bit more gritty than this very nice leafy suburb. Hmm…it may be known as the “gumbies” college, but perhaps it’s not such a bad place to do your training after all.

The feeling of being somewhere very nice for the middle-classes certainly isn’t dispelled by the Oak Hill website, despite a slightly too obvious attempt featuring a “real bloke” who just happens to be a church leader as well. It’s all very well, but the photo makes me feel a bit creeped-out…is he just a bit too gorgeous, too sporty, too slightly-rough?

Just a bit too perfect for the part?

Follow the story through and Duncan becomes a bit more three-dimensional. It turns out out he grew up on a council estate and has actually gone back there to set up a New Life Church. Since it’s Roehampton I guess it ain’t gonna be that bad, though it looks rough enough on Streetview. Along the way he managed to marry an American (generally a good move) and aspired to joining the parachute regiment (not clear whether he got in – though the mere fact of trying is probably another good move.) The video of him speaking does make him sound a bit council estate, though by the time he’s finished studying for a doctorate that’ll look a bit thin. It’s tempting to see a very nice future for him as a college lecturer or at some comfortable Baptist church doing the conference circuit…though he’s not Oxbridge enough for Christians in Sport. But for the moment his Council Estate Christianity Blog is well worth a look.


Cockfosters is a classic case of a small country town on the edge of the suburbs, suddenly grabbed and made glorious by the arrival of the electric railway and housing estates built for the overspill from London. Happily it got built up in the 1930s and then avoided the later horrors of the 1960s, so on the whole the housing stock is pleasant and well laid out, and the whole place is highly-desirable without being outrageous. Is worst feature seems to be is the traffic which pounds relentlessly along the main street: I couldn’t believe how constant and aggressive it seems to be. But then a certain middle-class male aggression seems to be part of things here: Saracens Rugby Club are big here, and the main secondary school proudly announces itself as a centre of excellence in rugby…

Southgate School: better at rugby than architecture

Sometimes the passage of time puts the past into a very different perspective. My two trips to Cockfosters have done this with regard to one particular college friend who at the time was just about as much a hero as one could be in Christian circles (and yes, he was big in rugby too.) But from seeing the various elements of his life 30 years ago and thinking “wow, wish I was like him”, my two trips to Cockfosters have shown how they were all basically laid out for him: he wasn’t  exceptionally wonderful in putting it all together, he was just a fairly ordinary lad from a middle-class family who wanted the best for their son. Thirty years on, there’s no reason to feel inferior – indeed I can even begin to respect what I’ve done with my own life.

Right opposite Cockfosters station is Christ Church, where at the end of my original cycle run they were offering a Remembrance Service with Tea for those who’d been bereaved in the last year. Christ Church rang a bell in my mind, and it turned out to be indeed the church where my friend had grown up. The old ladies remembered him fondly and wheeled out all their hero stories, but the adulation for him didn’t seem to extend to offering a tired-looking cyclist any of their tea. So in return I didn’t stay for their service.

Dazzled by tales of this church when I was a student, the reality is a good deal more mundane. One would think a thriving evangelical church in the Bible Belt, just up the road from Oak Hill College, would be more whizzy – but in fact the building is nothing special and the Christ Church website is surprisingly ploddy. They evidently have a “ministry to students”, but with half of Middlesex University and a famous evangelical theological college in the parish this is nothing very surprising. And no surprise at all is that they say nothing at all to single men in their 50s!

The surprisingly dull Christ Church, Cockfosters

I’ve googled Cockfosters on the internet, and as usual there seems to be even less written about the place than you’d expect. Like Epping, and Uxbridge, and any number of towns around London, it seems the fact they’re part of the metropolis means no-one actually bothers writing anything the places themselves. Or perhaps they just are boring. Whatever…it leaves us with only the station to consider. It is of course another of Charles Holden’s, this time in a long, low style suitable for leisurely country stops at the ends of lines. Inside there’s the usual brickwork and an unusually large ticket and waiting hall, presumably necessitated by the tendency of trains at the end of the line to depart from whichever platform took their fancy.

Cockfosters Station

Station Roundel

A bright airy ticket-and-waiting hall…

…and the usual simple tidy brickwork

One cute little feature is a side-entrance to the station. It’s only a quick way through to the car-park, but it’s one of those classic little quirky touches of efficiency that Charles Holden excelled in:

The cute little side entrance

We’ll close with a photo I’ve swiped from someone else, but which I’d love to go and take for myself. This shot of Cockfosters in the dark shows the classic “lighting up the sky” effect that Charles Holden wanted to create:

Light blazes out from Cockfosters Station

It was too late and too dark to cycle home, so I tied the bike to the railings and flopped onto the tube to come home. Later that day I went back by car to collect the bike and was astonished to find it took well over an hour to drive there. Perhaps the train and the bike really are the best way to travel…

The Piccadilly line – all to myself!

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