[Still needs work on… Bromley-by-Bow to Monument, the Wimbledon spur, and the end of the Ealing Broadway spur]
I celebrated the last full day of my 2008-9 London job with another long bike ride – this time from the utmost east of the District Line at Upminster. As usual it turned out to be a thought-provoking exploration of urban development and social policy which has coloured my thinking ever since, though at the time I did it only because it seemed a ridiculous challenge. The map below gives some orientation for what follows. We’ll traverse it from east to west (right to left), with a few different stabs at the various branch lines out to the west.
On that first day I only made it as far as Bromley-by-Bow – about half-way across the map: but as usual I’m completing it slowly in later stages.
Upminster station is suitably dull, perhaps more so because the Tube shares it with the mainline railway.
A very boring shot of the platform at Upminster
Boring …but doesn’t everyone want to run a train set?
The station entrance is boring too, though it’s clean and tidy
Does the word ‘boring’ come to mind?
Thinking wrongly that I had all the time in the world, I detoured to the tiny village of Cranham where there’s a lovely little church, a farm, a nature reserve and some very nice executive homes. Someone is obviously defending the Greenbelt very fiercely here: indeed looking back to Upminster you can see the edge of the urban sprawl across the fields. But all those people do have to live somewhere, and cycling back through Upminster it seemed a pleasant enough place to live… it even has a windmill!
…but Upminster does have a windmill
Before you leave Upminster there’s another station, Upminster Bridge. Although built at the same time as the rest, it’s a little more exotic than most District Line stations, being o tagonal with a raised central area. It has the usual collection of little local shops around it; inside, the original tiled interior is a pleasant surprise, and so is a surviving red telephone box.
Upminster Bridge Tube Station…
…and the rather attractive interior
A little down the road I came upon a funeral, evidently of a young man called Dave. I don’t know anything else about him, though the exuberance of the floral displays and their obvious focus on beer seemed to tell me all I need to know. This is basically Essex, after all… but do florists have these on offer as standard displays that you can go and order? An interesting comment on modern life.
Next down the line is Hornchurch…more bright little 1930s houses clustered round a station, a few shops and an older village church. By now, questions of 20th century social policy were forming – clearly a lot of these places were built as overspill from London, with commuting back to work made possible by the extension of the District Line in 1931. Without the railway these places wouldn’t exist… but once built, how do you generate ‘community’ and create jobs where the people actually live?
The Tube station here follows an absolutely standard pattern with it’s little concrete shelter and the two-steps-in-the-wall following the roofline. We’ll see stations exactly the same as this at Dagenham East, Becontree and Upney.
Hornchurch Tube Station
A nice little touch on the guttering
It’s curious how Tube stations are always surrounded by odd little cafes and shops that don’t thrive anywhere else… there’s never a Tesco or a Waitrose. I guess this is because we’re stuck with 1930s planning, and the limited land and services available just aren’t what the modern giants need unless there’s a major redevelopment. But it does leave things in a funny little time-warp.
Despite the names Underground and Tube, most of the network outside central London actually runs above ground. Some lines like the Northern and the Victoria run a long way underground to get through the hills of north London and to go under expensive existing properties; but the eastern District Line only ever displaced poor people and took up a fairly flat and undeveloped route: so it runs largely above ground. Most of the stations are located on main roads which simply go up-and-over the tracks: this means cars, bikes and pedestrians have a bit of a slog to get up there, but in return you get quite a good view of the tracks and a nice ride back down.
Elm Park seems slightly more adventurous than the standard stations on this stretch: it has a nice canopy onto the street, and incorporates a couple of shops into the station building itself. It also has a covered walkway (ooh, luxury!) down to the platform.
Classic 1930s round canopy at Elm Park
Long run down to the tracks from the station
After Elm Park there’s a pleasant open space before we hit Dagenham, but industry soon clusters round. It came early to Dagenham: Ford opened their main UK plant here in the 1930s and in its heyday they employed 50,000 people. This made Dagenham a comfortable working-class town, but nowadays the car plant has largely closed and the town is an unemployment black-spot, the subject of occasional hand-wringing documentaries on Radio 4.
Dagenham East seems a rather lonely station, but it clearly follows the classic mould of Hornchurch, Upney and Becontree. And it led me to the old parish church and to a garden with some nice old cars including a Ford Consul. No doubt spare parts were ‘readily available locally’.
St Paul’s, Dagenham
Typical hereabouts – a Ford Consul
On the west side of Dagenham the name ‘Heathway’ suggests wild country…though that’s rather far from the truth. The shopping here is a bit more lively, though it’s largely made up of Poundsaver, betting shops and cheap bad food. Although the town’s been going for 80 years the people here are basically London’s East Enders, and they still love their Pie & Mash.
Woy’s Pie ‘n’ Mash
Dagenham ‘Eefway Tube Station
Becontree is a pleasant enough 1930s development: it suffers a these days through being a bit short on land and spare bedrooms, but at least all that white paint creates a jolly ‘seaside’ impression on a sunny day. And after all, we’re not that far from the Essex coast. The town is even visited by town planners to see ‘how it used to be done’.
Interestingly it’s the ethnic sub-communities, particularly from the Indian subcontinent, who are reworking these properties and making them into lavish homes. I can’t say I always like the way they do it, but I have to wish them well.
Could be the seaside…?
Architectural crime – a window with half a wall above it!
Becontree Tube Station
At platform level
Before we get to Upney there’s the rather pleasant Mayesbrook Park, where I spent some time with the ducks.
Like Becontree, Upney is being favoured with some rather unique architectural uplifts…
Upney station is, again, standard 1930s District Line. They didn’t waste money on Piccadilly Line Art Deco here!
Upney Tube Station
At platform level
At Barking the District Line joins up with the eastern end of the Hammersmith & City Line; the two run together until Aldgate East where they split apart again.
Barking is well known in the expression “Barking Mad”. Despite various stories about lunatic asylums hereabouts, it seems that it doesn’t doesn’t refer to Barking at all, but only to barking like a dog – but it’s certainly an evocative expression. I can’t help thinking of Charismatic Christians who “bark before the Lord” in worship… and yes, there are still some around who haven’t noticed it’s gone out of fashion. And there is also a real Bishop of Barking. A Barking Bishop. Could you make it up?
A more troubling fact about Barking is that it’s a centre of British National Party activity: indeed as I wrote this (2 days before the May 2010 General Election) there was a serious chance that they’d get their first MP here. The religious leaders of the town, including the Bishop, had just issued a condemnation of the BNP, but it wasn’t clear in the end how much effect that had. In the event, though, they didn’t get elected.
I stopped in Tesco’s here for a coffee and was rather amused by their “shallow trolleys” sign. Someone whose opinion I don’t respect once said I was a “terribly shallow person”.
Big but a bit threatening – Barking Station is part of this new complex
“you’re so shallow, Colin…”
Arrival at East Ham brings us to an earlier generation of Tube stations. Cramped stations and crowded streets are the order of the day from here on into the centre of London!
East Ham, with an apparently meaningless street arch
Perhaps more like an old school than a station
Upton Park sounds a pleasant place – and indeed it’s not bad – but the main road outside the station is a bit grim. By now I’d also noticed that among the ethnic-minority and working-class communities of the east end there’s a tendency to stand outside the station smoking some really rough tobaccos. My throat hadn’t felt so irritated by smokers in a long time.
Upton Park Underground Station
Busy, busy, busy…
…but the residential streets are pleasant enough
Plaistow (pronounced ‘Plarstow’)
East-enders would ever consider themselves ‘posh’, but they do have the particularly south-eastern way of pronoucing a as ar – thus clarss, carssle, grarss and Plarstow. And of course there’s the silent i in Plaistow, just to confuse foreigners.
By now I was beginning to feel a bit weary of the urban landscape up around me. As a Sarf Londoner it was no worse than some parts of Lambeth, but it was starting to crowd in a bit. And Plaistow seemed to be attracting more than it’s fair share of smokers, so I hurried on. Of course it may just have been tiredness and dehydration… by now I’d cycled about 16 miles, with a lot of stops and jumping off the bike for photographs.
It’s grand little building, though…
Plaistow Tube Station
West Ham as an area offers little more than Plaistow, though it does seem to have been substantially rebuilt more recently. Whether that makes it better I doubt, and the station certainly feels like a fortress. The size is partly because it’s also a main-line railway station, but I guess it’s also because of the crowds from West Ham Football Club – and the general feel suggests you’re being corralled rather than treated like a respectable citizen. On the day I was there it was also full of police and sniffer dogs, which didn’t improve the ambience much. One’s tempted to wonder if the locals feel at home in a prison environment!
Just round the corner from the station there’s an outbreak of blokey street names. Since Jack Clow Road houses an evil-looking police base covered with antennas and warnings about fierce dogs I thought these might be officers who’d died in the course of their duties – after all, Jack Clow and Tom Nolan sound like characters from a 1970s cop show. Sadly it turns out they were simply time-serving councillors who got to waste everyone’s money with streets named after them. Not for the first time, I’m left boggling at the arrogance of local politicians…
The route to Bromley by Bow lay across a patch of derelict land between the gasworks and the water pumping station – yeah well, you have to take it where you find it here. Somewhere around here is Stratford and also the Olympic Park, but that’ll get a separate page at some point.
The water pumping station is actually the work of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who revolutionised London’s water and sewage systems in Victorian times in response to appalling outbreaks of cholera and to ‘The Great Stink’. Sometime I’ll give him a page of his own, but meanwhile here’s a link to the Wikipedia article on Sir Joseph Bazalgette. The pumping station has always been known as – for obvious reasons – the ‘Cathedral of Sewage’: more recently it’s been replaced by a new building, but thankfully the old one still stands. (If you have an appetite for more sewage, see the Baltimore Museum of Public Works.)
Bazalgette’s original ‘Cathedral of Sewage’
The new ‘Cathedral of Sewage’
Just down the track is Three Mills Island. Once the centre of a lot of hideous chemical industries, a lot of this has been reclaimed and made rather nice, though I still got shouted at when I mistakenly tried to cycle through a private yard. Three Mills itself is home to some genuine ‘mill’ buildings, though these days they’re fitted out for small businesses. Three Mills Studios is rather famous as the home of Big Brother and various other TV shows: it also happens to be where the TV producer Peter Bazalgette has done a lot of work. He is, of course, a grandson of Sir Joseph.
Three Mills Island
Three Mills Island again
By now it was 5pm and time to come home…but how to get across yet another busy road? Yes, that’s Bromley-by-Bow Tube Station in the background. After a lot of railings, stairs and wrong-turns I made it – but it was quite a challenge!
Bromley-by-Bow Tube Station
It was certainly an unexpected way to celebrate my last working day in London in February 2009, but I really enjoyed this trip. I’m absolutely convinced that biking is a brilliant way to explore the metropolis…and of course I subsequently came back and was still enjoying it when I wrote this in 2010.
For the moment, the journey on the District Line goes into express mode as we rush through a number of the stations. Sometime I’ll get back and visit these properly, but for the moment I’m just capturing the few I’ve done properly. The next proper stop is Aldgate East…
Around here, things start getting more interesting from a tourist point of view than the trek in from Upminster. Stay with it…!
After a few rather scummy places (West Ham, Plaistow, Bromley by Bow, etc) things feel a little better as we come through Whitechapel and Aldgate. Both are rich in urban mess, and although neither is pretty, there at least isn’t a feeling of criminal activity and menace as you walk past the station. Or at least not so as I noticed in the middle of the day. (Friday night is another matter – come back here to ring the bells at St Botolphs around 7.30pm, and it can get a bit rough.)
Aldgate East Station is snuggled into a corner of the Passmore Edwards Library, which is itself now part of the Whitechapel Gallery. The art in the gallery is pure rubbish, but the buildings are attractive.
This area of London is home to the most fantastic mix of world cultures, particularly those who invented curry. Just round the corner is Brick Lane, an absolute mecca (if that’s not the wrong word) for a good curry night. In truth you’ll probably be sat in a dank basement with about 500 drunken Brits all shouting at each other… you certainly wouldn’t want to get into a fight there. But the curries are very good.
Also just round the corner is the Moorish Market. It’s actually just a big covered market with a vaguely arab/moorish decoration – I don’t think any real Moor would give it the time of day – but there we go.
Also in this area is the wonderful St Botolph’s, Aldgate, where I used to ring bells on a Friday night.
The route now comes into the City of London, home of large anonymous banks and offices. We bid farewell to the Hammersmith & City Line but we tidy up the carriages as we get ready to meet up with the Circle Line. See you at Tower Hill…
At Tower Hill the District Line meets up with the Circle Line and they run together to Gloucester Road.
Back in 2012 Tower Hill Station was in a permanent state of demolition, but since they were re-working a horrible 1960s mess that wasn’t a bad thing. By 2020 it’s stabilised, though there’s new talk of extending it to join up with the Docklands Light Railway – so the disruption may continue yet.
Here the tourist trail really gets going, so some of what I write here will simply be links to other pages.
Trinity Square Gardens lies just outside the station and offers a number of interesting memorials. For a start, there’s a great sundial outside the station which commemorates the Merchant Navy in the Falklands Conflict:
Tower Hill Tube Station – the ugly 1960s!
Falklands Conflict Merchant Navy Memorial sundial
Then there are the big memorials to the Royal and Merchant Navies in the First and Second World Wars; and the Tower Hill memorial itself, which recalls those who were executed here as traitors over the course of a few hundred years:
Meanwhile the Port of London Authority and Trinity House (keeper of the nation’s lighthouses) with its wonderful weathervane look down on it all…
Outside All Hallows you can try to annoy the security men at Tower Place, a vast new development where the public-private land boundary isn’t altogether clear, and isn’t altogether respected when it comes to permission to photograph.
ex-Mark Lane Tube Station
Stairs down to the underpass
The new Tower Place
Mark Lane Station is just down the road from Tower Hill Station: it closed in the ’60s when Tower Hill was rebuilt and enlarged. There are various ventilator grills and unmarked doors still around the area if you know what you’re looking for; but since we can’t get inside and there’s certainly nothing worth photographing, here’s a link to the Wikipedia page on Mark Lane Tube Station.
Tower Hill is a mine of tourist interest: you could easily stay there all day. There’s less at Monument, but there is of course the Monument itself and a good collection of City churches, including St Magnus the Martyr. Both are well worth a visit.
St Magnus the Martyr
I reckon Cannon Street is just about the most soulless part of the City, devoted entirely to commuters and cars and having no intrinsic interest whatsoever. So we’ll rush on without any photographs at all.
Blackfriars is not a whole lot better, and currently the station is closed for rebuilding. But around it there are some nice buildings, and I’ve even managed to construct a Blackfriars page, so do go there and have a look.
City of London School
100 Victoria Embankment
Embankment Station is rather sweet, though it’s had a lively history: it was first built for the Circle and District Lines, then undercut by the Northern and Bakerloo. It’s called Embankment because it’s part of the huge Victorian effort to control the river and build new roads along its banks; their work also included vast new drainage systems and installing the new Tube lines. I guess if this were Louisiana it would be called “Levee Station.”
The station has actually had at least three names – Embankment, Charing Cross and Charing Cross (Embankment) – and its closeness to the river means the tunnels underneath have enormous doors as flood defences. The Wikipedia Article on Embankment Station gives the full story.
After flapping about with my camera the London Transport security guards were starting to “clock” me, so I hurried round to the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy, which started life as part of a huge homeless shelter founded in 1512 by Henry VIII. The shelter is long gone, taken over by the state and then sold off; but the chapel stayed in royal hands and has ended up as a “Royal Peculiar” – i.e. part of the Church of England but answerable directly to the Queen and independent from the surrounding Diocese of London.
Although the Queen takes church matters rather seriously, places like this are usually run by the Duchy of Lancaster. The Queen holds a number of these dukedoms (she’s also Duke of Cornwall and a few others) and they usually come with a lot of land and equities. That means they generate MONEY, which gets used to pay for the upkeep of all these quaint little places that the taxpayers are too mean to pay for. (We love our royalty, but we like to have them on the cheap…at present they cost each of us a mere 69p each year.)
In practice the Duchies generate so much money that they also fund a lot of local charitable causes. This enables the monarchy to present themselves as “not a huge burden to the taxpayer”, and the Great British Public to believe that the monarchy is a generous and wise overseer. This ignores the fact that it’s farmers paying rent who fund the Duchies in the first place, but the alternative is probably worse – something like paying rents to Monsanto, and coughing up for the full cost of social provision.
This muddle is called “the genius of the British Constitution”.
Royal Chapel of the Savoy
Down the road are the Victoria Embankment Gardens, which are lovely in the summer and very pleasant even in winter. On this occasion I stopped at the Camel Corps Memorial. I had always thought of the Camel Corps as a joke, like the Catering Corps or the Corps of Commissionaires – but in fact they were a big force in the Middle East in the First World War and they lost a lot of men. Apparently there was also a Bicycle Corps, but let’s not go there.
Camel Corps Memorial
Damned hot here, don’tcha know?
Westminster Tube Station nowadays is a an astonishingly deep warren under Portcullis House. I have a few photos here but they’re certainly not the best you could get…it needs a return visit and a security pass. Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article on Westminster Tube Station
The old station – big enough in its day
The huge ticket hall of today’s station
District and Circle Lines aren’t hugely different…
…but the new Jubilee Line is all enclosed for safety, and is very, very deep!
The subterranean city…
…and another look
Above ground there’s Portcullis House, which is fantastic in its own way – but I’ve written about it elsewhere so let’s not spend long on it here.
The atrium inside
Over the road, of course, is Parliament, the greatest debating chamber in the world (cough, cough…), with the new Supreme Court across the square, Whitehall round the corner including the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Westminster Abbey opposite and Trafalgar Square just up the road. It’s all fantastic, though it’s worth trying to get there when the crowds thin out a bit.
The view next to Parliament
Middlesex Guildhall is being refitted as the UK Supreme Court
HM Treasury, right opposite Parliament
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
General view of the square, with National Gallery and St Martin’s
St James’s Park
Again there are loads of interesting places here – Buckingham Palace, for one – but architecturally St James’s Park Station is so good that it largely gets a page to itself. Still the headquarters of London Transport, its Art Deco bulk and the statues by Jacob Epstein continue to rouse curiosity and controversy:
Charles Holden’s wonderful Art Deco building
Jacob Epstein’s “Day”
St James’s Park Station is neighbour to some fascinating places and parts of government including New Scotland Yard…
The park itself leads up to Buckingham Palace and is…just lovely
Main front of Buckingham Palace
Caxton House, the old Westminster City Hall; now very expensive apartments
“You’re nicked, sonny…”
Victoria is like the area around the railway station in any big city – an area of cheap hotels, grotty restaurants, and general crowdedness; a traffic jam to be navigated everytime I want to escape from the South Bank. I have, however, managed to write a page extolling the virtues of Victoria; and it’s undoubtedly nicer than the area around Kings Cross.
Like all the major stations here, Victoria has grown up as a mix of buildings from various times and different railway companies. Never imagine a transfer from Tube to Rail, or even between Tube lines, will be quick!
The elegant older part of the Station, built by the Southern Railway
The more extravagant Victorian part
A new building next door, towering over the courtyard clock
And finally…the Underground station
The fact that the Underground station is across the courtyard from the main complex helps explain why in the tunnels below it takes to make the transfer. And somewhere deep below the whole lot is the Victoria Line, which arrived in the 1960s/70s and is probably even further away again.
But Victoria isn’t just scruffy – in fact away from the station it quickly gets quite nice. We’ll see some typical housing in the next couple of sections, but even just down the road are two rather nice examples of 1930s Art Deco – the National Audit Office and the Coach Station.
National Audit Office
Victoria Coach Station
I can’t say I’d ever want to travel anywhere on a coach if going by train was a viable option instead – and certainly not into London – but the coach station itself exudes a pleasant sense of order and purpose. It’s just a pity about the chaos on the roads.
The route from Victoria to Sloane Square and Kensington takes us through some of London’s most up-market areas: second only to Mayfair and St James’s in refined classiness, the shops (where shops are permitted) are ultra-posh and boutiquey. Even Peter Jones (the local branch of John Lewis) looks a touch down-market.
The area gave its name in the 1980s to “Sloanes” or “Sloane Rangers”, a label for noisy ex-public school types who loudly proclaimed their self-confidence and their right to rule the world. Princess Diana was sometimes considered an archetypal Sloane, though it’s debatable whether she was one at all: she didn’t have quite the brash insensitivity or the confidence – and even a Sloane, though usually pretty thick, has to appear to be able to read Jilly Cooper and the Daily Mail. All of this is discussed at the Wikipedia Article on Sloane Rangers.
The station is the only really tatty building on Sloane Square, so before we get there let’s look at the local housing. A lot of it is still Victorian red brickwork with terracotta trimmings: despite being basically terraced houses, these places are often incredibly grand…
Grand brick houses on Draycott Place…
…and a detail from the roofline
At Sloane Square itself we can boggle at the opulence of the various shops and hotels, but for anyone interested in architecture the most interesting place is the Peter Jones store. I wouldn’t say it sends me into raptures, but it’s regarded as a classic piece of wrap-around curtain-walling, a great glass box with no internal walls, which allows for complete flexibility in floor space and the maximum use of natural light. In this, it is of course a stunning contrast with Victorian styles of building. Personally I don’t think it’s SUCH a wonderful store – it’s just another good solid John Lewis’s, an utterly dependable outlet for the middle classes – but hey, there we are.
Across the square is the Royal Court Theatre, and round the side a scruffy Tube Station. Around now the “not very underground” nature of the District Line also becomes apparent: strictly it’s known as a “sub-surface” railway, and all the platforms from now are open to the world above.
The Peter Jones store on Sloane Square
Sloane Square Tube Station
and back to reality, with a look at the platforms
To the north of Sloane Square is Holy Trinity Church, a classic piece of Victorian streaky-bacon architecture gifted by an enthusiast to an Anglican church which didn’t really know it needed Tractarian (anglo-catholic) worship. A century later you get the impression this picky, elegant form of worship rather appeals to the well-off, who presumably recognise that to “have things done properly” you have to be able to pay for it. It’s not what I choose for my regular religious diet, though my more avid readers will know there’s a secret part of me that’s fascinated by this stuff.
Holy Trinity, Sloane Square
Any proper church should have a “Tympanum” over the door
At South Kensington the Piccadilly Line joins the District and Circle Lines, albeit 80 feet lower below ground and later on the scene. This reflects of the huge popularity of “the museums” – meaning the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, and Victoria & Albert Museum as well as the Albert Hall, Imperial College and all the other cultural institutions founded on the profits of the 1851 Great Exhibition. Being one of the world’s greatest tourist confluences, the station is always horribly busy (do not on any account come here on a wet Saturday afternoon) and it’s actually quite a long walk from the museums: even if you fight 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 might have designed it a bit better – and in fact someone did: there was originally a Brompton Road station on the Piccadilly Line just next door to the V&A. The 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, and if your Piccadilly Line train ever stops there…oooh, exciting!
Brompton Road Tube Station,
clearly of the “Piccadilly / Northern / Bakerloo Line” type
The main 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 wilder claims is still some way off.
Holy Trinity, Brompton
Once again 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
Natural History Museum
Gloucester Road doesn’t have quite the same ‘cachet’ as South Kensington, though 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. By now the Piccadilly Line is running on much the same route at the District and Circle Lines, though it’s 80 feet lower below ground – and the station offers a curious blend of both styles.
Good old Bakerloo / Piccadilly /Northern Line style
District Line style
A Piccadilly Line platform, well underground
Gorgeous old lettering on the Piccadilly Line platform
After Gloucester Road the Circle Line peels off to High Street Kensington and stations to Paddington, so we’ll remove the yellow stripe here. Confusingly these are also District Line stations, though only if you’re coming at them from Wimbledon…so we’ll tackle them on some other page.
Earls Court started as a nice brown ceramic-tiled station 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 it also grew an extra layer on top. This “souffle dish” claims to be an Operations Room, though with its baffled glass windows one suspects it’s really a secret surveillance centre.
Original Earls Court Station
The mysterious “Operations Room”
The round ticket hall – interior
Earls Court Exhibition Centre
Earl’s Court Roundel
Just to repeat a point we’ve already made, Earl’s Court station is another where the District Line runs at surface level while the Piccadilly Line is still underground. Not for much longer, though!
District Line platforms
Piccadilly Line platform
West Kensington is a perfectly good station on the District Line, but Piccadilly Line trains don’t stop here. Why, and how does this work? Part of the story is that the Piccadilly Line is still running below ground here and has been ever since it joined us at South Kensington – so there’s no question of the trains needing to run on the same tracks and stop at the same platforms. Another part of the story is that things have been deliberately set up this way so as to allow the Piccadilly Line trains to go much further westwards without having to stop at lots of diddly little stations on the way. And I guess the last part of the story is that building it this way meant there was no need to construct platforms and stairs for the Piccadilly Line at West Kensington.
That said, everything now starts lining up with the A4 road which runs west out of London much as Route 40 runs out of Baltimore – which means lots of traffic, squeegee men and rough housing. It’s even known as the “Great West Road”. There are good people trying to live here, and just a street or two away it can be quite pleasant, but life is tough on the Great West Road itself.
The Famous 3 Kings is, well…quite famous…
…particularly as a place to get stung by a Squeegee boy
The depressing scene on the A4…
…and again. You wonder why people bother doing the place up
The station is curiously reminiscent of some on the Central and Northern Lines…and it’s no surprise to learn that it was remodelled by Charles Holden, one of our favorite architects from the Piccadilly, Northern and Central Lines.
West Kensington Tube Station
This new Tesco means the area’s going UP!
Other than this, I can’t find anything interesting to say about West Kensington either in my own ramblings or on Wikipedia…so let’s hurry along to Barons Court!
Barons Court is a street away from the Great West Road and bears out my claim that things can get a lot better in just 100 yards. Here’s a joyous little 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 few streets just to get cheered up.
Barons Court Tube Station is a jolly, pretty affair…
…with a gorgeous interior in the classic style
oooh…I’ve come over all trembly!
Victorian houses for ‘artists’, with big north-facing windows…
…and lovely curvy 1930s flats
Baron’s Court is also an important point for anyone wanting to take a bicycle on the Tube, since it’s where the Piccadilly Line emerges from underground and joins up with the District. Since bikes aren’t allowed down below, this means it’s a useful place to transfer from one line to the other, and a critical point on many of my journeys both into and out of London. Happily there’s plenty of interest even at platform level, so waiting between trains isn’t a problem…
Baron’s Court station…
…at 8am on a summer morning!
A very rare station bench, specially restored here
Pretty “self-winding” station clocks
Hammersmith has a name as a good area – it’s (almost) on the river, a good stopping point before getting in to “the Smoke” and opposite posh Kew and Richmond; it also connects to three 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. (Though actually flyover might actually improve some of the rest of the A4…)
Under the lovely Hammersmith Flyover
Above the flyover towers the London Ark. Wierd!
Not just one station…
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 very 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”?
From here on we’re going to drop the blue line
Although the map shows the two lines running alongside each other, the next four stations are almost entirely the District Line’s own, while their Piccadilly Line friends rush past in a frenzy to serve more outlying places. Except when they choose to stop, which they do for a few very special reasons like it’s late in the day, or it’s New Year’s Eve. If this sounds a bit Thomas the Tank Engine, well it it really is so – but on the whole it seems to work. On closer inspection it’s easy to see why London Underground went for this approach; the stations really are rather close together, well suited to a much smaller London – but these days if all the stations were this close the trains would never get anywhere!
The platforms up top
Down below, small but tidy enough
The view from down below
As yet I don’t have a record of all the fabulous churches and other buildings in the area – when I passed through I hadn’t yet got obsessive about taking Pevsner on my travels! So that’s about all I have to say about Ravenscourt Park.
Next on this “not the Piccadilly Line” run is Stamford Brook. Again there’s almost nothing to say about the area, though it seems pleasant enough and there is apparently a real Stamford Brook somewhere near. When I visited the local lime trees had all been severely cut back, which produced a weird look…but apart from that, the closeness of the stations means again there really isn’t anything of much interest!
Stamford Brook Tube Station
I’d say they’d been pollarded, but I’m not sure this is the right word…and either way it makes me think lime trees are a bit of a liability in suburban streets. Not only do they drop sticky stuff all over your car in the summer, they grow far too big and eventually need chopping back just to keep them stable. Unfortunately once you’ve done that they start sprouting round the base of the trunk, so you have an endless maintenance issue. The moral has to be – don’t put them there in the first place!
Stamford Brook station itself looks a bit mean and tatty from outside, though internally it has some nice details. These lights pop up at lots of the older stations, and so do the green tiles…
Stamford Brook Station
Elegant old light fittings
Very well defined and laid out wall tiles
Turnham Green is another station where Piccadilly Line aren’t meant to stop, though confusingly it gets a little tick mark on the Tube map in recognition that trains do stop in the early morning and late evening. It’s never very clear, though, what defines these periods – even the internet doesn’t appear to know – and the only indication the map gives is the mysterious comment ?Check before you travel. Since this seems to apply to the whole station, it seems a rather opaque way of telling visitors that the train they were relying on might not stop here even though the station’s open – and particularly they may be trying to get to Heathrow in a hurry.
It’s a curious fact that the nearest station to Turnham Green is actually Chiswick Park, while Turnham Green station is actually on Chiswick Common. In addition to this astonishing local taste for comedy I offer the following…
Hilarious traditional British transport
It’s rather a nice area…
…with a very fine George Gilbert Scott church
Turnham Green station
To include Chiswick Park here is a little naughty since our intention next is to swing off on the Richmond track which branches off just before here – but it does allow us to deal with all the non-Piccadilly Line stations together…and we’ve already noted that it’s closer to Turnham Green than Turnham Green station is. Chiswick Park was actually built in the 1930s to serve the Piccadilly Line extension, but although Piccadilly Line trains whiz through they’ve never actually stopped here. It is, of course, another of Charles Holden’s great works.
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!
At first glance there seems to be absolutely nothing of interest at Gunnersbury – even the Wikipedia Page on Gunnersbury admits the place’s ‘defining feature’ is the 18-storey building housing the British Standards Institution. Ah, there’s a job I’d like…defining what makes an inch, and deciding how just crappy digital radio has to get before the BBC have to stop claiming it’s better than the old stuff. Nothing seems to have stopped them yet.
Happily there are, in fact, one or two other cultural institutions here. Prime among them is the chief Russian Orthodox Church in London, where they make a speciality of stunning shapes and colours. Of all the religions and Christian denominations, I reckon the Orthodox do the best line in sumptuous vestments…
British Standards Institution
Russian Orthodox Church
Ooh…my old curtains!
And a rather exotic tea cosy!
Back to ground both literally and metaphorically…the typography of “Gunnersbury Station” signs looks unusually cheerful, but this belies the dull reality. Happily just up the road is Gunnersbury Park, a wonderful open space which reminds us that these little communities strung out along the District Line are in fact quite nice places to live.
After Gunnersbury we all too soon have to face the Chiswick flyover, then the traffic jam on the way over the Thames and into Kew. Kew has a charming face, though it also holds some biological horrors…
Kew lies just across the river from Gunnersbury, and it’s always thought of as a charming middle-class villagey sort of place. It’s home, of course, to Kew Gardens; and also to the National Archives, an institution which one assumes these days is less concerned with dusty boxes of papers than on-line information retrieval and indexing. Our first stop, though, is at the 300-year old church of St Anne, charmingly placed on the green and a puzzling mix of architectural styles. It’s basically Georgian, but it’s almost too early for that – Ann-ian might be a better description since it was built under Queen Anne and was also dedicated to St Anne. So it’s a rather gauche early Georgian, with odd-looking brickwork and with some rather surprising tracery in the windows. One can’t help feeling that it’s an early precursor of the elegant, proper Georgian churches built 30 years later in Central London.
The CCTV reference is a joke at my own church’s expense…we’ve been discussing how to keep the place open during the day, and some old person expressed a view that you couldn’t possibly put a webcam up in a church to watch people praying. Get real, folks!
And now in the home of Kew Gardens we come to the biological horror story. The local council, a right-wing group looking to save money by privatising all their services, has decided not to run any public restrooms; instead they pay money to local restaurants and pubs to let the public wander in and use their facilities. Of course many of us would do this anyway…but this seems to be a way of both saving the council some money and shovelling some cash into the greedy hands of local businesses. Presumably it also helps helps the proprietors upgrade their facilities and keep them nice…
So I skipped cheerfully station to the pub next door, which is helpfully called The Railway, expecting to find a joyous porcelain shrine, lovingly maintained, with wonderful country air and flowers freshly placed, and no guilt about using it…
Argh! It was horrible! Deep down in the basement, filthy, broken, stinky beyond belief, a health hazard to go anywhere near it. Clearly whatever money the council are handing over is not being spent on the restroom!
The Palm House (too steamy for photographs inside!)
A quick snog? No…just looking at photos!
The Lily house – nice, though not as good as Longwood
Unknown flower, but rather pretty
Richmond these days is home to the rich and famous, a much-favoured spot on the Thames – and this is the way it’s been been for centuries: it has no end of royal and moneyed connections going back into history. That said, it looked a bit tired and gloomy when I got there, and there didn’t seem a lot to keep me hanging around. So here, to conclude my journey from east to west on the District Line, are just a few photos from Richmond and from a previous visit to the royal park.
Riverbank life in Richmond…
The District Line train back home!
A little further out, and perhaps a more fitting place to finish, is Richmond Park, a wonderful place for cycling, walking, admiring the deer and feasting on the long views back to London. We still have a couple of branch lines to explore, but at this point we can safely say we’ve traversed the District Line from countryside to countryside, passing through the world’s greatest city on the way. What a privilege!
…as do deer
St Paul’s, Westminster City Council, Tower 42, Eye, Gherkin…
Empress House, among others
High Street, Kensington
ce for cycli
Notting Hill Gate
ce for cycli
ce for cycli
ce for cycli
ce for cycli