As of September 2011, the Victoria Line is the first and only line I’ve cycled over its entire distance. But having said that it’s also the shortest of the main Underground Lines, so perhaps this isn’t such a great achievement…and some parts of it were a bit of a dash. So perhaps I should do it again!
The Victoria Line doesn’t really go anywhere very exotic, but it does get a bit swanky in central London. And although the line is a late arrival on the scene it’s already heavily worked: indeed by some measures it’s the busiest line on the network. It was built to relieve strain on the rest, so every station apart from Pimlico is an interchange with other underground or overground lines; the stations are also rather further apart than on the older lines in order to let it move people around faster. It’s also almost entirely underground except where the trains go into their depots for the night, which seems to mean it never gets any cool fresh air – those trains get pretty hot!
One of the delights of the Victoria Line is that the stations were “individualised” by putting arty decorations on the walls in the alcoves where seats are provided. The artworks are based on the names of the stations, but the designers seem to have struggled for ideas – so we end up with a mix of historic references, off the wall puns, and other strange ideas which obviously didn’t take long to gather together. Brixton becomes a Ton of Bricks, while elsewhere there are messy “painted-on” motifs (Blackhorse Road), a hideous disregard of symmetry (Seven Sisters), and a cameo painting (Victoria). None of this helps calm commuters’ jangling nerves, and personally I’d take a hammer to it all…!
We’ll start off in our beloved Sarf London at Brixton, the home of elegant living…
…well, elegant perhaps if you consider the dancing you have to do to avoid the dog poo, drug-pushers and other low-life around the station entrance. Brixton is incredibly mixed, with every community shouting its corner; it’s a horrible traffic jam on the A23; it has a main street ruined by a succession of railway bridges; and the Tube station is notorious for all kinds of crime and bad behaviour just outside the entrance (think drugs, prostitution, petty theft, religious loonies, wee and worse, general nuisance…)
At the end of the day, though, Brixton is just a typical Sarf London place that you might not choose to live in, though many do; and actually it’s not as bad as some of the more derelict neighbourhoods. On a sunny day, at least, it’s brim-full of life, and just a few streets from the station there are lots of pleasant Victorian terraces and squares. The station area itself feels a bit scummy, but as always the fact of good transport into central London means the middle classes are not far off. And the station is the second-busiest on the network, with 27000 passengers a day: so it’s not altogether surprising that it attracts some odd kinds of life.
Brixton High Street
The station was in fact redeveloped a few years ago and is supposedly “improved”, though the cartoons below (swiped from Urban75) may give a feeling for how things really are…
At Brixton, of course, we encounter our first silly “motif” on the wall. Can you figure it out? Ah yes, Brixton – a Ton of Bricks, of course. Ha ha ha…
Tons of fun in Brixton
Stockwell station started life on the Northern Line, with a nice dome in the manner of Clapham Common and Kennington. But the need to interchange with the Victoria Line meant it got rebuilt and enlarged, producing one of the dullest stations on the network. It does, however, have a couple of violent associations which rescue it from complete obscurity.
In 1979 the UK punk band X-Ray Spex released a song containing the lines “Yoofs meet at Stockwell tube, Weapons rule their lives.” It may have been true at the time, and it certainly looks prescient: violence broke out for real in July 2007, when the anti-terrorist police managed to shoot an ordinary Brazilian electrician here, thinking he was a terrorist. The ensuing scandal echoed round the world: his ‘crimes’ turned out to be simply over-staying his work-visa and running away when the police challenged him. But it was only a week after the 7-7 bombings, and the cops were understandably twitchy.
The last time I looked (November 2009) it seemed Juan Carlos’s family had accepted a financial settlement, so perhaps Stockwell can now lapse back into dull obscurity and the background frisson of fear that hovers over Sarf London. (Though actually it doesn’t. Sarf London seems generally OK to me.)
Dull Stockwell Station
Somewhere along the way, the community have painted up an old 2nd World War bomb shelter in an attempt to make it a memorial in its own right and a celebration of (some of) the local cultural heritage. The place would still look better if it wasn’t there at all, but it’s nice to think that what looks like urban grafitti is actually a bit of community work.
The Empire Windrush, bringing the first wave of Caribbean immigrants
Soldiers of the First World War
The overall look of the bomb shelter, with the formal memorial behind
The war memorial itself is rather grand, dating of course from the First World War, when Stockwell was a largely white working-class community and possibly, I guess, even quite a “good” area. It sports not only some good statuary but also a fine clock, and it still holds its own despite the bomb shelter and all the traffic that races past.
A later arrival, in October 2008, is a statue called Bronze Woman. The name isn’t simply a statement of the obvious: it refers to a poem which itself is about the black Caribbean experience of emigrating to Britain in the years after the Second World War. The statue claims to be the first public monument of a black woman anywhere in England, which I suppose gives it a certain cachet. But Baroness Scotland appears to have rather played to the crowd when she spoke at its unveiling: “this monument is incredibly symbolic, as it celebrates the many splendid achievements and contributions that women from the Caribbean and the African Diaspora have made towards the life and cultural heritage of this country”. The fact remains it’s just a black woman with a baby, and I’m not sure that that justifies its position alongside the war memorial…
Stockwell War Memorial
A Bronze Woman
Unknown Construction Worker
To continue my rant…a statue to the Unknown Construction Worker has recently been erected near Tower Hill Tube Station. This one has provoked similar controversy – just what does it commemorate, and why is this an appropriate place to do it? And this time there’s added mischief in the fact that he looks a bit camp, or, put more strongly, as if he’s stepped straight out of the “Village People”.
Swanning about at Stockwell
Meanwhile, down below, what delights await us behind the seats? I would have thought a stock-well in the manner of a well of chicken stock, or perhaps of Lewis Carroll’s Treacle Well – but it seems imagination failed at this point. Instead we have an inane design on the Swan, which was at one time a local public house. It’s still there but exists nowadays as a rather Irish-themed nightclub and bar. The pub looks presentable enough, but this hardly seems to justify immortalising it on the Tube platforms. If I’m ever there with my hammer, this one’ll certainly be coming off the wall!
Vauxhall has a reputation as a low-point even compared with Brixton and Stockwell, but as always it’s misleading to make judgements in London. Certainly you can buy any kind of substance or service you want around here, but that’s true in many places; it’s just that it’s more obvious here. And there are pleasant bits, just as there are in Brixton and Stockwell – you just have to look rather hard to find them. And keep your wits about you when you walk in the park after dark.
Pretty – Vauxhall Park
Ugly – a British Telecom base
The British Interplanetary Society
They’re actually a perfectly serious outfit
Somehow the expression “self-bondage” came to mind –
reflecting some of the curious services available in Vauxhall.
Once we get to the river we find Vauxhall Overground, Underground and Bus Stations all pretty-well on top of each other and creating the biggest traffic island you’ve ever seen. But although it’s not easy to navigate your way round, it does actually work: it’s amazing how many trains, buses and everything else pass through here every minute, and yet it keeps moving. Indeed standing on the balcony at St George Wharf (which includes a view of the river) I reckon I’ve counted up to 18 forms of transport all active at once: walking, running, scooters, skate-boards, push-chairs, wheelchairs, cycling, river-boats, rowing, motor-bikes, cars, buses, lorries, trains, planes, ambulances, helicopters…and of course the underground. It’s all quite amazing to watch.
The new Vauxhall Interchange
One of the few old bits left – the Train Station
…a touch of “ski run meets Winnebago”
Once we get to the river itself we find a profusion of strange new buildings. The largest is St George Wharf, a complex of some 1000 flats which sell for anything between £¾M and £20M, making Westminster Bridge Road look cheap. Residents include at least one former Prime Minister and a whole lot of other exotic people, as well as a huge number who rent apartments while their employers post them short-term to London. It’s not a terribly friendly place but it does its job – and from some of the flats, at least, the views are superb.
Crazy St George Wharf
A more placid piece of work is Vauxhall Bridge. Again it’s not clear why Vauxhall, and the approach from Pimlico, have quite such a seedy reputation – if you look carefully there are elements of charm, and the bridge is certainly one. It’s also a good place to stop and look down-river to Parliament and beyond, if you can blot out the horrid Millbank Tower…
View to Parliament with Millbank Tower…
…and without it
Once again we go to hunt out the silly seat design in the station: this time it’s not embarrassingly bad but simply reflects an old piece of history. Like Southwark further down the river, Vauxhall was famous for many centuries as the home of pleasure gardens where tired Londoners could cross the river and relax, enjoy concerts and buy any other kind of service they wanted, including the usual drink, drugs and sex. Things haven’t changed much – the railway arches at Vauxhall still have plenty to offer – but the station takes a more gentle view of pleasure and goes simply for a floral design. It looks like it’s been painted on the wall by a 10-year old, but at least it’s not totally naff.
A whiff of…well, all sorts of things, in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens
It’s easy to overlook Pimlico in the grand scheme of London, but as Westminster’s neighbour it makes a fascinating study of how a backwater developed into a grand housing area for the city. I’m working on a proper Pimlico page, but for the moment we’ll note those bits of it which lie along the Victoria Line as it struggles up to Victoria Station. The route is basically along messy Vauxhall Bridge Road, with Pimlico Station slightly off to the side: though when I say “messy” it certainly doesn’t feel really nasty and threatening like, well, Whitechapel High Street on most nights of the week. We’re technically in Westminster borough here, and their constant pressure to keep the place nice certainly pays off.
Firstly, though, we’ll note the original Tate Gallery, now rebranded as Tate Britain. It’s not Tate Modern (which is down the river at Bankside) but there’s plenty here to fill a day, including the fantastic collection of Turners. On the other hand if (like me) you get bored with too much Turner, there’s lots of other stuff as well.
Rachel Whiteread on a happy day
Back on the main drag, a cheery bed of primulas welcomes you as soon as you get over Vauxhall Bridge…and this is the middle of March. I’ve never noticed them from my car, but on a bike you can’t miss ’em. And just round the corner you find Pimlico proper, as built in the 1830s by Thomas Cubitt. His lines of elegant houses, with three very long urban “squares” thrown in, define classy living here and give Pimlico a quiet, orderly feel even though it’s close to the centre of London. You feel that people care here, and want to defend their nice way of life. Would that all the Victoria Line was like this!
Thomas Cubitt, the Master-Builder responsible for most of the best bits of Pimlico
Cheery flowers greet you in Pimlico
Thomas Cubitt’s work at St George’s Square
Just up the road is the, well, bog-standard Victorian, but still rather nice, St Saviour’s church. And right opposite used to be the horrible Pimlico School. Built in the 1960s it was a landmark mess of concrete and glass, obviously never loved by anyone and ultimately derelict for many years. Even Pevsner, usually a fan, commented that “all that single-sheet glass probably posed a challenge for heating in the winter, and cooling in the summer”. Happily the government policies of the 2000s have allowed the site to be redeveloped with a nice new Pimlico Academy, which not only makes much better use of the space but actually looks like a professional building where you go with serious purpose, get respected and treated as an individual, and might stand some chance of learning something useful. I didn’t want to stand outside for too long taking photos of a school, but it does of course have a fantastic Pimlico Academy Website if you’re interested, which reads more like a pitch for an FT100 company than for a grotty old school. More power to their elbows, I say.
St Saviour’s Church – the best of the 1870s
Pimlico Academy – the best of the 2000s
My only real concern with Pimlico Academy was what state the building will be in 40 years from now…all that white rendering and flat roofs looks great now, but there’s an awful lot of it going up in London and it gets tatty very quickly. But grey concrete hasn’t exactly done brilliantly well, and we seem to have proved that every 40 years or so the nation can afford to splurge on new public buildings services then spend the next 39 paying for them – so perhaps it’ll all work out.
Spending splurges on the Victoria Line gave us Pimlico Station, which opened rather late in 1972. One might ask why they went for so much brick, and such an unsympathetic building, in the middle of classical white Pimlico – but it matches the tide of red brick on Vauxhall Bridge Road which we’ll get back to in a minute. So perhaps it’s a ‘transition point’ between the two styles – and I have to admit that after 40 years it’s wearing quite well.
Down below, the style is consistent with every other part of the Line, including the slightly odd lit-up roundel signs. Why did they go for these, when they could be so easy a target for vandalism? The only reason I can think of is that maybe perspex fronts were cheaper than the usual painted metal: and just possibly London Underground weren’t sure all the names would be permanent.
Pimlico Station – Roundel
Pimlico Station – Platform level
Happily the signs haven’t suffered much vandalism over the years, though one piece of ugliness is unavoidable – another silly piece in the seating alcove. Figuring the Tate was full of Modern Art, the designer created this spotty thing – which is not only crap but also rather irrelevant now since the modern part of the collection has moved down the river to Bankside. Another one for my hammer, I reckon.
Pimlico itself is a bit of a diversion off Vauxhall Bridge Road, so at this point we’ll get back to the main drag with its endless traffic and red brickwork.
The first significant bit of red brick is the wonderful church of St James the Less. These days it claims confidently to be “charismatic evangelical” under its shiny new vicar (she ticks so many of the right boxes it’s quite scary) but it clearly didn’t start out that way. It’s actually a Victorian classic by George Edmund Street, who while not “High” in theology was probably the high priest of Ecclesiastical Gothic as it re-established itself as the primary vocabulary for church architecture. His crowning achievement is the fabulous Royal Courts of Justice, but he spent most of his career on churches…and this is certainly a good example.
St James the Less, Pimlico
Water Tower at Invercargill, New Zealand
The red brick tower at St James the Less reminds me strangely of another red brick structure – the Water Tower at Invercargill in New Zealand. Perhaps the real similarly is that I photographed both as the light was going down, so they seem to glow with warm redness. And Victorian builders certainly knew how to make the most of their materials.
The modern Lillington Estate is a brave attempt in red brick too, though lacking the brash decoration – which is probably just as well, given how tightly everything is packed in. It just about works, though you can imagine it needs a good bit of community order and good behaviour to keep things nice. The tidy look on the left here is a bit heavy but seems to work; on the other hand the piled-up look on the right may have worked when everything was pristine and new, but is in danger of looking messy now it’s been corrupted with screens, satellite dishes, patched brickwork and other stuff.
I remember first discovering this look in the 1970s and being quite taken with it: I even built versions of it in Lego. I still like it, but I suspect that living so close to your neighbours only works in a very minimalist and disciplined social order. When I’m in charge, people won’t even be allowed to stand out on the balconies – for fear of making the place look untidy.
Lillington Estate 1
Lillington Estate 2
Back on the main road, things chug along up to Victoria Station without much that’s noticable. There’s the slowest BP Petrol Station in the world, and the rather nice Jugged Hare pub in an old bank (though be warned – I’ve known women guests get eyed-up here by the locals); and everywhere else is a rash of glass-and-red-brick apartments. Just to the north there’s Vincent Square and some rather classy outworkings of Westminster School, but again that’s probably a project for another day. A flat on the main road is good enough for many who work here, so we’ll catch our breath here before we tackle Victoria.
The Jugged Hare
Glass-and-red-brick spreads everywhere
Get near Victoria, and commerce and tourism burst upon you. It’s not exactly bad, but it is horribly busy, and the roadworks seem never-ending. Let’s first note the two famous theatres – the Victoria Palace Theatre (currently doing Billy Elliot) and the Apollo (featuring Wicked). Both shows have been running for ever so long, which must suggest they’re doing something right.
Victoria Palace Theatre – Billy Elliot
Apollo Victoria Theatre – Wicked
Victoria has no formal existence on the map – it’s simply part of Belgravia – but everyone knows the name as referring to this scruffy area throbbing with tourists, shops and cheap hotels that lies around Victoria Station between the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Pimlico and the “Embassy Row” parts of Belgravia. Victoria Station itself is enormous, though you woudn’t think so inside – it’s really just a lot of parts connected together and there are no really grand spaces. Here’s just a small part of it, along with its own horrible seat alcove design – a cameo portrait of Victoria which doesn’t follow the same style as anything else here. It looks reminiscent of the “Penny Black” stamp design, but the colours are sicky and I don’t like it one bit.
The vast and sprawling Victoria Station
From Victoria our way lies towards Green Park. This is easy by Tube but is harder by bike: it’s not entirely clear which way to go, because Buckingham Palace gets in the way. A wiggle across Bressenden Place, down Victoria Street to Buckingham Gate, and then up to Green Park itself seems a good move…and on the way, as usual, there’s plenty to see. We start with the Department of Communities and Local Government (groan) but then just down the road are Westminster Cathedral and New Scotland Yard. (You can read slightly more of this at Victoria, though it’s not obvious why you’d want to.)
Communities & Local Government (DCLG) has a swanky new building…
…and also a horrible old one
Slightly crazy architecture at Cardinal Place
That famous rotating sign for the Metropolitan Police
(New Scotland Yard is actually a little further on, and off the route… but it would be hard not to include it here since that rotating sign is so familiar from TV reports.) Just down the road is the amazing Westminster Cathedral, well worth a stop:
Detail of the tower
The main entrance front
Detail of the framing walls
Next we pass some rather dull official buildings…worth hurrying on past these, I think, unless you want to buy a Shapers sandwich (257 calories, and basically rabbit food) from Boots:
Innovation, Universities and Skulls (DIUS), now part of BIS
Westminster City Hall – yes, it really is this dull
Finally we turn left at the Albert pub, another good place to stop if the occasion demands – though, I have to admit, another place where a female colleague got “touched up”.
The Albert pub – great for drinking, and an excellent carvery upstairs
Our way lies past Westminster Chapel, an Abiding and Ambitious Anchorage of Committed, Conservative Christianity. Their website currently Declares, Declaims and Demonstrates their vision as “Exalt – Experience – Equip – Enthral – Expand – Extend”. It sets me wondering if alliterative sermons really contribute anything to Christian formation…but Fundamentally, Faithfully and Fitfully, they’re a good bunch. (And by the way, googling Alliterative Sermons brings up some curious results.)
Before the chapel, we pass a classic late Victorian hotel – the St James’ Court. Like St Ermin’s round the corner it’s a warren of rooms built round a delightful oasis of calm, a real haven in the busy city. No matter that the plumbing is a bit variable, and the internal corridors wind around like spaghetti – it’s a seriously good place.
St James’ Court Hotel
Another good place is the Blewcoat School, whose scholars used to wear blue coats but presumably didn’t learn much spelling. It’s no longer a school – these days it’s the National Trust’s top Gift Shop, which makes it very easy to pop in and have a look round. And judging by the number of photographs on the web, lots of people do.
It’s been a while coming, but at last we’re at Buckingham Palace itself. I’ve never been in there, though the Queen does open it to the public for a while each year; neither have I been round the Royal Picture Gallery, which is apparently very good. But I have been in the Gift Shop, been appalled at the royal tat that’s for sale, and gone apoplectic at the prices. My only consolation is that royalty is following a long tradition here: at least since Tudor times Parliament has stopped the King owning everything, and in response royalty has had to tart itself around a bit to make ends meet. On the other side of the bargain the Great British Public laps it up – so I guess £40 for a Wills & Kate plate isn’t so bad when you consider it helps keep the picture gallery going.
Buckingham Palace on a quiet day
Good old Queen Victoria
About £110 worth – but at least it’s “official”
Not “official” at all
Our way to the next station lies across Green Park, but since that’s the name of the station itself we’ll leave it to our next section…
It’s famously possible to walk a full 2 miles from Whitehall out of London through St James’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park. And very nice it is too. St James’s always feels like a beautifully well managed civic park, with ducks, pond, cafe, and wonderful flowers on just about every day of the year. And Hyde Park, though a lot bigger, is always teeming with life. But neither ever feels “remote”. Green Park, by contrast, manages both to be quite small and yet to feel as if it’s a long way from anywhere. It must be to do with the way they don’t trim everything to death and leave some of it looking positively wild – and it also doesn’t have any flowerbeds. And the result is quite lovely.
The mood starts down at the palace, where the Canadian War Memorial sets a dignified though not sombre tone. It would look better if it were three times the size, but even so it’s an impressive piece of work, and always worth a stop.
Canadian War Memorial
Maple leaf detailing
There’s nobody here!
A nice remote feeling, despite being just off Piccadilly
If you’re extremely well off, you can afford a grand house on the edge of the park. Lady Diana’s family, the Spencers, have one of them; they of course, consider themselves far more ancient and noble than the Windsors in that trashy Palace just down the road. Spencer House is predictably gorgeous inside, and the £12 tour is worth it just for the fabulous view of the park.
The Ghastly Elephant Parade
The last view of Green Park recalls the horrible Elephant Parade which arrived in summer 2010 and thankfully didn’t last long.
At the top of the Park is Piccadilly, home to serious swankiness – particularly if you consider we’ve skirted round St James’s and are about to hit Mayfair. We’ll leave Fortnum & Mason’s, the Royal Academy, and Piccadilly Circus to the Piccadilly Line and Jubilee Line trips – but we really must stop to consider afternoon tea at the Ritz Hotel.
Afternoon Tea at the Ritz will set you back about £40 per person, and “tourist attire” is not allowed. But I’m told you can eat as many sandwiches and cakes as you want, and a mere £12 gets champagne as well. Women I know who’ve been there say it’s absolutely worth the money…though I haven’t managed to gather any male opinions.
Green Park station itself is functional but lacks much sense of excitement: it basically blends into the surrounding buildings, though there are touches of 1930s grandeur and a sense that serious money was spent here. There’s another part of it in Green Park itself, but since that’s being rebuilt at the moment we won’t bother with it here…
Green Park Station…
…with the odd bit of stylish detailing
Below ground, it’s an endless warren of blue-and-white tunnels. Technically Green Park is an interchange with the Piccadilly and Victoria Lines, but anyone who knows the place will agree that “interchange” is really another word for “maze”.
and that way…
Haven’t we been here already?
Ah…hints of the Victoria Line!
Over the years I’ve actually bothered to learn the Green Park maze, and it does make sense once you get to know it. The Piccadilly and Jubilee Lines are very deep underground, and everything works round a long connecting subway which runs above them, so both have stairs and lifts up to it. Meanwhile the Victoria Line passes overhead and has stairs and lifts down to the subway. And in other places, everything connects up to ground level.
My primary aim in finding this out has been to understand the structure of the lifts – thinking of tourist friends who come in from Heathrow with heaps of luggage, and who could potentially switch conveniently here to the Victoria Line if all the lifts were working. The campaign to put lifts in has been a long one, linked of course to “mobility” generally and to the work of extending the station into Green Park – and as of late 2011 I can report that for a few days this year it was actually possible to transfer between the Piccadilly and Victoria Lines at Green Park without needing to use any stairs at all. It’s still a long walk, but it is now possible to get from Heathrow to my flat on entirely horizontal, or at least ramped, surfaces. Unless one of the lifts breaks…again. (Actually at the time of writing, the one at Vauxhall now appears to be broken…though since there’s a ramp out of the station this doesn’t strictly negate what I said earlier.)
Green Park Station Lifts
Even better news – the Victoria Line has humped platforms, meaning parts of the platforms are genuinely level with the trains – and the same humps are being installed on the Piccadilly and Jubilee Lines. So Green Park will be genuinely disabled-friendly and a breeze for tourists, as long as they can find the right places to stand on the platforms. And all of this just in time for the huge surge of visitors to the 2012 Olympics, who will no doubt bring the whole system to a halt again.
Green Park is again blessed (hmm) with daft ceramic tile patterning in the seating alcoves. In fact there are at least two different styles here, dating from different times in the station’s development. Quite why, having done it once, they felt they had to do it again, is a mystery…but here goes:
“Green, Yellow, Blue and Black Park” on the Victoria Line…
…and on the Jubilee Line
The first of these designs must have taken all of, I reckon, 30 seconds to think up – and its strongly tempting to get a marker pen out and “join the dots” in some way.
Lastly a couple of the usual standard shots, though I confess the platform shot is taken from the Jubilee Line. There’s a fair bit of Jubilee Line grey here, with a useful attempt at signing the way out in yellow…but why so much aggressive red? Goodness knows.
Platform on the Lovely-Jubbly Line.
One feels the way to Oxford Circus should offer a wealth of exciting places and things to do – but it’s mainly a land of shops, offices, cafes, restaurants, ‘institutions’ and a couple of churches. It’s all good and prosperous, but it’s hard to get excited about it. If we really stretch a point we can feature the Burlington Arcade, the Royal Institution, Regent Street, and possibly Hanover Square – but anything else is just too far off the track.
Burlington Arcade has a grand front entrance
It also has a grand Back entrance…
…with a fearsome porter on the gate!
Then again, he does guard one of the best pen shops in London. Drool…!
Let’s hurry on to Oxford Circus. The Circus is the crossing where Oxford Street meets Regent Street, so it becomes the ultimate mad centre of London’s most frantic shopping activity. Go right from Regent Street and “busy-but-classy” turns rather quickly into a search for down-market cheap stuff; or turn left and it stays nice, with stores like John Lewis and Selfridges.
At the crossing itself, hundreds of people cross the road every minute, which has created such a traffic problem that the Circus has recently been re-engineered and turned into a “Pedestrian Scramble”. Although this sounds rather dangerous, the idea is that vehicle traffic is completely stopped in every direction: so for a minute or so, pedestrians have the upper hand and can cross any of the four roads or even go from corner to corner. Apparently it works in other cities like Tokyo, Vancouver and Washington DC (though I’ve never seen it there), so it ought to work in London – though I suspect given the British love of mild civic disobedience (e.g. on the Wobbly Bridge) we’ll find a way to subvert the whole thing. Running around in circles comes to mind…or a “challenge” to cross all the possible ways within a minute…?
There’s an interesting piece of maths which suggests that although people walk randomly into a pedestrian scramble, if two streams of people cross through each other they emerge from the experience in coherent (lined-up) waves. It’s actually true in practice, though I don’t have a photo here to show it: all I do have is more crowds…
Crowding down into the station
Oxford Circus Station is, like many others, a tough survivor which still shows the marks of London’s early railway history. As often happens, at ground level it’s actually two stations built next to each other – one each for the Bakerloo and Central Lines which meet here (and none, it seems, for the Victoria Line – which was cleverly inserted in the 1960s.) The crowds were too bad for me to photograph the Central Line one (a Harry Bell Measures classic); but I managed the Bakerloo Line one with its original Leslie Green dark red ceramic tiling, big generous arches and cute little round windows. There are lots more of these, of course, in the Piccadilly, Northern and Bakerloo Line write-ups – but it’s always nice to find one.
The lovely old red-tiled Bakerloo Line station
Detail of those upper windows
Someone else’s photo of the Central Line station…
…and Harry’s original, still easily visible
Down below, it’s also a pedestrian scramble since three lines cross here: and it’s no wonder people get confused…
A rare quiet moment
A strikingly odd sign down below!
And then there is, of course, another horrible seating alcove. The designers seem to have run out of inspiration yet again, ignoring all the wonderful hustle and bustle above ground and resorting to a poorly stylised representation of the three tube lines which meet here. No matter that the Bakerloo actually runs more N-S here, and both it and the Central run all the way through – somehow this scraped itself off the drawing board and got onto the wall. More than anything else it suggests target practice, which could be rather fun on the day I finally “go postal”.
Picking your target at Oxford Circus
After the station, our Victoria Line route takes us – well, roughly – up Portland Place to the north. Here is the original home of the BBC – the lovely Art Deco Broadcasting House – with its Eric Gill statue of Prospero and Ariel. Gill never passed up a chance to display “naughty bits” to the world, and Ariel here is no exception – in fact there’s a whole history about how Ariel is portrayed, but let’s not go there.
The original Broadcasting House
The statue of Prospero and Ariel over the door
Next door is John Nash’s All Souls Langham Place. The main church is a rather plain box, but it’s redeemed (if I dare use that word here) by its lovely round portico which sits perfectly in the bend of the road as it heads up to Portland Place. The church is solidly “conservative evangelical”, with its Christianity Explored course representing a different, if not entirely opposite, pole to Holy Trinity Brompton and the Alpha Course. There’s plenty more I could say here, but I won’t… after all, this is basically a tourist blog…
The lovely round porch at All Souls, Langham Place
It would be nice at this point to visit RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects, but strictly it’s diverting a bit too much from our path…but oh, go on then. RIBA has a lovely Art Deco headquarters building which exudes a sense of calm spacious luxury. There’s also a good RIBA website, where they have photographs of a lot of their interior spaces.
Classic 1930s Eric Gill sculpture on the wall
Sentinel pillars on the door
Once inside the building there’s a generous marble hall with inscriptions of the names of famous architects. If you’ve read many of my webpages – or even if you haven’t – you may recognise some of the names here.
Past presidents of the RIBA
Gold Medallists of the RIBA
The most stunning feature in the entrance hall is actually the staircase, which draws you up into a grander foyer upstairs. The building is in fact laid out on a fairly tight site: the architect (Grey Wornum) did a really clever job of moving the action from floor to floor but leaves you almost unaware that you’re moving up and down as much as left to right.
The bannisters have lovely deep engraved patterns, delicately lit from below
The staircase wraps around and doubles up, in a sumptuous way
View down from the 3rd floor…
On the upper floors the RIBA has a lot of meeting rooms which anyone can hire – though at a serious price! They’re all named after famous architects – Lutyens, Hawksmoor, etc…
Aston Webb room, with original leather panelling
The Board Room
‘Modern’ style clocks are everywhere…none of them have numerals!
Sir Norman Foster
Back on the second floor there are two wonderfully light exhibition rooms…
Front Exhibition Room
Even the back stairs are grand…
And lastly, let’s consider the BT Tower. London in 1965 was a “happening” place, and the arrival of what was then the “Post Office Tower” as part of the national microwave network was heralded as another great step forward. The Prime Minister phoned the Mayor of Birmingham directly to mark the event (gosh!) and there was even a revolving restaurant on the top where the public could gawp at the rest of London. Nowadays there are bigger towers elsewhere, and most communications are carried on fibre rather than microwave, and concerns for security have closed the whole tower to the public; but it still does a useful job and brings a certain techie charm to this working area in Euston.
Here are links to the Fantastic London Landmarks article on the Telecom Tower and the equally good Wikipedia article on the BT Tower.
View from below
View from Westminster Cathedral, with Euston Tower behind
This brings us right up to Warren Street, which sits unobtrusively in a land of businesses, doctors, professional institutions and London University. The station is by Charles Holden – a rather big affair compared with most of his work, and competent enough in an area of dull big blocks.
Warren Street Station
Down below we have the usual seating alcove (not so awful this time, I must admit) and station roundel. And then we’ll hurry on to Euston…
a-maze-ing Warren Street
The horrors of Euston Station loom ahead, but before we get there we’ll note a couple of things. On the corner is a tower block in classic 1960s International Style – it could be by the master Mies van der Rohe, but in fact it’s by Sidney Kaye. We don’t like buildings like this any more, but this one does it rather well; the tight, tidy, rather expensive minimal look combines with an interesting stepped-cross geometry which breaks up any sense that it’s just a slab, and also gets a considerable lot of light into the building. In today’s terms it’s probably an environmental disaster, has terrible pillared floor spaces and has had to have false floors fitted throughout – but if we have to have tall buildings, well, perhaps this one isn’t so bad.
Tenants are currently Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs at the bottom, and global engineering firm W S Atkins at the top – which suggests the place must be stuffed with money!
Still resisting the attractions of Euston Station, we note the Wellcome Collection. The Wellcome is a prestigious medical charity which puts on an astonishingly good set of medical exhibitions, usually intelligent and demanding yet accessible to the ordinary mind. Recent attractions have been
Mélange, Nexus, Suet Pudding or whatever – suddenly everything Euston-St Pancras-Kings Cross seems to be upon us, though in fact it isn’t that well connected together, Even when writing this I had a moment’s flap and thought “Euston’s not on the Victoria Line”, before remembering that it is…it’s just that it’s the far east of Euston where it happens. Warren Street is perfectly good for the west end of Euston Station, so the Victoria Line’s underground platforms to the east are a sort of recognition that it’s all a huge great mess and you’ll have to walk for half an hour to get anywhere. That said, the pedestrian tunnel system is warm, bright and generally friendly – so if you have to walk half an hour below ground anywhere then I guess it doesn’t get much better than this.
Fight your way up to the service and you find a place with at least some dignity. Like its neighbours St Pancras and Kings Cross, Euston was a mighty terminus in the age of the Victorian rail barons; like the other two it suffered in the 1960s, and of the three it came off worst. The original was a huge Victorian train shed fronted by a mighty classical arch, but this got flattened to make way for a bus station, boring modernist office blocks, and a dreadfully inadequate railway station.
Some of the old is still there…
…but it’s sadly compromised by all the buses
The original Euston Station
Not that unpleasant…until you consider what was there before
As with Centre Point and Euston Tower I have to confess that I rather like the 60s black granite and stainless steel now its been cleaned up – it has a look of expensive minimalism – but I’m also sympathetic to the view that the demolition was the worst architectural crime of the 20th century. It led directly to the establishment of the Victorian Society as a movement to preserve our wonderful 19th century buildings… and nowadays we’re talking of a vast redevelopment of the whole area. There’s even a campaign to rebuild the Euston Arch!
Like most other public institutions in London, the British Library has had a long journey to where it is now. You could say it’s not big enough, or that it’s too big; or that the site is the wrong place, or that the building’s ugly, or that the project was badly managed… on the other hand there’s a good argument that just for once we got this one about right. That may be more due to good luck than great planning, but there we are.
It’s not as big as the French Bibliotheque National – but theirs is massively over-sized, particularly for the internet age. It doesn’t have a glorious site all on its own – but it does fill a hole in Euston rather well, and its public square is very pleasant indeed. It doesn’t match the fairytale style of St Pancras’s Station next door, but then nothing could – and it does echo the colour of the bricks and stand rather well as a respectful neighbour.
Here’s a link to the main British Library website.
Best of all, my friends Miriam and Ralie come all the way from America to see it! We particularly enjoyed the Taking Liberties exhibition.
The British Library, with its new public space
Some of it has a Scandinavian feel
St Pancras floats, like a fairytale castle, behind
Miriam and Ralie…so lovely to see them!
Kings Cross St Pancras
Our journey through the nexus isn’t quite over yet: we still have to navigate St Pancras and Kings Cross Stations. These and Euston were of course the first arrivals, and the Tube lines since then have had to squeeze in rather inelegantly between them.
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 14 mainline railway termini in London, and we rely on the Tube to connect them together. As a result, 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 now been re-furbished at vast expense and is a Marriott Renaissance hotel…and as expected, it’s a stunner.
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” for a bit.
Kings Cross Station
A dull-looking church, but evidently plodding on
Typical store fronts on the road
Highbury & Islington
If the Arsenal area is, at least in memory, a classic of white working-class Britain, that impression is fully dispelled as you approach Finsbury Park. Not only is there the rather tatty-looking Finsbury Park Mosque; the streets reveal a vast array of cafes, shops and businesses from every community you could name. It’s extremely busy round the station; definitely a working and commuting population, and behind the station a particular concentration of businesses in the “rag-trade” – meaning the manufacture of clothes.
We’ve been trying to avoid the Piccadilly Line, but Finsbury Park is not only a proper interchange for the Tube Lines but also with the buses. The station shows two contrasting faces: the most obvious one is a spanking new facade onto the bus station, but when you look inside there seem to be rather long tunnels to the Piccadilly and Victoria Lines, rather than the usual ticket barriers. Hmm, suspicious, you think – and cycling round the back of the new canopy and under the railway bridge you find the truth – a bog-standard traditional Tube station. Words like “let-down” come to mind, but here let’s just say it feels “cosy” and “familiar”.
The spanking new facade…
…with even a canopy against the weather
Round the back, a fairly basic Tube station…
…yeah, that’s the Tube we know and love
The building on the left is a huge and very anonymous-looking Police Station: on the right is a more cheerful addition in the form of a mural commissioned by the CIL company to celebrate the rag-trade hereabouts. Whether the company is still trading I can’t say, but the images here are undoubtedly cheerful and improve a big blank wall by a long way.
Our route lies up the hill past Finsbury Park, a very pleasant part of the local scene which seems to provoke a rather quick return to solid traditional middle-class housing and good Anglican churches. Or perhaps not that solid. The houses here look a bit tatty, though the area gets better as you get further up the hill towards Manor House; while the new church, though curious for being round, is depressingly dull and badly presented.
What particularly annoyed me about the church is that with this fairly unique chance to actually make church feel relevant, the most important announcement on the board is “Sunday Eucharist with Sunday School 11am”. Ooh…whatever is a Eucharist? I reckon to anyone outside the church this is still one of the most meaningless words we use – it might be a breakfast, or a meeting, or a walk round the parish, or a troll in the basement, or anything really. You might as well call it a Frebmitt, or a Dinglebob, for all that most people understand it.
I tutted and ploughed on up the hill to Manor House, inventing new meaningless words for the Eucharist as I went…Logidentia, Harrinopping…coming past Finsbury Park on the way. At the top of the hill, strangely, there’s a Piccadilly Line station – but even though the Victoria Line goes straight past, it doesn’t stop here. So we’ll steal a little bit of copy from the Piccadilly Line and pass quickly on…
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
Manor House is located at a major road crossing, and from here the Piccadilly Line strikes out north, presumably running under the A105 and developing its cheery 1930s style. The Victoria Line, despite being a later arrival, does the more obvious thing and carries on along the route of the A503 to Tottenham, the River Lea, and eventually Walthamstow. Sadly, despite being a newer development, there’s little that seems really joyful about this end of the Victoria Line; though there’s certainly plenty of faith on display.
Seven Sisters Road seems to be a very long road with lots and lots and lots of 1930s Greater London Council housing blocks. You get the impression there was land here, scope to build, and they just piled on down towards the River Lea. None of it is very unpleasant – it’s the usual dignified 5/6 storey brick and concrete, with mildly curved balconies and a generally friendly look so long as the tenants are good – but one casualty along the way has been St Olave’s Church. It’s parish was only carved out from the surrounding ones in 1892, and the church, by Ewan Christian, dates from 1893: but it seems to have been abandoned. The shreds of life left on its notice board suggest it was once again that high-and-dry kind of London church which fails to reach many except for a very limited clientele, and I suspect there weren’t too many of them hereabouts.
The closed St Olave, Woodberry Down
For those who worship a more lively God, a couple of other opportunities soon present themselves. Apart from suggesting that God only gets out on Friday evenings, The Sanctuary looks like a happening sort of place which also respects its neighbours. And Woodberry Down Bappos also seem to be going strong.
I wonder what God does the rest of the time
So… it’s OK to make a noise at the BACK of the building?
It’s all very well, but that chimney’s HORRID!
Just down the road is a flashy new school…well, actually an old school (1890), but housed in a glowing new building (2010). Given Pevsner’s diligence in writing up every ghastly 1950s Comprehensive, it’s a pity he and his successors haven’t yet caught up with the rash of Academies built in the huge Government over-spend of the late 2000s. I wonder, in fact, if they ever will catch up – ince by the time they get round to it these schools may simply be viewed as “yet another flexible-space/business/school/community/multi-purpose building of the 2000s.” How could you find new words to say about every multi-tone red, or brown, or green, or black, wall that’s clad with metal panels? It could certainly get a bit tedious, though on the other hand Pevsner did manage to do an awful lot of the little old public libraries and police stations.
The Academy programme was, and still is, a curious hybrid which draws industry and business far closer into the education system than has historically been the case. It’s supposed to be bound by a rule that private companies can’t directly run schools and make profits out of the deal, but you can’t help feeling it all comes very close: one suspects that even if they don’t directly make “profits”, businesses get a lot of useful charitable foundation tax reliefs, lots of good publicity, lots of governorships for retired directors, etc etc. And although the schools are mainly funded with taxpayer’s money, a small contribution of staff time or company resources gets your name on top of it and your “values” (if you have any) built into the schools “ethos”. Curiously this mirrors the interests that the church has had in “church schools” for the last 100 years, and it may even take away some of the probing they’ve been subject to: after all, if the church is now only one special interest among many who run schools, and possibly one of the more benign, then there’s less reason to question it. Welcome to the world of “social investment” in the 2010s.
Like all these places they have a Skinners’ Academy Website, with a personal message from the Earl of Malmesbury (ooh…) If the place delivers what it promises, then the kids of Hackney have great futures in front of them. And we all have 100 years of debt.
The glitzy Skinners’ Academy
Right next door, there’s one of the schools that Pevsner loved so much: Woodberry Down Community Primary School. It looks rather sad next to Skinners’, but I’ve no strong reason to think it’s a bad school – it just happens to be an older building, a Primary rather than a Secondary School, and to be rather in awe of its glitzy new neighbour. Government money was never, of course, available for semi-private interests to build Primary Schools in the way it was thrown around for Academies. But lets hope it’s a good school in its own way, and that Skinners’ is partnering with it in some way…
The rather dull Woodberry Down Primary School
the New River
Round the back of the site is the New River. It’s actually an artificial waterway, opened as early as 1613, which takes water from the River Lea (which we’ll meet again soon) and heaves it off down to London. You can walk the whole 20 miles of the River, though it’s not quite as accessible as, for instance, the Regent’s Canal. Here’s a link to the Wikipedia Article on the New River.
As I cycled round Tottenham and the Seven Sisters area it struck me that secularists do rather tend to beat up on religion by only looking at the bad things. There are many of these of course, but to say on the one hand that religion causes all the world’s wars and on the other that it’s an emollient, designed to keep people in their place, seems to be asking to have it all ways. Religion is in many ways what holds these communities together – it gives them rules to live by, a family structure to appeal to, and an aspirational view of life beyond the grim places they live in. Religion is not what stops these people meeting and marrying other good people, ordering their lives, getting social support and ultimately moving up the ladder – rather the opposite, religion encourages them to it, while the secular state has often singularly failed to do this. Certainly no-one would give their lives for the state’s role in all this. There’s somethign here about “when life is good, it’s easy to diss religion. But when it’s crap, religion is often the one organising force that makes it better.”
Leaving Tottenham, the obvious route to follow is Monument Way – a nasty piece of over-fast relief road apparently constructed amid a raft of huge shopping units, light industry and poor housing, on land which looks significantly at risk of flooding. If the road weren’t bad enough already, there’s an astonishingly negative bit of “berm” with an ugly lump of yellow and orange building sticking out of it; and on inspection it turns out to be even worse on the other side. Presumably these tiny houses were constructed on the cheap and claim to offer people a rung on the ladder – but one look at the porches here tells you this really is very poor quality…
Hurrying on quickly, the tube station itself is basically an uninspiring shed, not helped in this photo which I took later in the day once the rain had really got going.
Tottenham Hale Station
The seat decoration here shows a man punting a lady and a dog across some water, with a cage of chickens and a basket of eggs – so presumably they’re going to a market. It seems a strange image to excite the tough young minds of Tottenham, but the River Lea runs nearby – and the Lea does so much work for London that perhaps it deserves a place on the Tube. The illustration is taken from some work by the famous illustrator Edward Bawden, who based his style on woodcut techniques and aimed for simple clear expression. If Bawden-like imagery were continued down the rest of the line it wouldn’t be a bad thing, but as usual here it’s a one-off, and rather spoiled by being mounted in a too-heavy blob on unsympathetic green tiles.
A man, a woman, chickens, eggs and a dog…
…all trapped on the Victoria Line
Just next to the Tube Station, new development is booming, in the “we’ve abandoned our civilised housing standards” manner of the 21st century. Yes, you could live in these rooms if it was a hotel – but do these really make decent homes, even for students (the ones on the left) or for that modern plague, “single people” (the ones on the right)? I’m not convinced I’d want to grow old in one of these.
As I left Tottenham Hale the skies turned a dark grey and it was clear rain was on its way. Could I make it to Walthamstow before it came? In the end the rain started at Blackhorse Road, and the trip on to Walthamstow left me pretty soggy. I mention this only because it didn’t allow for much time hanging about, and I suspect there’s an interesting story to be told hereabouts on a brighter day. The way from Tottenham Hale to Blackhorse Road lies across the River Lea, which is a land of canals, marshes, reservoirs and wildlife parks, wide skies and open space, and even a scent of the sea – before we get back into the suburban territory of Walthamstow and ultimately Snaresbrook and the Central Line. Up the river are loads more water schemes and wildlife areas, all with their own particular stories to tell; while downstream we quickly come into Stratford and the Olympics. I’ve just got to cycle the Lea River routes some day.
Canal on the River Lea complex
California? Not quite
That said, there wasn’t much scope for interesting photography with a fierce wet wind lashing around. Is it worth getting excited about the California Car Wash? Probably not.
Coming from the Tottenham Hale side, Blackhorse Road station seems an uninspiring, confusing structure. Perhaps it looked good as a 3-D model in the architect’s office; perhaps it even embodies good ideas of traffic flow and access on a difficult multi-level site. It may be just that blue staircase that wrecks it, but it seems to shriek “tatty”. There looks to be a station hall in the middle of it all, but nothing seems quite sure of where it fits – and the miserable colour scheme doesn’t help.
Uninspiring Blackhorse Road Station
Cheery flower baskets!
On the higher level things are marginally better. Whoever put those flowers on the railings to humanise the place and say “someone does care” deserves a medal; and we do at least get a bit of horsey artwork, though the poor beast looks as if its energy is hopelessly confined. What a pity it couldn’t have a bit more wall to itself…!
The energetic Black Horse up above, sadly rather boxed in by the brickwork
Down below, we look again for a seating alcove, and lo – a black horse. It’s all very well, but is this one doing any better than one upstairs? What a pity the styles don’t match – and indeed this one doesn’t seem to match anything anywhere else on the Line. Apart from echoing a “Festival of Britain” sort of shape that white background doesn’t give it any real weight, and although I understand the conventions of cartooning it does seem a shame it only has 3 legs! How sad to go to the bother and expense of producing about 12 copies of this on ceramic tile.
The rather underwhelming Black Horse down below
And so it was off to Walthamstow next. Excitement at reaching the end of the line was fighting panic as the rain came on…!
I guess mentally I’ve always placed Walthamstow with horrid outer-London places where you wouldn’t want to live…thinking of the likes of Dagenham and Barking. The reality seems more up-market, though it ain’t quite Cockfosters or Woodford. The route from Blackhorse Road, at least, runs through lots of solid-looking Victorian and Edwardian houses – I imagine these as having slightly questionable damp courses and all being re-furbished sometime in the last 30 years, but good homes and nice people nonetheless.
The place seems rich in churches, or at least non-conformist ones. Despite it being Sunday the Anglican one had the classic London Victorian “high and dead” look; but the Baptists and Catholics seem to be thriving…
…and the local Catholics
At the centre of the town you can still picture Walthamstow as a pleasant country town, like a kind of Epping or Cockfosters. But the pedestrianised High Street seems to have lost its thrust, and the reason is all too obvious – the uninspiring “Mall at Walthamstow”, which has sucked all the big stores into yet another dark enclosed commercial citadel. It may be right next to the High Street, and it may be great shopping – but it intercepts people coming from the station and has turned the traditional High Street into a sad refuge of 99p Stores, charity shops and derelict sites. Developers like Barrett and St Modwen, part of the culture who created the problem in the first place, are now looking to grab the brownfield land and fill it with the kind of 7-storey filing-cabinets-for-people that they’re dumping everywhere in London, so Walthamstow looks set to lose its “country town” character and end up more like Bermondsey.
Earlier generations have also, of course, done their bit. Walthamstow (or, more correctly, Waltham Forest) Town Hall is a grand affair on the edge of town with a solid no-nonsense 1930s Scandinavian look:
Waltham Forest Town Hall
“Waltham Forest Direct” Office
An odder building, smaller and now looking a bit of an embarrassment, is the “Waltham Forest Direct” Office in the middle of Walthamstow. It looks like it was built as a mixed local-government-with-housing-and-shops development sometime in the 1950s, and the local authority nowadays is puzzled as to what to do with it. The clock tower suggests a touch of civic focus, while the cheerful decorative panelling suggests a bit of history and an attempt at “civic grandeur for the people” – but in an age when we no longer believe in the Welfare State it all feels a bit anachronistic. You wonder if St Modwen are eyeing it up.
Walthamstow Station is a little better than the High Street and the gloomy Mall, managing a sense of independent presence and style – though even there it doesn’t look as if it’ll last too long. Rail, bus and Tube services are co-located, though not quite conveniently; and once again the Tube delights us with a round pavilion in the manner of Arnos Grove and Canada Water. It’s smaller, here, though, and a bit of a bolt-on: it’s not quite the “whole station” done elsewhere.
…with a welcome round pavilion
My visit to Walthamstow came to an end in a hideous rainstorm, so I won’t have any more to say unless I visit again: but there’s a final surprise, and it relates rather well to our game with the silly wall panels in the stations. It turns out the great William Morris, “founder” of the Arts & Crafts movement, was born in Walthamstow. His family were well-to-do and they lived in a grand house here, and though he didn’t actually do much of his later work here the town has rewarded him with a William Morris Gallery which is currently closed for redevelopment.
In their search for ideas the builders of the Victoria Line decided to base their wall design here on one of Morris’s fabrics. I can’t say the “brown on brown” theme looks authentic, though, and I’m sure Morris would have gone apoplectic at all that plain white surrounding it:
There are plenty of “genuine” Morris designs which would have looked better – and, come to think of it, didn’t he do some of his best work in ceramics? So why not use his designs all down the line and make a real feature of his work? Let’s end our trip with a fantasy on what the Victoria Line could have looked like, had it been the William Morris Line. Just imagine all this lot decorating the Tube…!
Ah well, back to the real world. And it’s the end of the line! As of November 2011, the Victoria Line is the first and only line I’ve surveyed and written up over its entire distance. As we said at the start, it’s the shortest of the main Underground Lines, so perhaps this isn’t such a great achievement…and some parts of it were done in a bit of a dash. So perhaps do it again…? Oh yes, we’ll happily put that on the list.
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