[Still needs work on… Everything north of Oxford Circus]
The Bakerloo Line seems to get marginally the worst press of all the Tube Lines. Somehow it’s mainly known for things we complain about – the hot stuffy carriages; the muddy brown colour used on the map; the scruffy big stations it goes to (Paddington and Waterloo particularly); and of course its funny name. “Bakerloo” suggests “Bakelite”, which perhaps reinforces the impression that it’s old and cranky. Going “sarf of the river” doesn’t help, since this is always dodgy; and it may also count against it that the name itself is iconic – one only has to mention “Bakerloo Line” and everyone knows immediately what you’re talking about, whereas “Northern Line” and “District Line” could in principle be somewhere other than London. So it’s easy to poke fun.
That said, the Bakerloo Line is very useful to me since I regularly travel from Paddington either to Lambeth North or (hopping across to the Northern Line) to Kennington. I know just where to stand on all the platforms to maximise time efficiency and minimise walking; and in particular I know that I should sit right at the very back of the train if I’m getting off at Lambeth North. It’s fun to look at the others in the last carriage and guess “they’ll be getting off at Lambeth North as well”.
The main tube map shows the Bakerloo Line coming to a rather abrupt stop at Elephant & Castle where it crashes into the Northern Line. The line has in fact had quite a lively history: originally much shorter, the south end originally stopped just short of Elephant & Castle at the depot which is still there; while the other end pushed northwards from Baker Street in various stages. More recently in the 1980s the whole north end switched to the Jubilee Line and the Bakerloo changed altogether; meanwhile there are proposals on the books to extend it in the south to exotic places like Camberwell, Tulse Hill, Norwood, Peckham Rye, Sydenham and Hayes.
What the Bakerloo Line really lacks at its southern end is a nice ‘middle class’ hinterland. Just about every other line has a “nice” bit at each end, and curiously it’s what both the Bakerloo and the Victoria Line lack at their southern ends. (Brixton and the Elephant are not places you’d want to end your journey!)
The name Bakerloo is derived from Baker Street and Waterloo, reflecting the fact that originally it only ran between these two stations. The extension out west to Paddington makes the line dip southwards in a surprising fashion, and the story of the two Edgware road stations is a continuing puzzle… but we’ll come to all this later.
The naming of Tube lines is a study in its own right, and “Bakerloo” gets re-discussed whenever any new Tube Lines get built. So far we’ve not gone for a similar approach, preferring instead to use names like Piccadilly, Northern, District and more recently Victoria and Jubilee. There are proposals for a new line from Chelsea to Hackney, but no-one seems to want to call it the Chelney or Hacksea Line…and more fancifully, of course, one can play endless games renaming the existing lines (Heathfosters, Richminster, Eppslip, Amersgate…)
For no particularly good reason we’ll do the journey south to north; in other words setting out from home on my bike and seeing how far we can get. So we start at the lovely Elephant and Castle.
Elephant & Castle
Whenever the River Thames changes direction by 90º it’s a fair bet there’ll be a major conjunction of roads in the angle, and here that coming-together is the Elephant and Castle – a vast and dangerous double-roundabout where 7 major roads crash into each other. Historically it was the name of a coaching inn that stood here, but where did the inn get its name? Clearly it was on a major trade route, so exotic foreign ideas may well have been in play – like the image of kings and potentates riding round on the backs of elephants. It also seems to have been a corruption of Infanta de Castilla, which might refer to various Spanish princesses who pop up in English history including Catherine of Aragon. Certainly the idea of an elephant with a castle on its back goes back a long way: it even shows up in mediaeval carvings in some cathedrals. Anyway, someone did a good job to produce this one – though I’ve no idea why it’s red.
As for the station itself – ah, well, once again the story is complicated. Two Tube Lines meet here (the Northern and the Bakerloo), so not surprisingly there were two original stations. The Northern Line station got knocked down in the 1960s and replaced with the current light blue glass box (apparently the old station was rather like the one that survives at Kennington); while the original beautiful Bakerloo Line station survives, albeit it in a rather beaten-up state.
In terms of buildings there’s not much at Elephant & Castle that’s pretty, but around the vast 60s housing schemes and the recent attempts to remodel them there’s quite a lot that’s interesting.
First up is the hideous Heygate Estate. When built, these apartments were very popular since they’re close to London and are quite large inside; but more recently the estate has become a haven for crime and vandalism. In fact it’s so much an image of urban despair that various TV crime dramas have been filmed here, including the commercials for Bird Eye Dinners currently airing alongside Poirot and Miss Marple on ITV 3.
Sadly (or maybe not) time moves on and in 2021 the Heygate has finally been knocked down and is being redeveloped. Here are links to a couple of videos that reflect the old world; quite an affectionate view, and a local’s eye view from the Inside Out local TV programme.
The one successful piece of development in 2012 was the new Strata Tower, though it attracted a good deal of criticism: it was recently voted Britain’s most hated building and has been likened to both an electric shaver and a malevolent owl. Personally I rather like it, but it’s clearly going to be controversial for some while yet.
Meanwhile the local churches soldier on. The Metropolitan Tabernacle is a long-term survivor, made famous by the Rev Charles Spurgeon in Victorian times; Crossway is a more modern place in the middle of the Heygate itself. Both must have a hard struggle to reach people and stand them up straight in this kind of place.
Back at the main roundabout we’ll note just a couple more “attractions”. The first is a strange square metal box, long suspected of being a secret nuclear bunker but in fact serving a dual purpose: not only is it a memorial to the physicist Michael Faraday, it’s also an electricity substation which powers the railway. I must admit even I had never noticed it despite cycling past hundreds of times. Presumably this is appropriate given Faraday’s experiments on electric charge and current, and particularly the idea of a Faraday Cage as a metal enclosure which separates any electromagnetic field inside from the world outside. The sad thing is, I guess this point is lost on 99.9999% of the people who go past!
The second building to note is Skipton House, a rather anonymous outpost of the Department of Health. Some nice people work there, but they seem a bit terrified about the scum and crime that surround them. When asked “where’s convenient for lunch around here?” they answered “we don’t know – we daren’t go out!” Hah!
On the way to Lambeth North we pass two more churches – the Salvation Army and St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. Both doing good in their different ways.
The cathedral is nice but it would be far better if they finished the tower! Sometimes when I sat in my flat at 100 Westminster Bridge Road I’d hear the bell ringing and think it sounded a bit mournful: nowadays after some years of ringing bells I think even more that they need to get that tower finished and put a proper peal in!
Just before Lambeth North is the Imperial War Museum. Housed in a former mental asylum, the museum isn’t quite the war-obsessed monster you might think: in fact it’s a thoughtful mix designed to appeal to many tastes. There’s enough, though hardly a lot, to appeal to aggressive little boys of all ages; but much more of it focuses on real life re-creations of events like the Blitz, and examinations of the politics and social policy of war time. Not naturally a fan, I’ve come to think it’s a really good museum and usually well worth a visit by just about anyone.
This is of course where I lived for a year, and I used to think of Lambeth North as my very own Tube Station. I still use it a lot when I can’t be bothered to walk to Kennington and I jump on the bus instead…
While we’re here, and since the photos are still spectacular, let’s savour 100 Westminster Bridge Road again…
The only other place to note here is Christ Church and Upton Chapel, otherwise known as Oasis Church. I’ve written more about this at its own webpage, but here are a couple of photos to show what to look out for…
Ah, lovely Waterloo…or maybe not. It’s such a hubbub of people and transport, yet a few quiet streets and up-market squares survive – so much, in fact, that I’ve written a Waterloo page about it all. There’s history on every street, and a lot of wealthy people live here, so Waterloo is well worth exploring. We also join the Northern Line for a few stops, though in fact the lines are quite distant from each other, run through separate tunnels and have different platforms. This can be very annoying when you’re running from one to the other!
Our route up the Bakerloo line first takes us round the back of Waterloo Station, where we get a wonderfully atmospheric view of the train shed: then it’s on to the Old Vic theatre, an important part of London’s theatre scene.
Waterloo Station is the biggest in Britain, possibly in the world. It has more platforms and more passengers than any other station in Britain, though Clapham Junction actually has more trains going through it. The Wikipedia article on Waterloo Station gives the full history, but in essence Waterloo encompasses the original Waterloo Station, Waterloo East, Underground platforms for the Bakerloo, Northern and Jubilee Lines, and Waterloo International. Not surprisingly given such a mongrel history, there’s no real “great view” or “organising principle” at Waterloo; it’s really just a collection of sheds thrown together. The only attempt at grandness is the entrance-way built as a memorial to the First World War:
Recent additions have been functional and impressive in their way, but from the outside they don’t amount to much. The Underground station is pure functional 1960s, a bit reminiscent of Lancaster Gate; while the international terminal isn’t used any more – after only 17 years the Eurostar trains now run from an even better train shed at St Pancras. There’s a proposal to build a huge skyscraper on top of the international terminal, but won’t that make the “underworkings” even more gloomy and dangerous than they are already?
The compulsory other thing to note here is that in the days before cremation, and with London’s ancient burial grounds literally overflowing, the London Necropolis Company opened Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey to house the excess demand. Trains ran there every day from Waterloo carrying coffins at 2s 6d each; and something like 240,000 Londoners are buried there!
Just opposite the grand arch is the London IMAX. It puts on a good show, though since the only way to it is down some stinky underpasses it’s quite hard to find your way in.
Close by is the parish church of St John Waterloo. Again I’ve written about it elsewhere, so here are just a few shots.
St John, Waterloo
The grand portico
The curious sicky-yellow interior at St John’s
A few steps through the traffic (or a hundred if you take the pedestrian underpass) takes you to the places I’ve written about in more detail at Waterloo. First is the old Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women, now badged up as Schiller University:
Old hospital for Children and Women
Pretty Edwardian decoration
Further on, there are lots of little artisan cottages which the rich and famous have colonised. They may look a bit grimy but they’re only 10 minutes walk from the City and the West End, and you can tell wealthy people live here by the quality of the pubs and other other services on offer – for instance Valentino’s Men’s Hairdressers (rather more than just a barber’s shop) and Konditor & Cook, a fabulous cake shop. The area is so atmospheric it was even filmed in the Guinness 2008 Christmas ad!
Valentino’s Men’s Hairdressers
Konditor & Cook
We must press on across the river, but before going there we’ll note some of the “culture” on offer on the riverbank. Most striking is the London Eye, a great attraction even on a bad day. It takes about half an hour to do the full trip, with at least another half-hour of queueing to get on even if you buy tickets in advance and arrive at the right time. But it’s well worth the wait.
London Eye alongside County Hall
Up in the air!
Looking down to the park
A picnic in the park, with a magnificent shadow
View down to County Hall (my gym is in the roof!)
View to the Barbican and St Paul’s
Charing Cross, BT Tower, Centre Point
Hungerford & Waterloo Bridges
100 WBR, Lincoln Tower, Waterloo Station, County Hall extension and St Thomas’s Hospital
Shell Centre and (far distance) Guy’s Hospital and Canary Wharf
Just north of here is the hideous Southbank Centre, supposedly a centre for the arts, but partly colonised – and very effectively – by the “yoof” of today.
I’ve written elsewhere about the Waterloo Street Art, but I’ve never managed to photograph the skateboarding and mad cycling that also go on under the cultural palaces of the 1960s…these photos aren’t great, but it was just so stunning to watch that I’ll share them here. Basically the idea is that the guy charges along at speed, then flips his bike up in the air, bounces the pedals and axle (which are specially extended outwards) on the railings, flips over the top and stays on the bike long enough to cycle down the ramp at the other side. Only 1 time out of 10 does he make it over, and only 1 in 100 does he manage to cycle away…but it’s a fantastic spectacle.
It doesn’t really work as still photography, of course – so I’d recommend a look at this youtube clip or another youtube clip for more. Meanwhile, and in much the same spaces, skateboarders are also developing some exotic skills. Again this doesn’t really work as still photography, so again I’d recommend a look at yet another youtube clip.
These pictures also make a good showing of the Waterloo Street Art which reaches its height at a gloomy tunnel under the old International Terminal. Go to the webpage to see more, but here are just a few shots…
They turn out just like going to church…
…and spend all morning at it
Last month’s work doesn’t last long
Tourists and art critics come from miles around
And now we go back to those cultural palaces as we prepare to cross the river. I like the Festival Hall, and even the National Theatre – but I still ache to be the one who blows up the Hayward Gallery, Purcell Room and Queen Elizabeth Hall…
The (only) quite good bit at the National Theatre
The ugliest art gallery in the world
Before we pass the Hayward, however, it’s worth noting the charming Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef…
“Gosh, it’s lunchtime already and we’ve only just got to the River”. That’s my usual reaction when I get to this point, and it colours my advice to tourists in London – everywhere is further than you think, so don’t waste time and energy walking if there’s a good bus or tube that can get you there. You’ll almost certainly need all your time and energy later in the day, in any case. On the other hand, there’s little to beat walking through it all if you really have time…though cycling is even better.
Our way onward lies north over Hungerford Bridge – a journey which would have been impossible before 2000 but is now a delight thanks to the pedestrian bridges strung alongside the venerable railway bridge which carries half of southern England into Charing Cross every day. Of all the Millennium projects in Britain, this and the Wobbly Bridge down by the Tate have got to be two of the best – in both cases, the opening up of the river to tourists has immensely livened the areas up.
Under the bridge there’s usually a range of entertainment. When I passed there seemed to be a rather good little Spanish band…
Spanish Band under Hungerford Bridge
The white spiky bits along the bridge hold up the new footbridges; they also make rather fun ‘interest’ shots for photographers…but be careful to pick which side of the bridge you want to cross on. Both sides are spectacular, but one way you’ll see Waterloo and the City of London; the other you’ll be looking back at County Hall and the London Eye, and onwards to Westminster.
The footbridges get incredibly busy!
View of the elegant Waterloo Bridge from the north footbridge
The naming of Tube Stations is always a curious study, and “Embankment” may puzzle the uninitiated. But here we really are inside an “embankment” built to contain the River Thames as it makes its great turn through 90º. More specifically this is the Victoria Embankment: there’s a corresponding Albert Embankment just a little further up the river on the south bank, but it’s a less ambitious affair. The Victoria Embankment not only provides a major road through London; once we get underground we find it carries a vast amount of London’s sewage and other utilities, as well as the Central and District Tube lines. More of that if I ever get round to writing a page about the great engineer Joseph Bazalgette, but for the moment here are his photo and links to the Wikipedia articles on Joseph Bazalgette and the London Sewerage System.
And though I’m not remotely interested but it helps fill up the space, we’ll also show the memorial to Robbie Burns, some Scottish chap…
Joseph Bazalgette, the great Victorian sewage engineer
(and saver of many lives in the process)
Robert Burns Memorial
Embankment Station was built originally for the Circle and District Lines, but was then under-tunnelled by the Northern and Bakerloo Lines – which is quite an achievement, since they go under the river here. Somewhere down in the dark there are enormous doors which would swing into action were the station ever to flood, though at the time of writing I can’t quite work out whether they’d be stopping floods coming in from the streets or containing the Thames bursting through its own river-bottom. I guess in the event it would all be chaos anyway…
The station has actually had at least three names – Embankment, Charing Cross and Charing Cross (Embankment), partly caused by the arrival and subsequent departure of the Jubilee Line.The Wikipedia Article on Embankment Station gives the full story, but here are three versions of the Tube map over the years. The earlier map also shows stations at Trafalgar Square and Strand: you might wonder where these have gone nowadays, though if you go to Charing Cross Station and try to find the Bakerloo and Northern Line platforms you’ll realise this is basically a re-badging exercise…they’re still as far away as they ever were.
Re-badging Trafalgar Square, Strand, Charing Cross and Embankment Stations
Below ground, the station is a bit of a warren, particularly since half of London’s population changes direction here every day – so you inevitably find yourself crashing through lots of people crossing your path. The station almost seems deliberately designed with odd paths and byways to both help and confuse – and my favorite is a brilliantly wiggly blue staircase from the District and Central Lines down to the Northern. You could take the escalator a few feet away, but it’s much more fun if you can see a train at the bottom to run-and jump down this staircase where almost no-one ever goes…
Wonderful wiggly blue staircase
A very rare empty platform!
Parts of the station are finished to a surprisingly good standard – presumably reflecting the enormous pounding the place takes every day – though I’ve never quite been convinced by the odd decoration introduced in the 1970s makeover. These attempts to art-up the Underground appear at some of the busiest stations (Tottenham Court Road, Charing Cross, Marble Arch among them) but I’m afraid for me they simply add to the sense of chaos and claustrophobia. If you’re going to adopt a design principle on underground railways then please make it large spaces and minimalism, rather than frantic colour and movement! The colours do in fact change according to which platform you’re on, but I suspect if you’re relying on that for your navigation you’re already lost…
The 1970s makeover…including a brown strip to signify the Bakerloo Line
Above ground, the station is cute but dwarfed by everything around it – even the trees seem huge here, let alone the massive buildings that cluster around. But it’s worth stopping to admire both the view and the station, which John Betjeman said was “the most charming of all the Edwardian and neo-Georgian Renaissance stations.” There’s no good spot to take a photograph from, but I think Betjeman had a point.
View across to the Eye
Our route eventually lies north up Villiers Street, but we’ll pause again to admire some of the grand institutions which cluster along the riverbank here. On the south at Westminster we have Boadicea, Parliament, Portcullis House, Old Scotland Yard and the Ministry of Defence…
Parliament and Portcullis House
Old Scotland Yard
Old Scotland Yard
Ministry of Defence
…whereas the other way towards Temple we have the Victoria Embankment Gardens, the Camel Corps memorial, and the wonderful Courtauld Gallery.
The Victoria Embankment Gardens are lovely in the summer and very pleasant even in winter…and among other things they’re home to 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?
I’ve written about the Courtauld Gallery elsewhere and am delighted to note that it’s free from 2pm on Mondays…so let’s just have one photo here…
Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House
Nearby is also a genuine “Cleopatra’s Needle“, though in fact it was 1000 years old even in her day. Anywhere else this would be really unusual; in London it doesn’t get much attention!
Sphinx on the Thames
Somewhere hereabouts lurks the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy. This little place started life as part of a huge homeless shelter founded in 1512 by Henry VIII…well 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.
Quite why the Queen needs this little place isn’t very clear, but there we go. She actually takes church matters rather seriously, though in practice the day-to-day running of places like this is usually delegated to 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’d like to have them free…)
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 lets the Great British Public believe that the monarchy is a generous and wise overseer of an often unruly and dirty political process. This ignores the fact that it’s farmers paying rent who fund the Duchies in the first place, but I guess the alternative is probably worse – paying rents to Monsanto, and coughing up for the full cost of social provision.
We call this muddle “the genius of the British Constitution”.
Royal Chapel of the Saveloy
Just round the corner is the Benjamin Franklin House, where the great man lived and acted as an agent for American affairs before the nation was formally established and required posts like Ambassador. His house is preserved today as a sort of ‘reminder’ of those times and of his life – it’s a little underwhelming, but here we go…
Benjamin Franklin House
We’ve already discussed how the name Charing Cross has been used and re-used in various ways over the years. The mainline railway has always been in the same place, but the underground lines have been reconfigured and have grown a network of connecting tunnels. Trafalgar Square has now been joined up with Strand, and they’ve reclaimed the name Charing Cross from Embankment; and meanwhile the Jubilee Line has come and gone again. But don’t be fooled – Trafalgar Square and the Strand are still as far apart as they ever were!
Re-badging Trafalgar Square, Strand, Charing Cross and Embankment Stations
Charing Cross Station itself is often regarded as the centre of Greater London, and its Eleanor Cross outside certainly demonstrates some aspirations to grandeur…
Fake Eleanor Cross outside the station
Queen Eleanor is depicted in various acts of mercy
Sadly the station itself is a bit more ordinary – but there you go. The more I get to know London’s big stations the more I can see the charm sense in not having just one humungous one, even though it might make efficient sense.
Charing Cross Exterior
Charing Cross Interior
Lastly, and about 10 miles away, here’s a photo of the Tube entrance in Trafalgar Square with the mainline Charing Cross Station a long way behind shrouded in scaffolding.
Entry to Charing Cross Underground Station
We’ll do Trafalgar Square properly in a minute, but firstly we’ll note the London Festival of Morris Dancing which partly happens just up the road at St Martin in the Fields.
It was getting aggressive by now…
The one on the left’s just had his finger whacked!
Hurrying quickly on, let’s have a look at St Martin in the Fields. Recently restored and extended at a cost of about £34 million, the church operates a huge social ministry among London’s down-and-out community. Most of the money went on providing better facilities for them and for tourists, but church building itself is also a cracker…
St Martin in the Fields
Inside it’s basically just a huge teaching box
Gorgeous crisp detail
Just the other side of St Martin’s is of course the great Trafalgar Square, with the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. Both are well worth visiting, though not at busy times…
The National Gallery
On Trafalgar Square, it has one of the best sites in town
The Portrait Gallery is round the corner…
…next to Edith Cavell, a great World War 1 nurse and humanitarian
Trafalgar Square itself is Britain at its crappy best – literally. Nelson gets the worst of it, but the Great British Public don’t help. Still, at least the remnants of Empire give it some class…
Admiral Nelson looks down on it all
Close-up of the man himself
South Africa House
The Square also gets its share of military heroes:
Meanwhile the bronze lions round the foot of Nelson’s Column do tough duty in millions of photographs…
After Trafalgar Square, the Bakerloo Line heads resolutely north-west to Piccadilly Circus, so we can drop the pretence that it’s anywhere near the Northern Line. Along the way it seems to go under a couple of London’s Theatres and some very expensive properties indeed, but at ground level I don’t really have any photos to offer. So our next stop will be Piccadilly Circus itself.
Even at Piccadilly Circus I don’t have a lot to say, though there’s a decent Wikipedia Article on Piccadilly Circus for any who are really interested. Being at the centre of theatreland it’s possibly the busiest crossing in London; as a different measure I suspect it’s certainly the most full of people, because a lot just hang around there waiting for the theatres to open. But beyond that I don’t actually find the place very interesting. It’s known, of course, for the statue known as Eros (apparently he’s really someone else to do with Christian Charity, but the “love” interest seems to have won out) and for the “huge” advertising boards which light up the night with their twinkly lights and roaring animation. I say ‘huge’, but they’re actually greatly scaled back from what they were in the uncontrolled 1960s and now only cover one building. By the standards of Times Square in New York it’s very tame indeed, but at least the nice Regency architecture is now visible again. Interestingly the boards here even show a traffic report that the District Line is part closed…though that’s hardly news.
Not quite Times Square
Entrance to the Underground
Here is someone else’s panorama view of the Circus…I don’t know how he got it so empty, but it almost looks respectable!
Panorama of Piccadilly Circus
Being so busy, and such valuable real-estate, Piccadilly Circus has often been eyed-up for redevelopment: but no scheme seems to catch the public’s imagination compared with the attraction of these rather nice buildings and the general buzz of the area. The one big rebuild which did get the go-ahead was underground, when the Tube station was enlarged in the 1920s. The architect for the scheme was our old friend Charles Holden, and it clearly generated a lot of public excitement – the schematic posters which show the full complexity of it all are still regularly wheeled out at exhibitions and at the London Transport Museum. These days the station is once again too small, though in quieter hours Holden’s sensible proportions and generous marble finishes remain a delight.
The elegant Ticket Hall
There are two others things to note in the Tube Station: one is a curious “linear clock” (I say curious because I don’t think it’s really very impressive); the other is the odd fact that on both platforms on the Bakerloo Line there are places where you can see both tunnels. I haven’t investigated this in great detail so can’t say it’s really amzing or just a bit dull – or indeed could form part of a murder mystery – but there we go.
The fabulous linear clock
Both tunnels in view at once
While we’re in the area, let’s note that the road known as Piccadilly itself is just about as posh as it gets unless you want to divert off to the right into the quiet streets of Mayfair, or to the left into the back-alleys of St James’s. This is the place to buy your £1500 Saville Row suit, or whatever takes your fancy – and all with a cachet rather above what you find at vulgar Harrods down at Knightsbridge. First up, we reach Fortnum & Mason’s, “the Queen’s Grocers”. “Patronised by royalty” but ignored by anyone with any sense, I reckon she really goes to the Tesco Express down at Victoria.
Fortnum & Mason’s is all just too ridiculous…
…so I expect Liz pops out to Tesco Express
Piccadilly is the sort of up-market shopping area where no-one actually lives any more, so the local church has to find a unique selling point to attract a clientele – and St James’s Church makes a point of appealing to the upper end of the arts and theatre community. This isn’t inappropriate given its proximity to Piccadilly Circus and all of London’s entertainment, though it does seem to have produced a rather “open” attitude to things like doctrine, belief, morals and orthodoxy which some would find difficult…and some very odd things in the churchyard. But they do need a good few millions to fix the place up, and they are providing at least one social service…
Lovely interior of St James’ Piccadilly
Close up of that fantastic window
Beautiful deep carving on the pulpit
Looking back to the magnificent organ
A rather fine font
Close-up of Adam and Eve
In the churchyard there’s a counselling caravan…
…honest, I kid ye not!
Next we come to the Royal Academy, again a centre of the Arts and learning, and sometimes well worth a visit.
The main courtyard, with some daft steel sculptures…
…and with Anish Kapoor’s wonderful steel balls
And last on this little excursion is the Burlington Arcade, a very nice run of shops where one can easily spend an hour and a thousand or two…
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…!
Piccadilly is all very well, but we should have gone up Regent Street! Our next stop is Oxford Circus, so we’ll hurry on there and see what awaits…
Oxford Circus is the crossing where Oxford Street meets Regent Street, so it becomes the ultimate mad centre of London’s most frantic shopping activity for the middle-classes. Hundreds of people cross the road here 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 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. The crowds were too bad for me to photograph the Central Line one (a Harry Bell Measures classic) but the Bakerloo Line station is easy to photograph in its original Leslie Green form of 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 scramble since three lines cross here, and it’s no wonder people get confused…
A rare quiet moment
A strikingly odd sign down below!
After the station, the Bakerloo Line runs up Portland Place. Here is the original home of the BBC – the lovely Art Deco Broadcasting House – right next to the astonishing All Souls Church, and the BT Tower watching over it all.
The original Broadcasting House
The statue of Prospero and Arial over the door
The lovely round porch at All Souls, Langham Place
The Post Office (now BT) Tower
Somewhere off to the side is the astonishing Tractarian church of All Saint’s, Margaret Street, which nicely combines architecture with Fair-Isle knitting…
…and then it’s back to calm rationality at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), a lovely Art Deco headquarters building which exudes calm spacious good sense. 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 did a really clever job of moving the action from floor to floor while leaving you almost unaware that you’re moving up and down as much as horizontally.
Sentinel pillars on the door
View down from the 3rd floor…
The bannisters have lovely deep engraved patterns, delicately lit from below
The staircase wraps around and doubles up, in a sumptuous way
For the moment, this is where we stop…more to come in due course, no doubt!
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