06 April, 2007

Northern Line: Edgware - Camden Town

Since this was the nearest branch to where I live, it seemed the obvious place to start. Indeed, Hendon Central station is 60 seconds from my flat, albeit round a couple of corners and behind some conveniently sound-absorbing buildings.

My feelings towards the Northern Line change daily, chiefly depending on whether it's a) running on time b) running enough trains to meet demand or c) running at all. The carriages were built in 1996, but somehow look and feel much older. Maybe it's a side-product of over-familiarity, but the seats on, say, Piccadilly Line trains seem much more comfortable and the carriages on the Jubilee Line far more spruce and slick, even though the former hail from 1973 and the latter from, again, 1996.

One thing is certainly true: the Northern Line is the hottest and dirtiest line of them all. Riding its trains last summer was an abominably sweltering experience. Even in the middle of winter, its carriages and all of its below ground stations are like saunas.

I made this journey on Good Friday, something that bore no relation to anything except for what I found outside Edgware station:

Nobody was paying it any attention. The station itself, built in 1924, is your textbook terminus, right down to the circular service road that allows buses and cars to set down and pick up en route elsewhere.

The building is unchanged since construction; everything else around it is not, having originally been plain open fields and countryside.

Now there are shopping centres and busy roads and housing developments and, well, a hell of a lot of people just standing about. The building seemed lost, overlooked, unnoticed. Everyone took it for granted, but nobody seemed happy to use it. I liked the old fashioned swing doors at the entrance, which reminded me of the ones outside my secondary school assembly hall.

I walked down the A5 to Burnt Oak, originally called Burnt Oak (Watling) after the old name for the A5: Watling Street. There is no oak, and nothing is burnt.

Like Edgware, it was opened in 1924, designed by the same person (Stanley Heaps) and has the same antique swing doors. It also has this fantastic construction on a wall outside, announcing the station's presence to the entire neighbourhood:

Colindale station, by contrast, is a dump:

The original building, once more hailing from 1924 and the handiwork of Heaps, was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. Nobody bothered to replace it properly, and to this day the station remains a grim entrance in a grim row of shops.

Still, if you take the train south from Colindale and look to the left side of the track, a familiar object awaits you, lurking on one edge of the Metropolitan Police training centre:

I took this photo of the next station on the line, Hendon Central, on the day in early February when London was hit by a blizzard of snow:

The building is being refurbished at the moment and is about to gain - gasp! - a lift, thereby making it the only station on the Edgware branch of the Northern Line with full wheelchair access. Two flower sellers work in the atrium. It's a fine building, and is another Stanley Heaps creation, dating from 1923 - as is Brent Cross:

It's only been called Brent Cross since 1976, gaining its second word when the eponymous shopping centre opened nearby. I say nearby, but it's actually ridiculously difficult to reach on foot, and despite being less than a mile away as the crow flies, you need to get a bus if you want to reach the shops with your sanity intact.

The station also has a really subtle side entrance that you get to via an unassuming pathway in a completely ordinary suburban street:

Golders Green station, however, is as assuming as they come: a huge building in the middle of the town doubling as a bus interchange.

Opened in 1907, it was for a while the end of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, and is still the main depot for the whole of the Northern Line. Semaphore signalling apparently continued at the station until 1950. Just outside is a seminal venue, sadly no longer in use: the Golders Green Hippodrome, former home of the BBC Concert Orchestra:

I came here in December 1994 to attend a "secret" gig by, of all people, The Beautiful South. I won tickets in a Radio 1 competition.

Travelling south from Golders Green the Northern Line disappears completely underground for the first time since Edgware (apart from a short tunnel north of Colindale).

A minute or so into the journey you pass the half-built remains of the proposed North End or Bull And Bush station, which would have enabled passengers direct access onto Hampstead Heath, as opposed to now where you have to get off at Hampstead and walk miles.

Not that it's easy to get off at Hampstead, or indeed get out of the station. It's a hopelessly poky, shambolic construction squeezed onto a busy road junction. The fact it's currently being completely rebuilt doesn't help, or make for a good photo:

Hampstead does, however, boast the longest lift shaft of any London Underground station, and hence wins a mention in the Guinness Book of Records for being the deepest station in the world (192 feet below the ground).

This project being merely a snapshot of the Underground, I have to take stations as I find them. Even if there's almost nothing to find:

More refurbishment at Belsize Park. Like Hampstead it was opened in 1907, was designed by Leslie Green, and sits on the same road as that and its two subsequent stations - a road I chose to walk down rather than continually hop on and off trains deep below the ground. About ten minutes later I was at Chalk Farm:

Thankfully this wasn't under wraps, and the wonderful old-fashioned font and architecture was open to the sunshine.

Ten minutes further down the road was Camden Town, the end of my journey, and approximately 35 million people:

There was a right roustabout going on outside this station, which is probably par for the course on a de facto weekend. Still, this was a close as I could get by way of a decent photograph. The station itself, like Chalk Farm, dates from 1907 and is once more the handiwork of Leslie Green. Like Belsize Park, it has an air-raid shelter underneath its platforms.

Inevitably, inside the building it was chaos, with an escalator broken, the Charing Cross branch closed, people shouting, lost tourists and the rising temperature making for a far from amiable embarkation.

Time to head home.


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I have to take issue with your claim that the Northern Line is the hottest and dirtiest of them all. The Victoria line beats it hand's down. Save that one for the winter!

Phil said...

I have many happy memories of Brent Cross station from 1987. I used to hitch to London every other weekend from Loughborough, to get a coach to Brighton to see my girlfriend. The route back meant getting the tube to BC and walking to the end of the M1 to hitch back. The walk, past the shopping centre was by no means glamorous, and a couple of central reservations needed to be vaulted over. One of my main memories was travelling withuot a ticket after I'd blown every penny in a fruit machine at Victoria. Luckily Brent Cross was largely unmanned during off-peak times.
Good luck with your quest!

Ian Jones said...

Phil: uncannily, I'm from Loughborough. It's my home town. Thanks for your words of encouragement!

Simone said...

Thank goodness, I thought it was just me being a goon not being able to find my way to the shopping centre at Brent Cross.