30 December, 2007

Piccadilly Line: South Kensington - Acton Town

You begin to shake off the tourists on this stretch of the Piccadilly. You also shake off the ground itself.

The line breaks cover just before Barons Court. I feel the same thing every time this happens, anywhere on the network. It's a sense of escape, a sort of liberation. The sprawl of the city centre is behind and away from you. Ahead is the open air, the suburbs, and space. And, of course, places you can take photos of without having to schlep up and down escalators all the time.

All the stations on this stretch have counterparts on the District Line, and it was for the District - or rather the Metropolitan Railway, or the Metropolitan District Railway, or the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway, or the London and South Western Railway, and so on and on - that all of them were founded.

So none are technically Piccadilly stations. Their histories are bound up with that aformentioned jumble of erstwhile multi-named companies and conglomerates, dating back to the 1860s. The Piccadilly only turned up in 1906, and then only as far as Hammersmith. It wasn't until the 1930s that the likes of Acton Town joined the line.

As such, passing this way and photographing the stations as members of the Piccadilly family is, I guess, somewhat disingenuous. That's my way of saying I'm not going to bother much with the histories of the buildings and leave that for when I write about the District Line. Meanwhile here are half a dozen west London destinations snapped, as usual, in varying stages of daylight and nighttime, becoming evermore ornate and everless populous.

Gloucester Road is worth loitering in awhile, in order to check out the art installations that take up the whole of the disused platorm 4.

Anybody with little English and even less patience will have a torrid time at Earl's Court, a brilliantly sprawling junction with bits of the District line sprouting off in all directions where there's no telling what train will be passing your way next. It's still got these fantastic old-style multi-purpose destination boards as well. But I realise I'm talking about the District line and the Piccadilly has nothing to do with them at all, so instead here's an interesting (well, I think so) view from the station's Warwick Road entrance.

Come Barons Court and you're above ground, with the Piccadilly and District line tracks running side by side. The building is Grade II listed. I took this photo, along with the other night ones here, after work in the week before Christmas.

I always wonder what people must think of this weird bloke standing outside Underground stations taking photos of them without their permission. Yet nobody has ever come up to me and said anything, or enquired what I was doing, or asked me to stop. Nobody, that is, until I got to Hammersmith.

I only realised this afterwards, but in this photo you can actually see the security man who's about to ask me to put my camera away. He's the one walking towards the lens, in the blue anorak, right in the middle of the shot.

He didn't give me any valid reason for not being able to take a photo. It wasn't like I was even anywhere near the station entrance itself, as you can see. So much for festive spirit.

I took these last two photos during the week after Christmas, one wintry afternoon when I was feeling ill and continually eating Strepsils.

Piccadilly Line trains don't call at Turnham Green most times, only stopping in the early morning and late evening. Although it doesn't look like it here, the flower seller was doing an OK trade for the time of day (and year).

Notice anything familiar about Acton Town?

Recognise that 1930s-ish minimalist art deco-esque look? Yup, we're back in the world of Charles Holden, with stations meant to be looked up at rather than just passed down through. I suspect there'll be a fair bit more of this as the Piccadilly shakes itself free of the District line and strikes north towards Sudbury.

29 December, 2007

Piccadilly Line: Covent Garden - South Kensington

There can't be many other stretches of the Underground which boast such a concentrated sequence of landmarks to their name.

No wonder this is one of the busiest parts of the whole network. No wonder it's better to walk overground between most of these stations rather than put yourself through a few minutes of crush-carriage hell. No wonder these stations not only feel but most definitely look a century old.

One that I forgot to mention last time, and which isn't quite so busy - mainly because it doesn't exist anymore - is Aldwych. It's not been closed that long, comparatively; it shut in 1994 after ever decreasing usage and ever increasing costs. It was a route to nowhere, forming one end of a stub of a branch line that spewed off north of Covent Garden. Originally it was to be the southern terminus of the Great Northern and Strand Railway, running from Finsbury Park in the north, under King's Cross station, to a point near The Strand. But the concoction of the Piccadilly Line put pay to all that.

I'm not sure I miss it that much. It always looked out of place on the Underground map. It didn't fit into the logic of Harry Beck's original diagram, appearing squat and ugly. It didn't seem sensible to have a branch line going nowhere right in the middle of London. It didn't even serve a part of the city barren with Underground stations.

Still, it's one of the most easily located disused stations in the city, bearing its original name 'Strand'. And it's always turning up on TV and in films, whenever 'Generic Underground Station' is required, so it's not entirely redundant.

South of Covent Garden and Leicester Square, where I've been before...

...is Piccadilly Circus: a swaggering ogre of a station, none of which lies above ground, but which rolls majestically in a giant circle just under the titular thoroughfare.

The cavernous complex is a fantastic creation, unsurprisingly the work of Charles Holden (though the old, above ground booking hall, closed in 1929, was Leslie Green's handiwork), around which flock folk from all corners of the globe, defiantly pushing train tickets into incorrect slots, filming everything on camcorders, and shouting. It's a mini-tornado down there. I've never been inside the station and not felt half-swept up by a torrent of bodies bobbing and weaving non-stop around and around and around.

Beyond Green Park, another old friend, of which there will only be more as this project continues...

...lurks another disused station, but with nowhere near the pedigree of Aldwych. Down Street was axed in 1932, briefly sparking back to life during the Second World War when Churchill and his War Cabinet used it as an air-raid shelter. It seems to have been something of a folly from the start, though, as it was built in an area (Mayfair) where the residents were too posh to want to use the Underground and just that bit too close to its neighbouring stops.

The surface building, another Leslie Green creation, is still standing, albeit shorn of its original purpose. Just like that of its neighbour, Hyde Park Corner:

Green's entrance hall is now a pizza restaurant. This station is, boringly, entirely below ground.

As you'd expected, entering and existing Knightsbridge is a right roustabout. Especially the entrance right next to Harrods.

All the stations on this stretch of the line were opened almost exactly 100 years ago. There's little of the original Knightsbridge nowadays, thanks to an apprently unending attempt to render it more fit for coping with batteries of consumers charging for bargains.

The tunnels between Knightsbridge and South Kensington allegedly follow such a twisting route to avoid a 17th Century plague pit. Lurking in their depths is yet another ghost station: Brompton Road. Despite proving convenient for the eponymous Oratory and the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was pretty much ignored once Knightsbridge station started expanding, and was duly boarded up in 1934.

So to South Kensington, where the Piccadilly aligns itself with one of the oldest Underground routes in the capital (the District), duplicating and stealing stops from this and other lines all the way out to Ealing and beyond. There's been a station here since 1868, the Piccadilly arriving in 1906 in its initial guise as the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway running between Finsbury Park and Hammersmith.

The new platforms needed a new building, which meant the existing, dazzling entrance...

...had a bit of Leslie Green ruby brick artistry bunged on the back.

As nice as South Kensington is, there's a huge case to be made for having a new station in this part of London, one that would mean you wouldn't have to walk miles through dripping, gloomy passages to get anywhere near to the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal College of Music, Hyde Park and Kensington Palace. It could be called Kensington Gore, or even just Albert Hall. Anyone standing for Mayor who put this in their manifesto would romp home.

22 December, 2007

Piccadilly Line: Manor House - Covent Garden

I make these journeys as and when I can. Sometimes, as is obvious from the dates of some the entries, weeks will go by when I just don't have time to write anything. But that doesn't always mean I'm not out photographing.

I made a point, for instance, of travelling the length of the East London Line a few days ago, all too aware that it shuts for good just before Christmas. In fact it shuts this very day, 22nd December.

As the year has gone on I've also collected photos in twos and threes when the opportunity arises, such as trips to unlikely places for work-related things, or brief forays along nearby lines after office hours.

The longer I continue this blog, the more the entries will reflect this pick and mix approach to capturing the whole of the Underground on film. I can't help it. It's the only way, I think, I'll ever get to the end. And so my account of this particular stretch of the Piccadilly Line is made up of photos taken on two separate occasions, separated by six months. It was winter north of King's Cross; summer when I travelled south.

I've come to enjoy visiting stations in the dusk, or in fading light; it enhances their romantic, eerie quality, and paints them increasingly as ports in a storm or beacons of light amidst a mass of flat, featureless darkness.

South of Manor Park, and also Finsbury Park - which I visited back on one of the hottest days of the year - are three stations I passed through on one of the coldest, as the light was starting to dim. All opened on the same day: 15th December 1906.

At Arsenal it was gloomy but still, ostensibly, daytime:

It was originally called Gillespie Road, switching to its current name in 1932 after a campaign led by the then Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman. When I was there a match was in progress at the nearby Emirates Stadium and police were everywhere. At the same time you could see the cranes at work dismantling the old Highbury stadium, towering over houses like they were in their back garden.

I couldn't believe how far you have to walk to get from the platform to the exit and vice versa; then I realised there are no escalators or lifts inside the station at all. It's a real slog to make your way through the seemingly endless winding tunnel and up into fresh air. Equally it's difficult to resist the temptation to run down the tunnel when making the trek in the opposite direction.

Both Holloway Road and Caledonian Road were designed by Leslie Green and bear his trademark ruby tiling. What with Charles Holden's 1930s extravaganzas north of Finsbury Park and Green's work below, the Piccadilly line must surely boast the most beautifully-styled stations of the whole network.

You can see the same architecture on the disused remains of York Road station, which also opened in December 1906 as one of the original stops on the-then Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway.

Being so close to King's Cross it was never in great use, and Sunday services were stopped just 12 years after its opening. The whole place shut down for good in 1932, but Liberal Democrats on Islington council advocated the reopening of the station in their 2006 local election manifesto, and apparently at least one candidate for the Islington Conservative Party has spoken out in favour of its return.

It'd certainly be very easy to add back to the Underground map: there's acres of room south of Caledonian Road. With much of the original building still standing it'd probably be fairly simple to restore to active service. A cost-plus analyis, however, would probably suggest an unsustainably low level of use.

I looked in on King's Cross St Pancras again since I was last there in the summer, and of course it is now an architectural marvel. One of the new entrances:

The stunning renovated roof:

Our old friend John Betjeman:

And some of the man's great words:

Rewind back to the summer, when I was photographing the likes of Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road. Russell Square, Holborn and Covent Garden are again all the handiwork of Leslie Green. Russell Square is a gem, beautifully preserved and, you suspect, rather under-appreciated by the millions of tourists who seem to be particularly prevalent at the station, presumably because of the dozens and dozens of tiny hotels and bed and breakfast in the area:

By contrast Holborn has lost most of its charm and also half of its original name: Holborn (Kingsway):

Covent Garden is an appallingly overcrowded place and seems to have always been that way. I can't recall ever not finding the station heaving with people and a tangible hysteria in the air. At least much of Green's original edifice still stands, despite struggling to call attention to itself amongst the multitude of market stalls, street entertainers and people walking in their own worlds:

It's apparently fine to have this and Leicester Square station both in operation despite being a five-minute walk apart, yet the idea of having York Road and King's Cross (a further distance) both up and running would be laughed out of court. Ah well...