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...

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