31 May, 2008

Central Line: Woodford - Stratford

There's no subtle change in the atmosphere of the Central Line as you get nearer to central London. It happens very abruptly. Suddenly you're on a busy line with loads of passengers piling on and off the carriages. The contrast with the sleepy branch line-feel of the stations you've just left behind is jarring.

South of Woodford lies, unsurprisingly, South Woodford. It celebrated its 150th birthday a couple of years ago, along with a near-complete renovation that somehow managed to miss the giant signs on the platforms that still use the station's original name of South Woodford (George Lane). There's nothing at all to distinguish its surroundings. You're now in proper urban sprawl.

At least Snaresbrook has retained a bit of character, thanks to its Victorian exterior remaining largely un-meddled with (the fact you have to walk up a steep incline to reach the station adds to its feeling of grandeur) and some great features on the platform, including wood canopies and rather ornate, well, ornaments.

Leytonstone doesn't appear very distinguished from a distance...

...but up close you discover its walls are lined with brilliant murals and mosaics in honour of local boy Alfred Hitchcock, which were originally commissioned to mark the centenary of his birth in 1999:

It's here that the line dives underground for the first time (that's if you've avoided the Woodford-Wanstead loop-that-isn't-a-loop, which rejoined its parent line just north of Leytonstone).

I read somewhere that Leyton is apparently the most used stop on the entire Underground, but I find that extremely hard to believe. More used than Leicester Square? King's Cross St Pancras? Victoria?

Sure, it's busy, but not in the way that a mainline interchange is busy. Perhaps it just has ideas above its, erm, station. It used to be called Low Leyton. Maybe it's suffered poor self-esteem ever since. Another bit of folklore - to be taken with another huge pinch of salt - claims that to begin with trains weren't allowed to stop here on Sundays as the local vicar had successfully convinced the line managers the railway was "the devil's work".

If it's truly busy stations you're after, take Stratford. Here the Central Line emerges above ground briefly, as if to take a few gasps of air before plunging back into darkness. It's hardly the most tranquil of locations to pause for breath; Stratford is a warren of inter-connecting, overlapping lines that is only going to get bigger and more baffling as time goes on and the Olympics get nearer. Still, it's capped by a marvellous station building that hails from the 1990s when it was decided to route the Jubilee Line this way (along which I have already travelled).

There's only been a Central Line service running through here since 1946, when tunnels were completed linking Stratford (and hence the whole of east London and beyond) with Liverpool Street. Central London is calling. Again. *shudder*


Tom said...

Been reading your blog for a little while, just got round to leaving a comment, must say I'm really enjoying your account of each station. I've been to every station on the Underground as well, but not taken as much notice as you have of the architecture and so forth. Also didn't get the chance to go on the ELL before it closed. Keep up the good work. :)

Ian Jones said...

Thanks Tom. Did you visit every station purely for pleasure, or was it for some other reason (work-related, for instance)? And how long did it take you?