25 May, 2008

Central Line: Woodford - Wanstead

This portion of the Underground usually gets referred to as the Central Line Loop, or the Fairlop Loop, or some other kind of loop.

It's nothing of the sort, as I would find out to my cost. None of the trains performs such a manoeuvre, and in fact it's impossible to do so as a passenger without changing onto different services at least twice. Different services, moreover, that run at different frequencies. Good luck to you if you want to try and get from one 'side' of the loop to the other in a hurry.

In effect what you have is the main Central line service (running from Epping into central London) forming the western half of the loop, while separate services complete the eastern half of circle from opposite directions. It's more a combination of branch lines than a loop. Woodford is where the division occurs; you can either stay on the main line and get to Leytonstone in double quick speed, or go the route of this blog, via Hainault and Wanstead, and get to Leytonstone in twice the time.

Given all this it's no surprise that most of the stations from Woodford round to Wanstead are those least troubled by passengers on the entire network. I did this section of the Central Line on a Saturday afternoon, and invariably I was the only person to not only get off but also GET ON the train at each successive station.

The fact a train only passes along the tracks between Woodford and Hainault (halfway round the loop on the eastern side) once every 20 minutes meant it took me an hour and a half or so to travel five stops...but admittedly the timetable isn't planned around people so desiring to photograph every single station on the London Underground. More's the pity.

From Woodford you actually travel north to reach the first of the 'loop' stations: Roding Valley, built in 1936 and named after the nearby River Roding. It sits on the edge of nowhere, feels like an outpost of civilisation and holds the title of the most lightly used station on the whole of the Underground.

Look, it's raining again.

The wet weather just compounded the sense of abandonment and a feeling that I really ought not to be loitering in places like these. For somewhere entirely absent of people (including any station staff), it was still in pretty good condition.

Remember how so many stations I've visited have a rather shabby or perfunctory minicab or ironmongers next to them? Chigwell's having none of that. Oh no. Its next-door-neighbour is...

...a garden centre. Is there anything more stereotypically fitting for such a shamelessly well-to-do Essex community?

They won't allow any buildings at all alongside the line itself:

While the platforms make you feel like you're in a well-tended glade or National Trust forest:

It's always said that the district of Grange Hill has nothing to do with the shortly-to-become-defunct titular children's programme. This was certainly the case from 2003 onwards when the show suddenly became full of northern kids and was officially deemed as having always been set 'somewhere in Britain', despite the majority of preceding series featuring scenes clearly set in north London. Anyway, I imagine my presence with a camera was put down by these locals to the behaviour of a sad fan.

It's certainly a world away from Chigwell, being a pretty rundown and unwelcoming station. As is Hainault, the next stop along and the place where any remaining pretence of there being a Central Line 'loop' falls apart.

I had to wait here for ages for a separate train that would take me any further. In fact, I had enough time to leave the station, go in search of a newsagents, come back and sit on another train going nowhere for 10 minutes.

Fair enough, Hainault is one of the main depots on the Central Line and bound to involve some sort of a delay. But in effect you're crossing onto a different line completely, one that runs to a separate timetable and can't be relied upon to provide you with a direct connection. Low usage is, I guess, the rationale behind carving up this ostensibly unified bit of the network. They might advertise it as such, though, and not pretend it's a continuous service.

Enough moaning. From here onwards the trains were very frequent. Fairlop looks almost identical to when it was built in 1903.

It's a charmingly subtle, well-maintained station, with a resident dove:

Plus surrounding views of the countryside:

...albeit largely unnoticed by passengers, due to there being, well, largely no passengers. Apart from that person with a camera.

Barkingside is a more elaborately-designed building, and is Grade II listed, but is still as refresinghly underplayed as its neighbour:

Below left, evidence of the first of Boris Johnson's diktats:

And despite now begin back in Greater London, there's still a fair bit of open country about:

Newbury Park was the place where, just after the Second World War, the existing mainline railway tracks that dated back to the start of the 20th century were connected up with the Central Line proper.

Previously services had run southwards to Liverpool Street; now they joined the Underground network and, fittingly, dived underground for the first time on this stretch of the Central Line. To mark the occasion this fantastic structure was built:

It's a bus station, and won a Festival of Britain architectural award in 1951.

Pity there's nothing to match its elegance by way of an adjacent Underground station. Pity there's not really any adjacent Underground station at all. Ditto Gants Hill, which is entirely underground...

...but is worth venturing underground for, because it was designed by Charles Holden and its platform level concourse was apparently a homage to the Moscow Metro. It is, of course, superb:

Redbridge is another one of Holden's seemingly unending contributions to the London Underground. Although construction began in the 1930s, it didn't open for business until 1947. The half-finished tunnels were used as a factory to build aircraft parts during the war.

Holden's signature motif is present and correct:

Likewise at Wanstead, albeit hidden - temporarily - behind a load of metal sheeting and redevelopment junk:

And beyond Wanstead...well, you're back on the 'main' main line and off the loop. Kind of. After a fashion. You're certainly back into the world of bustling, noisy, dirty stations and far far away from near-abandoned Edwardian outhouses in near-silent ruritania.

1 comment:

John said...

As a local I found this very interesting - particularly the fact about Roding Valley being the least used station on the network (My local station!)

Thanks