28 June, 2008

Central Line: Bond Street - Ealing Broadway

The further you travel west along the Central Line, the more gentrified it becomes. With the exception of the interchange with the Circle and District lines at Notting Hill Gate, and the terminus at Ealing Broadway, its stations are also increasingly downcast. Several are in a bad way, and one - Shepherd's Bush - is completedly closed at the time of writing.

Marble Arch is a poky gateway to a noisy, musty warren of platforms and corridors and subways. As with most stations on Oxford Street, it's flanked by innumerable (well, not quite) currency exchanges.

Lancaster Gate is where you start to lose the tourists and idle travellers. The station has nothing whatsoever to commend itself, other than some fairly efficient lifts. It sits underneath a hotel, the original building (opened in 1900) long demolished.

Queensway hails from the same year, and at least bears some traces of its original construction. A few years ago it was closed for over 12 months while its creakly lifts were replaced and a new lick of paint applied. There's a great quote from Transport For London which was issued when the renovation work, being carried out by Metronet (before it went into administration and got taken over by TFL), overran for something like the 56th time: "This is a further, and one hopes final, pathetic delay on a project that Metronet has failed to manage to time."

At Notting Hill Gate you originally had to reach the Central Line through a separate building instead of, as now, the same one you use for the Circle and District lines. Nowadays the interchange is entirely underground, hence this picture of some steps (replete with cheery passengers).

Pedants might be interested to know Notting Hill Gate was the first station to have escalators with metal side panels rather than wooden ones.

Stepping out of Holland Park you can, ahem, smell the affluence. The building itself seems to exude a certain well-to-do mentality. It's eerie to emerge here just one stop on from the pell-mell patchwork of communities that is Notting Hill. And you can forget your currency exchanges or taxi cab firms sheltering next to the station; here they have a nutrition clinic:

Shepherd's Bush is next, but I couldn't get off as the platforms have been stripped and gutted and left for dead. It's depressing to associate such an iconic name with such (temporarily) reduced circumstances. White City is not much better:

Apparently the architectural design of the station won an award at the Festival of Britain and a commemorative plaque testifying to this is on the left of the main entrance. Good luck trying to find it. At least there's the glory of Television Centre directly opposite to compensate. Plus there's this, on the platform itself:

In particular, the half-hearted attempt to cover up the old Epping-Ongar branch line:

There's a disused station lurking in these parts, called Wood Lane. It was built for the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908; fittingly a brand new station, with the same name, is opening later this year, exactly a century since its forerunner.

Before the 1908 exhibition, the Central Line terminated at Shepherd's Bush. After the exhibition it was decided to keep Wood Lane open to service places such as the White City stadium. Once the line as a whole was extended through to Ealing Broadway in 1920, Wood Lane had to be rebuilt to accommodate through-running trains, a convoluted exercise which it seems left the station resembling a lop-sided triangle. Nobody was very satisfied with the arrangement and the whole placed closed in 1947 when White City was opened. There's nothing left of the station today.

East Acton is one of those stops that's seemingly tucked away on an ordinary residential street. It's in the open air, the first Central Line station to be above ground since Stratford. As such, and because of its suburban credentials, I like it a lot:

Here's the sun setting over one of its platforms:

North Acton, complete with hanging baskets:

The line divides here, with one branch heading north westwards towards West Ruislip. The other, shorter, branch, calls at West Acton...

...before limping into the multi-platform maze that is Ealing Broadway.

It felt like it took an age to walk out of this station. The fact the District Line terminates here, but mainline services pass on through, compounds the sense of slight confusion. The faces of everyone I saw were tightened into a rictus of grim resolution. The place is a horrible design, done up in the 1970s to incorporate loads of shops and a huge high rise office building. It's best to just get the hell out of Ealing Broadway and not look back.

08 June, 2008

Central Line: Stratford - Bond Street

There's a motif that runs right through almost every photo from this leg of the journey...

...people. Dozens of them. All oblivious to me and my camera, thankfully. But still. People, eh? Whatever happened to those carefully-staged shots of beautifully-deserted stations in remote, romantically-abandoned locations?

That's Mile End above. It was too busy for me to stand right outside the station entrance, so I had to perch on a traffic island.

Wikipedia claims it's possible to travel between any two stations on the London Underground making only two changes if one of them is at Mile End. This is because, I imagine, it's an interchange with two of the most inter-connected lines, the District and the Hammersmith & City. It also presumes that you'd need to change at Mile End in the first place, which I'd suggest rules out around 80% of the network. Whatever, it's a threateningly busy station, through which trains have passed since 1902.

Its neighbour, Bethnal Green, opened much later, in 1946. Three years before, however, it was witness to one of the worst tragedies in the history of public transport. The half-finished station complex and connecting tunnels were used as a shelter during the Second World War. On 3rd March 1943 137 people were crushed to death attempting to enter the building during an air raid. Inexplicably, it was not until 50 years afterwards that a tiny commemorative plaque was erected at the site. There's nothing to see of the station above ground; it exists entirely below road level. It's not a nice place to linger.

The Central Line arrived at Liverpool Street in 1912, the first extension eastwards to what was called, at the time, the Central London Railway. Up till then the line had its terminus at Bank, where electric locomotives hauled by a train of trailer cars would run from Shepherd's Bush.

When it opened in 1900, the Central London Railway must have been a marvel. It ran directly through - as the name implied - the heart of the capital, calling at many of the city's major locations and tourist spots, at a depth once-thought impossible, charging just tuppence to travel any distance, bequeathing the line its nickname of the 'Twopenny Tube'.

Moreover, the terminus at Bank had to be built entirely underground thanks to the presence of the Royal Exchange, the Bank of England and Mansion House, plus the exhorbitant price of property in the City. Then, to avoid compensating the owners of all these lofty establishments for vibrations during construction and operation, tunnels had to be aligned to run under streets rather than buildings. This is why, when you're at Bank station, the platform curves in such a peculiar fashion, meaning you can't see one end from the other.

Bank is undergoing a mammoth refurbishment at the moment. It must be a nightmare of logistics to do anything to this station, what with the connections to the Northern and Waterloo & City Lines, the Docklands Light Railway, plus the escalator link to the Circle and District Lines at Monument.

St Paul's, by contrast, has just the Central Line as its tenant.

It was originally called, with a simplicity that's rather endearing, Post Office, thanks to it being near the headquarters of the GPO.

Again, because the tracks have to follow the route of the street, the eastbound and westbound tunnels here sit on top of each other. It's somewhat disconcerting to think of this out of context; you always imagine tunnels to be built adjacent to one another. Yet more refurbishment work is going on here at the moment. I only hope the new mayor of London displays the same concern and passion for upgrading the Underground as his predecessor.

Here's a topical announcement outside Chancery Lane:

An unexploded bomb had been found the day before near Bromley. Someone had done something - kicked it probably - and it had started ticking. While I was doing this stage of the journey a great hubbub was unfolding, and a bit later I heard it announced that much of the Underground in east London was to be closed later that evening and overnight. I'm guessing the bomb was ultimately defused safely. I certainly didn't hear anything more about it.

Chancery Lane is another station entirely underground, and like its neighbour has its two tunnels on top of each other. Those taking notes might like to know it is home to the shortest escalator on the entire network, and still has a deep-level air-raid shelter underneath it.

The next four stations I have visited before.

The Central Line didn't stop at Holborn until 1933, despite its tracks running directly under the station. This was because of another Central Line stop just one hundred yards away, British Museum, now one of those mythological disused stations of the Underground. British Museum was thought too far away from Holborn (on the Piccadilly line) to be connected by, say, a foot tunnel, so the two stations co-existed side by side on different lines.

You can see now why the originally Central London Railway, with stops such as Post Office and British Museum, plus the likes of St Paul's and Marble Arch and so on, was very much conceived around London's man-made landmarks and important edifices.

Anyway, British Museum was closed in 1933 when a new interchange was opened at Holborn. The station was kept in use up until the 1960s as an emergency command post in case of nuclear war.

Central Line stations opened at Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus and Bond Street before any other lines passed that way. Little now remains of their original guises, though there's that lovely architecture at Oxford Circus which nobody ever notices:

At one point Harry Selfridge wanted to build a subway from Bond Street directly into his new store. He was opposed at the time; nowadays no doubt his idea would've been proposed *before* the station itself.