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.


sasa said...

And he lobbied to have Bond Street station called 'Selfridges' too!

Chris Hughes said...

There's more on the World War II bomb here. I love the understatement of the last line:


I wouldn't have minded if Bond Street station had had an exit in Selfridges! Certainly it would have been nicer than the dismal shopping centre it does come out in.

Ed Scoble said...

Did you know at Oxford Street Station, oppose the red trademark station, is the old Baker Street and Waterloo Line station? it's easy to miss as it's not an obvious tube station, but you can tell when you see the small exit from the station is (check the picture, you can't miss it)

if you actually look properly, you realise that was an entire station for the Baker Street and Waterloo Line (now Bakerloo), seperate from the Central Line one, until they merged recently and it become a shop.