17 August, 2008

Bakerloo Line: Baker Street - Elephant and Castle

Like I said, I wasn't that excited by the prospect of this leg of the journey. I'd visited all but two of the stations before. It took me right through the centre of London, which is never a nice prospect on the Underground. And Bakerloo Line trains, as I'd begun to discover during the last leg, get very very hot very very quickly.

As such this was a rather perfunctory trip, and also quite brisk. Baker Street to Waterloo is, of course, the route of the original line, then called the Baker Street & Waterloo Railway. The entire route opened on 10th March 1906, two years after its original financier, Whitaker Wright, committed suicide at the Royal Courts of Justice following convictions for fraud and embezzlement.

It seems it was never formally called the Bakerloo; this was just a contraction that caught the public imagination. Within a few months, however, the line had already been extended south to Elephant and Castle, so the name was technically out of date...but nobody cared.

South of Baker Street you come to Regent's Park, a station buried entirely underground with no surface buildings whatsoever and hence a very boring entrance:

To undergo complete refurbishment, the station closed soon after I begun this blog and only reopened early this year (one of the reasons I didn't get round to tackling the Bakerloo until now). You have to go a fair stretch along tunnels and down lifts to get to the platforms.

The next five stations are all old friends.

The Bakerloo entrance to Oxford Street, designed by Leslie Green, is still in good condition, despite that horrible billboard for Currency Exchange:

Green designed the Bakerloo entrance for Piccadilly Circus, which was in operation until 1929 and ripped down in the 1980s.

Charing Cross opened as Trafalgar Square in 1906, and kept that name until 1979 when the Jubilee Line prompted a complete overhaul of the stations in this area.

Embankment, meanwhile, for a long time laboured until the name Charing Cross. This photo was taken at 8.40am on a weekday morning. You can tell it's the rush hour because people have that steely, blinkered look in their eyes.

Waterloo again:

Lambeth North began life as Kennintgon Road and was the temporary southern terminus of the line until Elephant and Castle opened on 5th August 1906. It was then renamed Westminster Bridge Road, and then renamed again in April 1917 when it received its present, inferior, title. I took this photo during the station's 100th anniversary year, which explains the modest bunting:

Elephant and Castle's Leslie Green-designed station has been, to be blunt, ruined by this pointless glass extension. I can't see the reason for its existence! It looks awful, it serves no purpose, and just clutters up both the pavement and your appreciation of the original building. For shame!

There has been talk of extending the line further south, to Camberwell. I can certainly see the need for this, as it would introduce the Underground to an area of south London poorly served by public transport. As it was one of Ken Livingstone's pet projects, however, I can't see his successor giving it the time of day.

16 August, 2008

Bakerloo Line: Kensal Green - Baker Street

After such an underwhelming and frankly lousy opening effort, I was really hoping the Bakerloo would raise its game. So far I had seen nothing to dissuade me of the view that it is the worst of all Underground lines. Its brown colour is hugely appropriate. The trains also have a smell - all fleets of Underground trains have their own distinctive smell, I'm sure other people will testify to this - that is suitably repulsive. I'd say it was a mixture of a battered cloth-seated iron chair being left too close to a three-bar fire, and a dozen wet anoraks sizzling on a radiator in a primary school classroom.

The first station south of Kensal Green, Queen's Park, did absolutely nothing to disabuse me of all these notions.

This bit of the Bakerloo was added in 1915, though as I mention below there'd already been tracks here - overland tracks - for decades and decades.

Queen's Park is the point where the Bakerloo leaves those tracks, the ones it has shared with mainline services, and dives underground. Atypically, as far as this blog is concerned, it is here that the quality of the stations improves. Usually I have found open-air stops more agreeable than those buried deep below. Instead I was caught off-guard by the pleasantness of Kilburn Park:

Denizens of the Underground will recognise this style of building. It's the work of Stanley Heaps, in the style of Leslie Green who was responsible for so many inner London stations and who popularised that dark-red terracotta glazed-brick motif.

Coming across this, a station with a bit of identity and thought behind its design, after so many desolate dumps, was fantastic. But there was more to come:

Another beautifully preserved exterior at Maida Vale.

Warwick Avenue, although boasting no surface buildings at all, is situated in a wonderfully quiet and relaxed corner of provincial suburbia, remarkably so when you think of how close it is to the city centre. It's quite a well-to-do area, or so it seemed, with the signs on the platforms bragging of how you should get off here for Little Venice.

The Bakerloo arrived at Paddington in 1913, with platforms built deep below the mainline station.

The Underground map gets very cluttered here. If you look, you'll see Paddington appears twice, as does Edgware Road. This is to try and denote the fact that these aren't interchanges, but whole separate stations. The platforms of the Hammersmith and City Paddington station, for instance, are utterly unconnected to those for the Bakerloo, District and Circle. To further mislead those unfamiliar with London, the building that houses the Bakerloo, District and Circle Paddington stops, advertises itself as the Metropolitan Railway:

At Edgware Road the two stations are on either side of the road. The Bakerloo version, which opened in 1907, was the terminus of the line until 1913; this was the handiwork of Green himself and almost didn't survive a redevelopment in the 1960s. Thankfully it persists, a lone outcrop of character in a rather faceless urban jumble of flyovers and road junctions.

Marylebone is situated within its mainline namesake; there was a stand-alone Green-designed entrance, once, but it was pulled down to be replaced by a budget hotel in 1971. Sigh.

Finally to Baker Street, where the Bakerloo first began on 10th March 1906, but where I've already called twice, and about which I can't think of anything more to say...

At least my estimation of the whole line has improved. Not really looking forward to the next, and last, stretch though.

05 August, 2008

Bakerloo Line: Harrow and Wealdstone - Kensal Green

When I was young, my family used to play a board game based on the map of the Underground.

It was called The London Game, and involved you having to visit a certain number of stations in as few a rolls of the dice as possible. The premise was endearingly simple, but I remember there were penalties you could incur at certain points of the game, the most notorious of which 'Take A Trip To Kensal Green'.

On the board, this was always the furthest station away from the places you needed to visit, and hence was the most depressing of forfeits. As such it became imprinted in my memory as an impossibly remote place, miles and miles away from London, a grim exile from where a return to civilisation seemed interminable.

I'd never visited Kensal Green in reality, nor any of the stops on the top end of the Bakerloo Line, until I made this particular trip. I'd simply never needed to use the Bakerloo this far north, nor had cause to pass anywhere near its stations. So this was a proper voyage of discovery.

The London Underground map doesn't do this stretch of the Bakerloo any favours. It bunches up most of the stations, cramming them between other lines and blurring them into one. Looking at the map, it's hard to tell how near or far apart any of the stops are. But then it decides to place the end of the line, Harrow and Wealdstone, in the middle of nowhere, ostensibly a huge distance away from its neighbouring stations, whereas in reality they are all quite close to each other. It's a poor piece of design work, being both amateurish and misleading.

The whole of this first leg is shared with mainline services in and out of Marylebone and Euston. Most of the stations and all of the track existed long before the Bakerloo officially passed this way (1917). Longer, in fact, than almost any other train service in the country, for there has been a station at Harrow and Wealdstone for almost 200 years.

On opening - as part of the London and Birmingham Railway - it was called Harrow and surrounded entirely by fields. By the time the Bakerloo arrived (which, at the time, ran all the way up to Watford) it was completely urbanised and occupied. It's actually quite a nice station, with exits on either side of the platforms advertised as being to 'Harrow' and, naturally, 'Wealdstone', and plenty of information to help you distinguish between the various train services passing through. All of which were qualities, as I was to find out, rarely applicable to stops on this part of the Bakerloo.

Like Kenton, for instance.

This is a poky place with a tiny entrance hall and barren platforms that reminded me of badly-kept edge-of-town stations that nobody cares about.

South Kenton is even worse.

To get to it you have to use a grotty, filthy tunnel that runs between the car park of a pub and a housing estate. It's horrible. The platform isn't even level with the floor of the carriages, so you have to step down into the train and clamber up out of it. There are no ticket barriers and anyone can come and go as they please. I think it might be the worst station on the entire network.

North Wembley is the spitting image of Kenton, from the entrance to the booking hall to the platforms.

Wembley Central, by contrast, is in total confusion at the moment, and doesn't really have any obvious design at all.

It's in the middle of renovation and as a consequence feels very soulless and depressing. Fittingly, the place has had at least four different names during its near-two centuries' existence, including Sudbury, Sudbury and Wembley, and Wembley for Sudbury. In the 1960s it was encased within a shopping complex, losing whatever trace of individual identity it retained from the 19th century.

There's a bit of character to be found at Stonebridge Park, thankfully, despite the station building having been destroyed by bombing during the Second World War and subsequently burning down twice.

Harlesden fits what is clearly a pattern on this part of the Bakerloo: a tiny entrance hall perched on top of massive, desolate platforms. Such is the lot of stations that share their tracks with mainline trains, I guess.

Five separate lines - I think - run out of Willesden Junction, and the platform complex, with multiple layers at different angles and numerous entrances and exits, makes changing a bit of an ordeal. This official didn't actually challenge me, merely give me the evil eye:

And so to:

For all that, it's not a bad place. The station has a nice design and is in a good state of repair, certainly compared to its predecessors. It doesn't deserve the associations piled upon it by one particular board game. I was even quite glad to arrive. Surely, I reckoned, the quality of the Bakerloo's stations would now start to improve as I got closer to the city centre...

04 August, 2008

Central Line: Hanger Lane - West Ruislip

I'd been meaning to take care of this final stretch of the Central Line for ages. But I'd not had the time. Or rather, I hadn't made the time to travel all the way out of central London. I'd also been kind of put off by the fact that, domestically speaking, it was a good hour or so's distance from home.

I made the trip one weekday afternoon, when the stations in question were fairly unpopulated and the services conspicuously empty. Indeed, by the time I got to the end of the line at West Ruislip, I was the only person left on my train. That's never happened to me before. An entire train being operated for the benefit of just one passenger. For myself. I felt a bit humbled.

This portion of the line came into operation just after the Second World War and had, it seems, been intended to stretch even further into Buckinghamshire had green belt legislation not come into force. Most of it has the appearance of being quite rural, but unlike the other end of the Central Line, outcrops of habitation are never that far away.

Hanger Lane is not only in the middle of but also underneath the titular gyratory, where the Western Avenue meets the North Circular Road. It's not entirely underground, however, and light passes down inside the station thanks to its cunning design:

The outside of Perivale turned up in an episode of The Thick Of It: a suitably remote location for a vaguely important middle-ranking minister to find himself temporarily sidetracked.

There was a real find waiting for me at Greenford:

No, not just a flower shop called Making Scents. I mean this:

A wooden escalator! And, apparently, the only one still in operation on the entire London Underground. Plus, it's the only instance of an escalator ascending from street level up to platform level anywhere on the network. Why it still exists is presumably because a) it's not below ground, and hence escaped the cull that followed the King's Cross fire of 1987; and b) now that smoking is banned everywhere on the underground, wooden furnishings are officially safe again.

To top everything off, there's a great view of Horsenden Hill from the platform.

At Northolt it was back to the familiar layout of the booking hall at street level and the platforms on an island reached via a massive staircase:

Functional, but at least it was discreet compared to this:

South Ruislip looks better on the inside, with an attempt at tasteful decoration, but it's hard to find anything positive to say about the exterior. It's all one colour, I suppose. And it curves. Erm...

Here's John Betjeman:

Gaily into Ruislip Gardens Runs the red electric train, With a thousand Ta's and Pardon's Daintily alights Elaine; Hurries down the concrete station With a frown of concentration, Out into the outskirt's edges Where a few surviving hedges Keep alive our lost Elysium - Rural Middlesex again.

And here it is, from the platform:

To the end of the line:

Like I said, I was the only person to disembark at West Ruislip. I didn't realise it, but I'd had the whole train to myself. I also had the whole station at my disposal, as nobody was around to either travel or drive back the way I'd came. Clearly the place had some kind of staff in attendance...didn't it? These hanging baskets suggested as much:

Outside the station I could see the tracks continuing into Buckinghamshire, where they carry services operated by Chiltern Railways:

Eventually someone showed up to run the red electric train all the way back to Epping, and I was on my way again.