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...


Chris Brown said...

I lived in Kenton for over fifteen years, and I used that station maybe half a dozen times... and I think that only for the mainline trains. Even when I was heading for an in-town destination on the Bakerloo, it was always preferable to get on at Northwick Park and use the Met line.
I've never ever seen the outside of South Kenton station. And now I'm glad.

I work in Wealdstone, and I agree that nowadays it's a pretty decent station - arguably better than Wealdstone deserves. The Harrow exit is sort of in the middle of nowhere - although when I passed there yesterday they were arresting somebody. Did you spot the mural or the plaque commemorating the crash victims.

Off to comment on the other Harrow areas now...

Laura Brown said...

I'm Chris's wife, and for a short while I had to get the tube to work from Kenton station every morning, and was that ever a depressing way to start the day. I'm amazed they didn't get more people throwing themselves in front of the trains.

Ian Jones said...

The more I think about it, the more the atmosphere at these stations has depressed me. Why are they so especially desolate and unwelcoming? It's good to hear that others think the same. It's also put me off ever choosing to live somewhere that is serviced by the Bakerloo Line!

Chris Brown said...

I suppose the big problem with the stations on that stretch is they're really overground stations that the Tube piggybacks onto, and as such not really a priority for anyone. Kenton has the particular problem that the entrance is perched on a bridge, so there aren't a lot of options if anybody could be bothered to do anything about it.
I remembered that you can actually look down on the line from the footbridge that leads to Northwick Park, and it looks even more desolate from there.

On a totally unrelated matter, have you thought about using labels on the posts so it's easier to find each line?

Ian Jones said...

Thanks for the tip Chris - good call. I'll add labels to all the posts as soon as I can.