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.


mjw4849 said...

Looking at your photos, they may inspire me to go to Greenford to take a look at the wooden escalators - that's almost like something you'd expect to see in the London Transport Museum! (Like, I suppose, Gants Hill)

Good work, I'm really enjoying reading about the ends of these lines that I've never been to - I may summon up the energy to go to these places one of these days! :)

Steve Williams said...

When we used to go to London to be in studio audiences, we always used to drive up to West Ruislip and then take the Central Line into White City, and when we arrived there - normally mid-afternoon - we were always the only people there, and the same was true when we used to arrive back there at about 10.30pm. I've not been there now for over a decade, but I still remember the fruitless search for a toilet (I don't think there is one, or if there is it's always closed) and the shlep across the bridge to the tube platforms from the car park.

We did once manage to time it with this part of the line being closed and had to get a bus to, I think, North Acton, which is the dullest journey in the world.

Tracy said...

I have truly been enjoying your blog, and I look forward to each new entry! Today, I was really pleased to see that there is a wooden escalator still in existence on the Underground. I had thought they were all long gone, only to live on in memories and museums.

Ian Jones said...

Thanks for the comments. Yeah, I was really taken aback to find a wooden escalator. It brought back really vivid memories of trips to London when I was a child. I wonder how many people actually know - or care - it exists...

mjw4849 said...

I may take a trip up there just to take a look - it's bound not to be there indefinitely.

Taking a look at Flickr (by searching for 'wooden escalator tube) : http://is.gd/1h5j

there are several examples of it there, so obviously a few others are equally impressed by it!

MarkF said...

Blimey - I remember those wooden escalators. Like you that picture brings back memories of trips to London holding tight onto the leather handrails on the escalators and wondering jut when I'd be tall enough to strap hang on the trains...