16 September, 2008

District Line: Barking - Aldgate East

West of Barking the District Line ages by around 20 years. Electric services first came this way in 1908, along tracks that had been around since - incredibly - 1854.

East Ham was added to the Underground in 1902, but if you look carefully while on its platforms you can find evidence of its original owners, the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. There are ornate LTSR logos still in evidence on some of the canopy supports and posts. Sadly I only read about this after my visit, and hence all I have to show for the place is this photo shared with a bus:

You can see vague traces of Victorian designs all along this stretch of the line, Upton Park (original buildings dating from 1877) being a good example.

Wikipedia takes time to supply the following details about this station: "In total there are six separate food and beverage machines, two chilled beverage machines (750ml bottles), two chocolate machines (that vend a variety of Cadbury products), and two miscellaneous snack machines. Upton Park tube station is surrounded by several late night kebab and chicken and chip shops for a more nourishing meal."

Now that's the kind of information this blog needs more of.

Plaistow is a listed building, replete - like Upton Park - with LTSR livery. And, like Upton Park, I didn't get it on camera.

The construction of the original West Ham station was sponsored by Arnold F Hills, owner of the Thames Ironworks and Football Club which played at the Memorial Grounds from 1897. The club was renamed West Ham United three years later, the station opened in 1901, and the District Line arrived 12 months after that. However because it was in the middle of nowhere, passenger (and crowd) numbers were woeful. The club subsequently moved to Upton Park in 1904.

If you ever catch a glimpse of an Underground map in EastEnders, you'll see that Bromley-by-Bow doesn't exist. In its place is the famously fictional Walford East. This photo captures the news of the hour, which at the time of writing seems hopelessly inappropriate: Shares Bounce Back.

There's a bit more character to Bow Road than its neighbouring namesake. The place was opened in 1902 by the Whitechapel & Bow Railway (later swallowed up by the District Line) and the booking hall is now a Grade II listed building.

This alone is worth preserving:

It's here that services running westwards from Upminster and Barking dive underground via a tunnel to the east of the station that's apparently the steepest on the entire network.

I confess I was fairly impressed with the frequency and the upkeep of the trains during this leg of the journey; then again I was travelling during rush hour and I imagine the service is much reduced off-peak. There was no shortage of passengers either. This portion of the District Line is extremely popular. Mile End is especially busy, the interchange with the Central Line prompting mass movements of bodies in either direction. For those taking notes, this is the only subterranean Underground station that offers a cross-platform interchange between so-called 'deep' and 'cut and cover' lines. I'm sure I've mentioned that before.

On the westbound platform at Stepney Green you'll find your usual electronic noticeboard. On the eastbound platform, however, there's still one of those old illuminated displays which merely indicates the planned destination of the next train. It gives no clue as to when it might arrive. Once, all stations were like this and we lived with it because we knew no different.

I've been to Whitechapel already.

The District Line, in its original guise as the Metropolitan District Railway, struck out this way in 1884, forming an interchange with the existing East London Railway. Things get a little confusing now, as the District station was given a different name to its East London brother: Whitechapel (Mile End). Then it was closed for rebuilding, reopening in 1902 with its present name when the Whitechapel and Bow Railway came into existence (the company which, together with the London Tilbury & Southend Railway, laid tracks all the way to Southend-on-Sea).

Then there came a whole lot more business involving the Metropolitan Railway (not the Metropolitan District Railway) which is now the Hammersmith and City Line, and which I'll talk about another time. Moreover there used to be another station near here, St Mary's (Whitechapel Road), which sat between Whitechapel and Aldgate East. It existed from 1884 up until 1938, when Aldgate East's platforms were moved, er, east and given a new entrance a few hundred yards from that of St Mary's.

If you followed all that you'll be relieved to know it's the end of this entry.

Aldgate East is a relic from when rival companies thought nothing of building rival stations on rival lines a few streets apart. It's about five minutes from Aldgate on the Metropolitan and Circle lines. But it does boast this lovely antique Underground roundel...

...so it's not entirely to be sniffed at.

06 September, 2008

District Line: Upminster - Barking

I began this leg of the journey with a tinge of sadness. For this was the last of the big lines, the last of the epic voyages, I had left to take. It would be my final chance to experience a ride on the Underground far far away from the centre of London and feel the might of its extraordinary reach.

I thought it would take me out beyond the confines of Greater London itself, but Upminster is in the borough of Havering and not, as I'd hoped, the county of Essex. District Line trains ran all the way to Shoeburyness between the wars, a somewhat surreal but rather delightful notion. Take the tube to the seaside!

One unrefurbished train (in the old pre-1960s aluminium style with no CCTV or passenger information displays) was still in operation until February 2008. I'm sure, thinking back, I travelled on it, as I remember getting the District Line between Westminster and Victoria one morning and being struck by how noticeably tatty and ancient the train was.

The early tracks were built by the Metropolitan District Railway (no relation to the Metropolitan Railway) and the first segment came into operation in 1868. This particular stretch between Upminster and Barking joined the Underground network in 1902, but quickly fell off again when electrification of the lines meant services had to be cut back to East Ham. Upminster became the eastern terminus again in 1932.

A glance at the sequence of photos below suggests I made this particular trip at dawn as the sun was rising. In truth I did it the other way round, travelling away from London, as dusk was falling. By the time I reached Upminster it was pitch black, so apologies for anyone interested in seeking images of that particular station's architecture. All my camera could really handle was a signpost:

As it happens the station is entirely branded in the style of the local mainline operator, c2c, and there's precious little London Underground livery to be found. It's a suitably expansive terminus and the child in me was excited by the chance to travel back into the city on an express train to Fenchurch Street in the moonlight. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Upminster Bridge, opened in 1934, was infused with the smells of Indian food:

The ticket hall is in the shape of a polygon and the floor tiles have reversed swastikas within them. I'm afraid I didn't pay that much attention to either of these. My stomach was rumbling. It was also a very desolate and unwelcoming place. There was nobody else to be seen, no passengers, no staff, nothing. The wait on the platform, although it was only half a dozen minutes or so, felt more like hours.

At Hornchurch there were signs of life, but only sporadically.

All the stations along this part of the line hail from the 1930s, even if, like Hornchurch, that date refers to rebuilding rather than original construction. There was still an antiquated feel to this place, however, with clunking wooden staircases and flaking paint that reminded me of a badly-kept primary school.

Still, I'd rather have steps than walkways, one of which graces Elm Park:

I appreciate the need for improved access at stations, but the solution here - a giant gangway that slopes up from the platform at a ludicrously feeble gradient - renders able-bodied people exhausted. It also means that, if you hear your train approaching and you're at the top of the gangway, there's an unavoidable temptation to leg it and, as even the smallest child knows, running down a slope brings as much pleasure as pain.

Next was Dagenham East:

Many of the stops along this stretch felt like they should be further removed from suburbia than they actually were. I'd expected to see open countryside. Instead it's uninterrupted housing all the way.

The closer to London you inch, the greater the number of commuters. Here's Dagenham Heathway...

...blessed, unfortunately, with another titanic gangplank from platform to exit. Tottering up this thankless walkway at the end of a hard day's work must nigh-on finish you off. Intriguingly it has been proposed that the Docklands Light Railway gets extended all the way out here, a scheme that would assuredly aid commutes into the east end besides supplying this under-served area of Greater London with better public transport.

Becontree won points for the use of that little-known novelty of transportation, steps.

Upney lost points for another flipping gangway.

I've not seen them anywhere else on the Underground. There must have been some reason for their construction, beyond laziness. Surely?

Barking is c2c property, and is nowadays contained within a small shopping centre.

It's an interchange with the mainline, hence the visible increase in personages, and is also the start of Hammersmith and City services. I'll talk more about that at a later date, but the Hammersmith and City is, at least for two thirds of its route, a ghost line. It doesn't properly exist. I've no idea why Barking is the place from which its services run. It seems a rather abitrary choice.

Anyway, I don't usually appreciate noise and bustle, but for some reason the reassuring hubbub of Barking - ghost lines and all - was for me a reminder of civilisation.