02 January, 2009

District Line: Hammersmith - Richmond & Ealing Broadway

I thought that this blog, like the Great War, would be over by Christmas. Both cases proved to be incorrect.

I actually completed my tour of the Underground over a month ago. I visited the last station on my list on Saturday 22nd November. It's one of the stations that appears in this update. But since then I've had so little time that, well, there's only been one entry. And I now have a backlog of photos. I find myself having to reconstruct memories and impressions from the other side of the holiday. The blog has become a retrospective account, rather than an as-it-happens journal.

So here is the remainder of the District Line. Keen-eyed readers, and I know it's presumptuous to use the plural, will know there are still two more lines left to tackle. But neither are 'proper' lines, as will ultimately become clear, and as such will not, I'm fairly sure, require multiple blog entries. Meantime, the branches of the District that terminate at Richmond and Ealing Broadway require attention.

The two diverge just after Turnham Green, the last in a trio of agreeable, neat, no-nonsense stations that date back to the 1870s.

First up is Ravenscourt Park, originally called Shaftesbury Road, which opened on April Fool's Day 1873:

The name changed a few years later when the nearby park was first opened for public use. Its platforms are the main highlight, built above street level and boasting much of the spirit, if not the actual fixtures and fittings, of its Victorian heritage.

There's something about very long platforms high up in a city suburb that is, well, a bit exhilarating. It's as if the world has been opened up a little; you have acres of sky and space all to yourself and, especially if there aren't many passengers about, you feel like you have the advantage over everyone else scuttling about down below. Then a giant train glides into the giant platform to pick you up and swoop off down the line.

Stamford Brook...

...is the same:

- with the added bonus of the station itself feeling like someone's house. I'd be interested to know who the neighbours are and their views on living between the other half of a semi-detached building and a fully-fledged Underground station.

Turnham Green compounds the charm with the presence of a flower-seller:

If you're travelling to Richmond, the next stop after Turnham Green is a total contrast. By every measure - ambience, design, comfort, safety, convenience, you name it - Gunnersbury is shocking:

I wonder if it is perhaps the most miserable station on the entire network. I may have used that label before; if I have, forget all previous candidates. Gunnersbury takes the prize for the worst Underground stop of them all.

It is gloomy, ill-kept, badly-designed, inhospitable, unreliable, lumpen and wretched. The platform display signs are, according to a friend who passes this way regularly, always incorrect; they certainly were when I was there, referring to a train due in at 09:51 when it was already half past four in the afternoon. Underground and Overground services share the same tracks. In 1954 a tornado ripped the roof off the station but left the rest of the structure intact. If only another one would come along and finish the job.

It was too dark to properly appreciate Kew Gardens:

From what I could tell, thankfully it's a world apart from its predecessor in virtually every respect. The Victorian design of the yellow-brick buildings and some of the original features give it a very particular atmosphere. There is also a footbridge which has Grade II listed status, built with a narrow walkway and very high walls with the intention of protecting people's clothing from the smoke of engines passing underneath. Being there in the gloom of a winter's evening heightened resonances of steam-era railways.

I had thought Richmond was the very last station I had left to visit, and hence the end of my quest.

Then I remembered about Heathrow Terminal 5. Grrr. Anyway, the first station opened here in 1846; I'm not sure when the current building dates from. The exterior reminded me of Wimbledon; sadly, so did the interior. It is a place of near-utter confusion, giving rise to that perpetually frustrating aspect of busy stations: people standing dead still slap bang in the way of you and everyone else, gawping at timetables or simply trying to work out where they should be busily rushing to. It was not the most dignified of locations to symbolise the end of The End Of The Line. Which was just as well, because it wasn't.

If you find yourself on the other branch that runs to Ealing Broadway, the District Line has one last gem to offer:

Chiswick Park. This has gone straight into my list of the 10 best stations on the Underground. It's a glorious building, inside and out, and searching online I see that Charles Holden (him again) was inspired by a station in Berlin, one Krumme Lanke. Holden's design was part of a rebuilding that took place in the 1930s when the Piccadilly Line was being extended westwards and extra sets of tracks needed to be laid. Any excuse for a bit of Euro-chic where Charlie's concerned. The view from the platform of the station's brick tower is breathtaking:

The remaining three stops on this branch were all ones I had visited before; two on the Piccadilly Line, Acton Town:

and Ealing Common:

and the third being the terminus, shared with the Central Line, Ealing Broadway:

Thinking back, Chiswick Park restored a little of my respect for the District. But not quite enough. Truth be told I don't have any particular overriding feeling towards the line, positive or negative. It's just such an assortment of contrasting, not to say contradictory styles and attitudes, it's impossible to perceive of it as a whole or to sum it all up with one adjective. Well, there is one. Unreliable. But that's more to do with the service than the character or design or the line. Or is it? I'm sure I'd feel more pointedly disposed (or otherwise) towards the District were its trains not treated as an after-thought and more the reason for the line's existence.

That, and they put the original platform noticeboards back at Earl's Court.

1 comment:

mu said...

when i was doing my GCSEs went on a german exchange trip to berlin and i stayed with a family who lived in dahlem and whenever i took the tube back to their place i had to get the train to krumme lanke. never went all the way there tho. one of those memories i thought i'd completely forgotten, so thanks for that.

anyways probably wasn't the comment you were looking for. also my girlfriend lives in stamford brook, just in case you felt you didn't know enough about me.