Tag Archives: piccadilly line

If it’s red, it’s Green

As I’ve mentioned before, the London Underground has always had a strong sense of design. In fact, it pretty well introduced the concept of corporate identity to the city. However, one of the most distinctive early shapers of this corporate identity is perhaps the least known. Take a look at this station:

This is the abandoned Piccadilly Line stop at York Road (just a short distance from King’s Cross if you want to look it out for yourself). But the architectural style will be familiar to anyone who’s spent any time in London, for there are simply dozens of buildings like these dotted along the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Northern Lines. Many of them are still in use, some have been converted to other purposes and some, like our friend York Road and the old entrance at Euston, are simply abandoned. This is the house style devised by Leslie Green for the stations of the Underground Electric Railway Company of London Limited.

The UERL, as it is commonly known, was the result of American transport tycoon Charles Yerkes buying out several Underground railway schemes that had run into financial difficulty, the railways that would eventually become the Bakerloo, Piccadilly, District and Northern lines (albeit only the Charing Cross branch of the latter). Whatever you might think of Yerkes as a person- certainly he served some time in the US for dodgy dealings – it can’t be denied that he knew a little something about corporate identity.

Therefore, Yerkes hired the young Leslie Green in 1903 to create a unified style for the above-ground buildings of the UERL. Green was not very well-known at the time, although he had had a number of commissions in Central London. The brief was that the stations he designed had to be adaptable to any location,  cheap to build and – this factor was very important given that construction of the lines were well underway – quick to erect.

Green devised a building style not dissimilar to that used on American skyscrapers. The stations would be built around a sturdy frame of steel girders, with the walls effectively “hanging” from this (I know, architecture students, it’s more complex than that) and a flat roof. The distinctive oxblood tiles were a time- and cost-cutting measure – architectural fanciness, very much the style in the early twentieth century, could be cast into the tiles which could be stuck on to the frontage like Lego bricks (or Bayko – anyone remember Bayko?).

The skyscraper-style construction wasn’t just modernist whimsy on Green’s part – Yerkes was savvy enough to figure out that his stations would be occupying prime sites in the city, and so they should be built in such a way that extra storeys of flats or offices could be plonked on top. For all Yerkes was a visionary, his vision, like that of Zephram Cochrane, was inspired by the profit motive.

Despite the similarities between the buildings, Green was able to incorporate various differences from station to station. Compare the compact front of Aldwych to the sharp curves of Chalk Farm, for instance. For Holborn, he even abandoned the oxblood tiles altogether in favour of granite. There are plenty of less obvious detail differences if you’re prepared to examine closely.

Inside, where refurbishment hasn’t obliterated the original decor, you’ll notice that the platform-level tiling can be quite colourful, forming interesting patterns that differ between stations. The detail differences in this case served a very practical purpose, in that the Underground was an inexpensive form of transport and, in those early days, it was assumed that a large proportion of those using the trains would be illiterate. Having different patterns would allow such folk to recognise their stops with ease.

Tragically, Green died at thirty-three. However, no less than twenty-nine of his  stations survive in recognisable condition, the great majority still in everyday use and all unmistakable. In terms of an architectural legacy, that’s hard to beat.



Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, History, London, London Underground, Notable Londoners, Transport

Old lines, new lines

As I mentioned in my last entry, I received a tip-off from a friend the other day that Aldwych Station was, for a limited time, going to be reopened. It would be highly remiss of me not to investigate, and so I did.

Aldwych, or Strand, as it was originally called, is perhaps the best known of the abandoned Underground stations. This is partly because of its location, partly because it was closed relatively recently (in 1994), but mostly because ever since its closure, it’s been preserved by London Underground.

Since then, it has been used for various purposes. Most commonly, it’s used for training. However, it’s best known as a film location, due to the fact that it’s one of only two fully intact abandoned Underground stations (the other being Charing Cross on the Jubilee Line), and therefore can be used for filming without disrupting services.

This time around, it was being used to host an exhibition about the current programme of engineering works on the Underground – the great project known in publicity as “Transforming the Tube.”

Londoners will probably know this programme better by its informal titles of “Planned Engineering Work,” or “The Reason I Had To Get A Sodding Bus.” I know I’ve moaned about it often enough, on one occasion running into no less than four different closures on the way to a meeting with a friend. However, the exhibition did a pretty good job of explaining what was going on. Apparently the problem is that they only have four hours a night to work on track repairs, therefore closures are necessary to ensure that a damn thing gets done.

The exhibition explained why upgrade work was needed – basically because the time was rapidly approaching when the system would simply be unable to cope with the demands placed on it. Some of the signalling in place dates back to the 1940s. There were some photos of signalbox interiors to prove it, and I have to say, they did have a certain retro charm. I wonder if they’d let me have the equipment when they’re done with it?

There’s also the inevitable London Olympics business. I have to say, the whole “We’re upgrading for the Olympics!” thing slightly annoys me. I mean, it’s great that we’re getting upgrades, but the fact that it took the Olympics to actually force TfL to pull their finger out makes me wonder if we’d be getting them if it weren’t for the need to impress the visitors. Still, better than nothing I suppose.

Then there’s the need to take care of changes that the original builders of the Underground never really anticipated. The need for step-free access to stations, for instance – in the 1920s, the disabled were pretty much expected to stay at home and not make a fuss about things. These days, we’re a little more enlightened (however, just try taking an electric wheelchair around the West End one day – it’s a bugger). In addition to more step-free stations, the new S Stock trains will have wheelchair access.

The question of air conditioning and why we can’t have it was briefly touched on. Long story short, we can have it on the Sub-Surface Railway (District, Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan Lines) and trains are on order. However, the Deep-Level Lines (all the rest) are so cramped that air conditioning equipment would actually create more heat than it would compensate for. The Victoria Line is having upgrades on its ventilation fans.

The rest was largely to do with improving track and signalling, installing CCTV, blahblahblah. Lots of stuff about commitments , improvements, reductions in bad things etc. All rather went over my head, if I’m honest.

I must admit that, like an awful lot of people there, I wasn’t all that interested in the exhibition (or at least, it wasn’t what had brought me there). I was more interested in having a look around Aldwych. I’d been through it once or twice while it was still open, but never since closure.

Fortunately, London Underground had anticipated this, and provided a number of displays about Aldwych itself. The staff, who were very friendly and helpful, were also showing people around. Sadly, we weren’t allowed beyond the booking hall, but there was interest to be found there. David Leboff, in his book The Underground Stations of Leslie Green, praises the office for being “amongst the most complete of any [Leslie] Green station.” It retains, as you can see in these photos (I hope) a lot of original features. Its closure in the 1990s, along with the fact that it was never a very important station anyway, probably saved it in this regard. Leboff also notes that the decor below street level is in very poor condition, but says of the frontage that it’s “the simplest of all Green designs.” I rather like it.

If you’re interested in this exhibition, it’s running until 9th July. Entry is free, it’s open until 7 every day and it doesn’t take long to get around. Ideal to look in on on your way back from work.

Further reading

https://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/underground-cinema/ – Earlier entry discussing the film career of Aldwych, including a photo at platform level.


Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Current events, Film and TV, London, London Underground, Photos, The City, Transport, West End


Good evening, my droogs. Feast your eyeballs on this:


TfL is opening up the ticket hall at Aldwych this week and next. I shall have to attend, I feel.

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Filed under Buildings and architecture, Current events, London, London Underground, Transport, West End

This train will not be stopping at…

A couple of entries ago, I got to talking about Tube stations that get used for filming. I briefly mentioned Vauxhall Cross, the abandoned station that appears in the mediocre James Bond movie Die Another Day. Which brings me to today’s topic. I call it “Tube stations that don’t actually exist that appear in films and on TV and that.”

Vauxhall Cross is one I’ve been asked about more than once, with one person being quite adamant that there genuinely was such a station. It appears, as I say, in Die Another Day as part of Q’s research facility. Bond is given the invisible Aston Martin Vanquish, seen by many fans as a bit far-fetched (actually, the technology used to make the car invisible genuinely was under serious consideration by the US military at the time). Not sure quite what they meant about it being far-fetched, it’s not as if the series was noted for its gritty realism.

The film did not make use of a real station, nor was there ever a Vauxhall Cross station. Although Aldwych was used for research purposes, the actual station was a very convincing mock-up. There is a station at Vauxhall Cross, and it’s called Vauxhall.

The station appearing in the movie is apparently on the Piccadilly Line, approximately where the abandoned Down Street is. Down Street is just off Hyde Park and, as I mentioned a couple of entries ago, was a government base during the Second World War. However, it’s nowhere near Vauxhall. The idea, according to the Underground History website, was that a fictional branch line was built from Green Park. This makes some sense – the Victoria Line hadn’t been built when the Piccadilly Line appeared, so there was no Underground interchange at Vauxhall until the 1960s. None of this explains why Bond reaches the station via Westminster Bridge, though.

Presumably in the James Bond universe the Victoria Line wasn’t built. Sorry, Brixton.

Probably the best known fictional Underground station in London is Walford East, seen left. This is the station that serves Albert Square in long-running BBC soap Eastenders. The station is a very convincing mock-up, and thanks to the wonders of CGI, can now even boast trains.

The station is on the District Line. In the Eastenders universe, Bromley-by-Bow doesn’t exist. Of course, if you’re going to be pedantic, you could point out that the distinctive red-tiled Leslie Green frontage wouldn’t be seen on a purely District Line station. This kind of architecture was only seen on the lines owned by Charles Yerkes’ Underground Electric Railways Company (roughly speaking, the Bakerloo Line, the Piccadilly Line and the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line). Fortunately, I’m not going to be pedantic, so you’ll just have to forget that last paragraph.

On the subject of the architecture, David Leboff notes that while this station doesn’t precisely match any real Leslie Green station, the designers are to be praised for both their imagination and authenticity in designing the Arts and Crafts-style frontage.

Yr. Humble Chronicler is not a regular viewer of Eastenders, but given the unrelenting horror that seems to be in constant progress throughout Walford, the sensible thing to do would be to abandon the station and shut the whole place off from the rest of the world. For the greater good.

Alistair McGowan once suggested that Walford East was not actually on the District Line, but was on its own “Eastenders Line.” This consisted of two stations – Walford East and Up West.

The last station on our quest is well known to fans of British sci-fi. It goes by two names – Hobb’s Lane and Hobb’s End. Hobb’s Lane was mentioned in the 1959 BBC science fiction serial Quatermass and the Pit, but never actually appeared. In this serial, construction workers uncover a Martian spaceship buried beneath the streets of Knightsbridge that begins to have strange and horrifying effects on the locals…

Presumably Hobb’s Lane was on the Piccadilly Line. For the movie version of the serial, made by the now-legendary Hammer Films, the Underground was more prominent. Indeed, the works that uncover the downed spaceship are in fact an extension of the Central Line into North Kensington.

Hobb’s Lane/End is often used in other works as a nod to the classic serials. The Tube station itself appears in the comics Caballistics Inc. and Scarlet Traces: The Great Game.

If you get the chance, the Quatermass serials are well worth catching. They were among the first science fiction shows on British television and are an obvious ancestor of Doctor Who – indeed, there’s even a popular fan theory that the two are set in the same universe, seemingly confirmed by a few minor lawyer-friendly references in Who.

So, just remember – this train will not be stopping at Walford East, Vauxhall Cross or Hobb’s End. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause to your journey.

Further Reading

http://underground-history.co.uk/vauxhallx.php – Underground History on Vauxhall Cross.

http://underground-history.co.uk/walford.php – Underground History on Walford East.


Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Film and TV, Geography, History, Kensington, Literature, London, London Underground, Occult, Psychogeography, Rambling on and on, Suburbia, Transport, West End

Underground cinema

The Underground is a great place to use in a film. It’s an icon of the city, much like the Houses of Parliament or Tower Bridge. It’s something that thousands use daily. It has that slightly spooky air about it. And it’s instantly recognisable. All you need is an Underground sign and people know where you are.

Filming on the Tube, though, is not so easy. It runs from early in the morning to late at night, and the rest of the time is needed for maintenance work. Although there are plenty of abandoned Underground stations, most of them are wholly unsuitable for filming – they’ve been allowed to grow derelict and they’re on lines that are still in use (i.e. even if you find one in good condition, filming will be interrupted every couple of minutes by a train).

If you want to film on a regular station, you just need to find a preserved railway. Alas, the only preserved sections of Underground are the Epping-Ongar branch (formerly the outermost extremity of the Central Line) and Quainton Road (one time part of the Metropolitan Railway). Neither of these are exactly what you think of when you think “London Underground.” What you really need is an abandoned station, in good condition, not on a running like. Oh, hey, Aldwych, didn’t see you there.

Aldwych, pictured left, was a perfect filming location even when it was still in use. It was built at the end of a stubby little branch off the Piccadilly Line, served by a shuttle service from Holborn. It was never hugely patronised, and one of the two platforms was disused by the First World War. During the Second, the whole branch was closed and used as a safe house for part of the British Museum’s collection. In 1994, the whole branch was shut down for good. The building, carrying the original “Strand” name, is still visible on the Strand.

However, it’s kept maintained and makes an excellent filming location – the fact that London Underground tend not to modernise stations unless it’s necessary (a policy Yr. Humble Chronicler applauds) means that it can be dressed up to represent more-or-less any time period from 1907 to the present day. As I say, even before it closed, the branch was little used enough that the station could be used by film crews. These days, London Underground can even provide you with a 1972 Northern Line train kept on the line especially.

It’s appeared in The Krays (as Bethnal Green), Death Line (as Russell Square), Superman IV (as the Metropolis Subway), Patriot Games, V for Vendetta, Atonement, Creep and The Bank Job, among others.

If that’s not quite to your tastes, say you need something more modern, you could always take a short stroll down to Charing Cross. While (obviously) the Bakerloo and Northern platforms are still very much in use, the Jubilee Line used to terminate here. When the Jubilee Line extension was completed in 1999, it took a jag south to Waterloo from Westminster. Charing Cross was left as the only abandoned station on the whole Jubilee Line and, of course, it had its own stretch of line. It’s not quite as popular as a filming location (perhaps because the rest of the station is very busy), but it was used in Creep (again) and 28 Weeks Later.

Failing that, of course, supposing you want something bang up to date, you might try the Waterloo and City Line. This line is closed on Sundays, giving you a whole day to play with. The trouble is that the Waterloo and City Line looks rather different from the rest of the Tube, due to the fact that it was built as an extension of the London and South Western Railway and only became part of London Underground in 1994. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop the crew of Sliding Doors from filming there or, in 1940, the crew of On the Beat.

This sort of thing is not for everyone. Some aren’t so fussy about where they film. Some don’t mind dereliction and passing trains. So it was for the crew of Neverwhere, the cult fantasy series set below London. They managed to get the use of the long-closed Down Street station for a banqueting scene. During the Second World War this station, abandoned even then, was used by Winston Churchill before the Cabinet War Rooms were completed. Apparently, due to the lifts being out of use, government officials were dropped off by passing trains from Green Park or Hyde Park Corner. Thus was it for Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman (the writer) talks about flagging down trains when filming was over. Unfortunately, Down Street is no longer allowed to be used for filming, and is strictly for emergency access only.

Kudos to An American Werewolf in London for actually filming at Tottenham Court Road, by the way.

So, what about Die Another Day? That was a pretty prominent appearance by an abandoned Tube station, right? Wrong. But that will have to wait for another time…

Further Reading

http://underground-history.co.uk/creep/ – An analysis of the locations used in Creep. The home page has a lot of interesting info about closed stations and bits of stations, as well as a photo of the train kept on the Aldwych branch.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYD44UMtNh8 – Footage of Aldwych shortly before closure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q4uMNTEgDs – Footage of a preserved Tube train on the Jubilee Line, including a shot of the Jubilee Line platforms.


Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Film and TV, History, London, London Underground, London's Termini, The City, Transport, Waterloo and Southwark, West End

Going Deeper Underground – More

streamtubeI have known about this thing for ages, and I have known about the never-finished Deep Lines for ages. Yet it was only this morning, bleary-eyed and flicking through a book on the Underground, that my addled brain made the connection. Right, you know how I said that express Tube lines were planned in the 1930s? Well, London Transport actually built special experimental trains to run on them. See that photo there? That’s one of them. A streamlined Tube train for express services.

They were built in 1935, and can, in many ways, be considered the first modern Tube train. They had their motors and control equipment mounted under the floor, providing desperately-needed extra capacity in the carriages themselves. You think the Tubes are crowded now? Imagine losing a third of the carriage to fit a honking great motor behind the driver. That was the situation in the 1930s.

Unfortunately, though the new trains were innovative, they had their problems. First of all, there were aesthetic objections from more conservative passengers, who didn’t see why the Underground should pander to modern design trends. There was also the aesthetic objection that, when two streamlined sets were coupled together, they looked rather less neat than flat-fronted stock. More importantly, though, drivers found their space and vision restricted in the new cabs.

What really did for them was the Second World War. Like any experimental machine, they spent a lot of time in the Works as the faults were ironed out. With all hands to the wheel for the War Effort, it was simply unacceptable to be devoting resources to trains that didn’t work very well. And so they were withdrawn from service. Three of the carriages were used for air raid shelters at Northfields and Cockfosters Depot (the units being primarily based on the Piccadilly Line) and the rest were scrapped.

None survive. However, it can’t be denied that they were a brave experiment. It’s hard to say whether they could have succeeded, given the chance. However, the innovations they pioneered – under-floor power units, forced air ventilation – are still in use on trains to this day, so while you couldn’t say they were a success, they were a long way from failure. Call them a draw.

Further reading

The next post – with more photos of the streamlined train and more on what they actually achieved.


Filed under 20th Century, History, London, London Underground, Transport

And here’s something about Heathrow.

I’ve been involved in a little project lately to try to find something interesting to say about every station on the Underground. Here’s a little extract concerning Heathrow. This blog has been getting a bit too egotistical of late.

Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3

The origin of the name “Heathrow” is pretty obvious – it refers to a row of houses built on Hounslow Heath. Before the airport came along, this area was actually rather rural. The Heath, historically, was known as a bit of a lawless place, not somewhere for the unwary to traverse alone. A remnant of the bad old days, if you’re supernaturally inclined, can apparently be seen in Terminal 1 – being built upon the old Heath, it’s supposedly haunted by the ghost of none other than Dick Turpin.

Yr. Humble Author is inclined to be a little more sceptical than usual about this one, as Turpin is supposed to haunt at least two other places. I mean, I know he’s supposed to have got about a bit in life, but you’d think death would be a chance to relax a bit.

Another notorious character seen here was James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. He was arrested here in 1968, suspicion apparently being initially raised by his dodgy Canadian passport.

Heath Row itself, if you’re curious, no longer exists. It’s buried under Terminal 3 somewhere.

Heathrow Terminal 4

Heathrow Terminal 4 is one of the only stations on the system to consist of a single platform.

The aim of Terminal 4 changed partway through planning. The original idea was that it would be intended for short, commuter flights, for which that site was ideal. Unfortunately, it was then decided that the function of the terminal would be that British Airways, the national airline (or “flag carrier,” to use the technical term) for the UK. The site, needless to say, was terrible for this purpose and the result was a rubbish terminal that was neither one thing nor t’other when it opened in 1986.

British Airways would have more problems to deal with in the coming years. It was privatised in 1987 and, for the first time, faced serious competition. It didn’t take too kindly to this, resulting in a serious legal slap on the wrists following a notorious dirty tricks campaign against Virgin Atlantic. The net result of this was that in 1993, BA was forced to pay out £500,000 in damages to Richard Branson. You would think that this might have taught them a lesson, but no. That same year, former police officer John Gorman took action against the airline when he found broken glass in the brandy and Coke he had ordered. Three months later he was arrested for conspiracy to defraud British Airways and was accused by the airline of being a “Virgin stooge”. No charge was made, and Gorman claimed he then received an anonymous telephone call saying, “We’ll get you next time, arsehole.” His car was later broken into, and mysteriously the thieves had only taken material relating to British Airways. Planespotters, perhaps?

Gorman finally won the right to sue BA over his shoddy and frankly bizarre treatment in 1998 – five years later.

Heathrow Terminal 5

Heathrow Airport is the busiest airport in the world, at least in terms of international passenger traffic. Current estimates put the number of annual users at 67 million. It’s come a long way from its starting point. An airfield has existed on the site since the First World War, and the current airport was begun as an RAF base during the Second with the intention of finishing off Japan. It was turned over to civilian use shortly after the War. The airport has been expanding ever since, and Terminal 5 is the most recent addition. After much delay, it finally opened in 2008. It is the largest free-standing structure in the United Kingdom.

There are, in fact, six terminals at Heathrow rather than the five you’d think of from looking at the Tube map. The sixth is exclusively for cargo and possibly the occasional stowaway.


Filed under 18th century, 20th Century, History, Hounslow, London, London Underground, Suburbia, Transport