diamond geezer

 Friday, December 09, 2016

Repurposing the North Woolwich line

Ten years ago today (sorry, it's a bit of retrospective week), one of East London's oldest railway lines closed down. On Saturday 9th December 2006 the very last purple and yellow Silverlink train passed through Stratford station, headed down to Canning Town, then wiggled through (and under) the Royal Docks to North Woolwich. The line wasn't especially well used, nor overly mourned, but that wasn't the reason they got rid. The North Woolwich spur was sacrificed so that three other projects could thrive, so I've been back to see how the transformation has been going. Spoiler - it's been going pretty well.

Stratford - the Overground
Ten years ago the Overground was a funded pipedream. The Mayor had launched the orange roundel back in September and declared his aim for an orbital railway around London, but it'd be a year before there were any Overground trains. The North London line was a key part of the plans, but with trains to terminate at Stratford rather than running all the way through to North Woolwich. This required two new high level platforms to the north of the station, a switch which occurred in 2009, a couple of years before Westfield opened alongside.

Ten years later the new Overground platforms are a bustling fiefdom, and testament to the good sense of introducing the orbital Overground franchise. It might once have seemed incredible that quite so many people would want to travel this way, but now it seems incredible that they didn't before, such is the transformation wrought. New rolling stock and a more frequent, reliable service are to thank, which goes to show what a bit of integrated forward planning can achieve. Grab your seat in the standing-room only carriages, and the delights of Willesden, Richmond or even Clapham Junction await.

But isn't the rest of the station congested? And one of the reasons for this is that the old railway line to North Woolwich has been transferred to a different use. All the other tracks through Stratford station run through roughly parallel, but the North London line runs perpendicular underneath, essentially dividing the station in two. Most of the upper platforms straddle both halves, making it important to go down the correct staircase, whereas the other platforms are only in one half or the other, which makes for a lot of going up and going down again. If only the old Low Level line had been filled in rather than given to the DLR, getting about the station could have been a heck of a lot easier. Was never going to happen, obviously.

Stratford to Canning Town - the DLR
Since 1999 this section of the North London line had doubled up alongside the Jubilee line, making it technically defunct. But it would have been a waste to have spare railway lines in East London and not use them, so they were reused, with plans drawn up before winning the Olympics made this essential. The DLR would throw out another branch from Canning Town up to Stratford, then curl round to a brand new station at Stratford International to connect with Eurostar. Along the way it'd fill in the gaps and stop at three new stations, serving insignificant bits of Newham previously skipped.

The Eurostar connection never happened, alas, so Stratford International remains woefully inappropriately named. But the new DLR branch opened in 2011, and five years later the section south of Stratford is actually quite busy. I've often wondered why. Anyone trying to get to West Ham or Canning Town could get there a lot quicker on the parallel Jubilee line, plus the trains are a lot more frequent than one every ten minutes. As for the three intermediate stops, Stratford High Street always feels woefully underused, while both Abbey Road and Star Lane serve grateful, but minor, local communities. There is no way that the green light would be given to these stations today, given the lack of new housebuilding alongside, but thankfully 2006 was a less mercenary time.

And so the DLR stops and starts where once the North London line held sway. Passengers now have the opportunity to travel direct to City Airport, rather than to a minor halt nearby, and can travel all the way to Woolwich rather terminating on the wrong side of the river. That's great. But the aftermath of the old line is still causing problems at Canning Town where trains arrive on a separate alignment, requiring inefficient interchange. Which platform's the next train to Woolwich leaving from, is it down here, or is it across and up and up again? A futuristic station modelled in the 1990s has been made less practical by changes in the 2000s, and passengers in the 2010s are paying the price.

Canning Town to North Woolwich - Crossrail
Above all, shutting the eastern end of the North London line was a clever move designed to allow a far more important railway through. The groundwork had been laid the year before by extending another finger of the DLR to City Airport and the south side of the Royal Docks, so that residents wouldn't be disconnected when the old railway closed. Its path would then be reused by Crossrail, saving an inordinate amount of money by avoiding tunnelling, and allowing the new Custom House station to be built above ground. A fresh tunnel would then be dug beneath the Thames to extend Crossrail to Woolwich, although the DLR would get there ten years earlier.

Back in 2006 it was thought Crossrail would be up and running by now, indeed at the time the intended completion date was 2013! Not a chance. We do now have a rock solid deadline, and a phased introductory schedule, with the first trains through the central section running TWO YEARS FROM TODAY. In the meantime construction workers continue to swarm around every future station, flyover and portal, and tens of thousands of jobs will disappear when construction is complete. A fair number of those will be along what used to be the line to North Woolwich.

The first bit of reused track runs either side of Custom House. Trains running east from Canary Wharf will emerge on the old railway alignment via the Victoria Dock Portal, currently a twin bore of activity, topped off by a utilitarian box covered in brightly coloured slats in shades of orange and mostly purple. A short distance away the new Custom House station is substantially complete, though no less busy, and connected to an unsuspecting neighbourhood via a new broad footbridge. It's probably no coincidence that all the shutters are down at the first five shops on Normandy Terrace, while across the road is an Ibis hotel that hints at an markedly less lowbrow alternative future.

Past Prince Regent station Crossrail is taking advantage of the old line's tunnel beneath the dock, but because it's Victorian there's been lots to do. Several workmen are wandering on and beside the tracks, on both sides of the Connaught Tunnel, plus there's yet another worksite beneath the bridge in the middle. Along with all the usual security notices on the hoardings I was amused to see one targeted at Dairy Crest deliveries (DO NOT leave milk unattended!!!!) and broadcasting a telephone number for the milkman to ring instead.

Beyond the other end of the tunnel Silvertown station has been swept from existence, and fresh rails now sweep up and under the one remaining footbridge. A small collection of shops survives, the sandwich bar I suspect kept in business only by Crossrail workers pausing for lunch, but it's sad to see the flats which replaced the local pub sitting with empty whitewashed spaces underneath, their retail potential vastly overrated. The long straight strip of railway which follows divides local housing from the enormous Tate and Lyle factory, previously fenced off with wire, but now sealed behind concrete walls six to ten feet high. Passengers travelling this way in two years time will no longer be able to see Silvertown, merely a barren security barrier and the sky.

Finally, a short distance from what used to be the North Woolwich terminus, another portal leads Crossrail back down below ground. Woolwich proper awaits, leaving a strip of former railway line which might one day be flats, if foundations allow. That fate has already befallen the sidings at the end of the line, courtesy of an undistinguished set of five-storey blocks called The Sidings Apartments, with 74 hutch-like spaces already under occupation. Where the modern station used to stand is an empty space, an abandoned lamppost and a sealed-off forecourt colonised by buddleia. And the old station building stands empty, as it has for many a year since the museum closed, silently decaying until somebody works out what to do with a mid-19th century listed shell.

Crossrail may have failed to rescue the far end of the North Woolwich line but, ten years on, the rest is very much reborn.

 Thursday, December 08, 2016

6000000: Sometime this evening, probably between six and eight o'clock, diamond geezer will receive its six millionth visitor. More accurately it'll be the six millionth time that a slightly ropey stats package has registered a unique visit, which isn't quite the same thing at all, but I think still very much worth celebrating. Six million visits is an impressive total - the equivalent of every adult in London reading my blog once. But viewed another way it's not much - on average one rush hour tube train of readers a day, which is barely 0.01% of the population of London. What I do know is that my audience is coming faster. The first million took just over five years, the last million's taken a year and a quarter.

0Sept 2002 
      1000000    April 2008    5½ years
2000000Jan 20112¾ years
3000000Oct 20121¾ years
4000000Apr 20141½ years
5000000Aug 20151⅓ years
6000000Dec 20161¼ years

These visitor numbers rack up essentially in three different ways.
• The bedrock of the figures is those of you who come back on a regular basis to read what I've written, maybe even every day, to whom I say enormous thanks. Some days you're rewarded with a post that hits your target, other days I'm droning on about something you care little about, but hopefully you find plenty of interest eventually.
• Then there are the folk who land here because a search engine, usually Google, has directed them here. I've published nearly seven thousand posts since 2002, many on obscure and under-featured locations, so there's a good chance a reference to my words will appear in the results. Most searchers never return again, but a few hang around, and a special hello if that's how you first arrived.
• And then there are people who turn up because someone somewhere has read something interesting or relevant on my blog, and then specifically broadcast my post in the hope that other people will read it. These visits come in spikes, some huge, most small, and often with no rhyme or reason as to why some posts inspire and others fall.
The first of these, statistically, is the most important, with well over half of visitors arriving here of their own volition. The second used to be important, and Google would often place my posts quite high in their rankings, which was nice. But over the last few years their algorithms have changed, or their interest has waned, and now my posts tend to appear a lot further down on pages most searchers never reach. Similarly it's a rare day now when a significant number of people arrive here from a link located somewhere else, and I choose not to bang the drum myself to try to encourage readers in.

Nevertheless, what I still like to do, every time one of these millionaire milestones rolls by, is to look back and analyse where this third category of vistors came from. In particular I like to draw up a league table of top linking blogs, ordered by volume of visitors clicking here from there. This used to be quite interesting, and important, back in the era when blogs thrived solely because other blogs linked to them. How times change. Blogs no longer have the traction they once enjoyed, and Favourite articles it via their own blog, because writing paragraphs is too much hassle. Instead they tap a few characters into some social media messageboard. The ability to drive traffic to blogs has wholly shifted, away from those who generate their own content towards those who merely digest the content of others.

So my regular linking league table again includes a range of websites broader than mere blogs, in particular three social media services that didn't exist when I started out, and which now dominate beyond expectation. My apologies if they've shoved your website down the top 20 since my last league table in summer last year. And thank you all for linking (assuming you still exist).

  1) girl with a one track mind
  2) Reddit (↑1)
  3) Twitter
  4) londonist
  5) Facebook (↑1)
  6) random acts of reality  
  7) arseblog
  8) london reconnections (↑1)
  9) scaryduck
10) london daily photo
11) blue witch
12) 853
13) ian visits (↑6)
14) casino avenue
15) tired of london
16) route 79
17) linkmachinego
18) dave hill
19) my boyfriend is a twat
20) affable lurking

Over the last million visitors, Reddit is again the star performer. Members of this geeky messageboard are always on the lookout for quirky jewels to share, not that they find them here too frequently, but a single mention does tend to send the Redditors flooding. Since last year they've actually overtaken Twitter, purely through size of audience, but are still some way off dislodging Girl With A One Track Mind from the summit. As for Facebook, I'm not a member so I have no idea what you lot are up to behind the password wall. But posting (or tweeting) a link takes almost no effort at all, and people are ever so willing to click through on blind faith, and hey presto that's another DG visitor notched up.

Meanwhile in blogworld, only a little has changed since the five million rankings. Londonist sometimes kindly mention me, and a small fraction of their million readers a month take an interest, which maintains their lofty position in my table. They reformatted their homepage and ditched their blogroll some years ago, whereas the über-transport site London Reconnections introduced one at the very bottom of their new template, an act of kindness which has helped them to climb one place higher. The only other climber, and a significant one, is long-standing London oracle Ian Visits. His regular Thursday transport news round-ups sometimes mention something I've written, cheers, and over the passing months that all adds up.

Only a handful of the other blogs in this Top 20 are still in regular production. Arseblog maintains the notion of publishing at least one (football-related) post every day, and owes its high position to heavy traffic in this direction pre-2009. Meanwhile Blue Witch still pours forth her thoughts against an appropriately coloured background, Darryl's 853 frequently has much to say about life down Charlton way, and Darren's LinkMachineGo has been microblogging the web's finest since the 20th century. But four previously mega-active blogs in the list have been completely deleted, while six of the others now appear to be on hiatus, or gave up posting some time back, and hence are inexorably slipping back. Increasingly my millionaire chart is a list of the dead, not the living.

There's not even much going on just outside the Top 20. Three personal blogs by people I suspect click through here once a day are on the ascent, that's Ganching (22), Chertsey (27) and Aslefshrugged (28), but the remainder are generally former blogs no longer updated nor even read. Multiple click-throughs were at their highest in the early days of blogging, when there wasn't so much else to read, and very few blogs that've come along since have ever had that level of traction. More surfing time is now spent on professionally-resourced online platforms, as the Huffingtons and Buzzfeeds of this world monetise what many of us used to write for fun. These days most people simply churn through a feed of links their friends have recommended, which in a way is how blogging started, but back then there was less commercially-driven clickbait and angry social comment.

Anyway, some of us carry on writing stuff because we want to, even if it's harder to be heard above the competing throng than ever before. And you lot keep reading, which is nice, even if you're increasingly hard to count. I've completely lost track of the significant number of you using RSS and various feedreaders, whose simplicity allows thousands to read this blog without ever visiting it. As far as you're concerned I'm no longer writing a continuous story, I'm generating atomised blogposts - which makes a complete mockery of attempting to count visitor numbers accurately anyway.

In reality I'm sure I passed the magic six million many months ago, but didn't realise it. Never mind the inexactitude. I don't mind where you come from, I'm just well chuffed that you bother. Hello and thanks to all of you. And here's to millions more...

 Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Anorak Corner [National Rail edition]

It's time once again for the annual splurge of passenger data from across Britain's railway network.

A word of caution before we start. The statisticians who put the report together have used a revised methodology this year, with particularly significant effects across the London area. Passengers using a Travelcard to travel by rail within London are now being counted more accurately, using a TfL model, rather than being averaged out according to out-of-date data. As a result some central London termini have lost a few million passengers, and certain stations outside zone 1 have similarly gained, especially on the orbital Overground. This doesn't mean that the old data was wrong, merely that the new data is better, but it does mean that year on year figures aren't necessarily directly comparable. Take any big changes with a pinch of scepticism.

London's ten busiest National Rail stations (2015/16) (with changes since 2014/15)
  1) -- Waterloo (99m)
-- Victoria (81m)
-- Liverpool Street (67m)
-- London Bridge (54m)
↑1 Euston (42m)
↑3 Stratford (41m)
-- Paddington (37m)
-- King's Cross (33m)
↑2 Clapham Junction (32.3m)
-- St Pancras (31.7m)

Most of London's Rail Top 10 is filled by the same old stations with the same old rankings. Waterloo is still easily top of the list, with Victoria and Liverpool Street sitting comfortably behind. But there are three changes, all of them upwards, and all at big stations also served by the Overground. Stratford is the big mover, with over 10m more passengers than last year, about a third of which is genuine growth and the remainder due to the change in methodology. That's an astonishing vote of confidence in a station which ten years ago had only 8m passengers and was in decline. Meanwhile Clapham Junction creeps into the Top 10, and Euston nudges up, both at the expense of an unexpected collapse at a well known rail terminus. Charing Cross used to be in fifth place, but now they're counting the numbers differently it's slipped to 11th, and is in danger of being overtaken by Highbury and Islington.

London's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't central London termini (2015/16)
  1) -- Stratford (41m)
-- Clapham Junction (32m)
↑2 Highbury & Islington (28m)
↓1 East Croydon (24.3m)
↑3 Canada Water (23.6m)
↓2 Vauxhall (21m)
↓1 Wimbledon (20m)
↑11 Whitechapel (19m)
↑1 Barking (13m)
↓1 Richmond (12m)

Once you strip out the central London termini a rather different picture appears, and it's substantially orange. More than half of this Top 10 features stations with an Overground service - not always the main flow, but boosting passenger numbers all the same. Whitechapel is the biggest climber, despite several weekend closures, as the new way of counting boosts its passenger numbers by 63%! And that's not the biggest percentage increase - Shepherd's Bush is up 69% (last year not even in the Top 40, this year 20th) and Canada Water up a whopping 71%.

London's ten busiest non-TfL stations outside zone 1 (2015/16)
  1) Clapham Junction (32m)
East Croydon (23m)
Wimbledon (20m)
Barking (13m)
Richmond (12m)
Lewisham (11m)
Balham (10m)
Surbiton (9.4m)
Putney (9m)
Bromley South (8m)

Here's a more traditional-looking list, focusing on suburban commuter traffic, with stations operated by the Overground and TfL Rail stripped out. Other than Barking, look, all the big-hitters are south of the river. For comparison purposes, North Greenwich tube sees over 26m passengers a year, so is busier than all but one of the stations listed above. But remember that these are only figures for entries and exits. Clapham Junction's total almost doubles if you include interchanges, and interchanges also account for a large proportion of the crowds using East Croydon and Lewisham.

London's ten least busy Overground stations (2015/16)
  1) Emerson Park (259,000)
South Hampstead (456,000)
Headstone Lane (473,000)
Stamford Hill (503,000)
Turkey Street (604,000)
Penge West (641,000)
Cambridge Heath (647,000)
Hatch End (707,000)
South Acton (722,000)
Crouch Hill (825,000)

Here's a list I don't think has been done before. Topping the 'Overground Bottom 10' is Emerson Park, the only halt on the runty Romford-Upminster service. That's no surprise, but it's also true that passenger numbers have increased significantly since TfL took over the line, up over 100,000 since last year. Headstone Lane, Hatch End and Turkey Street are the other contenders from outer London, but a lot of the other poor performers are much further in, just not particularly well used. South Hampstead is very close to Swiss Cottage, which has a better service, and likewise a lot of passengers near Cambridge Heath will prefer to use Bethnal Green. In total twenty Overground stations have annual passenger numbers below a million, whereas only two tube stations in London can claim the same.

London's ten least busy National Rail stations (2015/16)
  1) ↑3 Angel Road (28000)
↓1 Sudbury & Harrow Road (31000)
↓1 South Greenford (62000)
↓1 Sudbury Hill Harrow (71000)
↑1 Morden South (88000)
↓1 Birkbeck (117000)
↑3 Crews Hill (120000)
↑5 South Merton (140000)
↓1 Drayton Green (153000)
↓3 Belmont (159000)

Big news, London has a new least-used station. It's been Sudbury & Harrow Road for several years, but now Angel Road has taken the crown. Both have rush-hour-only weekday services, but changes in counting methodology have reduced Angel Road's total by 68% whilst boosting Sudbury & Harrow Road by a third. Crews Hill, in the meantime, has genuinely lost a third of its passengers without any tweaks to methodology at all, and South Merton (on the Sutton Loop) appears in the list for the first time. Expect Angel Road to leap in popularity in a few years time when the proposed STAR service to Stratford opens, and expect the stations on the Greenford line to plummet when Crossrail severs their direct trains to Paddington.

OK, enough of London.

The UK's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't in London (2015/16)
  1) -- Birmingham New Street (39m)
  2) -- Glasgow Central (30m)
  3) -- Leeds (29.7m)
  4) -- Manchester Piccadilly (26m)
  5) -- Edinburgh (22m)
  6) -- Gatwick Airport (18m)
  7) -- Brighton (17.3m)
  8) ↑1 Reading (16.8m)
  9) ↓1 Glasgow Queen Street (16.4m)
10) -- Liverpool Central (15.6m)

There's not much change here, in terms of ordering. Only two stations change places, presumably because Reading's a bit more attractive now it's had its upgrade. But numbers of passengers have increased at all the other stations in the Top 10, with Birmingham New Street enjoying a post-upgrade boost of over four million. New Street is also the only station outside London to make it into the national Top 10, slotting into the otherwise-all-London list at number seven, between Stratford and Paddington. And if you're intrigued by Liverpool's representation being a Merseyrail station rather than the expected biggie, rest assured that Lime Street is in fact 11th, less than half a million passengers behind.

The UK's ten least busy National Rail stations (2015/16)
  1) -- Shippea Hill (12)
↑2 Reddish South (38)
↑3 Pilning (46)
↓2 Coombe Junction (48)
-- Barry Links (68)
↑7 Denton (74)
↑8 Stanlow & Thornton (88)
↓5 Tees-Side Airport (98)
↑10 Chapelton (100)
↑4 Clifton (116)

Finally, here's the list everyone always finds the most intriguing. These are the stations that can't even muster 10 passengers a month, such is the inaccessibility of their location or the paucity of their service. Shippea Hill (near Ely) remains Britain's most ill-used station, despite having two (ill-timed) trains each day, whereas Reddish South, Denton and Pilning get only one a week. Any changes in position within the top 10 should be taken with an enormous pinch of salt due to the volatility of the statistics when passenger numbers are so low. But Tees-Side Airport trebling its usage cannot be ignored - perhaps visits by enthusiasts who love a challenge have made the difference. There are also three stations here that haven't been in this particular list before - Stanlow & Thornton is located inside an oil refinery with barely any public access, Chapelton is a minor request stop on the line to Barnstaple, and Clifton was closed for most of last year while works were undertaken on a nearby tunnel. Those living in south London may grimace at the service they receive, but at least they have trains.

» Rail passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)
» Previous updates: 14/15, 13/14, 12/13, 11/12, 10/11, 09/10, 08/09, 07/08, 06/07, 05/06

 Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Ten years ago today, TfL announced big news.
TfL Commissioner reveals plans to upgrade Circle, District, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan lines
The biggest single rolling-stock order in Britain was underway. It was no overnight solution.
Detailed plans to upgrade a third of the Tube network over the next decade and help tackle climate change were announced by the Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy today.
And now here we are a decade later. So how's the planned tube upgrade been going?

In terms of introducing new trains, pretty well.
The Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines will get new air-conditioned trains from late 2009, together with a new signalling system and renewed track.
The first we saw of these new trains was in September 2008 when a mock-up tube carriage was displayed outside Euston Square station for the public to inspect. At this stage it was expected that the first new train would enter service in early 2010, a date that later slipped to the end of July.
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said: "This upgrade will be felt by passengers every day, who will benefit from air-conditioning and extra space on the trains."
Air-con was the big selling point for passengers, who on certain days each summer endured sweaty rides that would now cease. But the big selling point for TfL was capacity, because longer trains with fewer seats meant more people could climb aboard, helping rush hour commuters to get around more easily.
"The upgrade of these lines is the next stage of Transport for London's investment in the renewal and improvement of London Underground."
Replacing all the 1960s trains on the Metropolitan line took two years, with the last 'A Stock' running in public service in September 2012. Attention then switched the other sub-surface lines, where the rush hour crush was much worse, with the Hammersmith & City line first to see longer trains.
Trains on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines will increase in size from six to seven carriages, an overall capacity increase of 17 per cent, as will those on the District line between Edgware Road and Wimbledon.
Six-car 'C Stock' was the target, with complete replacement on all three lines achieved in February 2014. Few mourned the disappearance of these clunking workhorses, and it's now much easier (and cooler) to take a ride.

Back in 2006 it seems the intention had been that only District line trains running to Edgware Road would be replaced. But that aspiration was swiftly extended to cover the whole line, even though the fleet of 'D Stock' units had only recently been refitted.

Since January 2015 these District line stalwarts have been removed from the network at a rate of roughly one a week, trailered off for reuse or scrap, with a scheduled removal deadline in late 2016. New 'S Stock' trains have dripfed into service to replace them, and a couple of weeks ago the last of the new sub-surface fleet of 192 trains was delivered.
"A common train fleet for all these lines will help us deliver a better service to passengers."
So, ten years on from the initial announcement of total rolling stock replacement, are we there yet?

Not quite, and the issue is signalling.

TfL's attempt to upgrade the signalling on the sub-surface lines hasn't been going well, in fact it's been a disaster. The first contract faltered, then collapsed, with expensive repercussions. The latest contract is going much better, but will cost much more and is running several years behind the original schedule.

As a consequence, all 192 S Stock trains are having to return to the factory to have a new in-cab signalling system installed. They're being taken off to Derby a few at a time, and coming back future-proofed, but while they're away TfL needs spare trains to make sure it's always possible to run a full service.

And that's why, even though all the old 'D Stock' units were supposed to have been removed by now, a few remain. I understand ten old trains are theoretically available, but no more than five are generally out in service, and often it's rather fewer than that.

Almost all the trains you'll see out on the District line are new ones, halogen lamps blazing, with higher capacity and fewer seats. But stand for long enough on a District line platform and an old train will eventually turn up. It just might take a while.

I tried catching one the other day, and failed. An old 'D Stock' pulled into Bow Road on the opposite platform, which I couldn't reach in time, and then I saw nothing but 'S Stock' for the ensuing hour. The following day a 'D Stock' pulled in at West Ham running west, but I was going east and had no time for a detour.

Expectations are that these few old trains will continue in service until February next year, when presumably they'll be withdrawn in a blaze of congratulatory publicity. In the meantime, if you'd like to take a final nostalgic ride on the District line you have a couple of months, and you'll need some luck.
LU Managing Director Tim O'Toole said: "The upgrade will provide more robust and reliable trains, with more integrated and flexible services on all of the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. The new trains will have air conditioning and deliver more reliable and comfortable journeys for passengers. Shorter journey times will be delivered through a combination of track improvements, a new signalling system and reduced boarding times at stations." (6th December 2006)
What's impressive here is that TfL announced a decade-long rolling stock replacement project ten years ago, and ten years later it's virtually complete. They're a heck of a lot further behind with the signalling, and the regenerative braking, and the improved service pattern, but it's good to know not every mammoth public transport project faces inevitable delays.

Previous dg coverage of the S Stock revolution:
Ken announces first air-conditioned train will arrive in 2009 [December 2006]
Public invited aboard a mocked-up carriage [September 2008]
Boris unveils aircon tube [June 2009]
First air-conditioned Metropolitan line train in public service [July 2010]
Metropolitan 'A Stock' celebrates its 50th anniversary [July 2011]
Last A Stock train runs on the Met [September 2012]
First new Hammersmith & City Stock train runs from Barking [December 2012]
Last C Stock train runs a commemorative tour [June 2014]
District, Circle and H&C now all fully airconned [some time in early 2017]

 Monday, December 05, 2016

Beyond London (15): Epping Forest (part 2)

Having dealt with Chigwell, Buckhurst Hill and Loughton, the next stop on my district safari was scheduled to be North Weald. Had it been 1993 I could have taken the tube all the way, but economic reality meant I could only take the Central line as far as Epping and then switch to a bus. Unravelling what buses go where in southeast Essex is somewhat of a minefield, with several commercial operators running diverse services, often irregularly, and no easy way to see the overall picture other than a single interactive map. That proved cumbersome to translate into reality, especially when only three of the 12 buses shown actually ran on a Saturday, so turning up and checking the timetable proved easiest. But I'd just missed one, and the next wasn't for half an hour, so I decided to walk because it was a nice day, and it was only 3 miles, and a stroll along roads through autumnal Epping Forest would be pretty. Sure, the bus overtook me somewhere near the Coopersale turning, but hey, we Londoners have it easy.

Somewhere historic: North Weald Airfield Museum
North Weald Airfield opened at the height of the First World War and is celebrating its centenary this year. Peak importance came during the Battle of Britain, with numerous bombing runs despatched, and a handful of reciprocal attacks by German fighters endured. Combat units continued to be based here until 1958, and the RAF stayed until 1964, before the council eventually bought it up and North Weald became a civilian airfield. It's still a busy one, as the low flying prop buffeting over my head and various other takeoffs during my visit attested. The airfield's wartime history is told in a small museum out front in the former RAF Station Office, behind a curved memorial currently hung with the tributes of remembrance, and focused around a memorial stone donated as a debt of honour by the people of Norway. It's open on weekend afternoons, and admission's only a couple of quid.

Unfortunately the NWAM closed on the last week of November for the winter break. It's OK, I knew this before I arrived, so I wasn't left disconsolate. But being a December tourist in the shires is rarely straightforward.

Thankfully I wasn't at North Weald for the museum, I was here for the market. This covers a large area at the south of the site, very close to the museum, but with direct access alas fenced off. Online directions assume you're arriving by car, because this is Essex, and driving requires entering the airfield from the opposite direction, up towards the junction with the M11. I couldn't see any signs directing pedestrians to a way in, nor did my map show any direct connection between the village and its airfield, so reluctantly I made a mile and a bit's diversion... along the lane up to the parish church and back down inside the security perimeter, alongside a stream of cars arriving and departing. It's busy, this one.

Somewhere retail: North Weald Market
Once described as the largest in the country, North Weald's open air market covers an area of hardstanding off the edge of the runway, and takes place once a week. Every Saturday the stallholders wheel in and set up shop, followed closely by the general public who park up in long lines between the market and the control tower. I think it's free - nobody asked me to cough up simply for wandering in. According to OpenStreetMap there are three long parallel rows of stalls, but on my visit only two, which might be because it's winter or might be because the market's size is no longer record-breaking. Having been to Dagenham Sunday Market the set up's very similar, only that took rather longer to walk round, and I suspect I saw several of the same stallholders too.

The goods on offer are cheap and cheerful, and targeting a very different clientèle to Buckhurst Hill. The clothes sometimes have designer labels, dangling from chains hung from the awning above, but are more likely to be mass-produced or utilitarian. Bedding may be labelled 'Hotel pillows' to enhance a sale, and the appearance of three golden retrievers on a bath towel is a carefully calculated move to appeal to the milling demographic. Handbags glitter, rows of inanimate heads model fluffy bobble hats, and every evil demon you might want to mimic on your next motorbike ride has been imprinted on a balaclava. I hesitate to say counterfeit, or knock-off, but I wasn't surprised by how many stalls appeared to be offering Kylie's latest make-up range at a bargain bucket price.

A large part of the market experience is food, peaking with the butchers' vans parked up and offering pork deals for £20, auction-style. Most visitors will succumb to a meal while they're here, with cheesy chips the ubiquitous choice, and the greasy smell of value burgers wafts across the aisles. Youngsters haven't been forgotten either, with one sweet stall unnervingly offering a bag of sherbet-filled "Flying Sources" for a quid. As for the drinks on offer, tea generally trumps coffee, and a Winterberry fruit smoothie retails at half of what a gullible Londoner would pay.

It being nearly Christmas a lot of folk are here buying gifts for the family. The largest crowd is watching The Toyz Boyz Mega Toy Sale, waiting expectantly as a pile of own-brand Scalextric is manhandled up onto the stage. Those in the back row already have boxes of non-Disney princesses and dinosaur slippers stashed in oversized plastic bags slung over the bar of their pushchairs, along with 2-packs of Calvin Classies boxer shorts for the older relatives, on what has already been a productive afternoon. Nearby a man with a pitbull in a knitted bodywarmer smiles as it leaps up onto a fellow shopper, because it's only being playful. And eventually the shoppers walk, or waddle, or mobility-scoot back to their vehicles, after what's been a fine day out, and back again soon?

My next destination was a church in the middle of nowhere seven miles distant, which in rural Essex could be quite a challenger. Thankfully by following some villagers walking home I found a direct way out of the airfield, via some easily overlooked alleyways in a housing estate. Thankfully the next bus back to Epping was just arriving, and the fare was only £2.20 which is small fry for the shires. Thankfully I was pre-planned with the number of my next bus, and it too arrived after only a couple of minutes. This time the fare was £3, with a completely different company, and the vehicle had definitely seen better days. But we rattled through the countryside past undulating ploughed fields of sunlit beauty, through occasional aspirational hamlets to a roundabout by a farm shop, where I got surprised looks as I alighted. The bus turned right to deposit its remaining passengers in Harlow, and I was left wondering if my upcoming long hike back to Broxbourne station had been a misjudgement. The combined journey cost me over a fiver, but I was well chuffed that Essex's public transport system had delivered me from isolation to distant obscurity in thirty minutes flat.

Somewhere random: Nazeing
If you'll forgive me, I visited this next village for me, not for you. Nazeing is in my roots, it's where my great grandparents moved to raise a family, and where my grandmother grew up and married. She moved away before I was born, but when I was little we used to go over occasionally to visit relations, and I haven't been back since.

Nazeing's big as villages go, reputedly one of the largest in the country, at least in terms of sprawl. Several hamlets are scattered across what was once a forested common, long since ploughed for agricultural land, and the parish fills most of the space between Harlow and Broxbourne. The area's most famous for its glasshouses, cucumbers a speciality, although market gardening is now on the decline and being replaced by residential infill. The crossroads in Lower Nazeing is also supposed to be the site of the UK's first self-service petrol station, the brainchild of local resident Alan Pond, on a site shortly to be reborn as six executive homes.

There are two churches in the parish, one of which is a modern thing with a "Bacon Butty service" on the first Sunday in the month, and I'm pleased to say my grandparents were married in the other. All Saints sits on the hilltop in the oldest part of Nazeing, with fine views down across the valleys of the Lea and Stort, and can only be accessed via a dead end lane or a muddy bridleway. The building's Norman, on an early Anglo-Saxon site, with walls of flint rubble and a timbered Tudor porch. I'd like to have gone inside to see the medieval font in which my grandmother was baptised (1901) and the site of those wedding vows (1925), but the door was firmly locked. Instead I wandered around the churchyard, failing to find the graves of any ancestors, then walked off down the lane to be overtaken by a current resident in a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.

My great grandparents moved down from Roydon and settled in the delightfully named hamlet of Bumbles Green, a good half hour's walk away on the other side of the golf course. A hundred or so houses lie clustered around a road junction by the telephone exchange, along with the local football club, a car repair business and one of Nazeing's better pubs. The King Harolds Head is particularly important to me, not because 1066's king ever popped in for an ale, but because it's where my grandmother did the cleaning. I'm told she broke off from her daily chores to chat out of the window to the dishy local postman, who she eventually ended up marrying, and that's why I'm here today.

According to the 1901 census the family home's at the turn of the century was at 48 Long Green. I sort of remembered where it was, and found the street sign, so was disappointed to discover that the modern numbering only goes up as far as 20. And when I got the end of the row of council houses it wasn't there, which didn't come as any particular surprise. What I remember of the cottage is how old it seemed, even when I was very young, as if the relatives still living in it existed in some agricultural weatherboarded two-room timewarp.

In its place is something very New Essex, a courtyard surrounded by low chalet dwellings, fronted by a massive brick wall and two ostentatious wooden gates accessed by PIN code. It probably lights up like Christmas after dark, whereas the original cottage barely boasted electricity, even in the 1970s. The scale of the domestic upgrade wasn't lost on me, nor the increase in living space, whereas a family with ten children had once crammed into something far smaller on the same site. I'm proud to be a product of Old Essex, before the Range Rovers came.

My great grandfather moved to Nazeing because it was within an hour's walking distance of the Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey where he worked as a Danger House Man. I faced a walk almost as long to reach the nearest station, thanks to the local bus service being cut from hourly to almost three-hourly last year. When I finally arrived, after what had somehow been a total of 15 miles of walking around Epping Forest, my trial was completed by a rail replacement bus, which didn't even stop at the town where I'd been hoping to end my day. I've had more successful trips out, but none so close to home.

So far: Dartford, Sevenoaks, Tandridge, Reigate & Banstead, Epsom & Ewell, Mole Valley, Elmbridge, Spelthorne, Slough, South Bucks, Three Rivers, Hertsmere, Welwyn Hatfield, Broxbourne, Epping Forest

 Sunday, December 04, 2016

Beyond London (15): Epping Forest (part 1)

I've finally reached Essex in my orbital tour around the capital, crossing the River Lea to reach the district of Epping Forest. Only a small part of its area is forest, the majority is sparsely populated farmland, and most of the population lives south of the M25 in the commuter towns at the tip of the Central Line. The only town of any substance in the eastern half of the district is Ongar, abandoned by the tube in 1994, and that big dent you can see in the northern border has been drawn to specifically exclude Harlow. There's plenty to see, indeed I've visited several times, but travelling around the sprawling hinterland can be rather more of a challenge.

Somewhere famous: The Golden Triangle
London collides with Essex along the southern edge of Epping Forest, and three towns in particular exemplify the area's flash brash reputation. One's Loughton, one's Buckhurst Hill and the other's Chigwell, and the zone bounded by the three has been dubbed 'the golden triangle' by columnists who saw its residents on TV and fancied giving it a label. This is TOWIE country, where groomed lads flash their cash and teeth, where bottle blondes totter into souped-up motors, and where obviously not quite everybody lives like that. I hopped on the tube to visit all three golden vertices.

Chigwell: Still perhaps best known for Birds of a Feather, this oversized village's reputation stretches back a lot longer than 1989. Charles Dickens was a huge fan.
"Chigwell, my dear fellow, is the greatest place in the world. Name your day for going. Such a delicious old inn opposite the churchyard, such a lovely ride, such beautiful forest scenery, such an out-of-the-way, rural place, such a sexton! I say again, name your day."
So taken was Dickens that he immortalised the 'delicious old inn' as the central location in Barnaby Rudge, fictionally renamed the Maypole but in reality The King's Head. It still has "more gable ends than a lazy man would care to count on a sunny day", but is no longer a pub, having fallen into the hands of one of Chigwell's current residents, the entrepreneur Lord Sugar. It's now a very upmarket restaurant called Sheesh, a name which is nothing if not memorable, serving Mediterranean cuisine to an opulent no-trainers clientèle. Access is via an electronic gate, beyond which staff will valet park your car, and the interior is replete with chandeliers, leather seats and gleaming floors. And yet from outside it retains half-timbered Dickensian frontage with leaded lozenge windows, and still looks like it could be a coaching inn serving pints of bitter, heaven forbid.

Across the road is St Mary's Church, final resting place of many a local resident, including the man responsible for kickstarting London's bus network. George Shillibeer built the first horse-drawn coaches capable of transporting a large group of people, called them Omnibuses and started a fare-paying service between Paddington and Bank in 1829. This earned him rather more money than life as a midshipman, eventually enabling him to buy Grove House in Chigwell Row, and that's why he's buried in St Mary's graveyard, on the main path just beyond the church porch.

The modern heart of Chigwell is the shopping parade near the station, a modest sequence of irregular brick flats with occasionally immodest retail outlets tucked underneath. The dry cleaners is the Chigwell Valet Service and the local caff is the Village Deli, while the showroom at the top end sells top end Volvos. Yes, there's a tanning salon and a health food shop, while the finest ladies' fashions are brought to you by Debra - now downsized into a smaller unit while her former store by the railway awaits rebirth as luxury flats. Elsewhere the avenues are widely infilled by new-money new-build, and security gate installers must do a roaring trade, but Chigwell's not entirely exclusive, nor indeed unfriendly, and six-car households remain the exception.
by tube: Chigwell  by bus: 167

Buckhurst Hill: On the other side of the River Roding, and with a little less glitzy oomph behind it, lies Buckhurst Hill. The original hamlet grew up along the ridgetop, on the main coaching route to Cambridge, but the arrival of the railway in 1856 dragged the residential centre downhill. Geographically it's less well defined than Chigwell, bleeding into Woodford to the south and Loughton to the north, its avenues smart if not so grand. But one of Buckhurst Hill's genuine advantages is a better run of shops, somehow meriting two Costa coffees, plus a whopping perfectly-targeted Waitrose at the foot of Queens Road.

This one-way street has been the setting for many a TOWIE insert, especially when the lead characters need to pretend to have a commercial interest. Swish lingerie fills the window at Pretty Things, a golden shimmer surrounds the window at Never Fully Dressed, while the bay frontage of Anita at Crème is awash with frilly bows. Fur boots are easily obtained, these being the seasonal footwear of choice for many a 4×4 passenger, and the lady in the flower shop stepped out wearing a particularly eye-turning pair. Meanwhile I suspect more ITV2 footage has been shot inside The Queen's Rooms wine bar than at the Green Owl cafe, and that several male characters have kitted themselves out at Zap, a slate grey corner shop that's allegedly "the leading men's designer boutique in the UK".
by tube: Buckhurst Hill  by bus: 167, 549

Loughton: This is the proper town of the trio, a coaching stop ten miles from the City, with a proper substantial High Street and everything. Much of Loughton covers land that used to be Epping Forest, before an Act of Parliament intervened, and the edge of this marvellous resource is still easily accessible up the top of the hill. The town apparently gained its middle-class character because the Great Eastern Railway didn't offer cheap workmen's fares, and this cachet was preserved when the London County Council decided to build a massive postwar overspill estate one stop up the Central line at Debden. It may not be quite as rich as Epping, but Loughton still has the edge when it comes to flaunting it.

I passed more than one shop selling silver gifts that might look nice in someone's house, including a bunch of silver cherries on a silver cushion on a silver stool. I dodged a lad doused in aftershave with a silver gift bag dangling from his arm, sidestepped a small dog in a silver jacket, and noted a Big Issue seller pleading seemingly in vain for silver. I was too early to step beneath the silver portal at the Nu Bar, and too poorly dressed to have a hope of entering the (ah, jet black) LuXe nightclub. Loughton's by no means all glitz - there's a Wimpy for a start, and Centric Parade is a pig-ugly collection of high street staples. But it's easy to see why people enjoy living here, unswallowed by the capital, in a provincial suburb with class.

While we're here, a couple of buildings of interest. Lopping Hall is the town's community hub, a gothic turrety thing visible above other rooftops, with a large hall and shared space for activities within. The City of London paid to build the facility in return for residents losing their 'lopping rights' in the forest, and it's sited on the original terminus of the railway before this was extended to Epping. Some of the exterior decor is gorgeous, including the terracotta round the entrance, and some proper fifties font work above what's now the main entrance. Meanwhile, up at the library on Traps Hill, an unlikely musical presence is tucked away on the first floor. This is the National Jazz Archive, a charitable repository of all things impro, founded by trumpeter Digby Fairweather in 1988. The collection contains books, journals, photos and memorabilia, but not actual music because the archive's about everything else. If jazz is your thing you can visit the reading room every weekday except Thursday, or hit the website to read interviews and search the catalogue online. Nice.
by tube: Loughton  by bus: 20, 167, 397, 549

Places in Epping Forest I might have visited if I hadn't been before:
Somewhere famous: Epping Forest
Somewhere historic: Waltham Abbey, Royal Gunpowder Mills, Copped Hall, Greensted Church, Epping Forest Museum
Somewhere pretty: Gunpowder Park, Theydon Bois, London Loop sections 19 and 20, Epping and Ongar Railway, Ongar
Somewhere sporting: -
Somewhere retail: -
Somewhere random: Roding Valley station, Blake Hall station, Stapleford Abbotts, Hainault Loop, Greenwich Meridian

 Saturday, December 03, 2016

How booked is it?

Here are 30 things you might want to do today. But can you go, or are they fully booked? I checked online yesterday evening, to save you the effort of looking. And it turns out some are hot tickets, some rather less so.

» The View from the Shard (£25.95): Sold out from 3pm-4pm, only 4 tickets remaining at 4pm, otherwise full availability from 10am-9pm
» Skygarden (free): No slots today (or on any other weekend date within the three week booking window)

» Winter Wonderland - Ice-skating (£14.50): Limited availability in all slots, 10am-9pm
» Winter Wonderland - The Nutcracker on Ice (£18.95): Seats available for noon and 8.30pm (but the four performances inbetween are sold out)
» Winter Wonderland - The Magical Ice Kingdom (£10): No availability 10am-9pm, limited availability 9pm, full availability at 9.15pm and 9.30pm

» Madame Tussauds (£32): Availability from 10am-1.45pm, and then from 3.15pm-5pm (the latter for £29)
» London Eye (£22.45): Apart from 11am and 11.15am, full availability from 10am-8.30pm (costs £21.20 after 5.30pm)

» Warner Brother Studio Tour - The Making of Harry Potter (£35): Sold out for the rest of December (apart from a 2pm tour next Tuesday, and a 10am and 2.30pm tour on Wednesday)

» Wembley Stadium tour (£20): All six tours have availability (but only 3 tickets out of 40 remain for the last tour at 3pm)

» London Stadium tours (£17): There are no tours on match days (but good availability in all timeslots tomorrow)
» West Ham v Arsenal at London Stadium (£?): Limited tickets available, but only to club members and supporters with a booking history
» Arcellor Mittal Orbit Slide (£15): Tickets available for 12.45pm, then almost all slots from 2.30pm-5pm
» Arcellor Mittal Orbit (£10): Full access all day, 10am-5pm

» Dangleway return ticket (pre-booked, £7): Full availability from 8am-8pm (the requirement to pre-book in 15 minute slots has been removed)
» Up at the O2 (£35) Ascents available in every slot from 10am-6.15pm, except for 10am, 12noon and 2.30pm-4pm

» British Library - Maps and the 20th Century : Drawing the Line (£12): "Plenty of tickets"
» Design Museum - Fear and Love (£14): Full availability
» Design Museum - Designs of the Year (£10): Full availability

» Houses of Parliament guided tours (£25.50): Tours run every 20 minutes from 9am-4.15pm, but only the penultimate tour has any availability

» Skate at Somerset House (£16.15): Fully booked from 10am-8pm
» Ice skating at Canary Wharf (£16.95): Full availability from 9.30am-11pm, apart from limited availability 4.45pm-6pm

» Harrods Christmas Grotto (£10): Sold out back in September, all the way up until Christmas
» Breakfast with Santa at Selfridges (£35): Sold out

» Some pop-up alcoholic snowstorm thing in Shoreditch (£8-£85): Completely sold out, 6.30pm-midnight
» Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium (£6.50): Fully booked noon-8pm, apart from one ticket for the 6pm-7.30pm slot

Evening performances:
» The Lion King (£62.20-£152.20): Only single seats available
» Wicked (£50.25-£125): Groups of up to 6 seats available
» No Man's Land (£150): Only 4 tickets available
» The Mousetrap (£28.50-£67.50): Still approximately 50 seats available in the stalls

» A nice walk somewhere (£0): Full availability

 Friday, December 02, 2016

Lost river, anyone?

The Effra is south London's most famous lost river, and once flowed from the heights of Upper Norwood to the Thames, via West Dulwich and Brixton. Its waters were culverted in Victorian times, permitting the suburbanisation of the valley, and only a few clues to its existence remain. Contours are a dead giveaway in the upper course, especially above West Norwood, and the occasional stink pipe stands as a reminder of what still lurks underground. Now Lambeth, the borough through which the majority of the Effra flowed, is seeking to mark the course of the river with intermittent pavement plaques. And what's more, they're gorgeous.

A local illustrator was asked to represent the flow of water within a circular roundel, and fourteen different designs were selected, digitised and retouched. The writing around the edge was set in Albertus, a much-loved glyphic typeface designed by former Stockwell resident Berthold Wolpe. The plaques were then forged in cast iron, the hope being that they would gradually age, and the first six were installed in a new public square outside Brixton Police Station in July. There are rather more of them today.

As far as I know there isn't a public list of where the Effra plaques have been laid, only an aspirational map as part of the Brixton Public Realm Design Study (based on the definitive map in The Brixton Society's essential publication, Lambeth's Underground River). So I decided to walk from source to mouth - it's only six miles - and to keep my eyes open, especially in the vicinity of locations which the map suggested were potential "points of celebration". I had mixed success.

The first location to explore was at the top of Upper Norwood Recreation Ground, a rolling wedge of green below Crystal Palace. Nothing. I shouldn't really have been surprised, because the upper mile of the Effra flowed through what's now the London borough of Croydon, not Lambeth. But I had more luck on the other side of Norwood Park, on Gipsy Road, where the road dips blatantly across the valley. A tall green stink pipe marks the lowest point, and immediately alongside in the pavement was one of the new plaques - small but unmistakeable, and orangey brown in patina.

Next stop West Norwood Cemetery, or more precisely Robson Road which runs along the northern perimeter. About halfway along, not far from the bus stop, I spotted another Effra plaque in the pavement. It was a little browner than the last one, indeed the writing was already quite hard to read, suggesting that these plaques are weathering a little faster than their creators intended. But as a former scholar of all things Lost River I was impressed by the positioning, beneath the wall at what I believe is the precise point where the Effra would once have flowed north out of what is now the cemetery. It's all too easy to get geographical exactitude wrong, but Lambeth council appears to have got it right.

And then my luck left me. I knew there was another plaque somewhere in West Dulwich because I'd been alerted to its existence by a tweet by local artist Priscilla Watkins. But hell no, I couldn't find it. It's difficult following an invisible river which once ran diagonally beneath a grid of streets, particularly when the plaque could be on either side of the road, maybe behind a parked car, and quite possibly covered with leaves. Lambeth's aspirational map suggested one plaque along Thurlow Park Road and another halfway up Croxted Road, along whose pastoral verge the Effra once flowed. Nothing. And when I'd walked in vain all round the centre of Herne Hill, where the river still sometimes emerges and drowns the shops, I wondered if my quest for plaques had peaked.

Not so. Another green stinkpipe rises opposite Brockwell Lido, adjacent to the Meath Estate, and a telltale replaced paving slab lies beneath. What's more I found another just up the road - a stinkpipe and a plaque - at the end of Chaucer Road. This one's by the kerb, appropriately overlooking a drain cover, alas with a six-letter word scrawled into the concrete surround before it set. Then barely 50 metres away another, this time at the junction of Brixton Water Lane and Effra Parade, then almost immediately another at the foot of Barnwell Road. I was now getting a very different view of the project, as if Lambeth were planning to install dozens of plaques along the river's length, rather than just a paltry few.

Because I know my Effra, I zigzagged through the subsequent streets and found another plaque at the corner of Mervan Road and Rattray Road, immediately alongside the rare Penfold pillarbox. The concrete around this one looked like it was almost fresh, and some had unfortunately spilled over the rim of the plaque making the lettering almost illegible. The central design was the same as that back at Effra Parade - the swirly 'fingerprint' pictured at the top of the post - but whereas that looked sharp and golden, this one looked dull and rather more mundane. Perhaps it'll take a while before all the plaques have weathered sufficiently to look distinguished, and we're some way off that yet.

I found nothing else through Brixton, even though the Effra once flowed through its heart, until I reached the new public realm at Canterbury Square. The original plans were for a large cast iron disc "to reflect the manholes and sewers used in Victorian times to culvert rivers", and raised from the ground "becoming a focal point that people can lean or sit on and of course children can play on". That ambition has summarily failed to come to fruition, and instead six small plaques have been laid across the somewhat austere piazza - running in a direction the original river might have followed. It's all somewhat understated, but Canterbury Square is currently the best place to see half a dozen different plaque designs in one go.

The Effra then flowed north, along the eastern side of Brixton Road, so I walked that. This time I found no plaques, but I did find a succession of numbered shapes spray-painted on the pavement, a couple of metres up sidestreets in precisely the locations I'd have expected plaques to appear. The numbers intrigued me. Between St John's Crescent and Cranmer Road I found a 33, 31, 30 and 29 - evidently missing a 32 somewhere, and suggesting there were still another 28 to go. I found none of those - neither a plaque nor a number - as I rounded The Oval cricket ground and finished my walk on the embankment at Vauxhall. I doubt that Lambeth will be able to embed any plaques on the private waterfront at St George's Wharf, but maybe they have big plans for a lot more inbetween.

It seems we're still at the installation phase of this project to commemorate the Effra, and maybe eventually there'll be as many a hundred plaques to find along the route. If that's so then this is an even greater project than it currently appears, combining craftsmanship and art to reconnect the population of Lambeth to their subterranean history. Imagine something similar for the Fleet, Tyburn or Westbourne, if only Westminster had the kind of council that ever did things like this.

If you're interested in taking a look for yourself then Herne Hill to Brixton seems (currently) to be the best bit. There isn't yet an official map, so I've updated my approximate Google map of the Effra with red stars to show where I found plaques, and if you know of any more please let us know.

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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards