diamond geezer

 Monday, January 07, 2013

Underground 150 Portland Road → Gower Street

That's Great Portland Street to Euston Square by modern reckoning. This is the fourth of six inter-station walks along the original Metropolitan Railway. Sorry, it's by far the least interesting, but at least it's mercifully short. [map] [old map] [10 photos]

Great Portland Street station lies at the point where the Marylebone Road morphs into the Euston Road, and where Westminster turns into Camden. It's also where the road changes from green and regal to grey and urban, so don't expect much in the way of loveliness. Along the southern side of the road are a series of shops and businesses which would be more at home in a semi-suburban street, certainly more ordinary than anything we've seen thus far. Key shops, small restaurants and office supplies, nowhere you'd be rushing any long distance to visit.

On the opposite side of the road, things are very different. British Land have been busy creating Regent's Place over the past few years, and they've nearly finished. This is yet another village of highrise office buildings in steel and glass, much like Paddington Central and Paddington Basin earlier in the walk, and no lovelier. Tens of thousands work here, including everyone at Santander HQ, piled up beside a central boulevard dotted with public art. On one wall is an electronic Julian Opie figure, forever walking slowly to the left (except at weekends, when it appears she's switched off to save money). And straight ahead is the Euston Tower, which has been here since 1970 but fits easily into its new environment.

The Euston Road has widened now, to make way for a major underpass and two sliproads. This thunders through parallel to the Circle line, which flows along the southern side of the chasm not far below street level. It looks deep, but the Northern and Victoria lines run deeper, and pause on the corner of Tottenham Court Road at Warren Street station. So many underground lines don't join up because they were originally dug by competing companies, and as a result few visitors to London realise that rising to street level might be the quickest interchange.

The Euston Underpass continues beyond, rising slowly, the entire road wider still. An air vent pops up alongside, too modern to be from the Circle line, and so awkwardly positioned that a cycle lane has to swing around it. Alongside, across an entire city block, is University College Hospital. This rebuild dates back to 2005, and includes a tall tower plus a lower block in clean white and medicinal green. In its previous incarnation A&E was a Victorian warren, but the new model is all crisp corridors and swinging doors.

Gower Street station: Euston Square might be better named were it still called Gower Street, because the top of that road is where it is. It's not alongside Euston Square, which is the large expanse of grass 'gardens' outside Euston station. Again the Metropolitan chose not to serve the mainline terminus directly, and so we users of the Hammersmith & City get to take a long walk to catch our trains north. Only when, or if, High Speed 2 is ever completed will a subway be dug to link the two direct.

Euston Square has no surface structures today, the closest being a new entrance in the corner of the Wellcome Trust building. But there used to be ticket offices on either side of the road, first when the world's first underground railway was opened, and again in the 1930s courtesy of Charles Clark. Neither was very large, but there was always room for a tobacconists (for gentlemen who couldn't travel by rail without a pack from Finlay & Co). Road widening put paid to those, at the point where the underpass finally ascends to street level, and now there's just a roundel sticking up on the north side and some steps down.

Below the surface, however hard I try, I can't find Euston Square endearing. The best part is probably the stairwells leading down from the ticket barriers to the platforms, where there's original decorative 1920s tiling. But the platforms themselves are unexpectedly spartan, at least in comparison to Baker Street and Great Portland Street up the line. No broad brick vault here, no vintage walls, just a long low space with iron girders overhead and plain white tiled walls. It's nothing terrible, and as good a place to wait as any, but it's surprisingly hard to conjure up the spirit of 1863.

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