diamond geezer

 Sunday, June 30, 2013

METROPOLITAN - June 2013
» Metro-land Amersham
» Up the line: Aldgate → Chesham
» The Chess Valley Walk: Chesham → Rickmansworth
» Independents Day: Northwood Hills
» Headstone Manor: North Harrow
» Top five tube flowerbeds: Northwood → Preston Road
» Cloth Fair: Barbican
» Ruislip Lido Railway: Woody Bay → Willow Lawn
» Harrow Garden Village: Rayners Lane
» Metropolitan quiz: Aylesbury → Wimbledon
» St John's Wood Railway: Baker Street → Swiss Cottage
» Brent Civic Centre: Wembley Park
» Croxley Revels: Croxley
» Croxley Rail Link: Ascot Road → Watford Hospital
» III Manors: Ruislip → Hillingdon
» All of the above on one page

...and a few posts I wrote years ago, so didn't write again this time
» Metro-land revisited: Baker Street → Verney Junction
» A Stock: 50th anniversary, Last run
» S Stock: First run
» Amersham Heritage Day, Chesham Shuttle
» Watford station, The Croxley Curve

They call it Pride these days. They used to call it Gay Pride, then remembered lesbians were equally important, then upgraded to LGBT, then added so many more classifications that even an acronym couldn't suffice. The parade kicks off at one. Some years the Mayor of London turns up, but this year he was giving a talk at a Daily-Mail-sponsored history festival in Wiltshire instead so didn't come. Instead some lesser Mayors turned up, of smaller places like Camden, with ceremonial chains glinting and broad smiles. Behind came a stream of humanity, overtaking the West End's prime shopping streets for the afternoon, diverting shoppers behind barriers and buses elsewhere. Tens of thousands, surely, from London and the Home Counties and further afield. They marched, they waved, they cheered, and together they made a powerful collective statement.

The theme of this year's event was Love and Marriage, the latter being one of the few equality bastions not yet to have fallen. This was an excuse for several participants to dress up in bridal wear, many the sort who don't need much of an excuse to dress up, often with tottering heels or grand wigs. But the great majority of those passing by looked nothing of the sort. Three sets of service personnel drew a big cheer for marching in uniform, the crowds recognising how unthinkable this would once have been. Many had dressed to represent their place of work, be that the law courts or Asda, or any of the uniformed 999 services. Others were here in sporting groups, because they kick or throw or surf, others clustered by religion or belief. Indeed it seemed that the majority of parade participants had reclassified themselves by sub-minority, as if to say their sexual orientation was only part of them.



On Oxford Street a small child pushed to the front of the barrier to watch intently as the parade went by. Her parents followed, and there they stood as perhaps two dozen leathermen walked by leading muzzled two-legged dogs. The family group remained, intrigued to see the sights, and welcoming of any freebie that might be thrown their way. The little one seemed particularly keen to collect the stickers which passing special interest groups were holding out, be that "Scout Pride", "Never Kissed A Tory" or the wholly inappropriate "It all starts with a prick". Meanwhile round the corner in Regent Street, a group of Christian fundamentalists stood firm against the relentless incursion of filth. One sermonised his displeasure, while the rest stood mute with words of scripture emblazoned across their banners and aprons. Yes, aprons.

The parade continued to Trafalgar Square before slowing and dispersing. Some headed into the square itself where on the stage beneath Nelson a wannabe pop star sang some ghastly song about celebration, almost perfectly off-key, as if attempting to commit career suicide. Others headed off for a beer or three, enjoying the pedestrianised streets and casting a rainbow across the West End. And some simply melted away, back to whichever corner of reality they spend the other 364 days of the year. Today the sweepers have passed and the roads are back to normal but, rest assured, the Adventure Dykes, the LGBT Sikhs and the Pink Singers live amongst you.

 Saturday, June 29, 2013

METROPOLITAN: III Manors

Before suburbia encroached, most of northwest Middlesex was a land of fields and villages. Scattered across this land were several manor houses, one of which was Headstone Manor (in North Harrow, which I blogged about earlier this month). On the Uxbridge branch there are three more, close to three consecutive stations. Strangely, the first of those isn't Ruislip Manor. Let's all go on an urban safari.


Ruislip (Manor)
At the top of Ruislip High Street, that's the opposite end to the station, is a nucleus of proper picturesque old stuff. This was the medieval core of the original village, complete with St Martin's Church (plus lych-gates), a 17th century pub (now a Cafe Rouge) and plenty of other attractive buildings (if you can ignore the mini-roundabout). Cross the road to the north and you enter Manor Farm, which by rights ought to have been wiped out by house-building in the 1930s, but its heart was saved by Middlesex County Council. One of the buildings rescued was 16th century Manor Farm House, which remains open (at selected times) as a local museum [photo]. There are only two rooms to view, but the displays are very good and bring the history of this patch of land firmly to life. One very rare survivor is a fragment of 300 year-old wallpaper in the entrance hall, complete with elephant, snake and other supposed jungle activity. One of the lawns outside is all that's left of Ruislip Castle (I bet you never knew it had one), with the outer wall of this motte and bailey still pretty much discernible. The most impressive building here is the Great Barn, the oldest timber barn in London and second in size only to the tithe barn in Harmondsworth. Time your visit for the first Sunday in the month and a Farmers Market should be underway inside, one of the best I've seen, with a range of proper diverse and tempting produce. There's pies, quiche, handicrafts and jam, and sausages in a roll for less than three quid, plus pony rides and a bouncy castle for the littluns. Come any time other than the first Sunday in the month and the queue at the cafe in the Cow Byre might be reasonable. Ruislip's library is located here - this opened in the Little Barn in 1937 - while hidden round the back of the site shielded by trees is the Winston Churchill Hall, a rather more modern theatre. I visited on a rare sunny day, and loved the carpet of buttercups across the edge of Pinn Meadows leading down to a trickle of river [photo]. It's thumbs-up for Ruislip.
Ruislip station: When the Uxbridge extension opened in 1904, this was the only intermediate stop on the line. It still looks like an Edwardian branch line station, with lattice footbridge, white wooden canopy and pitched-roof ticket hall. Waiting here is no visual hardship. [photo]

Ickenham (Manor)
It's not the old building by the station, beside the Compass Theatre. That's Ickenham Hall, which is a completely different beast and is merely 18th century. The manor is four centuries older, and has been owned since time immemorial by the Shorediche family. They still live in the L-shaped manor, having bought the higgledy building back from other tenants in 1961. You'll only get inside for Open House these days, but I did at least want to admire the exterior so grabbed my Ordnance Survey map to track the place down. The Manor lurks in meadowland just beyond the border of Ickenham's suburbia, where I hoped there'd be sight between the houses, but I hoped wrong. A footpath led off from Burnham Avenue which promptly entered a very damp field shared by horses. Again, no view, just a struggle to find the far exit up the side of the railway bridge. I emerged onto a back lane, most suspiciously, where a passing shaven-headed dad stopped his car and peered at me like I was molestation personified. I had been planning to walk down to the Manor, but that way too lies Ickenham Youth FC so I thought better of it. Mission fail.
Ickenham station: Not every station in Metroland is lovely. The open platforms look like they might be, until you turn to see the 1970s station building perched on the road above. This timber-banded white cuboid resembles a youth club HQ, and a minor one at that, entirely untouched by the hand of Holden.
Much more interesting, and unexpected, and accessible, is Pynchester Moat on the northern outskirts of Ickenham. This is a defensive Tudor structure, square in shape, located in a bend on the River Pinn. You turn up a path in the heart of a housing estate and there it is, harder to spot in summer than winter, a low earthwork overtaken by trees [photo]. The only hint this isn't natural are the regular right-angled corners to the water channel, and of course the strategically-placed information board revealing all. It's amazing the banks haven't eroded away by now, but the path has been re-engineered to keep all but the most curious away. I walked around the perimeter twice, without human interruption, before stepping carefully across the tiny causeway to the central island. The ideal place to smoke fags and drink cheap lager, I suspect... the double life of a suburban scheduled ancient monument.

Hillingdon (Manor)
The manor in Hillingdon has a special name, and that's Swakeleys. The station's even named Hillingdon (Swakeleys) on its platform roundels, such is the historical draw of this old house. Again it's entirely surrounded by housing estate, but on this occasion it's held its own with a buffer of perfectly-mown lawn. Swakeleys is a Jacobean mansion, one of the finest in the country, not that you'd know from the minimal amount of publicity it gets. The house was built in the 1630s, in ostentatious show-off brick, with an upper ring of Dutch gables surrounding various clustered chimneys. Public access used to be available semi-regularly but that's been chopped to "Open House only" because the owners would rather hire out the space as offices than welcome commoners in. If you want to look inside I can recommend this excellent virtual tour, one of the best I've ever used, which allows you to spy on the Great Hall and the lofty painted staircase. Admiring the front of the house is possible without resorting to the virtual if you head for Swakeleys Park. Enter via The Avenue and take the minor path round the back of the ornamental lake past the bowling green. Suddenly the vista opens out and there's the mansion on the far side [photo], across a lawn that once hosted the All England Croquet Championships. I doubt they appreciate onlookers when the office staff are in, or when a film company's round... but one of the finest houses in Middlesex, I think yes.
Hillingdon station: The original station was demolished in the 1990s when the A40 was rerouted in deep cutting. The new station perches on top in an all-white steel framed structure, a bit like a garden centre greenhouse. The design won Underground Station Of The Year in 1992, but the years have not been kind and the paint on the metalwork is peeling unappealingly. Relocation also shifted the station further away from the main road, accessed only via a long curving metal footbridge. I quite liked the footbridge, if nothing else. [photo] [photo]

 Friday, June 28, 2013

ST BORIS'S ACADEMY
Annual Report

Name: Emmy-Rae Cable Carr
Class: 1Y
Date: 28th June 2012 - 28th June 2013

DESIGN
TECHNOLOGY
 B A most impressive year. You have spanned the Thames with elegance and panache, at a much higher level that all your bridge and tunnel classmates. You rose up fast, and have continued to hold your own on the skyline. However you have a tendency to stop working during inclement weather, and this irregular performance is holding you back.
ENGLISH A You have written some lovely stories over the last year. Possibly your finest work of fiction was that you will "bridge people closer, enabling them to discover, connect and express their ideas about this diverse city through crossing its majestic river, providing an incredible travel experience for residents, commuters and visitors alike". I was also particularly proud of the idea that you were "transforming the surrounding area into a vibrant new metropolitan quarter", and that you offer "jaw-dropping views" of London's skyline. Keep this up, Emmy-Rae, and a career in marketing awaits.
MATHS D Numbers have not been your strong point. You started out well at the beginning of the year, showing promise in addition and multiplication. However progress was less positive after Summer Sports Day, with much more of an emphasis on subtraction. Recent test results have been disappointing, with scores in June noticeably lower than in November. Must try harder.
MODERN
FOREIGN
LANGUAGES
 A- Well done Emmy-Rae. You have embraced your role as cultural ambassador, and we often hear you engaging in conversations in many different languages. You appear to have a particular affinity for the oriental tongues, but French and German are also highly prized. Given your relative inability to communicate with surrounding native speakers, your future success rests on speaking the same language as foreign tourists.
GEOGRAPHY C A solid start, but lacking somewhat in map skills. A tweak of physical geography might see you following a more useful route, one that others could regularly follow. However you appear set in your ways and unable to make the necessary changes.
ECONOMICS E No matter how you try to dress up your performance, your compliance with basic economic theory has been weak. You have not grasped the fundamental concept that income must be greater than expenditure, and your attempts at attracting sponsorship have fallen short of expectations. Unless you can encourage greater public consumption, or else become an integrated part of a wider network, you will continue to be a net drain on resources that this school can ill afford.
ART B+ I loved your early work entitled "Transporting Cabins of Air across the River", which showed flair and genuine bravado. Your three dimensional sculpture has also made great visual impact across a wide part of East London. However I've had to mark you down for that ghastly red colour you insist on using in all your artwork. A broader palette would improve your outlook.
RELIGIOUS
EDUCATION
 C- You certainly have a lot of faith, in yourself, but it's possible this is misplaced. Whatever you do next year, don't start asking yourself the big questions "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?", else you may disappear in a puff of self-realisation.
CITIZENSHIP D Your basic problem, Emmy-Rae, is that you don't ship enough citizens.
Punctuality: Wakes late on a Sunday
Behaviour: Repeatedly suspended
Attendance: 2,404,882
Teacher's comment: It's been a pleasure to have you in my class this year. Even though your progress has been slow, you always stand out from the crowd and hold your head up high. I know the other children don't seem to like you very much, and tend to stay away, but I'm sure they'll interact with you again one day. Whatever hurtful things the bullies say, rest assured that I will always support you. Mr D. Price
Headteacher's comment: I always thought you showed great promise, Emmy-Rae, and your super soaraway success has proved me right. You fly across our school with vim and vigour, connecting lives and reducing congestion. With you in place, I know that I have left a stonktastic legacy for future generations to admire. I look forward to even greater success next year. Mr B. Johnson

 Thursday, June 27, 2013

  post-Olympic update
  Hesitant opening


Today is 11 months since the Olympic Opening Ceremony, which means it's one month until the Olympic Park reopens. Alternatively it's two days until the Olympic Park reopens if you have a ticket to see Kasabian on Saturday. That's at Hard Rock Calling, the first of this summer's big events in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, taking place on a succession of weekends leading up to the official opening. But how much of QEOP will you be allowed to get inside this year? It turns out, disappointingly little.

It was always the plan for the Olympic Park to reopen in stages. The North Park, that's the grassy bit along the river, would open first in July 2013. The South Park, that's the bit near the stadium and the Orbit, would open later in Spring 2014. You might therefore be expecting the entire North Park to be opening up in a month's time. Not so. Only the central bit of the North Park is reopening, that's the two lawns where the Park Live big screen viewing areas were last summer. The rest remains resolutely off limits, except for extra bits that ticketed guests will be able to access when they come for their events. Perhaps the Park's management don't want the flowerbeds wrecked again, or perhaps they're just not ready.

Here's the official map of the 'Park opening summer 2013'.
Prepare to be underwhelmed.



Visitors to the Olympic Park last year will remember there were two broad footbridges in the northern half of the Park, crossing from the main spine to the Basketball Arena high above the River Lea. The bit of the Park that's reopening is precisely the area between the two. Not the River Lawns to the north, nor the Wetlands to the south, but the bit where BA let you sit and watch the TV. That's about a third of the greenspace in the North Park, or if I'm charitable about 40%. Not ideal for a lengthy riverside stroll, nor for an exploratory wander, more a place to sit down and admire the view. By my calculations you could fit the Olympic Stadium almost precisely within the boundaries of the newly open section, which might sound quite a lot, but trust me, it's only a taster.

What you will find in this unlocked rectangle is an adventure playground. It'll be called Tumbling Bay, but nobody's yet revealed much more about it save that children can enjoy "playing in the sandpit, building a den, discovering insects or roaming the walkways among the treetops." Alongside you'll find a wooden visitor centre called Timber Lodge, inside which will be the community-led Unity Kitchen Café. This'll be run by a Camden community group and will have "all the facilities and refreshments you need on a day out at the Park". The choice of drinks will range from coffee to wine, while food offerings will include brunch (weekends only), picnic packs, "traditional cafe favourites" and "foodie surprises". Could be good. Turn up at 2pm on Monday 29th July for the first public opportunity to poke your nose inside.

There'll only be one entrance into the Park. That's from the southwest, in the corner by the Copper Box - the rest of the perimeter will be sealed off. The Copper Box is opening too, it'll become a mixed-use venue for boxing and court sports, plus a gym and fitness classes. It's the first venue in the Park to enter legacy use, the first facility to improve the sporting lives of the local population. Hackney Wick station isn't very far away, although it'll still be a roundabout route to get there via White Post Lane. That road is still firmly locked, as it has been since 2007, but next month (woo-hoo!) we'llall be able to walk/cycle/ride straight through again. Given that a huge chunk of the Lower Lea Valley has been an inaccessible black hole for the last six years, don't underestimate how big a deal this is.

Or you could walk in from Stratford. It's quite a hike, a little less so from Stratford International, but almost nobody's going to start from there. This road is already open, but only if you're in a car, for the benefit of those who want to drive to the shops at Westfield. If you walk or cycle you are absolutely forbidden from travelling this way, for the time being. Yellow signs have been set up at the traffic lights on Westfield Avenue warning "No pedestrians or cyclists allowed", while a bored-looking security guard stands beside to police the law. Presumably security are worried that freewheeling souls might step off the carriageway and intrude into part of the site where they're not welcome, whereas those inside cars are securely trapped. Big Brother disappears, hopefully, at the end of July.

If you're going to Hard Rock Calling this weekend, or some other event over the next month, Stratford is your only way in. Here, you may be pleased to hear, the magenta signs are back. They were a big success during the Olympics, so they've returned as the wayfinding method of choice. Arrive on any platform and you'll see pink arrows pointing to 'Park events', or 'Olympic Park events' if there's room. At present these arrows dump you immediately outside the station where there are zero onward clues, but I assume that'll change once ushers appear at the weekend. The website then says to expect a 20 minute walk. The Olympic Park's just as huge as it was last summer, and the small bit you're allowed into remains just as far away. For improved access and the full park to explore, it looks like there are still nine months, not one month, to wait.

 Wednesday, June 26, 2013

METROPOLITAN: The Croxley Rail Link

The next new bit of the London Underground won't be in London, it'll be in Hertfordshire. A closed British Rail branch line is being appropriated between Croxley Green and Watford, and the current Metropolitan terminus closed, allowing trains to run instead into Watford town centre. As a local lad, I can't tell you how exciting it is that the railway link promised at the bottom of my road when I was a child is finally coming to pass. So let me give you an on-the-spot update. A tale of seven stations.


Croxley
It's one of the ten least used stations on the Underground. This surprises me, in a 'village' of ten thousand people, although I guess few of them want or need to travel where the Met could take them. Instead this station survives the upcoming reformation, whereas Watford up the line will be summarily beheaded. I like Croxley station, although that may be bias from using it so often. With its triple gabled dormers it looks like a Metro-land house, deliberately so, designed by Charles Walter Clark in the mid-1920s to help inspire the surrounding suburban development [photo]. Four symmetrical chimneystacks top off the "rural vernacular" look, and apparently there's a flat above the ticket hall, which sounds like a special place to live. The stairs and platforms aren't quite so lovely, although the heritage lampstands add character and there are proper waiting rooms. Didn't quite merit a Grade II listing, but its future is assured.

Croxley Green
It may have closed ten years ago, but a fading BR sign still hangs beside the Two Bridges roundabout. In truth the last train to Croxley Green ran in 1996, with the ensuing connection a replacement bus, or later taxi. I used the line throughout the summer of 1983, when there was a choice of rush hour trains to ride, but Croxley Green's demise is an archetypal tale of decline. Having had so many years to decay, there's not much of the station left. An information board offers a "Welcome to Network South East", but there's a gap where the timetable used to be. A set of decidedly rickety stairs ascends the embankment through a curtain of trees to where the wooden platform used to be, but that's decayed and has recently been removed. The gate at the bottom's locked, as you'd expect, but there is a very obvious rip in the fence to the left if you fancied squeezing through [photo]. As urban break-ins go, this is low level stuff. I considered it, tentatively, only to bottle out when a police car chose that precise moment to circumnavigate the roundabout.

The Metropolitan line passes by a very short distance away, hence the long-standing desire to create a link between the two [photo]. Now that link is at the planning stage, with construction of a viaduct due to begin maybe next year. It'll veer off at the foot of Baldwins Lane, devouring some of the Croxley Car Centre's forecourt [photo], then plonk a pier down in the grounds of a building contractor and curve across the dual carriageway [photo]. A laminated poster by the "Welcome to Croxley Green" sign warns that there's a compulsory purchase order on a stripe through the playground, so the families I saw there at the weekend don't have much longer to recreate. And then the viaduct will sweep in towards the old BR line, crossing the Grand Union Canal parallel to the existing lattice bridge (which'll survive) while wiping out some of the picturesque moorings below. The old station won't be needed, it's being bypassed, so maybe someone'll finally come along and demolish it. As for the viaduct, I've had 40 years to imagine what it'll eventually look like, but I still can't quite picture this childhood vista despoiled.

(Ascot Road)
There are two Ascot Roads, one a wiggly lane, the other a stonking dual carriageway built in 1996 to provide access to the industrial estate beyond. The first new station on the old line will be built between the two, firmly on the Watford side of the border [photo]. The area's historically known as Cassio Bridge, and there are strong hints from Mayor Dorothy that this'll be the new name appearing on the tube map in 2016. Don't come rushing. Alongside is a forlorn looking clocktower, sans clocks, rising from a patch of wasteland [photo]. This belonged to Sun Printers, at one time Watford's largest employer, off whose presses Woman's Own and the Sunday Times magazine used to roll. Robert Maxwell and the march of innovation did them in, and now a storage company, a Premier Inn and hundreds of flats stand on the site. Only the clocktower, with its green-tiled roof and punched-out S U and N, stands as a reminder of the glory days. It's being renovated, according to a sign on the exterior, to create a most unusual office to let. Wait a few years and it'll have excellent connections.

Watford West
The old branch line runs up the back of the Sun Printers site, fenced off from bedrooms whose owners currently get a good night's sleep. It continues round the back of Watford Launderers, a 100-year-old company whose tumblers and steam presses still fill the air with the smell of detergent. And at Tolpits Lane it reaches the site of what used to be the main station, Watford West. Like Croxley Green you might think it was still open because a BR sign still hangs outside [photo]. Only when you turn to face the arched entrance would you spot the barred gate, blocking access down to the platforms. But there is another strong clue, which is the tops of trees sticking up above the edge of the bridge. The tracks have been abandoned for so long that what used to be wayward saplings have grown to great height, and a lot of hacking will be required before trains can run through here again. But they won't be stopping. Alternative locations are planned for stations on the Metropolitan, so Watford West's overgrown platforms are scheduled to be demolished. [photo]

(Watford Hospital)
They were going to call this stop Watford Hospital, because that's the main reason for building a new station here. But because it's located on the road to Watford Football Club, Mayor Dorothy thinks Vicarage Road would be a much better recognised name. She's probably right, although the site's otherwise most peculiar. The station'll be built where a single track road (controlled by traffic lights) crosses a hump backed bridge over the railway [photo]. Nobody lives here, not quite. To the north is a recreation ground, to the west some allotments, to the south a huge humming electricity substation, and to the east a primary school. It's the first two of those whose land will be trimmed to fit in a station, and not a 'proper' station either. Expect something more like the DLR than the Underground, no architectural wonder, no ticket office, just a place to wait to be carried away. The costs on this project had to be trimmed to pass the Chancellor's guillotine, so TfL's usual design panache will likely pass this spot by. [photo]

Watford Stadium
On the eastern side of Vicarage Road, hidden from view by an out-of-control tree, is a minor disused station. It was opened (by Elton John) in 1982 to ease the flow of spectators into Watford's Division One football ground. Special trains ran on matchdays only, allowing fans to be ushered off the featureless platform round the back lanes, avoiding real people's houses. When the football club were relegated so were the train services, and one opportunity to revitalise the line quietly faded away. But the platform is still there, and you don't need a season ticket to visit.

Along the alleyway between Stripling Way and Cardiff Road, near the old railway bridge, there's a very obvious gap in the fence. A well-trodden path leads up into a patch of woodland to reach... ooh, the trackbed of the original railway [photo]. It being midsummer you'd expect the tracks to be overrun with growth, indeed mostly impenetrable, and yet this is not the case. The rails and sleepers are suspiciously free of obstruction, at least compared to the jungle either side, and a clear path leads off in both directions. Head west and there's evidence that local children have made dens up here, including mattresses and a very soggy soft toy. Head a little further and very soon you walk out onto the site of Watford Stadium halt [photo]. Best climb the ramp to the platform, because that's clear and the tracks below are a sea of green. It's a long one - those football trains sometimes had six carriages - but up top only a single red-painted lamppost remains [photo]. Best not attempt this safari on a school day, because the Laurance Haines playground looks straight across. And if you continue down the other side, minding the detritus chucked from the Vicarage Road bridge above, you reach the site of the new Metropolitan line station [photo]. Last weekend the only waiting passenger was a fox.

Or you could have walked east from Stripling Way, across the tracks onto the bridge itself [photo]. It's only wide enough for a single track, so TfL have some serious engineering to do here before the line can open to two-way traffic. But three old rails survive, and almost all the sleepers, though worn and cracked and rusting. Follow these and you're on a proper adventure into the past. The embankment curves round to another bridge, this one across an outpost of the River Colne, then onto a large and fairly remote island. However overgrown it looks there's always a comfortably wide path to follow, sometimes along the tracks and sometimes alongside, as if someone has deliberately carved a way through what was recently jungle [photo]. Further evidence of human intervention are some taped-off areas labelled with signs that say "This area contains nesting birds, do not enter" [photo]. The zig-zag path hasn't been cut willy-nilly, it's been traced with environmental priorities in mind.

Off to the right is the Ebury Way, a disused railway swinging in from Rickmansworth, again with easy access up the embankment. Where the two lines meet, or met, selective tree cutting has opened out a much larger clearing than elsewhere [photo]. One lonely signal still stands, or at least the metal post and ladder remain with an empty cage on top [photo]. Another bridge crosses the River Colne, again low and narrow, again in need of upgrade [photo]. It's like walking through your own private nature reserve, until the backside of an industrial estate intrudes. All this fresh-mown accessibility can only be because surveyors and planners have been walking the line, trying to work out precisely what needs doing when work starts on the Croxley Rail Link (probably) next year. This won't be any place for a stroll then, nor anywhere along the former branch line to Watford High Street. But before the diggers move in, and the trains return, a surprising amount of this forgotten hideaway is strangely accessible.

Watford
A mile away, on the edge of Cassiobury Park, another station is in terminal decline [photo]. Watford Met, as it's fondly known round here, will be closing for good once the new link opens [photo]. The good folk of the Cassiobury Estate will need to find another way to reach their jobs in the City, which'll probably mean a longer walk and some more angry letters to the Watford Observer. I was expecting to see more obvious signs of potential closure, like a poster somewhere, but instead the passengers at this peaceful outpost can blot its imminent demise from their minds. You have to pity those who moved into the new flats alongside the station especially to be near a decent train service. But the sacrifice of the few is deemed appropriate for the benefit of the many, when the Croxley Rail Link finally (FINALLY) comes to pass.

My Croxley Rail Link gallery [slideshow] [map]
There are 38 photographs altogether (20 from 2013, 17 from 2011, 1 from 2005)

» Croxley Rail Link (official site) (Environmental statement - pdf)
» Five pages from Abandoned Stations (working down the disused line)
» Old photos of the Croxley Green branch line (1982-2012)
» My previous report (May 2011)
» Final approval granted! (July 2013)

 Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Anorak Corner (the annual update)

London's ten busiest tube stations (2012)
1) Waterloo (88.2m) 2) Victoria (83.0m) 3) King's Cross St Pancras (81.0m) 4) Oxford Circus (80.6m) 5) London Bridge (67.2m) 6) Liverpool Street (64.2m) 7) Stratford (51.0m) 8) ↑1 Canary Wharf (48.0m) 9) ↓1 Bank/Monument (47.8m) 10) Paddington (46.3m)

London's ten busiest tube stations that aren't also National Rail stations (2012)
1) Oxford Circus (80.6m) 2) ↑1 Canary Wharf (48.0m) 3) ↓1 Bank/Monument (47.8m) 4) Piccadilly Circus (42.4m) 5) Leicester Square (38.5m) 6) Bond Street (38.1m) 7) ↑* Tottenham Court Road (36.0m) 8) Green Park (34.0m) 9) ↑* South Kensington (32.5m) 10) ↓3 Holborn (31.5m)

London's ten busiest tube stations outside Zone 1 (2012)
1) Stratford (51.0m) 2) Canary Wharf (48.0m) 3) Hammersmith (District & Piccadilly) (28.7m) 4) Finsbury Park (26.0m) 5) Brixton (24.8m) 6) ↑4 North Greenwich (24.2m) 7) ↓1 Shepherd's Bush (21.9m) 8) ↓1 Camden Town (21.6m) 9) ↓1 Highbury & Islington (16.8m) 10) ↓1 Ealing Broadway (16.1m)

Roding ValleyLondon's ten least busy tube stations (2012)
1) Roding Valley (224000) 2) Chigwell (487000) 3) Grange Hill (539000) 4) Chesham (653000) 5) Theydon Bois (746000) 6) Moor Park (815000) 7) Croxley (891000) 8) ↑2 North Ealing (898000) 9) Fairlop (906000) 10) ↑* South Kenton (971000)

London's ten busiest National Rail stations (2011/12)
1) Waterloo (94m) 2) Victoria (76m) 3) Liverpool Street (57m) 4) London Bridge (53m) 5) Charing Cross (38m) 6) Euston (37m) 7) Paddington (34m) 8) King's Cross (28m) 9) St Pancras (23m) 10) ↑* Clapham Junction (22m)

London's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't central London termini (2011/12)
1) ↑1 Clapham Junction (21.9m) 2) ↑1 Stratford (21.8m) 3) ↓2 East Croydon (20.6m) 4) ↑1 Wimbledon (18.25m) 5) ↓1 Vauxhall (18.15m) 6) ↑2 Highbury & Islington (11.8m) 7) ↓1 Putney (10.8m) 8) ↓1 Surbiton (8.6m) 9) Richmond (8.4m) 10) ↑* Barking (7.4m)

London's ten least busy National Rail stations (2011/12)
1) Sudbury & Harrow Road (18100) 2) Angel Road (28200) 3) South Greenford (31300) 4) Sudbury Hill Harrow (49000) 5) Birkbeck (68400) 6) Morden South (85200) 7) Emerson Park (94700) 8) Drayton Green (109000) 9) Castle Bar Park (124000) 10) South Ruislip (136000)

The UK's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't in London (2011/12)
1) ↑1 Birmingham New Street (31.2m) 2) ↓1 Glasgow Central (26.6m) 3) Leeds (25.0m) 4) ↑1 Edinburgh Waverley (22.6m) 5) ↑1 Glasgow Queen Street (20.9m) 6) ↓2 Manchester Piccadilly (18.6m) 7) ↑1 Brighton (16.1m) 8) ↑1 Reading (15.3m) 9) ↑1 Gatwick Airport (14.8m) 10) ↓3 Liverpool Central (14.2m)

The UK's ten least busy National Rail stations (2011/12)
1) Tees-Side Airport (14) 2) Dorking West (16) 3) ↑1 Denton (30) 4) ↑1 Reddish South (56) 5) ↓2 Coombe Junction (60) 6) ↑3 Elton & Orston (72) 7) Barry Links (86) 8) ↓3 Breich (90) 9) ↑* Buckenham (100) 10) ↓1 Sugar Loaf (120)

» Tube passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)
» Rail passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)

Meanwhile, on BBC4 at 11pm tonight, John Betjeman's Metro-land. Yay.

"Child of the first war, forgotten by the second, we called you Metro-land.
We laid our schemes, lured by the lush brochure,
Down byways beckoned, to build at last the cottage of our dreams,
A city clerk turned countryman again, and linked to the Metropolis by train."

"Metro-land", John Betjeman (BBC, 1973)

 Monday, June 24, 2013

It was Sunday yesterday I don't know what you do on Sundays maybe you go out I sometimes stay in but that doesn't feel right so I usually try to go out even if it's only somewhere mildly interesting I waited until the afternoon I thought the weather might get better it's been really disappointing so far this summer it was so windy and I had to wear a jacket A JACKET in June for heaven's sake what is going on?

I thought I'd avoid the Metropolitan line I thought I'd spare you that you must be pig sick by now I've been going on and on about it why would you be interested if you don't live in northwest London sorry there'll be more about the Metropolitan soon obviously but you deserve a day off so it's not relentless and it was quite nice not to have to cross London to get somewhere for a change I thought I'd go somewhere local.

One of the big things going on over the weekend was the Greenwich and Docklands Festival I don't know why they call it that because some years it's not very Docklands at all this is one of those years almost all the stuff is in south London it's the Greenwich and Woolwich Festival more like anyway it's always good they have some amazing performers wherever they are I thought I'd investigate.

I usually get the train but on this occasion I walked that's right I walked to Greenwich even though it's miles and there's a river in the way I followed the DLR near enough most of the way the first bit through Poplar is all postwar estates and very modern flats almost nothing old at all shame it's surprisingly difficult to reach Canary Wharf on foot the railway gets in the way and then the dual carriageway and then the north dock there are so very few bridges it must be a deliberate security ploy to keep the riffraff out the tone changes once you start walking down the Isle of Dogs it's very nineties I walked down the edge of Millwall Inner Dock there were waves lapping at the banks it was a bit bleak for June I may have mentioned this.

In Island Gardens was the first bit of the Festival the Island Fair the programme described it as One of London's most beautiful riverside parks God knows where they got that idea it's a long scrap of lawn quite nice but only the view across to Greenwich is memorable for the festival various stages had been set up across the park with a couple of performances each through the afternoon they stagger it so that whenever you turn up there's something going on I got toddler-friendly theatre with four dancers spinning with metal balls and elastic the target audience seemed enthralled then in a separate act some eyeball creatures on stilts enticed volunteers into a portaloo and rocked them it was better than it sounds a highwire act started on the main stage with mats and trampolines it started slowly and I lost interest.

The rest of the Fair takes place across the Thames this is where the Greenwich foot tunnel comes into its own it was very busy the busiest I've seen it the lifts were being well used there were queues there were a lot of pushchairs even a wheelchair not many of us chose to use the stairs they're still really narrow half of them is boarded off presumably because the council's given up repairing the outer wall I don't know.

I'd now reached Greenwich Fair two artistes were performing by the Cutty Sark a big crowd had gathered much bigger than in Island Gardens they were performing in the dip in front of the ship it was nigh impossible to see what they were doing as they were lower down the crowd cheered sometimes eventually I found a thin gap and peered through two acrobats were bouncing on a seesaw and removing their clothes a Mum beside me raised her young child onto her shoulders to get a better view I don't think she would have done if she'd known what they were seeing.

In the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College there was a whale A WHALE beached on the lawn it looked very impressive I think it was fibreglass they've taken it away now sorry most of the performance areas on the grass were empty including a sign saying Next Show 4pm but one group of actors were going for it big time atop metal platforms they moved around and shouted a lot about sorting I think the whole thing was an allegory about recycling they went on for 45 minutes I didn't hold out that long.

I went and had a look in the Painted Hall instead they've done it up recently the ceiling has been restored big time I couldn't really tell the difference I thought it still looked like a magnificent painted ceiling maybe a bit brighter the tourists seemed to like it they were in here looking at the proper tourist stuff while Londoners were outside on the lawn watching the temporary performance art.

The Greenwich and Docklands Festival continues all next week in Canary Wharf and next weekend in Woolwich there's a lot of big spectacle stuff in Woolwich there's nothing in Bow this year it can't be our turn never mind and then I went home I took the train this time I didn't want to walk it twice.

 Sunday, June 23, 2013

METROPOLITAN: Brent Civic Centre

It's not an obvious austerity move. While other councils are closing things, Brent have splashed out £90m on a brand new administrative building alongside Wembley Stadium. It's called Brent Civic Centre, and it's a key part of the redevelopment of the area from light industrial backwater to gleaming investment hub. And it opened a fortnight ago.

The new building is one of the most environmentally friendly in the country, with automatically adjusting windows and a boiler that runs on fish oil. Structurally it's a seven storey office block with a huge wooden drum in one corner rising through the building. On the lower floors of the drum is the new Wembley Library, while the circular space above contains the new council chamber. Most council chambers sit empty most of the time, but this one's a multi-purpose space available to hire when there are no meetings on. A lot of the building is hire-able, which is one of the ways Brent Council plan to see a good return on their investment. They've also brought together all their staff from 14 municipal buildings around the borough, which means most of those 14 buildings can be sold off or redeveloped making a tidy packet. It's a public building, so it's hoped the community will visit and make it their own. And they also do weddings. [photo]

There was a wedding party milling around when I arrived, probably cursing their luck at picking a miserable summer's day for their nuptials. They were standing around in the vast atrium, the focal point of the building, and a bit of a wow when you walk in through the doors. A grand staircase leads up to the first floor, cunningly set out with benches to act as an impromptu auditorium as necessary. Someone's added a few trees to soften the visual impact of the steel and glass inner walls, behind which (for staff) it's hotdesks-a-go-go. I understand there's a garden out the back and another upstairs, but the latter was probably full of suits and dresses so I didn't risk venturing there. [photo]

Instead I wandered into the library, still less than a week old and thus far only partially colonised by readers. It's a very modern library, in the same vein as many I've seen open in the last few years, by which I mean fewer shelves and more places to interact. One long wall featured "Books To Go", all placed cover up, which presumably shifts units faster even though it crams far fewer in. Screens and iPads play an important part, as you'd expect, but it was reassuring to hear the sounds of "The Wheels On The Bus" drifting from the children's library suggesting that not everything's yet irrevocably changed. And then in the corner facing the stadium I stumbled on the cafe, entirely unsignposted, its cluster of tables unsurprisingly empty. [photo]

Indeed Brent Civic Centre's biggest problem, if you're a member of the public, is the lack of signage. Someone's written "Wembley Library" across the front window, so that was easy to locate. But as for which other parts of the building I was allowed into, not a clue. No signs to the gardens, no signs to the restaurant or community hall which supposedly exist upstairs, no signs to anything whatsoever. I wasn't even sure if I was allowed to ascend the central staircase to view the grand atrium from above, which surely I was, but it would have felt wrong. A couple of security guards stood by the main desk but, wedding party aside, the place was essentially dead. It's early days yet, and presumably weekdays are more vibrant, but Brent's fresh heart has yet to beat.

Meanwhile... Nextdoor, where the Palace of Industry used to be, there's now nothing but an empty space. Back in 1924 this whole area was used for the British Empire Exhibition, and its buildings have been gradually removed over the years until finally the last one has gone. I spotted the demolition notice back in February, with the old concrete palace (a Yodel distribution centre) looking rather worse for wear. And now there's a vast blank space, which'll probably be a car park to start with, and then definitely flats. Quintain, the developers, have a masterplan to transform Wembley North West into "a fully integrated and lively neighbourhood providing up to 1300 new homes, a vibrant shopping street, a hotel, affordable workspace, community and leisure facilities". In truth it's more boxes in the sky for aspirational professionals, and the one thing noticeable by its absence will be Industry, palatial or otherwise. [photo Feb 2013] [photo Jun 2013]

Meanwhile... Construction continues at the London Designer Outlet alongside Wembley Arena. The capital's latest megamall is scheduled to be open before Christmas, although there'd appear to be plenty of building to do yet, let alone fitting out. All your favourite brands will be here, if branded fashion is your thing, selling off lines they can't sell elsewhere at discount prices. According to the website, which is dripping with prize marketingspeak drivel, "London Designer Outlet will reflect its vibrant and culturally diverse urban setting, and attract a sophisticated, affluent and style-conscious consumer catering for the key groups within the its catchment." Armani, M&S and Nike are coming, and I suspect lots of Chinese tourists will be coming too. So far only TGI Fridays is open, and not exactly buzzing, but you'll be hearing a lot more about this retail honeytrap before the year is out. [photo]

METROPOLITAN: Croxley Revels

"To my people in Croxley Green. On this memorable day, I am proud to greet you as your Croxley Green Revels Princess. I am happy that I have been chosen and I ask you, one and all, to make the year 2013 a very happy one. In this very lovely corner of England, of which we are so proud, let us try to find peace and goodwill in our homes and in our community. Let us try and bring happiness to those around us and to those less fortunate than ourselves."
Spoken by Natalie Peoples at Croxley Green, Hertfordshire (40 years on from an almost identical scene in John Betjeman's Metroland)




Here's the maypole dancing
Here's Princess Natalie and her court applauding the maypole dancing
Here's Darth Vader and two stormtroopers outside the hotdog tent
Here's the Croxley Revels website
Here's my Revels report from 2009

 Saturday, June 22, 2013

The METROPOLITAN and St John's Wood Railway

Heading north out of Baker Street, the Metropolitan burrows non-stop beneath the streets before emerging at Finchley Road. But there used to be three stations inbetween, opened in 1868 as one of the Metropolitan's earliest branch lines, the Metropolitan and St John's Wood Railway. They closed after the Bakerloo line opened alongside in the 1930s, creating the express route we know today. But those three former stations are still there, if you know where to look, either viewed from the train or spotted above ground. I did the surface level walk.


Baker Street → Lord's
Winding your way up on Baker Street, mind your step for tourists. They queue in stupid numbers for Madame Tussauds and, in the direction we're going, outside Sherlock Holmes' house. It's not his house really, there is no 221B, but they wait patiently outside the museum anyway to have their photo with an actor dressed as a policeman. They might head on into Regent's Park, but they don't veer left up Park Road to follow the Metropolitan. This is the A41, the main road from London to Birkenhead, so mind the traffic. The apartments start early, some like brick ocean liners, another with a drive-in florist at its foot. That's the London Business School on the right, and later the golden dome of the London Central Mosque. A small rotunda cottage guards the posh entrance to Regent's Park, ambassadors this way please. Pause awhile where the road crosses the Regent's Canal and look across to the west. This is the brief section where the Metropolitan surfaces into the open air, forced up by the passage of the artificial waterway. And it's also the site of our first lost station...

Lord's
They only called it Lord's for the last five months of its life, for the final cricket season before WW2 broke out. The station opened as St John's Wood Road, later shortened to St John's Wood. But if you want to spot it don't follow St John's Wood Road off the roundabout, take the turning beforehand which is Lodge Road. A minor shopping parade leads down to an iron bridge, with old lamps and blue-painted walls. If you look over the edge here you'll see, if you're tall enough, the railway tracks where Metropolitan and Chiltern trains rise into the open. The Metropolitan runs closest, with this bridge the point where trains head back underground into the cut and cover tunnel. That's where the old platforms were, with a few supporting stumps still sticking up like rocks on a wave-lashed beach. The station building's long gone, demolished in the 1960s so that a massive brick-podium hotel could be built on the linear site. The Danubius Hotel is a utilitarian pile that one can only hope looks better on the inside, and not even a couple of layers of leafy foliage can rescue it. But of greatest interest is the mysterious locked door at the foot of the steps, just below the twin flagpoles. This is the emergency exit from Lord's station, still present, still maintained, in case an unexpected event ever requires the Metropolitan to detrain here. "Keep clear Exit from emergency escape route" says a blue sign, beside a door otherwise marked only by the serial number IP6.
Lord's: abandoned stations.org.uk, disused-stations.org.uk

Lord's → Marlborough Road
Had it stayed open, Lord's station would have been wonderfully convenient for cricketgoers. The hotel faces the Nursery End, more particularly the Portland Stone sculpture in the site's SE corner depicting a procession of thirteen sportsmen and women. I would have taken a closer look, but an entire youth cricket team appeared to have descended on the site so that their parents and guardians could take group photos of their assembled smiles. The railway rumbles north past the Wellington Hospital, the largest private hospital in the UK, and then the first of St John's Wood's grand apartments. They call them terraces or courts, even in some cases mansions, whereas really they're well-proportioned aspirational flats. Part way along is St John's Wood station, now on the Jubilee line, opened to replace the last Metropolitan line station and the next. Here the well-to-do mix with tourists hunting the Beatles at Abbey Road, maybe grabbing a cappuccino at the Beatles Coffee Shop behind the semi-tropical flowerbed.

Marlborough Road
Station number two is a couple of blocks north, where Finchley Road widens and veers right. That white-painted building on the corner of Queen's Grove is the former station, still pretty much intact above ground level. Until recently it was heavily disguised as a Chinese restaurant, where you could dine inside the former ticket hall and knocked-through offices. That was kicked out in 2009 as part of the Metropolitan line upgrade so that the building could be used instead as an electricity substation to support greedier rolling-stock. You'd never guess from the outside - nothing hums, and there are absolutely no signs anywhere on any wall or door - but its former station-ness is very obvious. On the opposite side of the road is a tiny narrow house numbered 12½, and a brief cutting open to the sky surrounded by a brick wall. Look over (or more likely point your camera), and there are the former platforms of Marlborough Road, very partially intact but still potentially available as an escape route for detrained passengers.
Marlborough Road: abandoned stations.org.uk, disused-stations.org.uk

A Metro-land diversion
Marlborough Road, the road, has since been renamed Marlborough Place. Follow that behind the American School and you'll find Langford Place, another site visited by Sir John Betjeman for his Metro-land documentary. He related the tale of a Gothic house owned by the 'Clapton Messiah', John Hugh Smyth-Pigott, but without ever mentioning precisely where it was. Thankfully Google's improved since 2006 - the last time I went looking - so I've finally managed to discover not only its location but also that Vanessa Feltz now lives here. That would explain the pink ribbons tied to the front gate, and the perky Mini convertible parked outside. The house looks amazingly out of place, like a slice out of some Transylvanian manor, but softened by a lush garden and the promise of something rather more modern behind. Charles Saatchi used to live here, when he was with the wife before Nigella, so who knows what secrets number twelve holds. [photo]

Marlborough Road → Swiss Cottage
North of the former station, the area becomes a little less exclusive. There are fewer private apartments, and a few more council flats, as the road crosses from Westminster into Camden. Apart from the herd of goats at Quintin Kynaston Academy, loose on site and nibbling the grass, there's not much to excite the urban rambler. It's not long before the Swiss Cottage one-way system intrudes, and there at its apex the chalet-style pub after which the area is named. It's not the original, that was a much smaller building formerly the dairy of a local farm, but that didn't survive the arterial onslaught of road widening in the 1960s.

Swiss Cottage
The Metropolitan line station was located immediately alongside the Jubilee line station, formerly of the Bakerloo when it opened in 1939. Connections were possible, but wartime service wasn't conducive to much passenger traffic and the Met shut down less than a year later. It's not at all far from here up to Finchley Road, a much better cross-platform interchange, so no keen loss was felt. The ticket hall for the Jubilee is located beneath the eastern side of the road junction, whereas the old Metropolitan entrance was to the west. If you head for exits 4 and 5 via the subway, that's sort-of where. On the surface a skylight still exists, long and thin above the former platforms, surrounded by a brick enclosure. A metal grille covers the top so that passers-by can't throw bottles onto the track below, and a line of rampant plantlife discourages anyone from climbing up. The buildings alongside are woefully ugly, including a nightclub with the pretentious name of D'Den Legacy, and an office block called Station House. That's another clue, obviously. And this used to be the terminus of the line, the end of the St John's Wood Railway, until an extension to West Hampstead was built in 1879. Three of the first twenty Underground stations, opened with high hopes, are long closed to passenger traffic. But keep your eyes peeled, be that above or below ground, and clear traces remain.
Swiss Cottage: abandoned stations.org.uk

 Friday, June 21, 2013

METROPOLITAN: Metropolitan quiz

Over the last 150 years, a heck of a lot of stations have been served by the Metropolitan. That's initially the Metropolitan Railway, and more recently the Metropolitan line. All you have to do is peruse this list of 30 stations and determine which seven have never been served by the Metropolitan. In each case I've used the most recent name of the station, even if that's not what the Metropolitan called it at the time.

AYLESBURYRICHMOND
BARKINGSOUTH HARROW
BRILLSTANMORE
CANNON STREETSTOKE MANDEVILLE
EALING BROADWAYSWISS COTTAGE
EARL'S COURTUPMINSTER
HAMMERSMITHVICTORIA
KENSINGTON (OLYMPIA)WAPPING
KEW GARDENSWATFORD HIGH STREET
LADBROKE GROVEWENDOVER
MARLBOROUGH ROADWEST HAM
NEASDENWEST HAMPSTEAD
NEW CROSS GATEWHITECHAPEL
NOTTING HILL GATEWILLESDEN JUNCTION
QUAINTON ROADWIMBLEDON

So, which seven stations weren't Metropolitan? Tick your choices, then have a look in the comments box where I'll tell you which seven it is. And then someone'll probably tell me why I'm wrong.


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