Friday, March 10, 2006
It's exactly 100 years today since London Underground's Bakerloo Line opened, on Saturday 10th March 1906. Only eight stations were ready for traffic at the time, but the tuppenny tickets proved most popular and 37000 passengers packed the trains that day. To celebrate this centenary I'm taking a virtual journey along the original line, station by station, from Baker Street to Lambeth North. It's not just an interesting underground journey, it's also a damned fine walk above ground, so there'll be plenty to see along the way. Mind the doors.
At the turn of the 20th century there were three different east-west underground lines through the centre of London (the Metropolitan, District and Central) but no lines travelling north-south. The new Baker Street & Waterloo Railway aimed to change that, allegedly inspired by the desire of certain Westminster gentlemen to reach Lord's more easily to watch the cricket after work. This was one of London's first deep level tubes, burrowing deep beneath London's streets rather than using much cheaper cut and cover methods. Initial construction was slow due to lack of funds, but inspirational American businessman Charles Yerkes stepped in with financial support and provided the impetus to complete the project. And it was an Evening News headline soon after the railway's opening which first nicknamed the line the "Baker-loo", and the name has stuck ever since.
Here's a brief Bakerloo line history (and if you need a map to follow, try here):1906: The Bakerloo opened between Baker Street and Lambeth North (then called Kennington Road). Tunnels to Elephant & Castle opened in August of the same year. All further extensions were to the northwest.The Bakerloo's a strange line. It ventures from darkest Southwark to leafy suburbia. Its squat little trains rattle and wheeze through bendy tunnels. Its underground stations remain gloomy and labyrinthine. Its overground stations feel bleak and unloved. But the Bakerloo's still a great little line, nimbly joining several key London locations, and a characterful throwback to how the underground used to be. And it's brown. Even 100 years ago, brown was cutting edge.
1907: Extended westward to Marylebone (terminus of the Grand Central Railway) and then Edgware Road (not the Metropolitan station of the same name).
1913: Extended southward to Paddington - following an extremely tight curve which looks very different on a geographically accurate map compared to the usual smoothed-out Harry Beck version.
1915: Extended northwest to Queen's Park, where Bakerloo trains met up with overground trains on the London & North Western Railway. Some Bakerloo trains continued to Willesden Junction and (in 1917) to Watford Junction.
1939: The Stanmore branch of the Metropolitan line transferred to the Bakerloo.
1979: The Stanmore branch switched to the new Jubilee line (I've covered this in enormous detail before, remember...)
1982: Northernmost Bakerloo terminus cut back from Watford Junction to Stonebridge Park.
1984: Trains restored between Stonebridge Park and Harrow & Wealdstone (which is how things stand today).
Bakerloo line history
Bakerloo line photos
Bakerloo line bloggers
Bakerloo line pub crawl
Bakerloo line stories
Bakerloo line - estimated time of arrival
Baker100 - Baker Street station
Station opened: Saturday 10th January 1863
Bakerloo line platforms: tiled with an ingenious Sherlock Holmes design, constructed from miniature Sherlock Holmes silhouettes [photo].
Change here for: Jubilee line (a very easy same-level interchange), Metropolitan line, Circle line, Hammersmith & City line.
You'd be quicker changing here: From here to Waterloo by Bakerloo line takes 10 minutes. From here to Waterloo by Jubilee line takes 9 minutes.
Thrilling fact: Baker Street was one of only seven underground stations on the world's first underground line between Paddington and Farringdon.
Immediately outside the station: hundreds of tourists buying tacky souvenirs, long queues for sightseeing buses, a statue of the ubiquitous Sherlock Holmes, Transport for London's Lost Property Office (it's amazing what people lose).
Nearest baker: Presumably there were once bakeries in this street, but I couldn't find one. There's a small tiled arcade above the station where you can buy pizzas, chocolate bars and nuts. There's a row of touristy gift shops and cafes in front of the station where you can buy a very artificial looking apple danish. But something traditional and baked, like a loaf of bread? Not a chance.
Nearest loo: Beneath the pavement, just across the road from the station, are a pair of well-tended public conveniences. I had to pass a sleeping dog to get into the gents, then walk round a tall green pot plant to get to the urinals. The tiles above the splashback were illustrated with colourful cartoon characters, but a Westminster council CCTV watched my every move, to the last drop.
I've been here before: Winding your way down on Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty, 1978)
Baker100 walk: Baker Street to Regent's Park
To start my three mile walk along the Bakerloo I'm tracing the tracks from Baker Street to Regent's Park station. Here's an old map showing the geographical route (northeast-ish), which is absolutely nothing like the fantasy route (southeast) depicted on the official London Underground tube map. Whatever today's map may say, the Bakerloo line definitely runs to the north of the Circle line between Edgware Road and Regent's Park, and not to the south.
The first eastward building you meet on leaving Baker Street station is one of the most famous in London - the Planetarium. Its green copper roof is instantly recognisable, as is the small ringed planet perched right on the top of the dome [photo]. As a child I remember reclining on the comfy seats inside the Planetarium and being totally overawed by the astronomical lightshow projected onto the roof above me. I quite fancied going back for another look this year, except that the show has now been dumbed down to a mere ten minutes and entrance is only available as part of a combined ticket with Madame Tussaud's nextdoor. Sorry, but there's no way I'm forking out £22 (yes, £22!) to gawp at a few waxwork celebrities, even if some are supposedly interactive and reveal a bit of greasy flesh. Tragically the owners have decided that the only stars which attract tourists nowadays are of the two-legged kind, so in June the Planetarium in its current form will be closed and transformed into the Auditorium - a new audio-visual show which promises to "get into the heart of celebrity". Sounds absolutely ghastly, but I'm sure the vacuous crowds of tourists who throng the Marylebone Road will lap it up.
From here the underground Bakerloo line skirts the southern edge of Regent's Park. This is one of the largest open spaces in central London, transformed from Tudor hunting lands into elegant parkland by John Nash. He's also responsible for the imposing terraced villas which line the edges of the park [photo], now home to the aspirationally exclusive. I passed several moneyed old couples out taking a stroll through the park, the men gnarled and grimacing, ostentatiously parading their fur-coated wives and pampered dogs. Younger visitors cycled, or jogged, or even scootered, while out on Marylebone Green a semi-serious soccer kickabout was underway. The scenic central lake [photo] is actually part of the old River Tyburn, here visible for the one and only time before plunging beneath the city of Westminster on its way to the Thames. At the moment a carpet of daffodils is pushing bravely through the winter mud, but it won't be long before this lovely park truly springs to life.
Baker100 - Regent's Park station
Station opened: Saturday 10th March 1906
Distance from previous station: 900m
Surroundings: The station entrance is encircled by a large area of trees and gardens which you might expect would be part of Regent's Park, but you'd be wrong. This is Park Square Gardens, a privileged enclave for the exclusive use of (very) local residents. Iron railings and padlocks segregate several acres from public access, and there's even a caretaker's cottage in one corner to ensure that all undesirables are kept at arm's length. No doubt the lawns are covered by Raybans and Riviera-tanned skin in the summer, but give me the common ground to the north any day.
Station building: One of relatively few tube stations with no building on the surface [photo]. Entrance is down some steps (past a tramp) through a pair of twin bore green-tiled subways [photo].
Ticket hall: gloomy, narrow and partly wood-panelled
Thrilling fact: If you choose to take the stairs rather than the lift, there are 96 steps down to the platforms.
Platforms: dark and melancholy with original Edwardian tiling, including the words 'Regent's Park' picked out in brown rectangles.
Change here for: Great Portland Street station, which is only 100 metres up the road. Again, you'd never tell by looking at the tube map.
Don't change here for: London Zoo (which may be in Regent's Park but it's almost a mile away, and Camden Town station is rather closer).
Advance warning of closure: Regent's Park station is closing for a year, starting on June 5th, so that essential maintenance work can take place. Metronet are in charge, so I wouldn't hold out much hope of them leaving all the heritage features intact or even finishing on time.
I've been here before: Walking the Regent's Canal (May 2005)
Baker100 walk: Regent's Park to Oxford Circus
And now the Bakerloo heads south, beneath Portland Place. This is one of the most elegant streets in London, although it would have been even grander had architect John Nash had his way. He planned a processional thoroughfare for the Prince Regent, leading from Carlton House on the Mall to the prince's summer villa in Regent's Park. It was to be a straight line, but land battles with Sir James Langham and the residents of Cavendish Square forced part of the road further east than Nash would have liked, creating a distinctly imperfect kink around Langham Place (full history here). But the road remains far broader than most, like a Georgian dual carriageway, and is always a impressive place for a quiet stroll. Here are some of the architectural (and other) treats to be seen down Portland Place:
Park Crescent: One of Nash's first crescents [photo], originally planned as a full circle (or circus). The purity of its white stone colonnades still makes me think that Mary Poppins is about to fly in at any minute.
Several statues down the 'central reservation': A real mixed bag, including Joseph Lister (who pioneered the use of antiseptics in surgery - pictured), Sir George Stuart White (Boer War commander) and Quintin Hogg (founder of the first polytechnic).
RIBA: The headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects is a sheer stark slab of 30s brutalism [photo]. On the pavement outside there's usually a poignant one-woman protest aimed directly across the road at the Chinese Embassy (read more here).
Lots of scientific associations: The largest of these is the Institute of Physics, but there's also the Royal College of Radiologists, the Institute of Chemical Engineers and my personal favourite, the Anaesthaesia Heritage Centre. No, really.
BBC Broadcasting House: About which I wrote in depth when I went for a tour last year. The interior of the building is still being renovated, but it looks like they've pretty much finished the exterior at last. The Bakerloo line passes very nearly underneath the building, which used to cause all sorts of sound problems when certain radio programmes were being recorded, but the latest design features heavy soundproofing throughout. There's an outstanding history of the site here, of the original building here and of the new development here.
The Langham Hotel: London's first purpose-built grand luxury hotel, originally with 600 rooms (now 427). Famous regular visitors included Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Noel Coward, Antonin Dvorak and Haile Selassie. 100 years ago a room cost 9 shillings (45p) a night - today that's merely an insulting tip. Full historical trivia here.
All Souls, Langham Place: John Nash's signature circular church, with the famous lemon-squeezer roof and spire [photo]. Inside there's perhaps more a feeling of theatre than temple, but that's perfectly in keeping with this modern church's vibrant outreach ministry. How many other churches allow you to download their last four weeks' sermons?
Baker100 - Oxford Circus station
Station opened: Monday 30th July 1900
Distance from previous station: 900m
Exit: The old Baker Street & Waterloo Railway station, designed by Leslie Green, on the corner of Oxford Street and Argyll Street
Entrance: steps down from the four corners of Oxford Circus, into the new ticket hall built for the opening of the Victoria line in 1969
Surroundings: northwest - H&M (smiley Swedish clothing); southwest - United Colors of Benetton (purveyor of ultra-matched separates); southwest - Shelly's Shoes (sold-out Carnaby Street bootseller); northeast - Niketown (corporate sportswear temple)
Station layout: Oxford Circus station is bloody complicated beneath the surface, with long winding tunnels everywhere which seem to take forever to walk down. I could try describing the layout, but I'd rather guide you towards these fine below-surface plans and 3D cutaways. Tell me you're not impressed.
Station history: short version here, extremely detailed pdf version here
Change here for: Victoria line (a very easy same-level interchange) and Central line
Bakerloo platforms: tiled with a green and white maze mosaic
Thrilling fact: Smoking on tube trains and underground stations was only banned in 1985 after a scary fire at Oxford Circus station trapped 1000 late-night commuters in smoke-filled tunnels.
Local character: Where Oxford Street once had Stanley Green, the Protein Man, now it has Paul Howard, the Sinner Winner Man. "Why be a sinner, when you can be a winner?" If you ever risk crossing Regent Street just north of Oxford Circus you'll probably hear Paul's dulcet tones booming out from the traffic island [photo], trying to convert passers-by to the living gospel. "If God's not the boss you're gonna suffer loss." There he stands in his orange anorak (with arctic-fur collar), politely haranguing pedestrians with his streaming megaphone monologue. "If we don't team up with God we never win." There's just a hint of a Deep South guttural aitch whenever he utters the word "je-h-esus" (which is often), but stay and listen too long and you'll realise that a lot of what he has to say is on a recycled loop. "Why be a sinner, when you can be a winner?" Read the b3ta interview with Paul here, download a signed poster here and buy the official t-shirt (honest) here.
Baker100 walk: Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus
Very little of the layout of central London was ever consciously planned - most of it just evolved. Regent Street, underneath which the Bakerloo line runs, is a rare exception. Along with Portland Place (see above) this was part of the processional route carved through the West End by John Nash for the benefit of the Prince Regent. How often the prince rode this way is not recorded, but Nash's broad boulevard soon became a fashionable magnet for the well-to-do of Georgian London. The very finest section of the road was the sweeping curve to the south - the Quadrant - whose shadowy colonnades were later removed to stop prostitutes gathering there after dark. Initially the two major road junctions at either end were called "Regent's Circus North" and "Regent's Circus South", but the need for clarity following the introduction of omnibus services caused conductors to rename them "Oxford Circus" and "Piccadilly Circus", and so they remain today. None of Nash's grand terraces still stand - the individual shops were too small for modern business needs so they were all demolished between 1902 and 1927. The replacement façades do still look pretty damned impressive, however [photo], and the street continues to take its heritage very seriously. Perhaps that's not surprising when the Crown is your landlord.
Walk down Regent Street today and what strikes you, apart from the grandeur, is the huge amount of scaffolding on show. In some parts of the street the majority of buildings appear to be boarded up, shielded behind poles and sheeting, while major reconstruction work takes place behind. Modern businesses have different needs to old, and some degree of rebuilding and inconvenience is needed while new retail outlets move in. It's all an illusion, though. The façades may stay intact but everything behind gets gutted - as you can see in this photo taken from Swallow Street, round the back of the main Regent Street curve. When the cranes finally move out and the new businesses and luxury penthouses move in, only a historical veneer will remain. So much of London's history, alas, is but skin deep.
Many of Regent Street's shops are world famous. Hamleys, for example, has to be the favourite destination for generations of toy-seeking children. It gets a bit crowded in there at weekends and school holidays, but you'll be glad to know that they still demonstrate pocket-money bubble-blowing machines and mini looping aeroplanes on the ground floor. Another traditional favourite is Liberty, its Tudor building constructed in 1924 from the timbers of two ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. Aquascutum and Austin Reed are also Regent Street staples, and there's a distinctly upmarket flavour to many of the other retailers here. Maybe that's why I've never properly appreciated this street - it's always seemed to be pitched somewhere over my head, more about excessive style than any sense of value. Not even the new Apple Store has encouraged me to change my mind. One recent Regent Street casualty was department store Dickins & Jones, closed for business in January after more than two centuries of trading. I hate to think who'll move in and replace it. After all, who now remembers Swan & Edgar at the foot of the street, closed in 1982 and now ignominiously replaced by a Virgin Megastore?
But one retail legend shows no sign of fading away. As long as I can remember there's been a bloke standing in Regent Street with a big arrowed sign saying GOLF SALE. I don't think it's been the same bloke every time, and the sign itself has also evolved (was yellow on black, now black on fluorescent yellow), but the campaign continues. Westminster Council tried to ban this board-borne advert a few years ago, but discovered that the relevant legislation didn't seem to extend to pavements and so the board remains. It's multiplied as well, with several feeder boards pointing towards the main sign pointing down Maddox Street. This isn't a sidestreet you'd otherwise choose to walk along, but on this occasion I thought I'd follow the pointing arrow to see what was there - something I've studiously avoided in the past (not least because I am so very definitely not a golfer). And there, just beyond the burger restaurant and the slightly rundown tanning salon, was the notorious Golf Sale. I was expecting more, perhaps, not just an ordinary shop with an array of golf bags and clubs lined up on the pavement. The big yellow sign at Oxford Circus may have read 'Walk In', but it seemed that nobody had. Two sales assistants stood chatting close to the door in a shop packed with golf equipment but no customers. I would have gone in, but I always feel very uncomfortable in any shop where the staff outnumber the visitors so I walked swiftly past and continued on my way. Even world renowned marketing campaigns, it seems, don't always deliver successful results.
Baker100 - Piccadilly Circus station
Station opened: Saturday 10th March 1906
Distance from previous station: 1km
Quick history: Two brand new underground lines met beneath Piccadilly Circus in 1906 - the Baker Street & Waterloo and the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton. The original station building was located on the corner of Coventry Street and Haymarket. As passenger numbers grew, a splendid new circular ticket hall was constructed beneath Eros, opening in 1928 (see cutaway diagram here).
Long history: Is this long enough for you?
Three things I found outside the station: half the tourists in the western world all jostling for position trying to take photographs of each other in front of Eros [photo]; two highly embarrassed men in big round pumpkin-shaped hats giving away free Mentos mints; a thin blue police telephone box (no longer functional)
Change here for: Piccadilly line
Bakerloo platforms: tiled with primary-coloured red, blue and greenery
Thrilling fact: Because the Bakerloo platforms are slightly staggered, you can stand at the northern end of the northbound platform and watch trains curving into the southbound platform. Old photo here.
Nearest baker: I don't know if it counts, but the very first Lyons Teashop opened a few doors up Piccadilly. Now a British Airways Travel Shop.
Nearest loo: The subways around the ticket hall contain some pretty robust public conveniences. Many decades ago they'd no doubt have been frequented by those seeking Dilly Boys on the meatrack. Savvy?
I've been here before: Piccadilly month (August 2004)
Baker100 walk: Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square
The Bakerloo line runs beneath Haymarket on its way to Trafalgar Square. I think the underground train has the right idea - it's not missing much above the surface. There's no longer a great deal of visual interest down this once historic street, just a few tourist tat shops, grim restaurants, archaic offices, the Sports Cafe and a seen-better-days cinema. But a handful of buildings still really stand out.
With its six tall Classical columns, the Theatre Royal is probably the most impressive building in the street. The present building was designed by (who else?) John Nash in 1820, although the original theatre dates back a century earlier. Her Majesty's Theatre across the road is even older, and has changed name (and gender) five times since 1705 to match with the reigning monarch. Early in its history, as the King's Theatre, it became renowned as the home of London opera under the musical directorship of George Frideric Handel (yes, really, him). The current building, opened in 1897, has a tradition of hosting long running musicals, including Chu Chin Chow (opened 1916, for 2238 performances), Fiddler On The Roof (opened 1967, for 2030 performances) and The Phantom Of The Opera (opened 1986, now over 7500 performances, and no sign of giving up the ghost). Perhaps most memorably of all, for some, Tommy Cooper suffered a fatal heart attack live on ITV whilst performing on stage here in 1984.
On the corner with Pall Mall stands New Zealand House, the official presence of the Kiwi government in the UK. The building is a 15-storey early-1960s tower block, which you might therefore expect to be a concrete monstrosity but actually it's nothing of the sort. Architect Robert Matthew hoped to create a 'romantic silhouette' on London's skyline and successfully created an elegant tower, now Grade II listed. The view's not quite so impressive at ground level, however, and the multilayered glass effect is now somewhat ruined by the need to hang billowing curtains in every window. New Zealand timbers were used for some of the interior decor, and there's a mighty tall Maori totem pole erected in the atrium. Post-war planners were particularly worried by the potential security risk created by the view from the top floor penthouse, and they were right to be. I've been right up to the outdoor roof terrace as part of London Open House weekend a few years ago (oooh, spectacular), and I'm sure if I'd taken a pair of binoculars I could have seen right into the gardens of Buckingham Palace. It's a great pity that the roof is so rarely open to the public. [photos & history here]
From here it's a short walk along either Pall Mall (past the National Gallery's carbuncle extension) or Cockspur Street (past the Scottish tourist office) to the edge of Trafalgar Square [photos]. And you may remember I wrote about Trafalgar Square in enormous detail last October, so I have no intention of repeating myself here. Onward to the station...
Baker100 - Trafalgar Square station
Station opened: Saturday 10th March 1906
Distance from previous station: 500m
Hang on, there isn't a tube station called Trafalgar Square: No, not any more. But there used to be when the Bakerloo line opened.
Station renamed Charing Cross: Sunday 4th August 1974
Incredibly complicated 'renaming' history of this and neighbouring stations: I've written about this in some depth before, or read about it all here
Brief summary of the above: Trafalgar Square and Strand stations were combined to create Charing Cross station in readiness for the completion of the Jubilee line. Subterranean station cross-section here.
Change here for: Northern line, but only if you want a very long walk because the two halves of the station really aren't very close together at all. Line maps on board Bakerloo line trains don't show this station as an interchange, recommending that you change at Embankment instead.
Exit: You emerge from the ticket hall directly into the southeast corner of Trafalgar Square [photo]. It's about as convenient as any tube station gets.
Bakerloo line platforms: A 1970s brown vinyl makeover, featuring murals inspired by Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery above. The panels were designed with integral litter bins, but the threat of terrorism means that these are now inelegantly blocked. Cardinal Wolsey now has a featureless white rectangle across his chest, for example [photo]
I've been here before: All about Trafalgar Square (October 2005)
Baker100 walk: Charing Cross to Embankment
There are several ways to walk the (very) short distance between Charing Cross and Embankment tube stations. You can follow the Bakerloo line and stroll down Northumberland Avenue, once home to a most grand Turkish Baths, now flanked by grim Government offices. You can follow the Northern line down narrow Villiers Street, lined with endless eateries and a monstrous block of accountants. You can walk through Charing Cross station itself, taking the raised walkway south through a piddling little tourist market. Or you can take the route I took, inbetween the lot of them, along quaint quiet Craven Street. Here, tucked away out of sight from most passing tourists, I stopped off to visit an unique slice of Americana...
I'd never paid cash before to spend time shut away alone in a private house with a histrionic woman. Neither was that my plan when I went to visit one of London's newest tourist attractions, opened in January this year on the 300th anniversary of its most famous resident's birth. But that's how things turned out.
You probably think of Benjamin Franklin as a quintessential American, battling for freedom against the British and signing his name at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence. But what's far less well known is that Franklin spent more than fifteen years of his life living in London. He spent a year in his late teens learning the printing trade (residing in Little Britain, no less) before returning home to set up the Pennsylvania Gazette. In 1757 he came back to London as a fifty-year-old international diplomat, staying considerably longer and taking up lodgings with the Stevenson family in a terraced townhouse in Craven Street [photo].
I found the door to 36 Craven Street without too much difficulty, but had far more trouble trying to work out how to pay to get in. A sign on the iron railings directed me round the corner to Craven Passage (ooh, atmospheric arched tunnel) beneath Charing Cross station where I eventually found the New Players Theatre. A girl behind the counter in the musty box office cheerily sold me an entrance ticket before revealing that I was the only person signed up for the 1pm tour. A tour earlier that morning had been sold out, she assured me, but her tally chart suggested business had been very slow since. Still, there was no point in complaining, a solo tour would clearly be the ultimate in heritage value for money. I was led back to Franklin's terraced house in Craven Street, ushered into the creaking hallway and taken down to the basement. Here I sat alone and watched a short film about Franklin's London life, edited with a clear nod to any parties of American tourists who might have been visiting. But they weren't, it was just me.
And then Polly made a dramatic entrance. Polly was the daughter of Ben Franklin's London landlady - and this was definitely either her or a very convincing actress in a big powdered wig. With the distant ringing of a bell from upstairs she bade me follow her up to the drawing room where virtual tea was being served. A highly ingenious interactive audio-visual presentation was underway, with the wood-panelled walls of each room being used to screen a different tableau from Franklin's London biography. Voices and period music played over hidden speakers, with Polly narrating her part of the story to perfection during each narrative pause, live to the audience. Which was just me. Polly's professionalism shone through as she delivered a bravura performance without ever looking me directly in the eye, or blushing all red and embarrassed at being shut in the same room with one single male vistor. I couldn't help but be impressed as she led me through the house with as much energy as she would a party of 12, and Franklin's story unfolded from a very human angle.
I don't think I'd previously fully appreciated the broad diversity of Franklin's genius. Not content with being a newspaper baron and civic-minded statesman, Ben was also a talented scientist. His particular interest was the new-fangled study of electricity, including that legendary kite-flying lightning experiment and a lot of playing around with coils and magnets. He kept busy during his voyages across the Atlantic by taking readings which established the path of the Gulf Stream. And in the tiny rear study upstairs at Craven Street he entertained the great thinkers of his day and invented bifocals. Here Polly's emotional parting scene recalled the day in March 1775 when ambassador Ben, disgraced in British eyes as a whistleblower, finally packed his bags and returned to revolutionary America. The special relationship he established between our two countries remains today (twat presidents notwithstanding). And Franklin's London life has been, I think, beautifully remembered here at Craven Street in unique and dramatic fashion. If you don't mind risking forming another minimalist audience, I know Polly would be delighted to show you round.
Baker100 - Embankment station
Hang on, isn't this station called Charing Cross? It used to be when it opened, but since 1974 it's been called Embankment. I warned you yesterday that this was complicated.
Station opened: Monday 30th May 1870
Change here for: District and Circle lines
Quick history: The District line got here first, running alongside a sewer inside the newly-constructed Victoria Embankment. The Bakerloo and Northern lines burrow underneath.
Distance from previous station: 370m
That's not far! No, Charing Cross to Embankment is one of the shortest inter-station journeys on the entire tube network. And the Northern line journey between these stations is 100m shorter still!
Surely it would be quicker to walk? You'd think so, wouldn't you? So I did an experiment to find out. I timed how long it took me to get from the Trafalgar Square entrance [photo] to the Embankment exit [photo] by train, and then timed how long it took me to walk back again. First, by tube. It took a minute to descend to the foot of the escalator, another to get to the platform, a third to wait for a train, a fourth to ride to Embankment, a fifth to mount the first escalator and a sixth to climb the final escalator and exit. My walk back up Northumberland Avenue took only four minutes and 45 seconds. So yes, it's definitely quicker to walk.
Station layout: Fairly simple, all things considered - see 3D cross-section here
Bakerloo platforms: white tiles, decorated with fluttering red, blue and brown ticker tape
Thrilling fact: Immediately before World War Two giant steel floodgates were built here (and at Waterloo) to prevent innundation by the Thames should a German bomb ever penetrate the tunnel beneath the river.
I've been here before: The construction of the Victoria Embankment (August 2005)
Baker100 walk: Embankment to Waterloo
Until a few years ago, the best way to cross the Thames from Charing Cross to Waterloo was by train. You wouldn't have wanted to walk across the old Hungerford footbridge, a narrow confined passageway on stilts hemmed in beside the old iron railway bridge. Not unless you were a beggar or a mugger, anyway. There's been a footbridge here since 1845 when Isambard Kingdom Brunel built the first to connect southern shoppers to bustling Hungerford Market on the north bank. Structurally it was gorgeous. As a pedestrian tollbridge crossing a stinking river, however, it was a financial disaster. In 1859 the South Eastern Railway bought up Brunel's bridge and promptly demolished it, replacing it with a sturdy box girder rail bridge designed by John Hawkshaw. Commuter trains still rumble through his iron lattice today, crawling slowly across the river into Charing Cross station (built on the site of the old Hungerford Market). The desolate red footbridge endured far longer than it should, but the demolition order finally came and the new Hungerford Bridges are its replacement. They were tough to build, not least because the fragile Bakerloo line passes only a few metres beneath the riverbed, but they were finally opened in 2002.
Aaah that's better. Not just one footbridge but two. Not a narrow walkway but a broad span. Not a boxy iron tube but an elegant wave of supsended steel cables. Not a criminal paradise but a busy thoroughfare. Not a shortcut to scurry down but a tourist destination in its own right. Not a grim view of passing trains but an open vista across the Thames. Walk across the eastern side and there's St Paul's rising above Blackfriars Bridge. Walk across the western side and there's the London Eye looming above the Houses of Parliament. The Golden Jubilee Bridges were clearly meant to be photographed and to photograph from. So my apologies to any passing couples whose path I blocked while I was busy snapping away, but there was no need to be in such a hurry, OK?
The new bridges have increased pedestrian access to the South Bank, at least for us northerners. Most of the arty buildings here grew up as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain - an event a bit like the Millennium Dome except that it was an enormous success. Closest to the bridge is the Royal Festival Hall, recently buried beneath a shroud of boards and sheeting awaiting concrete rebirth. Architecturally it's not to everybody's taste but inside the auditorium, where it counts, the acoustics in are spot on. Well, I thought so when I performed here as a spotty 12-year-old, one of hundreds of Hertfordshire schoolchildren press-ganged into singing some worthy Vaughan Williams oratorio to a packed audience of devoted parents and grandparents. You might remember me - I was the well-scrubbed short kid seated stage right who felt distinctly faint just after the interval and had to sit down mid-performance. Sorry. I've not been back inside since, just in case somebody official recognises me. Quick, let's hurry onward, along to Waterloo. Meet you under the clock?
Baker100 - Waterloo station
Station opened: Monday 8th August 1898
Distance from previous station: 500m (beneath the River Thames)
You are now entering: the London borough of Lambeth
Named after: That big battle in 1815 where we whopped the French. No connection whatsoever to Abba.
Change here for: Waterloo & City line (arrived 1898), Northern line (arrived 1926), Jubilee line (arrived 1999) and mainline services (arrived 1848)
Thrilling fact: Waterloo station has 24 escalators, more than any other underground station.
Bakerloo line platforms: sort-of ordinary tiling, but with medieval-looking mosaic panels spaced out close to most of the exits
Nearest baker: There are plenty of food outlets on the concourse of Waterloo mainline station which pretend to be bakers. Upper Crust promise 'delicious baguettes baked all day long', Delice de France reheat croissants to order, and Krispy Kreme churn out something almost, but not quite, like a genuine doughnut. There's even a kiosk called 'Daily Bread', except that they only serve sandwiches, not still-warm cottage bloomers. Most disappointing.
Nearest loo: Opposite mainline platform 18, except that I wasn't paying 20p to spend a penny!
Baker100 walk: Waterloo to Lambeth North
At the far eastern end of Waterloo mainline station, just that little bit further than most commuters usually venture, there's an exit out into nothingness. OK, so it's not quite nothing, particularly if you turn left up towards Westminster Bridge Road, but I turned right. A long straight pavement stretches the full length of platform 1, but on the opposite side of a stark brick wall [photo]. Alongside is a rat run for buses and queueing taxis, shielded behind some grey functional railings with a view downhill across the wastes of North Lambeth. And the highlight of 'Station Approach Road' is a small mini-roundabout. Sorry, it's not exactly a heritage hotspot like Regent Street, is it? At the far end the pavement descends into a roadside subway that's even bleaker. I stopped to take a photograph of this unappealing hole, only to be laughed at by an incredulous passer-by. He may have had a point [photo].
But my exit was into one of the area's more characterful and historic streets - Lower Marsh. The name's a hint to its origin - a road cutting across extensive marshy land to the south of the Thames and once the quickest way to walk between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge without getting your boots wet. Lower Marsh has been a shopping street for centuries and retains a charming run-down retail look today. The buildings are a higgledy-piggledy ragbag of mixed-height terraces, selling nothing overly corporate [photo]. I arrived in the middle of a Saturday afternoon when you might have expected trade to be at its height, but instead the street was unexpectedly quiet and market-free. I guess that weekday office workers now form the mainstay of local business. Otherwise I'd undoubtedly have popped into independent bookshop Crockatt & Powell, being the only blogging booksellers I know. Alas, like the Golf Sale earlier in my walk, I find the prospect of a solo browsing experience somewhat uncomfortable, so I passed by.
With just a few hundred yards of my Bakerloo line walk remaining, I finally located something I'd been searching for in vain for the last three miles - a bakery. Admittedly it was nothing truly local, just an identikit blue Greggs outlet selling all the usual cakes and savouries, but this was the first building on my journey where I could actually have bought a loaf baked on the premises. Except unfortunately they'd sold out of bread and were down to the last few leftover pastries, so I made do with a sausage, cheese and bean melt while the ladies cleaned up behind the counter. I'd found a baker but I couldn't find a loo, so I decided against purchasing an accompanying beverage. By the look of the street outside, however, I bet some of the side alleys get used as an extremely public convenience every now and then. Lambeth North station was now just around the corner, and I felt a world away from my starting point on the edge of leafy genteel Regent's Park.
Baker100 - Lambeth North station
Station opened: Saturday 10th March 1906
Station originally called: Kennington Road, but changed to Westminster Bridge Road after just five months, then changed to Lambeth (North) in 1917 (and lost the brackets in 1927)
Distance from previous station: 900m
End of the line: Not any more, obviously, but it was when the line opened. The tracks to Elephant & Castle were opened five months later.
Nearby depot: There's room for 10 Bakerloo trains in the London Road depot, just off St George's Circus. It's hard to believe that railway sidings still take up so much prime land so close to central London, but they do. Apparently the depot is haunted by the ghost of a nun.
Most outstanding feature outside the station: Tall-spired Christ Church, once home to William Wilberforce's anti-slavery campaign, now home to an ultra-progressive ministry called (ouch) church.co.uk (the sort of place that has a TV vicar and a Sunday evening service called "headspace")
Thrilling fact: There are 84 steps down to platform level
Below ground: A proper old-style tube station with curvy platforms, creaking lifts and genuine old ivory and brown tiling, mercifully free of the ravages of a wholesale Metronet upgrade. [photo] [photo] [photo]
Proper history of the station: here
Local Bakerloo book: Geoff Ryman's unique novel 253, in which a packed Bakerloo line train hurtles southward towards Elephant & Castle, and we learn in detail about each of the 253 characters on board. Just before the train crashes. Not only is it a great book, but it started out online so you can read the whole thing here. Recommended.
I SPY LONDON
the definitive DG guide to London's sights-worth-seeing
Part 7: Imperial War Museum
Location: Lambeth Road, SE1 6HZ [map]
Open: 10am - 6pm
Admission: free (some exhibitions cost)
5-word summary: military might and reflective remembrance
Time to set aside: at least an afternoon
Just down the road from Lambeth North station, just that little bit further than the original Bakerloo line ventured, stands the imposing Imperial War Museum. The jingoistic name probably deters a lot of more sensitive souls from visiting, wrongly expecting that the place is full of guns, artillery and body armour. Which is a shame, because that's only partially true. I was in the area, so I thought I'd pay the former lunatic asylum a visit.
Once you get past the queue at the cash desk (which always strikes me as strange in a free museum, but I guess they need the opportunity to flog you a £3.50 audio guide) you enter into a tall airy entrance hall packed with the machinery of war. Mighty rockets rise up from the floor (that's a V2, that's a Polaris). Field guns and tanks are scattered around for intimate perusal (that's a Howitzer, that's a Sherman). A selection of classic warplanes hang across the ceiling (that's a Sopwith Camel, that's a Focke and yes, that's a Spitfire). There's nothing here over 100 years old because the museum concentrates on 20th century conflicts, from trench warfare to more modern genocide. But for me the jewels in the collection aren't these large objects of military strength, they're the exhibitions spread across the six floors behind.
As you might expect, the majority of the museum is given over to remembering the First and Second World Wars. Downstairs is a traditional glass-cased walkthrough of the history of each, complete with a fibreglass WW1 trench to shuffle down and a blacked-out WW2 air raid shelter experience. There's a special area devoted to D-Day, in some depth, as well as a skim through some of the later global conflicts of the 20th century. I was especially impressed by The Children's War, an extensive exhibition recounting the experiences of evacuees and those left to fight WW2 on the Home Front. Like all the best history it's delivered as much through written and spoken testimony as through collections of appropriate artefacts. Best of all was the chance to walk through a full size mocked-up 1930s semi-detached house, peering into the period kitchen, austere bedrooms and gadget-free parlour. It's hard to remember that for most of the children being taken around the exhibition this is a glimpse back into the long lost past, whereas I could easily imagine my parents and grandparents sitting down at the dining room table for a rationed meal or hiding inside the steel cage of a squat Morrison Shelter during an air raid.
But you have to ascend to the third floor to enter the most thought-provoking galleries of all - the Holocaust Exhibition. Two floors of the museum have been given over to detailing the Nazis' so-called Final Soulution, starting with an in-depth exploration of the politics and propaganda which allowed mass genocide to sneak up almost unnoticed. Due attention is paid to the creeping tide of oppression as Hitler's borders expanded, notably across eastern Europe, and it's chilling to hear genuine first person testimony every step of the way. The journey to (and through) Auschwitz is remembered in graphic detail, and the inhumanity of this place of extinction is brought home by the tales of a handful fortunate enough to survive. You won't leave unmoved. And if a few gung-ho Playstation addicts visit the museum expecting bloody war but discover instead this heartfelt plea to peace and tolerance, the museum has done its job well.
by tube: Lambeth North
Here endeth my journey along the 100-year-old Bakerloo Line.
And watch out, because yet another tube line has a centenary later this year. I wonder whether Hammersmith to Finsbury Park is quite so absorbing...
www.flickr.com : Bakerloo gallery
50+ photos from Baker Street to Lambeth North