Sunday, October 28, 2007
London Journeys: the Willett Way
Part 1: Petts Wood → Petts Wood
If you enjoyed your extra hour in bed this morning, then the man you need to thank is a builder from Chislehurst. His name was William Willett and he's the visionary genius who, exactly a century ago, first proposed the idea of Daylight Saving Time. William noticed that late-sleeping Britons were wasting valuable daylight every morning and, in 1907, started a national campaign to put the clocks forward. And he came up with his idea whilst riding through Petts Wood. Let's go for a commemorative walk (in pictures)...
The people of Petts Wood in southeast London are understandably proud of William Willett. Look, here he is commemorated on the town sign in Queensway, just outside Woolworths [photo]. The sun and moon in the lower right quarter represent Daylight Saving (and then there's a horse representing Kent, an old coat of arms and an Elizabethan galleon built from local timber). And it's beneath this sign that a very special walking trail begins - the Willett Way. This three mile walk [pdf] has been put together by a local historian as part of a special centenary exhibition at the Royal Greenwich Observatory [link]. It's not a terribly exciting walk, just a trudge down suburban avenues and through a bit of woodland, but there's a certain charm in following in the footsteps of the man who invented BST. And this weekend would be perfect, because you've got an extra hour to do it.
Cross the railway by Petts Wood station and you'll find a matching sign, and a pub. The pub has been named in honour of William Willett (as have a lot of things round here - you'll get the hang of it as we proceed) and it's called the Daylight Inn [photo]. They do beer and food (and a trivia quiz on Tuesdays) just like any normal pub, but they also specialise in badly-repainted pub signs. The sign may look quite impressive, featuring a big smiling sun flanked by two clocks, but only until you peer a little closer [photo]. In the original pub sign one of the hour hands pointed to twelve and the other to one, representing the one hour time difference that's at the heart of Daylight Saving. But the brainless cretins who recently repainted the sign have set both clocks to noon, representing bugger all. Which is a shame. Don't stop to drown your sorrows, there's a long walk still to go.
Onward past a parade of half-timbered Tudorbethan shops (more 1935 than 1539) where the bored daytime wives of Petts Wood go to fritter away their husbands' salaries on tanning salons and interior design. And onward into the leafy avenues that surround the station, into one of the finest garden suburbs in southeast London. A typical avenue, off to your right beside the church, has been named Willett Way [photo]. It's full of exactly the sort of houses that William himself would have built, had he lived 20 years longer [photo]. It's a long street of black and white executive villas with pristine lawns and well-trimmed rose bushes. It's a privileged commuter haven complete with two-car garages and diamond latticed windows. It's the top of the property ladder, or at least as top as most of us could hope to aspire. It's extremely Metroland, apart from being on the wrong side of the capital. And there is, to be honest, absolutely no reason to walk down it apart from its name. Seen enough? Contain your seething jealousy, retrace your steps and head back towards the local recreation ground.
Yes, obviously, this is the Willett Recreation Ground, what else? Within its hedges you'll find the Petts Wood Bowling Club (please take great care - the path to the pavilion is slippery) and the Petts Wood Cricket Club. Surely some mistake there - two sporting facilities that haven't been named after our favourite Edwardian celebrity. But there's a treat in store embedded in the grass by the cricket pavilion [photo]. It's a very special memorial sundial, the hours marked out by colourful Roman numerals designed by pupils at a nearby primary school. There's no central spike - you have to stand in the middle and see which way your own shadow points [photo]. And, rather delightfully, this is a British Summer Time sundial. During the summer months it tells the correct time, while from November to March it runs an hour ahead of GMT. Unlike normal sundials this one tells the correct time for more than half of the year, and for the part of the year with maximum daylight too. Our William would be justly proud.
The Willett Way continues up a side alley, underneath the railway and out into deep green woodland. This is what's left of the ancient forest of Petts Wood, the bit that hasn't disappeared beneath a carpet of suburbia. The wood was bought by public subscription in 1927 and handed over to the National Trust, and has since acted as a buffer against unfettered housing development [photo]. And it's rather delightful. Twisting tracks and muddy bridleways lead beneath a leafy canopy, with the occasional view out across sheep-infested fields. And it must have been much the same when local builder William Willett took his morning constitutional 100 years ago. He was riding his horse through Petts Wood early one morning when he noticed that all his neighbours were still asleep in bed. What a waste of daylight, he thought. What if we could shift an hour of summer daylight from the morning to the evening? Being a man of action he went home and wrote a polemic pamphlet entitled "The Waste of Daylight", and campaigned to get his timeshifting plans forced through Parliament. And what do you know, he was actually successful. Eventually.
Introducing British Summer Time took rather longer than William Willett expected. The first Daylight Saving Bill was introduced in 1908, but struggled to get through Parliament despite support from a majority of MPs. It took a world war to focus Europe's attention on the importance of saving daylight, and therefore fuel, and Germany was first to take the plunge. A coal shortage forced Britain to follow suit shortly afterwards, and on 21st May 1916 a bemused nation turned its carriage clocks and fobwatches forward by 60 pioneering minutes. In 1925 a permanent British Summertime Act was passed, and the grateful people of Petts Wood erected this memorial sundial in honour of its trailblazing inventor. It stands in a silent clearing in the middle of the wood [photo] and commemorates William as "the untiring advocate of Summer Time" [photo]. It's another very special hour-ahead sundial, running on BST rather than GMT, with the Latin phrase beneath the dial translating as "I only keep the Summer hours" [photo]. I arrived in the clearing when the sun was almost exactly overhead, so the shadowed time in my photograph indicates 1pm BST rather the more normal 12 noon GMT. Of all the sights along the Willett Way, this was the most special.
But William never lived to see his ideas come to fruition. He died in 1915, just a year too early, and was buried in the churchyard at St Nicholas's in Chislehurst [photo]. The Willett Way passes his burial site, and you can slip beneath the lych gate into the churchyard and search out his grave in the southeastern corner. It's a sorry sight, at least in comparison to some of the more upright memorials close by [photo]. William's marble cross headstone has been snapped off and now lies folornly across the top of a bare earth grave [photo]. Some of the plot's low stone borders have also toppled over, and the text on what's left of the gravestone is barely readable. You wouldn't ever imagine, looking at this mess from the pavement outside, that here was the last resting place of a man once so revered that he had his own waxwork in Madame Tussauds.
The Willett Way terminates just up the road at William's self-built home - The Cedars [photo]. It's an impressive detached pile overlooking Chislehurst Common, and Bromley Council have placed a plaque by the front door to commemorate "the initiator of British Summer Time". Thank goodness a few people still remember William Willett - the ordinary man whose early morning horse-ride ended up changing the world. Ah, if only changing all those clocks back an hour didn't take so long! Damn you William, damn you!
Everyone appreciates the long light evenings. Everyone laments their shrinkage as Autumn approaches, and nearly everyone has given utterance to a regret that the clear bright light of early morning, during Spring and Summer months, is so seldom seen or used. Nevertheless, Standard time remains so fixed, that for nearly half the year the sun shines for several hours each day, while we are asleep, and is rapidly nearing the horizon when we reach home after the work of the day is over. There then remains only a brief spell of declining daylight in which to spend the short period of leisure at our disposal. Now, if one of the hours of sunlight wasted in the morning could be added to the end of the day, many advantages would be gained by all, and especially by those who would spend in the open air, whatever time they might have at their disposal after the duties of the day have been discharged. Walk the Willett Way
The Waste of Daylight, William Willett (1907)
My photographs along the Willett Way
Follow the Willett Way on a map
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Tube Week Extra Updated tube map
Typical. I run a whole blogweek all about the tube, including lots about the tube map and how it needs updating, and then over the weekend TfL only go and update it. It's one of the biggest updates for years, and incorporates the newly rebranded London Overground lines into Harry Beck's once-elegant design. It's all getting terribly overcrowded. Someone somewhere must have decided that the map has to contain as much information as possible, and with every update there are more symbols, more blobs, more angles and more text. Much more inclusive, but far less accessible. For the time being you can compare the old (jpg) and the new (pdf) on the TfL website. See if you can spot the difference.
Here's what I've spotted...
The London Overground: Wham, a big tangerine octopus has suddenly grabbed hold of the old tube network. The North London line may have been on the tube map for years, but now it's bright orange and unmissable. The Gospel Oak to Barking line appears for the first time, although with no indication of how infrequent the service is. The Watford to Euston line reappears (the north end's been on and off the map several times over the years) while the West London line is brand new (ending south of the river at a rather forlorn looking Clapham Junction). All four lines have been inelegantly embedded onto the map with rather too many bends and several over-long stretches. All in all, not lovely.
Four brand new stations: They're opening "soon" and they're new on the map. They're Wood Lane (on the Hammersmith & City line, "station under construction"), Heathrow Terminal 5 (on the Piccadilly line, "under construction"), Shepherd's Bush ("London Overground station under construction") and Langdon Park (DLR, "opening November 2007").
19 other stations that weren't there before: All of them are Overground stations, including such backwater dumps as Leytonstone High Road, Kilburn High Road and Hatch End.
10 new step-free stations: Don't get excited, they're all on the Overground and they were all step-free before.
Three new airport connections: Maybe TfL were listening to our conversation last week. Harrow and Wealdstone now has a red airport symbol , as do new arrivals Watford Junction and Clapham Junction.
Two big orange boxes: one warning of special fares north of Hatch End, the other announcing the demise of the East London line in December.
The longest station name just got longer: Kings Cross St Pancras is now "Kings Cross St Pancras for St Pancras International". You know, just in case you couldn't work that out for yourself.
Lots of superfluous extra text relating to British Rail connections: It doesnt say Moorgate any more, it says "Moorgate no weekend service". Same thing at Old Street and Highbury & Islington. Like anybody cares. It's even wordier at Sudbury Hill on the Piccadilly line, which now reads "Sudbury Hill Sudbury Hill Harrow (no weekend service) 150m". Whatever happened to clarity?
Lots more squashed-up station names: The northern end of the Bakerloo line is a lot more tightly packed. Acton Central almost crashes into the H&C line nextdoor. Turnpike Lane's been bumped nearer to Wood Green. Which of those three neighbouring stations is Blackhorse Road? And whose idea was it to shoehorn the London Overground lines onto a map where they don't really fit?
Pray that your eyesight never gets worse, because future tube maps can only be uglier, more cramped and even less legible. Someone needs to try to convince TfL that increasing inclusivity doesn't always help Londoners get around.
Friday, October 26, 2007
And so ends diamond geezer's fifth annual tube week. I continue to be amazed by how much interactive interest the London Underground inspires, even amongst people who rarely or never use it. And I'm also surprised, every year, that I don't run out of new tube-related stuff to write about. I mean, five years on and I still haven't written a tube week post about disused stations. Maybe next year...
Tubewatch (25) yet more tube links
If you love all this tube-related stuff, then you ought to consider joining the London Underground Railway Society. They hold monthly meetings and publish a detailed monthly newsletter (all yours for just two quid a month)
Here are a couple of wet and wonderful not-quite-tube-maps, one showing London's waterways, the other London's underground rivers and sewers (both splendid)
Admit it, you've often wondered how many 1930s Grand Union Canal narrowboats share their name with a tube station.
Everybody has to learn how to use the tube the first time they travel. Luckily there are some animated teaching materials at Transport School (where you can also learn about taking the bus, the DLR, a tram, and even a taxi)
You thought they were just litter bins and CCTV cameras, but no. According to TfL's offical Product Standards they're an essential element of a "well designed, confident and consistent visual identity". (mmm, see how "the lack of horizontal surfaces" on that bicycle rack can "discourage the build up of litter and prevent the concealment of suspect packages")
The capital's latest public transport projects are regularly updated at London Connections (where else are you going to find details of the new pedestrian subway at Kings Cross, or see photos of the over-narrow platforms at the new Shepherd's Bush station?)
Tube quiz (25) Going Overground
Within the next two months the London tube map is going to change quite dramatically, twice.
In two weeks time, on November 11th, the London Overground is born. That's a motley collection of four suburban railway lines (currently run by Silverlink Metro) which will be relaunched and rebranded under the TfL umbrella. The four lines in question run from Richmond to Stratford, from Gospel Oak to Barking, from Willesden Junction to Clapham Junction, and from Watford Junction to Euston. They won't be part of the official Underground network, but they will all appear on the tube map marked by a double orange stripe. It's a welcome shot in the arm for these previously neglected lines, but it's going to make the tube map look a bit of a congested mess.
In two months, on December 22nd, the entire East London Line will close for major redevelopment work. When it reopens in 2010 it'll be part of the East London Railway (from Dalston to Croydon) and part of the new London Overground. Which means that six current stations are about to disappear forever from the official Underground network. They're Shadwell, Wapping, Rotherhithe, Surrey Quays, New Cross and New Cross Gate. Their days are numbered. Their days are 58.
Which brings me to the point of today's quiz. When the East London line disappears, and six stations vanish, several snippets of long-standing Underground trivia will no longer be true. I'm thinking in particular of...
a) The Jubilee line is the only Underground route that connects with all others.
b) The Thames Tunnel is the oldest section of tunnel in the London Underground.
c) The East London Line is the only line without a station in Zone 1.
d) Six London boroughs are not served by the Underground.
e) Wapping is the only station which has no letters in common with the word 'lobster'.
Tube geek (25) World metro systems
London's not the only world city with a "metro" rail system. But it does have the biggest (and was, arguably, the first). For the lowdown on which city has what (with lots of lovely photographs, and data, and anorakky facts) there's the wonderful Metro Bits website. Using which, I've come up with the following international Top 5 Metro lists...
» Longest: London (421km), New York (370km), Tokyo (292km), Seoul (287km), Moscow (278km)
» Shortest: Haifa (1.75km), Rouen (2.2km), Newark (2.2km), Volgograd (3.3km), Gelsenkirchen (3.7km)
» Oldest: Mumbai (1853), London (1863), Chicago (1892), Budapest (May 1896), Glasgow (Dec 1896)
» Youngest: Palma (April 07), Valencia (Oct 06), Daejon (Mar 06), Torino (Feb 06), Valparaiso (Nov 05)
» Most stations: New York (468), Seoul (298), Paris (297), London (274), Madrid (219)
» Most lines: New York (27), Paris (16), Köln (15), Tokyo (13), Madrid (13)
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Tubewatch (24) Towards an accessible tube
It's only been 14 years since wheelchair users were finally permitted to travel on deep level tube trains. Now TfL make every decision with the needs of disabled passengers in mind, and that includes providing step-free access at underground stations. But it's a slow process. There was no DDA legislation a century ago when most of London's tube stations were built, so steps and passageways and escalators provide insurmountable obstacles for two-wheeled traffic. But TfL are trying, slowly and expensively, to turn the entire tube map blue and blobby. Currently only 47 tube stations are rated step-free (one sixth of the total), but there are plans afoot to increase that fraction to one quarter by 2010 and one third by 2013. That'll be the easy stations converted - then it gets much more difficult.
Which is why TfL are currently holding a public consultation to decide what to do next. With limited money to go round, what should be London's step-free priority after 2013? It's a very important issue and, for those of us who might end up in wheelchairs or pushing pushchairs in the distant future, a very relevant one. There are two options on the table, each very different in its priorities, and we're being asked which we prefer.Approach 1: Journeys Model – focusing on the highest number of step-free journeysRead full details of the consultation here, including a 40 page pdf with some blobby maps of two potential futures. The consultation ends on 31st December 2007, so there's plenty of time to make your voice heard. What's your preference?
"This approach maximises the number of step-free journeys possible with the funds available. This means adding further to the number of step-free stations in central London at the expense of a greater number of step-free stations in the suburbs. It doesn't take account of where disabled and older people live, and ignores the fact that modern buses already make central London reasonably accessible."
This would mean, for example...
half of all stations accessible, and half of all tube journeys
11 of the 21 stations inside the Circle line step-free
no new step-free stations on the Met beyond Harrow-on-the-Hill
neither of my local tube stations step-free
Approach 2: Demographic Model – focusing on where people live, work and shop
"This approach concentrates on stations that are close to where people who would most benefit from step-free access live rather than concentrating on the number of step-free journeys. This means adding to the number of step-free stations in suburban London at the expense of central London stations."
This would mean, for example...
two thirds of all stations accessible, but only a third of all tube journeys
only 3 of the 21 stations inside the Circle line step-free
10 new step-free stations on the Met beyond Harrow-on-the-Hill
both of my local tube stations step-free
Tube quiz (24) NSEW
Which is the most common compass direction to appear in the name of a London Underground station? Is it North (Harrow), South (Harrow), East (Acton) or West (Acton)?
Here's the full list, and North is the winner!
North: Acton, Clapham, Ealing, fields, Greenwich, Harrow, Lambeth, olt, Wembley, wick Park, wood, wood Hills 
South: Clapham, Ealing, fields, gate, Harrow, Kensington, Kenton, Ruislip, wark, Wimbledon, Woodford 
West: Acton, bourne Park, Brompton, Finchley, Ham, Hampstead, Harrow, Hounslow, Kensington, minster, Ruislip 
East: Acton, Aldgate, cote, Dagenham, Finchley, Ham, Hounslow, Mill Hill, Putney 
Tube geek (24) First and last
So much for those late running tube trains that TfL had hoped to be bringing us by now. The unions aren't playing ball, and until they do it'll never happen. It was only going to be half an hour later at weekends, nothing seismic, but enough to keep thousands of Londoners off crowded nightbuses. And an hour later on Saturday mornings too, just to balance things out, condemning thousands of early risers to nigh-empty nightbuses. But half an hour later than what? How many of us actually know what times the first and last trains go, because we're never on them. So I thought I'd pick three typical central London stations and use TfL's first & last timetables to find out.
BAKER STREET First train Last train Bakerloo ← 0551 0037 Bakerloo ↓ 0550 0027 Jubilee ↑ 0545 0040 Jubilee ↓ 0521 0040 Circle ← 0600 0001 Circle → 0540 2346 H & City ← 0511 0046 H & City → 0457 0034 Metropolitan ↑ 0520 0043
First train Last train Central ← 0555 0031 Central → 0549 0031 Northern ↑ 0546 0041 Northern ↓ 0553 0031
First train Last train Piccadilly ← 0548 0036 Piccadilly → 0545 0031
So, first trains tend to start running just before six, and last trains depart the centre of town just after half past midnight. The Circle line starts latest and stops earliest, which is a bit rubbish. But at least the Hammersmith & City line does the opposite to make up for it. One day, just maybe, all these trains will run a bit later. Until then remember, don't miss the last tube, because minicabs cost a fortune and nightbuses smell of puke.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Tube geek (23) Change here
Not everyone in London wants to travel on the tube all the time. There are other means of transport, and the tube map now uses little tiny symbols to show where it's possible to change from one to the other. Just for major forms of transport, that is, not for weedy things like buses or bikes. Even so, the tube map is awash with little tiny symbols, which apparently help travellers to change mode. I'm not convinced.
This little tiny symbol represents a connection with National Rail services. There are 56 of these in total. Not every interchange is labelled (especially where tube and rail lines share the same tracks), but all the Central London termini are included, as well as such far flung interchanges as Greenford, Blackhorse Road and Balham (just in case these ever take your fancy). But watch your eyesight. If the rail station is a short walk from the tube, then the symbol (and the distance) has been written so small that no bifocal could ever read it. Text that's only half a millimetre high? So much for accessibility, TfL!
This little tiny symbol labels all the stations where you you can change for riverboat services. Because we all do that, don't we. We all hop off the tube and rush down to the Thames to wait for half an hour on a freezing pier for an empty boat to nowhere. Well, squint at the tube map carefully and you'll spot six places between Westminster and Greenwich where you can do precisely this. But not at Putney Bridge or Temple, apparently, even though the riverboat map says you can. So much for reversible connectivity, TfL!
This little tiny symbol represents interchange with National Rail Services to airport. Not one of the three special airport stations (such as Heathrow Terminal 4) whose symbols are black not red. No, a red plane means "change here for the Algarve". And there are 12 of these. Not that there's any clue which station leads to which airport, which is a bit useless. If a tourist laden with three wheelie suitcases picks up a tube map and heads for the red plane symbol at Kentish Town, they're going to wonder where the train to Heathrow is. Sorry mate, we can only offer you Gatwick or Luton. So much for being fit for purpose, TfL!
Here, for the benefit of any frequent flyers, are the London airports that the red plane stations connect to. But I think there's at least one connecting station they've missed out. See if you agree. So much for completeness, TfL!
Tube quiz (23) Name that station
Here are the names of 26 tube stations with all the consonants removed.
Can you identify them from just the vowels?
G) -A--- -I--
H) --A-- -A--
X) -O--I- -I--
Tubewatch (23) On your bike
With all the emphasis there's been from Mayor Ken on riding your bike to work, you might expect the tube to be more bicycle-friendly. But no. Only 113 tube stations have parking for bikes, and it's of very variable quality. My local station at Bow Road is one of the 113, apparently, although I don't ever remember seeing anyone risk leaving their two-wheeled pride and joy outside. So, if you can't leave your bike at the station, can you take it with you on the train? The answer is yes and no, depending on when and where you're going. Bicycles aren't allowed in the morning and evening rush hour, they're not allowed on escalators, and they're not allowed on any "deep level" tube lines. These restrictions lead to some strange anomalies, especially at the northwest tip of the Northern line. You can take your bike almost all the way from Golders Green to Edgware, which are five stations apart, but you have to get off and ride between Hendon Central and Colindale because the train goes through a short tunnel beneath the A41. Potential safety risk, apparently, should there be a major subterranean disaster (although I'm willing to bet that cycling along the Watford Way is far more dangerous than commuting underneath it).
Here's a very brief summary of where you can take your bike on the tube and where you can't.
Everywhere: Circle, District, East London, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan
Somewhere: Bakerloo, Central, Jubilee, Piccadilly, Northern
Nowhere: Victoria, Waterloo & City (and DLR)
» For proper full details I recommend the bike page on Richard's SquareWheels website.
» Or take a look at the slightly inaccurate TfL bikes-on-the-tube map.
» Or just buy a folding bike.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Tube geek (22) Bank/Monument
I made the mistake yesterday of changing at Bank to get to Monument. In particular I made the mistake of following the signs from the Central line to the District line, down into a tortuous subterranean assault course, which took aaa-ages. Whereas I should have gone via the Northern line platforms, or maybe even exited the station and walked along King William Street instead. While puffing down yet another passageway I realised that I don't understand the layout of Bank/Monument station at all, and I really ought to. So I've had a go at researching it, and simplifying it, and I've come up with the map below. It's not a perfect representation of up and down, it's merely diagrammatic, but it's helped to crystallise the layout in my head. And I shall never walk 3-5-6-8-12-13-11 again.
Blue: station entrances
 Bank station concourse: Up to street level (several exits); down travelator to ; down escalator to ; along passage to 
 Waterloo & City line platforms: up travelator to ; along long passage to 
 Central line platforms: up escalator to ; up staircase between platforms to ; down spiral staircase and along passage to 
 Lombard Street entrance (peak hours only): up to street level; along passage to ; down stairs and along passage to ; lift down to 
 Upper junction: along long passage to ; down stairs to ; along passage and up stairs to ; down escalator to 
 West junction: up escalator to ; along short passage to ; down escalator to 
 East junction: along passage and up spiral staircase to ; lift up to ; along short passage to ; down stairs to 
 DLR platforms: up escalator to ; stairs up to ; along passage and up escalator to 
 Northern line platforms: up stairs at north end of platforms to ; stairs down to ; along passage at south end of platforms and up escalator to 
 District line underpass: down escalator and along passage to ; up stairs to ; up stairs to 
 District line eastbound: down stairs to ; up stairs to 
 District line westbound: down stairs to ; down escalator and along passage to ; up stairs to 
 Monument ticket hall: up to street level; down stairs to ; down stairs to 
Tube quiz (22) Halfway stations
Some stations are exactly halfway along the line. Catch a train one way and you can get to exactly the same number of stations as if you cross the platform and travel in the opposite direction. Can you identify each of the 12 Underground lines from its halfway station?
(n.b. if halfway is halfway between two stations, I've only listed one of them)
A) Baker Street (Jubilee)
B) Bank (Central)
C) Canada Water (East London)
D) Euston (Victoria)
E) Farringdon (H&City)
F) Hammersmith (Piccadilly)
G) Warwick Avenue (Bakerloo)
H) South Kensington (District)
I) Waterloo (W&City)
J) no halfway station (Met, Circle, Northern)
Tubewatch (22) Oyster offers
Is it really only four years ago that I swapped my annual season ticket for an Oyster card? No more trying to feed scrunched up cardboard rectangles into the ticket barriers, now we just beep and go. It's been quite an electronic revolution, hastened by Mayor Ken's insistence on making Oyster fares considerably cheaper than paper travel. Well, now there's a new reason to appreciate your Oyster card, because it can save you money - in some cases a lot of money - at a variety of London events and attractions. Just so long as you've got someone else to go with. A selection of offers are below (and the complete list is here).
2 for 1 at the London Eye (Mon-Thur 3pm-8pm, until 10 Jan 2008)
2 for 1 at the London Aquarium and London Dungeon (until 31 Mar 2008)
2 for 1 at Madame Tussauds (until 15 Jan 2008)
2 for 1 on selected West End shows (Chicago, Avenue Q, etc) (until 31 Mar 2008)
20% off at the Ski & Snowboard Show (opens at Olympia tomorrow, runs until Sunday)
2 for 1 on Fulham FC tickets (home matches against dull opposition only)
Monday, October 22, 2007
Time once again for diamond geezer to go totally tubular with another week devoted to the London Underground. Prepare for five days of quizzes, quirks, commentary and obscure statistics. Four years ago I looked at the busiest stations, picking the right carriage and journeys where it was quicker to walk. Three years ago I investigated the closest stations, the easiest interchanges and the growth of the network. Two years ago I discussed overcrowding, ticket barrier codes and precisely where the underground is underground. And last year I wrote about accessibility, delays and why people never move down the platform. Amongst other things. I hope there's still something left to write about this year. Mind the doors.
Tube geek (21) It's not always quicker to walk
Back in February a group of students from St Martin's College of Art and Design produced a dead useful map showing how long it takes to walk between neighbouring underground stations at ground level. It only covers Zone 1, but that's OK because that's the bit you're most likely to want to walk round. The map's here, the blog accompanying the map's here, and an interview with the team is here. It was a great idea, and perfectly in tune with the latest anti-obesity zeitgeist. For example, Oxford Circus to Bond Street is only a six minute walk (not worth taking the tube), whereas Oxford Circus to Warren Street takes quarter of an hour (and should be a lot quicker by train).
But the map's not perfect, and has several errors and omissions. Euston station is missing, as are Tower Hill and Aldgate. Many of the rail links don't have times on them (there's nothing immediately east of Kings Cross or east of Monument). And some of the times given aren't between consecutive stations (I'm not quite sure what's going on between Baker Street and Kings Cross but there appears to be a lot of doubling up going on). So I've used the excellent Walkit site to calculate all the missing walking times, and then I've compiled the following Top 10 list. If you're travelling around Central London, these are the ones not to walk.
The ten longest walking times between consecutive stations in Zone 1
1) 21 minutes: Kings Cross → Farringdon
2) 18 minutes: Green Park → Westminster
3) 16 minutes: Angel → Old Street
4=) 15 minutes: Oxford Circus → Warren Street; Waterloo → Bank
6=) 14 minutes: Kings Cross → Angel; Baker Street → Bond Street; Paddington → Bayswater; Green Park → Victoria; South Kensington → Sloane Square
See how far apart many of the stations on the Jubilee and Victoria lines are, unlike the namby-pamby Bakerloo or Piccadilly where stations are rammed tight together. But sorry girls, I'm not convinced that the Top 10 above is 100% accurate. I reckon that Waterloo to Bank should be top of the list, but your map says it can be walked in quarter of an hour. Jogged maybe, but not walked. Alas the students' parting comment that "we hope to have a new and improved map and a shiny new web site available soon" doesn't appear to have come true. And that's a shame because I reckon there's still a lot of mileage left in this walk-minutes idea. I wonder if anybody will ever pick it up and run with it?
Tube quiz (21) Name that station
a) A station with no buildings above ground. (You've found Bethnal Green, Bond Street, Chancery Lane, Gants Hill, Green Park, Heathrow Terminal 4, Hyde Park Corner, Manor House, Old Street, Piccadilly Circus, Regent's Park, Vauxhall)
b) A station in two zones, one of which is Zone 5. (Hatton Cross is the only one, in Zones 5/6)
Tubewatch (21) Reading matters
It's always good to see Londoners reading on the tube (unless they've got their reading matter stuck in your face, that is). And there are now more people reading than ever before. But it's not books they've got their nose in, it's newspapers. I did a quick survey in my semi-crowded carriage on the Central line this morning and spotted 20 people reading nearby. 17 of them were reading newspapers (15 the Metro, 1 the Times, 1 The Sun) and three were reading books (1 a computer manual and 2 paperback chicklit). The relentless advance of the disposable newspaper, at both ends of the day, means that commuters no longer get to stare into space quite so often as before. Bored on the tube? Just pick up one of those chucked-away tabloids littering the carriage and your journey will pass more quickly. All this additional reading means that Londoners are better informed about current affairs than ever before. There's not a huge amount of news in these newspapers, but there's enough to make a difference. Greater understanding of everyday issues has to be a good thing, doesn't it? Although I do now fear for the continued circulation of paid-for books and newspapers. Why buy a broadsheet or a red-top when you can pick up some info-lite newsprint for free. Why buy escapist novels when reality is daily thrust into your hand for nothing? We may all be reading more, but I fear we're not reading better.
Friday, October 19, 2007
It's good to know that not every heritage feature on the London Underground has been ripped out and replaced by something plastic, modern and accessible. Not yet, anyway. Here's a mighty fine example, seen somewhere on the Hammersmith and City line.
[complete sign here] [full close-up here]
This is the bottom half of the big sign in the ticket hall at Barbican station, at the top of the stairs down to the platforms. But where's the pink Hammersmith & City line gone? It appears to exist only as a bolt-on panel just below Barking. And that's because this is a pre-1990 sign, before the H&C was introduced, back when the Metropolitan line used to go all the way to West Ham and beyond. Nowadays the Metropolitan line terminates at Aldgate, and the Hammersmith and City has taken over the old route out east.
And there's more. The orange of the East London line is missing too. Prior to 1990 the track from Shoreditch to New Cross and New Cross Gate was part of the "Metropolitan line - East London Section". That Metropolitan purple stretched everywhere in those days. No longer. And Shoreditch station isn't open any more, and Canada Water station (apparently) hasn't been built yet (it ought to be between Rotherhithe and Surrey
DocksQuays). This sign just doesn't reflect 21st century reality.
And there's more. The Docklands Light Railway appears to exist only as a connection at Bow Road (via another bolt-on panel). It ought to get a mention at Shadwell too, and probably at Tower Hill, but it doesn't. No matter that the DLR's been open for 20 years, it barely gets a look-in on this sign. Ditto the 1999 Jubilee line extension, which ought to have a connection at West Ham, but doesn't.
This sign is at least 20 years out of date, and quite possibly 30. The network depicted on this sign no longer exists. Several new lines, new connections and even new stations are not included. Any visitor to London relying on this sign for accurate transport information is being seriously misled. This sign is, quite clearly, wholly unfit for purpose. And yet it hasn't been replaced, and it hasn't been significantly updated, and it remains only because nobody quite has the heart to replace it. And I for one am delighted by that. Thank goodness that there are still people working for TfL who have a sense of heritage, rather than a passion to modernise. And let's hope that this tiny corner of Barbican station stays safe from the ravages of the evil redesign barbarians for at least another 20 years.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
(© dg 2007)
the capital fanzine
online edition 1 - October 2007
Welcome to London's essential new newsletter! londonerama is the number 1 online mag for Europe's number 1 city. We have all the news, all the goss and all the up-front info. Well, some of it anyway. Read on...
FREE EUROSTAR TRIP!
If you have a weekday spare around the end of the month, maybe you'd like to assist those kindly folk at Eurostar in testing out facilities at St Pancras. They need volunteers to pretend to be passengers (going through security checks and passport control and everything), just to check that everything works properly before the grand launch on 14th November. Don't expect to get to France, although if you're lucky your test train might get as far as Ebbsfleet. Maybe. You'll need 6 hours spare, and you get a free lunch and travel expenses. Oh, and there is a real bonus. You also get a ticket for a free round trip to either Paris, Lille or Brussels to be redeemed later. Ooh la la.
Register your details here.
WEAPONS OF MASS COMMUNICATION
The new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum is a minor treat. It features wall upon wall of wartime propaganda posters, not just from Britain ("Eat Less Bread") but from the US ("I'm buying Victory Bonds") and right across Europe ("All Hail the Glorious Fourth Anniversary of the Comintern"). They stretch as far back as World War I, and as recently as a certain skirmish in Iraq. Our posters tend to be a bit wittier and more direct, whereas the German contingent are more visionary and uplifting. Admission to the exhibition is free (though the accompanying book costs £20). Expect to spend a good 15 minutes looking round. Let us go forward together.
Review here, admission details here.
LONDON IS THE PLACE FOR ME
Rivington Place is a brand new public gallery just opened in Shoreditch (where else) with a remit to represent diversity through art and photography. It's had £6m of lottery cash thrown at it, and the resulting building is both striking and functional (and full of community spirit). The free opening exhibition is split across two levels, with "phoning home" photographs downstairs and a trio of dislocated audio-visual presentations in a dark room upstairs. Try not to get very lost walking inbetween (and, whatever you do, don't wander into the Stuart Hall Library by mistake). It's a brave new venture deserving of support, but I wonder how many Londoners will ever notice it exists.
Gallery here, exhibition here.
SMITHFIELD UNDER THREAT
Developers are always threatening wholesale destruction at London's historic meat market, and English Heritage aren't too pleased. They've commissioned a 60 page masterplan for the area, heavy on the history, geography and sustainable options for the future. And they're holding a special "Market Values" exhibition in nearby Cowcross Street so that locals and stakeholders can give their opinions. It's only open on Tuesdays and Fridays, which suggests they're not trying very hard to be heard, but if you're in the area before 2nd November it might be of interest.
More information here, masterplan (pdf) here.
LET'S ASK KEN
If there's anything you've ever wanted to ask the Mayor of London (especially if it relates to policing, transport, the environment or 2012), you might get your chance next week. On Thursday 25th October at 7pm, to be precise. At People's Question Time. In Ilford Town Hall. I don't think that questions about Boris are on the agenda, but I bet somebody asks Ken all the same.
Free tickets available here.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
London's well known as a place for difference, dissent and refusal to conform. For more than three centuries the city's been home to many famous religious Noncomformists (that's Protestants who aren't Anglicans, such as Methodists and Quakers and Baptists and Puritans). Even on a very short walk across the north of the City of London, it's amazing how many you can find.
Bunhill Fields: Just off the City Road, in a secluded park beneath a canopy of trees, lie the buried remains of 123,000 Londoners. The first bones belonged to plague victims, unceremoniously dumped here in 1665, and the last belonged to a lady called Elizabeth, interred in 1854. The site was never attached to a church, never consecrated, and so became the burial plot of choice for London's Nonconformists. And there are some right famous ones if you know where to look. Pick up a free leaflet from the groundsman's hut and you can spot them yourself. Just don't expect to get right up close, because most of the cemetery lies out of bounds behind locked-off iron railings.
The grandest memorial in Bunhill Fields belongs to John Bunyan. He may have been born in Bedford, but he died of a fever in London, and this pilgrim progressed no further. Look further beyond the iron railings and you might also spot the tomb of Richard Cromwell. He ruled Britain for eight months back in 1658, following in the footsteps of his rather more famous (and considerably more successful) father Oliver. Behind you stands a tall white obelisk, erected in memory of the great author Daniel Defoe. He was one of Britain's first novelists, and many a 1970s childhood would have been emptier without Robinson Crusoe on the telly every summer. And in Defoe's shadow, surrounded by fallen brown leaves, is a rather too modern gravestone etched with the name of William Blake. He was the visionary poet and artist who wrote Jerusalem, much beloved by Last Night of the Prommers and the ladies of the Women's Institute. But Blake's tombstone is actually a fake, because his real grave has long lain unmarked in the grass nearby. Earlier this year a little detective work using burial plot coordinates paid off, and his final resting place (on the edge of a muddy lawn) has now been uncovered. There's no memorial yet, but let's hope there will be.
Wesley's Chapel: Immediately opposite Bunhill Fields, on the other side of City Road, stands one of the largest Methodist chapels in the country. And with good reason. It's nextdoor to the Georgian townhouse where John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, lived out the last decade of his life. His house is open to the public, as is the grand chapel itself. Step in through the glass partition and admire the marble columns, stained glass and raised altar. If you're lucky, there might even be someone twiddling on the impressive organ. But there's another attraction, just along the corridor (past the nice lady pouring cups of tea) and down into the crypt. Yes, it's the Museum of Methodism (you knew there had to be one somewhere). Here you can find Wesley's original pulpit, and the odd bust, and some relevant ceramics, and several information boards telling the story of the Methodist religion from the 18th century to the present day. At the moment there's also a mini exhibition in one corner comemmorating the tercentenary of Charles Wesley, John's brother, and the hymn writer responsible for Love Divine and Hark The Herald. It's all very homely and understated, as one might expect. And I wonder if I've finally been to a London museum that none of you have.
The Aldersgate Flame: And finally, half a mile away through the Barbican estate, to the spot where Methodism began. John Wesley was attending a prayer meeting one Wednesday evening, just off Aldersgate Street, when he felt his heart "strangely warmed". It was this single experience that transformed his ministry, and started him off on a lifelong tour preaching all around the country. No sign of the house in Old Nettleton Court remains, but a rather large memorial now stands on a walkway immediately above the spot, right next to the front entrance to the Museum of London. It's a tall metal flame, inscribed with words from Wesley's own journal from 24th May 1738. Today it seems an odd location for religious conversion, surrounded by City offices and a concrete roundabout, but millions of Methodists across the world give thanks for its strangely warming properties.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Undiscovered London: Henbrook
However close to civilisation the milestone in High Street may suggest, most Londoners have never ventured out to Henbrook. You won't find this charming suburb on any railway map of the capital - territorial Victorian landowners saw to that - but that's the way the residents seem to like it. House prices round here certainly reflect Henbrook's unique mix of community and exclusivity. To the west of town, surrounding the recreation ground, stand row upon row of elegant Edwardian terraces. Out east, in contrast, there's considerable council overspill, as well as the famous Stephenson Estate with its Art Deco brick façades. But continued outward sprawl has blurred the borders between Henbrook and the surrounding commuter belt, and some fear that the entire neighbourhood now risks losing its identity.
It was Henry VIII who first brought the area to prominence, although all trace of his royal palace has long since disappeared. It was here that Anne of Cleves lived out her last pre-divorce summer, banished to what was then the heart of the Middlesex countryside. Residents in Aragon Avenue still occasionally claim to find valuable gold coins and pottery buried in their gardens, but experts remain divided as to its authenticity. More tangible are the stumpy remains of the windmill on the slopes overlooking the old village green. Previous inhabitants of this unusual residence include Henrietta Banks, widow of the second Londoner to be killed by the new-fangled motor car, and an early campaigner for road safety. She would no doubt be pleased by the many speed bumps recently installed down Mount Hill, although I suspect local petrol-heads (and bus passengers) find their number somewhat excessive.
Henbrook is named after the river that threads through the centre of town - now more a concrete flood channel than an idyllic pastoral stream. More of the river used to be visible until half of the town was built on top of it. From the tunnel mouth in Kings Park the water continues underground for several meandering miles, before eventually joining up with another of the Thames's vanished subterranean tributaries. According to local tradition if you stand at the entrance to the tunnel at sunrise on midsummer morning it's still possible to hear the screams of two children murdered in the long-gone water mill several centuries ago - although I suspect this tale owes more to alcohol and screeching cats than having any basis in reality.
John Betjeman was a regular visitor to the town, and to St Luke's Church in particular. He loved the half-timbered nave with its ornately carved font, and often attended Evensong when his busy schedule allowed. A commemorative plaque in the Lady Chapel remembers a poem he wrote in respectful tribute."She lifts the latch and nips inside,One further direct link to the past is Henbrook Fair, held every year on the second Sunday in September. Founded by royal charter in 1638, this annual celebration still attracts considerable crowds to the streets of the Old Town. Nowadays the dog show is the biggest draw, but for many it's still the Apple Hurling contest that provides the highlight of the day. The event begins, as in olden times, with a carefully selected adolescent maiden picking "the golden-est apple" from Lord Milton's Orchard. Two teams, one from each side of river, then compete to propel the harvested fruit across town without letting it touch the ground. Shops and businesses board up their windows in preparation before the procession passes through, although these days this is more to prevent asbo-centric adolescents from doing too much damage. Sadly the Applepip Princess went uncrowned this year after the foot and mouth crisis put paid to the event.
Her yellow duster raised in prayer;
The brass will gleam, the pew will shine,
And lilies by the chancel stair."
Henbrook Pride (1955)
Despite the best efforts of Henbrook's elected representatives, this is no pastoral Arcadia. The multi-storey car park behind Woolworths casts a nasty 70s blot on the town centre, and the graffiti on the bus shelter in Mulberry Lane tells its own sorry story. There are pound shops in the High Street now, and even a couple of kebab emporia in the less desirable corners of town. Knife crime is on the increase, as is car theft, and the community centre runs self defence classes for fearful pensioners. As the sorry woes of the capital continue to encroach upon this overlooked location, residents fear that one day Henbrook might fade away altogether, as if it had never existed.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
If you want to see London, see it from the river. And for a unique view of London, there's nothing quite like taking a ride in a Rigid Inflatable Boat. Skipping along the Thames in an orange inflatable is a great way of seeing the sights, at speed. It's also a great way of emptying your wallet. Twenty-six quid, for 40 minutes? It had better be good. Thankfully I was able to take advantage of a friend's Christmas gift voucher (trip for two, expires imminently, can you come?), so my bank balance remained intact. But yes, it was good anyway.
London RIB Voyages is the brainchild of a former City stockbroker with a taste for high-speed river boating. His company now owns two 12-seater craft, moored up at the pier beneath the London Eye, and that's where we rolled up yesterday afternoon. Our tour guide offered us fetching red waterproof fleeces to wear, along with a compulsory lifejacket, and held our hand as we boarded the narrow fluorescent craft. Useful tip - if you book early, you get the front seats (like what we did, much to the obvious annoyance of the small child sat behind). Each voyage varies according to the tide, but we started by nipping across the river for a close-up look at the Palace of Westminster's waterfront terrace. Our guide had a wonderful line in dry humour, and an effortless linguistic talent. When he described the trees on the Albert Embankment as showing "the first amber blush of autumn", I knew we were in for an entertaining ride.
And then we were off, downriver, just the 12 of us. Nothing excessively fast to begin with, but still noticeably speedier than the usual Thames tourist cruisers chugging by. From Westminster to the Tower we enjoyed a quick-witted tourist commentary, and a slightly different view of central London from a bit lower in the water than usual. And then, after passing beneath Tower Bridge, our guide retreated to the back of the boat and allowed the pilot to let rip. Woooo. The boat curved effortlessly between the banks, tipping one way and then the other, and splashing us all with frothy Thames water. I reassured myself that the river's a lot cleaner than it used to be (I hope). There wasn't a single other boat in the Thames between Wapping and Limehouse, so we were treated to an unobstructed virtuoso performance.
At the far end of the journey, with the towers of Canary Wharf now in view, we were spun round at speed in a whitewater 180° turn. Oh how we smiled, and yelped, and laughed. I'm not sure that the riverside residents of Limehouse and Rotherhithe enjoy the spectacle quite so much, not twice an hour five times a day, but for us on board it was an exhilarating experience. And then we were back to gliding merely "quite fast", back through the Pool of London and beneath Tower Bridge. Our boat made light work of the two miles back to the Eye, with one last half-turn flourish at Westminster before docking. It had been a bit like a normal tourist trip, significantly speeded up, but with five minutes of Alton Towers tagged on in the middle. I'd therefore heartily recommend a RIB voyage, should you have £26 to burn (but you might prefer to hope that someone buys you a trip for Christmas).
Saturday, October 06, 2007
My thanks to London resident Mr G Brown for contributing the final cash to my "Please spare a fiver for Crossrail" campaign. How very kind of him, during this extremely busy week he's having, to find time to make this very special announcement. Funding for Crossrail has been stuck at £15.6bn for so many years (sorry, nowhere near enough, sorry) but arm-twisting in the City has finally upped the available cash to acceptable levels (£16bn? Perfect, go ahead). Anyone would think that there was an election (or two) in the offing, or something. But bring it on.
Not yet, obviously. There's still three years before construction even begins, and then seven years of unsightly digging across the capital. The tunnel's burrowing within 100 metres of my house, which means local residents face "adverse visual impacts" for "four years and three months". That'll include turning my nearest park into a building site, closing off the main A12 road for a month, moving a DLR station, and knocking down several factories that survived the Olympics so that the northeast tunnel portal can be constructed. All that mess, and I still won't get the benefit of a local station afterwards. Pah.
But, come 2017, what excellent new transport connections can other Londoners expect? Here's a quick diamond geezer guide to eastbound post-Crossrail accessibility:
West of Paddington: None of that "getting off the train at Paddington and switching to the tube" any more. One train only, right into the heart of the West End and the City. First Great Western commuters will be big winners.
Paddington: Crossrail will provide a direct link to Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road for the first time. But, erm, you can already get to Farringdon, Liverpool Street and Whitechapel on one train, via the Hammersmith & City line. Just rather slower.
Bond Street: And from here you can already get to Tottenham Court Road, Liverpool Street, Stratford and Canary Wharf on one train. But I'm sure the massive number of people who want to travel direct from Bond Street to Farringdon will find this multi-billion pound link extremely useful.
Oxford Circus: Sorry, not stopping. The nearest Crossrail exit will be in Hanover Square, from which connecting passengers will have to take a 300 metre walk above ground. Oxford Circus may be London's second busiest underground station, but Crossrail won't be easing any of the congestion here.
Tottenham Court Road: This is the central hub of the Crossrail line and will eventually (probably after you're dead) link to the proposed "Crossrail 2" Chelsea-Hackney line. Building this station means knocking down the Astoria (and several surrounding buildings) and remodelling the road junction beneath Centre Point. But by 2017 you'll be able to travel direct from here to Ealing Broadway, Bond Street, Liverpool Street and Stratford. Just like you already can on the Central line.
Farringdon: One of the very first underground stations is about to become one of the very newest. Crossrail trains are very long, so this station will stretch between two exits, one at Farringdon and one at Barbican. Change here for the newly-revitalised north-south Thameslink service. Eastbound travellers will have a choice of four different direct routes to Liverpool Street - via Crossrail, Circle, Hammersmith & City or Metropolitan lines. Which is a bit pointless.
Liverpool Street: Travelling east? The new direct link to Whitechapel is unnecessary (Hammersmith & City), as is the new direct link to Stratford (Central). But the direct link to Canary Wharf will be greatly appreciated.
Whitechapel: You can't currently get from here to either Stratford or Canary Wharf on one train. But you will in 2017.
Stratford: Change here for Eurostar trains to continental Europe (except that trains to continental Europe probably won't be stopping at Stratford). And Essex commuters will be able to change here onto Crossrail to ride into central London (just as they can already change onto the Central line).
Canary Wharf: There's not much room out here in Docklands to hide a 250m-long station, so the new Crossrail station is being built beneath the North Dock (which is going to look a right mess for up to five years). Official documents confess that it's not going to be located terribly conveniently... "West India Quay and Poplar DLR stations are close to the proposed station. Canary Wharf and Heron Quays DLR stations are within ten minutes walking distance. The Canary Wharf Jubilee Line station is within five minutes walk of the proposed station." Erm, great. Still, at least you'll be able to take the train to Woolwich quicker than you can walk to the foot of Canary Wharf tower.
Crossrail is coming. And it'll be great. But probably not quite as great as you expected.