Friday, February 01, 2013

BAKERLOO: Ten line facts

When it opened in 1906 the line was known as the "Baker Street and Waterloo Railway". The name Bakerloo was coined by Captain GHF Nichols, a columnist for the Evening News, and was adopted officially a few months later.
The Bakerloo line covers 14.5 miles and serves 25 stations. North of Queen's Park the tracks are shared with the Overground.
Between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays the busiest station on the Bakerloo line is Oxford Circus. Before 1pm it's Waterloo, and after 10pm it's Piccadilly Circus.
From its opening until 1917 the Bakerloo line operated with reverse polarity, that is with the outside rail negative and the centre rail positive.
The Bakerloo line's official colour is Pantone 470.
The northern termini of the Bakerloo line have been Baker Street (1906-7), Marylebone (1907), Edgware Road (1907-13), Paddington (1913-5), Queen's Park (1915), Willesden Junction (1915-7), Watford Junction (1917-1982), Stanmore (1939-1979), Stonebridge Park (1982-4) and Harrow & Wealdstone (1984-today).
Bakerloo line trains are the oldest on the tube, dating back to 1972. The seven carriages have a total of 268 passenger seats.
The novel 253 by Geoff Ryan relates the lives of 252 Bakerloo line passengers (and the driver) as they ride from Embankment to Elephant & Castle... where the driver falls asleep, so it's not exactly a happy ending. Read it here.
The Bakerloo will be one of the last lines to be upgraded, maybe a decade hence. When that upgrade is finally complete, "average journey times will be reduced by more than two minutes". Whatever that means.
Three hundred thousand passengers ride the Bakerloo line every weekday. [full line history here]

BAKERLOO: Down the line

Every month this year (with the exception of January), I'm planning to focus on one of London Underground's underground lines. Think of it as a 150th anniversary special, a Tube Year rather than my usual Tube Week. I've decided to kick off with the Bakerloo line, as you probably spotted yesterday, and then I'll do the rest in some random order that isn't alphabetical. There's no grand plan, just a February filled with various Bakerloo-related posts, here and there, every now and then, on diverse topics. I thought I'd introduce things with a ride all the way along the line, from E&C to H&W. Sorry, it's not going to be as interesting as it sounds.

Elephant & Castle's unusual, a terminating station in zone 1, a wasted opportunity. The line could head south but doesn't, and I'll come back later to investigate this more fully. In the meantime two subterranean platforms await at the foot of the liftshafts. Pick the right one and jump aboard. This is a Bakerloo line train to Harrow and Wealdstone. This train is ready to leave. Please mind the doors.

It's dead quiet at the start of the line on a Saturday, although this depends which end of the train you're sitting. My carriage stays empty-ish for a while, but others fill swiftly with all those who can't be bothered to walk more than a few steps down the platform. Lambeth North has lovely tiling, patterned in cream and brown, while Waterloo's decoration is much less inspiring. Somewhere between the two is the tunnel that leads off to the Bakerloo's London Road depot, but I'm not paying attention at the critical moment, whenever that is, and I miss it. Then we're off beneath the Thames, through massive floodgates, not that these are visible from the train. Indeed not much is, because we're underground, so there's little for me to report back on.

We ride from Embankment, formerly Charing Cross, to Charing Cross, formerly Trafalgar Square. A big cat stares back at me through the window from behind a sprig of copper leaves. This is Henri Rousseau's Tiger in a Tropical Storm Surprised, to be found at the nearby National Gallery and re-depicted here on the platform wall. At Piccadilly Circus there's a considerable exodus, then at Oxford Circus the opposite. On they pour with suitcases and bags of shopping, forcing our driver to press the "Please move right down inside the train" button as many as four times.

Our ride is proper curvy, following the line of Regent Street and Portland Place to the north. Again the tiling is the most interesting thing to look out for, restored to century-old perfection at Regent's Park, then the famous Sherlock Holmes motif at Baker Street. Marylebone looks a little gloomier, until my front carriage pulls in beside former station name GREAT CENTRAL spelt out in fine-glazed rectangles. More passengers are getting off than on now, as we pass one major rail terminus and then, after Edgware Road, another.

Beyond Paddington the Bakerloo changes from inner-city conduit to suburban conveyor. The next three stations are the last three underground, beginning with the one that always makes me hum Duffy. That's Warwick Avenue (for Little Venice), although the bracketed bit doesn't scan, and it's not on the tube map either. Maida Vale and Kilburn Park are both more interesting than can be seen from the train, with only some fairly clinical green and white tiles visible through the windows. And then we emerge from the tube and go Overground.

Most Bakerloo line trains terminate at Queens Park, but we're continuing to the end of the line. Our driver announces that an Overground train will be the next service north, although there's nothing on the adjacent platform so nobody believes him. When our train pulls off immediately we all congratulate ourselves on staying put... and then we sit in the train shed for four minutes while the aforementioned service passes. I don't mind, because sitting in a train shed isn't something you can do anywhere else on the network, but that's the way the Bakerloo track rolls.

It's a very different ride from here on, alongside the West Coast mainline, with the occasional Virgin swooshing by. Kensal Green is a dull old station, as would be Willesden Junction if there weren't connecting lines soaring overhead. We're catching up now with the Overground train in front, so spend rather longer at Harlesden than the timetable allows. The platforms here are really high, more step-up access than step-free, so are likely to remain wheelchair-unfriendly in perpetuity.

At Stonebridge Park, just beyond the North Circular, the plastic litter bags on the elevated platforms flap in the breeze. The Bakerloo's main depot is accessed here, part of a massive railway zone (including mainline sidings) which is at one point more than 50 tracks wide. From here north it's one tube train every ten minutes, crossing beneath all other lines in a sweeping tunnel. Wembley Central has a dreary ambience, artificially lit beneath an upper plaza, where nobody waiting appears to be smiling. And then, finally, the semis and terraces begin and we can peer down into people's gardens.

A few local residents are hanging around at North Wembley, a fairly standard canopied station. South Kenton is much quieter, indeed one of the least busy stations on the entire Underground, and nobody (seen from my viewpoint) alights or boards at the island platform. St Mary's church on Harrow Hill is visible as we pass Northwick Park, where acres of football and rugby pitches go unused except by seagulls. You could switch to the Metropolitan at Kenton, it's not far to walk, or you could simply go shopping at Sainsbury's nextdoor.

For those Bakerloo trains that make it this far, the last couple of minutes are no visual treat. A trading estate, a council tip and a drain repair warehouse... it's probably best not to look up from your smartphone as we approach our destination. After fifty minutes this is Harrow and Wealdstone, in deepest Zone 5, where this train terminates. It doesn't feel Undergroundy here at all, more a proper rail stopover with tube intruders. A million miles from Elephant and Castle in every way except distance.

BAKERLOO: First in line

I don't know about you, but my favourite bit of the Bakerloo line is the tip of the northbound platform at Piccadilly Circus. Not the main part of the platform, where the bright red and green tiling can be a fraction too garish. But step away from the entrance, further round the curve than initially seems possible, and a secret world appears. Underground platforms normally come in pairs, aligned but hidden, but at Piccadilly Circus the Bakerloo platforms are out of sync. The northbound platform sticks out of its tunnel into the crossover space, running almost one carriagesworth past the southern. Stand at the far end, past a set of firmly locked wooden doors, and you can watch trains running in the opposite direction while you wait. They emerge from the tunnel, slowing gently, allowing passengers aboard to stare out of the window at you staring back [photo]. And then they disappear again behind a cylindrical wall, until only the very rear of the train remains on view [photo]. Above ground this would be nothing special, but underground, where tracks are more usually segregated, there's true novelty value. The train opposite hangs around for the regulation thirty seconds or so, then pulls out, immediately exposing a bench at the tip of the southbound platform. If anyone's waiting you could wave at them, but more likely not. [photo]

Most passengers never get this far, especially tourists, choosing to congregate out of sight near the Way Out sign instead. Indeed it comes as a surprise, even an affront, should any more practised traveller stride all the way along to this confidential spot and claim it as their own. One thing I particularly like about standing here is that the Olympics haven't gone away. A magenta sign is still stuck to the brown fascia above the platform, announcing to nobody that ← Horse Guards Parade is off to the left [photo]. Almost everywhere else on the network Games signage is long gone, but up this dead end it's somehow survived. This venue wasn't even Paralympian, so the pink strip is properly six months out of date, but station staff don't seem to be aware of what their furthest extremities hold. It's almost never quiet here, though. A bank of extractor fans whirr away above your head, occasionally pausing so it's possible to hear the busker playing halfway down the escalators at the far end of the station. And then another set of headlamps appear in the tunnel, rumbling over the points past signal A1000, and the skew platforms serve up another now-you-see-it, now-you-don't lightshow on the tracks opposite. [photo]

I don't know about you, but that's my favourite bit of the Bakerloo line.

BAKERLOO: A fine line

If the Bakerloo line was a game of Monopoly, the stations inbetween Paddington and Queens Park would form a set of three. Each designed by architect Stanley Heaps. Each created in the style of his predecessor Leslie Green. Each very similar, within certain constrained parameters. And each in their own way rather lovely.

There's not much to see of Warwick Avenue (the station) above ground, although Warwick Avenue (the avenue) is massive. All that pokes above the surface is a tall utilitarian ventilation shaft, of the sort you might expect to see at a prisoner of war camp. The spire of St Saviour's Church dominates the scene, with a green cabmen's shelter and some Cycle Hire bikes thrown into the mix for good measure [photo]. Entrance is down some covered steps surrounded by green railings, because green is the highlight colour hereabouts. The columns and doors in the ticket hall are topped with a green and cream chequerboard pattern, though below a suspended ceiling that adds nothing to the atmosphere. The escalators were cutting edge when they were introduced 100 years ago, with this stretch of the Bakerloo line the first to be designed with escalators instead of lifts. Glide down to reach a central arched circulation space, again edged in green, at the end of which sits a veneered timber observation kiosk [photo]. It's topped by a period clock, and would have been the ideal spot for a member of station staff to sit and observe if only there wasn't a CCTV camera mounted to the wall behind doing the job for nothing. And the platforms, they're pleasant and bright, enlivened by stripes of jade green tiles. Nothing too outstanding, but it's hard to find much wrong at Warwick Avenue.

Maida Vale is essentially the same station as Warwick Avenue but with a much nicer entrance [photo]. This time there is a surface building, just one storey, because only stations with lift mechanisms need two storeys. It sits on a street corner behind a mini-roundabout, seamlessly integrated into the parade of shops alongside [photo]. The exterior is clad with deep red tiles, as were so many Leslie Green stations at the start of the 20th century. Each bay has a segmental arched 3-part window, mullioned and transomed, separated by pilaster strips with inset semi-circular pediments at arch level, and yes I am copying this. The original intention was for a grand main entrance, labelled Entrance, and a smaller side exit, labelled Exit. Both are still there but the latter is sealed off, so the segregated staircase beyond is no longer required [photo]. The entrance hall is narrow but deep, with two gorgeous mosaic UndergrounD roundels embedded high in the wall. All the roundels on the network used to look like that, filled in red, and these are some of the very few never to have been updated. Descend past more chequer tiling, down and back and round, to step onto another of those pioneering escalators. The lower hall is very similar to that at Warwick Avenue except there's no kiosk. A modern white Help Point has taken its place, but at least someone's mounted the clock on the rear wall above. Throw in some more cream and green tiled platforms, and this is a little jewel of a station, mostly unspoilt. [Listing details]

To complete the triumvirate, we cross from Westminster into Brent. Kilburn Park station's down a sidestreet from the High Road, in a commanding position on the corner with Alpha Place. Here there was room to build, rather than squish, so the station has a commanding six-bay frontage again in deep evocative red [photo]. A shame about the bright blue chemists now occupying the shop unit by the entrance, but presumably colour-matching isn't in the terms of their lease. I love the tiled frieze lettering that reads Kilburn Park along two sides of the building, plus another indication of separate Entrance and Exit. Again this exit's now closed, although I did spot a member of staff kindly pulling back the metal shutters to allow an elderly man to escape without having to walk all the way up through the ticket barriers and back. The ticket hall has more tiled chequerboarding, while the ticket windows boast "pedimented aediculed timber surrounds", whatever they are. Above the escalator is an oval light well, adding a bit of class to an otherwise dull white curved roof [photo]. And you arrive into a central hallway extremely similar to that at the previous two stations, providing a fine touch of architectural cohesiveness. Yes, there is a kiosk, and yes there is a clock on top, but here the interior's been entirely taken over by a screen transmitting CCTV pictures. Once space for a human, now an electronic sentinel. Step onto the platforms and you're at the very last nice bit of the Bakerloo line heading north [photo]. So best head back south, from one Grade II listed station to the next. And all thanks to Stanley Heaps, thanks Stan. [Listing details]

BAKERLOO: Out of line

I've already blogged about a lot of the places the Bakerloo runs through, not least back in 2006 when the line celebrated its centenary. So I thought I'd head further out to an area I don't know well, at what for many trains is the end of the line. To Queens Park, on the border between Westminster and Brent. Which turns out to be two very different places, according to whether you turn left or right outside the station.

Turn left: Queens Park
There is, of course, a park at Queens Park called Queens Park. What's peculiar is that it belongs to and is maintained by the City of London - their sole outpost in this part of town. What's also peculiar is that it owes its existence to the Royal Agricultural Show. This was held in Kilburn, of all places, in 1879, on a 100 acre site bounded by Chamberlayne Road, Salusbury Road and two railways north and south. It rained all week, so the site soon became an unattractive quagmire, but Queen Victoria's visit to see the animals and the latest farm machinery rallied the crowds somewhat. Afterwards there was much pressure to transform the showground into residential land, especially as Queens Park station had just opened that summer, but 30 acres were saved and repurposed as a public park under the direction of landscape gardener Alexander McKenzie. He created an ornate rectangular park with parterre gardens in each corner linked by figure-of-eight paths, plus plenty of space for lawn tennis and cricket. The park opened in 1887, Queen Victoria's Jubilee year, and that's how it got its name. Housing soon encroached on all sides, but they're very nice-looking houses which gives the entire perimeter a pleasant and refined-looking backdrop. Much of Alexander's grand planning lives on, including the octagonal bandstand, although his gymnasium has long been replaced by a children's playground. Only one of the original flowerbeds remains, this in the Quiet Garden (by the wooden Lych Gate that used to be the main entrance, but is now sealed off). At the heart of the park is the Park Cafe, whose notice board has small ads for "nanny share", and where the food isn't necessarily cheap. Elsewhere teenage lads in hoodies hang around the outdoor gym bars, and small children disappear into the petting zoo, and it isn't really the season for miniature golf. Locals who'd like to know more about Queens Park should check out this illustrated 71-page history which is detailed and excellent, which is what you get when the City of London runs your local recreation ground. And next time you see a Bakerloo line train bound for Queens Park, try to imagine this sylvan greenspace at the far end. [photo]

Turn left: Salusbury Road
This is the main road through Queens Park, named after a Welsh friend of Henry VIII who owned property, and definitely on the nicer side of the tracks. Some very middle class shops line the middle of the street, including an artisan bakery and one of those food stores that sells the stuff the colour supplements put in their recipes. Starbucks and Costa have made it here, in advance of most other chainstores, with a small independent book shop sandwiched between. Look up outside for one of the strangest sights in Salusbury Road, the Queens Park Panda, a local landmark which appears to be a stuffed toy in a tree. Rest assured that the street's shopping selection's not entirely highbrow, and the fortress-like Kilburn Police station is a reminder that not all's sweetness and light in NW6. The local primary school opens its playground for a Farmers Market every Sunday, voted Farmers Market of the Year 2012 no less. But my favourite shop, if only for its name, is on College Parade at the top of the hill - a very ordinary toilet-rolls-and-beer corner shop called "Singhsbury's Superstore". For the win. [photo]

Turn left: Paddington Old Cemetery
It's not in Paddington, indeed it's nowhere near, but was opened by the Paddington Burial Board who needed a space out of town in 1855. These days it's a large expanse of green, ideal for dogwalking, as well as continuing to squeeze in bodies as a working cemetery. The 24 acres nudge right down into Queens Park, but have an entrance only on the far side near Kilburn, being otherwise surrounded by a brick wall and a flank of housing. At the centre of the cemetery are two small chapels with porte-cochère and central belfry, and somewhere round the edge is a row of beehives producing Tombstone Honey. If you ever saw the Sylvester McCoy Dr Who story Remembrance of the Daleks, a lot of that was filmed here, including the burial of the Hand of Omega and the final coffin-bearing scene. It must be the weather but it's particularly squishy underfoot around the cemetery at the moment, especially down at the far end where my great-grandfather is buried. We've never found his grave, it doesn't appear to be marked, but it makes sense that he's buried at the Queens Park end, because that's where he used to live. [photo]

Turn right: Kilburn Lane
Until the 19th century wiggling Kilburn Lane was the only road of any status round here, but it's now anything but rural. The land on this side of the railway was developed years before any of the fields to the north were touched, so it's not quite so uniformly attractive over here. Here are the Chicken Cottages, the Lebanese cafes and the launderettes, although also a Bang & Olufsen shop and a Spy Store so it's not all bog-standard. At the eastern end, where the number 36 bus terminates, is a less than exciting gyratory with the entirely inappropriate name of Premier Corner. Further west the lane is lined by small terraced cottages, as befits houses built before anyone realised this was going to be sprawling suburbia. They're rather cosy-looking, especially those along the last dogleg crescent. This is part of the Queens Park Estate, built in the 1870s by the Artizans, Labourers & General Dwellings Company. I've blogged about them before, and their acreage in Noel Park and Battersea, and this estate is no less splendid. It's housing for the working classes, but in Gothic revival style and with something unusual at the time - gardens. Here William Austin built a grid of yellow brick, two storey cottages but with absolutely no pubs, he believed firmly in temperance. All the houses have embellished porches, and some on the street corners have sharp-pointed turrets. You'd live here (unless you already live somewhere better). The six main streets were numbered one to six, and the others lettered A to P, but the latter have since been given proper names from Alperton to Peach. It was on this estate that QPR's first players used to live... because yes, obviously, Queens Park Rangers originally hail from round here. [photo]

Turn back: Queens Park station
If you arranged London's 270 underground stations into aesthetic order, Queens Park would be in the 200s. It has a particularly tedious frontage, thanks to utilitarian British Rail architecture, and even the roof canopy above the platforms is nothing memorable. But the station does have its problems, and rather more of late, as the main northern terminus for Bakerloo line trains. These roll out of the tunnel into platform 3, where all the passengers aboard have to be turfed out before the train can enter the shed ahead. A dispute is afoot between drivers and management regarding how those passengers should be detrained. TfL want drivers to make announcements, flash the lights a bit and then drive on, whereas drivers aren't happy with this in case some nutcase stays on the train into the sidings. They've taken to working to rule, walking back down the train and checking each carriage, whereas the timetable doesn't allow for that. This protracted turnaround is slowing the service down, which often results in northbound trains queueing to exit the tunnel, and stacked up behind that too. The dispute could be ended by placing additional support staff on the platform, but that would cost, or by the drivers taking a risk when isolating themselves, which they're not willing to do. If you see minor delays on the Bakerloo line caused by "operational issues" - and it's happening more and more recently - the Queens Park shuffle is probably to blame. [photo]

BAKERLOO: South of the Elephant

It's 100 years since an extension of the Bakerloo line south of Elephant & Castle was first proposed. So how come we still haven't got one? Is there a genuine reason, or is southeast London simply tube-jinxed.

Take a look a map of the northern half of Southwark, and there's a whopping railway-sized hole at its heart. Such gaps aren't unknown further out, but this is Zone 2 for heaven's sake, and no other part of inner London suffers this fate. The Northern line skirts down the western edge, although not especially close. Thameslink trains run two miles between Elephant & Castle and Loughborough Junction without stopping, which is heartless. And trains departing London Bridge run for three miles non-stop, apart from a branchline halt at South Bermondsey which merits a mere four trains an hour.

The least accessible spot in this transport desert is somewhere on the northern edge of Burgess Park, near that lake you can see on the map. From here it's more than 20 minutes walk to Kennington, more than 20 minutes walk to Denmark Hill and more than 20 minutes walk to South Bermondsey. Again, in the outer suburbs this might not sound too bad, but for a densely packed inner London suburb this is appalling connectivity, and TfL know it. They calculate public transport accessibility on a six point PTAL scale, with 1 being rubbish and 6 being ace. Here's a map of PTAL contours, a little out of date, but you'll get the idea. Far flung Biggin Hill scores 1, while Trafalgar Square scores 6, even Bow where I live scores 6 too. But Burgess Park scores 2, maybe 1, depending on where precisely in the neighbourhood you are. You might fancy using TfL's Planning Information Database to calculate PTAL values in your neck of the woods.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the neighbourhoods in this transport black hole are among the poorest in London. The Aylesbury Estate, where Tony Blair launched his premiership, is closest to the epicentre, but no progress has been made here transport-wise in the last fifteen years. Plans were on the table for the Cross River Tram to run straight through the area on its way from Camden to Peckham, and that would have helped considerably, but Boris scrapped that for being too expensive. There had been musings that the Northern line could head this way from Kennington, but they've never been much more than a pipedream, and Boris extending the line to Battersea instead has killed that. So it's the Bakerloo or nothing. And alas, nothing looks most likely.

The Bakerloo line still has spare capacity, which is a rarity in rush hour London. To the south of Waterloo there's plenty of room northbound in the mornings and southbound in the evenings, and this could be put to much better use. Stand on the platforms at Elephant & Castle and the tunnels stretch off, brightly lit, in the direction where the extension ought to be. They're only a few hundred metres long, so an illusion, but it's easy to imagine trains rumbling onward to serve the Southwark hinterland.

A ridiculous number of Bakerloo line extensions have been proposed, without any of them actually coming to fruition...
1913: E&C → Camberwell Green → Dulwich → Sydenham Hill → Crystal Palace
1921: E&C → Camberwell Green → Dulwich → Sydenham Hill → Crystal Palace
1922: E&C → Loughborough Junction → Catford → Orpington
1928: E&C → Dulwich → Rushey Green
1931: E&C → Walworth → Camberwell
1947: E&C → Walworth → Camberwell

Those last two proposals were taken the most seriously of all. A third platform would have been added at Elephant & Castle, and the new route would have followed Walworth Road and Camberwell Road south. But no. A northern link from Baker Street to Finchley Road got the attention instead, then the war got in the way. Later it got so busy on the Watford and Stanmore branches that any southbound extension would have been impractical, and anyway cars were the future now so why bother. Later still the need for extra rolling stock bumped up the price too much, as did the cost of adding an extra subterranean platform. Always an excuse, never built.

It's only been in the last half a dozen or so years that a Bakerloo extension's again been taken slightly seriously again. In 2007 TfL's backroom team were asked to scope the possibilities, and came up with three possible options that might have proven workable.

a) E&C → Camberwell Green → Herne Hill → Tulse Hill → and all stations to Streatham Common and Beckenham Junction
That's a hurrah in Camberwell, where a Bakerloo link would be greeted as a revelation. But next stop Herne Hill isn't very adventurous - all this does is provide a second way to get from E&C to HH with very long gaps between the stations. Then we're onto existing National Rail lines, taking the indirect route round to Beckenham, including a last stretch doubling up with Tramlink. The Bakerloo would end up sharing tracks with other services at both its northern and southern ends, and journey times might get unreliable.

b) E&C → Burgess Park → Peckham Rye → Peckham Rye Common → Honor Oak Park → Catford Bridge → and all stations to Beckenham Junction and Hayes
No joy this time in Camberwell, but instead a direct hit on the transport black hole in Burgess Park. Just one station would be built in the big gap, however, before giving Peckham its first non-roundabout route to the West End. There'd follow another new station near the common, then an interchange with the Overground at Honor Oak Park. From Catford onwards the Bakerloo would emerge from underground and entirely take over the Hayes branch line - no sharing of tracks, an efficient solution.

c) E&C → Burgess Park → Old Kent Road → New Cross → Lewisham → and all stations to Beckenham Junction and Hayes
Another vote for Burgess Park, but then continuing east rather than south to bring a new station to the Old Kent Road. Rejoicing would ensue, and no mistake. Thence to New Cross, on the Cinderella branch of the Overground, and a non-stop link to Lewisham. All ten stations on the Hayes branch line would then be taken over, and the Bakerloo would become a proper cross-London line. [more, plus map, from London Reconnections]

The last of these three options got the closest to getting the nod, which alas wasn't very close at all. No proper plans have been made, and no funding is anywhere near being on the table. All three of these potential extensions are expensive combinations of tunnelling and repurposing, far beyond even the wildest dreams of Coalition austerity kickstart funding. It'd take Westfield opening a supermall in Walworth to see any action, because we don't fund rail for aspirational reasons any more, only hard economics. Sorry Southwark, your miserable connectivity looks set to endure for decades.

BAKERLOO: Dotted line

After discussing why the Bakerloo line hasn't been extended south through Southwark, I've been to visit the communities who've missed out.

Poor old Camberwell. No Bakerloo line station, no tube station, indeed no station at all. And this is no insignificant location. Camberwell's been an important settlement since the Domesday Book, later home to extensive Georgian estates, now packed with people. They get around courtesy of a better-than-usual bus service, whereas what they'd really like is a station. Annoyingly, they used to have one. Just to the west of the central crossroads is Camberwell Station Road which, as all the clues suggest, used to contain a station. The northern edge of the road runs along the main railway viaduct, whose arches are filled with businesses that do things under the bonnets of cars. One of these used to be the way into Camberwell station, opened on the London, Chatham and Dover Railway in 1862. A most convenient way to travel to Blackfriars and Holborn, at least until wartime operations forced its closure in 1916. And since then there's been no way to catch a train from Camberwell, even though plenty of services speed through mockingly on the tracks above.

Could the station be reopened? Sure it could, if the will were there, and the money. The only real problem is that Loughborough Junction is less than a mile down the road, and that would probably have to close if Camberwell were reopened. There's no room to have two stations so close on this line, apparently, because the priority is not slowing down services to Sutton too much. Apologies to residents of SE5, but stopping to pick you up is on nobody's priority list. In the meantime Camberwell station remains somewhere to get your tyres changed and your panels beaten, and the road is king.

Had the Bakerloo ever come calling, the station would probably have been on Camberwell Green. That sounds like a terrible idea, concreting over a rare patch of grassland at the heart of the community. But Camberwell Green's no sylvan glade, more a cut-through with pigeons, and I dare say a corner could be lost without the world ending. Council cash means the image of this open space is improving, and there's now a Farmers Market to enjoy every Saturday. It's not a big Farmers Market, to be frank, but the fresh produce and bakery goods looked good to me and should draw out discerning consumers who like to shop local. Also present every Saturday are online community SE5 Forum, offering news and advice to take away, including a hard copy of this splendid 90-page guide to Camberwell's delights.

From here I walked north to Burgess Park - the other site hereabouts where a Bakerloo line station isn't going to be built. On my way up Camberwell Road I was stopped outside a parade of shops to be offered 'Enlightenment', in the form of a colour pamphlet promising salvation dispensed from the back of a supermarket trolley. The area is dominated by large housing blocks named after famous poets, as if somehow that might soften their visual impact. But there is one lovely Regency enclave at Addington Square, now surrounded on three sides by park. These are highly desirable terraces, described by Pevsner as pleasantly irregular, gathered around a rectangular lawn already bursting with crocuses.

The Grand Surrey Canal once terminated at a wharf immediately to the north - another transport link the area has carelessly lost. The canal is now a footpath, and the surrounding land has become Burgess Park, the largest green lung round here. Unusually almost all of its 113 acres used to be housing, until this was wiped away post-war and made a recreation space for surrounding development. A limekiln, library and several former canal bridges survive, mixed in with far more modern services like a tennis club and American football pitches. It's not clear precisely where in the park a station might be located, but I'd guess somewhere near the boxing club and the butterfly mosaic, which is fairly central and already quite built up.

Immediately to the north is a dense residential zone, otherwise known as Walworth. To most Londoners Walworth doesn't exist because it doesn't have a station, although like Camberwell it once did, and the two closed on the same day. Previously when I've walked this way I've followed Thurlow Street, through the heart of the Aylesbury Estate, which is the epitome of 60s urban planning. Long residential blocks dominate the cityscape, laid out in parallel rows like a giant defensive structure. The poorest were moved in to give them a better life, but they just became poorer, perhaps because there wasn't a tube station at the bottom of the street. But on this visit I followed Portland Street, which started out just as bleak but then improved hugely.

The houses here are originals, highly characterful terraces of two or three storeys, some with variegated brick, others with Tudorbethan gables. No planner bulldozed these beauties, and they're now highly desirable in just the way that the Aylesbury's adjacent sky-boxes aren't. To add to the contrast, won't you look at Michael Faraday School? Outstanding both educationally and architecturally, its ribbed ring structure looks like an alien spacecraft has landed, in this case to bring hope. Head deeper into Walworth and you'll cross East Street Market, one of London's longest, and still thriving with bargain hunters. There's no brioche and croissants here, nor anything to cross the capital for, but many a blue plastic bag is carried home laden with fruit and veg or clothes and shoes.

As Elephant & Castle approaches the tone of the road changes until finally it ends at a locked gate beneath a concrete walkway. This is the edge of the Heygate Estate, almost as notorious as the Aylesbury, but considerably more dead. Southwark council have long had plans for regeneration, and a few years ago sold off the site to developers for what might have been too low a price. A thousand homes stand empty, their windows sealed with metal, a community dispersed. Until recently it was still possible to traipse the upper walkways and explore a maze of passages, but almost all of the stairways have now been closed off. Only ground level remains accessible, should you fancy a kickabout across an overgrown garden or a dystopian safari with your camera. Eventually something brighter will arise, but only 300 "affordable" rented homes are planned. Those relocated are unlikely to be able to return, with a more mixed crowd moving in as the Elephant heads upmarket. There's a tube station at the end of the road, you see, and that makes all the difference.

» Ten photos of the Heygate: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

BAKERLOO: Off line

The Bakerloo line now terminates at Harrow and Wealdstone, but for most of its life it pushed further north. The top end used to be at Watford Junction, that's from 1915 all the way through to 1982 when the line was abruptly pulled back. Six stations were expelled in that curtailment, and they're now served by a less frequent London Overground service. So I thought I'd go and visit two of then, one on either side of the Greater London border, the first in Zone 6 and the second in Zone 7.

After passing through a flurry of not-that-thrilling stations, architecturally, Hatch End comes as a pleasant surprise. You might not guess immediately from the platforms, but look more carefully at the station building on the western side and you'll see the attraction. Signs aren't written on plastic above the doorways, they're carved in stone. Two locked doors behind the footbridge are still labelled "Bicycles" and "Cloak Room", the latter a hint of a more genteel age when left luggage was a service the public desired. Two thirds of the entrance into the "Booking Hall" has been panelled off, and the chiselled lettering above is part covered with moss. If it's wet, an overhanging gable shelters no more than a carriage-length of passengers from the rain. If it's dry, the flowers blooming in their baskets might turn out to be no more than plastic. But step out into the car park and look back, because that's where the finest view's to be found. Hatch End station is a proud vertical affair, raised up like a miniature town hall with central clocktower and a golden weathervane on top. Pride of place goes to a sculpted stone carving of fruit and foliage, topped off by the year 1911 and the initials of the London and North Western Railway. It's so nice here that the Harrow Heritage Trust have placed one of their special brown plaques on the outside, an honour bestowed on only 30 locations in the borough. "This (Wrenish Style)" building by Gerald Horsley was built in 1911 on the site of the first station opened in August 1842" it says, but in capitals. John Betjeman rather liked the place, as you'd imagine. It even won 'Small Station of the Year' at the National Rail Awards last year, for all the kudos that's worth.

Hatch End itself is rather likeable too. A few minutes walking along the The Broadway and I got the feeling this is somewhere that Jewish couples aspire to retire to. The floral baskets are sponsored by the local synagogue, the bakery does eggless cakes, and everything's really suburbanly 'nice'. Most of the shops on the parade are aimed at keeping folk busy, be that getting your hair done or politely dining out. Hatch End's culinary status is long established, thanks to the inestimable Mrs Beeton. She moved into an Italianate villa here in 1856, and stayed long enough to write the The Book of Household Management (compiled from monthly supplements to The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine). Her house was destroyed by a bomb during WW2, but Hatchets restaurant now proudly occupies the site, and the Harrow Heritage Trust awarded them a brown plaque too.

I thought I'd walk from Hatch End across the border into Hertfordshire. The London Loop runs parallel to the railway, up a pine tree avenue many are proud to call home. Here sons kick footballs against their double garage, and signs on trees invite residents to 'Garden Planning with Monica'. I was looking forward to the walk past Pinnerwood Farm until I discovered that an appealing looking field was in fact a squidgy cushion of mud. I tried to follow the path but succeeded only in turning my trainers an unappealing shade of brown so was forced to retreat. The only alternative was a mile-long detour across the railway, via the Hatch End Millennium Bridge, below which the Bakerloo line no longer passes. I was particularly surprised to stumble upon another HHT brown plaque marking the site of Grim's Dyke, an ancient British earthwork, running up a narrow patch of woodland between two sets of back gardens. The very edge of the capital is on Oxhey Lane, past the finest detached villas, past the golf club. The line is marked by a squat white boundary post, and a topiary hedge, and a sign saying County of Middlesex. And then finally it's out into broad rolling countryside, a stripe of lush Green Belt before the overspill estates begin.

There are two settlements either side of the West Coast mainline here, of which Carpenders Park is the smaller. There's no park, although the entire area was fields and the occasional farmstead until the 1930s. The first semis and bungalows rose up the hillside before the war, while the later flat-roofed houses were the fictional setting of Leslie Thomas's Tropic of Ruislip. I saw no such wife-swapping exploits on my traverse, just one happy husband painting his guttering while a football commentary blared, and there's no novel in that. Perhaps I missed the interesting bits of this Watford outpost, but it seems the station's only called Carpenders Park because this side of the railway grew up first.

South Oxhey, on the western side, is more of a beast. It's almost entirely council estate, built by the LCC in the late 1940s to rehouse thousands displaced from the capital. In its day it would have been aspirational, but those days are long gone, and there's an especially tired feel to the central shopping centre. Two rectangular blocks sandwich a bleak central piazza, lined by shops like Cheapjacks, Pound Smart and Sunny Boy's Cafe. The Fisherman's Cabin advertises itself with a painted St George's flag and the legend Love England, Love Fish and Chips, while a dog paws against the window on a balcony above. Just one building pierces the postwar sprawl, and that's Oxhey Chapel, a 400 year-old flint and redbrick mini-church plonked between the vicarage and the sports centre. It's perhaps no surprise that Gareth Malone's production company settled on South Oxhey as the ideal setting for a series of The Choir - one down-at-heel community within easy driving distance of his home. They rose to the challenge magnificently, but it'll take some major investment from Three Rivers Council to kickstart this place back to proper life. The contrast between the streets of South Oxhey and the avenues of Hatch End is striking, so perhaps it's for the best that the two are separated by a barrier of temporarily impenetrable mud.

Oh, and Carpenders Park station? Nothing to get overly excited about, more a subway that rises gently between the tracks to a canopied island platform. From here you can watch businessfolk speeding past in their Pendolinos whilst waiting for the Overground to turn up, sometime in the next twenty minutes if you're lucky. They say that maybe one day the Bakerloo line will return, because if it can't go to Camberwell it could at least come here. It needn't rush.

BAKERLOO: Between the lines

Before the Jubilee line opened in 1979, the Bakerloo had two northern branches. One went to Watford, and the other went to Stanmore. These two branches ran fairly close together, like a bent tuning fork laid out across northwest London. So I thought I'd go for a walk between them at one of the points where they're closest together, in Wembley. The shortest hike is between North Wembley and Wembley Park, but I tried walking that and it was really boring. So instead I walked from Wembley Central to Wembley Park... and I can write you 1000 words on that.

Wembley Central is another of the Bakerloo's wholly unimpressive stations. It started out as ordinary platforms on the mainline, way back in 1842, with the Bakerloo arriving in 1917. In the 1960s a concrete piazza was constructed over the tracks, with a shopping parade on top and covered platforms beneath. They're a fairly gloomy place to wait, but not as unappealing as the five year-old station entrance up top [photo]. This is destined to be swallowed whole, as the space overground slowly morphs into the "vibrant and bustling" Wembley Central Square. This has a very 2010s look, all angular apartments with coloured panels, plus several mid-range superstores at ground level. It's in complete contrast to the other side of the road, the much older Central Parade, which is more pawnbrokers and pharmacies than TK Maxx and Sports Direct. The street is genuinely bustling on a Saturday, with teens in pink leggings and mums dangling Iceland carrier bags, a proper multi-ethnic retail mix.

I've long associated this corner of London with very slow traffic, and this was again the case last weekend with cars queueing down the High Road. I managed to outwalk a bus with ease, which is never a good sign, although that turned out to be the result of a crane lifting metal girders to the roof of some new flats. The big word in Wembley at the moment is redevelopment, which includes the main council offices here at Brent House. They look long past their use-by-date, so they're being vacated this summer and a big foodstore is pencilled in as the replacement. That'd also be why Barham Library has been closed down. This used to be down Sudbury way until last year, but lives on now only as a shop on the High Road where volunteers lend volumes. 25p buys you a paperback or a comic from a box outside, but it's only 20p for an REM single.

That's enough of mundane Wembley (for those of you who are still reading) because here comes the famous bit. Its arch has been looming over the rooftops since I left the station, but here it comes full on, dominating the area ahead. This is of course Wembley Stadium, the national arena, where some of the most forgettable events of the London Olympics were held. The approach (from central Wembley) is across a relatively new structure, the White Horse Bridge, which spans the railway cutting over the Chiltern line [photo]. Accessed between futuristic lightpoles, its arches echo the main stadium ahead. The scale of the walkways is appropriate for post-match fallout, but come at any other time and you'll likely feel dwarfed. The London Development Agency are very proud of this area, one of the Mayor's Green Spaces, but the dominant features are the bland tower hotels alongside. [photo]

Walk up to the podium around the stadium and you might expect to be here alone. There's nothing to see except the outside wall of a sports fortress, complete with state-of-the-art turnstiles and twisty curve above. But Wembley has a lure all of its own, and many come here on a footballing pilgrimage. I saw a fair number of twenty-something lads, the type you'd expect to see down the pub of an evening, who'd clearly come hoping the stadium might be a good day out. They didn't look disappointed, but they did look entirely aimless. Unless they'd pre-booked they wouldn't be getting inside the stadium or onto the 5-a-side pitches outside, so all there was to do was stand around and take each other's photo [photo]. A few more enterprising souls had brought skateboards and were using the extensive system of ramps to manoeuvre downslope, or the stepped piazza outside Wembley Arena for some tricks and jumps. The infrastructure's unintentionally ideal, especially for beginners who can practice (and fall over) in peace. [photo]

But that peace won't last. A new urban centre is being created here, and you'll likely be coming to look even though you don't know it yet. The land around Wembley Stadium has been levelled over the past few years, and modern buildings have finally started shooting up, everywhere. Closest to the stadium is a Hilton hotel, dark and squat, with an exclusive roof terrace up top and a TGI Fridays underneath. To the right is the council's latest masterwork, the new Brent Civic Centre, an environmentally-friendly replacement for Brent Town Hall [photo]. From the summer residents will be able to come here to marry, to gain citizenship and to interact with council services via a self-service portal. There'll also be a big "21st century" library, assuming those who live near Brent's many closed libraries can be bothered to travel this far. Eventually even the car parks round here are scheduled to become flats, as the Wembley City project takes hold.

The true game-changer is being erected to the west of the stadium. This is the London Designer Outlet, a retail complex the size of Wembley's pitch which expects to be open before Christmas. Expect several dozen stores on three levels, plus restaurants and a cinema, all hoping to attract the more discerning shopper to HA9. The official brochure calls it a "lifestyle destination", and revels in the size of its affluent northwest London catchment area (which it measures solely by car-driving distance). Why go to Bicester Village or Hatfield Galleria for your cut-price designer leftovers when you can snap them up in Wembley, that's the plan. They expect 8 million visitors a year, and if you fancy last season's trousers you could soon be one of them.

Head up Wembley Way, as generations of football fans have done, and the view is changing. Beyond the hot dog stands and burger booths a cluster of newbuild towers has risen, in blue and brown and gold. Some are offices, but others are hotels, because this corner of Wembley is fast becoming a place you stay and eat and spend. One plot of heritage survives [photo], part of the Palace of Industry from the 1924 British Empire Exhibition. It's only concrete, and unlisted, but within its classical walls appeared the finest innovations our nation could muster. Today it's used as a warehouse by a distribution company, and is due for demolition because a shabby palace would be out of keeping with a world-class destination. Make no mistake about it, this area's on the up. And next time you fancy a steakhouse meal, some designer togs and a bed for the night, you might just be heading to Wembley.

BAKERLOO: Line of sight

Before we leave the Bakerloo line, I wanted to mention one particularly badly positioned Next Train Indicator. I've grumbled about this for years, silently, so I'm hoping it'll be cathartic to share it with you. The offending NTI is at Oxford Circus, on the northbound Bakerloo line platform, as seen when you enter from the Central line. I thought I'd best go along and take a photo to show you what I mean.

But it's not an easy photograph to take. To capture the view as you enter the platform you have to stand at the platform entrance, obviously, except a stream of passengers is forever flooding out of the passage behind you. Occasionally the deluge breaks, so you might step in to get your shot, but there's invariably some slowcoach puffing up the tunnel late and you'd only get in their way. So you stand to one side, which is almost the right angle, and wait for the view down the platform to clear. First you have to wait for the crowd on the platform to vanish, which happens when a train arrives and they clamber on board. Then you have to wait for everyone getting off the train to leave the platform, which can take some time because there's an exit fairly close to where you're standing. By now a further surge of people has usually spilled in, and they haven't walked far because people rarely do, but they've walked far enough to be standing in the way of the shot you want. Either you wait patiently for "one minute after a departing train" to coincide with "no wave of passengers pouring in from the Central line", or you come here at six in the morning. I managed neither, and this out-of-focus blurry mess is the best photo I've got.

But you get the idea. Passengers walk along the winding passage from the Central line, they turn the corner and emerge onto the Bakerloo line platform, then they stare ahead to see where the next train's going. No can do. The Next Train Indicator is almost perfectly blocked by a sign of similar size and shape hanging in front. Destinations, 100% invisible. Timings, maybe the "mins" part if you're lucky. Is the next service going all the way to Harrow & Wealdstone? Don't know. Is there a lengthy gap in the service ahead? No idea, because there's a white rectangle in the way.

And what's the especially ironic thing? It's that the offending blocking sign points the way to the Central line platforms, from which emerging passengers have just come. The one piece of information they don't need is blocking the one thing they do. Next Train Indicator, installed by cretins?

Maybe not. TfL have an important rule of positioning which decrees that every platform exit must always be clearly marked. Wherever the exit to the Central line is located, it's got to to have a ← Central line sign beside it. Passengers alighting at the rear of the train have to locate this sign to find their way off the platform, so it needs to be here. Maybe it doesn't need to be so wide - there's a big white space at the end of the sign which appears to be entirely superfluous. But look from the other side and you'll see that this extra length is needed, there's something there, an electronic "Way out" sign which occasionally flashes up. The problem isn't the platform exit sign, no, it's where the Next Train Indicator's been placed.

TfL have another important rule of positioning, once explained to me in an email by a nice lady called Tracey.
The layout of many of our stations means it will never be possible for customers to see the train indicator boards from anywhere on the platform and it is for this reason that we stipulate that train indicators should be positioned so that the information on the display can be read as customers enter the platform and from the middle of the platform. If this cannot be achieved by a single display then an additional one should be fitted where possible. Using this criteria, although customers may not be able to see the display wherever they stand on the platform they should be able to access the information in the majority of cases.
There are indeed two Next Train Indicators on the northbound Bakerloo platform at Oxford Circus. One's close to the middle, so is relatively easily seen by the majority of those waiting around. And the other's further up where the majority of passengers enter the platform, including those arriving down the main escalators from the surface. Everyone else gets to see where the next trains are going, but not the unfortunate folk arriving from the Central line. They can only stop and stand and hope, or else walk further up the platform until the crucial information appears. TfL's budget doesn't stretch to having three Next Train Indicators on the same platform, even at one of the busiest stations on the entire network, and so a black hole of information remains.

And you might say who cares, just move along the platform. But that might not always be possible, if the station's particularly crowded. You might not want to walk any further, indeed you might not be able. And as Tracey alluded, the one time you particularly want to know about the next train is the very moment you enter the platform. In this case that information is blocked, thanks to a mixture of prescriptive rules, poorly-positioned signage and lack of budget. Expect no change at Oxford Circus. The next northbound train to somewhere will hopefully be along shortly.

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