Tuesday, April 30, 2013

HAMMERSMITH & CITY: Ten line facts

The Hammersmith & City line was brought into existence on 30th July 1990 when a former branch of the Metropolitan line was rebranded salmon pink.
The line is 16 miles long and serves 29 stations. It takes about an hour to ride from one end to the other.
Originally most trains ran no further east than Whitechapel (none at all on Sundays). Since December 2009, when a new turnback facility opened at West Ham, no trains have terminated at Whitechapel. The terminating platform at Plaistow is pretty much dead these days too - nigh every H&C train runs all the way to Barking.
Only two bits of track are unique to the H&C - a short curve between Liverpool Street and Aldgate East, and the approach to Platform 3 at Barking.
Most of the trains on the Hammersmith and City line have 6 carriages and were built in either 1969 or 1977 (then refurbished in the early 1990s). By the end of this year they should all have been replaced by 7-carriage air-conditioned S Stock trains.
Three underground lines run from Hammersmith to the City of London. The Hammersmith and City line starts at Hammersmith and passes through three City stations. The Circle line starts at Hammersmith and passes through eight City stations. The District line passes through Hammersmith and passes through four City stations. Contrarily, the line from Hammersmith that passes through fewest stations in the City is called the Hammersmith & City line.
The Hammersmith and City line's official colour is Pantone 197
The Hammersmith & City line contains London's newest Underground station (Wood Lane) and also the last Underground station to change its name (Shepherd's Bush → Shepherd's Bush Market)
[Your fact here] (because this is a dull line, innit?)
The Hammersmith & City line includes the oldest stretch of underground railway in the world, opened 150 years ago... (but I blogged about Paddington → Farringdon in detail back in January, so I'll not be going back there this month. Instead I intend to concentrate on the two ends of the route - from Hammersmith to Paddington, and from Liverpool Street to Barking. Sorry, it's not going to be a vintage month)

HAMMERSMITH & CITY: Down the line

In any book of Great Railway Journeys of the World, the pink run from Hammersmith to Barking need not appear. The line's not especially scenic, the Victorian vaults of Baker Street excepted, and the journey's faster by District line instead. Plus the trains are a bit 'meh', having been left to decay somewhat safe in the knowledge that aircon replacements are imminent. So I thought I'd liven up my journey by taking one of the new S7 trains, which is easier said than done because only one or two of these are currently in use. But I had a hunch where to be and when, and hey presto the shiny walk-through train duly presented itself at Hammersmith bang on time.

Hammersmith's three platforms are a bit of a shunt and a shuffle throughout the day. Freshly-arrived trains hang around for only a few minutes before a fresh driver wanders down the steps from the depot, settles into the cab and prepares to vacate. There's just enough time for a cleaner to shuffle through the carriages, and for the odd pigeon to hop aboard and then think better of it. "Go on time!!" screams a driver-facing notice at the front of the platform, to "help finish on book more often" and "improve layover/meal relief times". Our driver departs promptly, heading north in the gap behind a Circle line service, past umpteen trains laid over in the Hammersmith depot. Train T236, all stations to Barking, is on its way.

The platforms at Goldhawk Road station have yellow highlights on blocks and pillars. A West Indian family of three (plus a pushchair) bundle aboard before the doors close, and plonk themselves down around me. It must be their first ride on an S7 train, and they're a little in awe. "Oh yeah it's right through," they say, "you can see right through!" They would have sat up the front, but the doors up the front don't open at this station, and they're afraid they won't open at the next. Shepherd's Bush Market is the only station on the Underground named after retail, but it's Westfield's giant roof that dominates the horizon. That and the BBC's collection of satellite dishes pointing at the world from what is no longer Television Centre. Farewell.

Our modern train suits the modern station at Wood Lane, where the 'priority seat' on the platform has been angled so that anyone might slip off. We soar over the West Cross Route to Latimer Road, which is brown in the same way that Goldhawk Road is yellow. It's not a good look. Then we nudge up against the Westway at vehicle level, its 1960s builders having worked out that the least offensive way to drive a motorway through North Kensington was to run it on stilts alongside a railway.

Passengers at Ladbroke Grove have an 'Information and assistance' window to help them while they wait, possibly because there are no next train indicators anywhere down this end of the line, or possibly because they're more needy than average. The train slopes down to pillar level beneath the Westway, not gorgeous, and eventually level with the Great Western Railway alongside. Westbourne Park has charmingly striped iron pillars, and a lot of passengers who've not bothered to spread out down the platform so crowd like sheep into the front of the train. By Royal Oak it's Crossrail construction that dominates, with ranks of conveyor belts and a hillock of sludgy clay adding to the station's depressingly quarantined demeanour.

I'll not dwell too long on the run from Paddington to Farringdon because I blogged in depth about the world's first underground railway back in January. It being a Sunday afternoon, this stretch is the only busy bit of the journey. Passengers pile aboard with shopping and suitcases, choosing to stop and stand where they enter rather than walking up to the front of the train where there are invisible seats.

Barbican's still a remarkably open station, with a signal box more suited to some rural halt and two unwanted former Thameslink platforms. At Moorgate those spare platforms are still decorated for the 150th anniversary steam runs, which is nice, if a trifle redundant. A building site overhangs the line at Liverpool Street, beyond which is the first point along the entire journey where it actually matters which line's train you're aboard. Our H&C veers east just as Aldgate hoves into view, rattling past the backs of Metropolitan terminators, then pausing and queuing to slip into Aldgate East instead.

A free run through the East End follows. Whitechapel is no longer where this train terminates, indeed the two central platforms no longer exist except as a Crossrail building site. This is where the demographic aboard our train changes, with the majority of passengers from this point on of Asian descent. It's back into tunnel for Stepney Green, which stops one loudmouth yakking into his phone, and the carriage collectively smiles. Mile End is an easy cross-platform interchange, except the adjacent Central line train doesn't wait for us to pull in, and we don't wait for its successor.

I have to resist alighting at Bow Road, which would be my instinct as a local resident. That means I rarely ride the next stretch to Bromley-by-Bow, which has an excellent view of Canary Wharf and its towers, plus a brief glimpse of the Olympic Stadium lurking behind some flats. Residential uplift pauses as we cross the Lea, including the only undeveloped patch of land on the entire journey just past Three Mills. And then we roll into West Ham, not the ideal station for the football ground either present or future, especially now the Olympic footbridge has been completely dismantled.

We bypass Plaistow's newly-redundant platform 3, its mothballing a blessed relief to non-psychic locals seeking the next westbound train, and rumble on between unexciting estates. Earlier in the journey passengers were carrying designer bags and suitcases, but by Upton Park it's more Wilkinson carriers and unbranded blue. At East Ham three station staff are fussing over a bench, because Sunday afternoons aren't exactly over-stretching round here.

And finally, the long haul into Barking. The tracks split either side of the c2c depot (still with a couple of Christmas decorations up), although H&C trains always run to the north into the terminating platform. We wait at signal FF59 until that's been vacated, then glide slowly in. On this new train many passengers have taken the opportunity to walk all the way up to the front to get off, because even then it's still quite a hike up to the station exit. It's taken almost exactly an hour to get here to Barking, five minutes slower than the District would have done it.

Don't expect to find Michael Portillo on the run to Barking any time soon.


There are no solely-H&C line stations. There used to be, before the Circle line stretched out to Hammersmith in 2009, but not any more. The closest the Hammersmith & City comes to exclusivity is a short curve of track to the east of Aldgate, close to Aldgate East. So let's go and visit this pleasantly abnormal normal station where the pink line bends...

Aldgate East forms one vertex of the Aldgate triangle. The District to Tower Hill is the base, the Circle to Liverpool Street is whatever the mathematical name is for the hypotenuse in a non right-angled triangle, and then there's the H&C on top. Most of the top bit is shared, and it's only when Aldgate's platforms hove into view that the Hammersmith & City veers off. Trains for far-flung Chesham and Uxbridge are lined up waiting, but we swing past into the blackness... and wait. There's often waiting here, whichever direction the H&C is heading, because the tracks are designed that way. Westbound, hang around while a train pulls out of Aldgate, and eastbound hang around while a District line train takes priority and sneaks into Aldgate East ahead. Sometimes you get through without stopping, at other times, let's just say the Hammersmith & City isn't quick.

But while you're waiting, enjoy the fact that you're actually sitting in the old Aldgate East station. Opened in 1884, it lay between Aldgate and Commercial Street, and was almost named after the latter. But the subterranean platforms were so close to Aldgate station that the curve proved problematic, so the triangular junction was enlarged as part of London Transport's New Works Programme. A bigger junction meant more space to park trains and a better interlocking of traffic as a result, hence greater throughput and efficiency. Aldgate East's original platforms closed on 30th October 1938, coincidentally the very same day Orson Welles broadcast his War of the Worlds radio drama on the other side of the Atlantic. I've looked out of the window and tried to spot the original Aldgate East, without much luck, but there is definitely a larger space than usual to either side.

A new set of platforms opened to the east of Commercial Street the following day, and that's the Aldgate East we know today. It has a feeling of space you don't normally get on the underground, with a broad one-and-a-half-storey space running straight between the two opposite platforms. Part of that feeling of space comes from the cream coloured tiles lining the walls, a covering that disappeared for a couple of bleak years when Metronet took them down for refurbishment and then promptly went bust. Thankfully they're back, the tiles that is not the freeloading maintenance infraco, because scattered amongst them are some absolute gems. A special set of relief tiles was commissioned from Poole Pottery for use here and at other contemporary stations (such as Bethnal Green). Some of Harold Stabler's designs depict obvious things like the Houses of Parliament or St Paul's Cathedral, others include the London Transport roundel and LT's Broadway HQ. The remainder are a little more mysterious, part of some coats of arms maybe?

Ah yes, one trio of blades represents the county of Middlesex, the other Essex, and elsewhere there's Hertfordshire, and Kent, and even Sussex where the Underground absolutely definitely doesn't go. One odd tile with a potentially-griffin thing represents the county of London, while five seagull-type profiles over water hint at the River Thames. If you're ever waiting for a train here you can have fun a) trying to work out what all the different designs might be b) attempting to count how many different designs there are. To answer the latter question I'm fairly certain there are more than ten, but I couldn't give a precise figure.

When your time comes to leave the platform and rise to the surface, a bit like at St James's Park, Aldgate East offers exits to the surface at each end. They're even signposted on the platform in a very 1938 manner, one to the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the other to Toynbee Hall. It's likely that 2013's passengers know little of the latter, a social centre kickstarted in Victorian times to support the poorest East End folk, and whose mission alas remains more than relevant today. Instead the western exit of the station is dominated by building works and tall towers, or at least spaces where towers will one day be built if the economy picks up. Having seen the plans for Altitude and the Aldgate Tower, I think we'd all agree the holes look better.

The station's eastern exit is unusual in that it emerges surrounded by an art gallery. Not actually inside, nor indeed was this always the case. The Whitechapel Gallery grew in 2009 to swallow up the old Whitechapel Library nextdoor, so passengers from the tube now emerge up steps between the main entrance and the restaurant. The restaurant nods towards the richer incomers hereabouts, while the gallery has always had more of an eye on enlightening the locals. On show at the moment is a particularly mainstream retrospective remembering 'Black Eyes and Lemonade', an exhibition of popular art first shown here in 1951. Curator Barbara Jones assembled a collection of ordinary objects, both hand- and machine-made, and revelled in the everyday appreciation of their designs. Much smaller, this time around, but evocative all the same.

Meanwhile, back inside the station, two small treats at either end. First up is a 1930s roundel set into the curved wall above each landing as you descend. The letters at either end of UndergrounD are larger, as was the fashion at the time, and the words London Transport are written in the central semicircles where today it's always blank. And then, just past the ticket barriers, comes a clear view down across the tracks from between the top of the two staircases. If that's a Hammersmith & City line train coming in you'd better hurry, there may not be another for ten minutes, and there's only so many times you can count the tiles.

HAMMERSMITH & CITY: Door not in use

Coming soon to a sub-surface platform near you...

As walk-through S Stock trains roll out across the Hammersmith & City line (with Circle and District lines to follow), this small red sign will become a more familiar sight to Londoners underground. The H&C's new S7 trains are seven carriages long whereas their predecessors had only six. These used to stop embarrassingly short at the rear of platforms, whereas the new trains sometimes stop embarrassingly long. Several of the stations along the Hammersmith & City line weren't built with 117m-long trains in mind, so the new trains have to stop with one end poking off the end of the platform, and some doors don't open. It's not ideal.
Before you write in and tell me, yes, I know that selective door opening is nothing new on London transport. Northern line trains don't open every door at every station, and there are five DLR stations where a third of the doors don't open on 3-carriage trains. More to the point, S Stock trains already run a full service on the Metropolitan line, and these all have eight carriages to the H&C's seven. S8 trains are a whopping 134 metres long, and they really don't fit into a number of older stations (such as Farringdon). But today, if you'll forgive me, I'm going to concentrate on the foibles of the shorter S7.
The way it works is this. Before the S7s were allowed into public service, TfL ran test trains along the Hammersmith & City line to determine the best position to stop at each station. They've marked this at the front of the platform, if you look, with a long arrowed board labelled >>>>>S7<<<<< which shows the driver exactly where to pull up. There are similar boards on the Metropolitan line labelled >>>>>S8<<<<<, and some where both lines run simultaneously labelled >>>>>SS<<<<<. The upshot of this level of precision is that TfL know at which stations all the doors can open and at which they can't, and then they've programmed the train's computer systems appropriately.

Take Baker Street for example. The Hammersmith & City line platform is one of the oldest on the underground and therefore a little on the short side. TfL can't just swan along and knock an extra hole at the end of a grade II listed building, so the platform lengths are fixed and trains are unable to open all their doors. Baker Street is a particularly bad case, with doors at both the front and the back staying closed, and passengers are left staring out at the tunnel wall instead. TfL have thought of this, so have pinned special notices to walls advising passengers what to do. "Move along train to exit", they say, with a helpful arrow pointing left if you're at the front of the train and right at the back. If you're planning to travel to Baker Street, be careful not to sit at the very end of the train.

But there's a more blatant alert system than this. Above each door in the front and rear carriages is a small rectangular sign which lights up when a door is not in use. It says "Door not in use", as you might expect, along with a big red cross to make this clear to passengers who can't necessarily read. Added alongside are two permanent stickers which warn passengers that "These doors will not open at some stations". This is to encourage passengers to approach the doors with an air of healthy scepticism, to be aware that they might not open so that it won't be a surprise when they don't.

There's also a written hint to listen out for announcements, because these will tip you off in advance regarding non-opening doors. "The front two doors will not open at the next station. Please use other doors." The announcements only occur at the end of the train where the disruption will occur - nobody else is inconvenienced by having to listen. But cleverest of all, the volume of these announcements is slightly higher than the usual generic "the next station is...". The idea is that you're bound to notice this special message, and then you'll shuffle your way up the train to an opening door to alight. Alas, reality is not so smooth.

What often happens is that people don't listen to the announcements. After a few hours, days or months underground we tend to blot these out, because they don't tell us anything new, and continue in our travelling bubble without engaging. For those who don't speak English, or those plugged into headphones, no early warning signal via the spoken word is going to get the message across. Miss this announcement, as many passengers seem to do, and you'll never know how many doors won't open. Do you need to walk back one set, two sets, perhaps even three? Guess wrong and you'll be standing at a wall when the train stops, not an exit.

But there's a bigger problem, which I'd like to suggest is a major design flaw, should anyone responsible be listening. The red sign above the door only lights up at the precise moment that the door doesn't open. It doesn't light up beforehand to warn you the door won't open, which would actually be useful. The message is "Door not in use", not "Door will not open" - present tense rather than future. Annoyingly the red warning is flashed up only when it's too late, which is bugger all use except to confirm that the door is staying shut. In any rational system the red sign would light up well in advance, ideally as soon as the train left the preceding station, which would give departing passengers ample time to wander up the train to a non-red exit. Instead, instant frustration, even mild panic, in a suddenly desperate attempt to escape.
I had the misfortune recently to be riding an eastbound S7 train being driven by a driver in training. I first got a hint that something was up when we rolled into Farringdon station and the front doors didn't open. They should have, we were alongside a platform, but instead the red "Door not in use" sign flashed up for no good reason and passengers were duly inconvenienced. The front doors did open at Liverpool Street and Whitechapel, where the front of the platform is incredibly narrow, but then stayed shut at Stepney Green whose platform is whopping. Entirely unpredictable and atypical behaviour, as if the driver was pressing the wrong buttons or the onboard computer was playing up.

And then, in a packed rush hour train, we reached Bow Road. Normally every door opens, but on this occasion the front three didn't. We departing passengers stared at each other in disbelief, because we wanted to go home but for some reason we couldn't. We looked down to the next set of doors, also shut, and the next set, hard to see but looking shut too. It seemed likely that the doors beyond that had opened, as other passengers were spilling out onto the platform, but there was no chance we could push through those standing and reach that on time.

And so we were trapped on board, thanks to malfunctioning modern technology or driver error, and the train duly carted us off unwillingly to Bromley-by-Bow. Would we be trapped here too? There were no clues because, as you'll remember, the red sign doesn't light up in advance. Thankfully everything opened here, and we faced no more than an additional ten minutes walk home. It had been a completely one-off incident, entirely atypical, but symptomatic of the chaos which ensues when folk get no warning in a crowded train that the door in front of them is temporarily out of action.
Instead of this laissez faire attitude to selective door opening, where doors "may not open" at some stations, something a little more concrete would be useful. A red sign that lights up in advance, rather than too late. A list of stations where the doors won't open, rather than leaving passengers to find out through experience. Something to help avoid embarrassment and awkwardness on discovering too late that you're standing somewhere you shouldn't. In particular, something to make the system more appropriate for those with accessibility issues who can't dash down the carriage and escape without due warning.

So here's my attempt to list the doors that don't open on the new S7 Hammersmith & City trains. I've only ridden in the front carriage from one end of the line to the other, and it'd take another journey at the rear to get the full list. Maybe you can help me to complete the list, and to check it, but only if you can find one of these rare S7 trains in the first place. And only if the doors open to allow you on board.

Do not open eastbound: Hammersmith (front door), Goldhawk Road (front door), Baker Street (front door, last 3 doors)
Do not open westbound: Baker Street (front 2 doors, last 3 doors)

HAMMERSMITH & CITY: Walk the line
125 years before the Hammersmith & City line there was the Hammersmith & City Railway. Opened in 1864, it was built as an offshoot of the Great Western Railway to carry passengers from Paddington to Hammersmith. The new tracks left the GWR mainline at Westbourne Park and ran on a curving viaduct through mostly undeveloped fields. At Latimer Road the line split, one branch to Hammersmith, the other to Kensington. The latter branch is now part of the Overground, while the former remains the Hammersmith & City. I thought I'd walk it, following a four mile arc alongside the viaduct. [map]

There are two Hammersmith stations, as every local knows, but which still comes as a surprise to visitors attempting what appears a simple interchange on the tube map. Instead there's a busy gyratory to cross, on one side a modern shopping mall, on the other the H&C station. This is a fine Edwardian edifice, a symmetrical structure with pedimented gable end, mostly unencumbered by modernity. Only the far right entrance is used these days, while Alexander's barbershop soldiers on in the central retail space. Something much less memorable is going up alongside, an eight-storey glass block called 10 Hammersmith Grove, into which developers would simply lurrve your business to relocate. Just not yet, because it's a right mess at ground level while builders complete the concrete piazza outside. Beyond the gym and training centre the rest of Hammersmith Grove is much more desirably residential. Most of the streets ahead are similarly blessed, lined by tall terraced houses with white bay windows and fortunate tenants. Only when a road slips off to the right is the reality behind revealed, with a builders yard and a secure facility lodged up against the railway.

Trussley Road provides a rare crossing beneath the viaduct, but the sight of businesses in the arches will become more familiar as the walk progresses. Shoots and Leaves is one of the more upmarket outlets - they do landscape design and garden maintenance - with neighbours involved in bathrooms suites and paint. Sulgrave Road is currently a riot of pink cherry blossom, most appropriate on a Hammersmith & City line walk, but alas only a temporary signposting system. An unexpected sight is the back of a bus garage, accessed on foot up a "no public access" alleyway which all the local public seem to use. This emerges into the heart of the machine, where terminating buses turn into the front of the depot and where the drivers park their cars under the viaduct. It's no safe place to be, hence no footpath, but it is the perfect shortcut to the shops. [Here be Goldhawk Road]

Goldhawk Road has loads of shops, surviving as best they can in the shadow of Westfield and under imminent threat from developers. There are some ace survivors, including several eateries dating back to the glory days of the 60s. The Zippy Diner has a Wimpyesque interior, rarely preserved, nextdoor to the darker Rostomia cafe/restaurant. Further down is a pie and mash outpost, courtesy of A Cooke's, where a QPR 2010/11 Champions banner hangs well past its sell by date above the tables. I ventured inside Vivian Patisserie, a Chinese Food Bakery where cheap sweet treats are laid out and inventively labelled. A 'Lemond Tart' appealed, but instead I plumped for a large juicy 'Raisimg Danish', a sub-£1 snack that put corporate coffeeshop fare to shame.

For further bargains, try the market. Shepherd's Bush Market runs along the edge of the railway viaduct, all the way from one station to the next. This characterful multi-ethnic bazaar is the place to come for shoes, foam, unlocked phones and halal cuts... but not on a Sunday. On a Sunday the arched entrances are shuttered shut and the usual retail cut-through is unavailable, so you'll have to make do with some words I blogged 18 months ago. Instead the shortest route north is via Lime Grove, past where the BBC studios used to be but where there are now bland flats. The rest of the road maintains smart residential decorum, or so you'd think by the looks of it, but the sight of two late-middle-aged ladies in hoodies squabbling over a recently-purchased aerosol of glue told me otherwise. [Here be Shepherd's Bush Market]

The Uxbridge Road has a more Middle Eastern flavour, ideal if you need a jilbaab or Damascene cuisine. It's also not the place to dash across the street without looking, as I deduced from the ambulance staff tending to a prone body in the middle of the road beside a knocked down suitcase. I crossed more safely, lest the rubberneckers turn their steady gaze on me instead. The bustle of Shepherd's Bush Green can be avoided by turning left at the Bush Theatre to follow MacFarlane Road. This is another desirable residential street, right up to Auntie's massive satellite dishes hanging over the railway viaduct at the end of the road. Here you'll find the back entrance to BBC Television Centre, the direct route to the rear of the scenery block, now deceased. When this end of the site is redeveloped for flats, expect renewed interest. [Here be Wood Lane]

Redevelopment has already transformed the next part of the walk. You'll know it as Westfield, rather than the Central Line Railway Generating Station and Depot. No shops stretch up here by the pink railway bridge, instead there's an unexpectedly underused bus station and an expanse of warehouses. One of these belches out multi-coloured Ocado lorries on a regular basis, so best cross the entrance with care. To avoid the crowds follow the broad pavement along Ariel Way, where no shopper has any need to go, and where of course a large hire bike docking station has been installed. Planners kindly installed a pedestrian footbridge over the Overground when the megamall complex opened, allowing the estatefolk beyond to avoid a long detour. It's cut my H&C walk by half a mile too, for which I am forever grateful.

North Kensington's a peculiar place. Some of it, like Notting Hill, is upmarket like nowhere else in London. Other parts are rather less so, for which we can partly blame transport links. First the Hammersmith & City viaduct divided the land in two, then a century later two motorway-standard dual carriageways scythed through the streets. To see the nicer houses, stay well away from the railway. However, that's precisely where this walk is heading. The Hammersmith & City line rattles across the main road between a forest of warehouses and commercial blocks. The inhabitants advertise themselves in big branded letters on the top floor - Monsoon, Accessorize, Talk Talk. Even Heart FM are based here, firing up the playlist computer from a gated development erupting from a former brewery. A least someone on Bramley Street has a sense of humour - a mixed-use block near the railway is called Pippin House. [Here be Latimer Road]

Latimer Road no longer runs as far as the station of the same name. Instead it's been amputated by the A40, with the area around the station now stacked full of flats and low-rise modernity. As kids ride their bikes up onto the pavement past Costcutter, it's hard to imagine that David Cameron's house (pre number 10) is only a few hundred yards ahead. We'll not go there. It used to be possible to take a shortcut along Station Walk by following an alleyway immediately alongside the viaduct, but that's been temporarily blocked while a new academy is built. So great has the pace of change been around here that a Methodist church spire marks the only readily visible sign of pre-war construction.

It's around here that the Hammersmith & City line nudges up against the Westway, although chronologically speaking it was the other way around. Why destroy new areas with a road on stilts, argued the planners, when you could simply eradicate the row of houses closest to the railway line. Local people have made the best of this concrete intruder by installing a range of businesses and services underneath. North Kensington's ambulance station is located here, as is the Westway Sports Centre and the occasional plumbers' merchant. At St Mark's Road the space is filled by a forlorn looking lightpole sculpture, apparently temporary, but the weatherbeaten state of the floor covering suggests otherwise. [Here be Ladbroke Grove]

Sainsburys have filled the void beneath the roadway at Ladbroke Grove, with trains running across a brightly coloured bridge alongside. Metronet helped to provide this vinyl disguise, as well as two vibrant Bridget Rileyesque panels at street level on either side of the span. The space ahead is used for overspill to Portobello Market, and has such edgy graffiti that one couple on Sunday had brought along their lemon yellow 1970s car for a photoshoot. The under-road spaces here are occupied more commercially, including a dark uninviting arcade of boutiques, plus a cavernous live music and arts space called Flyover. Only a handful of stalls spread out their wares on the second day of the weekend, but there's just enough crafty-stuff and collector-bits to make a Sunday visit not quite utterly wasted.

To escape the hubbub, and for the longer walk to a station, head east up Tavistock Road. Outdoor cafe culture soon subsides, past one last tweely-painted row of terraces. At a triangular open space the road divides, providing a rare public oasis for slouching and rocking on swings. Tavistock Crescent has clearly been rebuilt as a residential sound barrier, its brick façade blocking out the noise of the Westway for the benefit of those living in the proper houses to the south. Only one gap exists, to allow St Luke's Road to continue across the railway, but not for cars, which is why the roads are so quiet. [Here be Westboune Park]

Alongside Westbourne Park station is a pub called The Metropolitan, which sounds wrong, but up until 1990 that was indeed the underground line which served here. The bridge marks the point where the H&C meets the Great Western Railway, with the station's ticket hall straddling the mainline. From here onwards Brunel's chasm divides the landscape in a not especially attractive way, which is why Westminster council built the Brunel Estate alongside and rehoused people there. And then suddenly comes a dash of wealth. I was taken aback by the crowds drinking outside The Westbourne, and the achingly hip kids popping into the Idler Academy for books and espresso. I shouldn't have been - the avenues to the south are home to the well-to-do of Bayswater, and I'd merely approached from the wrong direction.

A long stout brick wall shields the northern side of Westbourne Park Villas. There are only two ways across the railway, one a lonely-looking metal footway, the other a characterful pink/green-painted iron span for vehicular traffic. Lord Hill's Bridge looks much the worse for wear, with plastic barriers down the middle of the road to prevent overloading, and segregated pedestrian walkways. The ironwork blocks sight of the entrance to Royal Oak - surely the underground station whose name least matches up to the reality of its situation. Crossrail are busy digging the Royal Oak Portal beneath, their mammoth works clearly visible from the island platform. A modern railway will soon descend beside the old, but only the H&C can whisk you from here to Paddington. [Here be Royal Oak]

HAMMERSMITH & CITY: the West end
Having walked from Hammersmith to Royal Oak, how about riding it? There are eight stations in total, each a bit different, but still very much of a type. Here are a few notes on each, plus two photos. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments boxes, and I'll add the most interesting later.

Designed by the Great Western Railway Chief Architect P.E. Culverhouse, and opened in 1909.
The prow-ended central ticket office was removed as part of an upgrade in 2010.
The Next train indicator by the entrance tells you which platform to head to, but not how long before the train goes ("oh damn, it's just left, I'll have to walk back to the entrance to see which train's leaving next")
[exterior] [interior] comments

Goldhawk Road
Entrance is via one of the arches in the viaduct, in an entirely non-attractive way.
The platforms have been extended to take longer trains, then bits of them painted a non-attractive shade of yellow.
There are no Next Train Indicators anywhere between here and Royal Oak. Please listen for announcements.
[exterior] [interior] comments

Shepherd's Bush Market
Used to be called Shepherd's Bush, except there were two of them, so TfL grasped the opportunity of an imminent Circle line extension to rename the station - something usually deemed too impractical and expensive.
The stairs are narrow and really steep, and therefore entirely buggy-unfriendly.
Goldhawk Road could also have been called Shepherd's Bush Market, because the market runs between the two stations.
[exterior] [interior] comments

Wood Lane
Opened in 2008 to serve Westfield, so all silvery-glassy modern.
Deliberately built without a ticket office, to save TfL the bother of closing it later.
There's an old-style roundel in mosaic, massive size, at the end of the passageway through the arch. It was salvaged from the surface building of the old Wood Lane station on the Central line.
[exterior] [interior] comments

Latimer Road
Yet another station entered via an arch in a viaduct up steps to reach a long facing platform with an extended bit at the end.
This time the extended bits have a lot of brown on them. It's not much nicer than the yellow.
The platform canopies look quite arson-friendly. Please don't check this, obviously.
[exterior] [interior] comments

Ladbroke Grove
It's "Ladbroke Grove (for Portobello Road)" on the roundels on the platforms.
The eastbound platform has an 'Information and assistance' window, from which staff make "next train" announcements that are broadcast all down this end of the line.
Even 23 years after the line was rebranded, the handrails in the stairwells are still painted Metropolitan purple.
[exterior] [interior] comments

Westbourne Park
After a run of viaduct-level stations, this one's back at ground-ish level.
Has a special side entrance wide enough for ten-abreast entry, round the back of The Metropolitan pub, for use solely during Notting Hill Carnival chucking out time.
Beyond this station the H&C dives under the Great Western mainline and emerges on the other side.
[exterior] [interior] comments

Royal Oak
A permanent sign out the front points the way to the Notting Hill Carnival (and to Bayswater, and to Warwick Avenue).
The station has a "Community Board" in the entranceway off the bridge. The paucity of notices on the board suggests there's not much of a community round here.
The island platform, in a chasm with mainline trains rushing by, is a lonely place.
[exterior] [interior] comments

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