Wednesday, December 25, 2013
CIRCLE: The Victoria Embankment
The birth of the Circle line is intimately connected to the development of the capital's sewer system. London's appalling sanitation, which peaked with "The Great Stink", inspired Joseph Bazalgette to build the Victoria Embankment in the 1860s. He hid the Northern Low Level Sewer within, and there was room alongside for a tunnel to house the Metropolitan District Railway. The Embankment was constructed by narrowing the Thames, a much better idea than digging up the Strand to lay pipes and rail tracks below. Which means that when you ride the Circle line between Westminster and Blackfriars, you are in fact passing through what used to be the river. Time for a long slow walk along the Embankment, I think...
Palace of Westminster: You know all about this one. Plus the Circle line doesn't go underneath... the Embankment starts across the road.
Portcullis House: This is Parliament's office block, with space for MP's desks and committee rooms and some expensive fig trees. And the Circle line does indeed run underneath, and the Jubilee line too, in that sheer deep magnificent extension station.
New Scotland Yard: The building alongside Portcullis House is Norman Shaw's New Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan Police from 1902 to 1992. There never was an Old Scotland Yard.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the road...
Boudicca: It's one of the busiest pedestrian junctions in town. Tourists throng and queue on towards Westminster Bridge as they make their way between Parliament Square and The South Bank, or wherever tourists go. On the corner is a kiosk selling five-pound-plus pancakes, because tourists don't realise they're being ripped off, and a man selling roasting chestnuts. Several red-coated tour bus guides lie in wait hoping to snap up punters, while a stall festooned with flags sells I Love London t-shirts and Union Jack jester hats, plus lots of other merchandise no self-respecting local would wear. Looking down over the furore is a statue of Queen Boadicea in her knife-wheeled chariot, carved by Lord Thomas Thornycroft, and placed here in 1902.
Steps: Steep steps lead down to one of Westminster station's many subway entrances. On the way watch out for a mysterious locked door in the side of the plinth, behind which a ladder leads down to a network of service tunnels. Beside the riverbank is a tall octagonal copper case, green in hue, containing an unseen tide gauge. Then best move along, because there's a public toilet along here which whiffs a bit.
Westminster Millennium Pier: This is the touristy one, with a multitude of competing services offering boat trips mostly downstream. Of interest is the step-free access gate, the only way on and off the pier if you're in a wheelchair, but officially part of London's flood defence... so if you see it closed during service hours, worry.
Lamps: Tall black globe lamps appear every 70 feet along the edge of the Victoria Embankment. They feature gorgeous entwined fishes and are part of the original decoration. They were also amongst the first lights in London, nay the world, to make the switch from gas to electricity.
Jogging civil servants: They're everywhere at lunchtime, nipping out of the office in their running gear for a pant up the Embankment and back. Mind the torrent doesn't knock you down.
Battle of Britain Memorial: Erected in 2005, this pair of low long memorials commemorates the sacrifice of The Few (from Sergeant H H Adair to Sergeant R C Young). Most impressive are the bronze high relief sculptured panels depicting the height of the Blitz.
RAF Memorial: Up next, on a similar theme but very different, is the RAF Memorial. This has been here since 1923, and stands tall and proud with a gold winged eagle on top. Per Ardua Ad Astra.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the road...
Whitehall Gardens: A long expanse of grass covers the area in front of the Ministry of Defence. Its stark stone façade reveals little, and only a collection of particularly obscure martial memorials hint that this is the military end of Whitehall. The Chindit Memorial commemorate WW2 campaigns in Burma, then there's a statue of Hugh Trenchard who founded the Royal Air Force. The Fleet Air Arm is remembered via a slightly scary winged figure, then there's Lord Portal (honest) and General Gordon of Khartoum. But mostly grass.
Queen Mary's Steps: These are an amazing survivor of 17th century London. Sir Christopher Wren built a landing stage for Queen Mary II so that she could disembark from the Royal Barge below what had once been Whitehall Palace. Construction of the MoD building in 1939 uncovered the steps and part of the Tudor wall, and these can now be seen on public display behind a low fence. It's amazing to stand alongside, now 50 metres from the water's edge, and to realise that the Thames once lapped here. Few other sites along the Embankment reveal the scale of Bazalgette's engineering achievement quite like this.
Whitehall Gardens: These continue, a lot garden-ier, on the opposite side of Horse Guards Avenue. Three statues act as focal points amidst the palm trees and vegetation - one at each end and one in the centre. Statue number 1 is of William Tyndale, printing press pioneer, rather out of place in this combat-themed neighbourhood. There are bonus quiz points if you know why Sir Henry Bartle Frere and General Sir James Outram are famous (five points for the British colonial administrator, ten for the English general quashing rebellion in Indian). As many civil servants have spotted, this is a fine place to sit and eat lunch, or perhaps pass secret messages by hiding them under the benches.
Samuel Plimsoll: Facing away from the gardens towards the river is London's memorial to maritime saviour Samuel Plimsoll, erected by the ever grateful National Union of Seamen. That circle with a line through it is his Plimsoll line, and very definitely not the first appearance of the Underground's roundel.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the road...
Tattershall Castle: Here's the first of the boats moored up along the Embankment, this one named after a fortress in Lincolnshire. With its big slanting funnel, this paddle steamer used to ferry folk across the Humber Estuary, and is now a bar, restaurant and general entertainment venue.
RS Hispaniola: Ditto this boat, with slightly higher class dining, and a website that reveals nothing of the vessel's history, just that they sell lots of food and drink.
Joseph Bazalgette: And here he is, opposite the end of Northumberland Avenue beneath the Golden Jubilee Bridge, the great Engineer Of The London Main Drainage System himself. Sir Joseph is commemorated in a memorial that's not as large as you might expect, but still grand and ornate. At its heart is the bust of a bald man with a seriously brush-like moustache, looking simultaneously both gruff and kindly. The traffic that rumbles by, the trains that run beneath, and the passers-by not choking with cholera... every Londoner owes him an enormous debt.
Golden Jubilee Bridges: Barely ten years old, these twin walkways have revolutionised pedestrian access to South Bank. Mind the buskers and pause midway for a contented stare along the sweeping curl of the Embankment.
Embankment station: The renaming of this station, and adjacent stations, is probably the most over-referenced fact on this blog, so I'll not delve into the story again. Above ground the architecture has classical pretensions, although this illusion is ruined somewhat if you look down at the building's drab roof from the footbridge. In case you've not heard, Bakerloo and Northern line trains won't be stopping here for most of 2014, starting on January 8th, so that four ancient escalators can be refurbished. Thankfully Charing Cross station is barely any distance away, and a swift walk down Villiers Street should sort it.
Victoria Embankment Gardens (west): This splendid recreational haven dates back to 1874, and tucks into the former riverbank at the embankment's widest point. The gardens are also firmly fenced, and a proper municipal parkkeeper-type goes round at dusk jangling keys and shooing everyone out. At the west end is a large bandstand, still used in the summer, beside a lush lawn usually overplanted with flowers. I would show you photos but the area's currently covered by a temporary hospitality village delivering corporate Christmas parties and the like, which won't be clearing off until next week. At more normal times go stand by the cafe, near a suspicious looking grating, and you can easily hear trains passing beneath into Embankment station.
York River Gate: A wonderful relic of Stuart London, this Italianate stone gateway was once the Thames-side exit from the London home of the Archbishop of York. That's long gone, as have all the grand homes along this section of the riverbank, but the gate was deliberately retained as a reminder of the great transformation wrought by the Embankment. If you're ever showing visitors round town bring them here, and point out how the Thames now runs 150 yards away, and watch them gasp.
Victoria Embankment Gardens (central): As the gardens narrow to the east, so a central footpath bends through past a motley collection of memorials. A Coronation Oak, a statue of Robert Burns, a pond presented by a council leader called Alfred, a nod to the 7/7 Book of Remembrance, the bust of a blind Liberal statesman, that sort of thing. It's almost like whenever Westminster Council needs to commemorate something they bung it here. One large circular pool (dotted with sculpted storks) sits in front of a particularly massive memorial to Major General Lord Cheylesmore of the Grenadier Guards. Only if you exit the gardens does the Belgian War Memorial on the opposite side become apparent, and the scale makes sense.
Adelphi: Once the site of a grand palace overlooking the Thames, London's first neo-classical building was erected here in the late 18th century. They knocked that down in the 1930s, the philistines, and built a splendid white Art Deco block in its place, so that's maybe good. And good luck trying to follow the maze of stairwells and hidden roadways underneath.
Shell Mex House: Another 30s office monster, this replacing the Hotel Cecil, and with London's largest clockface beaming down from on high. Situated bang on a bend in the river, the views from the 10th floor balcony are exceptional.
Carting Lane: At the foot of this steep hill, formerly the riverbank, is the answer to a classic pub quiz question. Where is London's last remaining functional gas lamp? It's here, once powered by sewer gas, now a little more natural.
The Savoy: You're probably more used to viewing this über-premier hotel from the front, on Savoy Court (that other classic pub quiz answer, the only street in London where traffic drives on the right). But many a top-level guest arrives here, beneath the glass canopy round the back (and the occasional member of staff nips out for a fag too, when the footman isn't looking).
Savoy Street: Along with parallel Savoy Hill, this road is another convincing slice of evidence that the Thames once flowed here, at the foot of the slope.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the road...
Cleopatra's Needle: We have one, New York has one and Paris has one. They're genuine obelisks, floated by sea from Egypt, but none of them actually date from the time of Cleopatra. The hieroglyphics carved in the granite are from Ramesses II and are well over 3000 years old. Buried beneath London's needle is a time capsule from 1878, containing (amongst other things) a box of hairpins, a rupee, a portrait of Queen Victoria, a Bradshaw's Railway Guide and copies of 10 daily newspapers. Due to a Victorian oversight the two bronze sphinxes on either side are looking the wrong way, facing inwards rather than guarding the monument. Neither are originals, merely window dressing. Beneath each sphinx is a set of steep slippery steps leading into the Thames, or down to a muddy beach if it's low tide. When the Embankment was built it was envisaged that this would be an embarkation point for riverboat traffic, but passenger usage never really took off.
Queen Mary: You're too late, she's sailed, to make way for this...
Savoy Pier: Luxury pontoon with midriver events venue and departure point for private yacht charters, opens 2014. You won't be going.
Waterloo Bridge: The second bridge on this site, opened during World War 2 and (it's said) constructed mainly by women. It was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (see also Battersea Power Station) and features cantilevered concrete beams creating mock arches across the river. Watch out for the huge red doors underneath the bridge which used to be the exit for trams departing the Kingsway Tram Subway. The twin staircases up from Embankment level often have an unfortunate air of urine about them, but the view from the bridge is about as good as London gets.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the road...
Somerset House: It's one of the 18th century's greatest neoclassical buildings, originally home to the Admiralty, later the Royal Academy, and now lots of arty fountainy icerink stuff. But take a fresh look at Somerset House the next time you pass along the Embankment. That run of stone arches along the pavement used to dip into the Thames, which lapped alongside. Meanwhile the low central archway - today's Embankment entrance - was flooded with water to allow barges to drop off passengers beneath the terrace. While most of the other grand buildings along the waterfront were demolished to make way for the Victoria Embankment, how fortunate we are that Sir Joseph Bazalgette spared Somerset House.
Brunel statue: Another statue with massive sideburns, civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel stands atop a scrolling plinth facing Somerset House.
Temple station: This is a dead simple station, just a couple of facing platforms within the body of the Embankment. Everyone loves the pre-Beck tube map outside the entrance, beside the tiny cafe wittily called Temple Bar, and opposite the newsagent stall run by the chirpy kindly lady. Unusually it's possible to walk up onto the station roof, or rather the roof of the Walkabout bar, where there's a large elevated paved space with a few benches and a sort-of view of the river. But maybe not for long...
Garden Bridge: You'll have heard of this, the proposed green bridge across the Thames planted with flowers and shrubs and trees. It'd be a Heatherwick creation, for ambling pedestrians, with two central oases joined by a bikini-like span. But you may not have realised it'll touch down precisely here, on the roof of Temple station. A cascade of steps will flow from the bridge deck to the station roof to Temple Place, which may be closed or part-closed as a response. A lift and a long ramp will provide step free access, but only to street level, and not to the Circle line platforms below. That'll wake up the area somewhat. The plans also propose the opening up of the scrappy garden behind Brunel's statue and the removal of a couple of trees. If further details interest you, TfL are running a consultation which closes on "Wednesday 20 December 2013", a date which doesn't actually exist. Nip over and tell them what you think, and you might be walking through Eden to the South Bank by 2017.
Victoria Embankment Gardens (east): One final segment of these riverside gardens remains to explore, not especially large, but enough for a lawn surrounded by benches and a smattering of statues. Education pioneer William Forster and temperance campaigner Lady Mary Somerset are tucked between the palms, with John Stuart Mill up the far end where the joggers' Fitness Route terminates. Look out for the low brick structure in the undergrowth, surrounding a vent from the era when steam trains ran underneath, and yes you can still hear every Circle line service as it passes.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the road...
HQS Wellington: Those might sound like unusual letters for a boat, but HQS stands for Head Quarters Ship. The Wellington was a Merchant Navy vessel, a Grimsby Class sloop built in the 1930s to patrol the seas around New Zealand. During WW2 she was conscripted to convoy duty, escorting bigger ships across the Atlantic, and now she's a museum boat anchored off the Victoria Embankment. She belongs to the Honourable Company of Master Mariners to serve as their Livery Hall, and they hold meetings in the converted boiler room. An exhibition about her epic wartime history has been open since May, on Sundays and Mondays only, and ends this weekend. It's well worth a look aboard, but maybe dress up a little.
City Dragons: The Embankment's passing from Westminster to the Square Mile is marked by two heraldic beasts, one on either side of the road. Both were relocated from the Coal Exchange in 1963, and all the others you see around the City are merely half-size copies.
King's Reach: They renamed this section of the river on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935. The name's not used much these days, but a mighty grand arch commemorates the occasion.
National Submarine War Memorial: I bet you didn't know we had one of these. Wreaths are laid on the wall every November, on the Sunday before Remembrance Sunday.
Police Box: It's too small, and too thin, and too light blue to be a Tardis, and there's no phone inside any more, but just spotting it beside the Embankment will make you smile.
Benches: None of your ordinary benches here, these are a bit Egyptian and have cast-iron camels on each end. Back at the start of the Embankment it was cast-iron sphinxes instead, if you noticed.
HMS President: The final water-borne entertainment venue along the Victoria Embankment is a Flower-class anti-submarine Q-Ship. Only three of the Royal Navy's WW1 warships survives, and this is one of them. If you want to host a Standing Reception with Canapés and Bowl Food for 100 guests and have ten thousand pounds to spare, do drop in.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the road...
Temple Gardens: London's legal district used to run down to the Thames, and now runs down to the Embankment. The only road to make it all the way through is Middle Temple Lane, a narrow cobbled thoroughfare of chambers with massive hourly rates. At the foot of the slope this emerges through an arch into some lavish gardens, fenced and gated to prevent untimely public access. Middle Temple Gardens are smaller, Inner Temple Gardens rather larger, and both are currently being tidied up after tree damage during October's St Jude's Day storm. The trees are magnificent along this stretch, perhaps all the better in the winter as a long line of leafless branches.
Bus Stop Q: No daytime buses serve the Embankment, only the N550 nightbus (and a heck of a lot of commuter coaches).
City of London School: The Victoria Embankment draws to a close beside this ornate ex-education establishment, now home to American bankers JP Morgan, who reputedly maintain London's largest gold reserve in a vault in the basement. The iron lamp standards outside the front door were made by the Coalbrookdale Company, who used to have their HQ nextdoor, on the site of what is now Unilever House. Glorious.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the road...
Blackfriars Millennium Pier: More functional than gorgeous, this, and with a less than brilliant river service (only one boat an hour off peak, and none at all at weekends). Having said that, the upper pier provides the best view (at low tide) of the Fleet Sewer's exit into the Thames beneath Blackfriars Bridge. Both the River Fleet and the Victoria Embankment terminate here.
Blackfriars Underpass: An obvious sign that the Circle line no longer follows the riverbank is the sight of road traffic dipping down into a dual carriageway tunnel. Instead the underground curves inland just before Unilever House to reach Blackfriars station (whose platforms aren't on the banks of the Thames) and then to follow Queen Victoria Street. No pedestrians are allowed through the underpass, they're shunted onto a much narrower path, and riverside walking becomes a little more intermittent further on. But for the last mile and a half the Victoria Embankment has been accessible, attractive, historic and deeply fascinating. Next time you're riding the Circle line through Bazalgette's cofferdam, why not get out and walk the Embankment instead for a much better view?
My Embankment gallery
» There are 90 photographs altogether (another 30+ today) [slideshow]
» All about the construction of the Victoria Embankment
CIRCLE: Exclusively Circle
The Circle line shares most of its track with other lines. From Hammersmith to Liverpool Street it's no different to the Hammersmith & City line. From Tower Hill to Gloucester Road it's essentially the District line. And from High Street Kensington to Edgware Road it's basically the District line again. But there are three points where the Circle line breaks out and enjoys a solo identity, three places with platforms for the Circle line and no other service. So that's where I've been.
ALDGATE: (platforms 1 and 4)
Aldgate is the Circle line's proper special station, the only place the Hammersmith & City and District lines fail to touch... although they scrape close by. From the southern end of Aldgate's platforms you can watch District trains go by, rather close, and from the northern end of platform 1 the occasional H&C, rather close. Platform 1 is one of Aldgate's pair of Circle line platforms, the other being 4 on the far side, with two Metropolitan line platforms tucked up inbetween. I like it down here, at the bottom of the forking central staircase beneath the station's vast vaulted roof. A couple of heritage platform signs remain, with proper old font and feathered arrows, and they're lovely. Bulging pillars support the ceiling, and proper Victorian brickwork rises on either side. It could almost be the 1880s down here, apart from the gleaming Chesham-bound carriages humming alongside.
But sorry, did you want to know when the next Circle line train is due? There is a Next Train Indicator on platform 1 but it doesn't change, it just says "Southbound trains; Circle line" all the time, even when one is pulling into the platform. Either the signalling systems here are dire or TfL have insufficient money, or probably both. Expect an improvement with the sub-surface signalling upgrade due in 2018, perhaps, or perhaps maybe later. If you want to anticipate the next Circle line train, whicht could be up to 10 minutes away, you have to stand in precisely the right place at the bottom of the steps and raise your eyes. That's because the only functioning Next Train Indicator at Aldgate station is on the landing halfway up (even the modern square NTIs in the ticket hall are permanently blank). This old and dotty display reveals the next destination from each platform and an actual time until departure, or perhaps even "READY" if you need to dash down really fast. At least you'll have seen this board on your way in, as you descend the grand staircase and enter this Escher drawing of a station. The Circle's realm awaits.
GLOUCESTER ROAD: (platform 2)
Here at Gloucester Road, in one direction only, the Circle line branches out on its own. Head anti-clockwise and you'll roll in on platform 3, which is shared with the District so is almost ordinary. But head clockwise and you'll filter off before entering the station and arrive on exclusive platform 2. Two and three form an island together, should you ever want to change between them, which is probably unlikely. Meanwhile switching between one and two (the westbound shuffle) involves an up and over, which is more fun at the far end where the footbridge is more properly an emergency exit. I'd say passenger clientèle at Gloucester Road is more upmarket than might be found at Aldgate or Edgware Road - better dressed, more finely groomed - because this end of Kensington is a top part of town. It's even properly indoors here, actually underground, near enough.
You might expect the Next Train Indicators here to be quite good, but you'd be wrong. They're better than at today's other two stations because they do actually work, although you only get a minute's advance warning, so for roughly 90% of the time they're 'blank'. Either the signalling systems here are dire or TfL have insufficient money, or probably both. Expect an improvement with the sub-surface signalling upgrade due in 2018, perhaps, or perhaps maybe later. But it's no pain waiting here thanks to one of the finest outposts of Art On The Underground. The arches on what was once platform 4 are regularly filled in with graphic wonders, in a long sequence stretching the length of the station. Sometimes that's a single artist's oeuvre, but currently it's a multiplicity of works celebrating the Underground's 150th anniversary. So long as there isn't an annoying train heading east, you'll get a great view.
EDGWARE ROAD: (platform 2)
It's now been four years since the Circle line was rejigged to terminate at Edgware Road. A lot of regular users cursed when that happened, especially those who used to make continuous journeys through the station. Since 2009 they have to get out and change, which isn't always straightforward, and usually slows everything down. On the brighter side, de-looping the Circle has helped to make the service more resilient, with fewer annoying long gaps between trains. And it's created a platform at Edgware Road that's (essentially) used only by Circle line trains. Platform 2 used to be for terminating Districts and various through services, but now it's where the Circles stop, and has its own yellow sign to celebrate. If you arrive clockwise into Platform 2 you're one of the lucky ones, because it's easy to continue your eastbound journey by stepping across to platform 1, where you might catch another Circle line train going somewhere useful. It's the folk who arrive via the District line who suffer, requiring an up and over hike from platform 3 at this extremely non-step-free station.
Edgware Road's not the loveliest place to wait, especially if you're trying to work out when it's time to leave. The Next Train indicators are rubbish, seriously rubbish, and also ancient, which is probably why. Weak red LEDs display the lines served but never the time to departure, with finer detail provided by closed circuit TV screens relaying a picture of the platform indicator in the ticket hall. Either the signalling systems here are dire or TfL have insufficient money, or probably both. Expect an improvement with the sub-surface signalling upgrade due in 2018, perhaps, or perhaps maybe later. In the meantime watch out for the Circle line drivers swapping over in their cabs because Edgware Road is a key duty changeover point. And platform 2 is rarely busy, as the next yellow train sits waiting (and waiting) for the time to depart. Hammersmith is over an hour away, or barely quarter of an hour if you head over to platform 4.
CIRCLE: Outer Circle
The Circle line dates from 1884, when the final link in the subterranean circuit was added. Initially it was known as the Inner Circle, with services also running on an Outer Circle and a Middle Circle. The Outer Circle had been running since 1872, via a not-quite complete loop from the City through West London and back again. Kicking off from Mansion House, Outer Circle trains followed the usual westbound route to Earl's Court, then veered off onto what's now the Overground via Kensington Olympia. Further now-Overground tracks led Outer Circle trains via Willesden and Dalston Junctions, eventually pulling into Broad Street close to what's now Liverpool Street station. Trains ran every 30 minutes, and the service survived for over 30 years until 1908. If you want further details, and a map, click for details. If you'd like to join me in an attempt to follow the Outer Circle today, read on.
MANSION HOUSE: Few trains terminate at Mansion House today, but between 1871 and 1884 they had no choice because this was the end of the line. That's why this station is larger than most, with an additional platform available for terminating trains (where few terminate today). I always find this station a bit quiet, even during the supposed rush hour, and the exit always feels like a mighty long trek too. If you look beyond the end of platform 2 you can see a rare set of hydraulic buffers, a Heath Robinsonesque contraption with a great long metal arm. It's actually best seen from platform 1 on the eastbound, with its cute little reservoir tank on top - thankfully rarely used. You could walk from here to Liverpool Street in less than 15 minutes. Instead, let's take a train that hasn't existed since 1908.
EARL'S COURT: To follow the route of the Outer Circle it's important not to take a Circle line train from Mansion House. The Inner Circle turns off after Gloucester Road, and we're not going anywhere Edgware Road. Instead you need to wait for a District line train, any District line train, and hop off at Earl's Court. It also needs to be the weekend, unless you deliberately turn up in the evening for one of the two trains that run to Olympia on weekdays. It always feels a bit random standing here on the westbound island platform. District line trains run to four entirely different destinations, rarely from a predictable platform. What with District line passengers swapping trains and Piccadilly line escapees looking wholly lost, Earl's Court is one of the Underground's more chaotic interchanges. Hurrah then for the old school arrowed Next Train Indicators, which occasionally signal services to Olympia, no better than every 20 minutes at weekends. When the ghost train does turn up most look on wistfully, wishing it were heading somewhere useful, while others less familiar with the station leap aboard, scan the empty carriage, realise their error and hop off. But if you do want to travel this way, as we Outer Circlers do, oh the luxury.
KENSINGTON (OLYMPIA): This runty outpost, then known as Addison Road, was first served by the Outer and Middle Circles in 1872. These weren't true Underground services, they were run by the London & North Western Railway, here joining trains run by other companies using the West London line. Kensington (Olympia) closed to the public during the war, with District line trains arriving only in 1946. They still feel like somewhat of an afterthought, edging into their bay platform and stopping not quite close enough to the exit. A modern revolution swept in here three months ago with the introduction of (gasp) ticket gates for the first time. Previously you could sneak out of the system for free, or cross the footbridge unhindered, now only the latter is still possible. TfL adjusted their plans at the last minute and split the footbridge in two, so now one half is for Oyster-enabled passengers and the other for residents taking a short cut. It's not elegant, but it works. To follow the Outer Circle, cross the platform and await the next train to Stratford. Whilst Overground users enjoy a decent Next Train Indicator, that provided for District passengers remains stubbornly blank. They instead have to rely on something quaint and old-fashioned called a "timetable", a paper-based information medium largely phased out across the remainder of London's Underground network.
SHEPHERD'S BUSH: Prior to 1940 the station at Shepherd's Bush was called Uxbridge Road. It was the last station before the Middle Circle curved off to join what's now the Hammersmith and City line at Latimer Road - those tracks long since lost beneath a motorway and housing. The Outer Circle continued, as the Overground does today, but stopping at the wonderfully named St Quintin Park and Wormwood Scrubs station. This wooden halt above North Pole Road was lost in an air raid and never rebuilt, which is a shame, because the north end of Kensington could really do with a replacement. In the meantime Overground trains still always stop around SQPAWS, for a few seconds at least, to allow the driver to switch current from DC (south) to AC (north).
HIGHBURY AND ISLINGTON: Sorry, we've jumped a bit there. A long run via Willesden Junction (High Level) all the way around the top of London via Hampstead Heath. You know it as the Overground, a Victorian would have known it as the Outer Circle. Plus ça change. But here at Highbury and Islington we have to change trains because the modern Overground has introduced a disconnect. All eastbound trains run on to Stratford, while the line down through Whitechapel and beyond has become a separately timetabled entity. If only those buffers weren't there, if only the tracks hadn't been lifted, we might be enjoying a 21st century Outer Circle even today.
SHOREDITCH HIGH STREET: This elevated station is very new, and the Outer Circle never passed this way. Instead it ran all the way down the Kingsland Viaduct through Haggerston and Hoxton, as did all trains bound for Broad Street. That viaduct was severed five years ago (close by at New Inn Yard) to allow construction of a new bridge over Shoreditch High Street. The break point is now marked by a car park, if you're willing to call a scrappy fenced-off patch of tarmac by that name. A brief chunk of the original viaduct still stands beyond Holywell Lane, this topped off by Village Underground, the famous artists' studios fashioned out of two graffitied tube carriages. The bridge beyond has been lost, then the viaduct reappears across Great Eastern Street for its final elevated burst. Trees and undergrowth have had years to colonise the disused tracks, creating an impromptu nature reserve surrounded by workshops, brick terraces and lockups. One last bridge crosses the end of Plough Yard, dark and forbidding underneath, and then the wrecking balls have been busy. The viaduct lies broken, a red and white stripe its last hurrah, before a building site opens up beyond. This enormous space will one day be the Principal Place development, a 15-storey mixed-use scheme consisting of offices, flats and retail outlets. It's being branded as Shoreditch meets the City - imagine bankers in sneakers, that sort of thing. And, if I read the artist's impression properly, the old viaduct is going to be opened up and turned into some sort of sky garden. It's already got some fully grown trees, which is excellent, if unintentional, forward planning.
BROAD STREET: At the start of the 20th century Broad Street was the third busiest railway terminus in London. By the 1980s it was the quietest, its nine platforms reduced to one, and demolition was assured. The Broadgate development arose in its place, a vast complex of offices built to extend the City during the Big Bang years. Its architecture is highly regarded by some, but I find Broadgate a horribly soulless place, ruled over by security presence in uniform and unseen. The original station lay roughly where the winter-only ice rink is today, although no trace remains of the platforms into which the Outer Circle arrived. Instead cross the road to Liverpool Street and hop on today's Circle, and you can be back at Mansion House in no time.