Piccadilly Tube line walk 1: Piccadilly Circus walk to Finsbury Park

Walk 1

PICCADILLY walk to FINSBURY PARK

2 3/4 hours

This part of the Piccadilly line was planned as a stand-alone Underground line linking a train line north of King’s Cross with a central London terminus on the Strand. The train operator hoped to alleviate congestion on its suburban trains and in the King’s Cross terminus. The line would have been identical with the present route between Holborn and Finsbury Park. In the end, financial difficulties led to a combination with an other company and a connecting tunnel was built between Holborn and Piccadilly. The line opened in 1906. It included a short shuttle service between Holborn and Strand that opened in 1907 and finally closed in 1994.

Between 1906 and 1932, trains called at an additional station called York Road between Kings Cross St. Pancras and Caledonian Road. The station served an industrial area but factories closed during the Great Depression and the station became little used. Because of recent large housing developments nearby, there has been some talk of reopening it, but this appears unlikely as the Piccadilly line is congested enough as it is.

Routing note: This walk connects in Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Holborn, King’s Cross St Pancras and Finsbury Park with numerous other walks. The most convenient connections would be with Bakerloo line walk 1 in Piccadilly, with Piccadilly line walk 2 in Finsbury Park or with Victoria Underground line walk 4 also in Finsbury Park.

The time estimate does not include visits of the London Transport Museum and of the Freemasons’ Hall. Each of them may take you an additional hour. You will also have good shopping opportunities towards the beginning and may also want to relax in Covent Garden.

PICCADILLY CIRCUS

Piccadilly Circus Underground station

Both the Bakerloo line and the Piccadilly line platforms opened in 1906.

There was a station building originally but the station was so congested that it became necessary to build much larger facilities. This was impossible at surface level and all facilities are underground since 1928. The concourse is actually one of the more impressive ones on the network, together with that at Bank station. The original building was then demolished in the 1980s.

This was a traffic circus originally but the traffic has been redirected. It is an extremely busy crossroads both for cars and for pedestrians, and it can be cumbersome just trying to cross through the crowds. Not many people come specifically to this square but you often cross it to reach other locations. Tourists also need to come here once because of a wall covered in neon advertising meant to ape Times Square in New York. Fortunately, no one lives in the buildings in the vicinity as traffic and light would be serious nuisances.

The word Piccadilly comes from lace items popular around 1600 that were supplied by a shop located here. Interestingly, the French word “peccadille” means nowadays a modestly embarrassing indulgence or oversight, such as offering your aunt flowers in the wrong colour. Between 1850 and 1950, the area was very closed to notorious haunts of prostitutes, who can only qualify as “pecaddilles” if you are a conceited Victorian businessman or an energetic American soldier on holiday from the battlefield.

Central feature of Piccadilly Circus

There is a mix of uncoordinated office and retail buildings around the circus, none of which warrants a particularly close look. What everyone usually notices is the central fountain. The winged figure on top is usually called Eros because it is a naked youth although it is actually supposed to be Anteros, the god of happy mutual love (Eros is the god of unreturned infatuation). The fountain commemorates a 19th century philanthropist, loving the citizens and loved by them… The pedestal of the small statue is massive and completely out of proportion, but makes sense considering that it was the actual middle of the roundabout originally.

Exit the station in Coventry Street

Trocadéro building

The first building on the street has an oversize Greek portico extending over a full three floors. It was built in 1896 as the luxurious Trocadero restaurant, named… after a battle in the Crimea war in the 1860s. It was turned into a maze of mass entertainment venues in the 1980s but most of them were not profitable enough and closed quickly. There is talk to convert the building into a hotel but this is doubtful as the area is extremely noisy day and night.

Prince of Wales Theatre

 

At the corner of Coventry Street and Oxendon Street, you reach the Prince of Wales theatre, specialising in lavish musicals. The house has a distinguished track record in this area and was already famous in the 1900s for its farces, comedies and risqué shows. The present building is a typical Art déco structure from 1937 with geometric shapes combining flat slabs of concrete with rounded shapes. There were often statues or reliefs on earlier Art déco buildings, but this had fallen out of fashion by the late 1930s.

Walk down Coventry Street

Ahead Swiss Court (pedestrianised road)

At the start of this short road, you pass a somewhat unexpected clock with a mast bearing colourful coats of arms. It seems to be a gift by the Swiss Confederation honouring the name of the street because the coats of arms are those of the federal “cantons” of the country. You need to be very knowledgeable if you are to list all 26 of them. I can tell you the mast was set up after 1979 because there were only 25 cantons before that year.

Ahead along Leicester Square

Leicester Square garden

The square is well known for being a hub for entertainment and can be very crowded in the evening. There is a small green space as well, but it clearly suffers under the onslaught of revellers. The statue on my picture was taken away in 2012 along with several others. One feature many Londoners know well in the square is a booth selling discounted tickets for performances taking place the same evening. There are many competitors in the vicinity pretending to be similar outfits but the one on the square is actually managed by the association of theatres.

 

 

Film theatre on Leicester Square

There are no musical or variety theatres around the square itself nowadays but there are several large film theatres trying to outdo each other with their street fronts. The Empire theatre has a front from 1928 (it is obviously more modern inside) and the style is astonishing for that period. Frilly neo-baroque scrolls in blue and gold are rather Late Victorian in style and the white columns and balustrades are Georgian. For years, the owner hid most of the façade behind billboards for the next big film, but the present arrangement seems to be holding.

Art déco film theatre on Leicester Square

The Vue theatre has a slightly more recent front from 1938. Unlike the Prince of Wales theatre you saw earlier, this building shows all hallmarks of peak Art déco including reliefs. Asexual nudes were very in fashion, but the two figures seem to race and fascination for speed and sports was also very fashionable. The central tower with a pointed end a little like a steamship splitting the waves is also very typical of the period.

Ahead Cranbourn Street passing

LEICESTER SQUARE

Leicester Square Underground station

The station opened in 1906 on the Piccadilly line with platforms opening on the Northern line in 1907. Like many other stations on the line, it originally used lifts but congestion forced the operator to build escalators in 1935. They were the longest ones on the network with 54 m until longer ones were built at Angel station in the late 20th century. There are two station buildings, one for the Northern line and one for the Piccadilly line. Both are typical designs for the respective companies.

Leicester Square station elevator

The Piccadilly line access has the conspicuous appearance that architect Leslie Green developed in 1903. His design was used on three different Underground lines as they belonged to the same group of companies. It involves striking dark red terracotta tiles covering the whole ground floor. Unfortunately, the heavy workload caused a burnout and the architect died very young just after finishing the plans for all the stations. Leslie Green often included the stations as the ground floor of office buildings and most arches were let to commercial premises, as is the case here. This raised funds for Underground companies that were financially not very comfortable, construction costs being high with a very slow payback through passenger receipts.

Platform decoration

The platforms have a flashy, abstract decoration reminding of neon lights. This is a reference to the fact that there are several film theatres in the direct vicinity where premieres are hosted.

At the end of Cranbourn Street, you might notice away to the right the conspicuous building shown on my picture. The street corner is crowned by what I assume is a luxurious penthouse with a mock Greek tempietto on top. The property was not in use when I took the picture, but the building was new and this is taken several years ago. Roof towers with mock temples of this type were a surprisingly popular device in the mid-19th century to draw attention to what was usually a theatre.

Penthouse with tempietto

Ahead Long Acre

L Mercer Street

There are two shopping arcades with an access on Mercer Street, one left (Slingsby Place) and one right (Mercer’s Walk). You can detour into both courtyards, coming back to Mercer Street afterwards. The whole area is devoted to tasteful boutiques mixed with a few boring high street chain outlets. Overall, it feels like the right area in London to look for interesting clothes. This is somehow fitting because the original owner of the area was the Company of Mercers. The buildings themselves are not interesting as most of them were built after a notorious slum was demolished in the early 20th century.

Seven Dials obelisk

At the end of the street, you reach a crossroads with an obelisk called Seven Dials. It had originally six dials pointing to the six original streets until local authorities pulled it down because they felt it attracted “undesirable” persons. A reconstruction was set up in 1988. I long thought that it included clocks facing each street but the designs are actually sundials. They are too high up to be read easily and I guess 18th century citizens rather looked at where the shadow of the obelisk itself pointed.

Continue in Mercer Street

Ahead St Giles Passage

 

Community garden in St Giles Passage

Don’t miss the delightful community garden in this passage. It is one of the best managed I have seen in London. It is also quite impressive and unexpected to find this haven of green in a part of London that has at best a few formal public squares.

Walk into the churchyard to the church

 

St Giles in the Fields

 

St Giles in the Fields was an unusual parish church, catering to a very poor part of London. Parishes cover only small areas in London and you can imagine what this implies when you read that there were 30,000 parishioners in 1831. A good part of them lived in notorious slums and had to live from crime or prostitution. The church building dates back to 1730, when the previous building threatened to collapse because the overflowing churchyard caused problems with damp. My picture shows mainly the baroque tower because the church was closed. Pictures show a rather grand interior with lots of gold trim.

Exit the churchyard behind the church

R St Giles High Street

Office buildings by Renzo Piano

The set of office buildings along this road is a bit different from what you may be used to. The whole block called Central St Giles includes 15 individual buildings designed by star architect Renzo Piano who had never worked in the UK before. They were commissioned by an insurance company that unusually took the risk to spend 450 million £ without preletting the buildings. The insurer asked Piano to design a sort of landmark development and earmarked 10% above the typical London construction budget for office buildings. This paid out nicely as the development attracted very high profile tenants from the technology and media industries.

Opinions are mixed on the buildings being so conspicuous and so different from typical office buildings. In my opinion, it is a very good idea as long as there are no clashing landmarks in the direct vicinity. The colourful façade is apparently terracotta cladding although I thought it was some kind of metallic grid. Amusingly, the terracotta comes from Germany and was mounted in Poland before being stuck on the buildings.

R Shaftesbury Avenue

L Neal Street

Shopping arcade in Neal Street

I give you one example of the numerous shopping courtyards you can find in the area. The picture is taken on a weekday but you may want to be aware that the area is swamped on weekends with serious crowds all over the place. The second picture shows very small boutiques with elegant windows faintly reminiscent of French Art déco (stressing precious materials while German Art déco was more about function and English Art déco more about impressive street fronts and reliefs).

Boutiques in a pastiche of Art déco style

COVENT GARDEN

Covent Garden Underground station

The station was originally planned on the branch to Strand, not on the main line, and this explains why it is so close to Leicester Square. The distance is actually the shortest between two stations on the whole network with 260 m. It opened in 1907 a few months after the line itself.

It is one of the very few Underground stations that only use lifts for platform access. There is obviously an emergency staircase but it is not in use normally as it is too long. Because Covent Garden has become such a popular area for shopping and entertainment, the station is often very congested and occasionally has to be closed temporarily for access or for exit.

The station building is one of the most impressive Leslie Green designs as it stands on a street corner. The lower arches house shops while the upper arches are only decoration, hiding the lift machinery.

Continue ahead James Street

Walk around Covent Garden Market. My description runs counterclockwise (first R, then always L)

Covent Garden piazza

You will probably be familiar with Covent Garden, a former produce market on the site of the short-lived Saxon town of London (the Roman town was further east, as was the medieval town). It was one of the very first planned developments on ground belonging to an aristocrat back in 1630 and was very influential in town planning. It launched the concept of an open central space with elegant houses on all sides, through traffic being rejected outside the development.

 

Covent Garden shopping arcade

A produce market developed later on, making the area less elegant and attracting “gentlemen of pleasure” (that is, male clients looking for female prostitutes, not what you might think). The market moved out in the 1970s as a wholesale market in the middle of London was becoming very inconvenient. The halls were converted to shops and restaurants on two levels. They are somewhat touristy but there is a large variety of pretty trinkets and baubles of all kinds, so that it is quite pleasant. One of the restaurants occasionally employs young opera singers to entertain diners in the open, but you will only experience this if you are lucky with your timing.

The large open space to the west of the market hall (towards the church) was called a “piazza” by the original planner, architect Inigo Jones, because he was directly inspired by Renaissance town squares he had visited in Italy. The piazza is the only place in London where I have seen street entertainers perform in an informal manner on a regular basis. I suppose they have to be licensed.

I know there was a similar place in Paris for a long period (in front of Centre Georges Pompidou) until the police forbade it for security reasons as it was a potential easy target for terrorists. I guess police was also quite pleased about stuffing out a trade that did not pay tax and could be done by illegal immigrants. What you usually get nowadays is officially licensed street theatre organised by cities for specific festivals with artists being registered, paying taxes and social security contributions.

St Paul’s Covent Garden

St Paul’s parish church was first built in 1633 although it had to be rebuilt to a large extent in 1798 following a fire. It is unclear whether the portico that makes it look like a Greek temple is a 1633 design. It has unusual details, in particular the fact that the columns have no decoration at all. This is clearly a reference to a particularly ancient type of temple (“etruscan” or “toscan”) and is partly linked to the ground owner, the Duke of Bedford, wanting to spend as little money as possible on the church as he was looking for financial return first.

I have been unable to enter the church as it is very often closed – the wardens are not keen on tourists having a snack or vagrants taking a snooze inside. There is a sizeable garden at the back but it is closed off for the same reason. I did notice a nice fountain though.

St Paul’s church fountain

 

London Transport Museum

Continuing along the edge of the piazza, you walk past arcades, clearly an Italian import by Inigo Jones. In the southeastern corner, you will reach a former Victorian flower market converted into the London Transport Museum. The museum is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it shows a few amusing old carriages and it has a very interesting exhibition on design. On the other hand, it pays too much attention to the Second World War and it says very little about how and why the network developed as it did. Even if you decide not to visit the museum, you may want to have a look at the souvenir shop as it sells many items your friends and relatives overseas will love.

View Inside London Transport Museum

 

Side view of Royal Opera House

The last building you encounter while walking around Covent Garden Market is the Royal Opera House. The front is actually on Bow Street; what you see towards the piazza is a neo-classical set of arcades hiding the technical facilities. The opera house is from 1990 except for a neo-classical set of arcades from 1858 on Bow Street. Interestingly, opera crowds were much more boisterous in the 19th century than nowadays: every time management raised the ticket prices, there was a riot in the theatre involving for example throwing the seats at the actors or releasing pigs on the stage.

Main front of the Royal Opera House

R Russell Street

You walk past the long arcade of the Royal Theatre Drury Lane, a very famous house in a listed building from 1812. It is not overly impressive as a building and owes its reputation to the fact that it has an uninterrupted, distinguished history on the same site since 1663. There is a portico on Catherine Street that was famous for being a place where teenagers earned a few pence selling oranges. This detail reminded me of Eliza Doolittle in the play “My fair Lady”.

L Drury Lane

R Great Queen Street

Freemasons’ Hall

 

You cannot miss the massive concrete structure of the Freemason’s Hall. A meeting place for freemasons was already installed here in 1773 but the present building is from 1933. It was meant first as a war memorial and this is reflected in the heavyset quadrangular appearance reminiscent of a cenotaph. The style was very much in fashion and is what I call “bombastic imperial” because it was the style used by star architect Lutyens for the imperial buildings in Delhi.

 

Remembrance ark for World War I

Entrance hall

Inside, it is an absolutely stunning Art déco masterpiece, particularly the lighting and the glass windows. You are not allowed to visit by yourself but there are several guided visits a day. As they are free, I suggest you take advantage of one because this will also get you entrance to the very impressive main hall with its painted domed ceiling.

Ceiling light

Glass window showing the creation of Man

The premises also house a somewhat cramped museum with an incredible wealth of odd objects either used in rituals or bearing symbols linked to Freemasonry. It is well worth a visit although it gets a bit overwhelming after a time. Many people are slightly cautious about the idea of Freemasonry. In the 18th century, it was a place away from official scrutiny where ideas of the Enlightenment could be discussed freely.

Candelabra

In the 19th century, many members got impatient about clerical conservatism, particularly in the Roman Catholic church, leading to mutual anathema. The movement appears to keep the character of a rather exclusive private club nowadays. The lofty ideals of the founders are reflected in an extreme love for symbolic rituals but the movement should not be confused with a religious organisation as it has always welcomed people from different religions. I hear it offers excellent networking opportunities to the business and political elite in some countries.

L Kingsway

 

HOLBORN

Holborn Underground station

The station opened in 1906 with platforms on the Piccadilly line. Platforms for the Central line opened in 1933. The Central line is older but had not planned any connection, being very worried of its passengers switching to other lines as this would force the line to share the ticket receipts. Such behaviour was one of many reasons why the network finally came under one single owner, the public authorities. There are very few large cities in the world where different Underground lines have different private owners, the most conspicuous case being Tokyo. To be honest, the Central line soon realised that passengers were not happy with the arrangement but funding problems and the wartime shortage of building materials meant that nothing could be done until the late 1920s.

The station was rebuilt when the connection between the two lines was finally set in place. It is integrated into an office building as usual in central London and the front is a very clean, geometrical structure. Instead of Art déco, it refers rather to the Bauhaus school, advocating very logical, simple lines and many glass panels to let healthy sunlight into buildings.

Decoration on the platform

The platforms have been decorated with plastic panels showing items held at the nearby British Museum. This is partly meant as a help for tourists, although it is easy to get lost at surface level afterwards. TfL only decorated few stations in this manner, one example being Charing Cross because of the National Gallery. There are similar examples overseas, in particular in Paris, but most operators are cautious because they fear vandalism.

Continue ahead Southampton Row

L Sicilian Avenue (a pedestrian passage with an arcade)

Sicilian Avenue portico

This is quite an odd street, just cutting a corner through a block of apartments. It is a scheme from 1910 aimed at attracting educated persons who had fond memories of their travels in Italy. It is primarily a shopping arcade without a roof, which provides much more light to the apartments on either side. You cannot expect unusual boutiques in a part of London which is not a typical shopping destination and the arcade has primarily cafés and restaurants. In order to mark the street as an arcade, it has a neo-classical portico towards Southampton Row; the pillars are a bit too thin because they are just cast iron poles dressed in stone.

Ahead along Bloomsbury Square

Bloomsbury Square

The square was the central open space of a development from the 1660s. It was built some 30 years after Covent Garden piazza and shows a return to the time-honoured English tradition of greens among houses – English cathedrals already had such squares with lawn in the Middle Ages while European cathedrals had paved forecourts. The gardens are not very exciting, with few flowers or statues. It is an area people pass across, not an area people would stay in and enjoy. This is partly due to the fact that most houses around the square are now office buildings.

L and very soon R Bedford Place

Bedford Place

This straight road is lined with typically stern Georgian town houses. Typical are the dark bricks used for the walls and the fact that the roof is invisible from the road, being hidden behind a cornice. This architecture appealed to the upper class in the 18th century but became the typical house of middle class professionals in the 19th century. Most terraces of this type in central London are now offices or sometimes hotels.

Enter ahead Russell Square Gardens

Russell Square Gardens

The square was developed by the Duke of Bedford like Covent Garden and Bloomsbury Square. This aristocratic family still owns the lucrative freehold for all three squares. Russell Square was aimed more at the upper middle class, which implies that the houses around it had an additional storey in order to generate more rental income. Most of them are now offices, in many cases linked to educational or official institutions.

Russell Square Gardens

The gardens are among the largest ones in central London and are managed by the borough on behalf of the owner. You see the impact this has as the gardens include a few nice flower beds around a little fountain. The gardens tend to be well patronised because they are on the direct route between Russell Square Tube station and the British Museum.

 

Russell Square Gardens

Cross the gardens and exit at the northeastern corner behind the café

Luxury hotel on Woburn Place

On leaving the gardens, you cannot miss the bombastic building of a luxury hotel built in 1898. It is a massive pile with many late Victorian elements like the row of arcades along the first floor. It might remind you a little of the older wing of the Victoria & Albert Museum. The colour scheme is similar as well (the actual colour is called amusingly “thé-au-lait”, that is “tea with milk”). Apparently, the architect tried to copy a French 16th century palace located near Paris, but the palace had been demolished in the late 18th century and he therefore relied on prints. When the hotel was opened, it was one of the most outrageously luxurious ones in London, having for example a bathroom with every bedroom.

Look for the Underground sign on the other side of the main road and take

Ahead and R Bernard Street passing

RUSSELL SQUARE

Russell Square Underground station

The station opened in 1906 together with the Underground line. Like Covent Garden, it is very deep underground and platforms are normally accessed by lifts. But unlike Covent Garden, the staircase is in everyday use.

The station building is a typical Leslie Green design with some additional decoration compared to others. There are shops under the arches as usual but it is a free-standing building, possibly showing that demand for office space was not strong in the area in the 1900s. The lettering appears old-fashioned; it is actually the historical lettering because the building is listed.

L Climb a few steps into the courtyard of Brunswick Centre

Brunswick Centre

This development is an interesting example of the “brutalist” style popular in the 1960s. Modern architects wanted to lay bare the material they used, concrete, and eschewed fussy coverings or frilly decoration. You can notice the receding balconies. This was rare in European brutalist buildings, partly in order to save on ground surface and insulation costs, but is replicated elsewhere in London buildings of the period. Those in Brunswick Centre include winter gardens, which was also unusual but may have been added when the centre was refurbished in the early 2000s.

The peculiar cream colour of the building was requested by the architect as an homage to Georgian tradition. He worked on this project with leading architect Leslie Martin, the guru of International Style in Britain.

The scheme did not sell well by the time it was completed and part of it ended up as social housing. This caused many problems with some residents trying to prevent the borough from opening the courtyard for shopping purposes as had been planned from the onset. Mixed-use estates were unusual until the 1980s as you may have seen at the Barbican, a brutalist estate without any shopping opportunities. By now, most people like to shop and enjoy a cup of coffee in courtyards away from the traffic, but you can imagine that some residents don’t enjoy the noise in the evening.

Exit the courtyard near the water feature through a passage R below the buildings

L Brunswick Square (the road along the gardens)

I don’t comment here on the gardens or on the Georgian house with the Foundling Museum because I cover this on Thameslink network walk 5.

Ahead Hunter Street

R Handel Street

Ahead across St George’s Gardens all the way to the northern exit

St George’s Gardens

The gardens combine two former churchyards and you can indeed see a number of funeral monuments. They look like they were scattered haphazardly but they just stand where they were originally before the churchyards were closed in 1855 like in all London. A number of these churchyards were then converted into parks in the 1880s. There are no flower beds in this particular garden, but the bushes are pleasant and there are many nice mature plane trees. The feeling is surprisingly suburban if you compare with the formal squares you crossed earlier on the walk.

Memorials in St George’s Gardens

R Sidmouth Street

L Seaford Street

R Harrison Street

L Gray’s Inn Road

Telephone exchange on Gray’s Inn Road

This is a very busy road with noisy traffic and few interesting buildings, but you might note the bulky one at the corner with Harrison Street. The style is a somewhat weird Art déco version of neo-classical with columns and cornices. What strikes passers-by is the baby blue paint on the many window frames and even on the barbed wire at ground floor level. There is no sign on the building, but I think it is probably a telephone exchange from the 1930s.

L Argyle Street

R Argyle Square

 

 

Argyle Square

This is a small neighbourhood square but it does have a flower bed and a small playground with an inventive fence. It was the centrepiece of a development in the 1830s. It sold badly at first until the vicinity to the new rail terminus created demand. Unfortunately, the kind of businesses that like to settle near a terminus tend to be on the seedy side (there was many “hotels” where you could rent a room and a young woman by the hour). This did not change much until police began to raid the area on a regular basis in the 1990s.

Ahead Crestfield Street

KINGS CROSS ST. PANCRAS

Kings Cross St Pancras Underground station

The station is the second busiest on the Underground network as it combines six Underground lines and two train terminals. There were actually two clearly separate Underground stations; the first one was built for the Metropolitan line and opened in 1863; the platforms are under the main road in front of the St Pancras terminus complex. Platforms for the Piccadilly line opened in 1906, for the Northern line in 1907 and finally for the Victoria line in 1968. Those platforms are located more or less under the forecourt of King’s Cross terminus.

King’s Cross St Pancras Underground station

There have been a series of structures at ground level giving access to the different platforms over time. The main access is now a flattish dome located between the two train terminals. It is much larger than you would think necessary because it is actually a small shopping mall with just the escalators being part of the Underground station. The dome is a glass structure on a lattice of steel beams, a very popular design in the 2000s. The main point was not to use concrete in a visible manner as this was considered ugly and difficult to keep clean.

My first picture shows a more modest side entrance, that located under St Pancras terminus, my second picture shows the main entrance used in the years 2000 in front of King’s Cross terminus.

R Pentonville Road (the busy main road towards the City)

very soon L Caledonian Road

R Northdown Street

L Collier Street

School in Collier Street

I noticed a typical public building from the 1990s in this street. Bright colours achieved by glazed tiles and protruding, angular shapes were quite popular. This particular building is one of a large number of schools rebuilt under a Labour government at that time following many years of Conservative government when little was invested in public facilities resulting in seriously inappropriate school and hospital buildings.

The Labour government took advantage of a financial market innovation, the PPP (for Public-Private-Partnership): a commercial investor, usually a pension fund or insurance company, builds the school according to government requirements and lends it to the appropriate public body. After 15 to 25 years, the property is fully paid and is transferred to the public body.

The advantage for the government is that it does not need to show a public debt, having only entered a long-term rental contract. The disadvantage is that construction was occasionally not good quality but mainly that the rent included a hefty profit premium for the investor. In the end, most PPPs are much more expensive than direct public investment, but are a comfortable solution if the government wants to show lower debt.

L Rodney Street

Ahead Muriel Street

L down to the canal towpath (there is a blue sign for the “Regent’s Canal Bypass West”). Follow the towpath to the next road bridge

Regent’s Canal from Muriel Street

You are walking here along a small portion of Regent’s Canal as it exits the tunnel under Islington Hill. The canal was built in the 1800s to provide a direct link between the Midlands and the Port of London bypassing the overcrowded section of the Thames through central London. The canal was very busy and attracted many industrial premises along its basins, in particular in the area you are now in. The industry disappeared after World War II, which is not necessarily a bad thing considering the pollution problems so close to central London, and canal traffic did not survive.

Section of Barnard Park along Matilda Street

R up the stairs Caledonian Road

R Copenhagen Street

L Matilda Street

The green space on your right is a public garden, but it is only lawn because it is primarily an annex of nearby Barnard Park and is mainly used for informal sports.

Ahead across Thornhill Square (beware that there is no exit at the end of the garden, you need to exit R near the playground and follow the garden fence)

Flower beds in Thornhill Square

The square was the centrepiece of a development from the 1850s. The houses around the square are comfortable town houses with pleasant neo-classical details but are not ostentatious because the scheme was aimed at the upper middle class. The central garden was a private property of the residents with restricted access until the landowner gifted the property to the borough in 1947 in order to avoid maintenance costs. The borough does a commendable job with a number of pleasant flower beds. As this part of Islington had turned into a rather rundown suburb, the efforts were important and have contributed to attracting again middle class residents.

Thornhill Square

The church at the top of the square is the parish church of St Andrew’s Islington, built in 1854 together with the new development. It is of no particular interest, being a typical Victorian neo-gothic church as can be found in many suburbs.

R Bridgeman Road

L Hemingford Road

Ahead Roman Way

I mentioned before this part of Islington had become quite rundown in the mid-20th century. The very plain, long wall on your left for part of Roman Way hides Pentonville prison.

CALEDONIAN ROAD

Caledonian Road Underground station

The station opened in 1906 together with the Underground line.

The station building is a typical Leslie Green design, a simpler version of the Russell Square building. I use the opportunity to show the tiling on the platforms. On most of the line you follow on this walk, Leslie Green also designed the platforms and the scheme was slightly different for every station in terms of colours and landmarks depicted.

Station platform

Local Landmark in the platform access

Turn around and walk back in Roman Way

L Mackenzie Road

R into Paradise Park

Paradise Park Nursery

I have found no details about the history of the park, but the estates around it seem to have been built after World War II, possibly following bomb damage and slum clearance, and I suppose the local authorities took the opportunity to keep some space for a park. My picture shows the nursery at the northeastern corner with a “vegetation wall” in the background. Vegetation on otherwise blank walls provide many advantages like a moister climate and a cooling effect in summer. For the time being, they remain a bit experimental because there are complex issues with weight, moisture, maintenance and insulation. And they don’t catch on private buildings because of construction cost.

Paradise Park with wildflower reservations

Walk across the park to the southeastern corner near the café and the urban farm. The farm is strangely named Freightliners Farm and this reminds me more of long-distance lorries than of rabbits and carrots but there is indeed a link: at the start, the animals were housed in disused railway vans. The park is not a formal garden with flower beds and I actually found the enclosed “wild meadows” shown on my picture very artificial.

L Sheringham Road

Ahead Madras Place

St Mary Magdalene Gardens

The road runs along St Mary Magdalene Gardens, the former churchyard for the parish church. Like elsewhere, the burial site was closed in 1855 as mandated by law and only a few interesting memorials remained here until the park was opened in 1894. Originally, it was laid out as a park with just lawn, trees and a small rose garden. Colourful flower beds have been laid out later in the small section of the park between the church and the library. The flowers involved are nothing fancy but the borough gardeners usually find a very good combination of colours.

St Mary Magdalene church

St Mary Magdalene church dates back to 1814 and the style is plain neo-clacissism with tall windows in plain arches as was popular at the time.

Islington Library

Opposite the church, you find the borough library in a weird building from 1906. I say weird because it does not fit with typical Edwardian libraries: the building has no upper floor with windows, which was unusual. There is an upper floor, but it is hidden behind a mass of ornamental stone cladding. The building is painted white while Edwardians loved combinations of stones and bricks in natural or gaily glazed colours. And there is an upper balustrade for purely ornamental reasons that would have been very fitting in the 1780s but was very unusual in the 1900s.

L Holloway Road

Orion Building

Further up the road, you walk past a strikingly contemporary building, part of the Metropolitan University complex. The university has a very significant following among foreign students and this caused some controversy as Government grew suspicious of the university enrolling “bogus students” who paid the fee only to gain an immigration visa. The university as such is not seen as outstanding but some departments do enjoy a good reputation.

 

Work by Daniel Libeskind

The main reason to mention the university is the Orion Building, the structure clad in shiny metal below the main tower. It is not big, having just room for a few lecture halls and meeting rooms, but its actual objective may be to draw attention to the university as a whole and attract foreign students paying profitable tuition fees.

The building is by star architect Daniel Libeskind and is typical of his style described by a critic as “jagged edges, sharp angles and tortured geometries”. The conspicuous and easily recognisable style is a bit artificial, but it fulfills an important function in giving institutions like museums and large companies something they can stand out with and be proud of.

Development with impractical balconies

Just before the railway bridge and the Tube station, have a look left towards Hornsey Street. You get an opportunity to laugh at a good example of a design made to impress without any thought given to practical considerations. Look carefully at the balconies and try to imagine how you will make use of them. They are narrow passages in horseshoe shape overlooking an empty well. You will never allow children to play there, you have no room for lounge chairs or a breakfast table, and it is likely to be very droughty. Utterly ridiculous.

HOLLOWAY ROAD

Holloway Road Underground station

The station opened in 1906 together with the Underground line. Because of congestion issues, it is closed partly and temporarily when there is a big football match at the nearby stadium. An analysis was made about improving the platform access as there is only one lift but this proved too expensive for TfL. The station has a second lift shaft, but that was used for an experimental elevator that proved not to work properly.

The station building is again a typical Leslie Green design. The cryptic letters GNP & BRY on the building front refer to the original name of the operating company, the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway.

R Hornsey Road

R up the stairs to the stadium

Walk around the stadium keeping the stands on your right-hand side. Once you reach Arsenal Museum, look for a footbridge in front of you over a train line

Emirates Stadium

The stadium is a landmark building, costing 390 million £ in 2004 and being the third largest sports facilities in London with about 60,000 seats. It is also a money-making machine as season tickets to the stadium cost from 1,000 to 7,000 £. Emirates Airlines paid 100 million £ to sponsor the building for a duration of 15 years, but it has to be called Arsenal Stadium for international competitions as Emirates did not pay sponsoring fees to UEFA.

 

Former Arsenal stadium

The football club had significant difficulties and very high costs to secure the ground as numerous organisations had activities here that were difficult to relocate, such as the borough recycling plant and a Royal Mail depot. The new stadium was considered so important that Her Majesty the Queen had agreed to open it (in the end, it was the Duke of Edinburgh who did it). The stadium can also be used as a conference centre and a French President once had a summit meeting here with Prime Minister Blair. This particular president is mainly remembered in the UK for having brought along a beautiful pop singer – model, Carla Bruni, whom he intended to wed shortly thereafter after ditching his plainer previous wife.

Apartments on the site of the previous Arsenal stadium

For Arsenal fans, there are many possibilities to spend money. Visiting the club museum costs 6 £, visiting the stadium costs 15 £ and listening to a retired player retell highlights costs 35 £. Tickets to matches are very hard to obtain but will often cost about 100 £.

Turning your back to the stadium, you might notice modern housing blocks on different sides. These are owned by the football club and the rents help to pay for the stadium.

Cross the tracks near the museum

L Drayton Park

R Gillespie Road passing

ARSENAL

Arsenal Underground station

The station opened in 1906 in a quiet residential neighbourhood as “Gillespie Road”. The tiling on the platforms still bears this name in addition to the present name. A football stadium was built nearby in 1913 and the name of the station was changed in 1932 to “Arsenal (Highbury Hill)”. This was shortened to the present name in the 1960s. The nearby stadium is not called Arsenal any more, so that you may wonder whether a name change may happen one day. As it is, the station is the only one in Britain to bear the name of a football club and not of a stadium.

The station building was very small from the onset, corresponding to the width of two houses only. Reconstruction in the 1930s led to a new front, an extremely plain slab of concrete. This is probably due to the financial crisis at the time. As you can see on my picture, the station is very well patronised on football match days. For this reason, there is a complex arrangement inside similar to a one-way system so that exiting and entering people can use separate routes.

L Avenell Road

Ahead Ambler Road

L Plimsoll Road

R Prah Road

Finsbury Park mosque

The road ends in front of Finsbury Park Mosque, a building impressive for having been integrated extremely well in the streetscape. The height is just fitting for the last house along the street and the minaret plays its role of a local landmark without looking pretentious or aggressive. The colours chosen, dark red and light grey, blend very well in London where many Edwardian buildings have similar contrasts. When I see such a building, I cannot understand why some excited right-wing politicians push a ban on minarets. Making a fair use of local construction guidelines is perfectly sufficient to ensure that a mosque is a nice addition to the streetscape.

Continue ahead at the end of the road and cross then the main road

FINSBURY PARK

Finsbury Park Underground station

The Underground station opened with platforms for the Piccadilly line in 1906. It was originally the northern terminus for the line until it was extended northwards in 1932. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1968.

The station is located beneath the train station but a separate access was built for the Underground on the western side of the train line, the normal access to rail services being on the eastern side. The Underground access is a rather simple brick building in geometrical shapes.

Station platform

The Piccadilly line platforms have beautiful mosaic decoration showing elaborate neo-classical pillars and hot-air balloons. This is obviously a reference to the nearby park. The Victorian line platforms are much simpler, showing a pair of pistols because the park was also used for dueling.

Decoration detail

 

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Bakerloo Tube line walk 2: Regent’s Park walk to Queens Park

Walk 2

REGENT’S PARK to QUEEN’S PARK

2 hours

The Bakerloo line owns its name to the two train termini it linked, Baker Street and Waterloo. It was built in 1906 and ran between Baker Street and Elephant & Castle (more convenient than Waterloo due to the lack of space for sidings near Waterloo). It was extended to Paddington in 1913 to provide a link with two additional train termini. It was then extended in 1917 to Queen’s Park where trains could join the existing suburban train line to Watford. The company experimented with different northern termini over the years; the present terminus in Harrow & Wealdstone is the solution chosen in 1989.

Because the Bakerloo line uses the tracks and stations of the suburban train line between Euston and Watford north of Queen’s Park, I offer only Bakerloo line walks for the section south of Queen’s Park. For the northern section, please look at my Euston network walks 2 and 3.

Routing note: This walk connects in Regent’s Park with Bakerloo line walk 1. It then connects in Baker Street, Marylebone and Paddington with various other Tube or train walks. Finally, it connects in Queen’s Park with Euston train network walk 2.

My time estimate includes crossing the gardens in Regent’s Park, but not admiring them at leisure. You will know better than me whether you like sitting among the flowers or checking the gardeners’ work.

REGENT’S PARK

Regent’s Park Underground station

The station opened in 1906 and is one of the quietest in zone 1, serving neither commercial areas nor densely populated neighbourhoods.

Because it is underneath a private garden, no station building fitting with the surroundings was possible. All facilities are underground and the stairwell is particularly inconspicuous.

Exit the station on Marylebone Road and walk West (towards Paddington)

Next R Park Square West (a gated, private road)

Park Square West

Park Square is a development from 1823 built on plans by John Nash. The developer was the Crown itself, the Prince Regent being worried about his financial situation after the costs of the wars against Napoleon – and being also conscious that his luxurious taste needed funding.

The whole development includes also large properties along the edges of Regent’s Park and only part of it was built due to a downturn in the economy. Park Square was meant for minor celebrities and the upper middle class, so that it is less grand in scale and decoration than some other sections of the scheme. It keeps to a very strict neo-classical style. Mid-19th century developers kept the style for other parts of London but added porches over each door as this was useful in rainy weather. The tall, rounded first floor windows of the Nash scheme also fell out of fashion later and were replaced with cheaper normal, rectangular windows.

Park Square East

There is a large private garden in the middle of Park Square. It is linked with the private garden for Park Crescent south of Marylebone Road by a tunnel nicknamed “nursemaids’ tunnel”. Due to dense vegetation around the square, you cannot really have a look at the lawn. As nearly all properties in Park Square have been converted into more profitable offices, the garden is actually little used.

R Outer Circle

Beware of speeding cyclists on this road; the 4.45 km long circuit is a very popular training ground for racing cyclists due to the good pavement and absence of traffic lights or other obstacles. There is some car traffic, but much less than on main roads.

L into the The Broad Walk, an alley of lime trees and part of Regent’s Park

Spring in Regent’s Park

Regent’s Park was a hunting park in the 17th century but was then leased as fields in the 18th century. As mentioned above, the Prince Regent approved a development plan involving majestic terraces around the park and individual villas inside. In the end, only few villas were built and most of the park is now open lawn and individual trees. In the southern section that you will be crossing, you are much closer to central London and this justified more amenities.

English Garden in winter

The Broad Walk bisects what is called the Italian Garden. On your right-hand side, there are so-called English Gardens beyond the Italian Garden. The English Gardens are not very exciting, they involve curving paved paths among lawn and trees. I don’t remember many statues or unusual flowers. The Italian Garden is very formal, as usual in Italy where symmetry is essential since Renaissance times. Cypresses, fountains and large stone structures carrying flowers are meant to evoke Italy.

The flowers themselves are suited to the London climate but it is a showcase garden and you can therefore admire elaborate combinations of plants in carefully selected colour schemes. Some of the beds tend towards the Italian tradition (all plants of the same height with a miniature box hedge around them), some towards the English style (three heights of plants with the highest in the middle, blocks of colour, unusual plant shapes). I give you a large choice of pictures to show the effect in different seasons.

Gates of Queen Mary’s Gardens

Cross the gardens ahead to a road

L Chester Road

L Inner Circle

As I spent more time in Queen Mary’s Gardens on an other walk, I don’t give many details here, but you can obviously cross the gardens instead of walking along the Inner Circle. If you do this, keep to a straight line passing the café.

Regent’s  University campus

If you keep to Inner Circle (the other road used by training cyclists), you will walk along Regent’s University, a combination of three private universities teaching primarily foreign students. The present operator opened in 1985 and is a subsidiary of an American college, explaining the high proportion of foreign students (and their willingness to pay tuition fees covering such an expensive location for the campus). Most of the buildings are from the 1910s with additions in the 1950s, so that they are not of major interest. As the picture shows, the campus has the genteel feeling of an American college rather than the busy atmosphere of an English public university.

Lake in Regent’s Park

After passing Regent’s College, take opposite the café a paved path marked “no skating” down to the lake

You might notice a series of formal flower beds on your left. They are particularly manicured and each has a different colour scheme.

 

 The lake caused problems in the 19th century. It was deeper and there was a major incident in 1867 when the ice broke under skaters, causing 40 casualties. As a result, the depth was reduced to 4 ft. Anyway, the lake is now a nature reserve for waterfowl and bathing or skating is strictly forbidden. There are also good hygienic reasons for this prohibition as there is no river to renew the water.

Leaving Regent’s Park

The path turns L along the lake and crosses a bridge

Ahead on the path out of Regent’s Park taking Clarence Gate

The gate is again lined with flower beds, this time more in the style of an average borough park.

 

Clarence Gate

Cross the park perimeter road following the sign for the Underground station

L Baker Street

Former Abbey National Building

The most interesting building in this street is number 219, the former seat of insurer Abbey National. It was built in 1932 in pure Art Déco style with very little decoration because it was a time of economic and financial crisis. There is just a winged figure at the upper level and a lighthouse at the lower level. The short text “Security” points out that an insurance is supposed to make you feel more secure. I sometimes have the feeling that insurers are very good at not paying out in case of damage, but this is the difference between “feeling secure” and “being actually covered”. Investors are also very keen on investing your money, but they don’t give you any guaranty on the level of your future pension. How secure do you feel then ?

Abbey National also used the neighbouring building, number 221. You will probably notice tourists in front of this address because Sherlock Holmes lives in his novels at 221B Baker Street. Part of the building has been converted into a private museum that recreated rooms based on film sets relating to the novels. The author’s widow was never very keen on the museum, saying that it was better to have readers imagine the story and being aware that it is a work of art and not a historical figure.

The discussion is typical for books that reach cult status and are adapted for theatre and film. Once you see a film, it becomes difficult to abstract from it and develop a different view of locations and props. In some cases, the film simplifies so much that you lose much of the complex interpretations made possible by the book. Films also often stress heavily any romantic relationship from novels where this is very secondary.

BAKER STREET

Baker Street Underground station

The access is actually a few yards beyond the crossroads with Melcombe Street. You will therefore need to turn around afterwards if you have walked all the way to the station.

The station opened on the first Underground railway built in the world, opened in 1863. These platforms are the ones used by the Hammersmith & City line. A terminal with a connecting curve was built for northbound Metropolitan line trains (towards Harrow) in 1868; it was called originally Baker Street East. Platforms deeper underground opened for the Bakerloo line in 1906. Finally, the Jubilee line platforms opened in 1979. Altogether, there are 10 platforms, which is the largest number for any Underground station complex in London.

The main entrance is on Marylebone Road with a side entrance on Baker Street showed on my picture. Both entrances are just modest porches leading to a small shopping arcade underneath a very large office building. All station facilities are underground or under the office building. This was an arrangement favored by the Metropolitan Railway in order to maximise the use of valuable real estate when the company did not feel compelled to provide a conspicuous station building for public relations purposes.

R Melcombe Street passing Dorset Square

Art déco estate on Melcombe Street

The most interesting building in the street is on the corner with Glentworth Steeet. It is a large estate with brick walls but a very large number of windows made conspicuous by green railings. It is a unusual combination in London. The top of the estate is invariably stepped back over several penthouse levels. This is typical of a so-called ziggurat scheme and was very popular in the 1930s. The advantage was that the borough was more likely to grant permission to build higher as the top floors would not overshadow the street and the neighbouring properties as much as in a classical box shape. The style has been popular again in the 1990s, particularly for riverside estates.

Dorset Square

Dorset Square is a very pleasant and little known green space lined with Georgian town houses. It has banks and a few flowers in season. It was landscaped in the 1820s on land vacated by a cricket club.

Ahead Melcombe Place along Marylebone train terminus

MARYLEBONE

 

Marylebone Underground station and train terminus

The Underground station opened in 1906 when the Bakerloo line was built, giving the Marylebone train terminus its first and only Underground connection. The terminus is one of the smallest in London and was the last to open in 1899, explaining why not more Underground lines serve it. The Underground station is fully incorporated into the train terminus with very little signage pointing to it at surface level. This was different originally, there was a separate station building in the Leslie Green design typical for the line (see the next station for this design). The building suffered bomb damage in 1943 and was demolished in 1971.

The station was first supposed to be called Lisson Grove, but this was replaced by “Great Central” in a nod to the train company operating from Marylebone terminus. This was a somewhat strange name for an Underground station, all the more because it has never been a very “great” nor a very “central” station. The reason may also be that the station was the original northern terminus of the Bakerloo line for a few months in 1906. The line continued towards Paddington in 1907. When the line started to offer services further north towards Queen’s Park in 1917, the name of the station was changed to Marylebone.

Marylebone marquee

One very unusual feature of Marylebone Place is the glass marquee above the road. It was meant to provide access to the station hotel without getting wet as the hotel had not been built directly along the concourse or above the ticket hall. Marylebone terminus was the only one where you had to cross a public road in order to get to the station hotel. In this case, the train operator did not have the funds to build a hotel and it was a separate commercial company. The hotel closed in 1945 and was converted to offices but re-opened in 1993.

Ahead Harewood Row

R Lisson Grove

soon L Bell Street

Former Christ Church

At the corner with Cosway Street, you walk past what is obviously a church. There is no sign about the denomination for a good reason as Christ Church was deconsecrated in the 1970s and converted into offices. According to recent plans, it may be converted into a fitness club. From spiritual health into bodily health, a nice reflection on how our society has evolved over 50 years.

The church was a quite impressive neo-classical structure built in 1824 with lots of columns. Anything neo-Greek was heavily fashionable, with Lord Byron going off to fight in Greece in 1823 (ethnic Greeks were trying to achieve independence from the Ottoman Empire).

At the end of Bell Street, turn L on Edgware Road

EDGWARE ROAD (Bakerloo line)

Edgware Road (Bakerloo line) Underground station

The station opened in 1907 and is completely separate from an other Edgware Road station served by the Circle line. It was the northern terminus of the Bakerloo line between 1907 and 1913, when the line could be extended to Paddington after complicated negotiations.

The station has the conspicuous appearance that architect Leslie Green developed in 1903. His design was used on three different Underground lines as they belonged to the same group of companies. It involves striking dark red terracotta tiles covering the whole ground floor. Unfortunately, the heavy workload caused a burnout and the architect died very young just after finishing the plans for all the stations. The station access was originally squeezed between shops and this is why it is a rather modest structure.

Continue on Edgware Road passing under the motorway

R Praed Street

Pub in neo-Tudor style

At the corner of Praed Street with South Wharf Road, you will probably notice a conspicuous neo-medieval building. It was originally a pub and still bears a long inscription about the corresponding brewery. Pubs apparently love to give themselves the appearance of an ancient drinking hole but the black and white scheme of the upper floor is actually just what is known as “stockbroker Tudor”, an imitation popular in the 1930s.

 

St Mary’s Hospital

Continuing on Praed Street, you soon reach the large set of buildings used by St Mary’s Hospital. It had a renowned scientific department in the early 20th century and a sign tells you that it is the place where Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928. There is apparently a small museum within the hospital complex where you can learn more about the scientist. The hospital is also well known by socialites because it has a private wing where royalty has been born.

The strikingly geometric wing you see first is obviously Art Déco, but it is a late example from 1938 when decorative features had been dropped because of the economic crisis. The wing you pass afterwards is the original one from the 1850s with a first floor loggia obviously inspired by Italian town palaces.

PADDINGTON (Bakerloo, Circle & District lines)

Paddington (Bakerloo & Circle line) Underground station

The station opened in 1868 together with the Circle line and was originally called “Paddington (Praed Street)” because there was already a separate “Paddington (Bishop’s Road)” station used by what is now the Hammersmith & City line. The two stations provide no interchange but still got the same shorter name in 1933. Deep level platforms opened on the Bakerloo line in 1913 with an interchange to the Praed Street station.

The station building was rebuilt in 1914 and is a sizeable structure fully lined in stone with neo-Renaissance features. The distinguished style and good proportions led to the building being listed.

Turn back on Praed Street

L London Street

The road runs along the wall of Paddington terminus. When it turns R, leave the road for a footpath keeping to the previous direction. This is an official cycle route although it is not clearly marked as such and it soon merges into a towpath along a canal. Follow the towpath ahead passing under several bridges.

Bridge on Paddington Basin

The canal is the access to Paddington Basin, used as a harbour at the end of Regent’s Canal. It opened in 1801 and was very busy with goods from the Midlands delivered into Westminster. There were many similar basins further east, particularly in Islington, while Paddington was the only one in its area. When commercial traffic disappeared, warehouses closed and the area was not converted before the 2000s. Because the basin is quite narrow, the feeling is different from schemes in Canary Wharf and Islington, reminding more of a courtyard. The office buildings as such are of no particular interest.

The Basin has become well known among bridge enthusiasts for its three footbridges while the access canal has less spectacular examples. Nonetheless, the third footbridge on your way has an interesting shape with a curving access. The bridge is suspended to a single asymmetrical pylon, the kind of game architects like to play when given enough budget.

Sculpture under the motorway viaduct

Shortly afterwards, you reach a motorway viaduct with two gentlemen waiting beneath. They look quite realistic but they are sculptures. I am not sure I find it worthwhile to depict everyday people in everyday clothes doing nothing special, but I suppose exactly this is the message the artist wishes to convey. The motorway above you is technically just the A40, an access road into central London built in the 1970s in order to alleviate traffic jams through Notting Hill.

Little Venice

When you reach the triangular canal junction, leave the towpath using the steps and double back to cross the canal on Harrow Road Bridge

The canal junction is called officially Browning’s Pool but is better known as “Little Venice”. This is a seriously overdone name for a simple canal junction that reminds more of the Netherlands than of Italy. Rows of mature trees on two of the three sides and a number of early 19th century town houses overlooking the junction do give a pleasant impression. Because of the waterside, of the trees and of the low level of traffic, this is a seriously expensive area of London to live in.

Rembrandt Gardens

A strip of land between two of the canals has been converted into a small park called Rembrandt Gardens, a fitting name if you think of my previous reference to the Netherlands. There are fine rose bushes in summer and my picture shows that this is also a reasonably secluded place to enjoy sunbathing.

L Warwick Avenue crossing the second canal

 

View from Number One bridge

This particular bridge is officially the Number One bridge because this is actually the start of Regent’s Canal. The older canal, opened in 1801, was just a dead end linking the Grand Union Canal from the Midlands with Paddington Basin where it ended. Regent’s Canal was built in the 1810s in order to link Paddington Basin with the Port of London, enabling barges to bypass the overcrowded section of the Thames between London Bridge and Westminster. The bridge has rather nice ironwork painted in bright colours. The canal is very rarely ever used by commercial barges nowadays but is popular for tourist trips between Little Venice and Camden Town and is also used by house boats when moving between the different mooring basins spread over the length of the canal.

St Saviour’s church

The road soon leads to a striking church building just behind the Underground station access. St Saviour’s church was originally a rather unspectacular but very large Victorian church. In the 1960s, it had become way too big for the dwindling congregation and the Church decided to demolish it, to sell half of the ground to a developer and to build a smaller church on the rest as the maintenance costs would be lower. The new church was opened in 1976 and is a striking combination of vertical slabs of dark bricks. The very high and extremely pointy spire was chosen because the borough wished a high building in order to compensate for the fact that Warwick Avenue is a very wide road. I don’t really like the building but it is one of very few examples from this particular period in London.

WARWICK AVENUE

Warwick Avenue Underground station

The station opened in 1915 when the Bakerloo line built a line extension between Paddington and Queen’s Park.

It is one of not many suburban stations that never had any building at street level. All facilities are hidden underground.

Take the road on the right side of the church (Warrington Crescent)

 

Entrance in Warrington Crescent

The houses along this road belong to the numerous development schemes launched in the 1820s in the western part of London and remind a lot of Notting Hill or Belgravia. There is one unusual building at the end of the road near the roundabout. The hotel owners have an extremely elaborate entrance portico with glazed decoration. You see that the building is older because of the access steps – you would not build a hotel nowadays where people cannot roll their luggage in.

Sutherland Avenue roundabout

The roundabout is less impressive, it looks a little like abandoned wasteland but I am sure it is a carefully planned wildlife haven aimed at feeding bees and creepy-crawlies.

Walk to the other side of the roundabout and turn

L Randolph Avenue

 

The road is not impressive at the start but leads later on past a long row of Georgian town houses boasting a peculiar variety of first floor arched windows and an uninterrupted narrow balcony. Such balconies are obviously useless but possibly conveyed in early Victorian times a feeling of sophistication, reminding residents of Italian architecture.

Randolph Avenue terrace

 

Randolph Mews arch

At the end of the road, a lower building with pointed arches marks the entrance of the former mews. I am somewhat baffled by the layout. Normally, mews ran all along the back of the town houses in order to provide easy access from all properties to the stables and horse carriages. In this case, the mews are a short road at the very end of the development. This may have to do with a former set of houses that were demolished because of the Underground station.

MAIDA VALE

Maida Vale Underground station

The station opened in 1915 like Warwick Avenue. It has a historical claim, being the first station on the network that was operated exclusively by women. This was due to the wartime staff shortages and only lasted until 1919, but it is considered a landmark when considering how women started to get access to paid employment.

The station looks like it has been built on the Leslie Green design like Edgware Road, but this is not the case as the architect had been dead for a few years already. It is a good pastiche by Stanley Heaps, who had taken over the job of company architect. Mr Heaps never developed a landmark design, but he was very good at applying styles invented by other architects to the practical means needed in his case.

Inside Maida Vale station

You do realise that the design is not by Green when you have a look at the stairwell for the station. The railings and the geometrical mosaic design on the walls are influenced by the style of the Wiener Werkstätten (early Austrian Art déco), and this only became better known in the 1910s after Leslie Green’s death.

By the way, Maida Vale is named after a somewhat obscure battle that took place in 1806 in southern Italy. It warranted a special mention because it was one of the few battles won against Napoleon in Europe in these years.

L Elgin Avenue

R Ashworth Road

L Grantully Road

R into Paddington Recreation Ground

Cricket pitch in Paddington Recreation Ground

This is the largest borough-owned park in Westminster. You may not count Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens, which are not owned by the borough. At least half of the park is actually taken away by formal sports facilities but there is also a pleasant cricket pitch with the unavoidable mock-medieval club house with changing facilities. There is also a pretty little kiosk.

 

Kiosk in Paddington Recreation Ground

Rose garden in Paddington Recreation Ground

If you look around long enough, you will also find the entrance to a delightful shaded rose garden tucked in a corner. It is built in the form of a round pergola around the rose beds, a gardening tradition from Edwardian times when commercials growers started to offer a wide choice of climbing roses that were hard to find before.

 

Edwardian pergola

Cross the park towards the North exit near the park café and the parking area

Ahead on a path towards the church

St Andrew’s West Kilburn

St Andrew’s West Kilburn is a large suburban church from the Victorian period with all the typical neo-gothic details. The one peculiarity is that the nave walls are built in bricks. This is the reason why the windows are tall and very narrow as bricks cannot be set in a self-bearing arch above a larger window like stones can.

Ahead Rudolph Road

Ahead Cambridge Avenue (with a small park on your L)

Cambridge Gardens

The minor green space is called Cambridge Gardens, which is a confusing name as there are a lot of those in London (and even a “Cambridge Heath” in Hackney). This is not due to planners being nostalgic about their studies in Cambridge, rather about honoring whichever royal prince was Duke of Cambridge at the time. In the present case, there is nothing of special interest except for the height of the trees.

 

KILBURN PARK

Kilburn Park Underground station

The station opened in 1915. It was a bit special, having elevators instead of the customary lifts. This was quite a novelty at the time and most British architects were unable to experiment with them because property owners did not trust this American invention for years.

The station building is a Stanley Heaps design like Maida Vale. He kept very close here to the Leslie Green design, eschewing just the upper floor because this was linked to lift machinery and therefore not necessary with elevators. He also used glass panels around a large hall while Leslie Green usually used the arches around the building to harbour more profitable small shops.

Turn around coming back along the small park

R Princess Road

Terrace in Princess Road

The terraces in this road are obviously very different from the town houses in Maida Vale. The ground floor is raised much higher than was usual at the time and I suspect this is because the domestic staff was now housed below the house rather than on the second floor as had been usual in Georgian times. The new arrangement kept staff and deliveries better away from the owners.

 

Novelty cladding in Princess Road

A contemporary estate towards the end of the street struck me as having an unusual façade cladding. It is just a combination of black glazed, natural and white painted bricks, but it is a novelty. I guess it is not made often because bricklayers need to spend more time on applying the right pattern, which makes their work more expensive.

Ahead Peel Precinct (partly pedestrianised)

Ahead Carlton Vale, the road turns slowly R

St Luke’s West Kilburn

Towards the end of the road, you walk past a typically modest, neo-classical baptist church, and then past the modern structure of St Luke’s West Kilburn. The original church was destroyed by bombs in 1940 and the new parish church was opened in 1952. The economic situation did not allow expensive materials but the architect used the opportunity cleverly to try a Greek cross layout with equal arms rather than the traditional Latin cross with a long nave. The spire is very pointy, which was apparently popular at the time as there was no need to plan room for bells.

Ahead and R Salusbury Road towards the bridge over the train line

QUEEN’S PARK

Queens Park Underground station

The station was opened in 1879 for the suburban train line from Euston to Watford and the original name was “Queen’s Park (West Kilburn)”. Bakerloo line trains use the same tracks and the same platforms since 1915 when the line opened. The name of the station was shortened to the present version in 1954.

The station building looks like the original Victorian building and looks a bit like a large brick cottage with a modestly pointed roof. The front to the street was covered later on (1970 ?) with glazed bricks, ugly aluminium frames and a massive cornice. The result is downright ugly.

 

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Bakerloo Tube line walk 1: Elephant & Castle walk to Regent’s Park

Walk 1

ELEPHANT & CASTLE walk to REGENT’S PARK

2 1/2 hours

The Bakerloo line owns its name to the two train termini it linked, Baker Street and Waterloo. It was built in 1906 and ran between Baker Street and Elephant & Castle (more convenient than Waterloo due to the lack of space for sidings near Waterloo). It was extended to Paddington in 1913 to provide a link with two additional train termini. It was then extended in 1917 to Queen’s Park where trains could join the existing suburban train line to Watford. The company experimented with different northern termini over the years; the present terminus in Harrow & Wealdstone is the solution chosen in 1989.

Because the Bakerloo line uses the tracks and stations of the suburban train line between Euston and Watford north of Queen’s Park, I offer only Bakerloo line walks for the section south of Queen’s Park. For the northern section, please look at my Euston network walks 2 and 3.

Routing note: This walk connects at nearly all stations with a number of other walks. The most convenient one is obviously Bakerloo line walk 2 starting in Regent’s Park. A nice alternative may be to just have a stroll in Regent’s Park after the present walk.

The walk passes two large museums and time spent inside is not included in my time estimate. The Imperial War Museum may take you between 30 minutes and 2 hours depending on how keen you are on the glorious British army, its uniforms and weapons. The National Gallery is worth a full day inside if you like paintings.

Special request: Some of the pictures in this specific post are not by me. Do not infringe the copyright of these persons and ask me first.

ELEPHANT & CASTLE (Bakerloo line)

Elephant & Castle (Bakerloo line) Underground station

The terminus opened in 1906. There is also an Underground station using the same name on the Northern line, opened in 1890, but it is in a different location and the interchange is inconvenient. There have been occasional discussions about extending the Bakerloo line beyond its current terminus towards Camberwell or Lewisham, but this remains very tentative.

The station building is a local landmark in the Edwardian style with a typical combination of red bricks and cream-coloured stone. As it is a functional building (it is used for Underground offices and accommodation), there are no fancy scrolls and statues. The lower level is the actual Underground station and has the conspicuous appearance that architect Leslie Green developed in 1903. His design was used on three different Underground lines as they belonged to the same group of companies. It involves striking dark red terracotta tiles covering the whole ground floor. Unfortunately, the heavy workload caused a burnout and the architect died very young just after finishing the plans for all the stations.

Exit the station on London Road

R London Road towards Waterloo and central London

The name of the road surprised me at first as you are already in central London (transport zone 1). Obviously, the name dates back to the time when London only comprised Westminster and the City on the left bank of the Thames while the right bank was the city of Southwark. The past importance of this is reflected in the fact that there still is a cathedral in London and a separate cathedral in Southwark.

The road ends at St George’s Circus, a large roundabout

St George’s Circus with obelisk

The crossroads is an interesting historical location. It was the first purpose-built road junction in London back in 1771. The obelisk marks the distance of one mile from both Palace Yard and London Bridge. It was originally equipped with four oil lamps. The area was a middle-class suburb at the start but became increasingly industrial before decaying in the second half of the 20th century. It is now dominated by nondescript University buildings.

Former Southwark library

A few steps to the east in Borough Road, you can have a short look at a former library built in 1904. There is an interesting relief directly above the entrance door with very nice Arts & Crafts details. An other relief adorns the gable above the door and shows St George killing the dragon, a neo-medieval fancy that would have pleased the composer Wagner as much as it pleased nostalgic Arts & Crafts devotees. The building is a listed monument but does not seem to be in use currently.

L Lambeth Road

At the corner with St George’s Road, you reach St George’s Cathedral. It is not an Anglican cathedral (this is located close to London Bridge), it is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark. The church was built in 1848 in light brown bricks typical of the period and not in stone, and it does not have the usual pointed roof you would expect on a neo-gothic building.

St George’s Roman Catholic cathedral

 

St George’s Cathedral

This is because the church had to be rebuilt in 1958 due to bomb damage; for cost reasons, unnecessary external ornaments were avoided. The view inside is much more traditional and actually a bit boring compared to what you may expect from a Roman Catholic cathedral. Interestingly, this is my impression now while I noted on visiting that the gothic sense of looking upwards for salvation through God in Heaven was conveyed very convincingly.

Lambeth Road then passes on the L Geraldine Mary Hamsworth Park and the Imperial War Museum located in the park

 

Imperial War Museum

The park was landscaped in 1934 on ground gifted by the freehold owner when the hospital that had been built here was decommissioned and demolished. The park itself is not very impressive, being mainly lawn and a few rose bushes. In line with other parks in this multinational borough, there are a few pointers to human rights, in particular a so-called Tibetan Garden. There is no remarkable tradition of gardening in Tibet and the garden is more a symbolic reference to Tibet. You can read a few inspiring words by the Dalai Lama on a plaque and look at appropriate sculptures. In addition to the “Tibetan Peace Garden”, there is also a “World Garden”.

The park is also the setting for the very imposing building of the Imperial War Museum, one of the very few locations in London still referring to the colonial empire. The extremely pompous front with huge columns and an octogonal tower with a dome was actually less conspicuous when it was the central pavilion of a very large hospital, the notorious “Bedlam” (from the original reference to “Bethlehem”), the main psychiatric institution in London.

Central pavilion of Bedlam Hospital

The hospital moved into more modern premises in a less central location in the 1920s. This made it possible to transfer here the museum created in 1917 to honour the deeds of British soldiers during World War I. The museum also deals extensively with all other conflicts the British armed forces were involved with in the 20th century, and you may have forgotten the Malaya conflict or the Suez expedition. If you are a critical person, you will not have forgotten about the controversies surrounding the first Iraq intervention and the way this is described in the museum gives food for thought.

As entrance is free, you can certainly have a look inside. If you are not keener than me on weapons, uniforms and glorious fighting, I suggest you limit yourself to the central hall for the interesting airplanes and carriages. But you can also spend hours reading detailed accounts of military campaigns in the colonies and attend “sound-and-light” shows for a fee if you are passionate.

Courtyard of Morley Art College

Continue in Lambeth Road after leaving the museum and the park

Soon R King Edward Walk

At the end of the road, you reach Morley College, founded in the 1880s by philanthropists who wanted to give adults from the working classes opportunities to study art seriously and away from the seedy atmosphere of some existing locations. It has built an excellent reputation and the charges for attending are now in line with the level of excellence, not with helping the working class. My picture just shows the courtyard of the main building.

 

Morley College Art Gallery

The neighbouring building is Morley Gallery, where you can see the works of selected students. As usual with contemporary art, not all exhibitions will necessarily appeal to your taste, but it is indeed one of the best places in London to see a variety of interesting works for free as exhibits are changed frequently.

L Westminster Bridge Road

 

Flashy estate with luxury flats

At number 100 in this road, you will notice a large building with an impressive curved canopy on columns above a sort of entry road. I definitely expected this to be either a somewhat flashy school or an innovative public building. Far from it, it is an estate with luxury flats. It would be interesting to hear what convinced the borough authorities that it was an appropriate architecture for this road.

 

LAMBETH NORTH

Lambeth North Underground station

The station opened in 1906 under the name “Kennington Road”. This caused confusion with Kennington station (on the Northern line) and was changed after three months to “Westminster Bridge Road”. When the line started to run trains North beyond Queen’s Park in 1917, the opportunity was taken to change the name to “Lambeth North” as there was no obvious connection with Westminster.

The building is an other typical Leslie Green design, in this case without an office building above as there was little demand for offices in this industrial part of London. The tiles extend only to the pillars and cornice while the arches are much higher than at Elephant & Castle, so that the building was in line with what warehouses might look like.

R Baylise Road

L Murphy Street, turns R

Estate garden on Murphy Road

The street crosses one of many council estates in Southwark. As mentioned before, the area was actually quite middle-class in the late 18th century, but the vicinity of the harbour attracted an increasing number of industrial premises in the mid-19th century and tenements grew to house the workers. When local authorities started to have both the powers and the financial means to do so in the 1920s, they purchased the derelict housing and replaced it by council estates.

L Frazier Street

R Lower Marsh Road

Waterloo Millenium Green

At the end of the road, you see on the crossroads a small park and a large rectangular building. The park is called Waterloo Millenium Green and is just a bit of lawn and a few bushes with a view towards the Waterloo terminus. What makes it unusual is that it was landscaped by an association of local residents and opened in 2000. This was a very innovative concept at the time. By now, local authorities very often combine public oversight with delegating many maintenance and beautification activities to associations of “friends of X Park”.

Old Vic (Royal Victoria Hall)

The big, rather ugly rectangular building is called the Old Vic for Royal Victoria Hall. It was first opened in 1818 by owners who specialised in “sensational and violent melodramas”, catering to the less refined clientele that dared to cross the Thames. It changed owners and focus frequently over the years, housing for example Ninette de Valois’ innovative ballet company in the 1930s and Lord Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre in the 1960s. The building was partly destroyed during World War II and is therefore a reconstruction. It is unusual in being a stand-alone building with streets on both sides, a rare occurrence for theatres in London.

L Waterloo Road

WATERLOO

Central entrance of Waterloo Underground station

The Underground station opened for the Waterloo & City underground railway shuttle in 1898. It was then extended as true Underground lines were built: Bakerloo line in 1906, Northern line in 1926 and Jubilee line in 1999. The location of the platforms and the length of the corridors is such that you could argue for three separate stations: the Northern and Bakerloo lines are located at the western end of the train terminal, the Waterloo & City platform in the middle and the Jubilee line at the eastern end.

Western entrance of Waterloo Underground station

There is no separate building for the Underground stations as there was enough room in the arches below the train terminus access road. As a result, what you see from the road is just a porch. By chance, the iron girders bearing the structure are painting red and this fits more or less with the Leslie Green colour scheme. The second picture shows the access closest to the Bakerloo line platforms; it is a particularly plain concrete porch under a particularly bland office building.

Walk past the length of the train terminus and continue along the train viaduct

On reaching the river Thames, you can detour L into Jubilee Gardens if you feel like a short pause

London Eye

This green space was landscaped when buildings used in a 1951 exhibition were demolished. There is not much to see except grass and a few larger trees transplanted here in 2012. It is actually not advisable to develop the park much because it is extremely heavily used in summer by tourists relaxing and snacking before or after their London Eye experience.

After relaxing with the myriads of tourists, walk across Hungerford Bridge. I recommend the southern bridge with view towards the London Eye.

 

Cantilever structure of London Eye

As I don’t comment on the London Eye in other walks, I’ll be pleased to mention that it is nothing else than what our grandparents would have called a Ferris wheel, named after Mr Ferris who installed the first one in the USA in 1893. It was the largest Ferris wheel in the world when it opened in 2000. Wheels in China and in Las Vegas are now larger, but the London one is the tallest that is held only on one side (“cantilevered”). It is the busiest attraction in the United Kingdom with more than 10,000 visitors a day on average.

London Eye at night

To some extent, it is not really interesting, but it is a must-see item for tourists and is a useful landmark as Big Ben and St Paul’s Cathedral don’t stand out as much in the landscape. I prefer the view at night and the purple colour on the picture is indeed very English (landmark buildings are nearly never lit in purple in Europe). Beyond the London Eye, the view from the bridge includes the ministries on Whitehall and beyond the towers of the Houses of Parliament.

View upstream from Hungerford Bridge

Hungerford Bridge

The bridge you are on is often called Hungerford Bridge, but this applies officially only to the railway bridge. The pedestrian bridges on both sides are the Golden Jubilee Bridges. A simple walkway along the tracks existed before, but it was necessary to reinforce the old pillars anyway and this was a good opportunity. The new footbridges are technically complex structures as the walkway is suspended to cables that are held by oblique pillars that cannot be fully integrated into the railway bridge pillars. They make for interesting pictures, but it is difficult to find a lull in the considerable foot traffic. The southern bridge you are using is a little quieter.

 

Detail of construction of Hungerford Bridge

Hungerford Bridge from the walkway

Charing Cross office complex

On nearing the end of the bridge, you get the best view of the Charing Cross station complex. Actually, it is a large office building over the train terminus. The complex interplay of different geometric shapes (slanting, vertical or rounded) is recurrent in the work of star architect Sir Terry Farrell. You may have seen similar shapes in the MI6 complex in Vauxhall, but the Charing Cross design is better integrated into the general riverside landscape. It was one of his earlier major projects, inaugurated in 1990. The style is called “post-modernist” because “modernist” means big steel and glass boxes.

At the end of the footbridge down the stairs to

EMBANKMENT

Embankment Underground station

The station opened first for the District line in 1870. At the time, it was called Charing Cross because it enabled interchange with the nearby train terminus. The deep level platforms for the Bakerloo line were added in 1906 and this station was called “Embankment” because the Bakerloo line stops separately for Charing Cross terminus. When platforms opened for the Northern line in 1914, both existing stations switched to “Charing Cross (Embankment)” to emphasize the interchange opportunity. This turned into “Charing Cross” in 1915 and reverted to Charing Cross Embankment in 1974. The present name came about in 1976 exactly for the reasons given in 1906.

The station building is a 1915 structure built on the occasion of the opening of the Northern line platforms. It was seen at the time as a very elegant neo-Renaissance structure with columns, spiraling gable ends and baroque scrolls. There are large slabs of plain concrete as well, announcing the Imperial style popular in the 1920s.

Typical pub life near Charing Cross terminus

L Villiers Street walking up the hill along the train terminus

L The Arches, a long passage under the train terminus

I found the passage interesting. The so-called shopping arcade is not worth spending much time; what I found interesting was the location of the pubs. In a typically British manner, many people stand outside, but the street does not strike as being particularly hospitable. I actually always found it highly uncomfortable to stand for hours nursing a drink outside just because someone in the party needs a cigarette, sweats too much or is allergic to dark wood and “cosy” Victorian bars.

R Craven Street

L Strand

CHARING CROSS

Charing Cross Underground station

The Bakerloo line platforms opened in 1906 under the name “Trafalgar Square”. A separate nearby station was opened in 1907 by the Northern line under the name “Charing Cross” as it was closer to the train terminus. An interchange was built in 1979 and the opportunity was taken to rename the Bakerloo line station “Charing Cross”.

 

Celebrities on the Underground platform

There is no station building and all facilities are underground. If you have an opportunity one day, go and have a look at the platforms. Some of them (I think it is on the Bakerloo line, but I am not sure) show evocations of paintings held at the National Gallery or at the National Portrait Gallery. I think it is an excellent idea and some Underground networks in Europe are serious tourist attractions because of the interesting decoration or art in the stations (Helsinki and Stockholm in particular). Paris holds it like London, it is just an occasional idea for appropriate stations.

Referencing paintings from the National Gallery

Ahead across Trafalgar Square

Chinese New Year on Trafalgar Square

The square (which is not square) is an open place since 1844, when the King moved the Royal Mews to a location closer to Buckingham Palace. It is pretty much the only large open space in central London where you can hold a rally or a civic event such as Diwali, Kwanza’a, the Gay Pride, Chinese New Year etc. Political demonstrations have been held on occasion in the past, but I have the feeling that they are less part of political tradition than in southern Europe or in Paris.

Trafalgar Square

The layout of the square was devised by Charles Barry who primarily wished to create a grand forecourt for the National Gallery. This was achieved by building a high terrace with a balustrade and fountains. A plinth at both ends of the terrace was to provide the symmetry considered more pleasant to the eye, but only one of the statues was agreed upon at the time. The other plinth is now used for contemporary works of art that are changed about every year and generally attract the kind of controversy contemporary artists definitely don’t mind causing.

Trafalgar Square at night

National Gallery overlooking Trafalgar Square

The two other plinths near the fountains were not in the original scheme and bear statues of minor celebrities, which a mayor of London found unfortunate enough to suggest exchanging them against better known figures. As the square belongs to the Crown, agreement was unlikely to be reached. The column with the statue of Admiral Nelson was erected in 1843 against Barry’s protests; tourists seldom notice the statue but the lions at the base are very popular to climb on and take pictures of.

Trafalgar Square lion

Trafalgar Square fountain

An other very popular feature of the square are the fountains, with policemen frequently having to chase young tourists who misuse the fountain as a place to have fun in the water. I don’t think it is a matter of dignity or hygiene, and some of these half-naked tourists would look attractive enough to add to the beauty of the scenery, but the authorities are of course terrified by the safety aspect and the lawsuit in case someone drowns.

 

South Africa House

The buildings around the square are of very mixed origin. Starting near the Underground station, the first is South Africa House with the huge columns and the golden springbok head. It is actually the embassy (High Commission in correct Commonwealth speak). Embassies are normally less conspicuous and protected by high walls, but this building was originally a speculative office building when it was erected in 1933 and was just bought by South Africa later. You may notice that the main front over the columns bears an inscription in afrikaans – when South Africa became independent, it had very bad memories of the colonial war in Transvaal and the afrikaner politicians dominated government throughout the apartheid era.

View towards St Martin in the Fields

The next building up the street is a church. St Martin in the Fields was built in 1722 in pure neo-classical style and the portico with the columns reminds a lot of a Greek temple. The church tower is the one element that reminds more of baroque churches in London. Neo-classicism was quite daring in the early 18th century but the church ended up a model for many buildings in the second half of that century, particularly in the United States.

Inside St Martin in the Fields

Inside, the church was less unusual for the time. Sir Christopher Wren had already built many churches in the 1780s with columns crowned with golden scrolls. The mildly rounded ceiling with plaster decoration was also a frequent baroque design. The church is well known for its acoustics and commercial concerts aimed primarily at tourists take place nearly daily.

 

 

Organ in St Martin in the Fields

One of the leading orchestras in London was also named after this church (the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, founded in 1959 by the music director of the congregation). The church has a crypt with a somewhat unusual access, a glass rotunda set apart from the building. The main use of this crypt is as a café, a useful addition to any concert hall.

 

Entry of the crypt and café for St Martin in the Fields

Identify the pub

By the way, there is a well-known but inconspicuous gay pub in the street along the church. It is typically English to have such establishments look completely inconspicuous because police applied Victorian laws on “errant behaviour” very strictly until the 1970s. Similar laws existed in Europe at the time but few cities had police raid the corresponding locations on a regular basis. Interestingly, minorities (whether ethnic or sexual) often have the choice in England between hiding like here or meeting in a sort of “ghetto environment” where they are the majority in a small location.

The building that dominates Trafalgar Square is the National Gallery, built in 1835. For financial reasons, the architect had to accept a lot of embarrassing compromises such as re-using a colonnade and statues planned for other, unfinished buildings. As a result, many people complained about proportions being wrong, with the central dome and the small side towers being way too small for the length of the building. The point of comparison at the time was Rome or the Louvre in Paris, and this was quite difficult to beat.

National Gallery

On the far side of the square, the National Gallery had an extension built in 1985 thanks to a very large gift by philanthropic businesspeople. The extension is a rather bland concrete box with minimal outside decoration, which is both the typical style of the time and a sensible attempt at not distracting from the iconic main building.

Central hall of the National Gallery

The National Gallery is obviously a huge museum and I don’t think it really makes sense to visit it in combination with an architecture walk. What you could do is walk into the entrance hall to see the central dome. It has a nice set of marble columns and a neo-Roman ceiling; these were built in 1887 as a nod to what was fashionable decoration around 1820. The floor of this hall is a mosaic in line with the Roman theme, but I am not very impressed neither by the technical quality nor by the strange idea to include the many russet oak leaves in the design.

Mosaïcs in the National Gallery

If you do decide to look at paintings, here is a thought I had after coming several times as entry is free. Apart from what the painting shows, I found it interesting to classify painters into those who wanted to achieve beauty, those who attempted to convey a message and those who were interested in technical achievements such as perspective. The three categories are interesting to keep in mind when looking at religious paintings from the Renaissance as you run less risk of being bored by the umpteenth Madonna or Christ.

Walk down Trafalgar Square to the Nelson column in order to see the buildings on the west side of the square.

Admiralty Arch

The road southwest out of the square is somewhat obscured by office buildings on both sides, but you can still see in the middle the three arches of Admiralty Arch, a peculiar mix of a triumphal arch in the Roman tradition with a practical passage under a building. The idea came from King Edward VII who wished to honour his mother Queen Victoria although the arch was completed in 1912 after the King’s own death. The office building above and on both sides housed offices of the armed forces until a lease was sold to a developer who converted it into a hotel and luxury flats.

Setting of Admiralty Arch

As you will probably have seen on television, the arches are used for ceremonial purposes like visits of foreign dignitaries as the road beyond is the most logical access to Buckingham Palace. The middle arch may only be used by Her Majesty. The whole complex is a rather blocky, unfriendly structure typical of the British Empire style popular in the early 20th century. It is interesting and very British that it was thought more appropriate to honour the deceased Queen with an office building rather than with a stand-alone arch like the one at Marble Arch. In London, you never leave profitable real estate unused if you can make profit out of it.

Former Norwegian Embassy

The row of properties along the south side of Trafalgar Square was a popular location for embassies because of the vicinity with the government offices in Whitehall. One of the buildings still houses the High Commission for Uganda while the Embassy for Norway has moved. The building still bears the name “Norway House” and the entrance door has an impressive granite cladding with the coats of arms of the fylke (counties). It is ironic that a flashy golden sign now invites you to a thaï restaurant in Norway House.

 

Art nouveau decoration in Cockspur Street

One of the next buildings (14 Cockspur Street) is used by the Bank of Scotland. It has a magnificent Art Nouveau entrance with ladies clad in flowing garments and putti bearing a thistle and a trident. Actually, this decoration was set for a completely different company and this explains the trident: it was a sales office for the Peninsular & Oriental Navigation Company. Don’t hesitate to peek through the windows at the grand decoration of the reception hall with a painted ceiling, crystal chandeliers, mahogany paneling and yellow marble columns. Obviously, this was an office catering to first class passengers.

 

Former booking office for the Peninsular & Oriental Steamships

Glimpse of Canada House

Nearly opposite the bank, the neo-classical building that occupies a whole block is Canada House, the High Commission for Canada. In a way, it faces South Africa House on the other side of Trafalgar Square as a symbolic reminder of the two most important dominions. The building is from 1925 and is indeed the kind of formal, not very special building you can expect for such an official purpose. You obviously cannot go inside except for an art gallery accessible through a side entrance. I was only once inside and was not too impressed.

Slightly to the R Cockspur Street

L Pall Mall

Pall Mall is an interesting name referring to a sports played in Tudor times. The word comes from the French “jeu de maille”; it was more a game comparable to croquet. There is an interesting French wording referring to it: “pêle mêle” means “completely mixed up” and possibly refers to how players from the two teams looked like on the court, not keeping to their respective halves like you would do in tennis.

Because it overlooks Green Park and is in direct vicinity of the Royal palaces, Pall Mall was always a street reserved to very important and official purposes. In the section you cross on this walk, you actually just see the start of it. The buildings on the left side (towards Green Park) are very formal neo-classical structures similar to those around Regent’s Park. They were indeed also built in the late 18th century and the Crown, who owns the freehold, demanded a similarly aloof style.

Private club for CEOs on Pall Mall

The result was that only the most elevated persons in society felt comfortable in this area, as was intended. It is still the case to some extent as most buildings are used by exclusive private clubs. The one on my picture with an entrance portico worthy of a Greek temple is the Institute of Directors, where CEOs can network and lobby. The building is from 1828 and housed originally a club for senior officers of the Army and Navy. Like many old-fashioned, exclusive clubs, it lost members in the 1960s, being considered too stuffy for a more relaxed society, and finally closed in 1978.

Athenaeum club from 1824

The building on the next picture with a golden statue of Athena rather than a flag above the entrance colonnade is the Athenaeum, an exclusive private club catering mainly to intellectual and scientific persons of distinction. It went with the times, opening itself gradually to ladies between 1972 and 2002, and is successful.

The building is interesting for having been designed by a 24-year old architect, Decimus Burton, who had the incredible luck of being the son of the richest real estate speculator in town and therefore receiving prestigious orders at a surprising age. If you look carefully, there is a frieze all around the building under the roof balustrade. It is a reconstruction of the Parthenon frieze from Athens – as the originals are shared between Athens and the British Museum in London, the full frieze is interesting. As you will know, it shows a religious procession.

R Royal Opera Arcade

Royal Opera Arcade

The name comes from a leading theatre. The arcade was a commercial development along the rear of the theatre aimed at increasing revenues from the piece of real estate. Because not so many tourists are aware of it, it caters rather to the kind of people who enjoy art exhibitions at the nearby Royal Academy. It is a peaceful, elegant arcade with lovely plastic plants in baskets and somewhat thorny looking ironwork carrying old-fashioned gas lighting (electrical by now of course, but a good imitation). It is the earliest arcade still in existence in London.

Theatre Royal Haymarket

You can have a look R when you cross the first street. You get a view of the “Theatre Royal Haymarket”. The present building is from 1821 and was designed by the star architect of the period, John Nash, who also designed the Institute of Directors and the Regent’s Park developments. It was the first theatre to have the completely novel idea of a matinee performance (in 1873) and remains one of the leading serious houses in London. It is “royal” because a King attended theatre here in the late 18th century. He supposedly had an interest in a specific young actress.

Patrons arriving at the theatre

Her Majesty’s Theatre

You cannot really see it from where you stand, but there is an other theatre just opposite the Theatre Royal. It is called Her Majesty’s Theatre because it was originally patented by Queen Anne in 1704. This theatre specialises in operas and musicals, having appropriate machinery for special effects. The building is from 1898 and is not really worth a detour although you get a picture. It is supposed to be quite flashy inside with lots of gilt stucco, as was popular in late Victorian times. There is an absolutely atrocious office tower directly in the background; this was developed in 1959 by none other than the High Commission for New Zealand. At the time, it was considered the epitome of modernity compared to stuffy neo-classical old-boy stone piles, but it is definitely ugly. I could imagine that it is reaching an age when it may profit from being revamped or even replaced by something nicer, but I have never heard anything to this end.

Ahead St Alban’s Street (first a footpath, then a street)

At the end R Jermyn Street

This road is often mentioned in novels as the place where gentlemen buy bespoke suits. There is a very similar road in the vicinity, Savile Row.

L Haymarket

L for Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus at night

This was a traffic circus originally but the traffic has been redirected. It is an extremely busy crossroads both for cars and for pedestrians, and it can be cumbersome just trying to cross through the crowds. Not many people come specifically to this square but you often cross it to reach other locations. Tourists also need to come here once because of a wall covered in neon advertising meant to ape Times Square in New York. Fortunately, no one lives in the buildings in the vicinity as traffic and light would be serious nuisances.

Piccadilly Circus in daylight

The word Piccadilly comes from lace items popular around 1600 that were supplied by a shop located here. Interestingly, the French word “peccadille” means nowadays a modestly embarrassing indulgence or oversight, such as offering your Aunt flowers in the wrong colour. Between 1850 and 1950, the area was very closed to notorious haunts of prostitutes, who can only qualify as “pecaddilles” if you are a conceited Victorian businessman or an energetic American soldier on holiday from the battlefield.

Fountain on Piccadilly Circus

There is a mix of uncoordinated office and retail buildings around the circus, none of which warrants a particularly close look. There are also two statues. The more central one is a fountain with a winged figure usually called Eros because it is a naked youth although it is actually supposed to be Anteros, the god of happy mutual love (Eros is the god of unreturned infatuation). The fountain commemorates a 19th century philanthropist, loving the citizens and loved by them… The other statue is more hidden on the corner of the circus with Haymarket. It shows jumping horses and I have forgotten what or whom it is supposed to remind you of.

 

PICCADILLY CIRCUS

Piccadilly Underground station

Both the Bakerloo line and the Piccadilly line platforms opened in 1906.

There was a station building by Leslie Green originally but the station was so congested that it became necessary to build much larger facilities. This was impossible at surface level and all facilities are now underground. The concourse is actually one of the more impressive one on the network, together with that at Bank station. The original building was then demolished in the 1980s.

Take Regent Street, the road soon curves to the R

Regent Street

Regent Street was developed by architect John Nash in the 1810s in order to provide an elegant link between Regent’s Park and Westminster Palace. In terms of urban planning, it also provided a clear separation between the somewhat rowdy entertainment area to the east and the more sedate residential area to the west. This still holds true to a large extent today, there is much more retail activity east and more office buildings west. Regent Street belongs to the Crown including all buildings and this is why it curves twice, private properties preventing a straight road.

Shopping palace on Regent Street

Regent Street is possibly the only road in London that can compete with Unter den Linden in Berlin or Champs-Élysées in Paris, but it is not used in the same manner and is too short and too curving to provide similarly grand views. All buildings were planned from the onset for retail purposes but the Crown took great care to keep a reasonably united style, at least in terms of height and vaguely neo-classical appearance. The Crown is also cautious about which shops it takes in, preferring flaghsip stores for cultural or technology goods and avoiding high street fashion chains. This allows the Crown to ensure that there is less congestion and less discounter pressure than in Oxford Street.

Golden Square

R Glasshouse Street

Slightly L Brewer Street

L Lower John Street passing along Golden Square

The square was developed at the end of the 17th century with the approval (or possibly is the work of) Sir Christopher Wren. It was a very distinguished address, including the Portuguese Embassy, the only place in London at the time where a Roman Catholic mass was allowed.

Golden Square

There is a statue of a king in Roman attire in the middle of the square, but it is not sure whom it shows. It was supposedly bought by mistake at an auction for a small sum and gifted by the owner when he realised his error. There is a nice flower bed near the statue and you will notice that it is one of the rather few squares in London that have no lawn or grass.

Ahead Upper John Street

R Beak Street

very soon L Carnaby Street

L Foubert’s Place

R Kingly Street

Kingly Court

There is a maze of narrow streets and passages to your right. Together, they build a large shopping centre devoted to high quality fashion. One of the streets, Carnaby Street, has become a popular indirect reference when speaking of affluent fashion victims. If you can save the time, it is actually quite pleasant to walk around, enjoy canopied Kingly Court and wonder whether you actually would want to be seen in some of the clothes on display.

R Great Marlborough Street

Liberty department store

The timbered building to your right is obviously a fanciful rendition of Tudor urban architecture. It was opened in 1924 because the department store it belongs to needed to renovate its main building on Regent Street. The architect used timber from two seagoing vessels and Tudor imitations (derided as “stockbroker Tudor”) were the height of fashion in the upper middle class in the 1920s. Note the interesting bridge connecting the two buildings; it has a nice clock with gilt decoration and a statue of St George, reminiscent of the clocks with automats popular in late medieval cities (particularly in Germany and Bohemia where this was an important industry with high levels of technical achievement).

Clock and automat

Liberty entrance

The department store, Liberty, was possibly the most fashionable in London at the time. It had an unrivalled choice of goods from India and China and had exclusive agreements with some of the most influential designers. In several European languages, “Liberty prints” are a clear reference to light floral patterns. Like most department stores, it had difficulties adapting to the era of suburban malls and is now owned by a private equity speculator. The decoration inside the department store is less exciting than the timbered front.

L Argyll Street

L Oxford Street

OXFORD CIRCUS

Oxford Circus Underground station

The station opened on the Central line in 1900 and the Bakerloo line platforms opened in 1906. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1979.

Among the different entrances to the station complex, one is a design by Leslie Green. It is a nearly exact copy of the Elephant & Castle one.

R Regent Street

 

All Souls church

When the road bends L, you have reached All Souls Church, cleverly built with a conspicuous spire in order to provide a focal point along the length of Regent Street. The idea and the plans are from Nash himself, who was not really seen as a specialist for church buildings. This may explain why the rotunda with columns remained unique. 19th century critics did complain that the church was not imposing enough. The church is now known for an interest in good quality music including a historical organ.

You may be able to have a look inside. The general shapes are reminiscent of the neo-classical style already used in the 1700s by Sir Christopher Wren, but the use of golden columns is really a bit over the top. The combination of the colours white and gold at the exception of anything else was a reaction to the late 18th century fashion for ceilings covered in delicate light colours from baby blue to water green and pale pink.

Inside All Souls church

Ahead Langham Place

BBC Headquarters

The road starts with a big concrete complex that provides a strong contrast to the church. This is the headquarters of the BBC, from where it sent its first broadcast in 1932. The building is a typical Art Déco official building, with lots of flat concrete slabs in rounded shapes. The well-known statue above the main door shows figures from a Shakespeare play, the magician Prospero and the air spirit Ariel, but some experts think it shows God presenting Adam. The work is by Eric Gill, a leading sculptor at that time. There are supposedly many more works of art in the building, but you cannot normally visit for security reasons.

Prospero and Ariel

Luxury hotel on Langham Place

Opposite the BBC building, the end of Portland Place is signalled by a huge stone pile. It is not easy at first sight to date it. The combination of a ground floor in neo-Renaissance rustico stone and other floors in brick with neo-Romanesque arches nearly throughout place it in earlier Victorian times. It was indeed built in 1865 at a huge cost, including such overindulgent luxuries like two bathrooms per floor. Some of the rooms even had a private watercloset, justifying the highest of expectations regarding the quality of guests. It is one of the most prestigious houses in London, catering to heads of states, royalty and stars.

Hotel fishbowl

The side view towards the BBC rather than down Portland Place is less massive, with a restaurant protruding as a circular bow window over two floors. French writer Proust referred to this type of structure that was extremely popular in luxury hotels until the mid-20 th century as a “fishbowl”. This is generally understood to be a criticism of the aloofness and pride of the patrons but also a kind of fascination for their lifestyle.

Ahead Portland Place

Ceiling in Asia House

You soon cross New Cavendish Street. If you are interested, there is an influential institution at number 63. Asia House is in part an exclusive club organising meetings between powerful business figures and influential politicians from Asia on visit to London. It also has a significant programme of lectures and conferences on cultural issues. I mention Asia House because it has a few rooms designed by the brothers Adam in 1775. The ceiling on my picture will help you understand my comment regarding All Souls’ golden columns. You may not be able to go inside normally, but this is possible on Open Monument day and is worth the few minutes it will take you.

Signs of the zodiac in Asia House

 

Adam-style ceiling

Back on Portland Place, you can ignore the Chinese embassy on the left side of the road. On the right side, you walk past the British Institute of Radiology at number 36. The institute has several rooms decorated in the Adam Brothers style – the main colour in one room is gray, which was seen at the time as very distinguished and not drab at all because people wore very colourful clothes and had paintings on the walls.

 

British Institute of Radiology

Having decorative columns to optically cut your main room in two sections was popular because you could more easily use the smaller section for a few friends playing music or acting a play with the audience sitting in the other section. It normally had nothing to do with eating arrangements as you did not have appropriate furniture in a living room to eat on. You might at most have a cup of exotic beverage on a dainty side table in such a reception room.

Neo-classical town house

48 Portland Place is an isolated town house in the John Nash style among the many late Georgian bricks fronts. It will have been one of the first properties built along the road in the 1820s. The reliefs remind a little of Wedgwood porcelain and the top frieze has palmetto leaves that were ubiquitous in the years around 1810.

 

 

Royal Institute of British Architects

At number 66, you have reached the important Art Déco building used as the headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Like with all professional associations, you are unlikely to have heard much about it unless you belong to this specific trade. In a way, these associations correspond to what guilds were in the Middle Ages: they defend the interests of their members, have charitable endeavours and control that the members behave in the way seen as appropriate by the association. As in the Middle Ages, outsiders criticise these associations for siding unashamedly with their members in case a dispute arises between a customer and a member (do you honestly believe the real estate agent ombudsman service to be efficient and client-friendly ?).

Entrance of RIBA

They do have interesting insights as think tanks; the association warned for example repeatedly since 2007 that it was a disgrace to build modern flats and houses in Britain with rooms so small that they were difficult to furnish and to enjoy properly. I think they might also discuss the fact that most modern construction in London, including expensive flats, uses shoddy materials, is badly insulated and shows disappointing workmanship.

 

Art Déco nudity

The reason I mention the RIBA is obviously their building. The overall shape is a boring big cube, but there are many very interesting Art Déco details like a whole series of reliefs. Lots of naked young men in somewhat artificial poses meant to evoke different aspects of the architect trade. The statues remind more of symbolical drawings and did not cause moral outrage from the usual corners when they were unveiled in the 1930s.

Other Art Déco nudity

You are unlikely to be able to enter the lecture hall, where there is a peculiar painting showing architecture in the colonies. But the building houses a library open to the public and this means you should definitely have a look at the rather stunning main hall with very impressive, dark blue marble pillars speckled in gold that have a unique shape. There are unusual etched glass panels as well.

Architecture in the Empire

 

Lobby of RIBA

Café of RIBA

If the café is open (I don’t know whether it is reserved for members), do look at the very elaborate reliefs on the pillars between the windows and at the wooden partition. This board is made of 25 small carvings that remind of Indian miniatures but that show all sorts of colonial references like an oil well, a kangaroo or a settler in a Canadian forest.

 

Miniatures reminding of the colonies and dominions

If the whole building is closed, you will still have an opportunity to see a bit of Art Déco if you look at the tall bronze doors. They show important London monuments chosen from the point of view of an architecture historian and it is worth trying to recognise some that you might not have thought of as significant landmarks.

RIBA doors

Town house in the Continental style

80 Portland Place is interesting because it is a type of town house that was seldom built in London. The columns and the triangular tympanon of the top floors are not unusual in neo-clacissism. The first floor with a balcony along the whole front of the house is very unusual and reminds a lot of the town houses in the neo-baroque style rich patrons ordered in Brussels and in Dutch cities. This house was obviously a single order from a specific architect and this is the unusual part, most elegant town houses in London having been built on a unified pattern by a commercial developer.

At the end R along Park Crescent to the main road

Park Crescent

The curved row of neo-classical town houses was planned as a full circus and designed by John Nash for the Prince Regent who wanted to develop Crown property. The scheme would have helped funding the budget after the depletion caused by wars against revolutionary France. As war started again, the 1806 scheme did not sell well and only half was completed by 1821. Most of the houses are now luxury flats, some are offices; in any case, only the front to the crescent has kept the original look. There is a small garden in the middle of the half circus, but it is private and walls or bushes hide the central lawn efficiently.

L Marylebone Road for

REGENT’S PARK

Regent’s Park Underground station

The station opened in 1906 and is one of the quietest in zone 1, serving neither commercial areas nor densely populated neighbourhoods.

Because it is underneath the private garden, no station building fitting with the surroundings was possible. All facilities are underground and the stairwell is particularly inconspicuous.

 

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Circle Tube line walk 2: Tower Hill walk to Farringdon

Circle Line walk 2

TOWER HILL walk to FARRINGDON

2 hours

The Circle Line was originally a normal railway built in the 19th century in order to provide a convenient link between the main long-distance termini. It combined the networks of two different operators, the Metropolitan railway to the north and west, the District railway along the Thames. The circular line was completed in 1884 with the short link between Tower Hill and Aldgate. The section from Aldgate to Farringdon had already opened in 1876.

Trains operated around the circle for many years while trains for destinations outside of the circle used stations like Aldgate or Edgware Road as a terminus. In 2009, Transport for London changed the system and all Circle Line trains terminate (or originate) at Edgware Road.

The circular line is also used by many other London Underground lines. As a result, I have opted for covering some of the sections under appropriate lines. Between Farringdon and Baker Street, please see Metropolitan line walk 1. For the short walk between Baker Street and Edgware Road, please see Hammersmith & City line walk 1. Between Edgware Road and Gloucester Road, please see Circle line walk 1. Between Gloucester Road and Tower Hill, please see District line walks 8, 9 and 10.

Routing note: This route connects conveniently at Tower Hill with District line walk 10 and at Farringdon with Metropolitan line walk 1. It obviously also connects with many other walks as most stations have interchanges.

Please note that major building sites may block temporarily some passages and walkways. You will normally find a parallel route easily as there are many small streets in this part of London.

A few sights along the route are not described here because they figure in detail on other walks such as King’s Cross & Moorgate network walk 6 or Fenchurch Street network walk 1. My time estimate does not include visiting the Museum of London, which may take up to two hours if you are really interested.

TOWER HILL

Tower Hill Underground station

The first station to open in the area was “Tower of London”, opened in 1882 as a temporary terminus for the Circle Line coming from Aldgate. The station was closed in 1884 when the junction was completed and a new station located a few yards further west opened under the name “Mark Lane”. This station was renamed “Tower Hill” in 1946 and was moved to the present location in 1967.

In line with the typical style of construction in the 1960s, the station building is a plain concrete box. Actually, it is just an entrance porch and all facilities are underground.

Exit the station on the south side facing the Tower of London

Roman wall of Londinium

Directly on your left, you can see remnants of a stone wall and a bronze statue. The wall is one of the oldest structures in Britain as it is one of the few remains of the original Roman wall around the town of Londinium. You recognise easily that it is Roman because of the thin brick layers at the bottom. As walls were built with rubble, they had to be stabilised. To this end, they were fronted in hewn stone (which has disappeared here) and strengthened by horizontal layers. These were out of wood beams in temporary fortresses, of large stone blocks when easily available and of bricks otherwise.

The bronze statue is supposed to show the Roman emperor Trajan and is actually a fake as the head does not fit with the body. It was found in a quarry in the 1920s and given to the City by a local priest. As the wall was built around the year 200 while Trajan died in the year 117, the statue is just symbolic for the Roman colonisation of England.

R into Trinity Square Gardens

Trinity Square Gardens

This open space was the garden of Trinity House, an office building erected in 1794. Parliament protected the open space in a special law in 1797, possibly for security reasons as it overlooks part of the Tower. The gardens are not very large and are more a formal garden than a park so that there are a few geometrical flower beds. The main attraction is actually the view towards the interesting buildings on most sides.

 

Seamen’s War Memorial

Part of the garden is a sunken concrete structure with a heavy temple-like structure above it. The architecture with strong geometrical lines, columns and plain concrete slabs is typically 1920s. It is the central War Memorial for seamen who died during World War I. There is also a smaller memorial for the Falkland War, Mrs Thatcher’s adventure in the South Atlantic in 1981. A text says it “secured the freedom of the Falkland Islands” – I don’t like the phrase as it insinuates that people would not be free if the islands had been annexed by Argentina. What it should say is that it secured the right to self-determination of the inhabitants. This being said, I certainly understand why they prefer London semi-colonial rule to Argentina.

War Mémorial in spring

As said before, the gardens belonged to Trinity House. This is the lower building on the northern side of the square. Only the front is an original from 1795, the rooms inside had to be rebuilt in 1954 after being destroyed by bombs in 1940. The property is the headquarter for the corporation who manages lighthouses and similar equipment. It is also in charge with licensing ship pilots, which is its original mission as it was founded in 1514 to put an end to the unsafe situation caused by untrained pilots in the Thames estuary.

The building is a somewhat strange neo-classical brick and stone building that is not really nice. You cannot normally look inside, which is a pity as there are a few very elegant state rooms with huge paintings. I know because I attended a function here once.

View to the former Port of London Authority

There is a much more impressive building next door at number 10 on the northwestern side of Trinity Square. This was originally the headquarters of London Port Authority when it was built in 1922. Only the front is original, the rest had to be rebuilt because of World War II bombs. Officially, the architecture is described as “Beaux Arts”, but I prefer the phrase “British Imperial”. Neoclassical elements are blown out to huge proportions and there is very heavy cubic structure on top, something very popular at the time to avoid neo-medieval spires and round towers. I think this is a fashion possibly inspired by Maya pyramids in Mexico, which were being discovered at the time. The building is now a luxury hotel.

Detail of the Port of London Authority building

Cross the gardens towards Muscovy Street, a small street on the L side of the hotel

At the end R Seething Lane

There is a small elongated garden in this street while there were harbour warehouses here in the 19th century. When they were demolished, the garden was laid in connection with the construction of the Port of London Authority building overlooking it. The red rose bushes commemorate one of these quaint customs England is so fond of: a red rose has to be given to the City authorities every year as payment for permission given in 1385 to build a pedestrian bridge over the street. The bridge has disappeared but the custom is kept just in case the ground owner would wish to build an office complex with such a bridge. The red rose is traditionally seen as the symbol for the Duchy of Lancaster in the “War of the Roses” but there is no clear connection to this particular site.

St Olave’s church

 

There is a nice church further up the street. I comment on more detail on St Olave’s in my Fenchurch Street network walk 1 and I recommend you do have a look inside if you do not expect to come back one day for the other walk.

R Crutched Friars

L Fenchurch Ordinary Court. Beware that the porch is easy to miss as this looks like a minor entrance

 

Mystery footpath under Fenchurch Street station

This is the kind of amusing passageway I associate with the City of London. They are usually surprisingly clean (thanks to surveillance cameras, I hear) and I have never met people in such places I would feel uncomfortable with. The start of the passageway must have been the goods yard for the Fenchurch Street train terminal above you.

Ahead St. Katherine’s Row

Lloyds Register building

The building along the passage on the right-hand side is the headquarters of Lloyd’s Register. It has nothing in common either with the iconic building of Lloyd’s Insurance or with the Lloyds Bank. The Register registers ships and this is why there is a gleaming silvery sculpture of a ship in their courtyard. The main part of the complex is the tower with all sorts of blue and red pipes and a glass staircase. It is a late work from 1999 by star architect Richard Rogers. Turning the functional parts of a building like pipes inside out is his signature, as you will know if you have seen Centre Pompidou in Paris where the same idea was applied on a much grander scale already in 1977.

Lloyd’s Register courtyard

 

Original Lloyd’s Register headquarters

The original Lloyd’s Register building has been demolished except for the front on Fenchurch Street, which is a listed structure from 1901. It has neo-Renaissance elements like the rustico stones at ground level and the balustrades, but it is very massive and leans more towards “British Imperial” than towards Edwardian architecture. The interesting part is the large number of sculptures with all sorts of nice designs. The relief above the entrance shows a five mast sailing ship and a modern steamship, which made sense in 1901 although sails would soon disappear for commercial transportation.

Relief over the entrance door

R Fenchurch Street

Primary school in Mitre Street

About the end of the street on the corner with Mitre Street, you will certainly notice the rather nice front of a school building. Surprisingly for such a central location in an area with very few residents, it is still a primary school. It belongs to Sir John Cass’s Foundation, who died in 1718 bequeathing a lot of money for educational purposes, and is managed by the Church of England. The building definitely looks Edwardian with a combination of stone and brick and somewhat oversize scroll decoration.

Ahead Aldgate

Ahead Aldgate High Street

ALDGATE

Aldgate Underground station

This station was originally the City terminus of the Metropolitan line suburban services, opened in 1876. These services used the tracks now used as the Circle line all the way to Baker Street. The Circle line tracks between Aldgate and Tower Hill were added in 1882. As a result, the station has both a terminus and platforms for through services, a common arrangement in London.

 

Rear view of Aldgate station

The station building was a serious affair, fitting for a terminus serving the City and its affluent travellers. The company used the same architecture than at Paddington (Praed Street) and Farringdon, a very formal neo-classical style.

Turn around going back the same way to Aldgate

R Mitre Street

 

Alignment with the Gherkin

The street is in the alignment of famous City landmark, the “Gherkin”. I occasionally thought that it looks extremely “male’. The tower was known originally as the Swiss Re tower after its main tenant. It is 180 meter high and was built in 2003 on a plot that became available after a terrorist attack in 1992 destroyed the previous building.

 

Unusual pattern for a skyscraper

Speculators tried to get permission for a 386-meter high tower, but this was considered really excessive at the time and also slightly problematic in view of commercial aircraft flying relatively low over London. The tower was designed by a leading architect, Sir Norman Foster, and ushered the era of conspicuous skyscraper designs in London.

Rounded but very male

The design remains iconic as very few towers use rounded shapes for fear of losing valuable space at the upper levels and the tower won the Stirling Prize in 2004. In recent years, specialists have started to criticise the all-glass hull of the building as being out of fashion and more difficult to maintain than a steel-and-glass structure.

R Creechurch Lane

 

Low-rise late Victorian buildings

This is a somewhat unusual part of the City of London. Most buildings are not very high, often not more than 4 floors, and many bear the brick walls and moulded decoration typical of the 1890s. You would expect speculators to have bought the offices and built more profitable high density buildings but the process has been surprisingly slow.

Ahead Stoney Lane

L White Kennet Street

You have a row of straight streets here due to the fact that you are actually walking on the roof of the Circle Line tunnel.

Ahead Cutler Street

The buildings along the street are uninteresting because most were Victorian warehouses but you might have a peek at the maze of courtyards to your right. The developer made a very intelligent use of the large plot, avoiding straight lines, planning several passageways and landscaping one of the courtyards like a very peaceful cloister. Unfortunately, the resident businesses are so worried about antisocial behaviour spilling over from the nearby station that you cannot sit comfortably anywhere.

Devonshire Square

Ahead Devonshire Square

This is a peaceful corner with some stately Georgian buildings. They include private clubs, a guild house and the Bank of Ceylon. The size is pleasantly human with a nice variety of columns, arcades and porticos.

Ahead Devonshire Row

 

Luxury hotel on Liverpool Street

The brick building at the corner in front of you with the small pointed turrets was built as the station hotel for Liverpool Street terminus. Like in Paddington and St Pancras, travellers could access the hotel lobby directly from the station concourse. The hotel was converted later into an achingly fashionable hotel that pretends to be “boutique” despite its 267 rooms. The lobby is peculiarly poky and dark and you will be assaulted immediately as there is no reception desk, rather staff milling around on the lookout. It targets primarily star artists and art dealers although many bankers like to play at being up to date by booking a room here.

 

Old access from inside the long-distance terminal

 

Masonic temple in the basement

The really interesting part of Andaz Hotel is actually in the basement and you can see it once a year on Open Monument Day. It is definitely worth it as you can then visit a former Masonic temple in a fancy Egyptian style. The extremely pretentious throne in the middle of the temple is linked to the fact that this particular lodge was under the patronage of a Royal prince. As usual in masonic temples, looking at decoration details will yield a large number of interesting symbols. My picture shows the signs of the zodiac.

Zodiac ceiling

Ahead Liverpool Street

L into the shopping arcade (called “The Arcade”)

Arcade off Liverpool Street

Considering the busy station nearby and the successful shopping areas in the vicinity (in particular Broadgate Circle), the arcade is surprisingly sleepy and most of it is used by a supermarket. It sits directly above the Underground station and was an attempt to make a more profitable use of the ground, but I think Transport for London should employ a young, dynamic marketing graduate to make something better out of this nice, clean and well located arcade.

At the end R Broad Street

LIVERPOOL STREET

Liverpool Street Underground station

The station opened originally as a temporary terminus in 1875 under the name Bishopsgate and trains soon continued to Aldgate although there was still a single terminus platform until 1974. Trains could also switch from the Circle line to the suburban services through Liverpool Street main line station until 1904.

When this connection was severed, the Metropolitan Railway feared that travellers might not associate its Bishopsgate station with the opportunity to switch to long-distance trains and the station was renamed “Liverpool Street” in 1908. The deep-level platforms used by the Underground Central Line were added in 1912.

Liverpool Street train terminus

The Metropolitan Railway preferred to include normal station entrances within commercial buildings in order to make profitable use of the expensive ground and the station entrance is indeed just a modest neo-classical porch under offices. I don’t comment here on the train terminus as I do so in my Liverpool Street network walk 1.

L Liverpool Street

In case you wonder, the name of the street has nothing to do with trains to Liverpool as this terminus never had this destination. It is just the name of the prime minister who was in place when the street was opened in the 1820s.

L Blomfield Street

R Finsbury Circus

Finsbury Circus with blue flowers

This is certainly a hidden gem within the City of London and very few people really pay attention to it unless they work in the direct vicinity. It is actually the largest green space in the City with a full-size bowling green in the middle and a few other sports facilities. There are also numerous seats and several more or less formal flower beds. I noticed that the colours of the flowers set the tone for many other public gardens in London and that the scheme changes every year.

 

Finsbury Circus with white flowers

Fijnsbury Circus with purple flowers

Finsbury Circus with pink flowers

Office building from 1921

The buildings around the square are very formal and somewhat forbidding. They are likely to go back to the early 20th century, when the original arrangement of a private estate and garden was changed by a law of Parliament. The most interesting building from an architecture point of view is at the Northwest corner of the circus (at number 1). It was built in 1921 by a leading architect, Edwin Lutyens, who took unusual care here to fit into the overall scheme of the circus in terms of height and roofscape. At a time when big concrete slabs and cubic shapes were fashionable, he suggested a row of old-fashioned columns and a surfeit of baroque details like scrolls, macaroons and balustrades. Some of the many statues are picturesque; the Turk on my picture is linked to the fact that the building was commissioned by an oil company active in Iraq.

Turk and fox sculptures

R and directly L Moor Place passing

MOORGATE

Moorgate Underground station

The Underground platforms used by the Circle Line opened in 1865 under the name “Moorgate Street”. Deep-level platforms used by what is now the Northern Line opened in 1900.

The station was also used as a terminus for two suburban train networks. The deeper level terminus now used by trains to Hertford or Potters Bar was opened in 1904; a second terminus located close to the Circle Line platforms opened in 1868 and closed in 2009.

The present name of the station was given in 1924 when the suburban trains from the upper level terminus switched from destinations on the Watford line to destinations on the Bedford line.

Logo of the forerunner of the Northern Line

The main entrance to the station is in the building at the corner of Moorgate (the street) with Moorgate Place. The building is rather impressive and even looks venerable compared to the modern skyscrapers in the background. It was built in 1900 by the operator of the present-day Northern Line of London Underground and was its headquarters. There is a much more functional entrance on the next street, Moorfields. All these names with “moors” relate to a large swampy field just inside the City wall. There was a gate in the wall here until 1761 and most of the Moor Fields were developed in 1777.

L Moorfields

Soon R taking under a porch the elevator leading up to the Barbican complex.

Continue ahead on the elevated walkway passing over a minor road until you can see the central garden

Schoolyard within the Barbican estate

The whole area had been destroyed by bombs during World War II and it is interesting to realise that the decision was taken to create new residential accomodation in 1957. I think there would be heavy pressure to build much more profitable offices if a similar city centre location became available nowadays. The estate was opened in 1969 and is considered one of the most impressive examples of Brutalist architecture.

 

Eastern part of the Barbican lake

Brutalist architecture (from concrete being shown “brut”, without cladding), launched by star architect Le Corbusier, is one of the most influential trends after WWII. It was seen as honest and unfussy. There was also a socially progressive concept behind it as Le Corbusier meant each unit should have a number of important social services such as kindergarten, youth clubs etc. This is also the case at the Barbican with a church, major cultural institutions, schools and gardens.

Water feature and many balconies

It is undoubtedly one of the most successful examples of the style and is now a very sought-after residential area. This will come as a real surprise to many people as we are used to associating concrete bars and towers with crumbling, badly maintained ghettoes full of dangerous hoodies. It is unfortunately correct that many local authorities used the brutalist style as a pretence to build shoddy, cheap public housing.

R along and above the garden (Willoughby Highwalk), then L still along and above the garden (Speed Highwalk)

On reaching the entrance of the Barbican Arts Centre L on Gilbert Bridge crossing above the garden

Gilbert Bridge

The view to the lake on both sides is really interesting as the concrete line of the apartment blocks around the lakes is pleasantly broken by the many balconies. The lakes are themselves landscaped in a very original manner including flowers and water features. I have hardly ever seen someone taking advantage of the private round gardens set into the lake, though. The towers (42 stories) are less convincing in my opinion, but certainly offer very nice views to the flat owners.

Western section of the lake

Guildhall school of Music

Walking across the lake, you might hear some classical tunes to your left. The low building along the lake is the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, built in 1977 with limited consideration for the rules of Brutalist architecture. This is one of the best places in London to hear classical music for free and there are frequently excellent small concerts you can attend after work if you are not too fussy about acoustics and seating comfort. The school is one of the foremost such institutions in the world.

 

 

 

Contemporary art within the Barbican complex

On the right of the walkway, the large building along the lake with the nice terrace is the Barbican Centre, one of the most important cultural centres in London. It was built later than the rest of the area but in the same style. The inside layout is particularly confusing. If you explore long enough, you might find a public library, a theatre and several expensive restaurants with nice views. The centrepiece is the huge Barbican Hall, used in particular for prestigious classical concerts. Despite several attempts to improve the acoustics, music aficionados have divided opinions about it.

Barbican Hall terrace

If you don’t get lost in the building, you might also find an art gallery called The Curve. The gallery often commissions large-scale works for this space and some are decidedly quirky and enjoyable. Entrance is sometimes free, sometimes not.

St Alphege church

The walkway then passes a church. It is worth a look but is very often closed and you will need to come back to the elevated walkway afterwards. I comment more in detail on the church in my King’s Cross & Moorgate network walk 6.

After passing the church, turn R down stairs into the garden for the Barber Surgeon’s Hall. I am not certain you can access the garden from this side of the building, you might have to go around after reaching the street called London Wall at the end of the highwalk.

Barber Surgeon’s Hall

The elegant brick building is a reconstruction from 1959 as the original hall was destroyed by bombs in 1940. Like most other guild halls in the City, it is a property of the charitable foundation that has taken over from the guild and reception rooms are rented for receptions and business events. As usual, you cannot look inside. What sets this particular hall apart is that it has a formal garden with topiary, mature trees and flower beds. You can see all of this quite well from above if you go on the walkway.

Garden seen from the walkway

Medieval wall around the City

At the back of the hall, you will find old stone walls. The foundations are Roman and as old as the section near Tower Hill station, but nearly all the part above ground is medieval. The small, rounded whitish stones are from Kent and were also used in many churches until the 17th century.

Cross the garden passing the wall ruins

Cross the road called London Wall and take ahead Noble Street

On the left, you pass a small garden. It is called strangely “St Olave’s Silver Street” as there was indeed a church here until it burnt down in 1666 along with most of the City. On your right, you can peek at a stone wall below you along Noble Street. It was laid free in order to show an additional section of the medieval London Wall.

L Oat Lane

The poky garden on your left is called “St Mary Staining” and shares the history of St Olave’s.

R Staining Lane

R Gresham Street

Sunken garden on Gresham Street

The first garden on your R is a pretty sunken garden with seats, a few flowers and a central fountain. The entrance to the office building (bank headquarters) in the background is framed by a wrought iron arcade with golden feline masks. I don’t know the story behind the cat but the ironwork is very good.

Feline porch on Gresham Street

 

St Anne & St Agnes Lutheran church

After crossing Noble Street, you have a second garden. It is less remarkable and is actually the former churchyard for St Anne and St Agnes church in the background. The church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1680 after the fire of 1666 but the present building is actually a reconstruction of 1966 after bomb damages. It was a Lutheran church catering to several immigrant communities until it was converted in 2013 for the use of a music charity. I don’t know if you can still look inside. My picture shows that it had an interesting structure with very thin columns.

At the end R on the road called St. Martin’s Le Grand

Soon L into Postman’s Park

Fountain in Postman’s Park

This is one of the most unusual and popular small parks in the City. The name comes from the vicinity of the General Post Office, but it was actually a churchyard used by several neighbouring parishes. It has a pleasant fountain, several nice flower beds, and is quite convenient to stop and sit for a while, but it has also two special features.

 

Riot of colours in Postman’s Park

Fern trees in Postman’s Park

One is a collection of tree ferns from New Zealand; they are not difficult to grow in London but you seldom see more than one at a time in parks. The other feature is the Watts Memorial, a wall covered in tiles. Mr Watts was a painter and philanthropist who wanted to honour everyday people who had suffered a heroic death saving others.

 

Watts Memorial

The tiles are very moving to read. After Mr Watts’ death, interest in the memorial dwindled. Names of a few policemen were added in the 1930 although you might argue that they were killed in the course of duty rather than as everyday people. There has been some interest recently in accepting new names, but only one was added, partly because the Arts & Crafts tiles are not being produced any more.

 

Sad tragedy number 1

Sad tragedy number 2

Glimpse of St Botolph’s

There is a church in a corner of the park, St Botolph’s Aldersgate, but I have never seen it open.

Cross the park to the exit at the other end

R Main highway called first Little Britain. The road then turns R as Montague Street and passes under a building

 

St Bartholomew’s Hospital

The complex of buildings on the left of the two streets is part of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, founded in 1123 and still in the same location. This may not appear very convenient and the main activity is now catering to smaller injuries suffered by people at their place of work in the City. There are several historical buildings within the complex which you will be able to access more easily later in the walk. What you do notice, particularly from a bit further away, is the absolutely massive jumble of dark blue towers looking a little like a child’s lego.

Spiral garden in front of the Museum of London

On reaching the road circus called Aldersgate, walk R to a staircase

Walk up the steps to the elevated walkway across the road circus

The central reservation of the circus is actually a very surprising sunken garden that spirals from the street level all the way to the elevated walkway. The huge piece of wooden machinery in the middle is a historical pump used to raise water.

Historical water pump

Walk around the circus to the entrance of the Museum of London

As entrance is free, there is no reason why you should shun a visit. The museum plans to move in a few years but should remain in the vicinity. It is a large museum with a lot of things to see; the most interesting ones for a casual visit may be the models, the costumes, the jewelry (spread over different sections though) and the Victorian shops. There is also a well-known audiovisual display about the 1666 Fire.

Take the walkway on the L side of the museum. It follows the main road below but turns several times first R then L and changes names. It is first the John Wesley Highwalk, then the Seddon Highwalk and ends at a large crossroads.

Ironmongers’ Hall

Shortly after leaving the Museum of London, the walkway passes a clearly historical house with Tudor doorways and a timbered upper floor. Well, this is a fake from 1925 as the original building had been destroyed by a bomb during World War I. The building is actually the Ironmongers’ Hall. As opposed to most guild halls in the City that keep to some kind of neo-classical style, this particular hall is held in the Tudor style with dark wood paneling. Because of this, it would be one of the most interesting to visit if it takes part on Open Monument Day. As you can see on my second picture, once you walk further away, it is soon dwindled by the massive shapes of the hospital in the background. In my opinion, despite being a fake, it is one of the most beautiful guild halls.

 

Mock medieval hall

Private lawn within Barbican estate

Further on, the elevated walkway leads along a large green park with mature trees and benches. This is not open to the public and is actually part of a school. The view from here is probably one of the least cluttered when you wish to get a feeling for how ambitious the Barbican Estate was when it was built.

At the end of the highwalk, aim for the pedestrian bridge over the main road. You can see from here the station entrance.

BARBICAN

Barbican Underground station

This is one of the stations that changed names quite often. It was opened under the name “Aldersgate Street” in 1865, switched to shorter “Aldersgate” in 1910, lengthened again to “Aldersgate & Barbican” in 1924 and simplified again to “Barbican” in 1968.

Between 1868 and 2009, the station also had platforms used by suburban trains (initially towards Watford, later towards Bedford).

An accident happened under interesting circumstances at the station in 1866. A steel girder collapsed on a train carriage, killing five people. You will be astonished to hear that police only stopped train traffic for 30 minutes and that all necessary inquiries were finished this quickly. I cannot imagine a similar accident causing less than several days of major traffic confusion nowadays.

There is no station building, as is often the case for the Metropolitan Railway in central London. There is just a concrete porch under an office building.

Walk down the stairs to the main road

Walk north along Aldersgate Street (away from the Museum of London)

L Carthusian Street

Ahead Charterhouse Square

Art déco estate on Charterhouse Square

The open space itself was originally the courtyard of a monastery and was never built upon. It is a private square belonging to the residents around it (as is still customary in Belgravia and Notting Hill) but was not closed to the public. It is now a rather plain lawn with nice trees along the sides. The road around three of the sides is still private as well and is controlled by rather nice green gates.

On the eastern side of the square, you may notice the massive Art Déco shapes of Florin Court, built in 1936. It was and still is a very luxurious estate with a roof garden and an underground swimming pool. The curving shapes of the street front are quite typical for the time although it was less common to leave bricks visible (they were usually hidden under a coat of white paint). The building is remarkable for the sheer number of large windows, many of which are technically impressive curved surfaces.

Charterhouse Almshouses

On the northern side of the square, the low, historical looking building is an almshouse catering only to gentlemen, a harbinger of the old monastery where women were obviously an inappropriate distraction. Because of bomb damage, much of it is a reconstruction, but attempts were honestly made to keep it as historical as possible. As a retirement home, it was a strictly private property, but I read that it will soon be possible to enter the grounds and visit a small museum (undoubtedly for a sizeable fee) and the pictures I saw are quite tempting.

Back on Carthusian Street, look for L Hayne Street. There has been a large building site here for several years and you might have to take the following street L and then turn L again until you see the marker in front of house number 71.

Take the short footpath under house number 71

R Cloth Fair passing a large church

Apse of St Bartholomew the Great

The church is St Bartholomew the Great, one of the very few parish churches in all England that charge an entry fee as if it were a cathedral. I object in principle, particularly because the church actually had to be renovated heavily in the 19th century as it had been squatted by vagrants for years. The church is built in an elaborate combination of white stone and dark grey ragstone and the outside appearance is early gothic. Inside, pictures show Norman arches, which is rare in London. Church wardens apparently expect this feature to draw crowds willing to pay the fee although I have serious doubts that it is profitable. If you plan carefully, you could attend a Sunday service and look at the church. You will also see a number of memorial monuments.

Authentical Tudor house from 1595

The road ends at a large circular square. Turn around the square starting towards the L

You soon reach a recessed corner with a medieval house above a passage leading to the church you just saw from the other side. The house is interesting from both sides so that you should definitely have a look inside the passage. It was built in 1595 after the King had half of the original church pulled down and sits atop the former entrance door to the nave. The house is typically Tudor and survived both the Great Fire of 1666 and World War II bombs because it was protected by the thick walls of the buildings on both sides. It was additionally protected in the 19th century by being hidden behind a nondescript Georgian front. It is an exceptional testimony to how London looked like under King Henry VIII.

Rear view of the medieval house

 

St Bartholomew the Less

Continuing around the traffic circus, you can see a church through railings. The entrance is through a large stone gate that marks the entrance of St Bartholomew Hospital and the church was indeed the hospital chapel. Only the tower is gothic, the rest was built in 1793 and is an interestingly early example of neo-gothic with fine ceiling tracery. There are a few plaques and memorial monuments of interest inside and the chapel is often open. My pictures show a nice Arts & Crafts plaque with iridescent glass, a curious plaque with military medals in unusually colourful enamel and a Renaissance memorial.

 

Arts & Crafts monument

Peculiar use of enamel

Tudor monument

Hospital gate from 1702

The chapel is inside the grounds of the hospital, a venerable institution founded in the very same location in 1123. I did not really pay attention to the historical buildings but you can see three early 18th century wings around the main courtyard and there is a small museum commenting on the history of the hospital. You are advised to check beforehand as opening times are quite restricted. On leaving the hospital (or the chapel), you could pay attention to the main gate as it is really impressive. It was built in 1702 and is a peculiar mix of Renaissance (the lower level and the columns) with baroque (the scrolls) and neo-classical (the pediment and the statues).

You can now see on the other side of the traffic circus a long building known officially as the Central Markets, but better known as “Smithfield’s”. The traffic circus itself is a strange structure with a spiraling parking space under the level of the road. I guess the spiral led originally to unloading bays below the central market. The very middle of the circus is a small green space since 1872.

Grand Avenue of Central Market

The market was one of the main cattle and horse markets in London as early as the 12th century and it is surprising to note that mileage for the Great North Road from London started as this market (in Paris, it starts more logically from in front of Notre Dame cathedral). The cattle market was replaced by a cleaner shopping market and appropriate halls were built in 1868. They are those you can see today and are a typical iron structure from this period. Similar steel girders in similarly gaudy colours were used in train stations.

Grand Avenue at night

As people don’t shop much in central markets nowadays, only part of it is still used for wholesale trade purposes and the rest may be replaced one day by luxury flats or offices. As you can see on the picture, there is a conspicuous tower reminiscent of Italian churches at both ends of the market and it is therefore not easy to find a concept that respects the listed building while being profitable enough for a developer.

Outside view of Central Market

Take the passage across the market called “Grand Avenue”

Cross the first road and take ahead and L Cowcross Street

FARRINGDON

Farringdon station

The station opened as a temporary terminus for the Metropolitan Railway from Paddington in 1863 and was originally called “Farringdon Street”. The line continued towards Moorgate in 1865.

A junction was added in 1866 to enable some suburban trains to continue to Ludgate Hill (this is now the train line towards Blackfriars) and a second junction was built in 1868 to enable trains to run towards St Pancras and join the main line tracks.

The station is now used both by the Underground and mainline services on separate tracks but they do not serve the same destinations since 2009: the trains run from St. Pancras to Blackfriars while the Underground runs from Paddington to Moorgate. Trains used to run also from St. Pancras to Moorgate but the connection was severed when the platforms were lengthened.

The station switched names to “Farringdon and High Holborn” in 1922 and this is the name written on the façade. The name was shortened to plain Farringdon in 1936.

Because the station had been used as a terminus and was also used by suburban trains, the Metropolitan Railway invested into an imposing building of its own with no offices above. This also made sense for hygienic reasons as there was a large goods yard catering particularly to cattle sold in Smithfields Market. It was sensible to ensure that smells could dissipate quickly and not be trapped under an office building. Understandably, the company architect saved costs by using exactly the style chosen also for Aldgate terminus, the only difference being the dark red lettering.

 

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Circle Tube line walk 1: Gloucester Road walk to Edgware Road

Circle Line walk 1

GLOUCESTER ROAD walk to EDGWARE ROAD

2 1/2 hours

The Circle Line was originally a normal railway built in the 19th century in order to provide a convenient link between the main long-distance termini. It combined the networks of two different operators, the Metropolitan railway to the north and west, the District railway along the Thames. The circular line was completed in 1884 but some sections are older. The section covered by this specific walk opened in 1868.

Trains operated around the circle for many years while trains for destinations outside of the circle used stations like Aldgate or Edgware Road as a terminus. In 2009, Transport for London changed the system and all Circle Line trains terminate (or originate) at Edgware Road.

The circular line is also used by many other London Underground lines. As a result, I have opted for covering some of the sections under appropriate lines. Between Gloucester Road and Tower Hill, please see District line walks 8, 9 and 10. Between Tower Hill and Farringdon, please see Circle line walk 2. Between Farringdon and Baker Street, please see Metropolitan line walk 1. For the short walk between Baker Street and Edgware Road, please see Hammersmith & City line walk 1.

Routing note: Because of the way I have written other walks, the best combination would be with Hammersmith & City walk 1 in Edgware Road.

My time estimate does not include time spent on visiting Kensington Palace. This may take more than an hour.

GLOUCESTER ROAD

Goloucester Road Underground station

The station opened as a Circle Line station in 1868 and was originally called “Brompton (Gloucester Road)”. A line towards West Brompton opened in 1869. The present Piccadilly line platforms opened in 1906 under the name “Gloucester Road” and the shorter version was used for all platforms from 1907 onwards.

The station building is an elegant Victorian structure in the colours considered appropriate at that time, pale yellow bricks and stone lining for the windows. Romanic arches were ubiquitous for railway stations while the balustrade on the roof is a unusual neo-baroque addition. You can also note the mosaic plaque proclaiming nicely that the Metropolitan Railway (the original operator) would carry you to “all parts of London”.

Exit the station and turn L on Gloucester Road

L Cromwell Road

R Grenville Place

Cornwall Mews

You soon pass a side street, Cornwall Mews South. The street has a very elegant neo-classical arcade over the access and you can easily imagine a gate preventing access at times. This was actually unusual for mews, the courtyards where affluent people held their horses and carriages at the back of their properties. As you are crossing a very affluent part of London, you will pass a number of former mews. Obviously, they have been converted into housing by now. Properties are often poky and you cannot park your car in most mews, but these quiet streets are very sought after and often well kept.

Ahead across Cornwall Gardens, the road is now called Launcester Place

L Kynance Mews

Kynance Mews

This particular instance of mews is considered one of the very nicest in London. This is due to the efforts made by residents keen on having many plants in front of their homes. An additional attraction is that you don’t feel like embarrassingly invading other people’s little paradise as there is an access to a church at the back of the mews. This shows that there was a coordination problem when developing the area.

R up a few steps past the church into Victoria Road

Garden of Christ Church Kensington

Christ Church Kensington is a typical Victorian neo-gothic parish church but has the unusual advantage that it lies at the end of quiet streets. There is a beautiful garden with some lavender and very convenient banks. As most gardens are private in this part of London, it is nice to find this exception.

L St Alban’s Grove (the road sign is a bit hidden)

R Kensington Court Place

Kensington Court Mews

There is a very nice courtyard in this road called Kensington Court Mews. It looks a bit like a stable yard for a postmaster’s inn but it was indeed just a set of mews for nearby town houses. You might note the wooden valance below the first floor; the only location where such valances can be seen regularly are older train stations.

L Thackeray Street reaching Kensington Square

The square does not look exceptional but is indeed special as it is the oldest square in Kensington still lined by houses. It was laid out in 1685 by a speculator who was actually a plain tradesman and soon realised that he did not have the funds for his ambitious plans. He ended up spending many years of his life in prison for debt and had to give away most of the land to his banker. A large developer tried to buy the freehold of all properties around the square in the 1920s in order to replace it by commercial buildings and the remaining residents had to be very disciplined about not selling out.

At the end of the square R exiting the square through a short path

Now ahead Derry Street

L High Street

HIGH STREET KENSINGTON

 

High Street Kensington Underground station

The station opened in 1868 together with the circular line. A junction opened in 1871 offering a direct connection with Earl’s Court, used now by District line trains.

Station seen from above

The station access is within a small shopping centre under an office building. This is not the original arrangement but it appeared sensible in order to make good use of the location on a popular shopping road. Although the shopping centre was built in 1908, it is surprisingly delicate compared to a typical Edwardian building. It keeps to the style of a typical Victorian “gallery” with a glass roof and an elaborate set of columns and decorative scrolls.

Entrance within the shopping centre

Shopping arcade

Turn around on High Street walking towards central London

Art déco frieze with forest animals

The building just after the station at number 113 was the centrepiece of a commercial empire built by two businessmen in the second half of the 19th century until a merger in the 1920s. The newly created company then decided to built a flagship store in an imposing but somewhat soulless Art Déco style. It is now rented out to a series of unassorted high street chain stores.

 

Other frieze

I mention the building because of very nice friezes on either side of the main entrance awning. One shows wood animals such as foxes, kingfishers and hares, the other one is devoted to cranes and deer. The decoration may have been chosen considering that the store was particularly popular with families.

Moorish garden at 113 High Street Kensington

The department store had converted the roof into a large garden. It was a very popular place for relaxing between bouts of shopping and the company charged a modest entrance fee that was forwarded to charity. When the department store closed, the roof garden was converted into a restaurant and is a listed green space since 1998. The restaurant itself closed a few years ago with the freehold owner apparently not finding a tenant willing to pay the asking price.

Reminder of Granada

I was able to walk around on an open day in 2009 so that I can show you pictures of what it looked like. A core section looks a little inspired by moorish gardens in Granada, Spain. The gallery with twisted columns is also influenced by Italian courtyards.

 

Gallery and garden bar

But there is also a whole series of more secluded mini-courtyards reminding of a mock-gothic cloister and there was a pond with live flamingos.

Cloister walk

Flamingo pond

Country club style

It was actually a very exclusive and expensive club but the operator allowed the public to visit for two hours a year on Open Monument Day. The queue was impressive. I took the opportunity to take pictures inside as well, primarily because of the outrageous mix of designer seats.

 

Red saloon

Cowboy style

Green boudoir

 

Former Kensington Library

Just opposite the building, you see the Victorian building now used by a bank at number 98a. It has very nice gables in the Dutch Renaissance style and the windows in the Tudor style are lined in immaculate white plastered stone. This was the borough library, built in 1852 and converted to a bank in 1976. It might actually remind you a little of public buildings in small towns in the USA because this was the time when many of these towns were created.

Art déco former department store

Looking again to the other side of the road, you cannot miss a spectacular former department store converted into a series of high street chain stores. The company who owned it was very well managed but was finally taken over in 1957. The property was closed in 2006 with only a small part of the building finding tenants.

The building is a major Art Déco landmark, one of the best surviving examples of a department store from the 1930s.It is listed and has kept its imposing front façade with a central tower covered in glass. On either side of the glass column, there are very good reliefs showing modern means of transportation. The 1930s are in art the time of futurism, with many artists being fascinated by technology and speed.

Futurist reliefs at night

Access to a school

 

Opposite the department store, there is a small arch below a brick building. If the arch gets you thinking of a public school, you are very close to the mark. It seems schools are very fond of neo-Tudor buildings with moderately pointed arches and glazed brick geometrical decoration on façades. There is actually a school operated by the Church of England in the street behind the arch.

You can also easily see the church, St Mary Abbots. For some reason, I did not take a good picture of the church and I concentrated on the lovely garden full of daffodils. The round flower bed on my picture is very elaborate for a churchyard but you are in a very upmarket suburb. The flower bed is set up according to the style of Royal parks with three heights of flowers arranged in colour blocks with the tallest in the middle.

Flower bed in the churchyard

There is also a very prim pergola, a device that was very popular in the 1910s when ladies of standing preferred walking in the shade as suntan would have been considered a proof of them doing some disgustingly practical work outside.

The church itself was built in 1872 by the leading architect of the period, Sir George Gilbert Scott. Being enthusiastic about medieval architecture, he built here what is the tallest church spire in London. I have read that there are interesting memorials in the church, but it is normally closed except for services.

Churchyard pergola

 

Late Victorian mosaics

Continuing on Kensington High Street, the next building after the futuristic department store is a bank branch in a very different style. This is late Victorian with the typical mix of cream stone and red bricks. What made me notice it is the friezes with flower scrolls in blue and green mosaics. For some reason, this type of decoration has completely disappeared from contemporary buildings and is not even offered in shops.

L Palace Green

(this is a restricted road with an arch allowing pedestrian access)

The road has very nice town houses all along it but you will not get a picture because many of them are embassies and are under very close surveillance for safety reasons. This is particularly the case for the Embassy of Israel, one of the first properties you pass. If you are keen on seeing more official residences, the end of the street has the embassies or residences for Norway, Finland, Russia, Kuwait, Lebanon, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, India etc.

R footpath called Kensington Apartement

Ahead into Kensington Gardens taking Palace Walk

L into the grounds of Kensington Palace

King William III in front of Kensington Palace

You enter the grounds through a section with lawn and isolated shrubbery and the main attraction on this side is an imposing bronze statue of King William III. The inscription tells you that it was presented by the German emperor in 1907, who was very fond of the Netherlands where King William was originally from.

Kensington Palace

King William is important for Kensington Palace because it was his wife Queen Anne who bought the property in 1689, looking for a palace away from the Thames marshes where her husband got bouts of asthma. The palace was used by the sovereigns for about 70 years until King George III decided to move to Buckingham Palace. From outside, the palace is a bit dreary because of the straight lines, red bricks and lack of ornament. This was customary in the Netherlands where ostentation was frowned upon (the country indeed did not have a king but a “stadhouder” or regent).

Entrance of Kensington Palace

I was not allowed to take pictures inside the palace. From memory, what impressed me most was the small size of the rooms in the original royal apartments, the Long Gallery (used to display paintings and to walk about if the weather did not allow riding and hunting) and a very good collection of Chinese porcelain (it was the craze of rich people at the time and Queen Anne had privileged access to the wares brought by the Dutch Company of the East Indies). There is also a somewhat cramped exhibition of dresses worn by Princess Diana if you are curious.

Gate of the palace gardens

Like in the other palaces belonging to the Crown, entry fees are extremely high (about 15 £ in 2018). You might want to look into a one-year membership as this covers other palaces as well that some of my walks pass by. By the way, the palace is still used as apartments for members of the royal family and only a small part of the palace is open to visitors. The apartments are called “grace apartments” from the French word grace that meant generosity in the 18th century (hence the title of “Her Gracious Majesty”).

Palace gardens

On the east side of the palace, you should definitely have a look at the formal garden. The original arrangement was different and is better understood by going to Hampton Court Palace. Here, you have a central water feature with modest fountains, colourful flower beds arranged in geometrical terraces all around it, and at the top a walk with bushes.

 

 

Water feature

The water feature was popular in the Netherlands where it was easy to build but has actually much older references, being already a must in medieval oriental gardens such as those of the palace in Granada, Spain. Geometrical shapes were customary around 1700 because you mostly enjoyed the garden from the windows of the palace and not by walking around.

 

Central pond

Terraces were convenient because you could display more easily whatever exotic plants you grew – you would show single plants at decent intervals in order to be able to wonder at each of them separately. The present shape of the garden with blocks of colours and hundreds of bulbs only became possible when exotic plants became plentiful and cheap in the late 19th century.

The pictures show that the selection of flowers changes according to the season and also every year.

Finally, shaded walks were already popular in the Middle Ages and were very important in hot countries like Italy, but were imported into northern gardening under French king Louis XIV around 1770 because they provided hidden corners where you could surprise visitors with a theatre play, concert… or a very friendly young woman.

Kensington Palace Orangery

The palace grounds have an exit towards an open landscape called Kensington Gardens but I keep those for a Central line walk. After enjoying the formal garden, you may therefore wish to go rather to the Orangery. Many palaces had orangeries since Louis XIV’s gardener had proved that they made it possible to produce exotic fruit all over the year. They were sturdy stone or brick buildings, in the case of Kensington a very nice baroque structure from 1704.

Really rich people competed on the size of their orangeries and particularly on the height of the ceiling. You could not grow trees higher than a dozen feet high because they would turn too heavy to be carried in and out depending on the season – but this did not prevent people from having very high ceilings. When glasshouses became technically easy to build in the late 19th century, towns indeed also competed on the height. The Orangery houses an elegant restaurant you might find a bit pretentious, but you could peek through the windows at the room as such.

Walk past the palace and the orangery to the north. Continue ahead along a fenced open space all the way to the main road.

This large piece of lawn called Perks Field is private and can be used only by residents, who are the people living in the grace apartments of Kensington Palace and the embassies that you see on the other side behind safety fences.

Entrance of Kensington Palace Gardens (the road)

L Bayswater Road

 

The gated entrance on my picture is the northern end of the road I already mentioned as housing so many embassies. You are perfectly allowed to use the road as a pedestrian and will not be challenged by guards. But it is not really interesting as you see mainly late 19th century town mansions behind high fences.

NOTTING HILL GATE

Notting Hill Gate Underground station

The station opened in 1868 together with the circular line. Deeper platforms for the Central Line opened in 1900.

The original station buildings have been demolished in the 1950s and the only thing you see at street level is an access staircase. The whole area was redeveloped at the time and this left us with ugly steel towers and concrete shopping parades. The area is not improved by the fact that Bayswater Road has extremely heavy traffic as it is one of the main access roads into central London from the West.

R Pembridge Gardens

Pembridge Square

 

R Pembridge Square

You are here in a typical Notting Hill landscape. Endless rows of identical early 19th century town houses aimed at the affluent middle class.

Ahead Moscow Road

 

Agia Sofia Cathedral

This road has the Agia Sofia cathedral, the main Greek Orthodox church in London. I read that it has impressive mosaics in the sanctuary and a small museum in the basement, but both were closed when I passed the building. It was built in 1879. The alternating layers of red and yellow bricks may look typically Victorian (the colour combination is) but they are here rather a reminder of Roman architecture in Constantinople. Romans built town walls of rubble kept in place by a thin covering of stones on either side and stabilised such walls with thin layers of bricks.

R Queensway

BAYSWATER

Bayswater Underground station

The station opened in 1868 together with the circular line and was originally called Bayswater. The station was renamed several times later on. It became a rather cumbersome “Bayswater (Queen’s Road) & Westbourne Grove” in 1926. This was soon seen as not very sensible and shortened to “Bayswater (Queen’s Road)” in 1933. This was changed to Bayswater (Queensway) in 1946 and the suffix fell out of use without an official renaming action.

The station building has the same brick colour and the same balustrade than in Gloucester Road but was rebuilt later. The access bays are lined with neo-classical columns, possibly since the 1926 renaming, and a rather cheap looking awning was added much later.

Former department store on Queensway

If you wish to look at an interesting department store building, you can detour up Queensway for a few yards. You will have to come back to the station afterwards. Whiteley’s was the first department store built in London back in 1911. Shopping emporia had been known in Paris for many years but they catered to the middle class and this was not a profitable market in London.

Whiteley’s was the epitome of luxury and indulgence, including a golf course on the roof, and was so famous that it features in a number of novels. It was later purchased by Selfridges who was financially more successful because they understood marketing better. The building is listed since 1970 and was converted into a shopping centre in 1989. The owner intends to expand the building with luxury flats and a hotel. The architecture is Edwardian with impressive columns bearing the corner cupola and statues of allegories.

L Inverness Place

L Inverness Terrace

R Porchester Gardens

L and directly R into Leinster Place

R Leinster Gardens

L Cleveland Square

Queen’s Gardens

The square, like close neighbour Queen’s Gardens, is one of the many London developments from the late 19th century with neo-palladian, strictly identical houses around a private garden. This particular square is one of the largest. My picture actually shows Queens Gardens because it was more photogenic but the effect is similar.

Ahead Chilworth Street

R Gloucester Terrace

L Craven Road

 

Conduit Mews

 

You may be surprised by one of the side streets of this busy highway, Conduit Mews. It is a peaceful, cobblestoned alley incredibly close to the traffic pandemonium around Paddington terminus. You can realise better here what I explained at the start of the walk regarding mews because you can see here the large ground level openings used originally for the carriages and horses and the small apartments above for the grooms. In case you wonder, they did marry but then moved out as employers did not want children around their precious horses.

Ahead Praed Street

PADDINGTON (Circle and District lines)

 

Paddington Underground station (District & Circle lines)

The station opened in 1868 together with the circular line and was originally called “Paddington (Praed Street)” because there was already a separate “Paddington (Bishop’s Road)” station used by what is now the Hammersmith & City line. The two stations provide no interchange but still got the same shorter name in 1933. Deep level platforms opened on the Bakerloo line in 1913 with an interchange to the Praed Street station.

The station building was rebuilt in 1914 and is a sizeable structure fully lined in stone with neo-Renaissance features. The distinguished style and good proportions led to the building being listed. The feeling on the Circle line platforms is unusual, the roof being very high up vertical brick walls a little like at Crystal Palace train station.

Gloucester Square

R London Street

Ahead Sussex Place

L Gloucester Square

After passing several private gardens earlier in the walk, you could be surprised that this particular square has a public garden. It has a kiosk, a few palm trees and a flower display, which proves that it is indeed a park managed by the borough.

Ahead Somers Crescent

L Hyde Park Crescent

St John’s Hyde Park

The parish church of St John’s Hyde Park was built in order to serve a new development in the early 19th century and was consecrated in 1832. Medieval architecture was very fashionable at the time, particularly tracery on ceilings, and the architect duly complied, using French examples from the 13th century. This is quite obvious looking at the nave and ceiling while the apse window reminds more of Tudor churches. As this is an affluent parish, it prides itself on having a special interest in music.

Soon R Cambridge Square

 

 

Cambridge Square

Yes, this is again a public garden and you are allowed to walk around. This is possibly due to the fact that the whole area did not belong to a private landowner but to the Bishop. Private landowners tended to sell large blocks and speculators then built according to a standard model, identical houses around a private garden having proved profitable in Belgravia. The Church often sold piecemeal when funds were needed for a purpose and could therefore plan public gardens.

Norfolk Crescent

This one has neat hedges, mature trees and a nice flower bed in the typical style of Royal gardens (round with three height levels and a single colourful plant per “level”). The houses around the square and nearby are boring structures from the 1960s because the Church had not invested much in the original 19th century houses. They were very uncomfortable and threatened to turn derelict, so that the Church was forced to allow redevelopment. The houses appear really low for this rather sought after part of London; this is due to a Conservation Area rating limiting the height.

Ahead along the curved part of Norfolk Crescent

L Burwood Place

L Edgware Road

Water garden in Hyde Park Estate

The huge blocks of flats around Edgware Road look ugly and the road past them is incredibly busy and noisy. But the centrepiece of the complex, a water garden between the towers, is definitely worth a closer look. It is a nice example of an upmarket development from the 1960s with a maze of concrete walkways including lots of stairs – no one bothered much about accessibility for prams and wheelchairs at the time.

 

Detail with sculpture and moss island

The walkways very often centered around a garden partly sheltered from the street noise by towers. The fashion in gardening was towards complex geometric shapes, ponds and shrubs while flowers were eschewed. Seats were seldom provided. Sculptures were very fashionable, particularly abstract shapes; I found only one rather small example in this particular garden.

R Chapel Street

EDGWARE ROAD (Circle & District lines)

Edgware Road Underground station (District & Circle lines)

The station opened in 1863 together with the line between Paddington and Farringdon via Baker Street. It is an open-air station combining the through platforms on the Hammersmith & City line with the Circle line terminus. There is a completely separate station for the Bakerloo line using the same name with no direct interchange.

Because the station is partly a terminus, the original owner, the Metropolitan Railway, built an elegant, serious station building clad in stone with a frieze of small columns, a cornice and flashy lettering in dark red contrasting with the light grey stones. It is to some extent a more modest version of the Paddington station building.

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H&C Tube line walk 2: Ladbroke Grove walk to Hammersmith

H&C Walk 2

LADBROKE GROVE walk to HAMMERSMITH

1 1/2 hours

The Hammersmith & City line was a suburban railway built by a private company in 1864 between Hammersmith and Paddington. There was already an existing train line between Paddington and Farringdon, opened as the Metropolitan Railway in 1863. Until 1990, the Hammersmith & City line was actually considered officially part of the Metropolitan line. The line was extended eastwards beyond Farringdon to Whitechapel in 1884 and to Barking in 1936. Except for a short junction curve, most of the extension uses District Line tracks.

Because of the combination with other lines, I only give a route for the Hammersmith & City line between Baker Street and Hammersmith. Between Farringdon and Baker Street, please use my Metropolitan line walk 1. Between Liverpool Street and Farringdon, please use my Circle line walk 2. Between Liverpool Street and Barking, please use my District line walks 12, 13 and 14.

Routing note: This walk connects in Ladbroke Grove with Hammersmith & City line walk 1. It connects in Hammersmith with Piccadilly line walk 7 and with District line walk 1.

LADBROKE GROVE

Ladbroke Grove Underground station

The station opened in 1864 together with the line itself and was originally called “Notting Hill”. The name was extended to “Notting Hill & Ladbroke Grove” in 1880, changed to “Ladbroke Grove (North Kensington)” in 1919 and simplified to the present version in 1938. These numerous changes were caused by confusion with Notting Hill Gate station, which is located in a completely different part of the borough. A significant part of the traffic through the station is linked to nearby Portobello Road market and there have been suggestions to change the name accordingly.

As the tracks are laid on a viaduct between Westbourne Park and Hammersmith, Ladbroke Grove is one of the stations with just a small brick shed at road level, the nice brick walls and clapboard awnings being on the raised platforms. The tracks cross the road on a bridge painted in a geometrical, colourful pattern. For some reason, this is a scheme you find in a number of locations in the area.

Exit the station and turn L (uphill) on Ladbroke Grove

R Lancaster Road

Royalty Studios -ahem

I noticed an interesting property in this road advertising itself as “Royalty Studios”. I let you guess whether they cater to royalty, are owned by royalty, are royally expensive or just royally pretentious. The building is clearly a take on American Art Déco and it is difficult to assess whether the studios are used for artistic purposes or are just penthouses for hedge fund wannabes.

At the end R Silchester Road

There is a typical late 19th century Methodist church in this street. As usual with this denomination, the building is sizeable and refers primarily to the neo-gothic style.

Methodist church in Silchester Road

L Bramley Road passing

LATIMER ROAD

Latimer Road Underground station

The station opened in 1868 when the operator of the line decided to open a junction with an other train line now known as London Overground. The junction was dismantled in 1940. The station is curiously named after a road that does not run in the close vicinity. This is because there was indeed a Latimer Road here until it got a new name later on. The Tube operators usually don’t have problems changing names when necessary so that the situation strikes odd.

There was no room for a station building as no stop had been planned originally. As a result, the only street level access is a modest door into the viaduct arch. This is actually not unusual for minor suburban railway stations and is an additional reminder that the Hammersmith & City line was not an Underground line originally.

L Whitchurch Road, the road turns R

Estate in Whitchurch Road

The garden of the estate in this road has unusually hilly landscaping. I guess it was a convenient use for World War II bombing rubbish. In any case, this is the usual origin of such parkland.

L Treadgold Street

The road passes St Clemens’, the parish church for an area called Notting Dale although this description is hardly ever used otherwise. The building dates back to 1867, at the height of neo-gothic fashion. It is not overly large and pretentious as this was more a working-class suburb. Actually, when the first priest moved here in the 1840s, it was a very bad slum with most residents being involved in raising pigs on refuse from Westminster.

St Clemen’s Notting Dale

The church tower with the clocks is rather nicely designed and it is a bit unusual for Anglican churches to have the steeple directly above the crossing of the naves. The steeple is also fully covered in shingles instead of the more usual shaft in stone.

R Sirdar Road

L Mary Place

R across Avondale Park, turn R within the park in order to exit back on Sirdar Road

Avondale Park

The park was landscaped in 1892 when the surrounding area was cleaned and prepared for development. Although close to posh Notting Hill, it had been an industrial area involved primarily in baking bricks. Part of the area was also a very large stinking pool caused by the effluent from the many pig stalls.

The park is rather nice with a mix of leafy sections, curving paths, lawns and playgrounds. The borough prides itself in having planted here a “floral lawn”, meaning that no grass at all was planted but only wild flowers. In many cases, this reverts after a few years to very few surviving species and tall grass encroaching. Wait and see.

continue on Sirdar Road

R Wilsham Street

Access to an estate in WIlsham Street

Wilsham Street is bridged here by a residential building covered in shingles. This is a highly unusual design and is very rarely done as it prevents access for lorries and for some emergency vehicles. In this case, it marks the access to an estate built in one go.

L St Ann’s Road

You are now away from the pig-raising area of Notting Dale and back into the elegant area of Notting Hill. The town houses towards the end of the road are rather interesting because they are completely different from the usual architecture of affluent areas of London in the early 19th century. No forbidding Georgian brick façades, no endless neo-classical rows of white columns. The style is here Jacobean-Tudor-Elizabethan-Medieval and I leave you to sort out the different elements.

Victorian neo-medieval town houses in St Ann’s Road

Ahead St Anns Villas

R Royal Crescent

Royal Crescent

Comparing with the houses in St Ann’s Road, you see the difference now that you have returned to the more typical style with white columns. This particular development dates back to 1839 and was clearly inspired by the Royal Crescent in Bath. But it differs in having façades painted white instead of the grey stone typical for Bath. The crescent is also broken into two sections, the reason being, there is a sewer under St Ann’s Road preventing a house from being built on that spot. As usual in Notting Hill, there is a very nice community garden at the disposal of the residents of the crescent. And as usual in Notting Hill, there is hardly ever anyone taking advantage of the private park.

Private garden for Royal Crescent

R Holland Park Avenue

Ahead across the big roundabout and over the motorway

R into the access road between the train station and the Underground station towards the shopping centre (Westfield)

Enter the mall and cross the whole length all the way to the marked exit for Wood Lane station

Westfield shopping mall from outside

The shopping centre was the largest in London when it was built in 2008 and is touted to be the largest in Europe since an extension in 2018. As the extension includes high-rise towers with luxury flats, it is a full-scale real estate speculation while the original shopping centre with its 255 stores all relating to ubiquitous high street chains was a pure shopping mall investment by an Australian developer.

 

Inside Westfield shopping centre

As I mentioned in relation with other similar locations, huge shopping centres have decidedly mixed blessings. On the one hand, they attract people to areas of London that might have been neglected for years, raising real estate values and local tax income. On the other hand, they stuff out more individual shops and attract considerable traffic problems. Their impact on society is also disputed as it may be unhealthy to equate leisure too much with shopping (instead of sports, family outings or culture).

My picture taken shortly after the 2008 opening shows a rather artificial world in glass and gold. This is typical for the mall owner, a corporation trying to attract affluent customers to upscale shops (and being criticised for being quite undiplomatic when it wants to get rid of a tenant it thinks is not glamorous enough). By the way, the name Westfield happens to be that of the original mall builder and operator, but was also quite reasonable considering the location within London.

R Wood Lane crossing under the tracks

WOOD LANE

Wood Lane Underground station

The station opened for the first time in 1908 on occasion of the summer Olympics held at a nearby stadium. The name changed to “Wood Lane (White City)” in 1920 and to “White City” in 1947. The station was then closed in 1959 after a fire because of competition from a Central Line station located not very far. The station reopened in 2008 as a contribution by the developer of the nearby shopping centre to public means of transportation in the area.

The station building is a rather flashy steel structure with a huge silvery front to the road. It is neither beautiful nor elaborate in any way and it was cheap to build, being made of prefabricated steel sheets, but it aims at making a statement by its sheer size. Very macho behaviour fitting with what you expect from a shopping center speculator.

Turn around on Wood Lane, crossing again under the tracks

R Macfarlane Road. The road turns L before crossing under the Underground line. Do not cross under the line here. The road turns L again at the end

R Hopgood Street

R Uxbridge Road

SHEPHERD’S BUSH MARKET

Shepherd’s Bush Market Underground station

The station opened in 1864 under the name Shepherd’s Bush. Although this caused confusion when the Central line opened its own Shepherd’s Bush station several hundred yards away with no interchange provided, the name was not changed. The name finally changed in 2008 because of a new train station in the vicinity also called Shepherd’s Bush.

There is no station building, just a small brick shed giving access to the staircases up the viaduct.

Entrance of Shepherd’s Bush Market

The name of the station is obviously linked to a street market. The stalls are located along the train viaduct all the way between this station and the following one (Goldhawk Road). As the ground belongs to London Transport, there are discussions to make a more profitable use of the location, for example with a real estate development combined with a shopping centre, but no decision is likely to be taken quickly. The market is catering to working class clients and to immigrant communities, so that it definitely looks different from the pretentious and soulless Westfield mall.

Turn around on Uxbridge Road (now towards central London)

Edwards Library on Uxbridge Road

You soon pass the former local public library, called the Passmore Edwards Library after the philanthropist who financed it in 1895. I was more familiar with the Carnegie libraries but Mr Edwards deserves recognition as he was very generous in the working class areas of London. Reading wholesome literature was seen as an important contribution to driving the minds of workers away from gambling, drinking, immoral pursuits and revolutionary meetings.

A new library was built in an annex to the Westfield shopping centre and the building is now used by a theatre. The architecture is late Victorian, typically combining stone and brick, but the shapes are less neo-fancy than in many cases. The bow window does remind of Jacobean palaces, the columns are Georgian and some details are Renaissance, but there is overall less bombast than in later, Edwardian buildings.

R along the edge of Shepherd’s Bush Common

Shepherd’s Bush Green

The common is officially called Shepherd’s Bush Green and is a noisy, triangular patch of grass lined by beautiful alleys of mature trees. There are a few monuments on the green but they are not particularly interesting. You do get a picture with flowers, but I had to look hard for the appropriate viewpoint. Otherwise, the common does not have formal flower beds as it is not a “park”.

The most conspicuous building along the common is a spectacular entertainment venue called “Empire”. It had to be conspicuous because it was built in 1903 as a music hall venue for an Australian impresario. It was used by the BBC as a recording studio from 1953 on but was sold in the 1990s to a corporation organising clubbing events and gigs.

Former music hall on Shepherd’s Bush Common

The architect was Frank Matcham, the best known specialist for such buildings at the time. He had an uncanny ability to build each theatre with a spectacular, individual façade that you would remember, and loved in particular towers with rounded tops. The Shepherd’s Bush tower is peculiarly fat; the red sandstone crowning has a faint Art Nouveau influence, possibly from Vienna, while the top lantern has a faintly oriental style. Taken from the vantage point of my picture, there is even a faint echo of Hundertwasser’s celebrated style, involving façades cut into irregular pieces of different shapes and constrasting colours.

Pub in an unusual colour

I also noticed a conspicuous pub belonging to an Australian group. It seems Shepherd’s Bush is an area of London particularly popular with Australian investors. The pub is noteworthy for the colour scheme of the façade. Dark green with orange highlights is the kind of flashy, constrasting scheme you see seldom. I don’t know whether this is due to a British preference for mock Tudor or to restrictions by local authorities. Strong dark colours are anyway very unusual in London, partly because they are not attractive in cloudy weather and at night.

Former film theatre on Shepherd’s Bush Common

The last building worth mentioning is a new luxury hotel at 58 Shepherd’s Bush Green. It is actually a much older building of spectacular proportions with a particularly forbidding front. The hotel operator was not allowed to make it more welcoming because it is a listed building, a former cinema. Obviously, film theatres should better not have windows and daylight inside. Many theatres in London were built in the 1930s in the Art Déco style. This particular one is slightly older and is built in the imposing but somewhat forbidding style I like to call “British Imperial”, a sort of neo-classicism popular in the 1920s and more usually encountered in public or office buildings.

R Goldhawk Road

GOLDHAWK ROAD

Goldhawk Road Underground station

The station opened in 1914 in order to spread the significant traveller outcome over two stations rather than one. The other station, Shepherd’s Bush Market, is indeed located less than 500 yards away, which is extremely close by London Underground standards.

The station was built into the arch of the viaduct, which was sensible for an already existing train line, and the only visible sign of a station is a small awning in front of the arch. This is not unusual for suburban train stations built on viaducts and the same solution was used in Cambridge Heath or Queen’s Road Peckham for example.

L Wells Road

At the end of the road, take an unmarked public footpath directly along the Underground viaduct. This footpath turns L behind a small office building

At the end R Sulgrave Road

At the end L Lena Gardens

Ahead Sterndale Road

R Dunsany Road

R Brook Green

Brook Green

The green is an elongated strip of greenery between two roads. It gives the surrounding area a pleasant feeling and this is by now a rather affluent part of the borough. In the early 20th century, it was to a large extent an industrial area and you can still see the former Osram factory, now a supermarket. The building was quite imposing with a tower crowned by a baroque copper-clad cupola because the company produced electrical lamps, a glamorous technology product at the time.

Former Osram factory on Brook Green

 

Art studios off Brook Green

Because it was an industrial area, rents were not high and artists found on occasion buildings that could be converted easily into studios. You might discover a few blue plaques around the green. What makes the green unusually pleasant is that there is only one single main road skirting it at the very end. In addition, while the northern side was built in form of terraces, the southern side has a variety of buildings of differing heights, a very pleasant environment.

L Shepherd’s Bush Road

Hammersmith library

The road passes the local library, a building well worth comparing with the Edwards Library you saw before. It was built only 10 years later (1905) but the architecture has changed from late Victorian to bombastic Edwardian. Sculptures, pediments and mock-baroque scrolls were the height of fashion and give these buildings an overloaded appearance. The building is also strictly symmetrical, something considered less important by Victorians.

At the end R for

HAMMERSMITH (H&C)

Hammersmith terminus

The terminus opened in 1864 and was relocated to the present place by a few yards in 1868. There were also through platforms on a short junction enabling trains from Paddington to continue towards Richmond, but this arrangement lasted only between 1877 and 1906 as it offered no significant advantage compared with the District Line services.

There is a completely separate Hammersmith station served by the District and Piccadilly lines. Interchange is allowed but involves a good bit of walking in order to reach the traffic lights over the busy main road.

The terminus building is a rather nice brick structure with symmetrical triangular pediments on either side of a central clock tower. The tower has mildly rounded shapes inspired by German Renaissance castles but the whole structure remains free of the decorative excess and mock-medieval frills that were very popular at the time. The proportions appear very well thought out; the building was large enough to stand out in what was still a halfway rural area, but did not go beyond the size of a reasonably large barn.

 

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H&C Tube line walk 1: Baker Street walk to Ladbroke Grove

Hammersmith & City line Walk 1

BAKER STREET walk to LADBROKE GROVE

2 1/4 hours

The Hammersmith & City line was a suburban railway built by a private company in 1864 between Hammersmith and Paddington where it joined the line from Paddington to Farringdon opened in the previous year. Until 1990, the line was actually considered officially part of the Metropolitan line. The line was extended eastwards beyond Farringdon to Whitechapel in 1884 and to Barking in 1936. Except for a short junction curve, most of the extension uses District Line tracks.

Because of the combination with other lines, I only give a route for the Hammersmith & City line between Baker Street and Hammersmith. Between Farringdon and Baker Street, please use my Metropolitan line walk 1. Between Liverpool Street and Farringdon, please use my Circle line walk 2. Between Liverpool Street and Barking, please use my District line walks 12, 13 and 14.

This walk connects obviously to numerous train and Underground walks at different interchanges. The most logical connections are with the Metropolitan line walk 1 in Baker Street as mentioned above and with the H&C walk 2 in Ladbroke Grove.

BAKER STREET

Baker Street station main access

The station opened on the first Underground railway built in the world, opened in 1863. These platforms are the ones used by the Hammersmith & City line. A terminal with a connecting curve was built for northbound Metropolitan line trains (towards Harrow) in 1868; it was called originally Baker Street East. Platforms deeper underground opened for the Bakerloo line in 1906. Finally, the Jubilee line platforms opened in 1979. Altogether, there are 10 platforms, which is the largest number for any Underground station complex in London.

The main entrance at street level is a simple arch below a big Edwardian office building clad in grey stone. The Hammersmith & City platforms are interesting because they are the best remaining example of the original arrangement from 1863. The station is actually just below street level and daylight reaches easily the platforms through numerous shafts.

Platforms from 1863

The tracks were laid in the “cut-and-cover” manner, by far the easier method at the time: you dug a deep ditch along the street, laid tracks and covered the line with a brick vault, enabling carriages to run just above the railway. Light shafts for the platforms were very convenient both in order to evacuate exhaust from the stream locomotives and to save on lighting costs at a time when lighting was only possible with explosion-prone gas lanterns.

Exit the station through the main access on Marylebone Road, cross this main road and start ahead (southwards) along Baker Street

R Bickenhall Street

Former Marylebone town hall

 

Ahead Salisbury Place

This narrow street runs along the back of the former Marylebone town hall. If you wish to have a look at the building from the front, you need to detour around the corner. The building opened as a town hall in 1920; most of it is now used by a university and a few rooms have been converted for ceremonial use. The architecture is very much “English Empire”, a heavy-handed type of oversize neo-clacissism. The tower is also typical, being a massive cube. As opposed to Art Déco that would develop in the 1930s, there is no statue, relief or sculpture on the façade.

L Upper Montagu Street

Ahead along Montagu Square

Montagu Square

This part of London is very popular with embassies. The houses around the square are part of a larger development from 1820. Interestingly, the speculator had started his career as a modest chimneysweep. “Montagu” was the name of the local landowner (Wikipedia says she took the chimneysweep as a lover) and comes originally from the Bordeaux area. Several artists and writers lived in this square in the 20th century like Ringo Starr and Anthony Trollope.

Window from the 1820s on Montagu Square

The development was considered a bit dreary when it was built as affluent patrons preferred whitewashed façades, a sign of affluence at a time when soot from chimneys was a major pollutant in London. The main point of interest is the bow windows at first floor level, some of which have decoration reminiscent of the Adam brothers.

R George Street

 

Montagu Mews

Soon after Montagu Square, you pass a dead end called Montagu Mews. It is a particularly obvious example of 19th century planning: affluent residents had horse-drawn carriages and each residence therefore needed room at the back for the horses and for the groom. Having a garden was less important as long as you had easy access to a communal garden for strolling around. Of course, mews have all been converted to apartments. They are often very expensive because you do not need to bother about upstairs neighbours or road traffic, but they are not attractive for families as combining a groom bedsit with a horse stall does not give much room overall.

Bryanston Square

George Street next crosses Bryanston Square, the slightly upmarket version of Montagu Square

R Seymour Place

L Bryanston Place

R Shouldham Street

 

 

Theatre school in a former church

The road passes what looks like an austere church building in a very traditional neo-Romanic style. It was indeed a church but was sold in 2010 to a theatre school. There were no issues with decommissioning the church as it was an evangelical church, for whom the building is much less important than the Bible healings. Cynical people might add that there is some similarity between preaching and being an actor.

L Crawford Place

 

Almshouses in Crawford Street

You pass in this street a lovely building with a neo-classical front and the inscription “The Christian Union Almshouses”. The first floor is very unusual with a gallery running behind columns along the façade like a balcony. The charity was set up in 1830 and the architecture is typical of the time. Combining brick with stone had become fashionable, particularly when cost was an issue, and the style would be re-used for public buildings like train stations for many decades.

R Edgware Road

R Old Marylebone Road

soon L Cabbell Street

Cabbell Street Mansions

The narrow street was built as the access to a stand-alone development of apartments in the late 19th century. The gables are in the neo-Renaissance style that speculators thought was popular with Queen Victoria due to her German origin. The somewhat unusual colour of the bricks was a fad that lasted for not more than a decade. The buildings are rather high for the time with six floors; this had become possible with advances in water and gas supply, but top level floors did not sell too well because climbing so many stairs everyday tends to be tiring.

EDGWARE ROAD (H&C)

Edgware Road (H&C) station

The station opened in 1863 together with the line between Paddington and Farringdon via Baker Street. It is an open-air station combining the through platforms on the Hammersmith & City line with a terminal on the Circle line (since 2009, Circle line trains from Kensington terminate here). There is a completely separate station for the Bakerloo line using the same name with no direct interchange.

Because the station is partly a terminal, the original owner, the Metropolitan Railway, built an elegant, serious station building clad in stone with a frieze of small columns, a cornice and flashy lettering in dark red contrasting with the light grey stones. The concept is similar to that of Farringdon terminal.

L Chapel Street

Hotel on Edgware Road

At the end of the street, you see on the other side of the road an impressive hotel building. The tower is a boring box from the 1960s, not surprising for an American operator, but the access block is a really intricate pile of oblique shapes. Obviously, the balconies are completely useless above an extremely busy main road, and I doubt the window panes open at all. Present architects will skip the balconies for cost reasons and replace them with tiled or otherwise contrasting materials if they need to enliven a façade.

Ahead Praed Street

At the corner with Harbet Street, take a passage half to your R under a building bearing the inscription West End Quay / Balmoral Apartments

Ahead to the head of Paddington Basin

End of Paddington Basin

The basin was used as a harbour at the end of Regent’s Canal. It opened in 1801 and was very busy with goods from the Midlands delivered into Westminster. There were many similar basins further east, particularly in Islington, while Paddington was the only one in its area. When commercial traffic disappeared, warehouses closed and the area was not converted before the 2000s. Because the basin is quite narrow, the feeling is different from schemes in Canary Wharf and Islington, reminding more of a courtyard. The office buildings as such are of no particular interest.

Paddington Basin

Walk along Paddington Basin. The better solution is the north side (keeping the water to your left).

The Basin has become well known among bridge enthusiasts for its three footbridges, two of them being unusual. One is a “curling” bridge, with individual sections being rolled into a snail shape. The bridge does not really need to be opened as there is no barge traffic nowadays, but it is rolled back regularly as a lunchtime attraction for office workers. The other interesting one opens in several thin sections that are raised at different heights, reminding people of a half-open fan. This bridge opens less often than the curling bridge.

Warehouses at the end of Paddington Basin

Cross the last footbridge, just after the basin merges into a canal and turns sharply R

From this bridge, you saw a few remaining low warehouses when I took my picture, but I think there is an office building here as well by now.

Ahead on the footpath across Paddington Station (follow the signs for the side entrance of the station if in doubt).

PADDINGTON (H&C)

Paddington Underground station

The station was the original terminus of the Metropolitan train line opened in 1863 towards Farringdon. The platforms were built in a shed on the northern side of the long distance train terminal and called originally “Paddington (Bishop’s Road)”. The line was extended to Hammersmith in the following year. As the tracks were identical to those of a suburban train line, trains ran initially over the normal train tracks beyond Paddington for a certain distance, but this arrangement proved to cause delays and congestion and separate tracks were soon provided.

War memorial in Paddington trian terminal

There is an other Paddington Underground station used by the District and Circle line towards Kensington. This second station is completely separate with no interchange and was called Paddington (Praed Street). Both Paddington stations got the present, shorter name in 1933.

As Paddington (Bishop’s Road) is primarily an annex of the main train terminal, it did not have a specific station building. My picture shows the access to Paddington (Praed Street). I also show you two pictures of the train terminal because I like them, but please refer to my Paddington network walk 1 for detailed comments.

Inside Paddington train terminal

Cross the train tracks using the footbridge above the trains.

Exit the station on the south side at the level of the taxi stand

Paddington station taxi stand

I apologise for the bad quality of my picture; I felt it is necessary in order to point out at the particularly elegant and well conceived stand. The row of columns and arches along the main station wall are clearly meant to reassure the elegant Westminster clientele about train travelling. The stand is fully covered over a lengthy section so that you do not get wet. No other main terminal has a comparably comfortable system. Train companies soon decided that such protection was a wasteful indulgence and this shows you that Paddington is indeed the oldest London terminal.

L along the taxi row, cross the higher road (Eastbourne Terrace) at the nearest traffic lights

Continue along Eastbourne Terrace for a few yards

Soon R Chilworth Street

R Gloucester Terrace, turns slowly L at the end

I did not take a picture in this road because it repeats itself over a rather long stretch. It is a typical development from the 1850s intended for moderately affluent patrons. The style imitates the posh terraces of Belgravia with neo-classical porticos and whitewashed façades but the houses are much smaller.

Continue on Gloucester Terrace, do not cross the first bridge over the tracks

R Porchester Road

Paddington Library on Porchester Road

Paddington Library at 45 Porchester Road is a solid, somewhat forbidding building. Surprisingly, it was not built for an institution projecting authority like council offices or police but was from the onset a sort of cultural centre including a library and a large concert hall. It also has Turkish baths that have not changed much since the 1920s, a rarity in London. The architecture from 1925 / 1929 echoes the British Imperial style, but the decoration above the windows and the round openings called oculi are simple versions of baroque and actually strange on a building from that period.

Baptist Church demolished in 2012

My next picture might baffle you. It shows the last building on Porchester Road before reaching the bridge over the train line and it was an interesting example of a church in the style of the late 1960s. My picture is historical, the building was demolished around 2012.

 

 

ROYAL OAK

Royal Oak Underground station

The station opened in 1871 a few years after the line itself and the name comes from a nearby pub. It was actually opened as an interchange between main line trains and the present Underground line and the arrangement lasted until 1934.

The history of the station explains why there is a substantial brick building at all. The premises have been unused for a long time and the Underground station is now just an awning and a ticket machine. The platform has a long corrugated iron awning that reminds clearly of suburban train stations.

Royal Oak road bridge

The road bridge has delightfully English colours, the steel girders being painted gaily in white, dark green and cutesy pink. The actual interesting point is the steel structure with a very large number of rivets. At the time of construction of the train line, steel was still an innovative material and was more brittle than our modern alloys, so that engineers sometimes went overboard with the number of rivets in order to convince the railway company managers that this cheap method of construction would be as safe as a traditional brick bridge.

Turn around away from the station on Porchester Road

R Westbourne Park Road

Villas in Westbourne Park Road

This road has many villas with large front courtyards. You are clearly a class above Gloucester Terrace, partly because only more affluent professionals would build a villa further away from central London and depend on owning horse carriages.

The road turns R past a church, then L and turns into a wider avenue

 

 

St Stephen’s Westbourne Park

The church is the parish church for Westbourne Park, built in 1855 together with the housing developments around it. As the congregation was expected to be wealthy businessmen (because of the warehouses on the nearby canal and of the railway attracting factories), a seriously imposing church was considered appropriate. The original plan was a typical neo-Gothic church. The building was very run down by the 1980s but was rebuilt in 1995. It has one peculiarity, the altar being at the western end of the church because of the road layout. This is only done by special dispensation of normal liturgical rules. There was an amusing incident once due to the road layout: a careless driver lost control, his car crashed the church portal and was only stopped by the altar stairs.

Estate in Westbourne Park Road

Towards the end of the road, you reach larger estates. There is a rather nice, well-kept open space between the rows of flats. Try to identify how I took the picture, this might prove not so easy.

R Great Western Road

 

 

WESTBOURNE PARK

Westbourne Park Underground station

The station opened in 1866 two years after the train line itself and was relocated by a few yards to the present location in 1871. The station also included platforms on the main train line from Paddington, like at Royal Oak, and this convenient interchange lasted from 1871 until 1992. The main line platforms were demolished in order to enable the newly built Heathrow Express Services to run at speed.

The station building is a full size suburban train station with typically Victorian brickwork and neo-Romanic arches in contrasting dark red.

Continue on Great Western Road under the motorway viaduct to the canal

Just before the canal L into Meanwhile Gardens, continue along the canal

Core of Meanwhile Gardens

This park is a narrow strip of land along the canal, landscaped in 1976 on the site of a demolished, derelict terrace. It is one the cleverest examples in London for using such an awkward layout in an interesting fashion and there are a number of interesting details to look at. A large part of the garden is managed by the local community and you should therefore not expect formal flower beds set by the borough. You will find instead a very large crocodile lurking near the playground, a surprising row of immaculate topiary along the canal towpath and a lovely wilderness pond with many wild flowers.

Meanwhile Gardens crocodile

Meanwhile Gardens topiary

Wildlife pond in Meanwhile Gardens

 

Moroccan garden in Meanwhile Gardens

At the end of the pond, there is a wooden pergola and an unusual “Moroccan garden” with a row of tiles leading to a wall fountain with appropriate Mediterranean plants growing along the path. There is only one similar scheme in London (in Burgess Park) and it has a very different layout. The garden was very well known at the start for having a large skateboard training area, something extremely innovative at the time.

L after the pond away from the canal towards Trellick Tower (see my picture)

Trellick Tower with detached service tower

The tower is a major landmark in the history of architecture and is a work by one of the best known architects of the second half of the 20th century, Ernö Goldfinger. It opened in 1972 and was the crown of the “brutalist” architecture very popular in the 1960s. This involves building in raw concrete, façade cladding being considered as some kind of falsification and inappropriate shame towards a modern, useful material. Access to the flats is through a separate tower housing the lift, linked to the hallways through bridges. This was an attempt at innovation with the service tower having a hot water tank at the top in order to save on pumping costs. The tower also included a refuse chute, something very popular in the 1970s but that was strictly rejected later on due to many people abusing the convenience to drop things that did not belong there.

Trellick Tower seen from further away

When built, the flats were much more comfortable than the old social housing they replaced. But society changed with the traditional working class jobs disappearing, causing many residents of social housing to be frustrated and jobless over many years. This in turn meant increasing risk of crime. In the case of Trellick Tower, the residents managed to agree on funding a concierge to look after the common parts and flush out illegal activities. There was a fire in the tower in 2017, but it was less serious than at nearby Grenfell Tower with the construction concept being completely different anyway.

Take Golborne Road past the tower, soon crossing over the train tracks

L Portobello Road

Portobello Green market

The road passes soon under a motorway. There is a small open space to your right and you also see the structure of the daily street market held here. I don’t really like buying produce or poultry that has been exposed for a few hours to the exhaust fumes from the motorway running directly along the market stalls. Do you ?

 

 

 

Pub in Portobello Road

Portobello Road is often described as a major tourist attraction, partly because of romantic films. Actually, I think it is more an attraction for London residents having a weekend stroll. There is a very well-known street market on Saturdays where traders sell knick-knack, antiques and curios. The rest of the week, you can still have a leisurely shopping stroll through dozens of boutiques selling everything from second-hand clothes to decoration items. I don’t remember seeing much handicraft, you find this rather in Greenwich or Camden Town, where I would indeed rather send foreign tourists.

 

 

Colourful houses in Portobello Road

Portobello Road is also quite enjoyable to walk through because it is an old church path. As such, it is not a straight, boring road, and the houses on both sides have a variety of details instead of a standardised terrace style. In recent years, traders have started to paint some of the houses in pastel colours, something rarely done in Britain because of the brick walls but a sensible import inspired by European town landscapes from Italy to Bavaria and Bohemia.

Film theatre in Portobello Road

At 191 Portobello Road, you can see the baby blue front of the Electric Cinema. It is a historical building, one of the very oldest cinemas in the whole of Britain, opened in 1910 when films were still an extremely unusual novelty. Like many smaller venues, it was often on the verge of liquidation from the 1970s on, but a developper managed to turn it into a successful venue showing unusual films in a historical ambiance. Tickets are suitably priced for rich intellectuals from Notting Hill. When it was built, there was no tradition of architecture for film theatres and the architect chose a very fanciful mix of baroque scrolls, classical columns and exotic dome, the kind of strange combination that appealed to the more traditional public in Edwardian times.

Florist in an interesting building

Towards the top of Portobello Road, you cross Westbourne Grove. If you fancy a short detour, turn L for one block in order to see a rather unusual florist shop in a low brick building painted a delightful turquoise. The shop also an interesting awning in the shape of a rounded fan, reminding me of French Art Nouveau. You can also look at the clock on the side of the shop, a modern design that fits surprisingly well. Come back to Portobello Road afterwards.

R Chepstow Villas

L Kensington Park Road

Estate in Kensington Park Road

The properties in this road are not typical terraces, rather large estates from the 1930s. The one on my picture was interesting for the unusually elaborate brick fence.

R Ladbroke Square

R Ladbroke Grove

 

Typical Notting Hill terrace

This long, wide road crosses a rather bland, elegant part of town with neo-classical terraces overlooking private strips of greenery. The whole area was part of a large country estate that belonged to Mr Ladbroke. His uncle had bequeathed him the land with the proviso that buildings could only have a lease of 21 years, which more or less precluded development. Mr Ladbroke managed to have Parliament issue an Act for his benefit changing the rule to 99 years. The core of the development dates back to the late 1820s, with additions in the 1840s after an intermediary period of economic uncertainty. The style is therefore very typically neo-classical, as was usual at the time. These streets are always as boring to walk through as they are pleasant to live in because of the long, repeated, straight alignments.

LADBROKE GROVE

Ladbroke Grove Underground station

The station opened in 1864 together with the line itself and was originally called “Notting Hill”. The name was extended to “Notting Hill & Ladbroke Grove” in 1880, changed to “Ladbroke Grove (North Kensington)” in 1919 and simplified to the present version in 1938. These numerous changes were caused by confusion with Notting Hill Gate station, which is located in a completely different part of the borough. A significant part of the traffic through the station is linked to nearby Portobello Road market and there have been suggestions to change the name accordingly.

As the tracks are laid on a viaduct between Westbourne Park and Hammersmith, Ladbroke Grove is one of the stations with just a small brick shed at road level, the nice brick walls and clapboard awnings being on the raised platforms. The tracks cross the road on a bridge painted in a geometrical, colourful pattern. For some reason, this is a scheme you find in a number of locations in the area.

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