Central Tube line walk 4: Hanger Lane walk to Northolt

Walk 4
HANGER LANE walk to NORTHOLT
2 3/4 hours

This line was originally a railway line opened in 1906 and was converted to a branch of the Central Line in 1947.

Routing note: The obvious connections are in Hanger Lane to Central Line walk 3 and in Northolt to Central Line walk 5. An other convenient connection considering the way I wrote the description is in Greenford with Paddington network walk 2 (coming from Ealing Broadway).

Several sections of my route are away from roads and therefore not signposted in a consistent manner. You cannot really get lost but you might feel more comfortable checking on an area map when in doubt. Alternatively, Transport for London has a convenient free map (Local Cycling Guide 6).

HANGER LANE

Hanger Lane Underground station

The original station was a stop on the train line from Paddington to Ruislip, opened in 1904 under the name Twyford Abbey. That station closed already in 1911 because a new station called Brentham had been opened not far away. Brentham closed in 1947 when the train line was converted to a Central Line branch and a new station was built in the present location.

The station has a peculiar layout. The idea was to open a station near the major interchange between the North Circular Road and the Western Motorway. Architects came upon the idea of building the motorway interchange on pillars exactly above the Underground tracks, with the station being in the middle of the interchange. This enabled exits to all directions from the central stairwell using subways under the motorways.

Because it is obviously quite dark under a motorway interchange, the central reservation of the interchange was used as a “light well”. The drum-like structure has no actual use at ground level and is full of glass panels lightening the ticket hall that is underneath. The simple cylindrical shape is very much an Art Déco design from the late 1930s but cost issues in 1947 led to using concrete rather than bricks as would have been popular before World War II. It seems the architects retained the option of a ground level access with a porch but traffic made this redundant.

Exit the station into Hanger Lane on the south side of the tracks and of the motorway (look at the area map in the station to take the appropriate subway !)
Very soon R Brunswick Road
L Sandall Road
L footpath across Hanger Hill Park

(Fox Lane -the footpath- is not marked, but starts just opposite Clarendon Road and the start of the footpath is where my picture is taken).

Clarendon Road from Fox Lane

Seen from here, Clarendon Road gives you a feeling for the lay of the land. It slopes downwards to the river Brent, which you will reach later on. The road is very much a development from the 1930s with the so popular mock Tudor house eaves. What is conspicuous though is the width of the central reservation, a very pleasant feature for residents when looking through their windows and a proof of affluence considering the price of the ground.

Hanger Hill Park


The footpath runs on the border between a public golf course and small Fox Wood. This is a pleasantly hilly area that goes back to the park of the local mansion, built in 1790 and converted into a golf course clubhouse in the 1930s. The rest of the estate was developed into a mock Tudor garden suburb in a style similar to Clarendon Road. The borough negotiated quite efficiently with the ground owner back in 1907, demanding a piece of land in exchange for allowing drainage of the areas that were to be developed. The piece of land was then converted in part to a small suburban open space, the actual Hanger Hill Park. It had no flower beds, just a bit of shrubbery and a few banks.

Fox Wood reservoir tower

The conspicuous and somewhat strange cubic tower in the background is a water reservoir linked to the development of the suburb. The reservoir had already opened in 1888 taking advantage of the high ground and was decommissioned in 1943. Modern water tanks are in plain concrete, but Victorians built in bricks and this material was well suited to vertical shapes like on the tower, giving a fashionable hint of medieval castles.

at the end R Hillcrest Road
When the road turns L, stay ahead on the footpath and cycle route (a blue sign shows “Greenford”)
The footpath turns slightly L as Augusta Walk parallel to Mount Avenue
At the end of the footpath R towards the estate, then L for a few yards and very soon R again into Brentham Way

Brentham Garden Suburb


You are crossing now a conservation area that is considered one of the most important testimonies to the garden suburb movement in London. More than 80% of the houses in the area were designed by two architects according to an urban master plan that paid much attention to avoiding straight roads with identical terraces. Roads were to follow the hill contour, giving variety while walking through the area, and houses were to have interesting views from the windows.

Brentham Garden Suburb


The first architect (Frederic Cavendish Pearson) designed between 1907 and 1911 no less than 135 houses. You will see some of them at the start of Brentham Way and later on in Meadvale Road. He was very young (24 in 1907) and was enthusiastic about the Arts & Crafts movement. You will notice this if you look at construction details, one-off details that only experienced craftsmen can build being a hallmark of this artistic movement. One typical design element he liked was unusual room shapes. The house at the corner of Brentham Way with Fowler’s Walk is a good example of a complex roof shape by Pearson.

The second architect (George Lister Sutcliffe) was a more sedate personality and rationalised planning by keeping to a limited number of simpler shapes, but he was careful in varying them in order to avoid any feeling of monotony. My pictures show mostly designs by him.

The road turns R and soon again L
At the end L Brunswick Road
Very soon R Neville Road
At the end L Meadvale Road

Brentham Clubhouse

After passing a set of houses, the road leads past Brentham Club with a conspicuous brick tower. There is a particularly complex roof detail at the uppermost level and it was indeed built in 1911 on designs by architect Pearson. The club is a rather unusual institution for London: it is not particularly exclusive and rather affordable, but it does enable members to practice sports within the community of members unlike public facilities. Brentham Garden Suburb was built by a sort of cooperative society and the club is a logical expression of this collective feeling of belonging. Urban development cooperatives have nearly fully disappeared after World War II but there a few recent examples usually led by an attempt to develop “ecologically aware” suburbs (or just blocks of flats in many cases).

After house nr. 128 R into Pitshanger Park
Walk towards the river and follow the river downstream. The footpath passes tennis courts and ends near a bowling ground

Pitshanger Park

Pitshanger Park is an open space landscaped on former farmland. The borough bought it in 1905 (with additional purchases in 1913) in order to supply a public park with sports amenities to the new suburb of Brentham. There was no intention to provide a formal town park so far away from the central part of the borough of Ealing and the land was also not well suited because it was prone to flooding by the river Brent. It is actually one of very few parks in London along a naturally flowing river and is therefore also an important nature feature. The other bank of the river is protected as well though indirectly as it is a private golf course.

R across the golf course on the public footpath and cycle route

Public footpath across Ealing Golf Course

The footpath is well shielded from errant golf balls. The golf course was landscaped in 1898 and was improved by celebrity course architect Harry Colt in 1940 because of the disruption caused by motorway construction at the edge of the property. It is now one of the more reputed courses in London. You don’t see much of the golf course actually because of the nice mature hedges but you do get a view when you cross the river Brent.

Ealinf Golf Course in the background

Ahead past the church into Old Church Lane

Former church of St Mary’s Perivale

St Mary’s Perivale is a medieval church with some features from the 15th century. It was partly rebuilt in Victorian times and deconsecrated in 1972 as it was in an inconvenient location for parishioners. To some extent, it was essentially the private church of the local manor. It is now used for artistic performances, particularly concerts. Because of its present use, you usually cannot have a look inside.

Ahead across the motorway using the footbridge

Motorway pub and hotel

From the footbridge, you overlook very contrasted buildings on the southern side of the motorway. On the central London (right-hand) side, you have a hotel and pub that do look very different than what you expect from a motorway motel. My picture taken several years ago shows a more interesting style than recent ones. The greenery and the colour contrast were very nice.


On the outer London (left-hand) side, you have an aluminum carriage converted into a diner. The owner clearly played the card of 1950s nostalgia and Hollywood teenager films. This being said, aluminum was the epitome of modernity in the 1930s. It was used for seriously prestigious purposes like important corporate buildings or fast long-distance trains.

Diner in an aluminum carriage

The Underground station will be on Horsenden Lane South as a clear blue signpost says.
After a few yards along this road, you reach Dawlish Avenue. I suggest a detour R to the end of this road. You can come back afterwards and walk the short missing link to the station.

Art Déco factory converted into luxury flats

The detour is advisable despite the somewhat dreary terraces along Dawlish Road because it leads to one of the most impressive commercial Art Déco buildings in London, the former Hoover factory and headquarters. The buildings are deservedly listed and have been preserved through conversion to modern use. The office building is now divided into luxury flats and the factory was converted somewhat less sympathetically to a supermarket.

Walking around the two buildings, you will recognise easily typical Art Déco features including the use of whitewashed concrete, the huge glass surface (particularly on the front along the motorway), the interplay of vertical and horizontal lines and the one-off lettering. On commercial buildings, it was less usual to use decorative reliefs because they would get too dirty, but colour schemes using contrasts and pastel colours were popular and the Hoover building fits perfectly with oxblood red and mint green. This might remind you of American or New Zealand Art Déco.

Back entrance of the factory converted to a supermarket

The architects also resorted to typical ornaments from the 1930s such as sunburst rays, particularly impressive above the supermarket entrance porch. There is a taller version of it above the former central entrance of the office building, but it is less conspicuous seen from the road. The small towers either side of the supermarket porch are less usual in Britain, they may refer to Florida and California Art Déco where motives from the spanish colonial period were very fashionable.

Typical sunburst motive

I also give you details of the canopy that links the parking spaces with the supermarket. The pillars and the lights are typical of the style.

Typical Art Déco lights
Former Hover headquarters

When you walk back towards Dawlish Road, you walk past a separate Art Déco building that is also worth a look. It is the former office building and the two narrower fronts are very good examples of English Art Déco with a protruding central column clearly reminiscent of the prow of a ship, a very popular design when everyone had fantasies of taking a steamship to the colonies. Also typical is the use of rounded shapes to soften the horizontal lines as the vertical lines are less conspicuous in this elongated building.

Pineapple building

On the other side of Bideford Avenue, the building on the corner with the motorway is a much more modest structure as it was a shopping parade. It does have a hint of Art Déco with the decorative pineapples above the windows. Otherwise, it does not use the (expensive) band of windows all around and it also makes no pretence of using such a modern material like concrete. The stone joinery actually reminds me a little of some Underground stations (Farringdon for example).

When you come back to Horsenden Lane South, walk north away from the motorway.

Ealing Central Sports Ground

You walk along sizeable Ealing Central Sports Grounds, a facility operated by the borough. It has a very impressive central pavilion I suspect was originally a local mansion. The name of the sports fields is completely inappropriate as it is difficult to be less central than here when thinking of Ealing.

PERIVALE

Perivale Underground station

There was a station on the train line here as early as 1903, converted to an Underground station in 1947.

The station building is quite imposing but less so than what the architect had in mind. The design was originally done in 1938 and this explains the beautiful Art Déco shapes. It may remind you of stations built on the Piccadilly Line in the late 1930s although the architect was the one working for the railway company rather than the one working for the Underground.

He used a similar scheme with reddish bricks, a sweeping geometric shape and very large glass panels aiming to let daylight enter the building as this was seen as healthier apart from being cheaper than artificial lighting. The original design was reviewed and pared down in 1947 for cost reasons so that the station does not include a tower that would have made it even more similar to Piccadilly Line stations like Osterley. The building is still deservedly listed.

Continue up Horsenden Lane South until you reach a bridge over a canal. Go down to the towpath before crossing the canal.

Before reaching the bridge, you walk past a local recreation ground quaintly named Horsenden Lower Thrifts Field. It has a rather nice playground built mostly of wood, which is in line with the local landscape.

Horsenden Lane bridge

The road bridge itself has a nice shape seen from the canal towpath. The humpback shape clearly shows that it is quite old, from a time when steel girders had not yet been invented and when you needed an arch to lead the weight gently to the bridge pillars.

L on the canal towpath until you reach a footbridge

View of Horsenden Hill

The canal runs between large green spaces. The northern bank is part of Horsenden Hill, a very sizeable set of open spaces. Most is not open to the public because of golf courses but the section you are walking along is. There is an opening through the trees at one spot enabling you to look towards the summit of the hill. It is indeed quite high, rising up to an exciting 85 m above sea level.

Grand Union Canal


The canal is the suburban section of the Grand Union Canal (Paddington Branch). The main canal linked the industrial Midlands with the export harbour in London via Brentford and was opened in stages around 1800. It was obvious that a canal arm linking the Midlands with the expanding industrial areas around Paddington and Acton was sensible and it is the section you walk along. Except for Paddington itself, the canal ran through very rural areas at the time and this is the feeling you actually still have nowadays in this particular section.

Berkeley Fields
Berkeley Fields footbridge


The footbridge you reach next indeed links two nature reserves. The footbridge itself is not uninteresting as it is wooden. Obviously, wood beams are not available in the necessary length and the structure used to stabilise the wooden arch is very elegant. You can note how the wood is curved, which is obviously not natural (it is achieved by forcing it into a curve under damp). By being anchored at both ends, it tenses upwards and ensures that the actual bridge is well supported.

Paradise FIelds Nature Reserve


L on the footpath across Paradise Fields Nature Reserve (do not cross the canal)

Path along the shopping centre

From the end of the cycle path, you can see the tracks on a viaduct.
Follow the cycle path towards the viaduct along the main road (Greenford Road). It uses a convenient subway under a first road and runs along a strip of greenery at the back of a shopping centre.

When you reach a set of lights shortly before the train bridge
R Rockware Avenue
At the end of the road, the station is on a short detour L taking the underpass

GREENFORD

Greenford Underground station

The station opened originally as a train junction in 1904 enabling travellers to take trains to Acton, to Ruislip or to Ealing. Trains could also run on a loop between Greenford, Acton and Ealing in order to offer a more convenient interchange for a large exhibition held in the Park Royal area. The Ealing line is still operated as a minor suburban train line while the more important train line between Acton and Ruislip was converted to the present Underground Central line in 1947.

The station building was designed by the same architects than in Perivale at the same time but the result is less convincing. Because the viaduct towers quite high above the station entrance, the architect just clad a pillar of the viaduct with bricks in order to integrate the look better with that of the station. As a result, it is not a tower than aims at making a statement. In addition, he chose to mix a bit of Art Déco brickwork from the original 1938 design with a plain post-War concrete box and the result is not very exciting.

R (assuming you did not cross under the tracks) into Oldfield Lane North. There is no road sign but there is a blue cycling sign saying “South Harrow”.
When you reach the canal again, L on the canal towpath

Grand Union Canal

This is the same canal you walked along earlier, you just left it for the detour to the station. But it has a very different aspect by now, being lined in most places by industrial premises. This is actually the way most of the canal looked like for most of the 20th century. I happened to be there on a rather unusual occasion when the canal was frozen solid (look at the photographer squatting on the ice) and I am quite happy about it as it made the landscape more interesting.

Walking on ice

The towpath crosses under the tracks, turns slowly L and passes a mosque

Northold mosque

The mosque was a flagship project for the Muslim community and was completed as recently as 2010. It is quite interesting in terms of architecture. Typical London residents might not be well informed about the different architectural traditions for mosques. I’ll try to comment but please feel free to correct my mistakes as I am not a specialist either. This particular mosque clearly does not look ottoman (it has no dome and no pencil-like minarets), nor traditional arabic (it does not remind of a castle in the desert with towers on the corners), nor mughal (little outside decoration), nor iranian (no use of glazed tiles). It is inspired by Northern African tradition, particularly where the tower is concerned. The shape slightly reminiscent of a large town building and the earthen colour of the walls are also quite traditional for mosques in large cities in the Maghreb.

At the following footbridge R across the canal

Entrance porch in the Fatimid style

The Egyptian (Fatimid) influence is more clear when you reach the main entrance porch. The arch has a pointed shape reminiscent of a reverted ship’s keel, the idea for which was more logical in Egypt than it might have been in Syria or Arabia. Large-sized inscriptions on the main porch are also more commonly found in Egypt.

Ahead into Belvue Park, climb towards the church

Belvue Park

The grounds for the park were bought by the borough in 1936 in order to prevent development on the hilltop too close to the historical parish church. In addition, the purchase protected the site of the medieval manor of Northolt, recognisable by the set of former moats and a number of ground features. This proved prescient as excavations undertaken by archaelogists in the 1960s yielded evidence of a Saxon settlement, of which there are few in London. The park itself is a plain open space but there are interesting interpretation panels about the history of the manor.

Northolt parish church

The parish church is pretty much at the top of the hill but has no high tower and would be lower than the manor tower. This was understood until the 13th century as a sign that the church had been founded by the lord of the manor and that he had rights about who could be named as the local vicar (the “advowson right”). In medieval times, this was a very important right as you would want the local priest not to excite the parishioners against the local lord – you might also want to ensure your third or fourth son a position as the local priest if you did not have enough land to share among all your sons. You may understand that the Church did not like this right very much and managed to replace it with other procedures in Europe by the 15th century. Not so in England where some manor lords still insisted on making use of their advowson right until the early 19th century.

The church has parts from the 13th century but is a mix of parts added over the centuries and it is usually closed.

Walk past the church and down the hill

Formal garden in Belvue Park

This part of Belvue Park along the small brook is closer to the centre of the suburb and features a few pleasant flower beds. It is actually a rather good display for what feels like a half-rural location and the palm trees are among the most impressive I have seen in London parks.

R along the brook Ealing Road

Northolt Green

Despite the serious name, this is a quiet road along the brook with rather nice bungalows overlooking the greenery. Taking into account the proximity of the Underground station, I would decidedly find the location quite agreeable.

When the road leaves the brook, continue on the road

Northolt Clock Tower

You walk along the suburb green until you reach the local landmark, a clock tower. Many suburbs built one around 1900 on the occasion of the one or other Queen Victoria jubilee, but Northolt was still a small village at that time. The local authorities started to discuss some kind of local landmark when the population had risen significantly due to urban development and decided in 1938 that a clock tower would be the right thing. Some observers probably considered this as a bit backward, particularly with such a traditional design, but it is indeed a lovely local landmark.

The clock maker maximised profit by finding a second local authority willing to buy an exact copy of the clock (in Hanwell). There is no Art Déco influence here, what you do get is a lovely wind pane with a sailing ship. Exactly what you would expect from a suburb located high on a hill and which was better known for its aerodrome than for any harbour.

At the end R along the main road for

NORTHOLT

Northolt Underground station

The station was originally a modest rural halt on the 1907 train line and was accordingly called modestly Northolt Halt. Later on, real estate development in the area induced a change to a grander “Northolt (for West End) Halt” but this was indeed cumbersome and was simplified to plain Northolt on the occasion of the conversion to the Central Line in 1947.

The station building is a rather plain box using post-War yellowish bricks. There are no signs that a design from 1938 might have been used as has been the case in Perivale and Greenford.

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Central Tube line walk 3: Ealing Broadway walk to Hanger Lane

Walk 3
EALING BROADWAY walk to NORTH ACTON then to HANGER LANE
1 3/4 hours

The section between Ealing Broadway and North Acton is originally a suburban train line built in order to link the Central Line with existing train lines. It opened in 1920 and was converted to a Central Line branch in 1938. The section between North Acton and Hanger Lane was part of a suburban railway line opened in 1906 and was converted to a branch of the Central Line in 1947.

Routing note: The obvious connections are in North Acton to Central Line walk 2 (coming from Shepherd’s Bush instead of Ealing Broadway) and in Hanger Lane to Central Line walk 4. An other convenient connection considering the way I wrote the description is in Ealing Broadway with District line walk 2.

My description may sound slightly confusing in places when you read it but will make sense on the ground. Although most roads have signs, some crossroads are so wide that you hesitate about the right direction if you do not know where to look.

EALING BROADWAY

Ealing Broadway Underground and train station

The station opened as “Ealing” on a train line from London Paddington in 1838 and was renamed in 1875. The line towards Hammersmith now operated as a District Line branch opened in 1879. There were separate tracks and station buildings because the new line belonged to an other company but connections were possible.

An additional junction opened in 1920 enabling services towards Shepherd’s Bush on a line that was converted into the Underground Central line branch in 1938. There was no separate station for this junction and it used the main line facilities.

The original station building for the main train line was demolished in 1961 and the new ticket office was integrated into the ground level of an office building. It is an ugly concrete tower that is quite typical of the time, when commercial interests wanted fast, cheap construction. Boroughs did not object because concrete towers were well accepted as a proof of being modern and embracing the American way of doing business.

Exit the station and turn R along the edge of the green

Haven Green

Haven Green was originally a common at the junction of several important tracks and was used among others for grazing cattle from the Thames valley meadows that was to be sold in London. It was far enough from the old village of Ealing that the constant stream of cattle drovers was not too disturbing. The green is now a busy green space with a few mature trees and modest but nice flower beds in season.

Mock-Tudor pub on Haven Green


There is a rather amusing example of a mock-medieval building near the roundabout at the end of the green. In the 1930s, many developments were built with some measure of mock-Tudor appearances including in particular dark wooden beams and whitewashed walls. Pubs had already been using the style for longer and I suppose customers are attracted to a pub that looks old. In most cases, the building is quite recent although there has occasionally been an inn in the vicinity before. In this particular case, the turret with the pointed roof is built in very Victorian bricks.

soon R Madeley Road

Houses in Madeley Road

The road is lined in part with houses from 1888. The developer went for a very popular style in late Victorian times, using bricks with a highlight in a contrasting colour. The designer did go a little overboard with the red paint in this case.

ahead Queens Road


Keep on the left side of the road in order not to walk up to the bridge. The lower road is called Station Road


before the bridge over the tracks L in Boileau Road

Development in Boileau Road


This development is clearly newer than the one in Madeley Road. Clients continued to be attracted in the 1930s to bow windows and to the traditional layout of houses, but the intricate shapes of columns, balustrades and gables used in Victorian times have been replaced by much more standardised triangles and industrially produced windows.

at the end R Hanger Vale Lane crossing the tracks and then a roundabout

Roman Catholic church on Hanger Vale Lane

I noticed a small contemporary church on this road. The church does not advertise outside what denomination it belongs to but “Holy Family” is usually Roman Catholic reference. The building was probably considered daringly innovative in the 1970s with its large metallic roof. There are no windows in the walls, just a band at roof level. Either the church had a very tight budget, or it considers that worshippers should concentrate on the service and not on pleasant sunlight outside. You might argue that mosques also never have windows in the walls, but this reflects probably the fact that the muslim faith started in a hot desert environment where shutting out daylight helped keep the building cooler.

at the end R Princes Gardens

Princes Gardens in Hanger Hill Estate

You are now in the core of a particularly pleasant suburb, Hanger Hill Estate. It was developed between 1928 and 1936 on the basis of a single master plan designed by two architects and this explains why all houses are similar. They were obviously fully aware of the garden suburb movement, including many green spaces and rows of fine trees between the houses. There is even a mini-green with a pond.

Hanger Vale Estate

Because Acton was a moderately attractive suburb at the time, demand did not justify houses taller than three stories and this combined with the width of the streets gives a strong feeling of space and greenery. The houses are all in mock Tudor style (more elegantly called “Tudor revival”) but the smaller villas (as opposed to apartment buildings) have surprisingly large and steep roofs. This is probably meant to give a feeling of being in the countryside rather than in a suburb.

But such roofs are more expensive to maintain and use of the ground space is not maximised, so that they are also a sign that you are in a suburb catering to reasonably affluent middle class clients. I give you several examples to show that there was actually a reasonable variety of properties in this development, expressed in buildings looking quite varied. This is unusual for developments because it makes planning more cumbersome and more expensive for the speculators, so that you would rather expect variety to be at the urban planning level (as when you plan a new town) than at the individual neighbourhood level.


If you are familiar with French suburbs, you will remember that French neighbourhoods nearly always have a large variety. This is because the ground owner sells the ground in small lots to all buyers separately, who can implement their personal wishes afterwards, while most ground in London suburbs came in large farming estates sold in one go to a single developer.

at the end L across the tracks past

WEST ACTON

West Acton Underground station

The station opened in 1923 on the suburban train line that linked Shepherd’s Bush and Ealing Broadway since 1920. The line was converted to a branch of the Central Line in 1938.

The original station building was demolished on the occasion of the Central Line conversion. The replacement building is now a listed monument as a typical late Art Déco design completed in 1940. It remains faithful to core considerations of architects of that period: avoiding fussy decoration, playing with straightforward geometric shapes, including large glass panels in order to let daylight into the building. In comparison with Underground stations designed in the early 1930s, it is much more simple, probably because worries about the war made fancy designs unpopular. An other reason is that the design is by the architect of a railway company, who was used to keep costs very much in mind. London Underground architects had more freedom because their designs were seen as important urban landmarks in new suburbs.

half L Noel Road
L diagonally across North Acton Playing Fiels towards the NE corner

North Acton Playing Fields

This is a somewhat bleak open space. It has a perfectly square shape, so that it was probably set aside on the drawing bench when the suburb was planned. It remained a sort of “orphan” park because it is far from lively shopping areas, not very well served by public transportation and located in a low density suburb. It will be convenient to kick a football around and has a small community centre but has otherwise no particular attractions.

half R Allan Way (there is no road sign here but it is the only road at this corner of the park that has no sign, so you cannot get lost as long as you avoid all roads with other names !)
ahead using the subway under the motorway
ahead on the footpath away from the motorway
R Park Royal Road
soon L into the cemetery

Acton cemetery

The borough of Acton needed a new cemetery in 1895 because of the rising population and bought a tract of land between train lines and industrial premises, taking advantage of the fact that such land is not very attractive and therefore quite cheap. It has a large chapel with a cute little turret, but the borough did not spend much money on planting and the cemetery would really be nicer with more mature trees. Later administrators realised that the cemetery was a little sad and added a nice little garden of remembrance with a rather well planned mix of shrubs and flowers.

Garden of remembrance in Action Cemetery

Cross the tracks using the footbridge within the cemetery

To go to North Acton station, proceed as follow. You will need to come back to the cemetery afterwards.
Turn R within the cemetery after the footbridge and exit the grounds
R across the tracks on Chase Road
after the bridge next L (still Chase Road) to

NORTH ACTON

North Acton Underground station

The station was originally a train station opened in 1906 on a railway from London Paddington to Ruislip. The idea was to provide a new access to London for trains from the Midlands. The station had little success in an area with few residential units and closed already in 1913. In 1920, the Central Line opened an extension between Shepherd’s Bush and Ealing Broadway and a station was opened in North Acton in 1923. The junction between the Central Line and the old train line was reopened in 1947, enabling the Central Line to run also towards Ruislip.

The station building looks like a modest suburban train station and is probably a 1923 design. The train company who originally suggested the extension of the Central Line did not expect much traffic and was not interested in an impressive building. Traffic only picked up later due to new industrial activities in the vicinity. My second picture gives you a fair impression of how North Acton probably looked like when it was just a rural station on a suburban train line.

Walk back towards the cemetery crossing the tracks
L on the footpath along the tracks (follow the small sign for “Park Royal station”)
at the end up the stairs and R on Park Royal Road
Keep on this road until you find the cycling sign for Hanger Lane station (still 1 1/4 m away)
L Coronation Road

Office building off Coronation Road

Both Park Royal Road and Coronation Road are not exactly exciting walking landscapes. I was unable to find a good alternative for a simple reason, the Park Royal area was a major industrial part of London until the 1960s and is still mainly devoted to commercial and light industrial purposes.

When you reach a first large roundabout, keep L on what is still Coronation Road
At the second (larger) roundabout, continue ahead on Lakeside Drive
When the road starts to turn R, continue ahead on the paved footpath that runs in the strip of greenery between the road and the Underground tracks.

West Twyford Park

This open space does not seem to have an official name although it has clearly been developed as a park. I have seen it called inofficially West Twyford Park. I think it was planned as a contribution by developers for being allowed to build several large towers nearby. Some of those have flats but the borough actually planned this area rather for business and commercial use. You are just skirting the western end of it. It was originally a large field used for a few years as showgrounds for the Royal Agricultural Society (therefore the name Park Royal) but was soon sold to factories.

Future park

The park is still young and trees will look very different when they mature but you can already get a feeling. Construction rubbish was used to create hills that also shield the park from the Underground line and its associated noise. In line with fashion in the late 2000s, the planting is mostly ornamental grasses in several shades but no flower beds as these cause high maintenance costs boroughs are keen on avoiding. As parks go, you can never forget that it is just a strip of land between the Underground and the towers. But it will still be convenient for walking your dog or have a short pause away from the office at lunchtime.

At the end L under the tracks on Twyford Abbey Road
At the end L along the dual carriageway until you find the subway for

HANGER LANE

Hanger Lane Underground station

The original station was a stop on the train line from Paddington to Ruislip, opened in 1904 under the name Twyford Abbey. That station closed already in 1911 because a new station called Brentham had been opened not far away. Brentham closed in 1947 when the train line was converted to a Central Line branch and a new station was built in the present location.

The station has a peculiar layout. The idea was to open a station near the major interchange between the North Circular Road and the Western Motorway. Architects came upon the idea of building the motorway interchange on pillars exactly above the Underground tracks, with the station being in the middle of the interchange. This enabled exits to all directions from the central stairwell using subways under the motorways.

Because it is obviously quite dark under a motorway interchange, the central reservation of the interchange was used as a “light well”. The drum-like structure has no actual use at ground level and is full of glass panels lightening the ticket hall that is underneath. The simple cylindrical shape is very much an Art Déco design from the late 1930s but cost issues in 1947 led to using concrete rather than bricks as would have been popular before World War II. It seems the architects retained the option of a ground level access with a porch but traffic made this redundant.

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Central Tube line walk 2: Holland Park walk to North Acton

Walk 2
HOLLAND PARK walk to NORTH ACTON
2 3/4 hours

The original Central line opened in 1900 and ran from central London to Shepherd’s Bush. It was extended towards Ealing Broadway via North Acton in 1920.

Routing note: This walk connects in Holland Park to Central line walk 1 and in North Acton to Central line walk 3. It also connects in Shepherd’s Bush to Overground network walk 8.

Unfortunately, there are several locations on this walk where road and footpath signs are either missing or difficult to spot. I suggest you use a map (such as the Transport for London Local Cycling Guide 6 available for free) or check on your smartphone whenever in doubt. This inconvenience is compensated by the fact that you will be crossing a remarkable variety of urban environments.

Please do not copy the pictures from this entry without my prior consent. I am allowed to post them but some of them are by other persons and their rights are reserved. Thank you.

HOLLAND PARK

The station opened in 1900 together with the Underground line.

The station building is the original design by architect Harry Bell Measures who used a wall covering in cream tiles on several stations. The decoration is moderate considering the design of many buildings of the same period. Looking at the building, it is easy to imagine that it was actually planned as the ground floor of an office building, but no investor was found in this residential area and the Underground company was stuck with a flat corner building. The steel drum at the back of the building houses the lift machinery. Many stations have such a machine room but it is seldom visible and this one is particular well proportioned.

Exit the station and walk R downhill on Holland Park Avenue
L Holland Park (a road)

The road is a development from the 1870s with exquisite town houses, one of which is an embassy. The houses were meant for one seriously affluent family each and are optically detached from the neighbouring houses. In Belgravia and much of Notting Hill, houses have neo-classical porches on columns while this particular development chose more modern cast-iron porches.

Ahead Abbotsbury Road
L into Holland Park

The park is a major attraction and probably one of the most beautiful and varied parks you can visit in London. It is set in the grounds of the former mansion of Holland Park, bought by the borough in 1952 after World War II had heavily damaged the main building. I suggest touring the grounds walking broadly clockwise around them, but you might obviously wish to concentrate on specific areas you are more interested in and the park maps will help you to do so. You might also have a look at the well written overview under following link: https://www.parksandgardens.org/places/holland-park

Sundial in Holland Park

After the initial climb away from the D-shaped entrance garden, you get a choice of several paths to your left. The first one (the Chestnut Walk) crosses a wooded part of the estate and leads to a “sun garden” landscaped in 1988 with a particular consideration paid to handicapped visitors. The second path is the Lime Tree Walk and leads directly to a pond I will mention later. The third path leads to the Kyoto and Fukushima gardens and is the one I recommend taking to begin with.

Kyoto Garden in Holland Park


The two gardens have an obviously Japanese name. The Kyoto garden was financed by the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce in 1991 to commemorate a Festival of Japan held in London. The Fukushima garden was financed by donations in commemoration of assistance to the victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.


You may be aware that there are as many styles of Japanese gardening as there are styles of landscaping in England. The style chosen for the Kyoto garden is inspired by 19th century gardens in urban locations in Japan. It is a garden meant for strolling leasurely around, stopping every few steps to check whether there is not a new interesting perspective and relaxing from the surrounding world that is efficiently hidden behind the hills. Japanese usually visit a garden walking slowly in a specific direction (often clockwise).

The garden did not give me exactly the same feeling as in Japan. This is due partly to it not being enclosed as thoroughly and having a large lawn.

The paths are also a little more straightforward and more even.

Path in Kyoto Garden

The waterfall is particularly impressive.

Waterfall in Kyoto Garden

And finally, the plants grow faster in Britain due to the different climate.

Traditional fountain in Kyoto Garden

For all these reasons, I did not feel transplanted to Japan, it is an evocation and not a copy. The garden is wonderfully maintained by the borough and this is important because a Japanese garden must look pristine. It is a wonderful place to relax and meditate assuming you don’t mind standing as there are no seats (they would probably attract activities that do not fit with the atmosphere of the garden).

Lake in Kyoto Garden
Woodland Pond in Holland Park

After enjoying the beautiful garden, go back to the crossroads with the three paths and take the Lime Tree walk. The lime trees had to be replaced after a storm and are young. They lead to a nice little pond with a statue of Lord Holland. He was an important politician in the early 19th century but Holland Park got its name from an ancestor who was created Earl Holland in 1624. The gardens are also not his work, most of them were created in the 1890s. The statue and the pond behind it are framed by camellias that bloom very nicely in May.

Statue of Lord Holland

From the statue, the so-called Acer Walk leads to the former mansion. The walk was lined in the 19th century by a famous row of rose bushes but these declined due to old age and could not be replaced as this particular sort is not grown any more. The borough therefore decided to plant miniature acer trees and azaleas.

Acer Walk in Holland Park
Garden of Holland Park Youth Hostel

Beyond a lawn used in old times for garden parties, you reach the remnants of the mansion. I suggest you walk around the building starting L in order to see the eastern front, the only large remains of the property. After the wartime destruction, this wing was converted into a youth hostel. It is actually not this unusual, there are youth hostels in other former castles (Carbisdale Castle in Scotland is a famous example) and the very first youth hostel was indeed opened in the 19th century in the German medieval castle of Altena.

Holland Park Mansion


The mansion was Jacobean (it was finished in 1614). The set of protruding pilasters with details changing between the ground and the first floors was popular and the rounded gables are also typical of this short-lived style. When you continue walking around the building, you reach the former main courtyard where you can see further rests, but these reach only to the ground floor level. The courtyard was used in the past by the borough as a location for an arts festival.

Dutch Garden seen from the terrace


Continuing around the building, you finally reach the terrace overlooking an impressive formal garden. The terrace was a famous dahlia garden until the 1950s but is now more traditional.


The formal garden below was called the Portuguese garden when it was designed in 1814 by the Portuguese librarian of Lord Holland but the owner changed the name to “Dutch garden” later on when this appeared more fitting to his political opinions regarding the two countries. The garden has little to do with either. It is an interesting mix of a knot garden with the typical low box hedges and of a flower garden. The planting concept differs from royal gardens in that there is only one type of flower in every “box”, enabling very interesting blocks of colour. I give you pictures taken in different seasons.

Statue of Milo of Croton

In the middle of the garden, there is a statue of Milo of Croton splitting a tree trunk, a present by the Friends of the park in 2003. There are very popular benches under arcades on the side of the garden, a very convenient place to relax.

Napoleon Garden in Holland Park

Below the Dutch Garden, you reach the so-called Napoleon Garden, a quadrangle of traditional English flower beds around an armillary sphere. There are some brick structures behind the garden, remnants of the stables.


If you turn L from the Napoleon Garden, you come down a few steps into the Iris Garden. It will obviously be particularly enjoyable in spring and has a very nice contemporary fountain in the middle.

Iris Garden in Holland Park

There are several buildings around this garden, one of which with a peculiar thatched roof and a circular shape. It was an important amenity for the owners of the mansion, who expected to have elegant parties frequently. The building was an ice house, where you could keep over the summer ice gathered in winter from the meadows along the lower Thames.

Ice house in Holland Park
Iris garden in winter

Along an other side of the Iris Garden, arcades worked as a limit between the formal gardens of the mansion and the park outside. The building with a clock that overlooks the arcades was the stables block, the clock being important in order to inform drivers and other staff at a time when the mansion owners had got used to order services for a specific time while very few people could afford their own watch. The arcades have been graced with a large wall painting showing a garden party in the heyday of the mansion around 1900. In order to protect the painting, the arcades are not accessible to the public.

Garden party in Holland Park around 1900
Holland Park Orangery

On the third side of the Iris garden, you will find the Orangery with its tall ground floor windows. You get a good feeling for the room if you look through the end window. Orangeries had fallen out of fashion by the mid-19th century because you would keep fragile plants in a winter garden or a conservatory, so that the mansion owners converted the Orangery into a ballroom. The room does not seem to be used currently; in other locations, I have seen orangeries being leased for weddings or conferences to great effect.

Orangery converted into a ballroom
Rose garden in Holland Park

At the back of the orangery, you find the last of the formal gardens in Holland Park, the rose garden. As roses grow well in London and do not demand too much care, it is a logical attraction in many parks. You are now close to the main car access.

Exit the park at the southern end near the cafeteria and the cricket field
R (downhill) Ilchester Place

Ilchester Place


This is one of the most expensive streets in London with the houses selling for £15 million and more. The superb houses are reminiscent of Georgian architecture but they look somehow newer and the entrance doors are all different. In addition, some of the houses are smothered in ivy or wisteria, something Georgian house owners would have found most disorderly and unwelcoming. The houses were actually developed in the 1920s and there are indeed some similarities with the construction style of Hampstead Garden suburb from the same period.

Cross Abbotsbury Road into Oakwood Court

Oakwood Court

This development is clearly less elegant. It has a whiff of “pile them high” and is actually particularly bulky for a development partly from 1899 when lifts did not exist. My picture shows an extension from the 1930s with lifts but it is similarly densely populated.

At the end R Addison Road, the road curves a little L along a school near traffic lights

Town house on Addison Road


Addison Road is again to a large extent a late 19th century development and the left-hand side of the road has a row of large town houses in sizeable gardens. Comparing with the houses at the beginning of my walk, you are back here in a standard model of neo-classical residential properties with porches borne by columns. One house had an interesting addition in form of a sculpture of two (supposedly) nude gentlemen over the porch, a good idea to make the house look a little different.

My other picture shows a very different house on Addison Road, inspired by Renaissance architecture and using coloured tiles that were very popular around 1900. I cannot imagine that such an unusual house was part of a commercial development and it might have been designed by an artist rather than by an architect.

Artistic house on Addison Road

When you reach the crossroads of Addison Road with Holland Park Gardens, you notice easily the unusual colour of the building on the corner. Pale pink stone with a mock-Dutch gable is definitely a bit strange and I suspect it is the reconstruction of a 19th century building with modern materials when an obsolete public building was converted to luxury flats.

Nearly opposite and on Addison Road proper, you may notice the interesting door and staircase leading to Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School. The building itself is kept in a not so exceptional neo-medieval style, but the ramp is a very unusual example of Art Nouveau ironwork, re-interpreting the flowing shapes of plants.

Art Nouveau staircase ramps

Across Holland Park Avenue along Royal Crescent

Royal Crescent

This is a typical development for the Notting Hill area with white columns. It 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.

Royal Crescent garden

Walk all along the crescent, coming back to the main road
R along the main road, then across the large roundabout using the subway (a little further on your R) or the surface crossing (long waiting time for the traffic light)
Cross the train tracks and walk past the bus interchange

SHEPHERD’S BUSH

Shepherd’s Bush Underground station

The station opened in 1900 as the terminus of the Underground line from central London. The line was extended by a few hundred yards in 1908 to a makeshift station serving an international exhibition while the present line towards North Acton was opened in 1920. There were two other stations called Shepherd’s Bush. One is located quite far away on the Hammersmith & City Underground line and was renamed in 2008 Shepherd’s Bush Market in order to avoid confusion. The other station is used by London Overground trains and is close to the Central Line Underground station but there is no direct connection.

The original station building was replaced in 2008 by the present structure. It is a seriously grand station in contemporary materials (glass and steel). The ticket hall is very high because the architect was asked to provide a visual connection to the nearby shopping centre. The new building was actually financed to a large extent by the shopping centre as one of the conditions for the building permit. The new station was criticised for not providing lifts to the platforms, thereby preventing handicapped people from using the station to go to the shopping centre. The planners answered that the very complex layout of utilities in the vicinity would have added unreasonable costs if they had had to be diverted in order to install a lift.

Ahead past the station on Uxbridge Road
When you reach the green space (Shepherd’s Bush Common), keep rather L along Goldhawk Road

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 although I had to look hard for the appropriate viewpoint. The name Shepherd’s Bush seems to come from the time when the common was used for grazing cattle as shepherds would lie on bushes to keep a better (and more relaxing) overlook over the flock.


Otherwise, the common does not have formal flower beds as it is not a “park”. The borough tried several times to set up a park after it had bought the common from the Church in 1871, but local residents objected because this would have implied that it would have been closed at night. Other residents did complain that the common was used for immoral pursuits such as gambling and as a camping ground for vagrants. In the end, nothing was done.

I do not comment here on the buildings along the Goldhawk Road side of the common. Some are interesting but I comment already on them in my Hammersmith & City line walk 2.

Ahead along Goldhawk Road
Just before the bridge under the Underground tracks R
Walk the length of Shepherd’s Bush Market along the Underground embankment

The stalls are located along the train viaduct all the way between two Underground stations served by the Hammersmith & City line. 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 that overlooks Shepherd’s Bush station.

(if the market is closed, I think you can use a service road along the market fences) Cross under the tracks on Uxbridge Road past a station called Shepherd’s Bush Market
Soon R Frithville Gardens
Ahead into Hammersmith Park

Japanese Garden in Hammersmith Park

The park is in the middle of a heavily urbanised area with many council estate buildings, a striking contrast with Holland Park.

The park has significant attractions. It was landscaped on ground left over after exhibition buildings from the 1900s were pulled down after World War II. Most of the ground was used for council estates and a park in the middle was essential.

Hammersmith Park


It was also chosen in order to preserve a small Japanese garden set up in 1910 on occasion of an exhibition at a time when anything Japanese was the absolute not-to-be-missed attraction. The garden was neglected later on but not destroyed and volunteers tried to restore it in the 1980s. You will notice some Japanese plants and the usual interesting combination of closely cropped lawn with well pruned bushes, but the water features are modest compared to the major show garden in Holland Park.

Apart from the Japanese garden, the borough also maintains nice formal flower beds in a more typical urban park style. This is a commendable effort in an area of London that is not among the most affluent.

Former BBC studios

From the park, you have a good view towards a flattish round building. This is a listed building that was part of the BBC studios until 2013. It has been converted into residential flats since but the core circular building was kept as an entertainment venue as it is listed along with much of the decoration inside. It was built in the early 1950s and the materials are not very impressive due to funding constraints at the time but the shape is impressive. Circular buildings actually have been quite popular for radio institutions in other locations as well: Radio France in Paris had a similar layout.

Exit the park at the northern end near the football ground
R South Africa Road
At the end of the road, you can detour R to the Underground station

WHITE CITY

White City Underground station

The Central line opened a station in the vicinity of the present one in 1908. It was called Wood Lane and was served by a loop from Shepherd’s Bush. The present station was opened in 1947 when the Central Line was extended as a full service line beyond Shepherd’s Bush towards Ealing Broadway.

The station had been designed in 1937 and the building reflects clearly the Art Déco principles of the 1930s. It is inspired more by the Dutch / Scandinavian style of Art Déco, which stresses the use of bricks and simple geometric shapes. Large glass panels had become affordable and were used to good effect to lighten the ticket hall. Don’t hesitate to have a look at the ticket hall inside to get a feeling for the airy proportions and the feeling of natural light. The very straightforward but well proportioned design won an award.

Ticket hall at White City

The platform awning is carried by an unusually spindly set of steel pillars painted in mint green, a very unusual colour for the Underground. Another oddity is that trains run on the right track in White City (like in Germany) instead of the normal left track. This is because the station reused the tracks from the Wood Lane loop while those only provided for one single platform.

Coming from South Africa Road, L (northwards) along busy Wood Lane

This area was rebuilt over the last years and is now a rather soulless landscape of huge office buildings. If you look hard for something positive about it, there is a green space along Wood Lane for part of the way and some of the buildings have tried to break the boring straight rows of steel and glass fronts with a cylindrical pavilion or some other decorative gimmick.

Cross under the motorway along Wood Lane
Ahead on Wood Lane

Nightingale House

You are back in a residential area. When you reach Du Cane Road, look at an estate on the left-hand side called Nightingale House. It is a typical Art Déco housing estate built in what was a fashionably modern material, whitewashed concrete, and using only geometrical shapes instead of decorative details. The staircases are not enclosed in order to improve air quality in the building. I find it sensible and laudable but I have always wondered how safety and security experts were convinced of allowing it.

Pub building on North Pole Road

Wood Lane finally turns into Scrubs Lane. There are two interesting buildings near the crossroads. On the right-hand side, there is an odd-looking pub. It has no upper level and the front on North Pole Road is graced with a neo-classical porch while the front on Wood Lane has an elaborate door frame in the style of the 1700s. I guess the building had a different purpose originally.

School on Scrubs Lane


Opposite the pub, you walk past the sprawling complex of a school. The main building directly on Scrubs Lane is a magnificent example of Art Déco in the Scandinavian style. It is an extremely complex combination of plain cubic shapes, so that the building looks somewhat appropriately like a pile of play cubes. An impressive counterpoint is given by a rounded protrusion rising like the prow of a ship. This was very popular in the 1930s as people were fascinated by modern technology such as fast steamships making exotic colonies more accessible than ever before. The long bands of glass windows (vertical on Wood Lane, horizontal away from the road) reflect the idea that a lot of daylight is very good for health (you do feel more easily depressed in winter, don’t you ?).

Ahead Scrubs Lane

You will soon an open space on your left. Walk in but you can keep temporarily close to Scrubs Lane. Follow the perimeter path as it turns slowly L and continues at the foot of the train line embankment
You are in Wormwood Scrubs

Wormwood Scrubs

This really large area of grass with occasional hedges and few trees has an interesting origin. It was bought by the Government in 1879 in order to have sufficient space close to the central London barracks for military exercises. As the land was not needed constantly, it was declared a common with the special provision that the Army could close it off when needed. Although it is hardly ever closed off for maneuvers nowadays, the Army still owns it and can use it. This explains why there are no amenities that might make it more of a park or nature reserve. There have been many attempts over the year to discuss developments in some areas, but campaigners have been able to defeat nearly all of them.

Crossing the open space is a special experience because it is indeed one of the largest unlandscaped open spaces in London along parts of Epping Forest and areas in Northolt. There are occasionally isolated gentlemen wandering about with no apparent purpose and I have been wondering whether they are plainclothes policemen checking that no one is having inappropriate intentions regarding the inmates of the nearby prison.

Cross the open space aiming half L for the playground. This might be a little difficult to target if trees hide the view, so check on a map. You need to exit the open space so that you can take Erconwald Street near the primary school.
To add to the difficulty, there is no street sign here. Erconwald Street leads away from the open space at the corner of house number 43 Braybrook Street. An other help is that there are cycling route signs painted on the road.

East Acton estate

You are crossing a rather pleasant suburb developed in the 1920s. Like in some other parts of Acton, the ground owner chose to have a limited number of affluent buyers rather than a mass of lower-income buyers and the suburb was landscaped accordingly with proper hedges protecting small front gardens. The properties have rather simple shapes but steep roofs are meant to remind a little of cottages in the countryside. It is not a garden suburb in the sense that there are not many open spaces between the houses, but many trees were planted along the roads.

Erconwald Street

Follow Erconwald Street past the station

EAST ACTON

East Acton Underground station

The station opened in 1920 together with the Central Line extension from Shepherd’s Bush to Ealing Broadway. The station is not really close to Acton and it would probably be more fitting to call it Wormwood Scrubs but this sounded too much like the eponymous prison.

The station building is a rather pretty little cottage that looks quite out of place in a catalogue of Underground stations from the 1920s. The reason is partly that the Central line extension was suggested originally by a railway company who hoped to get transfer passengers for its Ealing Broadway interchange. The architect of the railway company may have been asked to design the station and it does look similar to a suburban train station. It fits also better with the style of the residential houses built around the station in the following years.

After the tracks R Fitzneal Street (there is a street sign but it is a bit hidden, it is the road blocked for cars by a barrier)

Houses in Fitzneal Street

You are obviously still in the same development from the 1920s.

At the end R Old Oak Common Lane
Just after house number 187 and just before Brunel Road, turn L into an unmarked footpath at the rear of the row of houses. This leads to a footbridge over train tracks
on the footbridge

Brunel Road footpath


The footpath is a surprising bit of wilderness after the well kept suburb around East Acton station. From the footbridge, you have a good view towards central London over the wide green spaces of Wormwood Scrubs in the foreground.


Ahead into Perry Avenue along an other train line (not the one you just crossed)
At the end R into Cotton Avenue
Soon R Vardon Close
Continue along the container park to the main road
R along the dual carriageway, you will cross train tracks
At the next traffic lights R Wales Farm Road

Commercial building in Wales Farm Road

You cannot avoid a somewhat boring stretch along this very busy road through an area of London full of warehouses, large shops and construction sites. In a way, it rounds up the impressive variety of urban environments you have been crossing on this walk. The commercial buildings along the road are usually boring boxes in corrugated iron meant to be as cheap and as fast as possible to build but I did find one that made an effort to look a bit different. Very strong colours were popular in the 1990s. One of the reasons they are less used since is that many companies have adopted branding policies in the 2000s involving specific colours so that they have little choice for their buildings now.

Just before a bridge over a train line, you should see a small Underground roundel showing a footpath L to

NORTH ACTON

North Acton Underground station

The station was originally a train station opened in 1906 on a railway from London Paddington to Ruislip. The idea was to provide a new access to London for trains from the Midlands. The station had little success in an area with few residential units and closed already in 1913. In 1920, the Central Line opened an extension between Shepherd’s Bush and Ealing Broadway and a station was opened in North Acton in 1923. The junction between the Central Line and the old train line was reopened in 1947, enabling the Central Line to run also towards Ruislip.

North Acton station

The station building looks like a modest suburban train station and is probably a 1923 design. The train company who originally suggested the extension of the Central Line did not expect much traffic and was not interested in an impressive building. Traffic only picked up later due to new industrial activities in the vicinity. My second picture gives you a fair impression of how North Acton probably looked like when it was just a rural station on a suburban train line.

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Central Tube line walk 1: Oxford Circus walk to Holland Park

Walk 1

OXFORD CIRCUS walk to HOLLAND PARK

2 1/2 hours

This section of the Central line opened in 1900. It was originally very successful, taking many clients away from the steam-hauled, slow trains on the Circle line. Once the Circle line had reacted by electrifying its line in 1906, the advantage was lost but the Central line remained a little more successful because it ran closer to many useful destinations in central London. The Central line had never been keen on cooperating with other lines, never connecting to other networks for example, and ended up being taken over by the main competitor.

Routing note: This walk connects in Oxford Circus to Central line walk 6 and in Holland Park to Central line walk 2. Other connections that work well considering the way I wrote the routes are in Oxford Circus with my Bakerloo line walk 1 (coming from Elephant & Castle) or with my Victoria Underground line walk 2 (coming from Pimlico), and in Notting Hill Gate with my Circle line walk 1 (continuing towards Paddington rather than Holland Park).

My time estimate can prove wrong depending on how much time you will be spending walking around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. In addition, I preferred to keep Kensington Palace for my Circle Line walk 1 but you can easily visit it on the present walk and this may take you at least an hour.

OXFORD CIRCUS

Oxford Circus Underground station

The station is the busiest Underground station of all. It opened first on the Central line in 1900 and the Bakerloo line platforms opened in 1906. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1969 with a particularly convenient interchange with the Bakerloo line.

Oxford Circus

The station has two main entrances because the Central line and the Bakerloo line did not want to have a common ticket hall. The Bakerloo line building is a listed structure by architect Leslie Green while the Central line building is a listed structure by architect Harry Bell Measures who used cream-coloured glazed tile, a popular material and colour at the time. He did indulge in a large collection of unnecessary ornaments from neo-classicism to baroque in a very Edwardian manner.

Exit the station on Oxford Street

Regent Street


Before starting the actual walk, the crossroads gives you an interesting lesson in urban planning. Oxford Street is a jumble of uncoordinated commercial buildings whose owners and developers are primarily concerned with maximising short-term profit. Buildings use cheap materials, are built as quickly as possible and are pulled down as soon as retail fashion suggests an other setup in the building would be more profitable. The tenants sell cheap fashion to mass market customers, aiming to sell a large number of cheap items. Consumer brands will have a shop on Oxford Street if they aim primarily at showcasing their brand (e.g. makers of sports goods), but they will have a shop on Regent Street is they aim primarily at attracting affluent shoppers to a flagship store.

Typical grand building on Regent Street


Regent Street is planned as a series of imposing stone buildings using materials meant to last 100 years and more. The owner (the Crown Estate) aims at a reliable income from long-term tenants with a good reputation. These will usually be shops catering more to affluent or aspiring customers and attracting them on the merits of their choice of goods and quality. They are satisfied with the street being less crowded as most shoppers are likely to spend more significant amounts. Aiming for such shops and shoppers forces the Crown Estate (who is also its own in-house developer) to make sure that buildings are solid and inviting, not cheap and shoddy.

Britannia ruling the Empire


The rather heavy neo-classical style with columns and cupolas may remind a little of Georgian neo-classicism as the street was originally developed in the 1820s but the style was again fashionable when the present buildings were redeveloped in the 1920s. The picture showing decoration details shows references to the Empire and to the colonies, indeed a popular source of pride in 1920 Britain.

Walk west on Oxford Street
Very soon L Swallow Place (a narrow passage)
R Princes Street
Walk diagonally across Hanover Square

Leave first the square southwards on St George Street in order to have a look at the parish church.

St George’s Mayfair


The church of St George’s is one of the churches built under Queen Anne in 1724. The Queen was a staunch defender of the Anglican faith and made sure that a church was built in this newly developing part of Westminster. The church tower is quite typical for the baroque style popular at the time while the neo-classical portico is particularly large and overwhelming. This was done on purpose because many parish residents were influential people who were not impressed easily.

St George’s from 1724


The layout inside is quite normal, with gilt capitals you can see in many other churches from the same period. The church has a particularly large organ, probably because many upper society weddings take place here and wish a suitably imposing musical atmosphere.

Walk back to Hanover Square Gardens, turning L in the square

Hanover Square


Hanover Square is a rather small, busy square. It tends to be overrun at lunchtime because of the employees from the many office buildings in the vicinity. But it does have pleasant flower beds with modest palm trees. The square is special because it was the first public square planned specifically for the purpose in a real estate development back in 1717. There is a statue of William Pitt in a corner of the square and a pretty bronze fountain with reeds and ducks.

Talleyrand House in the background


Most buildings overlooking the square were redeveloped over time but a few Georgian properties are still standing. Number 21 is one of the finest with elegant stone lining on the corners and a roof balustrade. As a blue roundel mentions, it was the residence of Prince Talleyrand, the French ambassador to Britain in the 1830s. He was feared in all of Europe for his subtle diplomatic skills and his London residence can be credited for being probably one of the main locations where Belgian independence from the Netherlands was decided upon in 1831.

Leave the square on Brook Street

Bank buiilding on Brook Street


You walk past a particularly ornate example of the 19th-century neo-Renaissance style, now used by a bank. The bank has a particularly generic name (United National Bank) and is actually headquartered in Pakistan.

R New Bond Street
L Blenheim Street

Art Déco seat of an auction house


At the end of the road, you can notice the headquarters of auction company Bonham’s, located in a fine Art Déco building from the 1930s. Typical features of the style include the glass column in the middle of the façade and the use of round shapes to bring some movement into the flat wall. Fussy decoration was completely out of fashion and playing with geometrical shapes was therefore a sensible alternative.

Follow Blenheim Street as it turns R but turn then L into a footpath towards Sedley Place
L in the courtyard into Globe Yard
Ahead Haunch of Venison Yard
At the end R Brook Street
R South Molton Street

Although probably not a famous street (less so than Savile Row for example), this pedestrianised street is one of the most elegant shopping adresses in Mayfair. Most shops are individual boutiques as they are too small to be attractive for chain stores (those stay on Oxford Street) or luxury brands (those prefer New Bond Street). In turn, South Molton Street is probably a good place to look for something unusual, interesting but not too flashy.

Stratford House


At the end of the street, you are back on Oxford Street opposite a narrow street that leads to a courtyard with the elegant neo-classical front of Stratford House, built in the 1770s by a leading architect of the time, Robert Adam. The front is still in the same style (just that there were no columns originally) while it was redeveloped several times inside. The house is now used by the Oriental Club, an exclusive institution that owes its name to the fact that it was intended originally to enable networking among people involved in the British colonies in Asia.

L on Oxford Street past

BOND STREET

Bond Street Underground station


The station opened in 1900 on what is now the Central Line. Platforms for the Jubilee line opened in 1979.

The original station building was demolished on the occasion of the 1979 extension and was replaced by a boring commercial building with just an entrance porch for the station. An awning was added to mark the entrance but it is a rather artificial gimmick as it has no actual roof and therefore no sheltering function. An additional access was created recently with a small actual awning but is not much more impressive.

Front of department store Selfridge’s


Before leaving Oxford Street, you come close to the most impressive building on the whole street, department store Selfridge’s. The store was built in 1909 and is now owned by a Canadian billionaire. The building is quite unusual in that it combines a very heavy set of stone columns, seen as necessary to show a solid business to conservative customers, with what is actually a very simple steel structure behind it. It was the first major example of steel construction in Britain at the time and was designed by an American architect. Similar buildings on a smaller scale existed in France and Belgium but were considered a bit “industrial” and more appropriate for wholesalers than for retailers.

Art Nouveau clock marking the main entrance


The fame of the Selfridge’s building is also linked to its conspicuous clock with a complex design of a woman on a ship prow. The sculpture is one of the best instances in London of an Art Nouveau sculpture in the public domain. Typical for the period are the elaborate combination of colours and the flowing shape of the garments. The sculptor was Gilbert Bayes, an important artist whose long and fruitful career lasted over 50 years.

L Duke Street

Brown Hart Gardens


Walking down the street, you reach Brown Hart Gardens. You don’t actually see the gardens because they are hidden on a raised terrace behind an elaborate dome. There is not much to see, it is just a plain paved terrace with a few benches, but the “gardens” have a curious origin. The ground owner, the Duke of Westminster, asked the developer in 1889 to include a garden in order to make the surrounding residential buildings more attractive. In 1903, his son decided to lease the ground to an electrical company who promised a juicy rent.

This caused outrage among the local residents even though they had been complaining for years about the “disorderly boys” and “verminous women” that supposedly haunted their nice garden. The electrical substation was built into the ground, explaining the arches at ground level, while a terrace was reinstated above, but without plants. There are peculiar bylaws applying to this private ground and you are not allowed to sing, practice gymnastics or use a perambulator on the grounds.

Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile


A bit further on, you walk past a large church with a rather traditional neo-gothic appearance. It is the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile since 1967 but was originally built for an English Congregationalist church, explaining the not very Ukrainian appearance. As you might know, the Ukraine has both a Catholic church and a larger Orthodox church. Catholic Ukrainians were in the 1920s often refugees who had fled the war over western Ukraine between Poland and the Soviet Union, explaining the choice of the Holy Family in Exile.

R along Grosvenor Square

Italian embassy on Grosvenor Square


You are here in one of the main locations in London for embassies, the other being in Belgravia. Embassy buildings seldom reflect the architecture of their owners because they are often historical buildings that cannot be changed much in outside appearance. Nonetheless, the Italian embassy does look a bit more Mediterranean than what was the neighbouring Canadian embassy and the US embassy reflected very well the superpower status Americans see themselves as being entitled to. The Canadian embassy has moved away and is being rebuilt while the US embassy has moved as well but is a listed building. It may appear downright ugly in our eyes but is a typical testimony of the style of the 1960s, using unadorned concrete, and was designed by leading architect Eero Saarinen.

Grosvenor Square


Grosvenor Square was first developed in the 1720s like Hanover Square and was even more popular with high society due to the vicinity with Hyde Park (for riding) and Buckingham Palace. The buildings you can see now were nearly all rebuilt after World War II in order to better accommodate modern offices and use a standardised neo-Georgian appearance with somewhat inappropriate details like the double row of windows at roof level.

The garden in the square is really large but is a rather unexciting landscape with grass, mature trees and a small pavilion in the shape of a Greek temple reminiscent of 18th century parks. The private owner saw no need to spend money on flower beds or amenities that could attract noisy, dirty or “inappropriate” activities. Discussions are ongoing to make the place a little more welcoming.

Ahead Upper Brook Street
R Park Street
L Oxford Street

Dinosaurs on Oxford Street


I cannot resist showing you a picture that you could not take now, showing dinosaurs in Oxford Street. It was a temporary attraction using an empty building lot while the developer was negotiating the conditions for a new shopping centre. The attraction was actually a good idea because there are not many places where you can show children real-size reconstitutions of actual dinosaurs.

MARBLE ARCH

Marble Arch Underground station


The station opened in 1900 together with the Underground line.

The original station building was demolished in 1932 and the main access is now an inconspicuous porch under an office building. The modest, ugly awning is nearly invisible below the ponderous decorative columns of the building.

Walk around Marble Arch into Hyde Park past Speakers’ Corner
Look at the park map and take the alley leading to the Reformers Tree

Marble Arch


The Marble Arch has a distinguished history, it was actually built as the state entrance to Buckingham Palace in 1827. When Queen Victoria moved into the palace with a large family, she needed significant construction works; the arch proved an obstacle and was relocated in 1851. This history explains why it is supposedly forbidden to drive or ride under it unless you are a Royal or his/her escort, as does happen on some state occasions.

Marble Arch gates


The arch is clearly an imitation of the triumphal arches built for Roman emperors but the original design was also very close to what Napoleon had had built for himself in Paris (the Carrousel arch). The decoration is not particularly impressive because the budget was quite exhausted in the 1820s; you may wish to look primarily at the iron gates designed in a rather nice neo-classical taste. I am not sure that it is the design from the 1820s but this is well possible.

Typical path in Hyde Park


Hyde Park and neighbouring Kensington Gardens constitute together the largest park in central London but there are some differences between them. Their origin is the same, they were a hunting park where King Henry VIII stocked deer. The two parks became separated in the 1730s when Queen Caroline had a lake landscaped in the middle of the hunting park. The eastern section was henceforth Hyde Park. It has extended open areas as well as lightly wooded sections and alleys run in straight lines in a radial pattern from either a central roundabout or the different gates. The large open spaces make Hyde Park convenient for some seasonal fairs and it was also used for large open-air concerts in the past. Notable rallies in recent years included political rallies against the war in Irak for example.


The section closest to Marble Arch was famous throughout the civilised world as the Speakers’ Corner, the one location where critical rallies could take place with limited interference from the police as long as reasonable limits were respected. Now that everyone can use the Internet to comment on current issues in whichever critical manner they like, the Speakers’ Corner has fallen in disuse.

Reformers Tree is just a location where several alleys cross but it is indeed linked to the Speakers’ Corner. A large tree grew here in the 19th century and had become the rallying point for protests. The “reform” was a demand in 1866 that Parliament should extend the right to vote to all male citizens (women being apparently considered inferior animals did not get the right to vote until nearly a century later, long after they had achieved it in New Zealand or Luxembourg). A mob got once out of control and burnt the tree down.

Turn then slightly L aiming for the dam of Serpentine Lake

Serpentine Lake


The Serpentine is not really a lake in the form of a serpent as there is just one mild long curve in the middle. The shape of the lake was considered excitedly novel at the time as baroque parks normally boasted strictly straight canals in order to enable sweeping perspectives like in Versailles. The lake was created in the 1730s and is now replenished by pumping water from wells. This is necessary in order to ensure the water remains clean and does not get overgrown with algae. The lake is used obviously for boating.


Serpentine solar boat

As a popular lake in central London, it was considered a perfect location to showcase an exciting novelty in the 2000s, a boat powered by solar cells. This innovation did not prove widely successful, solar panels remained much more expensive than diesel engines. The trend is probably going more towards electrical motors on boats as this enables feeding the motor batteries with power from whatever electricity source is cheaper depending on the weather and situation on the grid.

Serpentine boat shed


For leisure boats, there is a lovely small shed on the shore of the lake with wooden beams on the walls and a thatched roof. It is not the only cutesy amenity in Hyde Park, most public conveniences are nice pavilions reminiscent of some farm building in the countryside.

Conveniences in Hyde Park

Serpentine lido


On the opposite (south) side of the lake, you can see a sturdier building called Lansbury’s Lido after the gentleman who designed the amenity. The lido was created following repeated suggestions by clubs who wanted more opportunities to practice healthy sports in the open air. A particularly vocal club advocated swimming “in the state of nature”, a widespread recommendation among more progressive circles between the world wars, and this was indeed difficult to organise in existing lidos.

Lido seen from the other side of the lake


The lido opened in 1930 with a Unique Selling Proposition, it enabled men and women to swim in the same lake (but apparently not nude like the club had hoped), something that was not possible in other park lidos like on Hampstead Heath. Swimming in the lake is actually forbidden nowadays for hygienic reasons but the members of a swimming club headquartered in the lido are allowed to for a few hours at breakfast time.

R along the Serpentine
Ahead along the upper lake (The Long Water)

Long Water and Serpentine Bridge


The road with the bridge over the Serpentine is the limit between the Serpentine and the Long Water. The change in names reflects the fact that the Serpentine is part of Hyde Park while the Long Water is part of Kensington Gardens, originally the “house park” of the royal palace of Kensington. The Gardens are indeed enclosed and close at sunset while Hyde Park remains accessible in the evening. Because the Long Water belongs to the palace, there is one spot where you have a typical baroque perspective linking optically the glittering lake with the palace.

Perspective in Kensington Gardens

Ahead past the Italian Gardens for

LANCASTER GATE

Lancaster Gate Underground station


The station opened in 1900 together with the Underground line.

The original station building was demolished in 1968 and the main access is now a low glass structure with hardly an awning hidden within an outstandingly ugly technical building front belonging to a hotel. The cheap looking materials were fashionable in the 1960s when you did not want to use concrete for whatever reason.

Walk back towards the Italian Gardens, keeping the gardens on your left-hand side.

Italian Gardens in Kensington Gardens


The gardens were landscaped in the 1860s in this location where it was convenient to put fountains with the runoff feeding the Long Water. The design is very similar to the one that existed at Osborne House, the mansion on the Isle of Wight used by Queen Victoria during the summer holidays, and it is said that the garden was intended by Prince Albert to bring to London on a lasting basis the remembrance of the pleasant holiday season.

Italian Gardens with pomp house


The layout is rather simple, a series of basins with little fountains fed by a pump house hidden in the mock temple. There are no flower beds here as they tend to be rather ancillary in classical Italian gardens. You get instead a collection of neo-baroque urns and balustrades.

You might wish to check on the park map that my directions are clear enough.
Ahead along The Long Water until you reach the Peter Pan statue

Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens


The statue was commissioned in 1912 by Mr Barrie, the author of the well-known fairy tale. The writer lived in the neighbourhood and the first appearance of Peter Pan in his writings mentions that the boy lives in Kensington Gardens. The author actually suggested himself the appropriate location for the statue. The bronze figure is by George Frampton, a major sculptor actually better known for very serious and somewhat lifeless official monuments.

Peter Pan squirrel


This more playful work reflects the aesthetics of Art Nouveau, paying great attention to flowing shapes and seeking inspiration in everyday nature like the squirrel on the picture. The statue was very well received, probably because so many people just loved the book. Barrie himself was apparently less convinced, finding the boy not mischievous enough.

After the statue, leave the lake taking the alley in front of you towards the Serpentine Gallery (there should be a black signpost pointing the way)

Queen’s Temple in Kensington Gardens


On your way, you walk past the so-called Queen’s Temple. It is an important remnant of the original palace park from a time when parks were equipped with a number of pavilions where you could retire and relax with a pleasant view such as here towards the Serpentine. When Queen Caroline had the former hunting ground landscaped into a park in the 1730s, she selected this location for a summer pavilion.

Serpentine Gallery


Your path leads to Serpentine Gallery, a pavilion that looks historical but is an imitation from 1934. Since 1970, it is an art gallery managed by a foundation. The original endowment was provided by philanthropists, one of which proved seriously controversial. The Sackler family owes its financial resources to an American pharmaceutical company accused later like many in the sector of manipulating doctors and patients into using too many dangerously addictive products. Such ex-post criticism is a little too easy in my opinion and it would be more urgent to find a solution for the very real problems facing millions of Americans unable to pay for basic medical services.

Serpentine Gallery


The Serpentine Gallery has a long tradition of exciting shows of contemporary art, sometimes even involving some temporary additions to the building itself. As entrance is free, you could definitely have a look if an exhibition is on.

Continue past the Serpentine Gallery to the next crossing of paths
R along Flower Walk
While walking down the path, you can go on a short detour L to see Albert Memorial

Albert Memorial


Queen Victoria was only 42 when she lost her consort Prince Albert in 1861. When consulted on how he should best be remembered, she suggested a traditional memorial (rather than an award scheme like the Nobel Prize for example). It was paid by public suscription and took 10 years to complete due in part to the complex design of the neo-gothic spire. The design was fully in line with the fascination architects had at the time for gothic architecture and imitates to some extent medieval shrines. I took no pictures of the many figures depicted on the frieze but you can obviously have a closer look yourself.

The most pleasant statues are those depicting the four continents (Oceania was known but was not considered a continent in its own right). I like the details on the numerous figures but it is overall a very static and traditional representation, as was often the case in the 19th century. The figures devoted to Europe are particularly stern and regal, somehow not fitting too well with the bull despite the allegorical connection.

Europe
Egypt standing for Africa
America
Asia

Flower Walk in Kensington Gardens


Flower Walk is one of three displays of flowers in the Hyde Park / Kensington Gardens complex. One is near Hyde Park Corner, one in front of Kensington Palace and one is Flower Walk. Why the gardeners chose to plant the flowers along this long straight path I cannot tell as this is a rather unusual idea for a royal park. Apart from the flowers, you might also pay attention to the many trees lining the path. Some look like they are prevented from growing at full potential by having too many neighbours but there is an interesting variety of trees. The flower display is impressive as always in royal parks, I guess the pictures speak for themselves.

At the end of Flower Walk R all the way across Kensington Gardens

Queen Victoria in Kensington Gardens


I suggest you ignore the Round Pond on your right as you will have an opportunity to walk around it later on. On your left, the main attraction is a massive statue of Queen Victoria. It is quite interesting for having been sculpted by a daughter of the queen, Princess Louise, in 1893. The Queen was 74 by the time but is shown here as she appears on her coronation portrait aged 18. This may sound strange but the statue was commissioned on the occasion of the 1887 coronation jubilee, therefore the youthful appearance, and the princess had submitted an anonymous proposal to the design competition, so that no undue favoritism was involved. You might have read about Queen Cleopatra having a famous nose. It seems this statue also has one: it was damaged in 1945, redone in 1952 and remodeled again in 2012.

When you reach the end of the broad path, the station is just on your right on Bayswater Road

QUEENSWAY

Queensway Underground station


The station opened in 1900 together with the Underground line. It was called originally Queen’s Road and was renamed in 1946. The station gave rise in 2006 to one of the most egregious examples of mismanaged privatisation causing considerable problems: the Underground infrastructure company had been privatised and the Underground operator was dependant on it doing whatever works were agreed.

In the case of Queensway, the infrastructure company managed to delay the reopening of the station by more than a month, probably because of cutting corners with subcontractors and prioritising cost over timeliness. There was an obvious governance problem with five shareholders with differing interests (three building contractors, a water utility and an electricity utility) but at least four of them were accused of similar mismanagement of public contracts in other instances anyway. The infrastructure company had to be renationalised in 2008 at a considerable cost of over 400 million £.

The station is integrated within an office building like in Oxford Circus and is also the original design from 1900. The materials are different (stone instead of glazed tiles) but there is about as much somewhat disorderly decoration.

Turn back into Kensington Gardens on The Broad Walk

Kensington Gardens playground


Directly after the gate, you walk past a very large playground on your right. It has a superb wooden ship that is extremely popular with children – there is often a queue waiting for admission as the number of children inside is limited for safety reasons. Themed playgrounds have become more common over the last ten years or so but ships are clearly very top of the wish list for children. This is all the more striking as most children do not get ships to play with at home (a house, a garage or a space station are more typical). I would be interested to hear from a psychologist what the reason might be.

In order not to use the same the path you used before, you can turn afterwards L towards the Round Pond, then R around the pond until you can walk towards the palace

Round Pond in Kensington Gardens


The Round Pond was part of the improvements commissioned by Queen Charlotte in 1730. Located on a slightly higher part of the grounds, it offered nice perspectives in different directions, something considered very pleasing in baroque times. It is now very popular with model yacht owners as it is large enough but without risk of disturbance by actual rowing boats. By the way, it is actually not perfectly round, it is slightly oval.

After passing the Round Pond, walk along the southern fence of Kensington Palace (this is Studio Walk but there is no sign)

Kensington Palace from the back


I do not comment here on Kensington Palace, where you can spend an hour and significantly more visiting the palace and the lovely sunken garden, because I do so on my Circle line walk 1. I will just mention that the building on my picture is actually the reverse access to the palace. This annex was built over the years to house relatives of the royal family or persons honoured for services to the Crown. Obviously, some of the minor dukes and princes who lived here in the past became notorious for the one or other scandalous involvement, particularly in the 19th century.

Exit Kensington Gardens
R Palace Green (the tree-lined road)
Ahead Kensington Palace Gardens (actually the same road)

Villas on Kensington Palace Gardens


Nearly all the street is lined with large mansions used as embassies and diplomatic residences. One of the few non-diplomats who own a house here is business tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, majority shareholder of the largest listed steel company in the world, who paid 57 million £ for house number 18 back in 2004. You are free to walk along the street but policemen guard very carefully against terrorism risks. I did not dare take a picture of the mansions but they are actually not particularly remarkable. My pictures shows a few of the embassies seen from Kensington Gardens rather than from the road.

At the end L Notting Hill Gate

NOTTING HILL GATE

Notting Hill Gate Underground station


The station opened in 1868 together with the Circle 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.

Soon after the station L in Hillgate Street

Theatre in Notting Hill Gate


At the corner of Hillgate Street with the main road, a lovely building houses the Coronet Theatre. It is an interesting building, having been built originally as a theatre in 1898. Many suburbs had theatres at the time but this particular one was not very successful because the local residents were close enough to prestigious shows in central London. It was therefore converted to a film theatre in the 1920s when this became the most popular form of entertainment.

The owner was a large chain who decided to demolish the building in 1972 in order to develop real estate as had been done around the Underground station, but local residents managed to convince the company to sell the property to an independent operator and later to a church who still let it be used at times to show films. It was finally bought by the present theatre company in 2014. It survived as a building despite the difficulty to operate it profitably because it is a listed monument due to the lovely Victorian decoration. It is particularly well proportioned and fits very nicely in the local landscape.

At the end R Kensington Place
Ahead Aubrey Walk, the road turns R

St George’s Notting Hill


The nice church of St George’s was built in 1864. It was clearly the time when neo-gothic was very fashionable but the architect seems to have been inspired also by Italian romanesque churches because both the shape of the tower and the gallery in front of the church are more romanesque than gothic.

R Campden Hill Square
L along the square
At the end L Holland Park Avenue

HOLLAND PARK

Holland Park Underground station


The station opened in 1900 together with the Underground line.

The station building is the most interesting of the present walk. It is the original Harry Bell Measures design and you recognise the cream tiles. The decoration is more subdued and more unified than at the other stations. Looking at the building, it is easy to imagine that it was actually planned as the ground floor of an office building, but no investor was found in this residential area and the Underground company was stuck with a flat corner building. The steel drum at the back of the building houses the lift machinery. Many stations have such a machine room but it is seldom visible and this one is particular well proportioned.

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District Tube line walk 15: Dagenham East walk to Upminster

Walk 15
DAGENHAM EAST walk to UPMINSTER
3 1/2 hours

This line was originally a suburban train line that opened in 1885. District line trains started to run on the line after a junction was built in 1902. The suburban trains continue to use the line but they do not stop between Barking and Upminster.

Routing note: This walk is quite long. If you wish nonetheless to extend it, the most convenient combination is with walk 14 in Dagenham East.

My route crosses several open spaces away from paved paths. You may wish to wear sturdy footwear and avoid the walk after a period of heavy rain.

DAGENHAM EAST

Dagenham East Underground station


The station opened in 1885 together with the train line and was originally called plain “Dagenham”. The station was renamed in 1949 because of the renaming of Heathway station to “Dagenham Heathway”.

The original building was demolished when additional platforms were built in 1932. The present building is a plain brick box like several stations built in the same year although it has a subtle element of decoration in form of a stepped roof cornice. Simple geometrical shapes were fashionable with architects while the choice of material is probably due to cost savings during the Great Depression.

Exit the station and turn R
Very soon L into the open space along the train line (Beam River Nature Reserve)
Walk past the lake to the next footbridge over the tracks

Beam River Nature Reserve


Beam Valley Country Park extends primarily south of the train line towards the Thames. It is open land that was never built upon to a large extent and the main economic activity was gravel pits exploited for construction purposes. There are a few paths, either paved or not, but they do not seem to have been planned in order to offer an organised visit through the country park and are primarily geared towards linking the footbridge with the next built-up areas.

Cross the tracks
After the footbridge, continue straight ahead to the Eastbrookend lake (ignoring a path that turns R into the nature reserve).

Eastbrookend Country Park


This part of the Beam River valley is heathland rather than gravel pits but actually belongs to the same set of open spaces. When you come closer to the lake, you enter Eastbrookend Country Park, opened to the public in 1995. The word “park” points to an artificial landscape and it was indeed landscaped. The intention was to convert abandoned land into a valuable nature reserve by artificially creating an appropriate landscape of lakes and undulating grassland.

Slightly to your left towards the Eastbrookend Discovery Centre.

Eastbrookend Discovery Centre


The centre was built in 1997 as a showcase for best practice in environmental construction using the technology available at the time. It was called the Millenium Centre due to the unescapable year 2000 hype until a more neutral name appeared more logical. My picture shows the wooden paneling used on part of the building, a very innovative idea at the time. You can also see a few solar panels included at a time when they were quite inefficient and dreadfully expensive.

Eastbrookend Country Park


I have read that the centre has an exhibition on the nature reserve but my experience with such centres is that opening hours are often very restricted and that they are primarily catering to school classes and organised groups. There was no network of paths when I walked through the area but a circular path has apparently been marked since and may help you.

Lake in Eastbrookend Country Park

You have an alternative here. If the ground is waterlogged, turn R on the paved road that gives access to the Centre. When you reach the cemetery, follow the cycle path along the right fence. It joins an other section of The Chase. Turn R at the end in order to reach Harrow Lodge Park.

The Chase Nature Reserve


If the ground is walkable, turn R before reaching the Millenium Centre and walk into The Chase Nature Reserve. You walk more or less parallel to both the train line and a paved cycle path, but both are too far away to be seen.
When you reach the brook, walk R downstream along the brook until you find a small footbridge shortly before the train embankment.


I give you a number of pictures because I like the winter atmosphere and the wilderness impression. Most are taken in Eastbrookend Country Park but the two last ones are taken in The Chase Nature Reserve. This is the section directly along the Beam River. Experts rate it an outstanding location because it has a particularly undisturbed population of birds taking advantage of the lakes in the former gravel beds. As my pictures show, you cannot come easily close to the lake and birds because of the marshy ground. The nature reserve also has 1% of the total British population of the very rare black poplar tree.

River Beam


Cross the river and turn L, walking now upstream along the same river.


Keep in sight of the road until you reach a traffic light


R Elm Park Avenue


Detour R along Broadway towards the Underground station

ELM PARK

Elm Park Underground station


The station opened in 1935 on the existing Underground line due to increasing real estate development in the area.

The building is a plain brick box, an even simpler and cheaper version than the 1932 designs used elsewhere on the line.

Otherwise L (away from the train line) on St Nicholas Avenue
Soon L Northwood Avenue


R into a footpath between houses (near house number 53)
The footpath ends in Harrow Lodge Park
Walk R towards the boating lake, then along the lake to the dam
Cross the lake, then R along the northern bank of the lake

Boating lake in Harrow Lodge Park


Harrow Lodge Park is the small remaining part of a large country estate that started to be developed as early as the 1900s. The developer who owned the estate realised wisely that large-scale development in nearby Dagenham in the early 1930s was likely to raise the notoriety and value of his own area and waited a few years. The present park was donated to the borough in 1936 although most amenities were not built before the late 1940s due to World War II.


The borough planned all typical amenities of the time such as a paddling pool, playgrounds and fields for specific sports. One major amenity that needed significant investment was the boating lake opened in 1956 after damming the local river (the Ravensbourne, a confusing name as there is an important river with the same name on the right bank of the Thames in Lewisham). A swimming pool was added also in 1956 taking advantage of the now reliable supply of water from the lake.


The park remains a major feature of the suburb with public buildings like the sports centre concentrated at the upstream end of the park. But government restrictions forced boroughs to give up many park amenities in the 1980s and even flower beds and formal gardens were often abandoned. Relaxed restrictions and involvement by local volunteers enabled the borough to set up a rather pretty “secret garden”. You might note the height of the planting beds, making them more convenient for gardeners but also more accessible to handicapped people.

Secret garden in Harrow Lodge Park


It is actually planned as a “sensory garden”: visually impaired people can easily smell and touch the plants and they can listen to the small fountain in the middle of the garden. You should not think that such gardens are the fruit of a recent attempt to compensate for discrimination against handicapped persons. They go back to about 1960 and were advocated with particular regard to people who had gone blind as soldiers or bomb victims during the war. Most of them fell victim to cost savings in the 1980s.

Follow the brook upstream staying within the park until you reach the third footbridge
R on the paved cycle path across the brook, leaving the park
Ahead The Avenue

Typical street in Hornchurch


The area around Hornchurch station is the one area on the present walk where you have to bear with longer sections along roads. This is due to the fact that the neighbourhood was planned by one single developer who obviously found it logical to plan many houses around the station and the less profitable activities like parks further away. It was also not customary to plan footpaths away from the roads in the 1930s, this would become more popular with the garden suburb movement precisely as a reaction against the somewhat boring rows of bungalows and terraces. One thing that is unusual for London and shows that you are indeed in an outer suburb with lower ground prices is that a significant proportion of the houses have only a ground floor and sometimes even a sizeable front garden.

At the end R Station Lane (you must walk for a significant distance along this road both before and after the station)

Art Déco detail in Station Road


I noticed on a few commercial buildings touches of typical Art Déco decoration from the 1930s such as the tiered window framing on the picture. I noted the broken outline of the flats above the shops with open-air galleries in front of some rooms. This was unusual in commercial areas as balconies over a main road are not too attractive, but it is a testimony of how even developers took seriously the idea of maximising access to fresh air in flats. Many council estates of this period have similar open-air galleries linking the flats.

Public house in pink Tudor style


I was amused by the modest size and original name of the public house near the station. As you can see, it is built in a sort of mock-Tudor style but the wooden beams are painted pale pink rather than the normal black. This particular public house also offers something else than pints and football match watching – it has evenings of clairvoyance. By the way, the size of the building is due to the fact that it was built as the only hotel in the new neighbourhood.

HORNCHURCH

Hornchurch Underground station


The station opened in 1885 together with the train line.

Like in Dagenham East, the station building is from 1932 when additional platforms were added for the District Line. The design is very similar to that at Dagenham East.

Continue on Station Lane
L Hacton Drive
At the end ahead to the river Ingrebourne
L along the river (upstream)
. The paved path you are now on is both a marked cycle route (blue signs) and a marked long-distance path (green signs for the London Loop).
The path crosses a minor road, crosses the river later on and continues towards the pavilion of a football field.

London Loop along Ingrebourne River


The London Loop will probably be familiar to you if you enjoy walking. I seldom get opportunities to use it on my walks as it is a circular route around London while my walks are along train and Underground lines that are usually radial (starting in central London). In this particular section, the London Loop follows the Ingrebourne River, taking advantage of the fact that the flood plain of the river was not a sensible place for developers to invest in. The valley is not landscaped in a particular manner and therefore reflects typical nature reserve landscapes but I think it is not specifically listed as such.

Exit the open space and turn L on Bridge Avenue (still upstream parallel to the river, but there is no riverside path due to the football stadium. You have left the cycle route, but you are still on the well waymarked London Loop)
Detour at the end L along the main road for

UPMINSTER BRIDGE

Upminster Bridge Underground station


The station opened in 1934 on the existing Underground line due to increasing real estate development in the area.

The building differs from the 1932 designs. The plain brick box is complemented by an unusual octagonal tower over the ticket hall. This reminds a little of the celebrated designs used for some Piccadilly Line stations during the same period. There was some controversy about the best material for stations at the time. Bricks were cheap and experienced masons were plentiful and cheap to get because of the Great Depression. But concrete was seen as more modern, easier to clean and faster to build. Concrete won after World War II because of the shortage of skilled builders after the war.

You walk past a windmill near the station. It was in active use until 1943 and could be put back in working order but the local interest group has not been able to gather enough funds until now. There are occasional visits to see the machinery.

Otherwise R on St Mary’s Lane (leaving the London Loop marks)
R Boundary Road
At the end L Brookdale Avenue
Ahead Brookdale Close
Ahead into Upminster Park, cross the park and exit near the playground

Upminster Park


The area of the present park belonged to the parish until World War I. As the borough was interested in offering a recreation ground in the centre of the quickly growing suburb, they negotiated a purchase which took many years to agree on. The outcome was a bit unusual, the borough paid the purchase price over a period of 50 years starting in 1929.

The park was renovated a number of times over the years with some amenities coming and going. Obviously, sports facilities and a pavilion stayed throughout the years. A formal garden was inaugurated in 1949 but petered out over time and was replaced by some modest planting of hardy bushes.

L Corbets Tey Road (the main road past the parish church)

St Laurence’s Upminster


St Lawrence Upminster is a parish church with a long tradition as the very name of the suburb comes from the church (a minster is a main church in old saxon). The church was rebuilt in 1862 keeping the shapes of a gothic church but the tower is an actual medieval monument going back to the 13th century. It is deservedly a listed structure. I have read that there are a few interesting details inside the church, in particular the font, but it was closed when I walked through the area. I enjoyed instead the rather romantic and slightly creepy atmosphere of the churchyard with toppling graves and beautiful yew trees.

Ahead Station Road

UPMINSTER

Upminster Underground station


The train station opened in 1885 together with the main train line from London Fenchurch Street to Southend-on-Sea. A branch railway to Romford opened in 1893. District line services started serving the station in 1902 after a junction had been built near Bromley-by-Bow.

Upminster train station


The original station building built for the train company is still in use. It is a sizeable brick house that looks a bit like a large farm barn, very much in line with the surroundings in what was then a rural market town. A second building was added in 1932 directly on the road bridge to serve as a terminus for the District Line. This second building was replaced later by a commercial structure without any architectural merits. My picture is bad anyway but the building is not really worth more.

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District Tube line walk 14: Barking walk to Dagenham East

Walk 14
BARKING walk to DAGENHAM EAST
2 3/4 hours

This line was originally a suburban train line that opened in 1885. District line trains started to run on the line after a junction was built in 1902. The suburban trains continue to use the line but they do not stop between Barking and Upminster.

Routing note: This walk can logically be combined with walk 13 in Barking or with walk 15 in Dagenham East. Barking is an important interchange and you can also combine the present walk with my Fenchurch Street network walk 2 or with my Overground walk 17.

The walk leads you past Eastbury House, a National Trust property that can be visited. This may take you up to one hour in addition to the indicated walking time. If you wish to visit, you should check beforehand as opening times are very restricted.

Beware that many street signs are missing in this part of London. I try to give you clear explanations, but you may wish to load a map on your mobile phone in case you get confused at some point.

This walk enables you to enjoy large parks and a few leafy roads, but you will not be able to avoid significant stretches along suburban terraced housing, a typical feature of the eastern suburbs.

BARKING

Barking station


The station first opened in 1854 on the train line from Fenchurch Street to Dagenham and Tilbury. The direct line via Plaistow was added in 1858 and a train line to Upminster opened in 1888. The present London Overground line to Tottenham and Hampstead opened in 1894, the London Underground District Line trains arrived in 1902. All these lines continue to be available to travellers.

Because the station was such an important interchange, it was deemed sensible to rebuild it in 1960. I am not very enthusiastic about architecture from that period, but it was considered a masterpiece at the time: it is a listed building and it was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1961. Its main title to fame is probably the protruding concrete roof that needs no pillars due to intelligent steel frames and an inclined roof. Despite the kiosks, you do get the feeling of a large, open, airy space inside.

Exit the station and turn R onto the Station Parade
Very soon L down a flight of stairs on a clearly marked footpath named St Awdry’s Walk, merging later into St Audry’s Road
L across the first set of tracks on the footbridge opposite St Erkenwalds Road
R between the two sets of tracks on Essex Road
Ahead under a road viaduct, the road then turns L as Ripley Road
Very soon R Devon Road


At the end R Harrow Road
L before the footbridge in Blake Avenue

St Patrick’s Eastbury

St Patrick’s Eastbury is a pretty unique church, and not only because there are very few anglican churches with St Patrick as their patron saint. To choose the patron saint of staunchly roman catholic and rather restless Ireland for a church in England was understandably unusual.

Striking Art Déco church tower at Saint Patrick’s Eastbury


The church has a very imposing appearance. It was built on plans by architect A.E. Wiseman and opened in 1941. This is an additional unusual item as building a church near core targets of German bombers (London docks and Barking industrial premises) during the worst part of the Battle of Britain certainly demanded a lot of dedication. I was unable to enter the church, but the outside is quite typical of late Art Déco. The view to the church tower from the east is particularly striking.

Blake Avenue divides here in two arms L and R. Ignore both and continue ahead in Denham Way. The road sign is missing; it is the road that enables you to keep more or less in a line with the road that led you to the church.
at the end L along Eastbury House

Eastbury Manor from the back


The manor house was built about 1570 for Clement Sysley, who had a reasonably successful career as a judge and a very successful side business in real estate speculation. The property was used by gentry for about 200 years and was later used by farmers until it was bought by the National Trust in 1918 as a near-ruin. It was then restored and leased to the Council to be used as the local museum until 1941.

The property is associated with the Gunpowder Plot (an amateurish conspiration to blow up Parliament in 1605) as the brother of one of the main culprits lived in the house at the time. This issue is of paramount interest to local historians and there are lengthy heated discussions of it on the internet.

Front of Eastbury Manor
Eastbury Manor seen from the side


The fabric of the building is considered to be an outstanding example of Elizabethan architecture and the H-shape (protruding aisles front and back) is typical of the time. I joined a visit led by an excellent volunteer lecturer and particularly enjoyed the staircase (note the way the steps have been cut with a bias) and the view from the roof.

Understandably, there is not much inside in terms of furniture and decoration, but the beautiful quilt tapestry offered by a local artist to complement the chimney in the main ground floor hall is impressive. You might also enjoy the seriously undulating floor in the top floor hall.

R Sisley Road. No street sign here either, it is the road that enables you to walk past the main entrance to Eastbury House

At the end L Blake Avenue
Cross the main highway into Upney Lane, the road turns a little L

UPNEY

Upney Underground station


The station opened in 1932 on the existing train and Underground line.

The building is a construction in brick with rather simple cubic shapes. This was a typical style in the early 1930s, inspired by architecture in the Netherlands and Sweden. The idea was that a building should reflect what it is used for with no unnecessary fussy decoration.

Lake in Mayesbrook Park in November

Continue on Upney Lane
R The Drive
Ahead into Mayesbrook Park


This is a large park landscaped in 1934 as part of the planning of the new suburb of Dagenham. After several years of strong fiscal revenues in the 1920s, the government felt able to address one of the main social issues in London at that time, the fact that working class families very often had to live in derelict Victorian tenements as they could not afford the properties offered by developers like the Metropolitan Railway. The local authorities bought a few large farming estates and country houses in the marshy areas between Barking and Upminster, laid roads and had developers build modest but modern terraces all over the place. Every 1/2 mile or so, a large area was set aside for public amenities like schools and sports grounds around large parks. Because of the marshy ground, the parks were landscaped with lakes.

Lake in Mayesbrook Park in July


Like all large parks in the 1930s, Mayesbrook Park was planned with all sorts of amenities like a putting green, a bandstand, pavilions, a paddling pool… An area was set aside for a potential ornamental garden but this was never built because the approaching war forced the government to redirect the funds to weapon systems. Technically, the funding came from charities, but they depended themselves ultimately on local authorities or on subsidies for part of the plans.

Sunset in Mayesbrook Park


Mayesbrook Park feels very barren as it was difficult to create an exciting park in a perfectly flat area with a waterlogged gravelly ground. In comparison with other locations in London, the trees did not grow well. What did work well was the large boating lake, now a nature reserve attracting lots of waterfowl. My route keeps close to the lakes because it is the more varied and interesting part of the park.

Mayesbrook Park

Cross the park bearing slowly R in order to walk across the dam between the two boating lakes
Exit the park after the lake near the car park

Art Déco venue on the edge of Mayesbrook Park


From here, you can see a rather conspicuous building called the Roundhouse. Built in 1936, it was a commercial venture centered around a pub but it also fulfilled the functions of a community centre as local authorities did not operate such facilities themselves in the 1930s. The striking geometric shapes, the white colour of the walls and the unusual lettering are all hallmarks of quality Art Déco design. The architect was not a celebrity, he was the house architect for a beer company. He was usually asked to build very traditional designs but his one well-known foray into creative designing is a real success. The rooms are still used occasionally for concerts by tribute bands but the heyday of the venue in the 1980s when it housed the most exciting rock concerts in London is long ago.

Cross the main road into Rugby Road. The street sign is missing but there is a clear blue signpost showing the way to the Underground station

Rugby Road is a typical terrace road from the development of the suburbs in the 1930s. It is a boring environment in my opinion but you must realise that people had very long working hours and spent most of their free time in their vegetable plot behind their houses so that parks and entertainment locations were only an issue on Sundays. What strikes me as seriously inconvenient though is the long walk to the shops considering that people had no choice but to walk every day as fridges were an unaffordable luxury with many houses not even having electrical power.

At the end of Rugby Street, you can detour R on Gale Street for the station

BECONTREE

Becontree Underground station


The station opened in 1926 on the existing train and Underground line in prevision of large developments planned in the area. It was originally called Gale Street Halt for a few years but the name was cumbersome and was simplified in 1932 on the occasion of the construction of additional platforms.

The building is nearly identical to that at Upney.

Small green space off Gale Street


At the corner of Gale Street with Rugby Street, there are two green spaces. The small one along the highway ramp is surprisingly well kept with even a few rose bushes but the more important one is obviously the park.

Otherwise, walk into Parsloes Park
Walk first ahead past the lake towards the tennis courts, then half R towards a former pavilion and a car park using a narrow paved path.
Cross the car park and walk on the grass in a straight line with the previous path, ignoring the fact that paved roads lead left and right. You are walking due East.
You will reach the very far eastern corner of the park.

Mature trees in Parsloes Park


Parsloes Park is quite similar to Mayesbrook Park in terms of size and date of completion (1935). The main difference is the ground as Parsloes Park was heathland rather than riverside gravel. The plans included only a smaller boating pond while there would otherwise be mostly wide open spaces for informal sports. Apart from a few older trees dating back to the garden of the original mansion (demolished in 1925), the lakeside bushes are about the only interesting amenity left. It looks a little like the local authorities had exhausted their funds by the time they started to landscape the park.

Wide open spaces in Parsloes Park
Lake in Parsloes Park

Half R Parsloes Avenue
R Heathway

DAGENHAM HEATHWAY

Dagenham Heathway Underground station


The station opened in 1932 on the existing train and Underground line. It was originally called plain “Heathway” but this caused confusion with stations called “something Heath” and the name was changed in 1949.

The building is nearly identical to that at Upney and Becontree.

Continue a little on Heathway
L Church Elm Lane
R Manning Road, the road turns L near allotments, then R again
At the end L Ford Road
Very soon R into a footpath marked with a blue sign for Old Dagenham Park

Good suburban Art Déco


You will reach a small library building at the corner of the park. It is a good Art Déco design appropriate for a modest structure. The tiered front combines interestingly with the semi-circular portico while avoiding any feeling of heavy neo-clacissism.

You can detour R into the park itself, but you should come back to the footpath afterwards

Daffodils in Old Dagenham Park


The park is a bit more interesting than most in the eastern suburbs because it is the core of the new suburb, near the parish church. It warranted therefore careful planning and attractive amenities like a formal garden and a bowling green. What it did not get was a lido (every suburb had one, but it is located elsewhere in the borough) or a bandstand (that has fallen quite out of fashion by the 1930s due to radio receivers slowly becoming more widespread in households). I give you a picture both of the more formal area close to the suburb centre and of the more typical open space in the further reaches of the park.

Old Dagenham Park

The footpath ends at the foot of a council estate tower
L along the road then R in order to walk around the tower (called Thaxted House)
Follow the main road half R (Siviter Way, but the street sign is missing)
L Church Lane

Dagenham parish church


You will soon reach the parish church of St Peter and St Paul. The church had to be rebuilt in 1805 when the tower crashed into the nave but the parish kept the proportions and materials of the old building, dating in part to the 15th century. The building is listed because of the unusual porch. Few churches were built in the middle of the Napoleonic wars and you can enjoy a somewhat quirky combination of slightly oriental arches (anything Egyptian was much the rage), of mock medieval crenellations (very fashionable since the 1770s for country properties although less for churches) and traditional gothic windows. And we finally have a very Georgian, neo-classical portico with fluted columns.

St Peter and St Paul’s Dagenham

Rest of a medieval house in Old Dagenham


Close to any church, you can of course expect an inn. The Cross Keys are the only old lay building that has survived from the old Dagenham village. The inn is mentioned in documents from 1708 but the building is clearly much older and started as a hall house probably in the 15th century. The irregular wooden beams are clearly old while he bricks on the ground floor are modern. Admittedly, only the street front is old.

Creative park bank near the Dagenham war memorial


While you pay attention to the area, you might notice a lovely bench near the war memorial. The bench back seems to be the work of an experienced tradesman who took pride in showing typical motives from the village: fish in the river Thames, a tractor plowing a field, the trains that made Dagenham into a suburb.

Ahead Exeter Road
Ahead on the footpath (marked with a green signpost for Reede Road)
Cross the train tracks using the footbridge
Ahead along Pondfield Park to the first road

Pondfield Park


The park was landscaped in the 1920s when the local authorities found out that this particular piece of land was not suitable for construction due to a brook. The park extends further beyond Reede Road but this northern section is plain grass a little like in Parsloes Park. The southern part of the park which you walk along is more interesting with a few planted bushes providing some colour. I am not sure that they provide much in terms of flowers, my picture is in November anyway.

R Reede Road
R Cambeys Road, the road turns L
At the end R for

DAGENHAM EAST

Dagenham East Underground station


The station opened in 1885 together with the train line and was originally called plain “Dagenham”. The station was renamed in 1949 because of the renaming of Heathway station.

The original building was demolished when additional platforms were built in 1932. The present building is again nearly identical to that at Upney.

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District Tube line walk 13: Plaistow walk to Barking

Walk 13
PLAISTOW walk to BARKING
2 1/2 hours

This line was originally a suburban train line opened in 1858. District line trains started to run on the line after a junction was built in 1902. The suburban trains continue to use the line but they stop only at West Ham and Barking.

Routing note: This walk can logically be combined with walk 12 in Plaistow or with walk 14 in Barking. There is also a convenient combination available in Barking with my Fenchurch Street network walk 3.

Street signs are often missing in this part of London, particularly on larger roads. I think my description is quite clear, but you might want to load a map of the neighbourhood on your smartphone if you are worried about confusing locations. This walk crosses a number of pleasant green spaces but you will not be able to avoid some less exciting walking along terraces, as is often the case in the eastern suburbs.

PLAISTOW


The station opened originally as a train station on the suburban railway between London Fenchurch Street and Barking in 1858. The District line started serving it in 1902 and the train services dwindled quickly until they were completely withdrawn in 1962, leaving a pure Underground station.

Plaistow Underground station

The station building is not listed but it has some limited local protection. It is one of the most spectacular District line stations, built in 1905 in a very idiosyncratic style. The roof is quite simple and similar to that in Bromley-by-Bow and it is the massive quadrangular structure that is really special. The window pattern reminds a little of medieval Sicily or even Islamic medieval architecture. The cornice is supported by very unusual stone corbels and only the overall colour scheme (red bricks with cream stone highlights) is typically Edwardian.

Exit the station and turn L on Plaistow Road

Open space in Lettsom Walk

Directly at the end of the bridge over the tracks, there is a small open space on your right hand-side. I had second thoughts looking at the stone pyramid. It is nice to be able to climb a few steps to the top, but I am sure children find it much more exciting when they have to climb the slopes – while they are not supposed to do so looking at the sturdy railings. My picture shows lots of fallen leaves. It is an interesting reminder that leaves are a thorny issue for boroughs. Either they try to collect them, using expensive staff and noisy machinery while smothering the green space in diesel fumes. Or they do nothing and people complain about the green space being untidy and the paths being slippery.

R Castor Park Road
Ahead into West Ham Park (there is a gate a few yards to your left)


The park was originally the garden of a local mansion that was demolished in 1872. The owner offered the grounds for sale at a reduced price to the City of London rather than to the local borough who would have been unable to afford it. As a result, it is a rare case of a suburban park managed by the City. Part of the grounds are actually used as a nursery as the City needs flower decoration for many official receptions. The main part of the park is a green space made quite pleasant by the many trees. I think the park may have been a plain open space before because many trees look like they have been planted in the 1970s or even later.

As you can expect from professional gardeners on the City payroll, they keep a magnificent ornamental garden with elaborate beds in varied shapes, a pergola and a rose garden. There is even a tiered garden around a water feature, something there are few examples of in London.

Exit the park near the playground on the eastern side
R (southwards) Upton Lane
At the park corner, turn R and then very soon L into Pelly Road (the street sign is missing, it is the narrow street with a speed limit of 20 mph)
Continue on Pelly Road crossing train tracks
L Pelly Road (the main road turns R under an other name)
L St Mary’s Road

The street runs along a pleasant open space, the former St Mary’s Churchyard. There are not many small green spaces in the eastern suburbs. Most housing was developed in large blocks with developers finding it more convenient to plan only one large park in the middle of the neighbourhood. The church looks a bit small for such a large churchyard and this is correct. The actual parish church was a considerable Victorian building sitting no less than 1,000 worshippers. It was demolished in the late 1970s.

A little further along the street, you walk past a modest house called somewhat strangely the “Given-Wilson Institute”. This is actually the name of the charity that operates a number of community centres since it was founded in 1902. I suppose Given-Wilson is the name of the founder.

Take Eastern Road R when you reach the orange building of Lister school. There is a street sign for Eastern Road but it was displaced and is confusing.
Soon L North Street passage, a footpath between two schools

Ahead Walton Road
L Selsdon Road, the road turns R keeping the same name and ends on the corner with Green Street (no street sign here)

On your left, there is a rather ugly tower above a flat structure that shelters the local market. The street front is a little odd, with two tiers of a sort of concrete balcony covered in an ivory-colored material highlighted with dark green steel motives. This is very 1960s, when concrete in plain geometrical shapes was seen as “clean” and “modern”. To be honest, the material has weathered rather better than in other places, possibly because it faces East and is protected from bad weather by the tower.

I can’t miss the opportunity of showing you a rather amusing sign I saw in the same street. I took note that they offer to kill wives, which is a surprising line of business for a drycleaner’s. It actually reminded me a little also of a film playing in the London suburbs, “My Beautiful Laundrette”. I think it was one of the first films shown widely in which a gay relationship across ethnic lines was shown in a natural manner.

Detour L in Green Street if you want to see the Underground station. Otherwise, turn R in Green Street

UPTON PARK

The station opened first as a train station on the existing suburban railway line in 1877 due to increasing demand from new residents for train services. The District line started serving it in 1902 and the train services dwindled quickly until they were completely withdrawn in 1962, leaving a pure Underground station.

Upton Park Underground station

The original station building was an oddity, being built by a property developer to improve the value of his land with the railway just approving the plans. This was a novel idea at the time but railway companies all over London soon saw how profitable this was, attracting customers without spending anything. Developers are still asked occasionally nowadays to contribute to the improvement of a station serving an area they are interested in.

The present station building from 1903 is a classical late Victorian suburban station in terms of colour scheme and architecture, with a generous sprinkling of purely decorative triangular gables.

Terraces in Tudor Road

Soon L Tudor Road
When the road turns L, cross the short passage ahead. It turns R into Priory Road. Follow the road along the park until you find the gate.
L into Priory Park. Follow the length of the park ahead and L, the park is actually a narrow strip of grass meandering between the built-up areas


Priory Park

I was unable to find information about the “priory” in the park name. As there was a large abbey in Barking, it refers possibly just to this. The layout of the park is peculiar on a map, it is a band of greenery snaking through the suburb. This might point to a former water course, the waterlogged ground being then unattractive to developers. Alternatively, there may have been a connection to the large stadium located at the southern end of the park until 2016, Boleyn Ground, played by West Ham United. The park is a plain open space but has well maintained bushes.

At the end of the park, cross the road into Victoria Avenue (do not cross the tracks here). The road turns R then L again
At the end L Katherine Road crossing the tracks

Former factory in the Bauhaus style

I noticed an amusing industrial building on the road advertising “Trebor Quality Sweets”. Trebor is the reverse of the first name of the founder, who was called Robert. The company’s first factory was here. It was one of the leading confectionary companies in Britain with strong exports to the United States and had a social streak, stopping night shifts in 1981 in order to improve work-life balance for the workers, as we would say nowadays. The company was bought by a competitor in 1989. The factory had been built in 1935 in the Bauhaus style of architecture. Typical elements include the colour white, the horizontal lines and the huge quantity of windows. The Bauhaus architects insisted that daylight was much healthier for workers, saved lighting costs and actually improved productivity.

R Rutland Road
Ahead into Plashet Park

Entering Plashet Park

The origin of the park is comparable to that of West Ham Park, it was the garden of a country house called Plashet. It had a bird zoo for a time, but it is now just a peaceful neighbourhood park. The trees look clearly older than in West Ham Park for a good reason, they probably predate the demolition of the country house in 1891.

Plashet Park

Turn R within the park and exit near the bowling green in a busy road called Plashet Grove

Edwardian library in Plashet Grove

On the southwest corner of the park, you see the typically Edwardian building of the former local library. In line with early 20th century fashion, red bricks are combined with cream-coloured stone. The windows are inspired by Jacobean mansions and the central section by Renaissance palaces, but the architect remained reasonable with decoration and actually thought sensibly about the large windows needed in a library. At that time, designing a building with no consideration whatsoever for how it would be used was commonplace. “Form follows function” was not a widespread concept before the 1930s.

Many borough libraries were endowed by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie but this one was financed by Mr Passmore Edwards, an activist journalist who defended many worthy causes benefiting the poor and the workers and who bequeathed money to all sorts of public amenities like this library.

School footbridge

On the southeastern corner of the park (the direction you need to take), there is a school on both sides of the road. A rather interesting footbridge connects both campuses, enabling students to cross without being at risk. The footbridge looks a little like a caterpillar and the blue “head” is a window.

Follow the road walking under the school footbridge to the main crossroads
R High Street North

East Ham station parade


Just near the station, the station parade is an interesting testimony to the fact that the neighbourhood really started to grow fast in the 1930s. The decoration on the central gable is typical for Art Déco, showing wings alluding to fast transportation. More traditionally inclined readers will of course think rather of Hermes, the god of commerce, whom Greeks represented with winged sandals.

EAST HAM

East Ham Underground station

The station opened originally together with the suburban train line in 1858. The District line started serving it in 1902 and the train services dwindled quickly until they were completely withdrawn in 1962, leaving a pure Underground station.

The original station building was replaced in 1905 because of the integration of Underground services and the architect used exactly the same design for the two neighbouring stations of Upton Park and East Ham.

Shortly after the station L into Burges Road
Ahead Watson Avenue

Paddock along the East Circular Motorway

This road ends as a footpath between a horse paddock and a gasometer. It makes sense to have such amenities here because the vicinity of the motorway does not lend itself to building attractive luxury flats. In addition, the lush greenery has to do with the fact that you are at the bottom of the Roding Valley, where the water table fed by the tidal Thames is just inches below the ground surface.

East Ham gasometer

The gasometer is particularly clean and in very good shape. You will probably know that the steel girders around it are used to carry the roof because the roof can be lowered within the tank depending on how much gas there is and how much pressure is needed. Accidents are rare because the technology is well known but gas is obviously prone to major explosions and the more modern facilities use underground caverns to store the gas. I was a bit shocked to read that it is a popular dare in some teenager circles to climb on gasometers (actually, some adults do it too…).

Cross the motorway on the footbridge. The ramp turns to the R, go back afterwards to find a footpath in a straight line with the footbridge
Ahead on the footpath until you reach the river Roding

River Roding in Barking

The river is prone to flooding because the upper reaches in Essex run over clay. This means valuable buildings would not be built close to the river and this in turn gave urban planners a very convenient route to run the North Circular motorway. Until the 19th century, there was a harbour in Barking but the river is too shallow in the spot where you will be crossing it, I mention more about the harbour on a Fenchurch Street network walk.

R along the riverside to the next road bridge

This is not a village church


Walking along the river is quite enjoyable, there are quiet reed beds from time to time. Although the river is not normally influenced by the tide this far inland, very high tides can reach this area and the reed beds help prevent flooding. The one interesting building before reaching the bridge is a surprisingly elegant industrial building. Because it has a small cubic tower, it really looks a little like a village church.

Barking roundabout


L across the river on London Road
The road crosses a busy roundabout, keep here R along the road towards a large green space

The roundabout is terribly busy and the sculpture on the central reservation is definitely not among the most remarkable examples of its creed.

Site of old Barking Abbey


R into Abbey Green (the name of the green space) towards the church

Walking around the church and the abbey ruins (there are a few explanation panels as well), you are on highly historical ground. Barking Abbey was one of the first nunneries founded in Britain as early as the 7th century and it was possibly the most influential and richest abbey in Britain until a storm tide took away large tracts of land in the 14th century.

Abbey Green

The history of the abbey is full of very important persons in close contact with royalty but also revered for sanctity or for cultural achievements. Among peculiarities associated with the abbey, you might be surprised to learn that the abbess was one of four that had the rank of a baron and were therefore supposed to perform military service, which they did in the 13th century on the occasion of wars against Scotland.

King Henry VIII had a particularly keen interest in taking over the riches of Barking Abbey for the royal Treasury and had it demolished extremely fast in order to sell the materials (except for some stones reused for a royal palace in Dartford).

St Mary’s church Barking


The church that is still standing in Abbey Green as the parish church for Barking was built by the Abbey but for the lay population. There is not much left of the 13th century romanesque church (mainly the chancel) but most of the rest is genuinely gothic with the tower as the last part being finished in the 15th century. The church is often closed because its isolated location makes it difficult to prevent vandalism so that you are unlikely to see the few monuments it contains.

Curfew Tower of Barking Abbey

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What you will be able to see easily is the so-called Curfew Tower, one of the three original gates into the abbey precinct. It was built in 1460 but the chapel on the first floor was renovated very regularly and is not authentic. I guess the name curfew comes from the fact that the gates were closed at night.

Exit Abbey Green near the small medieval tower
Ahead into East Street
, actually the pedestrianised main street although it looks a little abandoned until you reach the shops

Art déco in Eastern Street

At the very beginning of the street, you walk past a very impressive Art Déco building. I am not sure whether it was a film theatre or a department store but the tall windows make me think the latter is more likely. The street front shows an exquisite catalogue of typical Art Déco ornaments like zigzag lines.

A bit further on, you reach the well proportioned local Crown Court. It is obviously again an Edwardian building, inspired overall to a large extent by French châteaux. The building is quite strictly symmetrical (although not completely), which is not always the case in Edwardian public buildings but does tend to give a building a more serious look. When you look at such a building, you understand that it is difficult to extend it when additional offices or meeting rooms are needed.

Barking Crown Court

Ahead Station Parade

BARKING

Barking station

The station first opened in 1854 on the train line from Fenchurch Street to Dagenham and Tilbury. The direct line via Plaistow was added in 1858 and a train line to Upminster opened in 1888. The present London Overground line to Tottenham and Hampstead opened in 1894, the London Underground District Line trains arrived in 1902. All these lines continue to be available to travellers.

Because the station was such an important interchange, it was deemed sensible to rebuild it in 1960. I am not very enthusiastic about architecture from that period, but it was considered a masterpiece at the time: it is a listed building and it was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1961. Its main title to fame is probably the protruding concrete roof that needs no pillars due to intelligent steel frames and an inclined roof. Despite the kiosks, you do get the feeling of a large, open, airy space inside.

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District Tube line walk 12: Stepney Green walk to Plaistow

Walk 12
STEPNEY GREEN walk to PLAISTOW
2 1/2 hours

This section of the District line opened in 1902 between Stepney Green and Bromley-by-Bow. The section between Bromley and Plaistow is much older and was operated by a suburban railway company starting in 1858. The train services were withdrawn in 1962 as the Underground services were more convenient and more popular.

Routing note: This walk can logically be combined with walk 11 in Stepney Green or with walk 13 in Plaistow. There are also several convenient combinations available in West Ham, in particular with my Fenchurch Street network walk 2.

I noticed street signs are missing on several occasions on this route. I try to be as clear as possible, but you might wish to load an area map on your phone in order to check whenever in doubt.

STEPNEY GREEN

Stepney Green Underground station

The station opened in 1902 together with the District line extension.

The building is a surprisingly sizeable structure looking much like a suburban train station. Although you are still quite close to central London, Stepney indeed feels very leafy and suburban so that the style of the station is fitting.

I don’t have details about its history but I was surprised that it looks much more Victorian than Edwardian. It is also devoid of fanciful architecture ornaments, the kind of which is to be expected on a building from 1902.

Ornate platform in Stepney Green station

At platform level, one is plain but the other one has been beautified in 1902 with a row of columns and a lattice painted light green, a very unusual effort that is worth a compliment. The private companies that operated the Underground lines until the 1930s actually seldom spent money on making platforms look nice because they were managed like suburban train companies where a conspicuous station building was important and absorbed most of the funds.

Exit the station and turn L (eastwards) on Mile End Road

Arts centre of Queen Mary University

The large set of buildings on your left-hand side belongs to Queen Mary University, named after the wife of George V. It is a medical college and therefore faces the usual challenge of how to select the few young people who will follow the demanding full course out of the crowd of applicants attracted partly by the prospect of earning a sizeable income without risk of losing clients over time. The answer in this case is to be the most demanding university in Britain in terms of school achievements and to also charge a sizeable fee (although less than in a private US institution).

Art Déco reliefs

The first interesting building you walk past is a classical Art Déco structure used for artistic shows. The simple materials and geometric shapes are typical for the 1930s. Instead of ornamentation, there are four bas-reliefs, a popular addition at that time. They are devoted to different artistic pursuits and it is easy to recognise theatre, music and dance although I am not sure what the fourth relief shows. Although artists liked to have nude figures in reliefs in the 1930s, I suppose this was seen as inappropriate here due to the many impressionable students who might get distracting thoughts.

Central wing of Queen Mary University

The next large building is the main headquarters, the so-called Queen’s Building dating back to the 1890s. In line with late Victorian custom, it is an imposing neo-classical structure with lots of columns and a few extraneous details taken from other periods of architectural history such as the baroque festoons under the cornice. The rather nice clocktower is one of many built in these years, usually on the occasion of some anniversary of Her Majesty. Clocks were obviously useful in an university at a time when pocket watches were fickle and too expensive for many students.

R Harford Street
L Solebay Street
Ahead across Mile End Park into Hamlets Way

Green Bridge in Mile End Park

Mile End Park is somewhat unusual in that it is a thin strip of land along Regent’s Canal, linking the more historical Victoria Park with the river Thames. It was not planned as a park originally, it was planned after World War II on industrial land destroyed by bombs but the plan was not actually implemented before the 1990s. On the present walk, you do not walk long through the park (I do this on a Central Line walk), but you can definitely take the time to see the footbridge over Mile End Road.

Water feature in Mile End Park

It was one of the first occasions when two sections of a park crossed by a major highway were linked by a wide “green bridge” rather than by a modest subway. The bridge is painted yellow – it is called “green” because there are plants grown on it. At the foot of the bridge, there is an intricate formal garden featuring a series of terraces over a stepped pond with fountains. This is an unusually complex garden for a park from the 1990s.

 

Planting in Mile End Park

The planting is very 1990s, with an interesting variety of plants and grasses but very few flowers. This makes maintenance easier but it was probably also more appropriate considering the negative impact of the exhaust fumes from the highway on the plants. From an ecological point of view we take now, such planting is also more attractive to creepy crawlies and butterflies and needs less chemicals like fertilisers and weedkillers.

 

Church of the Guardian Angels in Mile End

The large church directly near the “green bridge” is the Roman Catholic church of the Guardian Angels, built in 1903. The nave is classically neo-gothic while the crenellated tower is a bit strange. The church has a very interesting history: the location was used before by a congregationalist chapel but the land owner died and the heirs wanted to sell out. The worshippers were distracted by a conflict with their preacher and the chapel was bought instead by a Catholic gentleman who found enthusiastic support with the Bishop for his idea of opening a school and other social facilities in this particularly deprived part of London. I guess the Bishop was also quite pleased with having expelled competitors from this conspicuous location. There was a significant number of prospective Catholic churchgoers because this was a heavily industrial neighbourhood that gave jobs to many Irish immigrants forced by famine to leave their farms.

Looking towards Canary Wharf from the green bridge

By the way, there is an interesting view from the top of the footbridge towards Canary Wharf. It is one of few locations where you get a large number of trees in the foreground and the towers in the background.

L Eric Street
R Mile End Road past the station

 

Weird style on Mile End Road

Nearly opposite the station, I noticed a somewhat peculiar office building. It combines a very plain brick structure, a steel-and-glass structure with a strange lattice of metal bars and a very unexpected neo-Georgian portico. The building combines a half-circle, a triangular and a cubic shape in a completely uncoordinated manner. If the aim was to attract attention from passers-by, it is probably fair enough. It the aim was to make a tasteful statement and to improve the landscape, I think the objective was missed by a large margin. Eclecticism cannot ever replace thoughtful design.

MILE END

Mile End Underground station

The station opened in 1902 together with the District line extension. Additional platforms for the Central line opened in 1946.

The station building is a simple but well proportioned building covered in white tiles with a blue band. It reminds a little of stations from the 1930s on the Northern line but it was renovated several times and I cannot tell how old it really is. The colour scheme is actually unusual and people familiar with London Underground branding schemes can probably pinpoint the construction date easily.

Continue on Mile End Road
R Southern Grove
L Hamlets Way. The road turns L at the end but you should continue ahead in the footpath along the cemetery fence
I also suggest you detour R into Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, there are several exits leading you back into Hamlets Way

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

The cemetery was opened in 1841 as one of the seven large cemeteries landscaped by private companies when investors decided that burials could be an attractive business now that Parliament had decided to close the parish cemeteries for hygienic reasons. Part of the cemetery was used for individual monuments but the location in a deprived part of London means the large majority of burials were in unmarked common graves. Like with other cemeteries, the company was more interested in dividends than in tidiness and maintenance. In the end, the cemetery was closed in 1966 and the ground sold to the local authorities.

The benign neglect practiced for many years enabled nature to take over large parts of the cemetery and it is now a pleasant nature reserve with burial monuments scattered among the grass under mature trees and linked by romantic paths through the greenery. There are not many celebrities buried here as they would usually live in more wholesome parts of London and therefore closer to other cemeteries.

L Wellington Way

Houses in Wellington Way

There are some nice brick houses in this road, probably built for owners of shops in the area. They do not remind you of typical East End tenements.

R for

 

 

BOW ROAD

Bow Road Underground station

The station opened in 1902 together with the District line extension.

The station building is very similar to the one in Stepney Green, but it was changed even less and is listed. The listing refers apparently to a large extent also to the elaborate platform awnings.

 

 

Court for the borough of Tower Hamlets

The building next to the station is the local court for the borough of Tower Hamlets. It is a good example of the image of justice the government decided is appropriate as similar court buildings were built elsewhere in London around the year 2000. It seems courts are not supposed to be welcoming places (like in “helping people come to their rights”), rather to frighten criminals. This fits with the policy of the government to keep people away from the courts as far as possible if some kind of mediation or ombudsman is possible in any manner. To be honest, offputting, fortress-like court buildings are also necessary because courts are typical targets for violent activists and even terrorists.

R Mornington Grove
L along the railway line (Eleanor Street, but there is no street sign here)
L across the train line using the footbridge
R across a second train line, you are now in Arnold Road
At the next larger road, when Arnold Road turns into Trevithick Way, leave both
L Campbell Road (the street sign is missing)

Orange pub

R Bow Road
Cross the bridge over the DLR
Just before house number 116 (a pub) R in a footpath

The pub was painted in a particular lively colour when I walked past it. For some reason, I have not seen many shops or businesses painted bright orange. There might be some limitations imposed by boroughs, but it is possibly just the fact that orange is a more expensive colour and is prone to get dirty quickly.

Cross Rainhill Way towards a historical building

 

Former Drapers’ Almshouses

The building is a former set of almshouses built by the Drapers’ guild. They were built in 1702 as a retirement home for guild members themselves and this may explain the late date of construction. Most guilds built almshouses in the 16th and 17th century on the basis of bequests of land or funds and it had become less usual to earmark money for this purpose in the 1700s. In line with fashion for early Georgian properties, the building is a streamlined, strictly symmetrical structure with just a modest cornice under the roof eaves. The almshouses were converted later into luxury flats when the guild transferred the retirement home away from London in order to sell the ground.

Ahead on the footpath along school grounds
At the end L into a footpath along the back wall of the school
At the end R Stroudley Walk

Arcades in Stroudley Walk

This unusual pedestrianised street is a testimony to a very specific urban planning fashion. Back in the 1960s, the usual planning for a new neighbourhood including council estate towers in walking distance of a quadratic shopping centre with easy vehicle access to the back of the shops. Nowadays, fashion is for either huge self-contained shopping centres with equally huge parking facilities near a motorway exit – or for pedestrianised city centre streets with identikit chain stores.

In the 1980s, there was a fashion for rows of shops on both sides of a walking mall. Upper levels were to be used for housing and deliveries were a bit awkward. In the end, many shops closed because clients insisted on only shopping in places they could reach by car and the flats above the shops were not popular because of late night noise from bars under the arcades.

At the end of the arcades L into Bruce Road

Formal garden in Bob’s Park

There is a nice little park further down in Bruce Road. It had some innocuous official name but local residents nicknamed it “Bob’s Park” after the warden and the name continues to be used nowadays. Being directly near the local community centre, it is well looked after by a club of park friends and there is a lovely formal garden with an interesting variety of flowers and an interesting inlay of ceramic roundels in the central section. This may be inspired by medieval tradition, when large churches often had a labyrinth inlaid in the nave floor. The playground also has a particularly nice dragon, possibly again inspired by medieval decoration.

Playground dragon

Friendly dragon park bench

Community centre in Bob’s Park

The community centre itself opened in 1994 and was the brainchild of Baron Andrew Mawson, a trained theologian who launched here the first “Healthy Living Centre” and trialed many important ideas used to structure social life in deprived areas of Britain such as encouraging grassroots arts and handicrafts. It was one of the ancestors of what we call nowadays “community work” or “social entrepreneurship”. The building is a somewhat peculiar structure in terms of colours and shapes but the courtyard concept reminds a little of cloisters and this is not surprising considering the background of the founder. It was also logical because it used a former church, destroyed in a fire later on.

Remnant of Northumberland House

The main access to the community centre is a somewhat unexpected stone gate. It was salvaged from the garden of a local mansion but it is actually much older and much more historical. It was one of the garden decorations designed by leading architect William Kent in the early 1600s for a palace in central London, Northumberland House. There is an other item of decoration from this garden in the original location near Embankment Underground station.

Close nearby, you can also have a look at Kingsley Hall, built as a community centre in the 1930s. I did not take a picture because it is not a spectacular building but it is a very special place because Mahatma Gandhi stayed in the building in 1931.

At the end R St Leonard’s Street (look for the blue sign for Bromley station)
Ahead along the foot of the motorway embankment to

BROMLEY-BY-BOW

Bromley-by-Bow Underground station

The station opened originally as a train station on the suburban railway between London Fenchurch Street and Barking in 1858. It was called plain “Bromley” and remained so when it was relocated by a few yards following a fire in 1892. The junction with the District line opened in 1902 and the train services were withdrawn in 1962, leaving a pure Underground station.

 

 

The name of the station changed in 1967 from Bromley to Bromley-by-Bow for rather incidental reasons: the London boroughs had been reorganised in 1965 and the borough of Bromley was now a major subdivision of London. In order to avoid any confusion that the District line station might be located in this newly created borough, the name of the station was changed. There are indeed stations in the borough of Bromley called Bromley North and Bromley South.

The station building is a rather plain brick box. This is due to the fact that the previous building burnt down in 1970 and that public means of transportation were seen at that time as a necessary inconvenience not warranting too much investment.

Cross under the motorway near the Underground station
L along the motorway following the blue pedestrian sign for Three Mills
Follow the slip road parallel to the motorway towards a bus stop (Hancock Road)
R Three Mill Lane

Tidal mill on the Bow river

The Three Mills area includes an important film studio, a small park and the mills themselves. There are actually only two mills since the 16th century. They are not in use any more since World War II but maintenance took place because they were used as warehouses. One of them (the “house mill” built in 1776) is the largest tidal mill in England although the tidal effect has been partly eliminated by works in the upstream basin. The machinery can still be visited occasionally as it is owned by a charity.

High tide in Three Mills

The technical aspect is difficult to guess from outside, but you do feel that it is a historical place due to the unequal stones and to the interesting shapes of the many individual buildings.

Continue ahead into the mill courtyard
At the end L along Three Mills Wall River

 

Development on Sugar House Island

The park is not very interesting, it is just a quiet open space between two arms of the Bow River. But you have views from the park to interesting modern buildings on the other side of the river. On the left-hand side, a former industrial area called “Sugar House Island” is being developed into a new neighbourhood. My picture dates back to the very beginnings of the development but promised interestingly contemporary architecture.

Three Mills pumping station

On the right-hand side, the large shiny industrial hall is a pumping station. It is needed to pump sewage from the lower lying parts of the East End into the main sewer as this one crosses the Bow River as a covered aqueduct on a higher level. The new pumping station also has a much higher throughput and made it possible to evacuate much more foul water through the sewer than into the river Lea as had to be done before in some circumstances. The building is a plain industrial structure but it was given an intriguing shape that makes it interesting rather than ugly. Well done.

After the park and a bridge R on Bisson Road (no street sign at this corner)
The road turns soon L as Riverside Road

House in Riverside Road

This small neighbourhood squeezed between the river and a high embankment away from convenient amenities is bound to attract a different kind of people than a typical terraced road. I was pleased to discover the lovely decoration of the house on the picture, it sorts of defines well the kind of people I imagine living here, people with their personal view on life but who take pride in their surroundings. To fit with this theme, look at the next road. When you think about it, giving Gay Road as your address may not be very cool in a typical high school environment.

R Gay Road
L Abbey Lane

 

Abbey Lane Recreation Ground

R into the recreation ground, climb the stairs at the rear of the playground up the embankment.

The recreation ground is nothing special, but it is actually quite large for such a small neighbourhood and must be pleasantly quiet.

R on the top of the embankment, you are on the Greenway

 

Former Abbey Mills pumping station

The Greenway leads you soon past a rather peculiar industrial building, the old Abbey Mills pumping station. It was designed in 1865 as part of the sewage network I mentioned before. Scientists were increasingly worried that effluent dumped into any available canal or river was spreading diseases and Parliament had been forced to evacuate the Westminster Houses when a hot summer had caused the polluted river Thames to smell disgustingly. Sewage from households (not yet from industry at that time) was to be evacuated through large sewers and the North bank sewer crosses the Lea river as an aqueduct. The Greenway was landscaped on top of the aqueduct and you might get an inkling of bad smells on very hot days although the sewer is indeed well sealed.

Sewage from the East End ran first to the pumping station from whence it had to be pumped up by about 40 ft into the main sewer. The facility was a showpiece of engineering and was designed in a very elaborate style occasionally compared to a Byzantine cathedral. The red-and-white pattern and the romanic arches were actually quite commonplace in mid-Victorian architecture while the roofs reminiscent of French châteaux and the quirky tower are indeed less usual. I suggest you compare my picture from 2009 with the present state of affairs to state whether nature has started reclaiming at least the paved area around the building.

Crossing the Channelsea River

Just after the pumping station, the Greenway crosses over the Channelsea River, now a dead arm of the lower Lea river. My picture is taken very carefully to give you a more natural feeling that what you will probably feel between new residential estates, railroads and legacy industrial plots.

Keep on the Greenway crossing train lines
Just after the bridge over the railway R down the stairs to Manor Road
L (southwards) Manor Road
Cross under the next train line for

WEST HAM

West Ham Underground station

The station was opened in 1901 by the railway company on a line that already existed since 1858 because it was necessary to provide access to a new football stadium nearby. When the London Underground District Line opened in 1902, the station became an interchange, but trains stopped calling here from 1908 onwards (with a few exceptions). Trains call again since 1999.

In 1979, platforms were built on an other train line that ran through West Ham on its way between Stratford and Canning Town. This interchange was available until 2006; the train line was replaced by a DLR line on the same route that opened in 2011.

West Ham station

In addition, West Ham is served by London Underground: District Line since 1902 on tracks parallel to the Fenchurch Street train line, Jubilee Line since 1999 on tracks parallel to the Stratford-Canning Town train line.

The station building is a rather impressive construction from 1999 with the walkway between the two Underground lines set on spidery brick pillars. There is a very tall and wide concourse serving both the train station and the Underground lines. It has no decoration to speak of and this gives it a rather imposing appearance reminding a little of Art Déco. Unfortunately, I could not take pictures inside for obvious security reasons.

L past the Underground station in Memorial Avenue
Ahead across the recreation ground to the Greenway embankment

Memorial Recreation Ground

The original user of this place was the Thames Ironwork Football Club founded in 1897. The club is better known as the West Ham United Football Club, their later name. They moved away in 1904 to Upton Park and the grounds have mainly been used for football and rugby pitches since.

Climb up the Greenway using the stairs close to the train line

 

From the top of the Greenway, you have a good view towards the two council estate towers of Plaistow. This suburb did not have the best of reputations in the 1970s when many tenants of the estate towers lost their jobs due to the closure of many factories in the East End. After years of handwringing, police raids and neglect, the government decided in the 1990s to start giving the local authorities subsidies to rebuild the most run-down suburbs. The process has been ongoing for 30 years but has indeed brought more stability into the community and the estate towers in Plaistow do not look frightening.

Go down the stairs on the other side of the Greenway into Whitelegg Road (still along the train line)
The road turns R under the same name
Ahead Rudolph Road
L Salmen Road
L London Road (there is no street sign, it is the direction of the council estate tower)
Cross the station car park for

PLAISTOW

Plaistow Underground station

The station opened originally as a train station on the suburban railway between London Fenchurch Street and Barking in 1858. The District line started serving it in 1902 and the train services dwindled quickly until they were completely withdrawn in 1962, leaving a pure Underground station.

The station building is not listed but it has some limited local protection. It is one of the most spectacular District line stations, built in 1905 in a very idiosyncratic style. The roof is quite simple and similar to that in Bromley-by-Bow and it is the massive quadrangular structure that is really special. The window pattern reminds a little of medieval Sicily or even Islamic medieval architecture. The cornice is supported by very unusual stone corbels and only the overall colour scheme (red bricks with cream stone highlights) is typically Edwardian.

 

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District Tube line walk 11: Liverpool Street walk to Stepney Green

Walk 11
LIVERPOOL STREET walk to STEPNEY GREEN
1 1/4 hour

This short walk belongs actually to the Hammersmith & City line but it made more sense to include it under District line as I would otherwise have a missing link in the District line. Originally, the section between Liverpool Street and Whitechapel was operated by the Metropolitan line who wanted to provide direct services towards the Docklands via the tunnel under the Thames now operated by London Overground.

Trains went first to Aldgate where there was a very tight bend and continued towards Whitechapel with an intermediary station called “St Mary’s (Whitechapel Road)”. This line opened in 1884 and could also be used by trains coming from Tower Hill and joining at Aldgate.

Due to operational problems with the junction, a straighter set of tracks was built in 1938 so that trains from Liverpool Street or from Tower Hill could bypass Aldgate entirely. The intermediary station was relocated a little closer to the City and renamed Aldgate East.

The section between Whitechapel and Stepney Green was built and operated by the District Line starting in 1902.

Routing note: This walk can easily be combined with either walk 10 (as a short extension beyond Aldgate East) or walk 12 (as a short extension before Stepney Green). Out of the numerous connections available in Liverpool Street, the one that is most convenient considering the way I wrote the walks is Circle line walk 2. There is also a good combination in Whitechapel with Overground walk 4.

This is a short walk but it may take more time than you expect due to good shopping opportunities. There is a lively garment market in Wentworth Street (check for the days of operation) and an equally lively market on Whitechapel Road. In addition, you are not far from the popular markets in Shoreditch.

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 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. Finally, a direct link with Aldgate East bypassing the congested junction at Aldgate was built in 1938.

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.

Take the station exit on the corner of Liverpool Street and Old Broad Street
R Liverpool Street walking past the train terminus and the former station hotel
At the end L Bishopsgate

The road is now a major highway into the City and is the only highway into London that has been in use for 2,000 years. It was the roman road to Cambridge and owes its name to pilgrims coming to London to worship St Erkenwald, a 7th century bishop of London.

Soon R ignore Victoria Avenue
take Catherine Wheel Alley (the entrance is under a surprisingly small porch but is well marked; it turns then into a narrow pedestrian passage widening later on)

This narrow street gives you a feeling for London as it was in the 18th century. The street layout is unchanged and some of the brick buildings on both sides do give you the feeling of 19th century warehouses. Obviously, nearly all of them are now posh offices for consultants, attorneys and accountants. In the 18th century, many houses were used by Huguenots, French protestants that had been forced to leave their home country because of their faith and who brought to London a very lively garment industry.

Ahead Middlesex Street
L Wentworth Street

The garment market in this street operates most days of the week and extends to several neighbouring streets depending on the day. The market is much better known after its moniker of “Petticoat Market”, supposedly because this was a convenient place to buy a “petit” or “short” coat. The market was not popular at all with the authorities who felt until the 1930s that it gave employment to many shady characters, did not pay proper taxes and sheltered illegal immigrants. I am not sure that all traders are squeaky clean and properly declared British nationals nowadays, but the market is protected by a 1936 Act of Parliament and is such a major tourism and shopping attraction that it would be suicidal to try to shut it down.

Although the market is very close to Brick Lane, seen as the core of the garment trade for South Asians, there is a rather clear difference. The Asian traders cater to a significant extent to professional buyers like shop owners from other parts of Britain while the Petticoat Market traders appeal primarily to casual buyers. I do not give you pictures of this part of my walk because it would have been impossible to avoid taking pictures of people and infringing their right to privacy.

R Commercial Street

ALDGATE EAST

Aldgate East Underground station

The station opened in 1884 when the line coming from Blackfriars enabled the District Line to connect with tracks into the eastern suburbs. Originally, the junction was located within Aldgate terminus, but this caused operational problems and the District line relocated the Aldgate platforms serving eastern London to a segregated location. This became Aldgate East.

 

Stand alone porch before construction of the office building

There was a station building originally but the station was remodeled in 1938 and all facilities are now underground. A rather nice temporary porch marked the entrance for years while an office building was being built above it. The porch is actually still standing but is dwarfed by the colonnade of the office building. Experts may note that the platforms look unusually wide and airy. This is due to the use of concrete as this enables longer spans than the traditional brick walls.

L Whitechapel High Street

This is the original main road giving access into central London from East Anglia and this explains the unusual layout. The road is particularly wide, with equally wide sidewalks that are used for a major street market on most days of the week. In the mid-19th century, it was lined with busy factories because those had been driven away from the City in order to lower the impact of noise, traffic and dust. The end of the road close to the City was then developed in the late 19th century as a sort of transition area with offices and trades.

Whitechapel art gallery

On both sides of the Aldgate East station entrance, the buildings are stately but very different. The one on the City side is the famous Whitechapel Art Gallery, designed by architect Charles Townsend who had a very personal style. He liked intricate friezes inspired by Renaissance motives, which was nothing unusual at the time, but he included them in rather plain fronts without the columns, gables and balconies his competitors loved. Townsend also had a particular inclination towards twin towerlets and the overall combination of his designs is really unusual.

The art gallery was one of the very first in Britain operated by public authorities with the intention of showing young artists. The board nominated over many years remarkable directors who curated seminal exhibitions. Highlights started in 1938 with an extremely daring show of Picasso’s antiwar painting Guernica, causing considerable controversy and even serious diplomatic difficulties for the government. In the 1950s and 1960s, being given an exhibition here made you the talk of the town for cognoscenti. The gallery had to be refurbished in the 2000s and is now competing with many other important venues for contemporary art, but it remains highly regarded for shows dealing with urgent societal issues like feminism, racism etc.

The neighbouring building with the inscription Passmore Edwards Library is now also used by the art gallery as several exhibitions usually overlap at the same time. The building is about as old as the main gallery building but is a much more typical Edwardian design with an uncoordinated mixture of decoration details from different periods and countries (an Italian frieze, a Dutch gable, a separate North German gable, a Jacobean mock tower in the middle etc). Cream-coloured highlights on dark red brick walls were also a typical Edwardian combination. As a result, you can easily see how unusual Townsend’s design was.

R diagonally across Altab Ali Park

Entrance to Altab Ali Park

The park was laid on the site of an old church, the “white chapel” that gave its name to the road alongside the park. The church was destroyed by bombs in 1940. Altab Ali was a textile worker who was assaulted and killed by racist teenagers in Adler Street in 1978. The park is decorated with details reminiscent of Bangladesh as a reference to the many South Asian businesses in the area. What is a bit ridiculous is that the entrance porch was designed not by a sculptor of Asian descent but by a Welsh gentleman, David Petersen, who is actually better known for monuments including dragons.

At the other end of the park, you do walk past a reminder of the former church, a burial monument from the old churchyard.

Reminder of the “white chapel” churchyard

R Adler Street

Church of St Boniface’s

You can see a strikingly contemporary Roman Catholic church here, St Boniface. This unusual saint was chosen because the church is also the seat of the German catholic parish. Boniface was an early medieval bishop who evangelised part of Germany. The church looks so modern because it had to be rebuilt in 1958 after wartime damages. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you whether the building is interesting inside because it was closed when I walked past it.

before the church L Mulberry Street
L Plumber’s Row

A property located between Plumber’s Row and Whitechapel Road housed for the impressive period of 250 years a bell foundry. The owners finally sold the site in 2017 to a developer. Bell foundries are very special businesses that deal a lot with heritage issues and are quite independent from the short-term economic situation, but they do use ponderous materials and polluting metals, so that a location in the middle of densely populated areas is not perfect.

Former Whitechapel Bell Foundry

The developer proposed to keep a small industrial activity (producing hand bells used as a cinema prop or as a gimmick to call your teenager daughter to the dinner table) but wanted primarily to build a large hotel. This is controversial and experience with similar situations elsewhere in London makes me think that construction is not likely to start soon. As you can see on my picture, the roadside building is a well proportioned Georgian property with somewhat strange colours for the shutters and doors. The other picture shows you that the actual industrial buildings look as you can expect them to look like, clean but somewhat dreary.

Industrial halls of the Bell Foundry

R Fieldgate Street

East London mosque

You walk here along the back side of the East London mosque, an important place of worship considering the many Muslim workers and traders in the area. It was the first large mosque to be built close to central London and therefore has a special role. It is the typical place foreign dignitaries may want to visit and it is also the first place organisations call when they want to discuss societal issues with representatives of the Islamic faith. This obviously led to occasional irritations and public relations debates. Like many protestant churches, mosques are not open to the general public for casual touring.

Main front of East London mosque

L New Road
R Whitechapel Road

Former Royal London Hospital

Before reaching the station, you walk past the imposing front of the former Royal London Hospital. The hospital was rebuilt over a period of 15 years starting in 2006 and the old reception hall on Whitechapel Road was taken over by the borough in order to turn it into a civic centre. The building is from the 1750s and is suitably imposing with a row of mock pillars typical of Georgian public architecture. The combination of pillars with a triangular gable reminded of ancient Greece, seen at the time as the source of all refinement and civilisation.

WHITECHAPEL

Whitechapel Underground station

The station opened in 1876 on a new train line linking the Rotherhithe Thames tunnel with the Liverpool Street terminal. A connection with the present London Underground District line was opened in 1884 using a separate station building called “Whitechapel (Mile End)”. Both stations were called Whitechapel from 1901 onwards.

As an oddity, Whitechapel is a station where the Underground crosses over the Overground. The train line from Wapping continuing to Shoreditch is on the lower level and the Underground lines between Barking and either Tower Hill or Liverpool Street cross overhead.

Because the present station is actually the 1884 London Underground construction, it is integrated into the street alignment as was often done in central London. It does have pretty coloured glass panels above the access arches, but is otherwise hard to notice in the extremely busy road. In order to draw attention better, glass canopies were added presumably in the 2000s.

Continue ahead in Whitechapel Road

Former Albion brewery

On the left hand side just before the large crossroads, you walk past the imposing front of Albion Yard. There is a cast iron strip over the main gate with a mysterious inscription in golden letters: “Manw Cross An & Paulin L”. The letters are botched, the actual inscription should be Mann, Crossman & Paulin after a former owner. The building with the elegant neo-baroque gable at the rear of the main court is a former brewery built partly in the 1860s and partly in the 1900s. The building was converted to upmarket flats in the 1990s.

Ahead Mile End Road

Villa on Mile End Road

One of the first houses in this pleasantly leafy main highway is a somewhat over-the-top villa that was probably built as a private residence for a businessman in the heyday of the industrial East End in the 1900s. A few details like the design of the main gable show a faint influence of Arts & Crafts while the overall disorderly mix of styles remains very Edwardian. The building was converted to offices and of late to a restaurant.

Just after this villa, you walk past Trinity Green, a set of particularly venerable almshouses. It is one of the oldest buildings in the East End, built in 1695 although it had to be refurbished after war damages in the 1950s. It is called Trinity Green because the almshouses were built as a retirement home by Trinity House, the manager of lighthouses around Britain.

Trinity Green with inscription

 

Detail reminding of Trinity House

Interestingly, this particular listed monument was the origin of the whole system of listing worthy monuments when a campaign was started in 1895 to prevent its demolition. There is a stone plaque on one of the houses giving details but you should definitely also notice the beautiful models of ships on either side of the gable, a reminder of the profession of the residents.

 

Trinity Green almshouses

Almshouses were built by guilds and similar institutions until the 1700s because  the government was not expected to provide for impoverished elderly people. Retirement pensions did not exist as people usually spent their old age in the house of one of their children but people who could not rely on such a situation ended up in dire difficulties.

 

Trinity Green chapel

Affluent people would therefore bequeath a bit of land or funds to build alsmhouses; in line with religious beliefs of the time, a committee set up strict rules of behaviour, chose carefully deserving residents and made sure that a chapel got a place of honour in the middle of the development. The one in Trinity Green is particularly large because it was supposed to reflect on the importance and generosity of Trinity House as the sponsor. It is a nice early baroque building in a typical style that also inspired so many official buildings in the United States.

By the way, there is an interesting democratic counterpart to almshouses in Flanders. Starting in the 13th century, widows founded associations who built and managed retirement communities. They were similar to a convent but residents did not formally speak vows, were not asked to make a hefty donation on entering the convent and discussed among themselves appropriate rules to follow. The correct name in Flemish is begijnhof.

Official-looking building

Just after Cleveland Way, you walk past a very official looking building with an imposing colonnade and a fat cubic tower. It definitely looks like some sort of town hall from the 1920s but the original inscription has been erased and it do not know what it was.

R Assembly Passage
L Redman’s Road
R diagonally across Stepney Green Park

The park is actually a Common as the name “Green” implies but most of it was built over in the 19th century as housing was needed for the many workers of the factories in the area. After World War II, bomb damages gave an opportunity to demolish the tenements and replace them with a council estate. This in turn became derelict and the area was landscaped into the present park in 2000. It gives Stepney a suburban feeling that sets it apart in this very densely populated part of London. This being said, the park has no special amenities, as usual for a common.

Stepney Green Park

After the playground L on Stepney Way towards the parish church

St Dunstan’s church in Stepney

The parish church of St Dunstan’s has core parts from the 15th century although it was rebuilt to some extent in 1899. It was the original main parish church for the East End. It sits in a large churchyard and therefore looks very pleasant and stately. There are a few interesting details inside that I saw on an Open Monument Day including the elaborate clockwork from 1802 and the intricate mechanics needed to move the ten bells. Parish churches rarely have so many bells but this makes sense as the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was a parishioner.

Overview of the church

Stepney church clock mechanism

Mechanics of the ten bells

 

Monument in Stepney church

On a more artistic level, there is a pretty monument set up by the children of a captain “as a testimony to his virtue and their love”. There is also an intriguing glass window with a soldier in a Navy blue uniform in front of Christ on the Cross. I found that Christ looks suspiciously like a twin brother of the soldier. I am of course less sure that the rather suggestively denuded body was also modeled after the body of the soldier, but who knows ? One very unusual detail is that the Cross is depicted on the background of a harbour quay. The Virgin Mary is occasionally connected with the seas (“Stella Maris”), but it is very rarely the case for Christ.

Glass panel in Stepney church

With the church to your back, R (northwards) on Stepney High Street

Stepney college

At the next corner, you walk past a college. I noticed a remarkably intricate mosaic on the wall of the low foreground building. It is definitely an excellent way of enlivening an otherwise boring concrete wall. The upper band of the mosaic shows local monuments and is pleasant without being particularly original. The middle band symbolising the river Thames is a cute collage of children’s designs and the lower band is quite amusing with a wilderness fantasy including a crocodile and a very big snake alongside many other animals and flowers. Definitely worth a leisurely look.

Details of the college mosaics in Stepney

About ahead White Horse Lane
L Beaumont Square

Beaumont Square

The central section of the square is peaceful with well kept flower beds. It is bit unusual to see high railings around normal flower beds, I suppose the borough had a few problems with dog walkers not paying enough attention to poop issues.

R along the further end of the square past a private hospital
Leave the square along the large brick building, the road turns R soon as Maria Terrace
L Beaumont Grove

STEPNEY GREEN

Stepney Green Underground station

The station opened in 1902 together with the train line.

The building is a surprisingly sizeable structure looking much like a suburban train station. Although you are still quite close to central London, Stepney indeed feels very leafy and suburban so that the style of the station is fitting.

I don’t have details about its history but I was surprised that it looks much more Victorian than Edwardian. It is also devoid of fanciful architecture ornaments, the kind of which is to be expected on a building from 1902.

Ornate platform in Stepney Green station

At platform level, one is plain but the other one has been beautified in 1902 with a row of columns and a lattice painted light green, a very unusual effort that is worth a compliment. The private companies that operated the Underground lines until the 1930s actually seldom spent money on making platforms look nice because they were managed like suburban train companies where a conspicuous station building was important and absorbed most of the funds.

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District Tube line walk 10: Blackfriars walk to Aldgate East

Walk 10
BLACKFRIARS walk to ALDGATE EAST
1 1/2 hours plus visits

The line between Blackfriars and Mansion House opened in 1871 in order to provide a link between Victoria train station and the City. The line was only extended to Aldgate East in 1884 after several years of complicated negociations as the owners of the District Line and of the Metropolitan Line (with its terminus at Aldgate) both feared they might lose passengers to the competitor.

Routing note: The route connects with many other walks but not all of them are convenient depending on the way I have written them. The most convenient connections in Blackfriars are from my District line walk 9 but also from my Blackfriars Thameslink walk 5. There is a good connection in Tower Hill to my Circle Line walk 2 and in Aldgate East to my District Line walk 11.

My time estimate does not include visits and you can easily make a full day of the walk if you include them.

Legalese: I do not own the copyright for some of the pictures used to illustrate the present walk although I have permission to use them. Please do not repost pictures without asking me first.

BLACKFRIARS

Blackfriars Underground and train station before 2010

The station opened in 1870 as a temporary terminus for the District line with trains coming only from Westminster. It became a normal station in the following year. It was called St Paul’s for many years and this only switched to Blackfriars in 1937 because of the construction of the Central Line where there was to be a station named St Paul’s.

The original station building disappeared soon because of the construction of a much larger suburban and long-distance train station directly above the District Line platforms. My picture shows the status in the early 2000s when the train station was part of a very massive office building. The present version has a more flashy, neutral glass wall overlooking the crossroads. It may not be iconic but it is widely seen as fit for purpose and decidedly nicer than the previous version.

Leave the station and turn R crossing under the train tracks
L Black Friars Lane

Before turning right into Playhouse Yard, you might wish to detour a few steps up the lane until you reach to your right the arch that gives access to the Apothecaries Hall. Like all halls of City guilds, it is normally closed to the public, but the courtyard is quite pleasant.

R Playhouse Yard

Churchyard of St Ann Blackfriars

To the left, the narrow lane called Church Entry gives access to a nice little courtyard called the “churchyard of St Ann Blackfriars” from a church that burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666 and was not rebuilt. The parish was on land belonging originally to a monastery and this implies the City regulations on guilds did not apply, so that famous artists like Anthony Van Dyck who did not want to be regulated by the City lived here. The courtyard remains a quiet place with convenient benches and a bit of greenery.

Ahead Ireland Yard

A second courtyard belonging to the St Ann churchyard opens up in this lane but I found it less remarkable.

St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe

When you reach the end of Ireland Yard, my route continues left, but you might consider a short detour right to see the church of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe. The quaint name comes from the fact that a building storing ceremonial clothing for the king stood nearby. The wardrobe and the church both burnt down in 1666. The present church is from 1961 and is a copy of the previous one from 1695 that has been destroyed by bombs during World War II. The architect, Sir Christopher Wren, used the usual baroque contrast between dark red bricks and corners reinforced in stone. The church is quite plain inside.

Inside St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe

Walk now uphill to the end of St Andrew’s Hill
At the end R Carter Lane

A narrow entrance in this street gives access to a courtyard called Wardrobe Place. The building around it has obviously nothing to do with the old royal wardrobe and is just a hotel but it does stand on the same location. Opposite the courtyard, an unimpressive front belongs to the central London youth hostel. It is quite impressive that an affordable hostel managed to stay in such a valuable location until now.

L Dean’s Court

Old Deanery

A small courtyard to the left gives access to an elegant town house, the Old Deanery. It was built in 1672 for the dean of the cathedral and still looks like a baroque town house although it was modified a lot over the years. Since 1996, it is the official residence of the Bishop of London. It is one of very few buildings that survived all bouts of real estate frenzy in the area.

At the end of Dean’s Court, you get a pleasant view of the main front of St Paul’s Cathedral. The church is obviously a major landmark and I am not about to repeat what all guide books can tell you better than me. The medieval cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and the authorities decided to build the replacement church in a style more in line with contemporary taste. It was consecrated in 1697 and fully completed by 1711. Like many baroque buildings, St Paul’s is very imposing but is not really inviting.

St Paul’s Cathedral

Gable of St Paul’s Cathedral

The two main achievements of Wren as the architect are the dome and the west front. The dome needed very careful planning due to the unstable ground under the cathedral and has proved very well designed as it remained perfectly stable through the bomb attacks of World War II. The front is interesting for the optical solution found to avoid the dome dominating the view too much and making the rest of the church look small. The colonnade and gable pretty much hide the dome from view.

The very formal colonnade also proved very convenient to frame the very high profile official events that take place regularly in the cathedral. I took a closer picture of the gable because it is actually quite interesting, showing an excellent sculpture of St Paul’s conversion and a surprising reference to architecture in a corner.

You have two solutions to visit the cathedral. Either you pay the shockingly high entrance fee and you also get an opportunity to visit at leisure the crypt and to climb to a viewing gallery below the dome. Or you attend a service, giving you only limited opportunity to walk around but giving you an occasion to listen to the organ and choir. I suggest the second version if possible because the acoustics are stunning and make music in the church an extremely impressive experience. Even if you miss on a few details like wooden sculptures by Grinling Gibbons and ironwork by Jean Tijou, I feel the music more than compensates.

You also still get a feeling for the huge size of the church (the second largest in Britain until recently), particularly for the huge central nave, and also for the stifling impact of so many golden mosaics. If you are a little awed by the inhumane proportions, be assured that it is exactly what was planned and that kings were often disappointed that they seldom achieved the same impression in their palaces despite all their efforts. This speaks for the genius of Sir Christopher Wren.

Monument to Queen Anne

In front of the cathedral, a monument protected by very sturdy railings honors Queen Anne. The railings are needed because of the crowds of disrespectful tourists who would otherwise probably climb on the monument as they do in Trafalgar Square. Queen Anne is a fitting figure in front of St Paul’s as she saw the completion in 1711 and was extremely committed to the Anglican faith. What you don’t see on the monument is that she was frighteningly obese and was also so ill that she usually needed to be carried in a sedan chair.

R St Paul’s Church Yard (the road along the cathedral)

 

South front of St Paul’s Cathedral

You walk now past the southern front of the cathedral. Here, the architect decided that the dome should definitely dominate the view. There is an interesting balcony on top of the ground floor columns but I do not know whether it is an actual balcony from whence a cleric might preach or a queen might greet her subjects. The view south from the porch is still to the Thames as there are strict regulations about keeping specific lines of view to the Dome free of obstacles. A particularly well-known line of view links the Dome with a spot in Richmond Park for example. My picture is taken closer to the Thames and this explains why the Tate Modern looms so large.

Tate Modern seen from St Paul’s Cathedral

There are two small gardens on either side of the southern line of view. One holds a pavilion where you can get tourist information about London. The main office is actually near Trafalgar Square and is better equipped with useful brochures like the Transport for London town maps. The other garden is a somewhat barren space.

Ahead Cannon Street
R Old Change Court

Old Change Court

This is not really a street, rather a pedestrian passage with a staircase at half height. At the top of the staircase, the UFO structure is actually a plain bar. It has a very peculiar shape and its spire answers in an interesting manner to the church tower in the background. It was built in 1998 to make a sensible use of the roof of an underground car park. I don’t really catch the symbolism of the oval shapes, it is possibly just an attempt to revive Art Déco aesthetics.

Pergola in the Edwardian tradition

Once you are down the stairs, you walk past a sliver of greenery that is very popular with City employees at lunchtime. It has an elegant pergola in the tradition of Edwardian parks but bushes meant to provide shade have been either unwilling to grow or have not been allowed to.

The church that overlooks the small green space is St Nicholas Cole Abbey, rebuilt after the Great Fire and again in 1961. Amusingly, “cole abbey” is a misnomer as the correct name should be “cold harbour”, a shelter where you could “harbour” from the cold. An other amusing detail is that a famous preacher chose the subject of “Profane swearing in church” for his appearance here. I seldom hear anyone “swearing profanely” in a church… The church was closed when I walked past and I cannot tell you whether it is interesting inside.

L Queen Victoria Street

You walk past a small garden to your right, Cleary Garden. It is nothing fancy, just a convenient place to sit at lunchtime if you are a harassed office worker. It has a nice history. The location was used by Romans for a bath establishment and by medieval guilds for growing wine, but it was built over and only became open again after bomb damages in 1941. A shoemaker who actually lived in Walthamstow but worked nearby decided after the war to create a garden in the rubble, ultimately attracting the honour of a visit by Her Majesty the Queen Mother in 1949.

MANSION HOUSE

Mansion House Underground station

The station opened as a terminus for the District line in 1871. Trains continued towards what is now Tower Hill starting in 1884. The name of the station is a bit cheeky as it is not really close to Mansion House (Bank station is much closer). It was a marketing ploy.

The original station building was replaced in the 1920s. This was demolished in 1991 and all facilities are now underground except for a modest porch under an office building. This is understandable considering the value of real estate in the City.

R Little Trinity Lane, the street turns L at the bottom of the hill
Ahead Skinners Lane

St James Garlickhythe

A small church in the street is much more important than it looks. St James Garlickhythe (from a garlic market) is the main church in London pilgrims to St James in Compostela are supposed to go to. The church suffered damage on many occasions over the years such as a building crane falling on it in 1991 and there are only smaller parts from the 17th century. The conspicuous clock outside looks old but is a 1988 copy of the original clock.

At the end of the street, you reach Whittington Park, a nice little square with a fountain. The planting has an Italian theme (thyme and rosemary) in connection with a statue presented to the City of London by the President of Italy in 2005. The garden bears the name of 15th century mayor Richard Whittington because he financed a school and the nearby church, St Michael Paternoster Royal. Pater Noster stands here obviously for the Lord’s prayer and a “paternoster lift” indeed owes its strange name to the fact that the mechanics look a little like rosary beads being moved.

Whittington Park

Ahead College Street
L Dowgate Hill
R Cannon Street

CANNON STREET

Cannon Street Underground station

The station opened in 1884 when the tracks linking Mansion House terminus with Aldgate terminus were finally laid. The primary purpose of the station was to offer connections with the suburban train terminus located above it. As the distance from other stations on the District Line is short, it was otherwise not really useful.

For many years, the terminus was only used for a limited number of commuting services and the Underground station therefore closed in the evenings and on Sundays due to the lack of commuters arriving in the City. Since 2014, the station has normal opening hours because the train terminus has additional services.

As in Mansion House, the Underground facilities are all hidden out of sight except for a porch under the train terminus. My picture shows a temporary porch that was operated between 2007 and 2012 while the office building above the train terminus was being rebuilt.

L Abchurch Lane

St Mary Abchurch

A small square in this street gives access to another one of the numerous churches in the City, St Mary Abchurch (no one knows what”ab” in “abchurch” exactly stands for). The church is from 1688 with additional repairs in 1953. From outside, it looks like many of the minor churches rebuilt on designs by Wren after the Great Fire, with walls in red bricks and corners lined in stone. I was unable to get inside, but do so if possible as the dome looks very interesting with an impressive fresco from 1708. The dome covers nearly the whole space of the church, which forced the architect to be very creative about the corner transition between the circular dome and the quadrangular walls.

R King William Street
L Clements Lane

St Clement’s Eastcheap

The church of St Clement’s Eastcheap was rebuilt in 1687. It is difficult to see much from outside but it has a few interesting details inside. The reredos are from 1872 and are a little unusual. The shapes are traditionally neo-gothic but the colour scheme in blue and gold differs widely from the dark wood considered more noble in the 19th century. The most interesting item in the church is the organ case, built in 1696. My overactive imagination sees a grinning monster with eyes, nose, eyebrows and a wide golden mouth.

Organ in St Clement’s Eastcheap

R Lombard Street
L Gracechurch Street

When the road turns R, continue ahead in smaller Fish Street Hill

MONUMENT

Monument Underground station

The station opened in 1884 like Cannon Street station. It was called “Eastcheap” for a few months before getting the present name. London Underground manages Monument station in common with Bank station because the two stations located on separate lines are linked by an inconveniently long corridor since 1933. Some London Underground maps do not show an interchange possibility though.

Like in Mansion House, there is no separate station building, just a porch under an office building. A small effort was made to make it more conspicuous through ornamental steel bars.

Ahead Fish Street Hill

Monument to the Great Fire of London

A small square enables you to look at the Monument, more correctly the “Monument to the Great Fire of London”. Many people think that it stands on the location where the Great Fire started in 1666 but it actually stands on the site of a church nearby that had been destroyed by the Fire as the actual location was a private property. A column was seen as the more fitting monument although there were controversies about the urn of flames at the top.

As there is a narrow staircase inside the shaft of the column, it has always been a popular tourist attraction. An iron cage had to be welded at the top after a few visitors committed suicide. There is a good quality bas-relief on one of the bases showing King Charles II amongst a whole bevy of half-naked female allegories. The king himself had decided that he did not wish a statue of himself at the top of the column as this would associate him with so much suffering. The sculptor Caius Gabriel Cipper had the strange title of a “carver to the King’s closet”.

Dedication on the Monument

 

King Charles II depicted on the Monument

Cross Lower Thames Street and walk past the church of St Magnus Martyr to the riverside

Tower of St Magnus Martyr

The church is one of the most important churches in the City. For example, its rector bears the elevated title of a “cardinal rector” and is the only one in the whole church of England. The title predates the use in the Roman Catholic church for the highest dignitaries: in early medieval times, cardinals were leading priests from a large church who bore serious responsibilities like catering to the sick. Because of the location at the end of London Bridge, a church was built here very early in Norman times.

The church was rebuilt in 1687 after the Great Fire and was given an unusual tower inspired by a church in Antwerp in Flanders. The tower stands on pillars and you can walk beneath it; although common in Romanesque architecture, it was never done in baroque times. The passage was created in 1762 because it was needed to access London Bridge at a time when the bridge ended just past the church. The church became even more isolated with the construction of Lower Thames Street cutting it off from the City.

Inside St Magnus Martyr

 

Memorial in St Magnus Martyr

The church is not too attractive from outside but is well worth a visit inside with an elegant neo-classical nave typically kept in white and gold. The style was chosen in 1924 in order to give a fitting setting for the Anglo-Catholic ceremonies the congregation wanted to have. This led to an interesting scandal when a gentleman opposed to such ceremonies purchased the obscure right of advowson in 1931, enabling him to virtually chose a new priest. Parliament had to vote on a law enabling parishes to buy back advowson rights. The right was very important in medieval times and enabled a nobleman to nominate a suitable relative to the church his castle belonged to rather than have a bishop with possibly political objectives impose an unfriendly priest.

The main attraction inside the church is a lovely model of London Bridge in medieval times.

London Bridge in the Middle Ages

Model of London Bridge

L along the river Thames (the riverside walkway changes names every 100 yards or so but is obvious)

Views from the riverside walkway

 

Riverside garden near St Magnus Martyr

Just after the church, you walk past a riverside garden that may be the most pleasant place for a City worker to have lunch sandwiches in. Because it is off the beaten path, chances to get at least half a bench are quite high and I took advantage of this regularly. It is actually also one of very few locations where you have a riverside view without being disturbed by traffic noise as a very large office building shields you from the road. The planting is less important than the view. As you can see on the picture, the office building is actually not uninteresting, it has a stepped shape inconsistent with maximal profit per square foot of ground but more likely to make it a landmark. I had meetings inside on occasion and the views are very enjoyable.

Office building overlooking Billingsgate Market

 

Former Billingsgate Fish Market

Shortly afterwards, you reach the walkway along the former Billingsgate fish market. It was built in 1875 and is a surprisingly elegant neo-classical, arcaded structure. The fish market moved to a new location in Poplar in 1982, which was no big loss for the City considering the noise, smells and traffic it attracted. For some reason, Billingsgate also got a reputation for foul language as early as the 16th century. The building was refurbished on designs by celebrity architect Sir Norman Foster very sympathetically and is now a venue for hire used for important events, explaining why the terrace is enclosed by railings. On the downstream tower, you might note that the weather vane is a fish.

Detail on former fish market

The next building after the fish market is Custom House, used for government offices until very recently. It is a neo-classical building from 1825 but is not well proportioned, being way too elongated for colonnades. The City would like to have a more glamorous activity here than government offices but plans are unclear for the time being.

When you reach Tower Boat Pier, turn L uphill along the Tower Hill Ditch

Tower of London in snowy weather

It is now time to make a decision about visiting the Tower or not. The entrance fee is extortionate for a one-off visit (25 £ in 2020, clearly meant to fleece tourists) but you might look into buying a so-called membership for 55 £ as this is valid one year long and also gives you access to Kensington Palace (on my Circle Line walk 1), Hampton Court Palace and several less stellar attractions.

The Tower is three things at once: a very historical place, a unique monument in terms of architecture and a sizeable museum. It can be very crowded at times but is otherwise worth spending at least two hours. In terms of museums, you can see a small regimental museum that will be of interest primarily to fans and experts. But you can also see the dazzling Crown jewels. You will not be allowed to spend too much time admiring them because the staff will urge you forward in order to accommodate the tourist groups who are queuing behind you.

Inside the Armoury

The main museum is the Armoury. Originally, it was a storehouse for weapons used by the guards but also for the numerous royal armaments from breastplates and chainmails to crossbows. The collection has expanded continuously and is the finest in London, on par with the ones in Vienna or Paris. I suggest you plan sufficient time to read the panels as the displays are otherwise a bit obscure. The museum takes up most of the rooms in the central keep of the Tower, the so-called White Tower. Do not miss an annex to the museum in the main courtyard (in the New Armouries) as this is where magnificent arms from the Far East are shown.

White Tower

 

Cannons in front of the Armoury

Some items do not fit in the museum rooms: cannons of varying shapes and antiquity are spread throughout the Tower and on the riverside walkway. Don’t miss the Malta cannon on its garishly painted carriage.

Malta cannon

 

White Tower and curtain walls

Now that I have commented on the museums, there is still much to say about the architecture. The central keep, the White Tower, is a nearly unchanged Norman keep from the 11th century. You will notice that the entrance is at the top of wooden stairs at the first floor level. This is in line with medieval usage as this solution enabled defenders to demolish the access quickly if assailants threatened to overrun the keep. The lord lived on the second and third floors and the fourth floor was for guards who climbed regularly on the flat roof to check for potential danger. The ground floor and where possible a cellar were there to store food needed in case of a siege.

Norman chapel in the White Tower

Originally, a keep stood alone on a small hill, with a wooden palisade and a shallow moat providing additional protection. Keeps had a rectangular or square shape as this was easier to build. There was no chapel inside a keep. There is one in the White Tower because it was a Royal palace and you should definitely take some time admiring the best example of Norman architecture in London (about 1080). The stone vault is particularly rare in England. More surprisingly, there is hardly any decoration or sculpture in the chapel but I suggest the walls and apse may have been painted.

Nave of Norman chapel

 

Corner of the White Tower

In the 13th century, keeps became increasingly unsafe against the first small cannons that could smash the corners. In addition, powerful lords were a bit unhappy about their cramped accommodation between the food stores and the guard room. Castles were therefore developed with a large courtyard around the keep, enabling stables, barracks and kitchens to be kept out of the actual palace. The courtyard was then protected by a so-called curtain wall strengthened by a number of round towers, as is the case in the Tower.

You can visit a few of the towers. In one, you can see very fine brickwork from the Tudor period. In palatial rooms such as in Hampton Court Palace, the walls would be hidden behind wooden cladding that also provided insulation, but this was not reasonable in a military establishment. Since my visit, several additional rooms have been made accessible, including a reconstitution of a 13th century royal room, a study from the 16th century and a popular, gory exhibition about torture implements.

16th century interior in one of the towers

 

Tudor buildings in the courtyard

As I mentioned buildings built in the courtyard between the curtain wall and the keep, it is worth pointing to an authentic Tudor residence, called the Queen’s House. It is off limits to the public but you see very nicely where the suburban architects of the 1930s got ideas for their mock-Tudor terraces. An other building in the courtyard is the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, rebuilt in 1520 in early Tudor gothic. The church cannot be visited by tourists but is apparently well worth it for a large number of burial monuments. You can see them by attending a service, entering the Tower by a special purpose access. There were actually many more buildings in the courtyard at some point, but the ones that were deemed secondary were demolished in the 19th century to improve the overall feeling of the place.

Tower moat

Having dealt with the keep, the courtyard and the curtain wall, I still have to mention that this was not enough to protect a castle from the 15th century onwards as cannons had become more powerful. Protection was improved by adding a second curtain wall in front of the main wall and a deep, wide moat in front of the new wall. Parts of the moats of the Tower of London are used for somewhat surprising purposes that include sports facilities and storage of construction materials. In older times, the moat was also used to house the wild beasts of the royal zoo, which is commemorated by a few statues of animals.

Reminder of the Royal Zoo

 

All Hallows-by-the-Tower

Walking up the hill along the moat, you will see on your left hand side the church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower,