Victoria Tube line walk 3: Warren Street walk to Finsbury Park

Victoria Tube walk 3

WARREN STREET to FINSBURY PARK

2 hours

The Victoria line was built by Transport for London in the 1960s in order to alleviate congestion on existing underground lines in central London and proved very successful as it is considered to be congested as well by now. There are two good reasons for this: it is the line providing the most convenient interchange at many stations as changing to other lines is step free in a number of cases. And trains run very fast because distances between stations tend to be high.

The line was not meant to provide access to suburbs that might have been underserved until then and all stations are interchanges except for one that was added later. Looking at a map, you might argue that an opportunity was missed in several cases (New Covent Garden in Nine Elms, Clissold Park area, St Ann’s Road, Walthamstow Town Hall).

Apart from the interchange issue, the main peculiarity of the line is that it is the only longer line built fully underground (only the maintenance depot is over ground). The line is called “Victoria” because it passes Victoria train terminal. Other names had been proposed and some sound rather funny (“Viking line” or “Walvic line”).

Routing note: This route connects in Warren Street with Victoria Underground line walk 2 and with Northern line walk 9. It connects in Euston, in King’s Cross St. Pancras and in Highbury & Islington with a large number of walks relating to a number of different networks. I don’t give you detailed references because I think these would not be very logical walk combinations. The route finally connects in Finsbury Park with Victoria Underground line walk 4, with Piccadilly line walks 1 and 2 and with King’s Cross / Moorgate network walks 1, 2 and 6.

Please note that there are three different walks connecting King’s Cross St Pancras with Finsbury Park (a train walk and two Underground walks). The walks follow separate routes.

WARREN STREET

Warren Street Underground station

The station opened on the Northern Line in 1907 and was originally called “Euston Road”, a highly confusing name as there are also stations called “Euston” and “Euston Square”. The name was therefore changed directly in 1908. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1969 and were given a themed decoration in form of a labyrinth (from “warren”).

The access is the ground floor of an imposing rotunda built at the end of a large office building from 1934. The shape is typically Art Déco but no effort was made in terms of decoration or a particular window scheme. A bit cheap for this period.

Cross Tottenham Court Road and take opposite the Underground station Beaumont Place. This is a hospital access road that turns R.

At the end L Grafton Way

L Gower Street

R Gower Place

Between Warren Street and Euston stations, my route passes a number of institutional buildings. I chose the most direct route because I explore the area more closely in the Northern line walk covering exactly the same section.

L Gordon Street

Ahead Euston Square / Melton Street

R Walk across the main hall of Euston train terminal

EUSTON

The station opened on the account of two different Underground companies in 1907; both lines are now called Northern Line but are actually two separate lines. An interconnection was put in place in 1924 in order to enable trains to switch from the one line to the other. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1968.

The station is entirely underground and has no dedicated entrance at street level. It is accessed through the Euston train terminal, a gloomy concrete structure from 1968.

On the east side of the train station, cross the main road into Doric Way

L and directly R Churchway (a footpath)

L Chalton Street

R Polygon Road

Polygon Road outdoor gym

There is a so-called “outdoor gym” in the road. You will probably have noticed in similar locations that the equipment is quite popular with young men of Caribbean or African origin. It is a good reminder that affluent white young men go to private gyms, often in the vicinity of their office. Less affluent white young men usually work very long hours and have no time for gyms; if they do have the time because they are in a “low work intensity household”, they are often overweight in Britain and don’t seem to listen much to what authorities say about exercising. It seems many young Blacks pay more attention to being healthy and it is therefore a good thing that there are publicly accessible gyms like this one as they would not be able to afford commercial ones. I don’t intend to sound racist, I think it is a good cultural tradition that they bother about practising sports themselves.

Ahead on a footpath and cycle way along school grounds

R Purchese Street

Purchese Street Open Space

As there is a large estate just further north, I think the small park along the road was planned together with the estate. It was often the case that the local authorities would buy derelict housing or factories and build high density housing on part of the acreage, keeping the rest for a local park. Purchese Street Open Space, to use the correct name, has no special amenities apart from a small playground.

L Brill Place

R Midland Road

L across the lower hall of St Pancras International train terminal

Cross St Pancras Road for

KING’S CROSS ST. PANCRAS

King’s Cross St. Pancras Underground station

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

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

Go to the main crossroads in front of the train station complex and take Pentonville Road

Night club on Pentonville Road

The large building at the corner with the road called King’s Cross Bridge was a film theatre called the Scala. It was not built for a major chain of theatres and the owner gave it an old-fashioned, neo-classical appearance with columns along the top floor. The building has lost its neighbours and the colonnade therefore looks rather lonely in the low-rise landscape of what was actually primarily an industrial part of London. The building is now a nightclub.

L Rodney Street

Joseph Grimaldi Park

The park at the start of this road is Joseph Grimaldi Park, built on the grounds of a churchyard. The corresponding church was demolished in the 1960s for real estate purposes. The unusual name of the park honors an artist: Grimaldi was the most admired entertainer in London in the 1820s, being particularly famous for his clown roles in pantomimes (this quintessentially English amusement that never caught in Europe). As far as I am aware, Mr Grimaldi was not related to the royal family of Monaco, also called Grimaldi.

Park in Pentonville

It is a well kept, small park with the old churchyard wall still standing along one edge. There was also a small rose garden until a refurbishment in 2010. More recent pictures show a very contemporary combination of dry shrubbery and curving grey stone seats.

Former layout of Grimaldi Park

R Donegal Street

L Penton Street

Ahead Barnsbury Road

Drama school on Barnsbury Road

At the corner with Copenhagen Street, you will find the Young Actors Theatre. It is actually not a theatre but a drama school for young people learning the actors trade. It is organised as a stand-alone charity, which is often the case with drama schools. Only few actors attend publicly-owned university colleges because the entry requirements are too competitive for most beginners.

 

 

Barnard Park

Just after the drama school, you reach Barnard Park. It is a rather sizeable park developed on the location of Victorian housing that had been destroyed by bombs in 1940. The park opened only in 1975 after many years of discussion about what to do with the rubbish from the bombed houses. The main attraction of the park is a football field, but there is a small section along Richmond Avenue with banks and a few flowers.

Flower borders on Richmond Avenue

R Richmond Avenue

L Lonsdale Square

Lonsdale Square garden

Although the area of Barnard Park was a run-down area catering to the working class from the 1870s onwards, Lonsdale Square is a completely different world. Elegant townhouses from the 1840s attracted intellectuals, are still popular with professionals and artists and are correspondingly expensive. A large house with eight rooms was offered in 2018 for more than 3 million £.

There is a lovely garden in the middle of the development with blooming borders, a few rose bushes and a memorial.

Mémorial in Lonsdale Square

Houses on Lonsdale Square

The third picture shows more clearly the houses. The brick walls, the colour combination and the row of identical façades is quite typical for late Georgian developments, but there is no neo-classical decoration and the house gables remind more of medieval towns. Gothic revival was to become very popular later on for churches but is less frequent for housing.

R Barnsbury Street, the road turns a bit L then again R

L College Cross

R Islington Park Street

L Upper Street (A1)

HIGHBURY & ISLINGTON

Highbury & Islington station

The underground station opened in 1968 and is served only by the Victoria line but it offers easy interchange to two suburban train lines. One of the unusual features of the station is that the trains to Finsbury Park and the northbound Underground services stop on two sides of the same platform, giving one of the most convenient interchanges in the whole of London. The same arrangement is available for trains to Moorgate and southbound Victoria Line services. I think this is the only case in London of subterranean platforms shared by trains and Underground services.

There were station buildings for both train lines, but one of them was demolished and the other one shelters only technical equipment nowadays. The present station entrance is a nondescript brick and corrugated iron shed.

Take Highbury Place, the pedestrianised street branching off Holloway Road just south of a disused train station. The street runs between a long row of Georgian houses and a park.

Georgian houses along Highbury Place

The Georgian townhouses were built around 1790 on land leased by the local landowner, a stockbroker (showing that canny, slick traders keen on showing off their newly acquired wealth in flashy properties already existed more than two centuries ago…). This was a very desirable location from the onset and important people like the painter Walter Sickert, the methodist preacher John Wesley and the influential politician Joseph Chamberlain lived here. The town houses on Highbury Crescent (the other side of the park) are even more impressive.

South African war mémorial in Highbury

The park called Highbury Fields was set up in 1869 when earlier plans for a much larger park in the area were dropped considering the potential for luscious profits from real estate development. At the bottom of the park, you can see a large war memorial devoted to soldiers who fell in the 1899-1903 Boer War. The memorial is a typical female allegory from 1906.

 

Higbury Fields

Highbury Fields

Higbury clock tower

There is a popular swimming pool behind the memorial. Otherwise, the park is mostly grassy slopes with tall mature trees along the edges. At the top of the hill near the church, there is one of the typical late Victorian town clocks. This one was set up in 1897 for the Queen’s Jubilee, therefore the portrait of Her Majesty on the shaft. Dark red was an extremely popular colour in the late 19th century, including for upholstery and curtains.

The parish church behind the clock tower was built in 1848 and is a good example of the neo-gothic style. It keeps particularly close to medieval examples, including the use of mullions.

Continue past the church to the following crossroads

L Leigh Road, turns R and becomes Panmure Close

Glimpse of Emirates Arsenal Stadium

At the end of the road, you get a glimpse over the houses towards Arsenal Stadium.It is a landmark building, costing 390 million £ in 2004 and being the third largest sports facilities in London with about 60,000 seats. It is also a money-making machine as season tickets to the stadium cost from 1,000 to 7,000 £. When I lived in England, I was surprised to hear that football is considered the more bourgeois sports while rugby is supposed to be a working class sports, but such ticket prices confirm it.

Emirates Airlines paid 100 million £ to sponsor the building for a duration of 15 years, but it has to be called Arsenal Stadium for international competitions as Emirates did not pay sponsoring fees to UEFA. The stadium can also be used as a conference centre and a French President once had a summit meeting here with Prime Minister Blair.

R and directly L Avenell Road

Aubert Court garden façade

The road leads along an estate called Aubert Court, built in the 1960s. The flats are rather affordable compared to other locations close to central London, possibly because of the nuisances after football matches. The architecture is definitely worth a look. On the back façade towards the garden, there are many half-round balconies. This is both very pleasant for residents and lively to look at. On the road front, there is no feeling of gloomy, oversize shoebox because of the many staircase towers with tall white windows. This is unusual for the 1960s and reminds much more of Art Déco.

Aubert Court façade on Avenell Road

Development replacing old Arsenal Stadium

The next development is completely different. It was built on the grounds of the former Arsenal stadium. To keep the idea of a stadium, the former stands were each converted into a glass-fronted building overlooking a central garden. The buildings are surprisingly low; this was forced on the developer by the local authorities as the outer walls of two of the stands are listed features. The glass fronts are boring and could be any office building rather than flats. This is because the buildings are meant to maximise short-term profit and to be demolished as soon as a more profitable idea is found for the location. By the way, the four stands together add to no less than 711 flats, which implies most are likely to be quite tiny.

Listed part of former Arsenal Stadium

The listed wall along Avenell Road owes its protection listing to the Art Deco architecture. It was built in 1936 at a time when architects liked to break long, tall walls with geometric features, in this case recessed boxes. As you will probably know, the gun on the club’s coat of arms is linked to the fact that the club was founded originally in 1886 by workers from the ammunition factory at Woolwich Arsenal.

L Gillespie Road

R into Gillespie Park Nature Reserve. Beware that the entrance is a very inconspicuous arch just before house number 106

Cross the park keeping parallel to Gillespie Road

Wilderness in Gillespie Park

The first section of the park is a small neighbourhood park until you reach a pond that marks the start of the Nature Reserve. The few trees along the pond bear the grand name of the “Lakeside Copse”. After passing the lake, you reach a rather interesting wrought iron gate looking a little like intertwined silvery twigs. This is the “knotted gate”.

 

Gillespie Park Nature Reserve “Lake”

Knotted Gate in Gillespie Park Nature Reserve

Creepy-crawly tiles

Colourful tiles showing beetles and other creepy-crawlies have been inset in the concrete path as this leads to the local Ecology Centre. I have never looked inside the building but I did notice the rather unusual plants that grow in the garden. They are specifically meant to be attractive to wildlife such as bees.

 

Other tiles in Gillespie Park Nature Reserve

Garden of the Ecology Centre

Grassland in Gillespie Park Nature Reserve

North exit of Gillespie Park Nature Reserve

Walk up the embankment towards the train tracks, then R along the train tracks through the nature reserve. The reserve later turns into a very thin strip of greenery along the train embankment, but it is a valuable natural space because the grass grew naturally to a sort of small wilderness and now attracts many insects.

This area is sometimes closed off, particularly when there are football matches at the nearby stadium. If this is the case, you have to go back to Gillespie Road and take St. Thomas’s Road parallel to the train line.

 

FINSBURY PARK

Finsbury Park Underground station

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

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

 

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Victoria Tube line walk 2: Pimlico walk to Warren Street

Victoria Tube walk 2

PIMLICO to WARREN STREET

2 hours

The Victoria line was built by Transport for London in the 1960s in order to alleviate congestion on existing underground lines in central London and proved very successful as it is considered to be congested as well by now. There are two good reasons for this: it is the line providing the most convenient interchange at many stations as changing to other lines is step free in a number of cases. And trains run very fast because distances between stations tend to be high.

The line was not meant to provide access to suburbs that might have been underserved until then and all stations are interchanges except for one that was added later. Looking at a map, you might argue that an opportunity was missed in several cases (New Covent Garden in Nine Elms, Clissold Park area, St Ann’s Road, Walthamstow Town Hall).

Apart from the interchange issue, the main peculiarity of the line are that it is the only longer line built fully underground (only the maintenance depot is over ground). The line is called “Victoria” because it passes Victoria train terminal. Other names had been proposed and some sound rather funny (“Viking line” or “Walvic line”).

Routing note: This route connects in Pimlico with Victoria tube walk 1. It connects in Victoria with Victoria train network walks 1 and 7 and with District line walk 9. It connects in Green Park with Jubilee line walk 5 and with Piccadilly line walk 5. It connects in Oxford Circus with Bakerloo line walk 1 and with Central line walks 1 and 6. Finally, it connects in Warren Street with Victoria Underground line walk 3 and with Northern line walk 9.

My estimate for the walk does not include time spent in the different museums the route passes. You might also want to do some shopping.

PIMLICO

Pimlico station

The station opened in 1972 and is the only station without an interchange on the Victoria line. It was considered sensible because of nearby tourist attractions. The platforms have a themed decoration with a carpet of yellow dots, supposedly a reference to contemporary art exhibited at nearby Tate Britain.

The main entrance is a corner hall beneath an office building from the 1970s and is of no architectural interest.

Exit the station on Bessborough Street following the signs for Tate Britain

L along Bessborough Street, soon called Drummond Gate

R Vauxhall Bridge Road

L before the bridge Millbank until you reach Tate Britain

Tate Britain

The museum opened in 1897 in this building built for the purpose. Both the original collection and the construction costs were a gift by philanthropist William Tate, hence the name. The architecture is the work of Tate’s usual architect, Sidney Smith, who got help from American architect John Russell Pope. Both were very fond of neo-classical architecture and the riverside façade looks like an oversize Greek temple. An additional wing was added in 1987; it is a work by James Stirling, a celebrity at the time. When asked to add to an existing building, he liked to create a very strong contrast in style while keeping to simple shapes and little decoration. The extension is considered interesting in architecture history but no one says it is impressive or beautiful.

Tate Britain entrance portico

The collection covers mainly English painting from the 18th and 19th century. There were very few English painters before 1700 because England was not a wealthy country; any important commission went to imported European artists like Holbein. Works from after 1900 are mainly at Tate Modern, the sister museum. Tourists usually visit Tate Britain for the large collection of works by William Turner while London residents usually visit rather on the occasion of the yearly Turner Prize. The prize is often highly controversial and seeing the shortlisted works provides socialites with enough gossip for a few weeks. You could argue that controversy is the essence of the prize as it is primarily a marketing ploy intended to launch artists in the international collector’s circuit.

Entrance to the museum is free except for the occasional special exhibition and for the Turner prize shows. I guess you will not need more than an hour unless you are passionate about paintings. Apart from Turner, the one section you cannot see elsewhere in London is that covering William Blake.

With the main entrance to your back, turn R and again R into Atterbury Street

Chelsea Art college

The very large building to your left is now called Chelsea Art College. As the name says, it offers university-level education in arts and media. The building was originally used as the Royal Army Medical College. This explains the unusually sizeable courtyard, needed to have army medical students exercise and parade. It was opened in 1907 and the colour scheme of the building is typically Edwardian.

 

 

Main building of Chelsea Art College

The main block is the one to your left between the courtyard and the riverside. It included officer accommodation, a grand hall and a banqueting room. This explains the somewhat bombastic central section with neo-classical arcades, columns and domed turrets. The block facing you housed the teaching facilities and has little decoration as this was a practical building developed by army engineers. The block to your right was used as barracks and has several unusual details such as the flattish tower domes and the long galleries overlooking the courtyard. Note the many chimneys needed to heat such large stone buildings. One of the buildings houses an art gallery where you can see exhibitions by the students.

Former barracks of Royal Army Medical College

Millbank Gardens

At the end of the street, you reach a small park. Millbank Gardens is a well-tended park in the Art Deco tradition with small geometrical flower beds lined in stone, many convenient banks and pleasant trees.

L John Islip Street

R Cureton Square

R Causton Street

Where the road turns L, there is a passage ahead. I am not sure that it is a public footpath but I was able to walk through all the way to Vincent Street. If this is still possible, it is the better route. If the area is now gated off, you need to stay on Causton Street and to turn R at the next opportunity into Regency Street.

Crystal sculpture

The passage delivered two nice pictures, one of a well-kept green space with a small sculpture reminiscent of quartz crystals. The other one shows the access arcade to an estate that gives also on Regency Street. The neo-classical arcade is very Edwardian.

 

Edwardian portico

L Vincent Street

R Vincent Square

L continuing around Vincent Square

Vincent Square

The square is not a public garden, it is a sports ground for nearby schools. The mock-Tudor pavilion on the edge of the cricket ground is actually quite nice. It was customary to have very steep roofs going nearly to the ground for such pavilions but I don’t know why. Maybe to deflect errant balls ?

 

 

 

Lawrence Hall

Opposite the pavilion, there is a small street called Elverton Street. You can detour into the street for a few yards to the next crossroads if you wish to see the interesting Art Déco building called Lawrence Hall. It is usually used as a private venue, which is a pity because pictures show a remarkable exhibition hall. From the outside, you see clearly the Art Déco interplay of the cubic core building with a rounded protrusion. The lettering above the entrance is also unusual; the 1930s were a time when there was quite an interest in original, innovative lettering. Because of the use of computers, very few people experiment nowadays with unusual lettering.

Horticultural Society headquarters

Back in Vincent Street, you soon reach the headquarters of the Royal Horticultural Society, a quintessentially British charity founded in 1804. It is primarily known for the yearly Chelsea flower show. A member can become a “fellow”; this was decided by election until recently. In a nod to disgraceful capitalist mores, the title of “fellow” is now available for purchase (called a “suggested donation” for tax reasons). I have not been inside the building, but you can probably have a look as there is a public library in the basement. The building itself is Edwardian with mild neo-classical details.

 

 

Westminster Kingsway College

At the end of the road, you walk along Westminster Kingsway College, founded in 1910 by leading cooks who wanted to promote vocational education in their trade. It has a restaurant where the students cook for outside clients and learn proper serving. This is quite popular because it offers outstanding cooking for an affordable price. The building is a rather special construction in light brown bricks with unusual window patterns and a variety of pleasing decorative friezes. I am tempted to describe it as “Arts & Crafts”.

Westminster almshouses in Rochester Row

The building on Rochester Row opposite the college is a sizeable red brick building clearly inspired by Dutch Renaissance architecture, particularly the gables. It was built in 1880 to replace older almshouses financed originally by a Westminster cleric in 1656. Like many almshouses, it provides flats to elderly people of modest means who can live independently but appreciate a community feeling.

Ahead Emery Street

L Francis Street

You get a glimpse on the right side towards the catholic Westminster cathedral. I comment on the building in a District line walk but the view was worth a picture.

Side view of Westminster catholic cathedral

R Carlisle Place

Carlisle Mansions

The long row of houses on both sides is called Carlisle Mansions, as if residents lived in country palaces. Developers are always fond of grand names for places that don’t deserve it. I mention them because there is a significant excess of white plaster decoration. It looks like icing on a sickly sweet cake. The development goes back to 1886 and proved particularly attractive to writers such as T.S. Eliot, Ian Fleming and Somerset Maugham. To prove my point about the excess of icing, look at the more subdued building from the same period and in a similar colour combination at the end of the street.

Estate in Carlisle Place

L Victoria Street

The road forks with the train terminal being on the left side. You don’t need to go to the terminal, but keep to the left arm of the road. The passage for the Underground station will be on your right.

VICTORIA

Victoria Underground station

The Victoria Underground station was built for the Circle line in 1868. This station has its own entrance hall away from the train terminal. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1969 underneath the train terminal. The two sets of platforms are linked by a long, inconvenient subway, while the Victoria line is linked with the train terminal by shorter corridors but with a very inconvenient set of stairs. This will be alleviated by building a new access but this will be much further away from the train station.

The picture I use for the underground station shows the Circle line entrance. It has a shopping arcade and the office building over the station hall is a formal Victorian affair with stone cladding and a device above the first floor windows that reminds me of the Prince of Wales’s standard.

R through the shopping arcade of the Circle line station hall

L and directly R Sir Simon Milton Square

This square might have temporarily no access to the other side due to construction work. It this is the case, walk on the parallel avenue (Buckingham Gate)

Ahead Warwick Row

Ahead Palace Place

L Palace Street

R Buckingham Gate

Royal Mews

The long wall crowned with urns on the north side of the road hides the park of Buckingham Palace from passers-by. The building with the large triangular pediment peeping over the wall and the small entrance door is a sort of museum, the Royal Mews. The building was originally built on a design by John Nash in 1825 and the taste for classical ornamentation is clearly in evidence with the triangular pediment, the scrolls above the arches and the cornice under the roof.

The museum exhibits horse-drawn carriages from the considerable collection Her Majesty’s ancestors have accumulated during the 19th century. Because of the very high entrance fee (11 £ in 2018, up from 9 £ in 2015), you should only consider entering if you are really interested.

Greek entrance to the Royal Gallery

At the end of the park wall, you reach a somewhat strange, little greek temple with fat columns used as the entrance to the Queen’s Gallery. The original building was a chapel, but this was destroyed by bombs during World War II and the replacement building opened in 1962 was erected in a restrained neo-Greek style (note for example the stone leaves marking the triangle at the end of the building). The building being quite small, it was decided to enlarge it substantially in 2002 and the somewhat overdone portico dates back to then.

Her Majesty the Queen is the owner of one of the largest and most magnificent collections of classical paintings in the world, but there is no large museum showing them together at any one time. You can see regularly changing selections at the Queen’s Gallery. Because the selection changes, you should check on the website what is on view at the time you plan a visit. This is also recommended considering the high entrance fee (11 £ in 2018).

L Spur Road walking along the palace fence

Main front of Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace is well known for its official function. It was originally a country house that was extended into a royal palace in the 1820s. At the time, three wings formed a U around a courtyard, as is still the case in Versailles and in the Louvre in Paris. At the time of horse carriages, this was the most convenient layout. The courtyard was closed with a fourth wing in 1850 and the new wing is the only one you can see from the public streets. It was built in a rather austere neo-classical style, the problem being the sheer scale of the palace and the unflattering grey hue of the stones.

Buckingham Palace gates

Queen Victoria soon decided to spend most of the year in Windsor. This is not surprising as most royal families use a palace for official functions but prefer to live most of the year in a family palace they can more easily fit to changing family needs. Later British royals had differing opinions on which palace they found more convenient.

 

Mémorial, Palace and gates

Most of the palace was decorated in the 19th century in a very flashy manner with lots of gold, rare marbles, chandeliers etc. It is usually possible to visit a few rooms used for official functions in August and September. It is a very profitable operation for the Crown Estate as entrance costs 24 £ (in 2018), but the money is needed as the maintenance and renovation costs of the huge palace are staggering. I have never been inside but I imagine the sheer size of the rooms is impressive. To be honest, the entrance fee also allows you an opportunity to walk around the park.

Victoria Memorial

Part of the large roundabout in front of the palace was pedestrianised when a huge monument to Queen Victoria was installed in 1911. As usual at the time, it is a gigantic pile with many allegoric figures. There is an inscription at one spot commemorating a gift of New Zealand. This dominion did not contribute specifically the two statues involved, it paid money into the overall fund. The fundraising was so successful that there was enough money to build also the Admiralty Arch and to rebuild the whole façade of the palace. My pictures show the Agriculture and Industry statues with their attending lions.

Agriculture on Victoria Memorial

Industry on Victoria Mémorial

 

Flower bed in front of Buckingham Palace

I don’t really like the palace itself and I think most tourists pay attention primarily to the guards. The gilded gates are worth a short look, but you will see better ones soon. What is definitely worth a look is the magnificent flower bed spread in a half-round. I always felt jealous that Her Majesty could enjoy such a flower display through Her windows. The plants are not exceptional but the size of the flower bed makes it impressive. My larger picture was taken on occasion of the official visit of the President of Mexico, but the colours of the flowers are the colours of my own flag, Luxembourg (baby blue, white and red). Thank you for the honour. The smaller picture is taken in August instead of April; as Her Majesty is not in London in summer, the flower beds are more modest.

Flower bed in Luxembourg colours

Ahead across the gilded portal into Green Park

Green Park gates

This gate is possibly the most magnificent and most pretentious gilded gate in London. When the dominions contributed to the Victoria Memorial, Canada offered instead what is officially known as “Canada Gate”. The general style is neo-baroque with lanterns in the shape of urns and an assortment of scrolls. A closer look at the designs shows the coats of arms of several Canadian provinces, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and a design I can’t identify.

Canadian provinces on Canada Gate

View of Green Park

Ahead across the park, exit at the Northeast corner on Piccadilly

Green Park is a large, plain expanse of grass with rows of trees marking the alleys. There are a few minor monuments but there are neither flower beds nor playgrounds. It was a royal park as early as 1668 but was more a heath. Prudent travellers were advised to avoid the location, feared as the haunt of highwaymen. The park was landscaped in 1820 with the intention of making it a pleasant place to ride a horse, hence the alleys.

GREEN PARK

Green Park Underground station

The station was originally built for the Picadilly line in 1906 and was called originally Dover Street. The name was changed after extension works in 1933. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1969, the Jubilee line platforms in 1979. Interchange is convenient between the Jubilee and Victoria lines but is very cumbersome with the Picadilly line.

The Victoria line platforms have a themed decoration like some other stations on the line. In this case, leaves on a russet background referring to the nearby park. The historical access to the station is on the ground floor of an imposing office building from 1926.

 

Devonshire house office building

The office building is called Devonshire House after the town palace of the Duke of Devonshire, who had to sell the property in order to pay inheritance duties. The property became the headquarters and showroom for the owner of Hillman cars, a rather upmarket brand before World War II. The company disappeared because of production problems: the British government had forced it to open a factory in Scotland, but all suppliers remained in the Midlands and the transportation costs combined with very difficult relations with the local trade unions caused huge losses. Surprisingly, the building decoration makes no reference whatsoever to cars, it is just very well made neo-baroque imagery.

R Piccadilly

Posh club in St. James’s Street

Before turning left, you might have a look at 37 St. James’s Street. This is a beautiful neo-classical property but the façade is actually an excellent quality 1852 imitation of Georgian architecture – the columns are much flatter than in authentic buildings. The property belongs to an exclusive club for gentlemen founded in 1693. It had traditional associations with the Conservative party and with royalty and it does not admit women.

L Albemarle Street

Albemarle House

One of the first buildings in the street, Albemarle House, has an interesting recessed entrance. The geometric shapes of the door and of the wrought iron gate remind a lot of Scottish art nouveau; there is a variety of symbols (caduceus, owl, winged horses, lightning bolts) that make me think of a apothecary’s. The recessed entrances were popular because this gave more room to display goods, but they were abandoned in the mid 20th century both because it meant losing valuable selling space inside and because they were too tempting for people who need a shelter without being interested in the shop.

39 Albermarle Street

Albemarle Street is popular with art galleries, but nr. 39-40 at the corner with Stafford Street is an office building. I mention it because it has an unusual colour scheme (baby blue panels). The many windows point to construction in the 1930s, but the lack of decoration points to a commercial office building rather than to retail.

R Royal Arcade (if it is closed, take a parallel street shorly before the arcade)

 

Royal Arcade

This is the oldest shopping arcade in central London, built in 1879. Until the mid-19th century, people would go to a specific shop they needed and the concept of shopping as a leisure activity did not exist. Streets were busy and dirty due to the horse carriages and walking was no pleasure. This led speculators to the idea of shopping arcades while merchants developed a similar concept with the department stores. Arcades soon became extremely popular with Milan and Brussels having among the most impressive ones.

Inside Royal Arcade

In London, despite real estate costs, arcades were not built beneath buildings and had low glass roofs. In Paris, low arcades were created in the cheaper parts of the city while those in expensive sectors were beneath buildings, the arcade roof being used as the courtyard for the offices above.

This particular arcade is called “royal” because Queen Victoria patronised a merchant located here. The shops in the arcade are still very upmarket as this is one of the most expensive retail areas in London anyway. In terms of architecture, the somewhat frilly decoration is typically Victorian. You may notice that the roof has small glass panels and many intermediary beams. It was not impossible to build larger panels in the 1870s but it was still a risky novelty.

Roofscape of Royal Arcade

L Old Bond Street

Luxury in Old Bond Street

Most buildings in the street are of no particular interest; the main point is that they are all different as opposed to the rows of identical façades seen in some other areas of London. There are more millionaires per square foot in this street than anywhere else in London because all the shops in the street belong to luxury brands. As you will be well aware, their wares are status symbols, particularly for newly rich people in Asia and the Middle East. The quality is flawless but the same quality will cost much less is you know an appropriate craftsman, showing the power of brands. There is no convincing reason why this particular Mayfair street attracted luxury brands in the first place rather than a parallel street; obviously, it is a self-perpetuating reputation by now.

R Burlington Gardens

Neo-gothic mixed with Arts & Crafts

The large building at the corner of Old Bond Street with Burlington Gardens is a listed property with a very grand front. It has friezes with gilt details, which is really unusual. The façade towards Old Bond Street is an Arts & Crafts reminder of gothic architecture, expressed for example in the balcony stonework and in the steep turret. The property was built in 1926 for a luxury perfumer’s.

Détails on Old Bond Street

American-style Art Déco in New Bond Street

The property on the other side of the crossroads (nr. 1 New Bond Street) is an interesting contrast as it is strictly Art Déco with rounded domes and stepped decoration at the corners.

Very soon after entering Burlington Gardens, you reach the entrance to Burlington Arcade. It was originally built in 1819, at a time when this was a very eccentric concept. The owner of the neighbouring property decided to develop an arcade on part of his garden partly because passers-by were dropping refuse over the property wall into the garden ! He also thought correctly that there would a market for jewelry shops because it had become very fashionable for affluent Mayfair residents to promenade in this area. The façade on Burlington Gardens is rather plain while that on Piccadilly is a rather pretentious neo-classical arcade from 1827.

Burlington Arcade

Back entrance of the Royal Academy of Art

Nr 6 Burlington Gardens is a very imposing official building used now by the Royal Academy of Arts. It was originally the headquarters of London University when it was built in 1870. The architecture is a very heavy-handed form of neo-Renaissance with porticos, columns, statues and a rustico ground floor. The Royal Academy bought the property in 2005 and it is mainly used for educational activities. On occasion, it provides an additional entrance for exhibitions.

Gates to Burlington House

The Royal Academy complex also has a front on Piccadilly which is actually the main entrance. You can easily detour through Burlington Arcade to see it and it is definitely a recommended excursion. The entrance portico and the front wing are 1873 additions imitating Italian Renaissance decoration with impressively showy wrought iron gates. They are used by learned societies.

 

Burlington House

The formal building at the end of the courtyard is the actual Burlington House, a former aristocratic palace rebuilt in 1717. Both the architect and the owner had just come back from Italy where they had been fascinated by Renaissance architecture, particularly by Palladio’s works in the Veneto region. The palace was to astonish people in London and neo-palladian architecture became the dominant style in England for at least a century. Two typical details are the stonework on the ground floor and the alternating window lintels, rounded and pointed.

The original building had only one upper floor (the “piano nobile” of Italian villas) and the upper floor was added in Victorian times. This explains the cornice between the two levels while such cornices normally indicate the roofline. Also, the idea of having a gallery of statues on a façade is typically 19th century; in earlier times, you would have only one statue and possibly bas-reliefs.

Main entrance to Burlington House

Burlington House is mainly used for exhibitions organised by the Royal Academy. Most major exhibitions of painting and sculpture are organised here except for contemporary art (usually shown at Tate Modern). You will obviously need to reckon with long queues for blockbuster exhibitions and the courtyard is quite convenient in such circumstances. As the Academy does not get public funding but plays a leading role in the cultural life of London, it must plan blockbuster exhibitions that bring visitors and money. I suggest you have a close look at the catalogues before purchasing an entry ticket as the exhibitions go from exciting eye-openers to boringly commercial blockbusters.

 

Former ballroom of Burlington House

The Royal Academy also has its own collection of paintings because academy members are required to present a sort of “admission work”. A few highlights are exhibited in a part of Burlington House called the Madejski Fine Rooms after the gentleman who financed the renovation. Opening times are restricted but you definitely should time your walk in order to visit them as entrance is free.

The rooms are considered the finest example in London of interiors by major architect William Kent and were decorated in 1719. The ceilings with cartouches separated by very conspicuous, gilt scrollwork are typical of his style. You will also recognise easily the influence of antique sites visited by Kent in Italy considering the columns in the boardroom.

Work from the Royal Academy collection

The works of art from the Academy collection are of varying quality as explanation panels will point out to you. The one work of international reputation is a tondo by Michelangelo, shown in an adjacent corridor.

L Savile Row

View to Regent Street from Savile Row

The street is mainly known for a number of tailoring shops. The first tailors were attracted to this area by the fact that a number of officers and politicians lived here after the street was developed in the 1730s. Most of the original neo-Palladians houses have been replaced by completely uninteresting designs. Don’t be fooled by the aura of “bespoke tailoring”, this can also include clothes made to your measurements but by a machine.

Ahead Mill Street

L Maddox Street

R St. George Street

Hanover Square

The parish church of St George’s is one of the churches built under Queen Anne in 1724. It has a typically neo-classical portico with huge columns. The church is normally closed as there is nothing exceptional inside. Being the parish church for Mayfair, it features occasionally in reports on celebrities.

Cross Hanover Square Gardens aiming for the Northeast corner

Fountain in Hanover Square

Hanover Square is a 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.

Take Princes Street

L Swallow Place

R Oxford Street

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.

Like with a number of stations in Central London, the entrance is clad in conspicuous dark red tiles. This was a scheme developed in the early 1900s by architect Leslie Green. It normally includes wide ground floor bays with the one or other shop and semi-circular lighting bays on the first floor. They were built in such a manner as to be included easily into a commercial or office building. About 50 stations were built with this scheme. In terms of architectural style, I find it difficult to associate it with a specific type, which means Green really developed his own style. Unfortunately, the architect died very young, probably due to burnout caused by an excessive work burden.

continue on Oxford Street

L Great Portland Street

93 Mortimer Street

While crossing Mortimer Street, you may notice 93 Mortimer Street, an interesting listed building with a neo-Greek front. The particularly Greek elements are the Ionic columns while there is a rustico ground floor like in neo-Palladian architecture. This eclectic mix is from 1910, a period when Greek decoration was a bit unusual. Inside, there is a large room used for commercial events.

R Little Titchfield Street

University building from 1929

You will probably notice the imposing front marked “The Polytechnic Great Portland Street Extension”. This is a 1929 building opened by what is now the University of Westminster when it decided to offer courses to young ladies. Women were not supposed to be interested in male subjects and many parents would have considered the idea of students of both sexes in the same building outrageously immoral. The building is now mainly used as a library. It has a peculiar inscription (“the Lord is our Strength”). I know it is a quote from the Psalms but it is strange on a university building. The architecture is nicely Art Déco but is marred by a seriously oversize and rather obscure design above the main door.

L Great Titchfield Street

R Riding House Street

Bourlet Close

The road got its name from the exercise place for a cavalry regiment. It passes on the right a minor cul-de-sac, Bourlet Close, a former mews. It has been converted into flats and someone got the peculiar idea of putting five statues on the edge of the roof. The sculptures are clearly modern and they seem to belong to a producer of advertising films headquartered in this close.

Former Boulting building in Riding House Street

At the corner with Candover Street, you pass a conspicuous Arts & Crafts building. As a large sign says, it belonged to “Boulting & Sons Hot Water Engineers” who had a “stove manufactory” (an unusual word…). I mentioned above once an instance of unusual lettering as being quite typical of Art Déco. This inscription is rather Art Nouveau but also has interesting lettering. It uses cleverly pale green as a background, contrasting with the more usual brick and plaster colour scheme. The overall impression of this building is rather unusual for London and reminds me more of Brussels.

L Cleveland Street

Broadcasting tower

The road passes a tower that is a bit difficult to see from the street as it is in the middle of a block of offices. It was built in 1964 for the Post Office and was used to broadcast BBC signals that were otherwise disturbed by tall buildings. It was built in a manner very similar to comparable technical towers throughout Europe such as the Alex tower in Berlin. The tower had a top floor restaurant popular for the extended view, but this was closed in 1981 for security reasons as anarchists had planted a bomb in the lavatories in 1970. Although the tower is now quite old for a concrete building, it seems in good shape. When it was built, it was the tallest structure in the UK at 177 meters.

R Grafton Way

Cross Fitzroy Square Garden towards the Northeast corner

Fitzroy Square Garden

The square is a delightful oasis of quiet and peace in a busy part of central London and this fits with the original intention of Mr Fitzroy who was a speculator trying to sell the houses to aristocratic families. The architects were the brother Adam and are clad in expensive Portland stone, confirming the upmarket target. The scheme was finished in 1794, actually a bad time as the economy suffered under the war from France, but the location was well chose close to Regent’s Park that had not been developed yet at the time.

Fitzroy Square development by Adam

Celebrities in Fitzroy Square

Many of the properties have blue plaques because it was an attractive location for artists and scientists in the 19th century. Number 29 was the domicile of George Bernard Shaw until he married. The house deserved a second plaque because it was later the domicile of Virginia Woolf. It is exceedingly rare to find two blue plaques on the same building.

Take Fitzroy Street

R Warren Street

 

 

WARREN STREET

Warren Street Underground station

The station opened on the Northern Line in 1907 and was originally called “Euston Road”, a highly confusing name as there are also stations called “Euston” and “Euston Square”. The name was therefore changed directly in 1908. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1969 and were given a themed decoration in form of a labyrinth (from “warren”).

The access is the ground floor of an imposing rotunda built at the end of a large office building from 1934. The shape is typically Art Déco but no effort was made in terms of decoration or a particular window scheme. A bit cheap for this period.

 

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Victoria Tube line walk 1: Brixton walk to Pimlico

Victoria Underground line walk 1

BRIXTON to PIMLICO

1 3/4 hours

The Victoria line was built by Transport for London in the 1960s in order to alleviate congestion on existing underground lines in central London and proved very successful as it is considered to be congested as well by now. There are two good reasons for this: it is the line providing the most convenient interchange at many stations as changing to other lines is step free in a number of cases. And trains run very fast because distances between stations tend to be high.

The line was not meant to provide access to suburbs that might have been underserved until then and all stations are interchanges except for one that was added later. Looking at a map, you might argue that an opportunity was missed in several cases (New Covent Garden in Nine Elms, Clissold Park area, St Ann’s Road, Walthamstow Town Hall).

Apart from the interchange issue, the main peculiarity of the line are that it is the only longer line built fully underground (only the maintenance depot is over ground). The line is called “Victoria” because it passes Victoria train terminal. Other names had been proposed and some sound rather funny (“Viking line” or “Valvic line”).

Routing note: There is a train station in Brixton relatively close to the underground terminal. Although it is not really a connection, you can therefore combine the present walk with Victoria train network walks 7 or 8.

This route connects in Stockwell with Northern Line walk 12 and in Vauxhall with Waterloo walk 1. It connects in Pimlico with Victoria Underground line walk 2.

BRIXTON

Victoria Underground line terminal in Brixton

The station opened in 1971 when the full Victoria line was completed. It is one of the busiest stations on the whole network.

The station has a rather sizeable frontage on Brixton Road with a wide glass façade. At the time, unadorned concrete was still the material of choice (for example at the Barbican), so that a glass front was quite modern and innovative. We are a bit fed up with the style nowadays because all office buildings are built in this manner, but it was not the case at the time.

Exit the station on Brixton Road and turn L for a short cultural detour until you reach the town hall overlooking the main crossroads.

This is actually the town hall for the borough of Lambeth. The name sounds surprising but was more historical and the old town hall was actually located closer to old Lambeth. The present building dates back to 1908 and is a typical example of Edwardian bombast. It is described as “neo-baroque” because of the scrolls around the oculi (the round windows) of the rotunda. The tower is a landmark and was rare for a town hall at the time. The balustrade on both sides hides the third floor because there was originally an inclined roof rather than a third floor.

Ostentatious mémorial opposite Brixton Town Hall

Just opposite the town hall, there is a tall freestanding monument with a giant palmetto at the top. This is a funeral monument from 1825 in the neo-greek style – anything greek was the height of fashion and Lord Byron would soon dash into the Greek guerilla against the Turkish Ottoman regime. The location of the monument is logical because this was the upper end of the churchyard until graves had to be transferred away from inhabited areas following an Act of Parliament. The Budd family were successful stock exchange and real estate speculators – then as now, many rich people like to flaunt their newly and dubiously acquired wealth in an ostentatious manner.

 

Brixton Library

Going back a few steps towards the station, you see three interesting buildings on the eastern side of the crossroads. The one closer to the town hall is the library, built with subsidies from industrialist and philanthropist Tate in 1893. The architecture is subdued neo-clacissism with the typical late Victorian colour pattern of cream and orange (actually inspired by French 17th century castles). There was a formal garden in front of the building but this was too cumbersome to maintain and was replaced by modest raised patches of grass.

 

Film theatre opened in 1910

The neighbouring building is a film theatre that was extended after World War II bombs destroyed a theatre that stood here. The entrance is from 1910 and is suitably imposing as theatres were major cultural venues in any town. The style is quite similar to that of the town hall, which is very thoughtful from the architect.

On the other side of the road, the film theatre faces an imposing brick rotunda with thin white stone columns. It was originally a very large pub and is now divided among flats, a pub and a fast-food restaurant using a colour scheme that is very inappropriate for the building. The present building dates back to 1935 and is an excellent example of Art Deco. It combines the vertical and the horizontal (our modern business buildings stress only the vertical), it has the rounded shapes much used at the time in conspicuous locations.

Former Art Déco pub in Brixton

It also has very large windows that were made possible by the invention of concrete pillars bearing the structure and that were considered very sensible by the new hygienic movement as sunlight was said to be essential for good health. By the way, this interest for sunlight explains why nudism started as a movement at the same period. Sunny weather being unreliable in Britain, nudism caught less than in Germany.

Chain shop in the Art Déco style

Continue walking back towards the tube station. You are soon passing the white stone façade of a large apparel shop. It was built in 1935 like the pub you just saw before and is a very different type of Art Deco, stressing the vertical much more. There is not much decoration, which makes me think that it was built as a standard branch for a large corporation. The tall windows would be logical for a department store.

Before reaching the tube station again, turn R into Electric Avenue (a pedestrian area), the road turns L towards a subway under train lines

The road takes its name from the fact that it was the first shopping street to be lit by electricity back in the 1880s. There was also a canopy protecting shoppers in bad weather, a little like in Leadenhall Market, but it was taken away in the 1980s for safety reasons and was not replaced. It is now a very lively market catering to the “vibrant multinational community” Brixton is often described as.

This came to be partly by chance, as the first Caribbean immigrants to England were housed in a shelter in Clapham, came to Brixton for shopping purposes and discovered affordable houses in rundown Victorian streets. Brixton has become a symbol for immigration and featured a few times in episodes of racial tension and suburban riots in the 1980s and in 1995. Brixton is becoming more upmarket like other inner suburbs and an example of this is National Rail expelling shops from the train viaduct arcades in order to refurbish them – the result being that rents will quadruple and that the shops will not be the same and will not cater to the same clientele.

Ahead Pope’s Road passing under both train lines

There are actually two separate train lines. The lower viaduct bears the train line from London Victoria to Bromley South and has a train station. The upper viaduct only crosses the first line and has no station; it is used by the London Overground between Clapham Junction and Peckham Rye. If you want to combine the present walk with an other one, you can join here the Victoria train network walk 7 or 8.

R Canterbury Crescent

Former school in Canterbury Crescent

The nice brick building at the corner with Pope’s Road was originally the seat of St John’s the Divine Church of England Primary School and dates back to 1850. The school had to move because it outgrew the premises and the building was converted to luxury flats. A 3-bedroom property at this address was offered in 2014 for a modest 1,850,000 £, showing that Brixton should not be associated only with the “vibrant immigrant community” I mentioned.

Palladian pub building

Just opposite the brick building, you can notice the upper floors of a pub, painted in elegant pale yellow. The windows have alternatively pointed and rounded lintels, a typical reference to 17th century neo-classicism as defined by Italian architect Palladio. I guess such a refined building was intended to be connected with a parade of similar façades along Pope’s Road.

L Wiltshire Road (when the priority road turns R, keep on Wiltshire Road in front of you)

The road runs on the back side of Max Roach Park, which I visit on the Victoria train walk 7 mentioned above. There are several strips of green and small parks along the East side of Brixton Road between here and the corner of Loughborough Road. They were created by demolishing some of the derelict early 19th century houses along the road. Most of them were refurbished by the council in order to create subsidised housing in a particularly deprived area of London.

Max Roach Park

The three strips of greenery are united under the name Max Roach Park after a leading American jazz musician. I am a little surprised that the borough could name the park after a living person (he inaugurated the park himself in 1986 while he died only in 2007). In some European countries, this is considered a big no-no because it might induce some rich or influential people into bribing or coercing local authorities.

In the southern section of the park, you will find a grassy mound with what looks like the ruins of a substantial brick building, but this was planned by the landscape architect from the onset as a playground.

Mural in Villa Road

At the end of the park, you can have a look at the start of Villa Road. There is an interesting mural painted on the first of a row of renovated Victorian houses, showing the sun and stars. It is very unusual to see a mural painted directly on bricks as it is much easier to develop a design if you paint a background colour first.

The church you pass afterwards is St John’s Angell Town; the parish church for Brixton is actually near the town hall. The name of the parish comes from Mr Angell who donated the ground. The church is a normal neo-gothic building from 1853 and is normally closed except for services. It does have a rather substantial church tower with a surprising battlement at the top. The four finials are less unusual, they are inspired by a design often seen in French gothic cathedrals.

St John’s Angell Town

At the end L Peckford Place

Estate in Peckford Place

The housing estate along this minor road is worth a look. It represents the more modern version replacing derelict Victorian housing. The lower level used for garages is interesting, being not so deep into the ground as to be dark and attractive for illicit activities. In addition, the strip of green with trees in the middle of the road immediately gives a more pleasant feeling.

Ahead across the small park to the main road

R Brixton Road

Former factory on Brixton Road

You pass two additional sections of Max Roach Park. They are actually just wider strips of green with a few trees, but are still more pleasant than the pavement. At the level of the second one, I noticed an interesting old building marked “Eagle Printing Works” and dated 1864. This is the type of business that made Brixton a lively suburb. My picture is several years old, the lintel with the date was taken away since. By the way, there was a hairdresser’s in the building at the time. Like many outfits in this trade, it advertised itself as “unisex”. I must say I find the wording extremely amusing knowing the reputation some male hairdressers have in the gay crowd.

L Robsart Street

There is an unusually ornate brick building at 2 Robsart Street. I have found no information about the building and it does not look very old. It shows about every type of decoration you can do with bricks.

Ornate brickwork in Robsart Street

R into Slade Gardens

Slade Gardens

The park was landscaped when the borough bought and demolished derelict Victorian housing. It opened in 1962. It is just a normal neighbourhood park with grass, a few trees and a playground. It is actually a themed playground with an amusing yellow submarine structure. I did not notice flower beds or exciting planting although the website extols orchard trees.

 

Yellow submarine in Slade Gardens

Exit the park near the church on the western side. St Michael’s Stockwell is an early neo-gothic structure already opened in 1841 and is rather modest.

Stockwell Park Crescent Conservation Area

Take either R or L in order to reach the road that runs behind the church, called Stockwell Park Crescent. There are substantial town houses in the quiet road, showing that you have really left Brixton behind you.

Towards the end of the road, you pass a small church building, the “Stockwell Spiritualist Church and Healing Centre”. Mediums offer for a modest charge “special evenings of clairvoyance”. Belief that you can communicate with spirits of deceased persons was quite popular in the late 19th century and there are many references to this in novels from the period. The name on the Continent is “spiritism”. It was discredited by some fraudsters in the 1880s (and you know what is implied when your money is “spirited away” by your investment scheme) but retains followers primarily in the United States and in Britain. As a European, I am not that surprised considering the British fascination with ghosts.

Spiritualist Church on St. Michael’s Road

Leave the crescent into St Michael’s Road

R Stockwell Road

Art déco nightclub in Stockwell

Just before reaching the station area, you pass a long, slick building with a rounded prow over the crossroads. This is obviously an other Art Déco building from the 1930s, stressing the horizontal this time. There is a pretty decorative band at the upper floor level depicting a swan; this refers to the fact that there was a pub here using this name. It is now a nightclub and is apparently very popular with the Irish community.

STOCKWELL

Stockwell station

The station opened in 1890 on the Northern line and the Victoria line platforms opened in 1971. The Victoria line platforms have a themed decoration, a swan referring to the nearby pub.

The station building is a 1926 work replacing an older building. It has typically horizontal shapes and is built in dark red brick, a popular early Art Déco style comparable to the old Greenwich town hall from the same period. But it is very plain and does not have the towers often built in the 1930s as local landmarks. The reason is that it was planned just after World War I while the economy was still recovering.

Stockwell war memorial and bomb shelter

With your back to the Swan nightclub, walk a few yards north along Clapham Road. You will soon reach the borough War Memorial. It is a very heavy-set column in white stone, typical for the imperial style of the 1920s.

Just behind the memorial, there is a rotunda painted with poppies. They are repainted regularly because they tend to fade from dark red to cutesy piglet pink rather quickly. I have always been surprised at the role of poppies in remembering World War I as most European countries do not use similar symbols. The rotunda was the entrance to a large bomb shelter built during World War II. Like seven other similar shelters, it was built after London citizens tried desperately to shelter in tube stations in 1940. Each had room for 8,000 refugees because they were large enough to be possibly used for tube line construction at a later point in time.

Take Lambeth Road along the memorial, leaving the rotunda on your right.

L Lansdowne Way passing a bus depot

Lansdowne Way bus depot

The bus depot was an architectural achievement when it opened in 1952. It was at the time the largest unsupported roof span in Europe with a length of 59 m. Because of the large British steel industry, most public buildings included a lot of steel until the 1970s, but there was a shortage just after World War II and the roof was built in concrete. At a time when engineers had to make all calculations by hand, planning such a roof was remarkable.

Soon R Lansdowne Gardens passing a landscaped roundabout

Lansdowne Gardens

As before in Stockwell Park Crescent, this is a very nice area with well kept early Victorian houses. Most of Lambeth and of Stockwell was a poor area and you will find many council estates along the main roads, but some areas were reasonably middle class. A bit after the roundabout, I noticed two houses painted in pastel colours. This was never done in 19th century cities because of soot from coal heating but it was popular for country mansions in the 1820s. It is still quite rare in London nowadays as it is more expensive to maintain than plain bricks and too flashy for the borough of Westminster. You do find similar colours in Primrose Hill and Notting Hill Gate.

Pastel-coloured houses

At the end R Thorne Road

Ahead Aldebert Terrace

At the end L Albert Square

Albert Square

This conservation area was built as a smaller speculative development in 1851 around a central garden. This is a private garden that is only planned for decoration purposes and is not an actual park. It is a very English concept, linked to the fact that speculators were able to buy large tracts of land and do some measure of urban planning (although they did ignore completely the issue of shops and schools).

L Wilkinson Street

Monument to John Tradescant

At the corner at the end of the street, you might notice a modern sculpture. It was commissioned by a local residents’ association, an extremely unusual occurrence at the time although they did receive a grant from a public foundation as well. The sculpture was unveiled in 1988 and shows wild vegetation. It honors John Tradescant, a botanist who travelled worldwide in search of rare plants.

The somewhat confusing building just behind the sculpture is the entrance hall to the parish church of St Stephen’s Lambeth. If the church is open, it is definitely worth a look inside. The original neo-gothic church was destroyed by accident in 1940 and the new church from 1967 is one of the most striking and unusual examples of contemporary Anglican architecture in London. The extremely austere look is not my personal taste. Note the light opening above the altar area serving as a chancel; the symbolism of light from above was ubiquitous in the 1960s.

St Stephen’s Lambeth

R Bolney Street

L Dorset Road

R Meadow Road

L Rita Road, turns R

Ahead into Vauxhall Park

Vauxhall Park

The park was landscaped on land that the borough was able to buy back from a speculator who had acquired the whole area. The borough did not have the funds for such a purchase, but money was put together from a number of sources under different legal budget provisions and a special Act of Parliament proved necessary in 1888. Although the park was rather plain at the beginning, it had been patronised by all sorts of influential philanthropists and was opened by a whole set of princes and princesses and by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Model village in Vauxhall Park

The park was improved after World War I and was the largest park in the then borough of Lambeth. In 1947, a retired engineer who loved building miniature houses offered to build a model village in three parks (Finsbury Park, Brockwell Park and a park in Australia). The Brockwell Park village was considered too large and the borough donated part of the buildings to Vauxhall Park in the 1950s. The houses were actually built by Edgar Wilson in 1943 and renovated in 2002. They are in excellent shape because they have been filled with sand and concrete in order to ensure stability.

Model village and springtime flowers

 

Western edge of Vauxhall Park

Apart from the lovely model village, there is also a lavender garden and a pleasant rose pergola. Pergolas are typical for Edwardian parks but had stone pillars. Pergolas with wooden posts like this one are the contemporary version.

The buildings around the park are a motley collection of uninteresting properties except for a somewhat unusual contemporary estate along the west side. Metal arches have been stuck on the façade in a stange manner but I agree readily that it makes the long building more lively to look at.

Cross the park to the Northwest exit

R St. Lambeth Road (the main road)

British Interplanetary Society headquarters

You reach a very busy crossroads with the seat of the British Interplanetary Society on your right. It is an interesting organisation. It was founded in 1933 as a private club intending to test rockets. This was a serious pursuit at the time and similar societies in other countries were later integrated into official research organisations, but this did not happen in London because the law prohibited experimentation with explosive fuels by private persons. The club worked on several proposals to fly to the moon, which explains the “interplanetary” name. I thought first that it was some sort of wacky intergalactic church, but I was completely off the mark.

Cross the main road following the small white sign for the tube and train station. There are now two subways under the train lines in front of you. Take the quieter one, South Lambeth Place

VAUXHALL

Vauxhall Underground station

The station opened in 1971 underneath the existing train station and is entirely underground.

Cross the bus station and the main road towards the river Thames

The bus station is dominated by a spectacular double structure above an aluminium core. Seen from the side, the lower part reminds of an American bus from the 1950s. The cantilevered structure has an unexpected practical purpose, it bears solar panels to produce power. It is a bit of a landmark and there were protests when the borough suggested tearing it down to improve the general layout of the area. Tourists were nearly arrested for taking a picture in 2009 as police feared a terror attack, but I suspect this is also linked to police being overzealous because of the vicinity of the secret service headquarters.

Vauxhall bus station

Ahead Vauxhall Bridge

Vauxhall Bridge

The bridge is not particularly elegant. It has very flat arches built in 1906 and replaced an earlier bridge opened in 1816. Technically, it is a rather standard steel bridge because original plans to build in stone were thwarted by issues with the river bed. There was quite a lot of bickering about the costs and agreement was only found in the end for a few statues in bronze. My picture shows “science”. The only way you can see the statues is from a boat or from the riverside, which is a bit sad.

Statue of Science on Vauxhall Bridge

 

Residential complex in Vauxhall

Seen from the north side of the river, the panorama of the bridge is quite striking because there are huge buildings on both sides of it. The upstream building is a gigantic pile of luxury flats. They are clearly planned to provide excellent views to the residents but it is a jumble of strangely uncoordinated shapes. It was built mostly between 2007 and 2010 and won twice an award by respected magazine “Architect’s Journal” for being “the Worst building in the world”. I agree.

Flashy buildings and Vauxhall Bridge

The building just downstream of the bridge is an other very special building. It was built in 1995 and houses the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). It will not comment on the organisation itself, secret services being subject to controversies by their very nature. The building was planned by Terry Farrell, definitely one of the star architects of the late 20th century. Like his other landmark London building, the office complex above Charing Cross station, the building was planned primarily for commercial offices. Obviously, it was modified according to the security needs of the SIS.

Threatening seat of the Secret Service

From afar, it is to some extent a rather typical neo-classical building of that period. It is strictly symmetrical with some rounded parts that do not break the overall rectangular outline. Seen from closer and below, it is duly threatening. I felt the central rotunda with the protrusions reminded me of a crown of thorns. The side view from the bridge approach is unpleasantly angular, with vertical slabs of dark green glass looking a bit like unhealthy sandwich fillings.

Seat of SIS

 

The National Audit Office went through the accounts and informed the taxpayers that the cost of the building was about 135 million £. Broken down by the number of employees, this implies about 70,000 £ per employee.

View from Vauxhall Bridge towards Battersea

L Grosvenor Road

Bessborough Gardens

At the beginning of the road, you walk along Bessborough Gardens. The ground belongs to the Crown Estate and the managers decided to build in a manner reminiscent of nearby Belgravia. This implies long rows of tall buildings painted cream around a park. Even if the architecture is much plainer than in Belgravia, it still exudes affluence and distinction. Architects find it boring, residents find it elegant.

The park is primarily a plain expanse of grass with trees around the edge, as in many Belgravia squares. There is a fountain in the middle that was criticised for being boringly traditional. For a public garden landscaped in the 1980s, you indeed wonder why no effort was made to find something mildly more exciting.

R St George’s Square

St George’s Square

This square is not much fun to walk through and this is the case all over Belgravia as you are forced to walk along an endless row of strictly identical houses while the garden in the middle of the development is strictly private and not very exciting anyway. But this is a good opportunity to compare the original 19th century version with the simplified late 20th century version you saw just earlier.

R Lupus Street

PIMLICO

Pimlico station

The station opened in 1972 and is the only station without an interchange on the Victoria line. It was considered sensible because of nearby tourist attractions. The platforms have a themed decoration with a carpet of yellow dots, supposedly a reference to contemporary art exhibited at nearby Tate Britain.

The main entrance is a corner hall beneath an office building from the 1970s and is of no architectural interest.

 

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Waterloo & City line walk

Waterloo & City line

WATERLOO to BANK

1 1/2 hours

The Waterloo & City Underground line is actually a true railway. It was proposed, built and operated by a railway company in order to offer a convenient connection between the Waterloo mainline terminal and the City of London. As it would cross densely built areas, only an underground line was reasonable. It opened in 1898 and was purchased in 1907 by the railway company that operated the Waterloo terminal.

The line could not be connected with the train main line in Waterloo because the trains leave from platforms elevated above the street level, as was usual in the mid-19th century. There is actually no possibility to connect the line with any other line and any heavy equipment or replacement carriages need to be hauled via a special lift into the underground shaft.

The line remained owned by the railway company and later by British Rail until 1994, the year when it was transferred to the London Underground network.

Routing note: There are many routes through central London and I have allocated each attraction to a specific train or underground line in order not to repeat myself too often. Obviously, as the walk passes Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral, you can visit them and this would add to the time estimate given above.

This walk connects in Waterloo to Waterloo network walk 1. It will also connect there with Bakerloo Line walk 1, with Jubilee Line walk 5 and with Northern Line walk 9. It connects in Bank with DLR network walk 1. It will also connect there with Central Line walk 7 and with Northern Line walks 10 and 11.

WATERLOO

 

Waterloo & City tube entrance

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

The Waterloo & City platform gives an unusual feeling because it is single track with rather short trains compared to typical Underground stations.

Exit the underground station through the main formal entrance of Waterloo train terminal. It is signposted either as Victory Arch or as “exit number 5” in the terminal.

Victory Arch at Waterloo terminal

I comment at length on the train terminal in my Waterloo walk 1. For the purpose of this walk, it is enough to mention the exit you are using, built as a sort of victory monument after World War I. Although called the Victory Arch, it actually commemorates the railway staff killed during the war. It is a good example of late Edwardian bombast making use of Renaissance elements like pediments and balustrades on a strictly symmetrical basis

Going down the stairs, you see in front of you a railway viaduct. Turn L following the viaduct arches.

Cross York Road and follow the viaduct in Concert Hall Approach

Next L Belvedere Road

R into Jubilee Gardens, walk to the riverside walkway

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

R along the river Thames following the signposted Thames Path.

The path crosses under Hungerford railway bridge with its two pedestrian walkways, passes the Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Royal Festival Hall

The Royal Festival Hall is a big, squat concrete building that does not look very impressive from the riverfront. It is important for historical reasons as it was the first prestige building to be opened after the post-World War II financial difficulties. It opened in 1951 as a property of the Greater London Council and is now a separate institution. The architect’s concept was to create a completely new type of cultural centre, without the very British tradition of separating carefully the different classes of visitors according to how expensive their seats were. He also wanted to avoid any reference to post-classical bombast and the first visitors were overwhelmed, saying they felt transported into a future world.

View from the South Bank towards the Strand

In due course, some features had to be simplified, such as the greenery on the balconies overlooking the riverside. It is now a lively bar and restaurant but part of the balcony is accessible for casual visitors and this is definitely worth enjoying. The view centres on Charing Cross train terminal and the massive Strand hotels, which gives a more monumental feeling than in other places on the South bank.

The core of the building is a very large concert hall which is comparable to a shoebox, the typical shape for such venues until the 1970s. The acoustics were not fully satisfactory although they have improved somewhat after expensive refurbishment in 2007. The sound is described as being somewhat dry and stifled, so that concerts involving the voice are usually given elsewhere. Apart from the large hall, there is a large flexible space at the back of the building used mostly for performances and “open house” type of programming.

The colour scheme inside is an acquired taste, particularly where the carpets are concerned. I also was never impressed by the staircases. I find them awkward and confusing. Have a look at different levels and you will discover hidden corners with bars or shops.

Fountain in front of Queen Elizabeth Hall

The smaller concrete building near the Royal Festival Hall is Queen Elizabeth Hall. There is a very nice fountain between both buildings. When it is turned on, water curtains rise and fall in unexpected patterns and children daring a go will gleefully get drenched from time to time. Queen Elizabeth Hall was built in 1977 for concerts where a huge hall is less appropriate, such as chamber music. The two auditoriums are downright plain and ugly, but acoustics are excellent.

Inside Queen Elizabeth Hall

The building is a good example of the Brutalist style popular in the 1960s in Britain. It involves using concrete without cladding (therefore “brut”) and avoiding frilly decoration such as columns, pediments and scrolls. The lobby has a bar offering some views towards the river and is worth a short look for the elaborate ceiling. There was originally a much larger lobby wrapping all around the main auditorium, but large parts of it have been closed off as being of no particular use.

Haywards Gallery

A third building is also part of the arts complex. To reach Haywards Gallery, you walk between the Royal Festival Hall and the Queen Elizabeth Hall past the fountain. The gallery opened in 1968 and the architecture is very similar to that of Queen Elizabeth Hall as the architects worked together. The main difference is that the gallery feels a bit more like a construction game with vertical blocks and the hall like a flat structure. One of my pictures is funny, you might see the face of a monkey or robot.

Haywards Robot or Monkey face

I have never been inside the gallery, it houses exhibitions on contemporary art and admission charges are not low. The building is a bit awkward to reach and not very visible, so that planners hesitate about how to use it efficiently.

Continue on the riverside walkway. You will certainly notice underneath Queen Elizabeth Hall a long, gloomy concrete space with graffiti. In the 1970s, such locations were actually thought to be convenient passages away from the rain, but they attracted the wrong sort of denizens. The graffiti comes from a time in the 1980s when this was the core of the streetboarding scene in London when this was still an avantgarde activity copied from the USA. Most of the walkway has been fenced off for years for security and hygienic reasons and there are commercial interests pushing for it to be converted to restaurants and shops.

The path now crosses under Waterloo Bridge. You will find more details about the bridge in my London Bridge walk 1. You also pass the film showing room of the British Film Institute located directly under the bridge. The BFI is a public archive that started in 1933 to collect films and later television features in a manner comparable to the British Library. It owns a film theatre where it shows films of artistic or topical interest that get little room in commercial theatres and has a very faithful following.

The path then passes the National Theatre.

National Theatre

The theatre is one of the most prominent companies funded significantly with public money in Britain. I have never attended performances (being a foreigner, I have difficulties with the special accent and speed of theatrical English). The building is very imposing and quite controversial. It was opened in 1977 and the plans are by Sir Denys Lasdun, who was influenced by Le Corbusier. Typical for his style are slanting shapes and receding terraces. It is a special type of brutalist architecture.

Inside the National Theatre building

If you can save a few minutes, I recommend you have a look inside the building as there is a large lobby accessible independently of performances. The layout is utterly confusing, even more so than at the Barbican Centre, an other cultural building from the same period. But there are many unexpected lines of view berween the different levels, staircases and pillars that make it somehow fascinating. Strangely enough, I got to like the building, but I needed to go there several times before feeling comfortable with it.

Mock houses in Duchy Street

Continue along the river Thames until you reach a green space. You pass first a large, ugly office building and reach the green space shortly thereafter. The Bernie Spain Gardens are worth a short detour. The part nearest to the river is mostly grass and is used a lot by tourists. The rear part is more interesting. On the western side, there is a row of brick houses that are actually murals faking real houses. There are a number of shops but what I like more is the unusual street furniture out of wood. The garden itself is a central grassy bowl with a rim of bushes and flower beds. It is away from the tourist bustle and therefore a sort of oasis on this walk.

Bernie Spain Gardens

Bernie Spain Gardens

Follow again the river Thames passing the OXO Tower Wharf. The tower gets its name from the shape of the windows at the top of the pointed tower. It is an example of shameless commercial behaviour: there was a warehouse here in the 1930s where a food manufacturer stored inter alia beef stock cubes sold under the Oxo brand. The local authorities did not allow advertising on the façade and the tower was built in such a manner as to go around the ban.

OXO tower

The warehouse was demolished in the 1970s but the tower had become a landmark and the ground was purchased by the borough council in 1984 in order to safeguard it. It is now owned by a social entreprise that rents the ground and first floor studios to artists. It is definitely worth climbing the stairs in order to look at their work although they obviously cater to more affluent clients. There is also a restaurant higher up and the rest is luxury flats. Interestingly, as the building is not listed, only the ownership structure guarantees that it is left standing.

Old view of Blackfriars Bridge

The riverside walkway then passes a big concrete building that you cannot really see from below. It then crosses under Blackfriars road bridge. The subway is improved by two interesting pictures showing the bridge inauguration. I comment in detail on the bridge in my Blackfriars walk 5. There are actually three bridges, the road bridge, the red pillars of the former train bridge and the present train bridge. After the third bridge, you pass the conspicuous south bank entrance of Blackfriars train station, a rare case of a train station extending all the way above a tidal river.

Opening of Blackfriars Bridge

Birch garden in front of Tate Modern

The riverside walkway then passes a residential estate and a smaller pub building before reaching the garden in front of Tate Modern. I comment on this particular museum in my Jubilee line walk 6. The garden in front of the museum is mostly grass. What makes it pleasant and unusual are the rows of birch trees, the black and white bark making a nice contrast to the grass and to the dark red bricks of the building.

Just after passing the Tate Modern, cross the Thames on Millenium Bridge.

Cables of Millenium Bridge

The bridge got its name from being planned to open in the year 2000. It did open, but it swayed in an uncomfortable manner and had to be closed for two years before engineers were sure that no accident would happen. Modern computers can plan for bridges to sway slightly on purpose or within specific tolerance, but the innumerable tourists might have got nervous. 19th century architects realised that some bridges swayed when a famous accident happened in France: a bridge collapsed into the river Loire, drowning many soldiers who were being marched across it.

Spidery Millenium Bridge

The bridge had to be very thin in order not to impede navigation and is therefore a suspension bridge. You can see the anchoring of the cables clearly at the south end of the bridge. Very similar bridges were built in many cities, including the optical trick of a staircase sinking below the bridge level at one or both ends.

 

View upstream from Millenium Bridge

From the bridge, you have a limited view west because of the massive Blackfriars bridges. The most conspicuous building is the Charing Cross office complex. The view east shows primarily the somewhat chaotic jumble of mid-rise buildings in the City with landmark towers being actually further away. You can see some of Tower Bridge, but Southwark Bridge in the foreground is more conspicuous. To be honest, the best views are those towards both ends of the bridge.

View downstream from Millenium Bridge

View South from Millenium Bridge

The view towards the south end is dominated by the massive shape of Tate Modern, a former power station. The view towards the north concentrates primarily on St Paul’s Cathedral, the dome of which is exactly in the axis of the bridge. This was done on purpose as lines of view towards St Paul’s have a special role in London. A large aluminium sculpture at the end of the bridge will give you an interesting frame for the dome. I have many pictures of the bridge and this view as all my visitors from overseas insisted on taking it.

Classical framed view from Millenium Bridge

College of Arms

Before crossing the road in front of you, you will see on your left a large brick building with a courtyard, a magnificent grand staircase and a sparkling gilded iron gate. This is a venerable English institution, the College of Arms. I do say English although it is also competent for Wales because Scotland has an other institution, the delightfully named Court of the Lord Lyon. The college was founded in 1484; the present building is partly from the 17th century but much of it was rebuilt in the 1950s. If you feel you are entitled to a coat of arms due to some exalted ancestry or if you are a company intending to ennoble your production of mouth-water and knickers with a coat of arms, this institution is where you will need to go. Be warned that it is not really cheap.

St Benet’s Paul Wharf

Opposite the college of arms, you may notice a small church, St. Benet’s Paul’s Wharf. It was built in 1670; it is modest but pretty with very baroque scrolls of flowers above the windows. Opening times are very limited and I don’t think there is much to see inside. Benet is an old name for Benedict, but is amusing if you speak French as a “benêt” is a simpleton.

Ahead all the way to St Paul’s Cathedral.

I comment on the cathedral itself in my District Line walk 11, but the best view of the dome is from where you are. When architect Wren designed the cathedral in the 1670s, he had in mind the huge dome of St Peter’s in Rome and the impressive dome of the Val de Grâce built by Mansart in Paris for Louis XIV, the arbiter of good taste in Europe at the time. Wren’s innovation was to set the dome on top of a high cylindrical drum, which you can be thankful for as this provides the “rooftop” viewing gallery. There are actually many more layers between the level of the nave and the golden cross at the top of the dome.

Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral

In front of the cathedral R into Festival Gardens.

Festival Gardens

The gardens were landscaped in 1951 on the occasion of the “Festival of Britain”, the celebration that also led to the National Festival Hall being built. The ground was rubbish left after World War II bombs had destroyed the office buildings that were located here. The concept of the main garden is simple, a rectangular lawn recessed into the ground and enclosed by a flower border, plus an alley of trees around the garden. I never really fell in love with the garden because of the traffic along it.

Keep to the north side of the gardens (not along the busy road) and walk towards a small church tower standing by itself.

The tower is the only rest of the church of St Augustine’s Watling Street, built in 1683 but destroyed by bombs during World War II.

Ahead Watling Street

Cross Queen Victoria Street and continue ahead into a passage between office buildings called Bloomberg Arcade

L Walbrook (a narrow street)

London Mithraeum

The large building to your left is used as headquarters for a financial information company. Check locally whether the Mithraeum located in the basement is accessible. This word refers to the structure shown on my picture; at the time, it was freely accessible above ground near the adjacent crossroads. It is one of the best known Roman ruins in London. The lines of stones and bricks show the outline of a small roman temple where soldiers worshipped this oriental God. The site is very important for archeologists because they found here a number of important documents written on wooden tablets and preserved in marshy ground. Such funds are exceedingly rare.

You must imagine the soldiers sitting on straw-covered benches on either side of the central alley and looking towards an altar at the end of the room. They would also recline on the benches for ritual meals. The religion was popular with soldiers because it involved a complex hierarchy of involvement in mysteries, a structure they were familiar with and that stressed comradeship. But we know very little about the beliefs as they were never really put in written.

Dome of St Stephen Walbrook

Nearly opposite the Mithraeum, you pass a church, St Stephen Walbroook. It is one of the many City churches built in the 1670s on designs by Christopher Wren and is considered one of his best designs, with the dome being a miniature version of St Paul’s. Architects particularly admired the transition between the four-sided crossing of the naves and the round dome using eight columns. Note that the dome does not rely on walls at all, only on the columns. This is made possible by the fact that the dome is actually in wood covered with decorative plaster, not in stone. This was a fire hazard but the church was lucky.

 

Altar in St Stephen Walbrook

The other peculiarity is the altar in the middle of the church under the dome. It is by Henry Moore and the smooth shapes in white marble complement elegantly the general scheme of the church. But using a sculpture as an altar is an unusual practice that led to a special appellate tribunal being constituted to discuss this point of theology; it is one of only two instances in history of this tribunal being required. It is called nicely the “Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved”.

The route ends at the large crossroads at the end of this street. There are several buildings of interest here such as Mansion House and the Bank of England, but I comment on them elsewhere (see for example my DLR walk 1).

BANK

Entrance of Bank underground station

The station for the Waterloo & City trains is actually located deep underground close to Mansion House and not close to Bank. It was therefore called City until 1940. Because of the considerable traffic at rush hour, access was not through a lift as you would expect; steep, very long inclines were provided instead and emerged into the concourse built under the Bank crossroads for the Northern and Central lines who opened both in 1900. The DLR platforms opened in 1991.

The long, steep incline caused frequent complaints and overcrowding in the corridor caused safety concerns, so that a so-called “travolator” was installed. It was an American novelty and the British authorities were very concerned about it being dangerous, very expensive and unreliable. It only opened in 1960 after 30 years of discussions. It is very popular nowadays with advertising companies because the specific shape of the corridor makes it possible to test “immersive” advertising using the ceiling as well as the wall. The word “travolator” is British English; other countries use the wording “moving walkway”. There are only two “travolators” on the London Underground network, in Waterloo and in Bank stations.

 

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Walk 5: Sandilands walk to New Addington

Walk 5

SANDILANDS to NEW ADDINGTON

3 hours

The Croydon Tramlink is a tram built in the 1990s because the borough of Croydon complained about having no convenient access to the Underground network. The line to Addington was built because this suburb has been developed in the 1960s without any convenient access to a train line, forcing residents to use slow and congested commuting routes by car or by bus.

The tram started as a private company that kept the ticket proceeds, but changes in the overall London fare system made it ever more complicated to calculate the appropriate compensation payments and the public authorities (TfL) purchased the system in 2008.

All stations on this part of the Tramlink were created ex nihilo in 2000 and use standardised platform furniture. There is no office or building, just a glass awning and vending machines, and I therefore don’t need to comment on the individual stops.

Please note that the Croydon Tramlink normally uses ticket readers like on a bus, but that a special, highly confusing regulation applies in Wimbledon, potentially causing overcharging.

Routing note: This walk connects in Sandilands with Tramlink walk 3.

I add at the end a route suggestion for an extension of the walk as London buses run beyond Addington to Biggin Hill. This suggestion is not included in the 3 hours estimate.

Several sections of this walk are through parks and can get muddy. I recommend sturdy shoes.

SANDILANDS

Sandilands tram stop

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line. The line coming from Croydon divides after Sandilands stop, joining a former train line via a very sharp bend where an accident happened in 2016. The train line is only used until the next tram stop.

Take Addiscombe Road towards the East (away from Croydon)

Note a blue plaque on house number 96, called Heron’s Croft. The core of the building is dated back to 1493 and it is likely to be one of the oldest structures in the borough. The roofscape and the impressive chimney are definitely not a recent addition.

Heron’s Croft from 1493

R Sandilands

Typical villa in Sandilands

The roads you are walking along in this part of the route are clearly not your average council estate style. Palatial villas are set back in spacious grounds with double garages and well tended front gardens. A grassy verge keeps any road disturbance away from the house door.

R Harland Avenue

L Radcliffe Road

Radcliffe Road

You are now in an area reserved for seriously affluent executives. Pedestrians are so unusual that there is not even a sidewalk – there is instead a wide green space to ride your thoroughbred to the park. A few uncouth denizens park their car in view of the road, which is certainly frowned upon in the more refined abodes, but you have to show some understanding for the cars of your cleaning staff or visiting children.

Interesting villa in Radcliffe Road

Most villas are kept in the mock Tudor style popular with brokers in the 1930s. I took a picture of a more interesting house with windows and brick walls unobtrusively inspired by Elizabethan mansions.

At the end R Ranmore Avenue

L Deepdene Avenue, turns very soon into a path along the edge of Lloyd Park, merges later into Lloyd Park Avenue

Valley in Lloyd Park

You will cross more of Lloyd Park after the next tram stop. The park is actual old parkland, given to the borough in the 1930s by the daughter of Mr Lloyd who had wished her to do so. This gentleman had inherited a very successful magazine publishing business (from his father who was a rather unsavoury character devoid of scruples) and became a noted philanthropist. The mansion, Coombe House, is now a Catholic school.

L along the tram tracks

LLOYD PARK

Lloyd Park tram stop

This stop is located close to an old train station called Coombe Road but the tram does not use the old train line beyond Lloyd Park stop. Like all stops on this section of the Tramlink, it opened in 2000.

At the end of the platform L into the park

Cross the car park and turn R past the café and a playground

Keep the same direction across a hedge, then R along the hedge to a second hedge

Football grounds in Lloyd Park

Lloyd Park was given by Mr Lloyd primarily with a view to set up sports grounds. This was a very popular concept in the 1930s with many boroughs landscaping so-called “King George Fields” for the same purpose. The park is still used for sports a lot, but you will easily notice that it is sloping in many places. As a result, it keeps to some extent the appearance it had as the park for Mr Lloyd’s mansion. There are clumps of trees here and there as in 18th century parkland and the trees are mostly indigenous species rather than the showy exotic species Victorians were keen on.

Coombe Farm buildings

Cross the second hedge and turn slightly L in order to leave enclosed farm grounds on your right.

You see the hedge on the picture. From this corner of Lloyd Park, you can of course see the farm that was a logical part of the estate. It is now used for commercial offices.

Further away up the hill, you can also glimpse an other large house, Coombe Lodge. The 18th century mansion is now a restaurant after having been used as a retirement home and later as the borough nursery. That you can see these different houses spread over large expanses of empty parkland is very unusual so close to London and is due to the fact that the estate was not developed by the owners in the 19th century as they were so rich that they did not see the point.

Coombe Park Lodge

 

Nearing Oaks Road

When the farm fence turns R, turn R as well still following the fence

Cross an access road and continue ahead on the paved footpath uphill

Cross a road and take the path ahead into the wood.

 

Addington Hills

You are now in a nature area called Addington Hills. The original name in the middle ages was something like “pebble dene” because the ground is mostly gravel. This explains the unusual vegetation. Instead of oak trees, you will find a number of pine trees while the ground is covered in places by heather. My route climbs a steep valley using the straightest line to the next tram stop. If you like the landscape and the exceptional heathland, you can turn left when you are at the top of the hill towards a viewing platform and a restaurant. There are fine views from the platform towards Central London and it is only a minor detour. Once you have reached the restaurant, the path towards the tram stop is marked.

Heath landscape in Addington Hills

Top of Addington Hills

The path ends at

COOMBE LANE

Coombe Lane tram stop

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line and is one of the least used as it is located between a very upmarket, leafy suburb and a wood.

L Footpath along the tram tracks towards traffic lights

You can rely here for a while on the very clear signposts for the London Loop, a long-distance path marked with green roundels bearing a kestrel.

Cross the highway and enter the grounds of Heathfield House. The entrance is at the corner of Coombe Lane with Ballards Way

Heathfield House

The house was originally one of many farms belonging to the huge estate of Addington. The present buildings date back to a Mr Riesco who bought the property in 1927. He had a keen interest in gardens and the borough agreed with him that they would continue to manage a garden for public enjoyment after they purchased the property in installments between 1945 and 1958.

Heathfield House rhododendrons

The house is not worth visiting as it is now the training centre for borough employees, but the gardens are a first-class attraction and are very well kept. This can be said for many parks in the borough as it is one of those with the best record in managing parks and gardens in London. What sets Heathfield aside is the very good collection of rhododendron. The nearest competition is in Wimbledon, showing how good it is.

 

Heathfield House azaleas

Heathfield House rookery

There is also a lovely rookery along a cascading brook (also a rarity in London). You will find closer to the house the more typical adornments of early 20th century country residences such as yew topiary, a modest but pretty rose garden, a walled garden with typically Edwardian pergolas, a pond and some interesting borders themed with the colour blue (a popular concept in the 1930s as advocated by leading experts at the time). As usual, it is my pleasure to dazzle you with corresponding pictures.

Heathfield House rose garden

Walled garden with pergolas

Overflowing pond

Blue borders

View of surrounding landscape from Heathfield House

One thing worth noticing while touring the formal gardens is how they open fully to the farm landscape beyond the property. In the English tradition, this would be done only if you owned this landscape and the farmland would be elegantly landscaped to look picturesque. Here, the idea is very different and more Japanese: the garden borrows the surrounding landscape as a background heightening the enjoyment of the planting. I venture the thought that Mr Riesco was well aware of this, being a well-known expert on East Asian ceramics (his outstanding collection forms the core of the borough museum in central Croydon).

Cottage in Riesco Drive

Tour the grounds and exit through the car park into Riesco Drive

L down the drive. It soon turns into a gravel track

Ahead across Bramley Bank Nature Reserve

This looks like a little like ancient woodland, but it was actually farmland until Mr Riesco decided to dig a pond and to plant a number of woodland trees he was interested in such as Austrian pines. Part of the nature reserve is heathland, which needs special protection in London as it quickly colonised by oaks if not managed on purpose.

Bramley Bank Nature Reserve

 

Clearing in Croham Valley

Exit the nature reserve at the corner of Chapel View with Valley Road

Cross Valley Road into an open space leading to Littleheath Wood. For this section, the London Loop signposts will be particularly useful.

The wood belonged to farms until the 1920s when residents of the newly developed suburb of Selsdon realised that the area might be developed soon as well. A fundraising action enabled the borough to purchase the area in 1932. The wood is not exceptional in terms of trees but is very pleasant and there are convenient benches in several places.

When you reach the wood, turn L along the edge of the wood. The water tower should stay on your left-hand side. The path skirts a playground and stays within a strip of wood all the way to the main road

L Addington Road / Selsdon Park Road

You are leaving now the London Loop.

Gravel Hill footpath

Opposite a church L and L again into a spur of Selsdon Park Road uphill

R Heathfield Vale

L Farnborough Avenue

The road turns R and passes a sports centre. When it turns R again, leave the road for a footpath ahead along school grounds.

 

Gravel Hill footpath

This is a particularly pleasant version of a paved path as it has grass verges on both sides and hedges or trees all along. It is much used by the children going to school and the very good shape of the path proves that making paths more attractive contributes to them being kept clean and pleasant by users.

The path ends at

GRAVEL HILL

Gravel Hill tram stop

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line.

Cross the main highway at the traffic lights

R along the tram tracks for a few yards

Soon L into Addington Park

The park is a somewhat unexciting piece of grassland. It was a small section of a much larger park landscaped in the 18th century by Lancelot Brown for Addington Palace. You actually get glimpses of the palace from the northern edge of the present park.

Addington Park

 

Addington Palace

It was built for the Mayor of London in the 1770s and was sold to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1807 because he needed a summer palace close to London after his old palace at Croydon had become so outdated as to be very uncomfortable. The property was later taken over by the borough and is now owned by a private company specialising in seminars and receptions.

Cross the park ahead towards the village and follow the village road ahead to the parish church

St Mary’s Addington

St Mary’s Addington is a very interesting village church. I found it open but this might have been by chance as a service was being held. The back wall behind the altar with three rounded windows is a particularly venerable item of architecture dating back to the 11th century, one of the very oldest in London. The church website says it predates the Norman conquest, which is difficult to prove. The very colourful decoration inside pays little attention to Saxon or Romanic tradition as it was commissioned in 1898.

11th century chancel of Addington parish church

The main attraction inside the church is rather a beautiful 16th century memorial to a Lord of the Manor of Addington. He died in 1576, as explained by a short text without the usual flourishes. It even sounds a bit terse for a memorial written at the time of Elizabeth I.

 

Monument to the Lord of the Manor in 1576

At the church R to the roundabout, cross the highway for

ADDINGTON VILLAGE

Addington Village tram stop

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line. As several buses have their terminal here, the stop is also called by Transport for London “Addington Interchange”, which sounds a bit overdone to me.

For the rest of the walk, just follow the tram tracks along a golf course.

 

From the path, you have a good view over the valley where the old village of Addington nestled away from bad weather. With binoculars or a zooming camera, you also get a better view of Addington Palace than you could from the park before.

Addington village seen from the golf course path

 

Path along the tram tracks

There is a path on the golf course side of the tracks passing

FIELDWAY

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line.

View over the golf course

The golf course was the first purpose-built public golf course in England in 1912 and was also the first public golf course transferred into management by a private company (in 1932). It was sold outright later on but remains one of the more affordable courses available in London. There are actually two courses, the one you are walking along being the larger, newer one. The wide open space of the golf course actually provides you with some extended views.

Continue along the tracks all the way to

KING HENRY’S DRIVE

The tram stop opened in 2000 together with the tram line.

Continue ahead along Parkway to

NEW ADDINGTON

 

Tram terminal in New Addington

The terminus opened in 2000 together with the whole tram line.

Walk extension to Biggin Hill

1 1/2 hours

Continue beyond the tram terminal on Central Parade

Cross the roundabout half L into Arnhem Drive

Typical suburb from the 1960s

New Addington is a rather unusual suburb. It was first planned in the 1930s as a smaller garden city in order to improve living conditions compared to slums in the Croydon area, but little was built before World War II. Most of the suburb was built in the 1960s. There are no high rise estates, the concept is more akin to the residential roads in the eastern suburbs with lots of small brick houses.

The suburb had very bad connections with Croydon and London until the tram was built in 2000. As a result, property was cheap and it was generally considered an undesirable backwater. Lack of investment in schools and public facilities in the 1960s also caused resentment and occasional problems with youth gangs. This seems to have been alleviated since, but the suburb clearly still does not attract commercial investment and offers very few jobs. To be honest, the roads are rather drab.

St Edward’s New Addington

My route passes the parish church, St Edward’s. It is a very plain brick building with little character. This is probably due to it being consecrated in 1957. This means it was built at a time when the government had very little money to spare, having to deal with the aftermath of World War II.

Just after St Edwards Close R into Milne Park

Walk along the whole length of the park to the children’s playground at the South exit

Milne Park

Milne Park is as plain as the rest of the suburb. It is nice to plan enough space for informal sports in a new suburb, but there is a conspicuous lack of any thought given to making the park an attractive place to spend leisure time. Very few trees, no flowers, no sculptures, no benches…

Ahead Comport Green

Ahead and L Fairchildes Avenue

R King Henry’s Drive. There is a path off the road soon turning away from it along a thin strip of wood

Soon R on the path along school grounds and a playing field

Public footpath away from New Addington

This is a rather nice path as you can see on the picture. At the end of the path, you skirt the very end of Greater London. The only area of Greater London located further south is the old parish of Cudham. It was added into London rather than left within Kent because there was a large RAF base also used for civilian airplanes.

At the end of the playing field, L into a public byway towards Jewels Wood. The byway is clearly marked with a green signpost.

There are several informal paths inside the wood, so that you must rely on your sense of orientation to some extent. Once you reach the wood, keep on the right-hand path (actually nearly ahead)

Turn a bit later R until you nearly leave the wood again

Then L downhill on an other footpath along the edge of the wood. This time, it is an official public footpath. This merges at the bottom of the wood into the road named Jewels Hill

Oaklands Valley

As you can see on the picture, you are now fully within the rural landscape of the North Downs. Biggin Hill is at the background of the picture on the hill; it is one of the highest hamlets within London. The north slope of the North Downs is usually a moderate incline cut by steep valleys. The south slope is a more spectacular escarpment, but you would have to look at my WAAL walks in order to visit it.

 

Public footpath towards Norheads Farm

Soon R Oaklands Lane

There is no footpath along this country road, but there is wide grass verge you can use

Ignore the first crossing with tracks. Soon afterwards, turn R onto a public footpath towards Norheads Farm. It is marked and there is also a notice “Slow” painted on the road

As you can see on the picture, this is typical North Downs landscape.

Pass the farm and follow R Norheads Lane. The paved road turns into a gravel track

Just before a pond with farm cottages, take the public footpath L towards a small wood

Cross the wood and turn L for a few yards on Beech Road

Very soon R Public footpath towards the village. The footpath merges temporarily into Rosehill Road, continues afterwards again as a footpath

Main shopping area in Biggin Hill

At the bottom of the footpath, you have reached the centre of the hamlet with just a few neighbourhood stores. You are so far into the countryside that you will soon pass a local road called an “avenue” – an unpaved alley shaded by beautiful old trees.

 

Unpaved “avenue” in Biggin Hill

At the end L Polesteeple Hill

The road turns half R and climbs towards estate buildings

Ahead between the buildings on a short footpath into Temple Road

Walk to the main road

St Mark’s Biggin Hill

The main building on main street is the parish church, built in the 1950s like the New Addington parish church. It is interesting to compare the architecture. The church in Biggin Hill has an impressive, freestanding tower with a somewhat strange crown of iron spikes at the top. The façade is a plain triangular shape, which was popular at the time as being symbolic and not too fussy, but the brick wall is very cleverly broken by a vertical shaft of glass over the whole height of the building. To be honest, one has to mention that the Biggin Hill church was a little cheaper to build because materials from a demolished church in Peckham could be re-used here.

R on Main Road past the parish church to find a bus stop towards New Addington or towards Bromley

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Walk 4: Arena walk to Beckenham Junction

Walk 4

ARENA to BECKENHAM JUNCTION

1 1/2 hour

The Croydon Tramlink is a tram built in the 1990s because the borough of Croydon complained about having no convenient access to the Underground network. The route followed on this walk links one of the main train lines to Kent with Croydon, making commuting easier. There was no such connection in the past because this involved fiercely competing train operators. Between Arena and Birkbeck, the tram uses tracks laid specifically for the purpose. Beyond Birkbeck, it runs parallel to an older train line linking Crystal Palace with Beckenham Junction.

The tram started as a private company that kept the ticket proceeds, but changes in the overall London fare system made it ever more complicated to calculate the appropriate compensation payments and the public authorities (TfL) purchased the system in 2008.

Nearly all stations on the Croydon Tramlink use standardised platform furniture. There is no office or building, just a glass awning and vending machines, and I therefore don’t need to comment on architecture. Please note that the Croydon Tramlink normally uses ticket readers like on a bus, but that a special, highly confusing regulation applies in Wimbledon, potentially causing overcharging.

Routing note: This walk connects in Arena with Tramlink walk 3. It connects in Birkbeck and also in Beckenham Junction with Victoria train networks walk 14. I wrote a different route for the tram as it serves additional stations. Finally, the walk connects in Beckenham Junction also with Victoria train networks walk 10.

ARENA

T1 Arena tram stop_B

Arena tram stop

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000. It is a tram junction where tracks coming from Elmers End (my walk 3) join the Beckenham to Croydon line. By the way, the name comes from a nearby sports facilities – stadiums are more fashionably called arenas nowadays despite not involving gladiators and wild beasts like in Roman times.

 

Follow the tram tracks north towards the track junction. The right-hand fork continues to Elmers End and features in my walk number 3. Cross the left-hand fork and take the public footpath L parallel to the tram tracks. It leads towards a sports centre and playground.

T2 South Norwood Country Park_B

South Norwood Country Park

You are crossing part of South Norwood Country Park. Most of it is a large expanse of flattish land. It was originally farmland prone to flooding and was bought by local authorities as the location for a sewage farm, the idea being that the effluent could percolate through the soil. This would be better than just dumping effluent in a river as this was known to contribute to epidemics including cholera. The scheme was ill conceived as it made no sense to drop sewage on waterlogged ground with a clay underground. The area was left abandoned except for occasional use by the Army or to get rid of bomb rubble after World War II. The bomb rubble explains the hill in the area you are crossing on this tour.

 

T3 View towards North Downs_B

Tram in the hilly part of the country park

The borough finally made the country park more accessible in 1989 by building paths and tracks throughout the area except for a corner near Elmers End station that was set aside as a nature reserve because of a lake with reed marshes attracting many birds. My Victoria train network walk 14 passes the lake while my Tramlink walk 3 visits the open spaces along the brook in the middle of the park. On the present walk, you get to see the hillier, partly wooded section.

 

T4 Totem near Pitch and Putt course_B

Totem near the pitch and putt course

The footpath ends at an access road

 

R on the access road walking along a pitch & putt course

The course reuses the site of the old sewage works. The ground hopefully had time to clean itself as the works closed in 1962, more than 30 years before the public was allowed into the country park.

L at the next opportunity on a public footpath along an other fence of the course

Ahead and L towards the tram tracks for

HARRINGTON ROAD

T5 Harrington Road tram stop_B

Harrington Road tram stop

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000 in order to give easy access to a cemetery. There were also vague plans to build a tram junction here, additional tracks running then towards Crystal Palace and replacing a suburban railway line. The plan was dropped as connections between Crystal Palace and Croydon are quite good already.

 

Enter Birkbeck Cemetery using the access road that crosses the tracks

Cross the whole cemetery to the main exit, passing the crematorium

T9 Old part of Beckenham Cemetery_B

Beckenham cemetery

The cemetery was opened in 1876 and was run by a private company, as usual in London. Because the owners lost interest once the cemeteries were full and did not generate any additional interment fees, boroughs usually ended up buying the grounds. This particular cemetery is still open for business and has therefore not turned into a wood, as was the case for example in Nunhead. There are no celebrity memorials but the chapel is quite nice. Unusually for the 1880s, the tower is square with no steeple on top and the style is early gothic rather than the more usual high gothic.

 

T8 Chapel in Beckenham cemetery_B

Chapel of Beckenham Cemetery

L Elmers End Road

 

BIRKBECK

T10 Birkbeck tram stop_B

Birkbeck tram stop and train station

The train station opened in 1930 when the number of residents in the area justified building it. It was originally a normal station with two platforms and a building, but the building burnt down in 1983 and one of the platforms was converted for use by the Tramlink in 2000. You see on my picture a wire mesh fence between the train tracks and the Tramlink tracks. I think this was installed in order to prevent Tramlink users from crossing the tracks illegally as they might step on the electrical third rail of the train tracks and get injured.

 

Cross under the train and tram bridge

R Mackenzie Road

Between Birkbeck and Beckenham Road, you cross a particularly bland suburb. This is the kind of suburbia that was easy and profitable to build in the 1930s but was heavily criticised by planners for lacking public amenities and bringing no feeling of community. Legislation was indeed passed at the end of the 1930s to make this kind of “ribbon development” less ubiquitous.

R Avenue Road

AVENUE ROAD

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000. The tram is normally single track while running alongside the railway line, but there was room to build a passing loop and two platforms here. It is a very minor stop in terms of traffic.

Cross the tram tracks using the footbridge

L Blandford Road, the road ends at the next tram stop

BECKENHAM ROAD

The tram stop is located a little awkwardly on top of a curving embankment but actually uses a location planned originally for a train station. The station was called Penge and was only used between 1858 and 1860 as a more convenient Penge station opened soon afterwards on an other train line.

R Beckenham Road (a busy highway)

T14 Baptist church in Beckenham Road_B

Baptist Church in Beckenham

The road crosses a train line and passes soon afterwards the Baptist church for Beckenham. It is an unusual church for this denomination as Baptist churches were systematically modest, strictly neo-classical buildings until the mid-19th century. The neo-gothic style was usually avoided as it reminded too much of the established Church of England, a church Baptist members were not very fond of. In the case of Beckenham, I am reminded of an early gothic village church as you would see in the French provinces.

 

 

 

T15 Beckenham fire station_B

Beckenham fire station

The road passes soon afterwards the fire station. Surprisingly, you do not see from the road a conspicuous hall for the engines. Even the tower is rather modest and the brick cladding makes it less conspicuous. The whole building is in strikingly red bricks, probably the best colour for a fire station.

 

 

T16 Mansion in Beckenham Road_B

Victorian house in Beckenham Road

The road passes several elegant late Victorian houses and ends at a roundabout with a very nice flower bed in the middle. The surroundings are interesting with an Art Déco post office on one side. The brickwork is very plain but you get the typical rounded corner.

 

T17 Beckenham post office_B

Art déco post office

T18 Film theatre in Beckenham_B

Film theatre in Beckenham

On an other side of the crossroads, there is a film theatre in classical Art Déco design. Beckenham must have been a modest suburb at the time as the theatre did not have the stunning front you can find in Streatham or Rayners Lane. It opened in 1930 and is one of the rather few theatres in London that have always been operated for films and that were not converted into a bingo hall or an evangelical church.

 

Cross the roundabout and continue

Ahead High Street

Follow this road as it snakes first L, then R

T20 Pizza restaurant with quirky name_B

Mock tudor building on High Street

Some of the commercial buildings along High Street have a rather nice neo-Tudor appearance, in particular one that was probably a pub and has been converted into an Italian restaurant. The name of the chain is hilarious in French, a “zizi” being a childish name for the male reproductive organ. What does set Beckenham High Street apart is that many buildings are not aligned in height or roof shape, giving them a pleasantly individual style.

 

T21 RC church Beckenham_B

Beckenham Roman Catholic church

Opposite the junction with The Drive, you can have a look at St Edmund’s Roman Catholic Church. The church is from 1938, which shows primarily in the massive, geometric tower with tall transparent windows. The main façade is neo-gothic, which is unusual for a catholic church of that period but might have been mandated by the appearance of the other churches in the vicinity. I was short on time and did not try to look inside, but the website shows a few interesting furnishings.

 

A bit further on, you pass the most impressive commercial premises on High Street, now operated as a barber’s. What sets the building apart is that it has medieval shapes and a Tudor-style brickwork with black glazed bricks inset in the reddish background. As opposed to suburban fancy neo-Tudor as seen at the start of the street, this shop is historically more correct Tudor – except for the too geometric corner niche that would shelter the statue of a saint in authentic houses from the period.

T22 Mock medieval house in Beckenham High Road_B

Good imitation of a Tudor mansion on High Street

 

T23 Pub sign in High Road Beckenham_B

Pub advertising itself as “historic”

When the street again bends right, you pass a pub with a white clapboard façade advertising itself as an “historic inn”. The location is historical but the house was rebuilt around 1900. I found the butcher’s next door more interesting as I had seldom seen such a choice of rather appetising sausages in London. Unfortunately, I have never found out how to cook them properly as German and French sausages need to be cooked very differently.

 

 

T24 Choice of sausages in High Road Beckenham_B

Remarkable display of appetising sausages

 

T25 Beckenham public conveniences with flower beds_B

Public conveniences and nice flowers

High Street reaches shortly afterwards a corner with Kelsey Park Road. There is a low building recessed behind flower beds at this spot. You might ignore the building as it only shelters public conveniences, but the flower beds are very impressive at the appropriate time of the year.

 

Continue on High Street. The road turns sharply L uphill towards the parish church and ends at the train station.

St George’s church was a venerable medieval church but was completely rebuilt in 1887 in a style interestingly defined as “confident” at the time. It is a rather standard type of neo-gothic construction except for the rather impressive tower. The four corner pinnacles are inspired by  examples in France; in original gothic times, only very significant towns could afford such an elaborate tower. The church suffered bomb damage during World War II but was rebuilt in the same style.

T26 High Road Beckenham with parish church_B

High Street with the 1887 “confident” Church tower

 

T29 Parish church in Beckenham_B

Parish Church and churchyard

I have read that there are a number of interesting memorials inside but the church is usually closed apart for services. I just had a walk around the churchyard, a rather pleasant green space in the middle of the town bustle. In the part of the green space away from the church, you will find a few panels with details about the history of Beckenham, particularly about the World War II events.

 

BECKENHAM JUNCTION

T31 Beckenham Junction tram stop_B

Beckenham Junction tram terminal

The station was opened originally in 1857 as the terminal for a train line coming from Lewisham. The tracks are still in place but there are no passenger trains using them nowadays on a regular basis. The station was then extended in 1858 when a new train line from Crystal Palace was opened. This new line continued towards Bromley.

 

A further extension was needed in 1863 with the opening of the new main line from London Victoria through Penge.

Beckenham Junction is also used as a terminal for the spur of the Croydon Tramlink since the year 2000. The tram platform is independent of the train station and uses the standard colour scheme without any building.

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Walk 3: West Croydon walk to Elmers End

 

Walk 3

WEST CROYDON walk to ELMERS END

2 hours

The Croydon Tramlink is a tram built in the 1990s because the borough of Croydon complained about having no convenient access to the Underground network. A tram was chosen rather than a train because tram rails could be set on existing roads across the city centre of Croydon, offering a very valuable link of both train stations with the new line. Between West Croydon and Addiscombe, the tram tracks are laid on existing roads.

Between Addiscombe and Elmers End, the tram uses a former train line that continued towards Selsdon Road (south of Croydon). The section between Addiscombe and Woodside opened in 1885, that between Woodside and Elmers End in 1871.

The tram started as a private company that kept the ticket proceeds, but changes in the overall London fare system made it ever more complicated to calculate the appropriate compensation payments and the public authorities (TfL) purchased the system in 2008. It is one of several nationalisations that happened in these years in London, several private operators being quite happy to get out of contracts at the time of a financial crisis. The annual compensation payment alone had already risen to about 4% of the final purchase price, more than TfL would need to pay for the debt incurred in purchasing the system.

Nearly all stations on the Croydon Tramlink use standardised platform furniture. There is no office or building, just a glass awning and vending machines, and I therefore don’t need to comment on architecture. Please note that the Croydon Tramlink normally uses ticket readers like on a bus, but that a special, highly confusing regulation applies in Wimbledon, potentially causing overcharging.

Routing note: This walk connects in West Croydon with Victoria train network walk 24, with London Overground walk 19 and with Tramlink walk 2. It connects in East Croydon with Victoria train network walks 15, 17 and 18 and again with Tramlink walk 2. It then connects in Sandilands with Tramlink walk 5 and in Arena with Tramlink walk 4. Finally, it connects in Elmers End with London Bridge networks walk 25.

The tram uses two different routes through central Croydon. This walk describes the more cultural, westbound route while I describe the eastbound route in walk 2.

WEST CROYDON

A1 West Croydon tram stop_B

West Croydon tram stop

The tram stop is independent of the train station but obviously located close enough to enable easy interchange. Only eastbound services stop here.

The train station was first opened as a terminal for the line from London Bridge in 1839. An extension of the line towards Waddon and Sutton opened in 1847. Finally, a junction linking the line with Selhurst and London Victoria opened some time after 1862. Between 1855 and 1997, the station was also the terminal for a railway to Wimbledon, now replaced by the Tramlink.

By now, the station is used by through trains between London Victoria and Sutton, but is also a terminal for trains from the old London Bridge line, now run by London Overground to New Cross Gate and Shoreditch

The station was originalled called plain “Croydon”, but this caused confusion when an other Croydon station was opened on a new train line towards the South coast, so that “Croydon” was changed to “West Croydon”.

Follow the tram tracks southwards, crossing London Road into Tamworth Road

You are actually walking against the direction of the trams as this section of the line is only used by eastbound trams.

At the end of Tamworth Road, there is a tram junction. The tracks to your right are used by trams from and to Wimbledon. See walk 2 for this direction. The tracks to your left are the tracks used by westbound trams across the centre of Croydon. My route does not follow closely the tracks here as there are interesting attractions in the vicinity.

A2 Peculiar roof volumes near West Croydon station_B

Reeves Corner

At the end of Tamworth Road, continue ahead between the pebble space on your left and a central reservation with a few trees on your right.

When you reach a conspicuous white commercial building called House of Reeves, walk first L along the shop windows then R into Church Street, still along the shop.

Reeves is a longstanding landmark to such an extent that there is a tram stop named Reeves Corner. The building featuring on my 2010 picture was intriguing because of the elaborate roof. It burned down during riots in 2011 and has been replaced by the present somewhat simpler structure. The riots happened not only in Croydon but also in several other London suburbs and later in the Midlands. They started when a young man was shot by police in Tottenham, inspired copycat riots in other towns partly due to sensationalist media coverage and primarily reflect the dire situation in many working class suburbs after the 2008 financial crisis.

A3 Nave of Croydon parish church_B

Nave of Croydon Minster

Croydon parish church is located in a surprising place, reasonably far away from the shopping centres and pedestrian streets. This is due to the fact that Croydon developed originally close to the river Wandle around the summer palace of the archbishops of Canterbury and that traders moved uphill later. The church is a Victorian reconstruction after a fire in 1867; it has the title of a Minster, meaning there was a chapter of clerics serving the church in medieval times and not just one priest.

 

 

 

 

A4 Monument to an archbisphop of Canterbury_B

Memorials to archibishops

The church is built in a standard neogothic style but is worth entering for several monuments to archbishops. On my picture, you get a glimpse of a late gothic one to the left while the focus is on an imposing Renaissance one.

L along the church into a small green space

A5 Churchyard_B

Churchyard of Croydon Minster

My picture shows that this is not a remarkable park, but the picture is worth noticing for the croci blooming in March as the name Croydon is usually said to stem from Saxon words meaning “Crocus” and “Valley” (“dun”). Actually, the croci in the name are probably saffron, grown in Kent and Surrey in Saxon times after Roman colonists had imported it.

 

The path turns L and exits on

R Church Road

A7 Mock Tudor in Church Road_B

Neo-Tudor in Church Road

There is a cute timber building at the corner of your path; I think it is mock-Tudor from the 1930s, when this style appealed to the more affluent middle class.

A8a Old Palace school courtyard_B

Courtyard of Croydon school

My route continues L into Old Palace Road, but you can go on a short detour R on this road in order to see the remnants of the archbishops’ palace. The complex of buildings was converted into a school with a well gardened courtyard and a tall hall with very large windows. This was the Great Hall of the palace; the structure is mainly from the 1440s, which makes it one of the most venerable buildings in London, but the windows are way too wide for this early period and were indeed modified in the 1750s.

 

A12 Great Hall of former archbishop's palace_B

Greta Hall of the archbishops’ palace

You obviously cannot visit, but you can have a look at the main courtyard as there are several other nice buildings from the old palace still standing. Parliament allowed the archbishop to sell the palace in 1907.

A11 Croydon parish church_B

Rear view of Croydon Minster

Very soon L Old Palace Road

CHURCH STREET

The stop was created together with the tram tracks across central Croydon in 2000. It is served by westbound services towards Wimbledon and also by services ending at West Croydon.

R Church Street

You are temporarily following the tracks, walking against the direction of the trams as you are going eastwards while this is the westbound tram route.

B2 Mural in Church Street_B

Shopping in Church Street

The street is a good example of what happens when a town allows the construction of huge shopping centres. The nicer shops where you enjoy spending time move to the shopping centre, partly because it is so easy to park there and because you don’t get wet if it rains, while the former shopping streets are left to “one-pound-shops”, betting stands, convenience newsagents, tattoo studios and fast-food eateries. Rents are low, building owners invest little, many shops are abandoned and the street dilapidates slowly.

B3 Surrey Street market_B

Surrey Street Market

The more pleasant part of Church Road is towards the end and the best atmosphere in a side street to your right, Surrey Street, because of the food market. Market stalls have a similarly positive impact in many suburbs.

Ahead Crown Hill

There are two possible detours from the crossroads with the pedestrianised area, for a few yards L in order to have a glimpse inside the courtyard of the almshouses, and for a few yards in front of you if you want to check on the tram stop

C1 Almshouses_B

Croydon almshouses

The almshouses were built in 1596 by the archbishop along with a school that has been demolished since. You recognise easily the Tudor brickwork including a message in black glazed bricks, here W for Whitgift Foundation. The windows with the nice white surroundings appear very small, but this was made on purpose as residents were meant to concentrate on their communal life and on their courtyard. You cannot enter the courtyard but you get a feeling through the iron gate.

 

C3 Croydon Hospital in High Street_B

Whitgift foundation almshouses

 

C4 Glimpse of courtyard_B

Courtyard of the almshouses

GEORGE STREET

The stop was created together with the tram tracks across central Croydon in 2000. It is served by westbound services only.

If you do not go on the two detours, you will turn

R High Street(photo C6)

C5 On Natwest building_B

Decoration on a bank building

C6 Old advertising on main street_B

Edwardian department store on High Street

As Croydon was a significant market town in the 19th century, ambitious businesses of course needed to invest in suitably impressive premises. The most beautiful in my opinion is Grants House at number 13. Like most old department stores, it has been converted into offices, but it still has a lovely, ornate façade with signs advertising i.a. lace and gloves. Lace must have been a very prominent item ! The architecture is typically Edwardian, mixing Tudor-inspired brickwork with Renaissance-style scrolls and a tower in the style of French palaces.

L Katharine Street

C9 Pub in Katherine Street_B

Former bank building on Katherine Street

The street is strange, with one of the ugliest buildings of Croydon on the north side and some of the most beautiful ones on the south side. At the corner of Katharine Street with High Street, there is a large pub called the Spreadagle with a shining, golden bird. As you might have guessed, it was originally a bank building, sets of neo-classical columns suggesting stability and reliability (see the name of Northern Rock).

C10 Older Croydon theatre_B

Former theatre

The next building in the street is a somewhat disorderly combination of buildings in the French Renaissance style. One of them harboured a theatre while the hall down the stairs was converted into the borough museum. It is one of the most interesting suburban museums in all London and has reasonably convenient opening times. I found the exhibition of everyday life in the past not only intriguing but truly eye-opening.

C11 Rear aisle in French Renaissance style_B

Borough museum building in the style of a French château

 

It is the only museum in London that deals unobtrusively but very honestly with controversial social issues such as homosexuality in the armed forces or racism against Irish immigrants. I also learnt that Croydon had a small film industry and the comic films shown in the museum are absolutely hilarious. Finally, there is an excellent collection of Chinese porcelain including all important styles and periods. You might plan about an hour in order to visit at leisure.

 

C13 Main entrance_B

Main entrance of Town Hall

Continuing on Katherine Street, you reach soon the corner of the Town Hall, inaugurated in 1896. As a proof that Croydon was an outstandingly important town at the time, the ceremony was performed by the Prince of Wales. The architecture announces the Edwardian love of two-colour-schemes but manages to keep to the Renaissance style with few of the useless frills you saw on Grants House before.

 

C12 Council hall and museum building_B

Town Hall clock tower

There is a very imposing clock tower at the corner of the building. This was a logical symbol of market towns as it was particularly useful to merchants at a time when few people had pocket watches. Many London suburbs built clock towers in the 1880s, but most are modest stand-alone structures.

 

Half R into Queen’s Gardens

 

C16 Croydon town hall_B

Town Hall seen from Queen’s Gardens

The Town Hall overlooks a wide open space that is surprisingly recessed down stairs because it was originally a railway terminal. It has been converted into a very nice urban park. Taking advantage of the microclimate created by the embankments around the park, gardeners are able to grow a remarkable variety of mediterranean and exotic plants. They also plant formal flower beds in the style of Royal parks (geometric shape, plants in three tiers of differing heights, blocks of primary colours). There are few boroughs that can combine an imposing Town Hall with a beautiful park just in front of it.

 

Exit the gardens using a subway at the eastern end, passing under a major highway

L along the highway

Very soon R Path along College Green

D1 Green space in front of College_B

College Green

This large paved space is a typical product of the 1960s when plain lines and empty surfaces were seen as more elegant than grass, trees and flowers. The building facing directly the highway, Fairfield Halls, is a leading theatre and concert hall opened in 1962. It is actually one of the less brutal buildings of the period. On the other side of the paved space, the large brick building with a very imposing curved colonnade is the town college. The architecture looks like 1950s, as colonnades were avoided in the 1960s.

 

D2 Croydon college in 1950s style_B

Croydon College colonnade

Cross Fairfield Gardens between Fairfield Halls and the college to the eastern end and continue L along the college buildings, not crossing the train line

R up along the main road to the train station

EAST CROYDON

T61 East Croydon tram stop_B

East Croydon tram stop

The tram stop is located on the road viaduct just in front of East Croydon train station.

The train station opened in 1841 on a new main line and was originally called Croydon. When the train company merged with an other operator who also had a station named Croydon, it became necessary to change the name and this turned into Croydon East.

A new train line from Selhurst opened through the station in 1860, but the two operators insisted on keeping separate stations called respectively East Croydon and New Croydon from 1862 on. The two stations were finally amalgamated to a single East Croydon in 1898.

Between 1909 and 1924, the station was called officially East Croydon Main Line in order to make a distinction with “East Croydon Local”.

D4 West end of Addiscombe Road_B

Western end of Addiscombe Road

Follow now the tram tracks eastwards for several hundred yards, walking on Addiscombe Road. The road is pleasantly residential and somewhat leafy when you leave central Croydon, with occasionally a side walk separated from the cars by a raised strip of greenery.

LEBANON ROAD

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000.

D5 Development along Addiscombe Road_B

Suburban part of Addiscombe Road

Continue on Addiscombe Road. The road is now less interesting, but is difficult to avoid in this densely populated suburb.

SANDILANDS

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000.

Continue on Addiscombe Road while the tram line veers away from the road

L Outram Road

D6 Neoclassical style in Outram Road_B

Ornate house in Outram Road

I noticed an unusually ornate property in this road. Bow windows at the ground level are quite usual, but triple windows upstairs are not and the decoration above what must have been the entrance to a winter garden is really unusual.

R Addiscombe Road

(Note: this is not the Addiscombe Road you followed before, but you have walked into a new borough and both boroughs have roads with this name in confusing vicinity to each other)

ADDISCOMBE

A train station was opened here in 1906 on an existing suburban train line under the name Bingham Road Halt. The station was then closed in 1915 due to wartime economy measures. It was reopened in 1935 a few yards further but had very little traffic and was closed in 1983. The tram stop is on the location of the 1906 halt and opened together with the tram line in 2000.

Before crossing the tracks L into Everton Road

R Addiscombe Avenue

At the end L Dalmally Road

Very soon R on a clearly marked passage

R on the footpath along a former railway line, passing at the end under a road. The footpath ends at

BLACKHORSE LANE

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000.

Climb to the road you passed under before and cross over the former railway cutting

R Elmers Road

R on a footbridge across the tram tracks

Enter Ashburton Park

T5b Ashburton Park_B

Ashburton Park in rainy weather

This large green space corresponds to the grounds of a mansion that was built in 1788. It had been converted into a convent in 1878 but was sold to the borough in 1924. The council demolished the mansion, filled in the ornamental lake and also demolished the convent cloister in 1975 because of concerns about vandalism. The rest of the convent was converted into a local library. This history explains the somewhat surprising appearance of the building with a row of arcades opening towards nothing in particular.

 

T5 Library in Ashburton Park_B

Ashburton Park Library in a former convent

T3 Pavilion in Ashburton Park_B

Ashburton Park with colonnaded pavilion

There is no particular attraction in the park beyond the library and a small pavilion with a thin colonnade that reminds a bit of a plantation house.

Keep parallel to the tram tracks for

WOODSIDE

A train station opened here in 1871 because of a nearby racecourse. It was renamed Woodside & South Norwood in 1908, the name reverting to simple Woodside in 1944. The station remained open until 1997, when works for the tram started, and the tram stop opened on the same location in 2000.

T6 Former Woodside train station_B

Former Woodside train station

The original station building was sold to commercial premises and is still straddling the tracks. It is a typical example of the stations in this part of London with yellow brick walls and rounded windows. It is actually quite substantial because there was a train junction here with trains going to either Selsdon Road (south of Croydon) or to a nearby suburban terminal called Addiscombe.

 

 

T5a Ashburton Park_B

Ashburton Park

R within Ashburton Park keeping parallel to the main road called Spring Lane

 

At the end of Spring Lane, cross Long Lane onto a path ahead past the fire station

 

 

 

T6a Woodside fire station_B

Woodside Fire Station

The fire station is a substantial, elegant building with mock tudor eaves and small sculptures above the main garage gates. The sunray design above the lateral garage gates clearly points to construction in the 1930s as it was a typical Art Déco design.

Ahead along the path until you reach a much larger open space, Ashburton Playing Fields

T7 Ashburton playing fields in a sleet shower_B

Ashburton Playing Fields

The playing fields took over from Addiscombe racecourse. It was a very popular venue but the mayor of Croydon decided that it attracted all sorts of undesirable people from London in this genteel suburb and had the racecourse closed. The property was divided later into a golf course, residential developments and the present playing fields, as part of the low-lying area flooded every winter and was not suitable for development. It is actually one of the largest open spaces in the southern suburbs (nearly 50 acres, equaling 20 hectares), but it has few amenities.

 

T9 Same from east end_B

50 hectares for sports

L across the playing fields to the northernmost corner

L Bywood Avenue

T10 Long Lane Wood and bird sanctuary_B

Bywood Avenue Bird Sanctuary

The avenue passes on the right side a patch of woodland called rather ambitiously the “Bywood Avenue Bird Sanctuary”. It was a property bought by the borough in 1924 together with Ashburton Park, but was not developed into a park. The word sanctuary refers to the fact that part of the wood is fenced off, although this does not prevent stray cats and dogs from disturbing the birds.

 

Cross Long Lane and continue ahead on a footpath

The green space on your right is a private driving range used for golf lessons.

ARENA

T12 Arena station_B

Arena tram stop

The stop was created together with the tram itself in 2000. It is a tram junction with some services continuing towards Elmers End on a former train line and others continuing towards Beckenham Junction (my walk 4).

 

R along the tram tracks

 

 

T14_B

South Norwood Country Park

You are walking here along the edge of South Norwood Country Park. It is well worth walking a bit into the park. As you also get to see parts of it on my London Bridge walk 25 and on my Tramlink walk 4, you could for example walk this time towards the brook and follow it to the edge of the lake. You should be able to see the train station from there.

T16 South Norwood Country Park_B

Brook in South Norwood Country Park

The park contains a large variety of ecological zones from plain grass meadows to fully grown wood over several types of brushy areas. This variety results from mixed uses in the past: fields, pastures, quarries and brick kilns. From the 1860s on, the Borough of Croydon decided to buy increasing parts of the location in order to spread sewage.

At the time, it was considered efficient to flood meadows with the effluents as the resulting brine could trickle into the soil and hopefully be filtered enough that nearby rivers were not too polluted. Of course, anyone who could afford it would flee the vicinity of such smelly activities. I remember living as a child 5 miles from a sewage area and this was indeed obnoxious when wind came from the wrong direction. About as bad as living near a sugar beet drying factory.

T15_B

Bird lake in the country park

Sewage contains many dangerous bacteria and chemicals nowadays and has to be treated much more scientifically. In addition, the present country park was inappropriate for the purpose as the ground is heavy clay that prevented water from trickling into the soil and being filtered. The council closed the sewage works in 1967 and nature reclaimed most of the area.

 

The lake corresponds to the flooded quarry and is very attractive to birds. For this reason, it has not been landscaped and you can only reach the waterside on a number of viewing platforms.

ELMERS END

T17 Elmers End train and tram station_B

Elmers End train station and tram terminal

The station opened in 1864 on the new train line between New Beckenham and Addiscombe. It became a junction when a branch line was opened between Elmers End and Hayes in 1882. The original train line to Addiscombe was closed in 1997 and replaced by the spur of the Croydon Tramlink in 2000, so that Elmers End is now a train-Tramlink junction instead of a pure train junction.

Although I have no documents on this, I am pretty sure that the boxy glass-and-steel station building was built in 2000 and replaced the old building. The upper level of the building is airy enough but the main level is made of plain metal sheets and looks hardly better than a container shed.

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