31 January 2010

Insider London underground tour

I am a bit behind with this one...
On a recent rainy Saturday afternoon I went on a tour of the Underground led by Lisa of Insider London. We began at Farringdon Station where we learned all about the first stretch of the network which went back and forth from there to Kings Cross. I was astounded to hear that 27,000 people used the service in the first day. And when the line was continued round to Baker Street carriages were windowless padded cells and the trains sometimes only stopped for three seconds at stations!
Actually, I shouldn't write down everything of interest here otherwise it will ruin your own enjoyment should you decide to go on a tour yourself, which I urge you to do; it's a great way to spend a rainy day and Lisa has heaps of interesting stories and facts to share about the history, architecture, design and future of the tube network. Though, as Tom points out here, it's rather over-priced.
From Farringdon to we travelled to Kings Cross, then to Oxford Circus, and on to Piccadilly Circus via the ghost station of Museum, ending up at the 1984/Metropolis-like Westminster.

Top row: 1 Farringdon Station. I had been a bit concerned that the plans for a new bigger station would mean the loss of this lovely old entrance and canopy, however buildings have been demolished across the street and around the corner to make way for a new Crossrail terminal. 2 Lisa told us that each station has a different colour scheme to make them identifiable. I cannot now recall if she just meant the Piccadilly Line, but I am intrigued having not known about this before, so I predict a blog post on the subject in the near future. 3 The exterior of Oxford Circus station. Lisa was telling us about Leslie Green, the architect who designed these distinctive red glazed terracotta stations, but I got a bit distracted by the bad letter-spacing on the word 'station'. 4 Gloucester Road station shown here as an example of how in the past two rival companies (here The Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway to the left and The Metropolitan & District Railway on the right) would build right next to or on top of each other rather than share.
2nd row: 5 Lisa in front of the fabulous world clock in Piccadilly Circus station. Again, I cannot believe I have never noticed this before, as it is fabulous. 6 A close-up showing we were there at 3.25pm. 7 Maps of the underground post- and pre- Harry Beck. 8 The austere environment of Westminster Station. I'm not a fan. Referring back to my older post, it's not being maintained very well; everywhere you look there are exposed wires and dirty corners.

22 January 2010

Holborn Midtown

Have you heard that there is a campaign to re-brand what is basically the Holborn area as 'Midtown'?
Egh?! What nonsense.
Estate agents have already been using the word for some time now – the idea might have made some sense if London already had districts called Uptown (girl) and Downtown (Things will be great when you're...).
The area affected resembles a bishop's hat (ironically it encompasses the Mitre pub which is in Cambridgeshire, EC1 and is designated by drawing a line up from Embankment to Trafalgar Square, then up to Kings Cross, down to St.Paul's ending up again at the Thames, i.e all of WC2, most of WC1 and bits of EC1 and EC4.
The reason given for this is that out-of-towners find this area of London to be a bit of a confusing no-man's-land and they can't cope with villagey names such as Bloomsbury, Clerkenwell and St. Giles. Bless em.
I am not alone; I really hope this idea is dropped just like when they tried to re-name Fitzrovia 'NoHo'. Oh no no no.
P.S. I have been quoted here.

Top row: Trafalgar Square, Little Italy, Bloomsbury, Blackfriars, Kings Cross.
2nd row: Cambridgeshire, St Brides/Fleet Street, Aldwych, Seven Dials, Covent Garden.
3rd row: St Giles, Strand, Bloomsbury, Lincoln's Inn, Russell Sqaure
4th row: Covent Garden, Somerset House, Smithfield, Temple, Paternoster Square

20 January 2010

Litter ye not

My latest post for Londonist is a load of rubbish.

See all these pics individually here.
Thanks to this site for the David Cassidy pic. I used to have this poster, or one very similar on my bedroom wall in 1972, made up of the centre spreads from 3 consecutive weeks of my much-loved Jackie Magazine. I remember being disappointed how the colour varied from week to week and he looked more like a bee. Incidentally, I wasn't a big David Cassidy fan; I seem to recall putting posters of anyone and everyone on my walls.

15 January 2010

Going Underground

Over the past few years I have been noticing how many tube stations on the underground network are being renovated. Especially so on the Piccadilly Line where beautiful old crackle-glaze tiles are being covered up with smooth modern facsimiles. LRT say this is because the old ones were cracked and dirty and in need of repair.
Er, excuse me, perhaps if LRT had maintained the stations properly and cleaned into the corners using something other than a motorised circular mop contraption, then perhaps they wouldn't have ended up in such a bad state! I just cannot understand how a good industrial strength clean-up by a specialised team cleaners armed with toothbrushes and bicarbonate of soda, headed up by those two women off the TV, might not have achieved a better result!
And if some day in the future some bright spark has the idea to bring all the old stuff back it'll be more like an archaeological dig and take decades.
Here are some pics I took of the platforms at Russell Square during the renovation process in August 2008. You can clearly see here how the grout and tile adhesive has been slapped straight over the top of the old tiles. Russell Square is a station used by a lot of tourists and I am pretty sure a lot of those people come to this city looking for glimpses of history between their trips to Mama Mia and the London Dungeon. Americans in particular love all the old stuff. Above ground, in certain areas of London, Holloway Road for example, the council is urging shopkeepers to maintain any old signage they might uncover, yet here we have LRT effectively sweeping history under the carpet. Or in this case, cheap machined tiles
I have just returned from a trip to NZ and on the way I stopped off in Sydney where I was really impressed to see the station platforms have been maintained just as they must have been when they were first opened. Shown here is Museum station.
Why, oh why, have we not done the same thing in London? We have one of the oldest underground networks in the world and soon there will be nothing left but glass and steel vis a vis what's happened to Shepherd's Bush station; old and new. I can understand that it needed to be expanded to deal with all the extra shoppers expected to go to Westfield (egh spit!) but could they not have retained some of the old frontage and ticket booths?
And don't get me started on the monstrosity of a waste of space that's being built above ground for Tottenham Court Road station; as my sister quite rightly points out, who is going to use all that glass space? Cleaners, that's who!
Anyway, I am getting off the point here!
Back to the platforms... I need to check out if Warren Street station is still has its lovely old blue tiles. And does this connecting tunnel at Charing Cross (formerly part of Trafalgar Square station) still look like this? And how long can my local station at Holloway Road hang onto signs like these?
I think I have made my point!

13 January 2010

Seeing is Believing

Have you seen the latest Specsaver ad to commemorate the company's 25th anniversary? Their ads used to be good. This one featuring a lost sperm one is just plain silly.
Anyway, seeing it (geddit?!) gave me the idea for a small group of pictures on the theme of eyes and opticians.

Shown clockwise from top left: clock, New Kings Road; ripped poster, Covent Garden; opticians sign, Fleet Street; skull face in the peeling paint, Mount Pleasant; spectacles motif, Lower Marsh; plastic doobrey, Holloway Road – lots more found faces here.

10 January 2010

All along the rooftops

Today's post is about looking up. Every now and then I spot some really interesting chimneys. Below is a selection of some of the best ones I have seen so far.
Clockwise from Hartleys, Bermondsey: Seven Sisters Road, Lots Road, Walton Street, Holloway Road, Lillie Road, from my back garden, somewhere I can't remember, Arundel Street, Liverpool Street, Brixton Oval, Hoe Street, Walcot Square, Stoke Newington.

1 January 2010

Happy New Year

Here's to a great 2010. And here's to a more prosperous year.
And here are some lovely date stamps on buildings in London.
I have limited this collection to the 1800s. At a later date(!) I will put together a collection of the best ones I have for the 1900s.
I seem to have 'collected' more 1888 date stamps than any others, though this is probably because it really lends itself to a bit of creative typography. Or, coincidentally, perhaps that was a particularly productive year? But I have only shown two of the ones I have here.
Actually, I now think the latter statement is true, as a quick double-check shows that I have just as many for 1898 as for the previous year, and four of those are shown here.
I especially like the one here top left which is part of a fan light over a door; the date is 1898/9. And top right is also great with the word 'built' also with intertwined characters.
Oh, and the backwards 4, bottom right, is a nice touch.

Top row: 1898/9 Wigmore Street, 1894 Austin Friars, 1878 Blackstock Road, 1873 Seymour Place, 1898 Ferme Park Road.
Middle row: 1861 Clapham Road, 1899 High Street Acton, 1898 Charterhouse Street, 1888 Lower Clapton Road, 1884 Southwark Bridge Road.
Bottom Row: 1806 upper Street, 1888 Kings Cross Road, 1893 Holloway Road, 1898 Wardour Street, 1884 Fleet Street.