A railway station far below the surface at Hampstead

HAMPSTEAD UNDERGROUND STATION, which was designed by Leslie W Green (1875-1908), was opened for passengers in June 1907. Green was responsible for the use of blood red, glazed terracotta tiling on many of London’s Underground stations. The station facades and interiors which he designed, including those at Hampstead, feature many aspects of the British Art Nouveau style. Examples of this style can be seen on Hampstead’s facade, interior tiling, and the ticket office counters.

While I was researching my latest book, “Golders Green & Hampstead Garden Suburb: Visions of Arcadia” (available from Amazon), I came across an interesting diagram in a book by FC Howkins (published in 1923). It shows how the Northern Line tracks rise gradually from several feet below sea level at Embankment (formerly Charing Cross) station to 192 feet above sea level at Hampstead station. However, Hampstead station’s ticket office is about 360 feet above sea level, which is 168 feet above the tracks and platforms (Wikipedia stated that the platforms are 192 feet below the surface). High speed lifts convey passengers between the platform entrances and the ticket office. Originally, these were slow lifts which were entered though brown sliding wooden doors with Art Nouveau inspired cut-outs for ventilation purposes. These old lifts still existed when I was at school in the 1960s, but the newer high-speed lifts with metal concertina doors were the main method of moving between the surface and the trains. Currently, newer lifts have replaced those which were in use between the 1960s (or maybe earlier) and 2014.

If you have a long wait before your train arrives at Hampstead, it is worth wandering to the end of the platform, where you will find the station’s original name, ‘Heath Street’, still on the wall. Today, I disembarked at Warren Street, and noticed that its old name ‘Euston Road’, is still clearly visible at the end of the southbound platform next to its exit.

By 1907, the Northern Line had been extended northward to Golders Green, whose station was opened for passenger use in 1907. It is a long journey between Hampstead and Golders Green stations. An intermediate station near the Bull and Bush pub (on North End Road) was planned. Although the platforms were constructed, they have never been used by passengers, and there is only a small hut on the surface (on Hampstead Way), which contains the entrance to shafts leading down them. Opposition by the founders of Hampstead Garden Suburb and later its residents ensured that the planned ‘North End’ station was never completed.

The Art Nouveau ticket counters at Hampstead station are no longer in use, but they have been beautifully preserved. In each of them, there are information panels detailing the aspects of the station’s history. Other decorative features have been maintained but much of the space in the ticket hall is occupied by the automatic ticket-checking entrance and exit portals. Perched at the top of the High Street, at the point where it meets Heath Street, Hampstead station is an important meeting point and a hard to miss landmark.

Two in one at South Kensington

SOUTH KENSINGTON STATION has two street entrances connected by an arcade with a glazed roof. Its subsurface ticket office and foyer gives access to three of London’s Underground Lines: Circle, District, and Piccadilly. But this has not always been the case. People standing outside the southern entrance to the arcade will notice that to its right there is a building faced with the blood red glazed terracotta tiles typical of many London Underground stations. Above the façade are the words “South Kensington Station”, but there is no public entrance to this building.

The arcade used to be the entrance to the station at which passengers could embark and disembark from trains operating on the District and Circle lines, which were part of the Metropolitan Railway. This station was opened in 1868. In 1906, a station on the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (now the Piccadilly line) was opened at South Kensington. Its platforms are far deeper beneath the surface than those of the District and Circle lines. Lifts inside the building with the red façade carried passengers to and from the Piccadilly line platforms. This building was then the entrance to the Piccadilly Line station, which was separate from that (with the arcade) which led to the shallower subsurface Circle and District platforms.

In the early years of the 1970s, the lifts to the Piccadilly Line were replaced by escalators. Access to these was made from the concourse that serves the District and Circle line platforms, and then the entrance via the building with the blood red façade was taken out of use. So, what had been two stations became one.

You can read much more about South Kensington in my book “Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London” (see: https://www.amazon.co.uk/BEYOND-MARYLEBONE-MAYFAIR-EXPLORING-LONDON/dp/B0B7CR679W/)

Black and white housing

WHEN DRIVING HOME after leaving our vacuum cleaner for repair at a small shop in Ealing, we passed a tidy estate consisting of houses and blocks of flats, all decorated with mock half-timbering painted in black and white. Near to West Ealing Underground station, this housing colony is called Hanger Hill Garden Estate.

During the period between the two World Wars, much residential building work was undertaken in London’s suburbs. Often, estates were built with features that mimicked rusticity. The idea was that the commuters, who lived there, might imagine that they were enjoying a village atmosphere, without being far away from the inner city, where many of them worked. To create this illusion, house builders adorned their constructions with decorative features that were supposed to make them seem older and more traditional than they were. The use of mock half-timbering on external walls was a commonly used decorative trick designed to evoke suggestions of ‘ye olde England’.

At Hanger Hill Garden Estate, there is a uniformity of style, which makes the use of half-timbering eye-catching rather than suggestive of rustic traditions. Interestingly, the mock half-timbering does not extend to cover the dull, pebble-dashed rear walls of some of the blocks of flats. These surfaces are less easy to see from the roads than the mock half-timbering. Overall, the result is attractive. When I first saw this well-maintained estate with neat gardens, I thought of early 20th century garden suburbs rather than old country villages, which are often delightful because they lack uniformity in their layouts.

The opening of the branch of the Central Line, which runs from Shepherds Bush to Ealing Broadway, in 1920, and especially the opening of West Acton Station three years later, were the stimuli for the construction of residential estates in the area. In 1925, the first bit of land was acquired by Hanger Hill Garden Estate Ealing Limited. The estate was built between 1928 and about 1932. The buildings, flats and houses, were all designed by the architectural practice of Douglas Smith & Barley. The resulting layout has considerable uniformity, and is attractive without being monotonous. A good feature in the estate’s design is that the blocks of flats stand in spacious lawns.

The Residents Association’s website has a good history of the place (www.hhgera.com). It noted that in the 1930s:

“…times were clearly pleasant and peaceful ones for all the tenants on the Estate. Occupiers of some of the four-bedroomed houses employed a maid, the fourth bedroom having been designed with this in mind. Whilst all the houses and many of the flats had garages, only a small number of people on the Estate owned cars … These were the days when goods were delivered to the home. Tradesmen were not allowed to call at the front doors of the houses or flats, but had to call at back doors using the service roads. Bakers, butchers, fish salesmen and greengrocers all called weekly, some attending earlier in the day or week to take orders. In the parking bays behind the flats, vans from Harrods, Dickens & Jones and the like, were to be seen drawing up.”

However, life on the estate was not free from regulations:

“Tenancies of flats were refused to people who had young children. No animals were allowed to be kept in the flats … House tenants were allowed to hang out washing only on Mondays and Tuesdays; flat tenants were not permitted to hang out washing at all.”

Currently, so two friendly residents informed us, the estate is subject to strict conservation regulations. This is a good thing because it would be a shame to spoil the appearance of this charming and unusual enclave of residential accommodation in this part of west London.

READ more about west London in Adam Yamey’s book “BEYOND MARYLEBONE AND MAYFAIR: EXPLORING WEST LONDON”, which can be bought from Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/BEYOND-MARYLEBONE-MAYFAIR-EXPLORING-LONDON/dp/B0B7CR679W/

The underground artist

THE BRITISH SCULPTOR Henry Moore (1898-1968) moved to London’s Hampstead district in 1929. Between that year and 1940 he lived in Parkhill Road, close to the Mall Studios, where the great sculptor Barbara Hepworth had her home and workshop. Many of Moore’s other close neighbours were in the forefront of the modern art world of the years between the two world wars. Not far away, the designer Jack Pritchard (1899-1992) and his family lived in Belsize Park Gardens, having moved there from Hampstead’s Platts Lane.

By Henry Moore, 1941

Quoting from my book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”:

“In 1929, he [Pritchard] and the Canadian architect Wells Coates (1895-1958) formed the company, Isokon, whose aim was to build Modernist style residential accommodation. Pritchard and his wife, a psychiatrist, Molly (1900-1985), commissioned Coates to build a block of flats in Lawn Road on a site that they owned. Its design was to be based on the then revolutionary new communal housing projects that they had visited in Germany, including at the influential Bauhaus in Dessau.”

The modernist building, now known as the Isokon, still stands on Lawn Road, which is close to Parkhill Road. It is still used as a block of flats. Completed in 1934, the building included communal areas including a restaurant and a bar called The Isobar where (to quote from my book again):

“… exhibitions were held in the Isobar and, according to an on-line article in ‘The Modern House Journal’ these were attended by artists including Adrian Stokes, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo. The article also noted that this refreshment area was frequented by modernist architects such as Erich Mendelsohn, Serge Chermayeff and, Wells Coates, as well as by left-wing politicians.”

The Lawn Road Flats (the Isokon) was an early British example of a ferro-concrete building with a steel frame. This made it far more resistant to being damaged by bombs than its many brick-built neighbours. In fact, the only damage it suffered during WW2 was a few broken windowpanes. Various people, including the author Agatha Christie, moved into the Isokon to seek protection from the Blitz. Another person doing the same was Henry Moore, who moved there in 1941.

Many people, who were not lucky enough to be able to live in a relatively bomb-proof edifice, sought shelter from the bombs by spending nights on the platforms of Underground stations such as Belsize Park and Hampstead, all of which are far beneath the ground. Henry Moore created a series of dramatic drawing of the people taking shelter on Underground station platforms. It is quite possible that while living in Hampstead, he visited the stations mentioned above to find subjects for his drawings, which provide a vivid record of the terrible times when London was under attack from the air.

Recently, whilst visiting the Tate Britain art gallery, which houses a great deal of British art, I saw two of Moore’s Underground drawings, both dated 1941, and several of his sculptures. The drawings are not accurate depictions of what the artist saw, but they illustrate his reactions to what he witnessed, and as such they emphasise the atmosphere of those fearful times.  Although there is no doubt that Moore was a great artist, on the whole I prefer the works of his contemporary and sometime neighbour in Hampstead: Barbara Hepworth.

Queen Elizabeth and the Elizabeth Line

THE VICTORIA LINE began carrying passengers in late 1968 when I was 16 years old. I remember when this happened and how exciting it was. Recently a new railway line opened in London: the Elizabeth Line. Originally named ‘Crossrail’, it began carrying passengers several years after it was supposed to have been completed. It is supposed to convey people from east of London to well west of the city. However, what exists now (July 2022) is not exactly what I expected. In order to travel from, say, Shenfield, at the eastern end of the line to, say, Maidenhead, west of London, you need to change trains at Paddington. Currently one section of the new line runs east from Paddington, and the other runs west from that station. Unlike Queen Elizabeth’s long continuous reign, the line named to honour her has a discontinuity at Paddington.

A visitor from abroad wanted to experience the new line today, a Sunday. He was looking forward to seeing the new station platforms on the line that heads east from Paddington. Sadly the section that fruns east from Paddington does not operate on Sundays at the moment. So, we had to head west. The Elizabeth Line trains are new, but the train follows tracks that were laid down as far back as the 19th century. Apart from being over efficiently air-conditioned, the new trains are comfortable and run remarkably smoothly.

We travelled (on a train bound for Heathrow Terminal 5) to Hayes and Harlington station, and from there headed to Barra Hall Park in the old part of Hayes. There, we enjoyed a picnic before walking to the mediaeval parish church, St Mary the Virgin. We had visited it once before, but were completely unprepared for what we saw this time. The hedges lining the path leading to the south door of the church were decorated with bunches of cut flowers. A cardboard cut-out of Queen Elizabeth II greeted us at the door. The lovely church was filled with attractively arranged bouquets of flowers. Quite by chance, we had arrived whilst the church’s 57th annual Festival of Flowers was being celebrated. We were fortunate because we arrived on the 3rd of July, the last day of the festival. The festival’s theme was “A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth”. How appropriate to have travelled to it on the Elizabeth Line.

Just around the corner … in South Kensington

PEOPLE USUALLY ASSOCIATE South Kensington with its magnificent set of museums. However, there is far more than that in the district, and within a few yards of the museums. Here are a few places of interest near to the Victoria and Albert Museum (the ‘V&A’).

The V&A stands on the northeast corner of Exhibition Road and Cromwell Gardens (a short stretch of the A4) and faces the Ismaili Centre on the southeast corner. This attractive building built for the religious community that is led by the Aga Khan was designed by the Casson Conder Partnership and completed in 1985. According to the website of the Ismailis, https://the.ismaili, the building’s pleasing exterior:

“… has used materials and colours which are compatible with those of the surrounding buildings while at the same time in keeping with the traditional Islamic idiom and its colours of whites, light greys and blues.”

Monument in he Yalta Memorial Garden

An open space, The Yalta Memorial Garden, on the east side of the centre contains a monument to remember “… the countless men, women, and children, from the Soviet Union and other East European states, who were imprisoned and died at the hands of Communist governments after being repatriated at the conclusion of the Second World War…” The memorial consists of a column on the top of which there is a sculpture by Angela Conner (born 1935) depicting 12 faces of men, women, and children. Nearby, a house on the northeast corner of Thurloe Square and facing the V&A, bears a plaque informing that the museum’s first Director Henry Cole (1808-1882) lived there.

The Brompton Oratory, or to give its full name, the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is a huge Roman Catholic church with a neoclassical façade and a dome. It stands east of the V&A. It was designed by the architect Herbert Gribble (1846-1894), a convert to Roman Catholicism, and constructed between 1880 and 1884. The architectural style is mainly Roman Baroque. This enormous edifice was the largest Roman Catholic church in London until Westminster Cathedral was constructed in the first decade of the 20th century.

Cottage Place runs along the east side of the Oratory towards the Holy Trinity Brompton church north of it. A building that looks like many of the older Underground station entrances on the Place has a façade decorated with blood-red glazed terracotta tiles. Between 1906 and 1934, when it was closed, it was the entrance to Brompton Road station on the Piccadilly Line. It was a stop between the still functioning Knightsbridge and South Kensington stations. It was closed because it was hardly ever used by passengers.  An article in the Guardian newspaper, published in February 2014, related that during WW2, the disused station was used as a command centre for anti-aircraft batteries. It also suggested that the Nazi Rudolf Hess (1894-1987) was interrogated here. Between the station’s closure and about 2014, the building was owned and used by the Ministry of Defence.

The Holy Trinity Brompton Church, a gothic revival structure, was designed by Thomas Leverton Donaldson (1795-1885), and completed in 1829. It was established to accommodate the growing population of this part of Kensington, which until then had to worship in the church of St Mary Abbots in Kensington, almost one mile away. In 1852, a part of the church’s land was sold for building the Oratory upon it. The large grassy space north of Holy Trinity, now a park, was formerly the church’s graveyard.

Although none of the places I have described rival the splendour of the V&A and especially its fantastic collection of artefacts, they are worth exploring if you happen to be in the neighbourhood. A problem in London is that there are so many places of the greatest interests to visitors, which often means they have so little time to explore the lesser-known curiosities that form part of the rich tapestry of London’s past and present.

Art on the roof

TEMPLE STATION IS on the Circle and District lines of London’s Underground. It was opened in 1870 and named after the nearby ancient Temple Church, which stars in Dan Brown’s 2003 novel “The Da Vinci Code”. The station’s ticket office is housed in a single storey building with a flat roof surrounded by a balustrade. The flat roof, with a few benches, occupies about half an acre and until recently served simply as a place to sit in the fresh air. Now, this has changed.

The flat roof has become employed as an open-air exhibition space for young artists. Today (December 2021), we climbed the stairs to reach the roof and were amazed to see that it has been covered with multi-coloured painting and plastic floor tiles, a dramatic sight. There is also a colourful hut, “The Artist’s Hut”, a modern take on the traditional cabman’s shelter. With the title “Back in the Air: A Meditation on Higher Ground”, the art installation was created by London-based artist Lakwena Maciver (born 1986). Also on this coloured space, there are a couple of ceramic works by another artist, Camilla Bliss. It is a wonderful surprise to see this field of bright colours, especially beneath a cloudy, grey sky. It would be fun to see the space from the air. But I do not know whether the pigeons would agree with me.

In the future, it is hoped that other artworks will b e displayed above Temple Station.

Relief below ground

IT IS NOT OFTEN that I feel the need to write about answering the call of nature but after a recent visit to Hampstead’s South End Green, I must satisfy the urge.

There is a yard at South End Green, where buses serving the route number 24 wait before setting off to Victoria station. Long ago, this yard used to have tram tracks as it was the terminus of a tram line. A lovely small café, Matchbox by name, stands beside the yard. Its owner, Mirko, a friendly Slovenian, serves excellent hot beverages and a range of mouth-watering snacks, both sweet and savoury. The nearest public toilets are across the yard, almost opposite to Matchbox.

The toilets are below ground level and accessed by staircases with cast-iron structures above them. It was only on our most recent visit to South End Green, in December 2021, that I had reason to descend into the ‘gents’, and I am pleased that I did, not only for reasons related to my physiology but also to satisfy my curiosity.

The ‘gents’ is magnificent, with its white glazed brick walls decorated with bands of light green bricks, its long narrow, black and white chequered floor, its polished dark wood cubicles, and its row of white urinals all topped with grey (marbled with white streaks) granite separators. Although there is electric lighting, a skylight admits some natural light.

The underground toilet facilities, both the men’s and the ladies’, were constructed in 1897 for the benefit of passengers using the tramway. Stephen Emms, writing in the “Kentish Towner” in October 2013, noted that the gent’s underground facility at South End Green was a pick-up place used by homosexuals. He noted:

“But most memorably South End Green is the only public toilet still in use known to have been visited by iconic 1960s playwright Joe Orton. Apparently it was his “favourite pick-up point” too””

You might be relieved to learn that my recent brief visit was completely uneventful.

Riding high above London

DOLLIS BROOK IS one of the two main tributaries of the River Brent, which in turn is a tributary of the River Thames, which it enters at Brentford. Dollis Brook rises near the A1 dual-carriageway at Mote End Farm and then flows southwards towards Brent Park, where it is joined by another stream, Mutton Brook. Both brooks are lined with pleasant green spaces containing footpaths that follow the streams. Thus, they are lovely green corridors providing much-needed rustic relief from the relentless built-up suburbia through which the streams flow.

Nether Street is road running west and downhill from Finchley Central Underground Station. After reaching a small roundabout, it continues as Dollis Road. The latter descends ever more steeply until it runs under a tall brick arch, part of the Dollis Brook Viaduct (also known as ‘The Mill Hill Viaduct’). The road runs beside a stretch of Dollis Brook, which at that location is only a few feet in width – rather a miserable little stream. However, the viaduct with its 13 arches, each with spans of 32 feet, traverses a veritable steep sided gorge, maybe created over time by the waters flowing in the humble Dollis Brook, or, more likely, by glacial drift (“Nature”, 9th of November 1871: http://www.nature.com/articles/005027c0.pdf). This amazing viaduct, a masterpiece of brickwork, carries Underground trains on a spur of the Northern Line running between Finchley Central and Mill Hill East stations.

Designed by John Fowler (1817-1898) and Walter Marr Brydone, who was Engineer-in-Chief for the Great Northern Railway (‘GNR’) from 1855-1861, the viaduct was constructed between 1863 and 1867, when the first train ran across it. The line that now carries Northern Line trains over the viaduct was originally built by the GNR, as was the viaduct. As trains traverse the viaduct, they are at one point 60 feet above the ground. This point must be close to where both Dollis Road and Dollis Brook pass beneath the arches,

We have often driven beneath the viaduct, but it was only in August 2021 that we decided to park near it and examine it as closely as we could. We had recently visited the impressive granite railway viaduct near Luxulyan in deepest Cornwall and been amazed by its grandeur. We had not expected to find a bridge in north London that is almost as awe-inspiring.  As I gazed upwards at its tall arches, I admired the Victorian bricklayers, who must have had to work at ever-increasingly dizzying heights as they constructed it. The viaduct is certainly a sight worth seeing, and whilst you are in the area, much pleasure can be gained by taking a stroll along the paths that run close to Dollis Brook.

William Wordsworth and others in Golders Green

HAD YOU VISITED GOLDERS GREEN in 1876, you would have arrived at:
“… a little outlying cluster of cottages, with an inn, the White Swan, whose garden is in great favour with London holiday makers … from the village there are pleasant walks by lanes and footpaths …” So, wrote James Thorne in his “Handbook to the Environs of London”. Of these lanes, Hoop Lane still exists. The White Swan was in business until recently but has disappeared since I took a photograph of it about three years ago.. I do not think that I would recommend Golders Green as a holiday destination anymore. It is not unpleasant, but it is no longer rural and lacks the atmosphere of a resort. The poet and physician Mark Akenside (1721-1770), a friend of the politician Jeremiah Dyson (1722-1776), who had a house in Golders Green, and a frequent visitor to Dyson’s place, wrote, while recovering from an ailment:

“Thy verdant scenes, O Goulder’s Hill,

Once more I seek a languid guest;

With throbbing temples and with burden’d breast

Once more I climb thy steep aerial way,

O faithful cure of oft-returning ill …”

Another poet, now better known than Akenside, William Wordsworth (1770-1850) wrote:

“I am not unfrequently a visitor on Hampstead Heath, and seldom pass by the entrance of Mr Dyson’s villa, on Golder’s Hill, close by, without thinking of the pleasures which Akenside often had there.”

In those far-off days visitors from London could either reach Golders Green by crossing the range of hills north of Hampstead on a road that follows the path of the present North End Road or, after 1835, when it was completed, by travelling along Finchley Road. The end of Golders Green’s existence as a rural outpost of London and its development as a residential suburb began in June 1907, when the  Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway (now part of the Underground’s Northern Line) opened the above-ground Golders Green Station.

My family used Golders Green Station on an almost daily basis. During my childhood, there were two ways of entering it. One way, which still exists, is from the large station forecourt, the local bus and coach station. The other way, which was closed at least 35 years ago, was from Finchley Road. An entrance beneath the railway bridge led to a long, covered walkway (see the illustration above) under an elaborate wooden structure, open to the outside air on most of its two sides. The husband of one of my father’s secretaries once remarked that the wooden canopy reminded him of structures he had seen in India. Having visited India myself, I now know what made him think of that.  The walkway led to a ticket office, beyond which there was a corridor from which staircases provided access to the outdoor platforms. Our family favoured using the Finchley Road entrance because it was slightly closer to our home in Hampstead Garden Suburb than the other one next to the bus yard.

In the early 1960s, when I was still a young child, northbound Underground trains coming from the centre of London stopped on one of the two northbound tracks that ran through the station. In those days, the doors on both the left and right sides of the train opened in Golders Green. If the train entered on the left track, that closest to the bus yard side of the station, we used to leave the train by the right hand doors, which led to the platform whose access staircases were closest to the Finchley Road entrance. We did this almost like a reflex action, without thinking about it.

One day, after my father had taken me to spend time in town with him, probably at his workplace, the LSE, we returned to Golders Green by Underground. As usual, since the train had stopped at the platform closest to the bus yard, we waited for the opening of the doors on the right-hand side of the train. Standing facing these doors, we could hear the opening of the doors on the left-hand side. We waited and waited, and then the train began to continue its journey northwards towards the next station, Brent. We were astonished that ‘our’ doors had not opened. My father was mildly upset by this. We behaved like creatures of habit. I was really pleased because I had always wanted to travel beyond Golders Green Station to see what exciting scenery lay beyond it.  It was not, I remember, the rural scenes that visitors in the 19th century and earlier would have enjoyed.