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District line

Tuppence a bagHere’s one of the smallest things to make it into the 150, but one of the sweetest. It’s on the westbound platform at East Ham, high up near the canopy, perpendicular to the tracks.

A cultural historian would be able to take a good guess at its age, likewise a scholar of advertising typography. Just when was tea tuppence a bag (tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag*)? Not since the war, certainly. There’s been a station at East Ham since 1858, though the ticket hall is Edwardian. My guess is the sign hails from sometime between 1902, when the District line first came this way, and 1936, when the Metropolitan arrived. It was painted to promote an adjoining cafe, long since vanished – as has this kind of gorgeous lettering, tea shops in general, and the notion that putting “d” after a number is not a reference to a boy band.

Something that can be more accurately dated is the LTSR ironwork to the left of the sign. That’s the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway, by whom the station was built in the 1850s. Back then the idea of buying tea from a person on a platform would have been morally scandalous. One had it served to one, thank you very much, and you’ll mind your manners for saying so.

Pillar of wisdom*Possibly the saddest song about London ever written

Park and recreationThis is my idea of parks and recreation.

A turn around the cool, sighing interior of this station is more than a match for a ramble across one of London’s postal districts packed like squares of wheat.

You can breathe deeply in a place like this. The sense of height and empty space is liberating, and you can’t help but draw it down deep into your lungs.

Some of that feeling is done by sleight-of-hand: a deft architectural trick, a delicious equation (always the best kind) of artificial light and geometry.

But some of it is by design, and literally so. Circles and straight lines might be the everyday fundamentals of engineering, but applied with a dab of genius, they can be fundamentally marvellous every day:

Drum majorIt’s another of Charles Holden’s buildings that was inspired, like Arnos Grove, by the mouthwatering modernism of the wheelbarrows-full-of-money Weimar-era Germany.

I’d love it to survive for a millennium: the ultimate cold dish of revenge to serve upon the “1000-year Reich” that stamped Weimar out of existence, just around the time Chiswick Park was built.

I was late getting awayEven in rush hour this station would still feel empty. For every circulating throng of people, there’s four times as much air doing the same thing. Not that you’d have much time, or cause, to notice it when you’re rushing for a train.

It will leave its tingling imprint, however, somewhere in the back of your mind as you try to adjust to the suddenly compact and stuffy confines of a carriage.

That, and the thought of high windows, the sun-comprehending glass, and the deep blue air.

High windows

Cathedral of modernityHaving already swooned over the statues on the outside of London Underground’s HQ, I feel any further words of my own can’t possibly do justice to the wonder that is the whole of the building.

So I’ll let other people’s words do that for me.

Foundation“When I realised the full possibilities of this [building's] cross-shaped plan – good light, short corridors, and a compact centre containing all services, complete with lifts and staircase communicating directly with all four wings… I do not think I was ever more excited.”
- Charles Holden, 1944

Flying the flag“Charles Holden built embassies of modernism. If you wanted symbolism of a newer world, he was making those shapes against the sky.”
- Peter York, 2013

Broadway melody '55“The building, begun in 1928, was constructed by The Foundation Company and completed in 1930. When finished it had a floor area of 31,000 sq ft. Above the second floor the building had a central tower and four wings, each 48ft wide. The wings necessarily varied in length, the east wing was 100ft, the west was 76ft and the other two were just 60ft. The top of the tower was 176ft above road level, and was surmounted by a 60ft flagstaff.”
- Mike Horne

A central Park“Frank Pick [who commissioned the building] was the greatest patron of the arts whom this century has so far produced in England, and indeed the ideal patron of our age.”
- Nikolaus Pevsner, 1968

Jesus H. Cruciform

“The historic home of London Underground is to be converted into expensive flats as part of a drive by transport chiefs to raise more than £1 billion. The Grade I-listed building at 55 Broadway… is unsuitable for a modern office, say bosses. Lower floors will be converted into one-bedroom apartments and the rest will be penthouses. LU boss Mike Brown said: ‘Any development must respect the building’s heritage. We will proceed sensitively.’”
- London Evening Standard, 15 May 2013