Lest we forget“It was about 8.00pm. I was standing on the platform talking to people when there was a terrific explosion above the station and, at the same time, all the platform lamps ‘arced’, and that put the station into darkness.

“When the station went into darkness panic started; it was a bad panic.

“I said to them: ‘It will be all right, we will have a light on in a few moments.’ But no light came.”*

A total of 68 people were killed when a bomb fell outside Balham Underground station on 14 October 1940: 64 members of the public and four staff. The bomb penetrated the surface of the Balham High Road, leaving a crater into which fell an entire London bus. Meanwhile damaged pipes caused water and sewage to flood the railway tunnels, which would take two months to repair.

Just the previous day, a bomb had fallen on Bounds Green station, leaving 19 people dead. On 11 January the following year, Bank station was hit: 56 people were killed.

The memorial plaque at Balham is a simple, tasteful tribute to those who lost their lives here during the second world war. It’s just as worthwhile a reminder of the Underground’s history as any number of heritage galas or souvenir dining sets. In fact, it’s the most important and most dignified reminder of all.

(There are other plaques of remembrance at Bounds Green and Bank, though if you manage to find them you’re a more patient and resourceful person than I.)

*from London Carried On by Charles Graves, published by the London Transport Passenger Board in 1947

Through the roundel windowI really haven’t done enough on this blog to commemorate people who – at the time of writing – are still alive. Mike Ashworth is one such person, as it’s thanks to him visitors to Wood Lane station can admire a thousand or so chunks of history that might otherwise have been left to rot.

It’s a London Underground roundel that hails from the original Wood Lane – a previous incarnation of the present station that used to be on the Central line and which closed in 1959. The roundel was rescued from the wreckage on the specific request of Ashworth, LU’s design and heritage manager, who then oversaw its gorgeous restoration and rebirth here, in the all-new Wood Lane.

There’s one drawback, however. It’s behind protective glass, which means it doesn’t photograph that well. My reflection-wracked pictures don’t do it full justice.

One thousand slices of charmIt’d be wonderful were it to be open display, even if it meant it had to be mounted higher up, out of the reach of hands with hammers or light-fingered loons.

It also looks a bit eerie, not to say fragile, divorced from any kind of solid surface. But this is nitpicking. I’m just glad it’s still with us – unlike the institution that once made this station’s name famous the world over.

The power of sevenYou can find beauty through scale on the Underground: noisy, powerful treats, things that soar and sparkle and make great play of doing an awfully marvellous job over an awfully marvellous area. But you can also find beauty through delicacy, where it’s not so much the size that dazzles but the details. Where less is more.

The interior of the ticket hall at Hounslow West is a bountiful treasure trove of detail. Its contents reward both the passing glance and the lingering stare. From the concept of the design to the hue of the fittings, it’s adorable – to the 128.5714286th degree.

A visit ought to be on the curriculum of every GCSE Maths and Design student, regardless of what any education secretary thinks of these kinds of buildings.

Heaps of enjoymentLight, geometry, colour, architecture, iconography, upholstery and style: the seven pillars of this heptagonal hall of wonder.

Two more Hs were involved in its creation: Holden (Charles) and Heaps (Stanley) worked together in a rare collaboration on the station, which opened in July 1931 – the same month as Sudbury Town. What a feast for the eyes of Piccadilly line passengers.

It’s as much the interaction of all the different features as the concept itself that makes this place so enchanting. There must be dozens of heptagons in total, in both two and three dimensions, which jostle and jive alongside each other as if at a polygon-themed disco. The bright blues and reds of the roundels offset exquisitely the muted tones of the walls and ceiling, and are as gorgeous as any jewel to be found in Hatton Garden. And just look at those shadows:

Hip-tagonalCould the exterior of Hounslow West possibly match the bewitching poise of its interior? You know the answer to that question. And it merits a separate blog entry to boot.