Zone 3

East of EdenWhen I began this blog, I had a shortlist of only a couple of dozen places about which I knew I wanted to write. That was all. There was no grand plan of campaign, no strategy to help me get to 150. I trusted the Underground to serve up its delights as and when I chose to search them out.

Before I reach the end, however, I do need to make one final, slight return.

I didn’t set out to count down the greatest things, or rank them in any way. It was always my intention to list them in no particular order – albeit earmarking a few particularly notable stations for a few particularly notable milestones (such as numbers 50, 75 and 100). So it’s by happy design that for my next to last entry I find myself revisiting my very first.

East Finchley station is of a piece with its archer. The platforms, canopies, buildings, walkways, stairwells, even the handrails and window frames, are close to perfection. Its curves are as exquisitely-formed as the phrasing of Debussy’s Clair de Lune; its structured elegance equals that of Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings. Its swagger, meanwhile, has the same joyous dashes of stylish exoticism as Ron Grainer’s sublime title theme for One of our Dinosaurs is Missing.

Canopy panoplyIn other words, it’s a mighty evocative place.

And there’s plenty of room to encourage so much evocation. East Finchley station has four platforms, broad enough to feel more like continental thoroughfares than provincial embarkation points.

Here you can loiter, brood, mither and mingle without ever feeling ill-at-ease or out-of-sorts. It’s a nice place to have to wait. I’d go so far as to say it’s the kind of place at which you want to have to wait, whether to catch or change trains. The empty space is as much a part of the conception and purpose of East Finchley as the buildings. It’s one of the most holistic creations on the entire network.

The fact it’s also one of the most beautiful is, naturally, an enormous boon. But then it is the work of Charles Holden, the man without whom this blog would not have been possible.

Well, perhaps not impossible, but a hell of a lot shorter. Which, for those who would have preferred a mere two dozen entries, might not have been such a bad thing.

Holden, his ownA Senate House-sized salute to Charles. London belongs to him.

Arrow through me

Colour me smittenWhen the balloon goes up and it’s time to head down to the air-raid shelter beneath Clapham South station, one of the last things we’ll see are colours. Rows and rows of gleaming colours, snaking along the walls of the platforms, full of a lustre that is unexpected for something so deep underground. The choice of colours is particularly affecting: nothing gaudy, or luminous, or poorly co-ordinated. Instead, stoical RGB basics that even the vaguely colour-blind can tell apart. And I should know.

Tiles of wonderIf the tiles are originals, then they date from 1926 and are in very fine condition. Clapham South was the curtain-raiser for the extension of the Northern line and then, as now, is the first treat for passengers venturing towards Balham, Gateway to the South.

If they aren’t originals, they don’t look it. The taste and the elegance feels authentically inter-war. It’s like walking through Balfour or Baldwin’s bathroom. For me their linear design beats the more scattergun styles you can see at stations along the Piccadilly line. These tiles radiate refinement, neatness, and above all order. If, apocalypse pending, they were to be my last glimpses of the artistry of human race, I wouldn’t mind.

The Common touch

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