Northern line

Dome of the braveI’ll be honest: I’m not really a fan of domes.

They are fussy and pompous, and have a tendency to look comical, if not downright silly. If I see a row of them on a skyline, I immediately get suspicious. Who’s had the final say here, I ask myself: a sermon or a slide rule?

Seeing a dome in a non-religious location tends to make me even more uneasy. The sacred and the secular are fine side-by-side, but on top of each other? There’s a necessary world of difference between swearing inside a church, which I’ve done happily several times, and swearing in the face of an archbishop, which I’d never do*.

It’s a relief, therefore, to have at least one example in London of a dome serving no purpose whatsoever but still managing to not look entirely out of place. And it’s even better to have that dome atop an Underground station:

My kind of place of worshipYes, it’s a gigantic anachronism. But there used to be a flock of these daft things, dotted all along the southern extension of the Northern line like elderly clergy in a tardy religious procession. I’m not sorry that only one survives. This dome gains merit because of its solitary status.

Architecturally it looks utterly absurd, and I’ve argued on this blog several times that just because something is old does not mean it is a) good or b) not worth destroying.

But Kennington station is an exception, because the dome isn’t actively idiosyncratic. It’s irrelevance isn’t aggressive. Instead it’s a passive period piece, reassuringly demoted in stature to a more lowly rank behind the 1920s makeover (yes, those are Charles Holden’s fingerprints on the entrance).

It’s also something of apt tribute to the first-ever deep-level Underground line, which opened here as the City and South London Railway in 1890. Bluster, folly and ingenuity got that line built – and all three are present in the dome.

T. Phillips Figgis was the man responsible for the design. I’m instinctively wary of anyone who feels the need to reduce their first name to an initial. What have they got to hide? But if Mr T’s work at Kennington is commendable more for its robustness than its style, perhaps a dome with no real function is fitting for a man with no real identity.

*Though I’d make an exception for certain Catholic cardinals.

Oak, hey!There’s no burned oak at Burnt Oak. There’s not much to the station either, which is a squat pavilion a bit like Brent Cross and Hendon Central, only not as noble or elegant. What there is, however, is a roundel on a pole.

That might not sound much, but believe me, when you’re standing outside Burnt Oak station with 95% of your vision choked up with tat, grot and litter, it’s a revelation.

Even the design of the pole is appealing. It’s vaguely Eiffel-esque, with the struts climbing upwards in a pleasingly ordered fashion, tapering inwards towards the centre of a satisfyingly chunky roundel. The very top looks a bit like a flagpole, but how you’d raise anything up it is a mystery. Although given the whole structure already raises the spirits, I’d argue no further kinds of elevation are necessary.

There’s an added treat when you’re down on the platforms. A gap in the bridges overhead reveals a glimpse of the pole, which from this angle looks even more commanding.

It almost makes up for the station’s gratingly archaic name. There’s really no call for words ending “rnt” nowadays.

Up the pole

Warren's treatWarren’s Treat was the name of a novel I almost started writing in my 20s. I thought the title was terribly witty, likewise the idea that everyone in the book would be named after a London-based railway station.

Naturally, I now see that the whole concept was shockingly pretentious and am glad I didn’t have the time, or more correctly the commitment, to get round to doing anything about it. It would also have been a bit too close to this slice of audio horror for comfort.

A much more agreeable application of the station’s name can be found on the walls of the Victoria line platforms:

A maze in graceAlan Fletcher conceived the maze, he of the V&A logo, Penguin book covers, the BP petrol pump and just about every significant example of public British graphic design of the 1960s and 70s.

The “warren” is supposedly possible to navigate in around three minutes. But this does presuppose you have reason to be on the platform for around three minutes, which given the frequency of Victoria line trains isn’t always the case. It’s more suited for idling away gaps in the service, or if you find yourself stuck in the station waiting for a train further up or down the line to sort out a problem with its doors. (Or rather, sort out a passenger who’s created a problem with the doors, usually by TRYING TO ENTER THE CARRIAGE WHEN THEY’RE CLOSING.)

There’s also the additional hazard of someone deciding to sit down right in front of the maze. It’s a little unfortunate that the designs are embedded directly above benches. A woman sat down seconds after I took these photos, and I had to stop myself from scowling (yes, hard to believe).

Yet despite all this I think we can all agree it’s a far more successful manifestation of London transport wordplay than a book with characters such as Rick Mansworth, Colin Dale, the Scottish tearway Cal E. Donian, and the eccentric preacher Canon Bury.

Do not sit here