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Zone 4

Much Hainault about nothingOnly three trains an hour run north from this station. It’s just as well the platforms are so gorgeous. Chances are you’re going to do a lot of standing around on them.

Passengers wanting to travel south have it much better. They get to pick from around nine trains an hour. No loitering among the beautiful canopies or mooching under the picturesque awnings for them. But then if you’re heading south from Hainault you’re going towards central London, and I imagine you haven’t the time for design fripperies, no matter how elegant.

If you’re travelling north from here, however, I’d guess you’re more than likely returning from something: work, maybe an excursion, perhaps an appointment or a tryst. You’re already resigned to your journey lasting as long as it takes, so hey: another quarter-of-an-hour just means more chance to make Hainault while the sun shines.

Naults and crosses The platforms’ shapely concrete posts and ritzy curves give the discerning (and even the idle) public architecture devotee many reasons to be cheerful.

Less pre-disposed towards Hainault is the “Tube challenger“, for whom the place is often the fly in their diagrammatic soup. Mastering the so-called Fairlop Loop on the Central line necessitates picking a train that avoids having to change here, and possibly endure a wait of up to 20 minutes, which certainly won’t help you set a new world record.

Hence while there is plenty of scope for a bit of infrastructure ogling, these platforms are also the crucible of a fair few thwarted dreams.

Definitely a case of ‘Naults and crosses.

Here's looking at you

Enormo-roundelIf quantity of roundels isn’t your thing, how about heft?

Mounted just above the main entrance to Sudbury Town station is one of the largest, not to say thickest, roundels I have ever seen. It is an enormo-roundel.

This is wholly fitting, because Sudbury Town is an enormo-station. It’s another Charles Holden box of delights, but what a box:

Box cleverImagine having this on your doorstep. A few dozen people do. Lucky bastards.

Were plans for such a building submitted today, I suspect they would not be approved. We’ve become a population more bothered by back yards than beauty. Back in the 1930s and 40s, poverty, war and reconstruction brought people into the streets. Now it is planning permission sub-clauses.

Imaginative and exciting building could and should happen anywhere. If it’s breathtaking to boot, like Sudbury Town station, so much the better. I can understand people objecting to something if it is impractical or uninspiring. I can’t understand anyone objecting to something just because it is new.

Sud's lawThere’s a slightly restorative feel to a building like this. I’d rank it alongside tasting air after a thunderstorm or a dip in a geothermal spring. (I’ll leave you to decide which I’ve experienced most recently).

The reason could lie with the crisp freshness that still clings to Sudbury Town, like the folds in a newly-printed map, decades after it opened in 1932. Perhaps it’s the attention to detail, like the barometer inside the ticket hall. Maybe it’s to do with that most bountiful of all Holden’s architectural flourishes: natural light, which flirts its way around those always-ravishing clerestory windows:

Clerestory? Morning gloryOr it could just be that enormo-roundel, which leaves me a bit giddy, and also wishing I could have one on my living room wall.

Lifesize, naturally.

Banging the drumPeter York calls them “embassies of modernism”. Michael Gove calls them “prison houses of the soul”. I call the Piccadilly stations designed by Charles Holden one of the finest ensembles in the land. A bracing, lustrous orchestra of sensations. Their massed ranks of roundels, passimeters, turrets and Dalek stalks deployed in shimmering harmony, resonating up and down north London. A bit of bombast here, a bit of delicacy there, the odd cheeky homage thrown in for good measure.

It’s an ensemble that can fizz as well as flutter, that whirls as well as soothes. And in the centre, keeping everyone else in time and in line, the thunderous, glorious magic drum that is Arnos Grove.

Pa-ra-pa-pa-pumApologies for the more-fanciful-than-usual wittering, but I don’t feel too steady on my feet. Because I’ve already bowed my head long and low to the wonder that is the interior of this station. How to pay equal tribute to the equally wondrous exterior? What more is there to say about Charles Holden, about whom I’ve been banging a drum for a good portion of the last 100 posts?

Well, one mark of Holden’s genius is that he always does have something new to say, and another mark is that he does so with such visually self-evident swagger. The only thing he can really apologise for is trying. And that’s more than can be said for most of us.

Arnos Grove looks like it has just tunnelled its way up from some kind of subterranean concrete Eldorado. It is like nothing on Earth (well, almost) yet somehow intensely familiar. The distinctiveness of the place attracts, rather than repels. You feel almost propelled towards it, like bathwater skipping its way down a plughole. It’s the opposite of being flung outwards by a centrifuge. It is this poster made real.

Grove is in the heartThere are many, many Underground stations that can cheer, amuse and sometimes thrill me when I step inside. There are a few that go further – stations that bewitch and flatter. But there’s only one that revives me. That picks me up, no matter how deep I’ve sunk. That actually, in a very clumsy, reserved, hope-nobody’s-looking, British kind of way, lifts my heart.

Beyond that, there’s really not much more I can say about Arnos Grove.

For when Charles Holden bangs the drum, there are no words to describe the way I feel.

Still Holden his own