Tag Archives: Arnos Grove

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

Up the 'GroveBefore I moved to London, the most exposure I’d had to Arnos Grove came from its appearance in Saint Etienne’s glorious song from 1991, Girl VII.

Here, the station is namechecked as part of a dazzling roll-call of locations both provincial and exotic, which (quite rightly) elevates the likes of Dollis Hill and Chalk Farm to equal status with San Clemente and Bratislava. And all to a disco beat.

Like almost everything Saint Etienne have ever done, Girl VII gets under your skin and is impossible to resist – two qualities also true of Arnos Grove itself.

The sound of drumsGarlanded and canonised like no other Underground station, Arnos Grove still defies even your highest of expectations. Moreover, it seems to be able to do it again and again. Every time I visit, there’s some aspect of the architecture or sensation created by the light and the shadows that affects me in a different way. It never lets you down. I’m not sure anywhere else on the London Underground can do this.

The interior wears its heritage and its awards with pride. But it deserves to. This is a very special place, which – unlike other works of popular culture that top critics’ polls with the charmless thud of Del Boy falling through a bar – utterly warrants its lauded reputation. Perhaps this is due to the notional incongruity of an Underground station being also a piece of art, though countries such as Germany and Sweden, from where Charles Holden took inspiration for the building’s appearance, surely would not consider such a relationship incongruous at all.

The masterplanHolden’s approach to the design of Underground stations reaches its zenith with Arnos Grove. The function of the building enjoys a marriage with style that is the happiest of any such union across the whole network.

The enormous drum and central passimeter that together form the basis of the interior act as both an instruction, making plain exactly where you need to go for tickets, telephones and trains; and also as an illumination, rendering the purpose of the station elegantly self-evident while literally casting or reflecting light upon everybody and everything inside.

A vision burns brightly in this outpost of artistry high in the suburbs of north London. It’s one that doesn’t simply impress; it shepherds and reassures and becalms. No wonder one appraisal of the station ranked it on a par with the likes of the Pompidou Centre and the Sydney Opera House.

Another, more official evaluation upgraded Arnos Grove to Grade II* listed status in July 2011. The man who approved this, John Penrose, was sacked by David Cameron in the cabinet reshuffle of September 2012.

An illuminated callLike Ulysses by James Joyce, Arnos Grove is a modernist classic. Unlike Ulysses, Arnos Grove is something you will enjoy finding your way in and out of, and to which you will want to return again and again.

As for the station’s exterior… that deserves a separate entry all to itself.

Light fantastic

I dream my dreams awayWhen the Piccadilly line was being extended northwards from Finsbury Park to Cockfosters in the early 1930s, the planners faced the challenge of how to get round, get over, or even avoid completely the Pymmes Brook valley. It being the early 1930s, however, this was seen not so much as a vexatious conundrum but a delightful problem meriting an equally spirited solution.

This turned out to be an absolutely enormous viaduct made of 34 arches, opened in 1933 and an instant architectural landmark. It’s still breathtaking today, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the suburban idyll suggested in the initial marketing:

Bridge of sighsFor one thing it’s not nearly that high:

A river runs through itNor is it possible to get that clear a view of the trains passing overhead:

Southbound trainHowever you can wander at will among the magnificently imposing and meticulously aligned arches, whose nooks and crevices conjure up a deceptively never-ending maze of brickwork:

A maze, amazingIt is also, like its cousin in the Dollis Brook valley, an Underground highlight that’s not best appreciated when you’re actually on the Underground. You need to leave the train, indeed leave the station and network entirely, to savour the viaduct’s full splendour. Which it’s well worth doing, even if the reality doesn’t quite match the artist’s impression. But then when does it ever?

The real thing