Monday 29 September 2014
Goodbye To All That
If you want to use Hamilton Square station today, tough. It's closed. It's closed for at least six months, possibly more - Merseyrail are being vague about a specific opening date. The reason? It's time for Hamilton Square to lose all its 1970s trappings and start to look a bit more 21st Century.
I headed underground on Friday to have one last poke around the station before it's refurbished. I wanted to take some pictures and preserve how it looked in its last days.
I did this because I'm massively two-faced and stupidly romantic. When the new look Liverpool Central was unveiled, back in 2012, I was euphoric. It was everything I wanted - clean, modern, efficient. It updated the tired surfaces and made them fresh.
Familiarity has bred contempt. As James Street and Lime Street undergrounds succumbed to the makeover, I began to feel affection for the original Merseyrail styling. Brown and yellow and metal. Harsh fluorescent lighting and rubber floors.
Of course it looks tired. The finishes are literally as old as I am, both of us having been birthed in 1977. We've both seen better days and could do with a nip and tuck to bring us back up to our fighting weight. That's a given.
This is the future from forty years ago. The designers did their very best to make the stations on the Loop tough and resilient but also attractive. And they largely succeeded. The off-yellow panels are a bit chipped, but they're still in one piece. The tiles are stained and cracked but they could be rescued with a little care.
It's just dated, that's all. And as I found on my trip down the Victoria Line in London, dated isn't necessarily bad. It has its own charm. It needs to be treated with sympathy and affection.
I headed down to the platform. That's where the most famous part of the Merseyrail look is - those moulded brown plastic seats. Uniform, repetitive, straight off a production line.
No-one would pick brown for a tunnel these days. Far too dark and oppressive. It's even worse on the Liverpool/Chester platforms, where they combine with the black of the tunnel and the tracks to make a cave like space.
Even the bright fluorescents above can't disguise the fact that they're black holes. They're also pockmarked with the scratches of a thousand handbag clasps and belt scratches and bored teenagers with a compass. The bin units, such a good idea until the IRA started leaving bombs in them, provide a place to lean but not to get comfortable.
But I'll miss them, dammit. They're so distinctively Merseyrail. They look like no other railway system in Britain. The new seats in Central and James Street and Lime Street; they've been bought out of a furniture catalogue, the same one the Underground buys its benches from. I've seen them before.
Hamilton Square will always be a bit of a mess. It's a 19th century railway station with a load of modern features clamped untidily on it. There are steep narrow staircases and little used side doors and even a closed urinal on one of the platforms.
It's all part of the station's charm. That'll still remain, I hope, when the white walls come in. I'd hate Hamilton Square to lose all of its personality in the refurb. Look at the new, utterly bland and forgettable subway beneath Lime Street to see how not to do this sort of thing.
So basically I want it both ways. I want Merseyrail to be modern and attractive. I want it to look like a 21st century transport network. I want new trains and information screens and travelators and holographic adverts that go "WOOO" as you walk past.
But I also want the stations to look just the same, and to retain that slightly grubby, dated, old-fashioned look about them. Is that really too much to ask?
Of course it is. I'm just being stupidly nostalgic. Ask any commuter which they'd prefer, the current Hamilton Square or the future one, and 99% will plump for the new one. They're right. I'll just look to Moorfields - due for its makeover in 2015 - and treasure it. You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.