Sunday 19 October 2014

Victoria Triumphant

The section of the Victoria Line between Finsbury Park and Seven Sisters is the longest bit of Tube line without a station.  There was a suggestion that Manor House (which the Victoria Line passes under) could be added to the route, but there wasn't much money in the budget and it would have duplicated the interchange with the Piccadilly Line at Finsbury Park.

It means that you're beneath ground for a slightly uncomfortable period of time.  You get used to a certain rhythm on the Underground - the noise of the train, the whizz of the tunnel, the pauses as you hit a station.  The song varies in length and pattern but it still recognisably comes from the same symphony.  Beyond Finsbury Park the rhythm is wrong, and it prickles the back of your neck; it doesn't feel right.  It was almost a relief when the white light of Seven Sisters station burst into the carriage.

The seat backs, unsurprisingly, depict the trees that give the area its name.  Seven Sisters is a slightly larger station than the rest of the line; it has a third platform to enable trains to turn back, giving a better service for the core of the line.  There's also a connection to the depot on Tottenham Marshes from here, a connection that now and then gets mentioned as a potential branch with a new station or two.  The sheer number of people using the Victoria Line means it won't happen for a long time, if ever; there simply isn't the capacity.  Perhaps once Crossrail 2 comes along (which will also stop at Seven Sisters) there might be space for it.

I left the station by the back exit, onto Seven Sisters Road; not deliberately - I'd got mixed up - but it was lucky.  The main entrance on the High Road is via a series of anonymous staircases to a subterranean ticket hall.  The back exit's got a bit of a building to it, so I was able to get a proper sign shot.

Yes, I am pulling an odd face, but in the other shot I took, the Big Issue seller is staring right down the camera lens and I don't think he was amused.

I walked round the corner and got a feeling of deja vu.  The area round the Tube station reminded me of something.  It reminded me of - bear with me on this one - Paris.

You're going to need some persuading, aren't you?

I'm not saying that this bit of north-east London is a dead ringer for the Champs-Elysées.  I'm not daft.  But once you get out of the centre of Paris, to some of the more far flung arrondissements, you get spaces very like the one around Seven Sisters underground station.  A busy, straight road.  Wide pavements with cafes and restaurants spilling tables onto the walkway.  Trees to shelter you.  Steps leading down into the metro station.  It had the busy feel of a French city neighbourhood, only with a Tesco.

You're not convinced, I can tell.

I crossed over into Broad Lane, past a primary school and rows of modern houses.  There was a pleasing break for a little local shopping centre beneath a tower block, with a corner cafe smelling deliciously of coffee and bacon.  Some newer flats had been built with enclosed glass balconies; they were stuffed with bikes and boxes and faded looking plants.  Then there were plain terraces with huge satellite dishes dangling off the front, sometimes two or three.  The Polish or Pakistani or Paraguayan residents inside wanted tv channels that Sky just couldn't provide.

A big, ugly retail park filled the space between Broad Lane and the station, its grey boxes turning their back on the area around them so they could stare down at the car parking spaces.  Across the way TfL were building a new bus station for the area.  The Mayor's budget cuts were evident; this wasn't a glistening stainless steel edifice like the one further down the line at Vauxhall.  Instead it resembled a superannuated petrol station.

Across a bare patch of concrete that I'm sure the architects called a "plaza" but actually looked more like "a place for crisp packets to get caught up in" was Tottenham Hale station.  All the stations at the top of the Victoria Line interchange with rail services, but this one's slightly more important, as trains to Stansted stop here.  As a result it got a bit of a makeover in the 90s with a blue lightbox dropped on top of the station building for some reason.

It's all a bit of a mess, to be honest, so it's no surprise that the council have plans to level it and start again.  With the addition of another platform on the railway lines, a new second ticket hall, and possibly Crossrail as well, Tottenham Hale should look very different in a few years time.  I'll have to come back.

I went through the messy ticket hall and down the escalators to the platform.  There's a pleasingly wide glass window here, and someone's put some pot plants on the balcony over the shaft.  They didn't look officially endorsed - and were a bit tatty - but I was glad to see them anyway.

The River Lea wends its way through Tottenham on its way down to the Olympic Park and then the Thames.  Until it was tamed, canalised and used to feed the reservoirs around here, the only way to cross it was via a ferry.  Indeed, the station is on "Ferry Lane", so the seat backs commemorate the old way of crossing the water.

Now, of course, you can leap on a Tube train and be at the next station in a couple of minutes.  The penultimate stop on the line is called Blackhorse Road.  Can you guess what its platform motif was?

It's a great design though, by the wonderful artist Hans Unger.  Unger did a lot of strikingly modern posters and advertisements throughout the fifties and sixties, and there's something simple yet elegant about his black horse.

Blackhorse Road was the only station on the Victoria Line to get a brand new building.  Everywhere else the Tube shared with British Rail premises, an existing Underground station, or in the case of Pimlico, they just burrowed a hole in the ground.  There wasn't a decent BR station here though so the architects at London Transport designed their own.

The result is a lovely capsule of 1960s transport design.  Long, clean lines.  Plenty of chrome and mosaic tiling.  Space.  Blackhorse Road feels open and clean.  The only let downs are the later interventions - the clunky ticket gates, the customer information posts, and especially the back exit to the Overground.  The mainline station was originally on a separate site, but in 1981 the platforms were moved behind the Underground station for easier access.

There are only two good parts to the Overground portion of the station.  One is that it gives you a great view of that lovely concrete roof to the ticket hall.

The second is that it's served by the Goblin - the Gospel Oak/Barking Line.  I love that little portmanteau word.  It's almost as good as the old name for the Bedford-St Pancras route - the BedPan.  No wonder the Thameslink branding was embraced.

Outside, the station's not quite as charming.  It's dark and there are awkward steps to get in.  Plus, there's that new black horse.  Hans Unger did a lovely design down on the platform, so why have they decided that the one up top needs to look like it was ripped off the front of a Lloyds Bank?

It's very disappointing.  Also disappointing is the fact that I had to practically stand in the middle of the road before I could get a decent sign photo.

I crossed the railway tracks and headed into Walthamstow.  Of course, as a child of the 90s, Walthamstow means only one thing to me - proto-chav boy band East 17.  Made up of Tony Mortimer, Brian Harvey and the other two, they were the rough alternative to the slick Take That.  The That rolled around on exotic beaches in black and white in their videos; East 17 did a lot of finger pointing and shouting on the tough city streets.

I was always a Thatter rather than an Eastie.  The That had the better tunes, and I quite fancied Gary Barlow (this is when he was the fat one at the back; now that he's a tax evading Tory I wouldn't cross the road to spit on him).  East 17 had House of Love and It's Alright, which may actually be the same tune, Deep, and perennial Christmas irritant Stay Another Day.  And that's it.  I wasn't exactly blown away by their musical prowess.

Their bad boy image was starting to crumble as well.  Walthamstow seemed really quite nice.  Tree-lined avenues, pretty cottages, some pleasant post-war blocks of flats.  It wasn't the drug crazed ghetto the band always hinted they came from.  I suppose it makes sense; how many teenage boys seek to escape deprivation by learning the piano and then posing with their tops off in Smash Hits?  It's not exactly Eminem in 8 Mile, is it?

Incidentally I just went to East 17's Wikipedia page and discovered that the Other Two are still performing, but Brian Harvey and Tony Mortimer aren't.  Imagine paying to see that.

The pedestrianised town centre reminded me of Birkenhead.  A straight run of pound shops, cheap supermarkets, and cafes, though here they were interrupted by slightly more exotic fare - ethnic hair salons and halal stores.  Sam 99p had a completely original marketing technique:

Brilliant stuff there, Sam.

Further along, the market began to creep in, just a couple of stalls at first, then a stream of barrows.  It was a genuine East End market; Pete Beale could have turned up at any minute.  Clothes stalls sold chain store remnants, the racks marked "M&S" and "NEXT" and "DOROTHY PERKINS".  Knock off plastic toys called things like Transformerators and Space Wars had been shipped straight over from Nanjing.  CD stalls played reggae music constantly; there was no other music available, apparently.  There were weird, exotic fruits and vegetables on the food stalls, stuff I didn't recognise, but they were still presided over by a barrel shaped Cockney who yelled compliments at passing housewives.

Most wonderfully, there was a pie and mash shop, a real one, in green and cream tile.  I peeked through the window and saw wooden booths and gleaming ceramic surfaces.  I really wanted to go inside and try some jellied eels, or liquor, or some other bizarre East End foodstuff I'd only read about.  I felt intimated though.  There wasn't a menu in the window (of course there wasn't; it wasn't the Ivy) and I didn't have the confidence to go in and order off a board with a fearsome Peggy Mitchell type staring at me.  I passed on, grinning happily that this place still existed.  It even showed up on Strictly Come Dancing last night; Kristina and Simon from Blue went there to get a dose of Cockney inspiration.  I was chuffed.

(Slight tangent, but can we briefly talk about how amazingly bad Scott Mills is at going "HO!" in the Strictly titles?  He's absolutely awful, and I love it.  I watch it at least three times every week).

Yes, I was really charmed by Walthamstow, which probably doesn't happen to people very often.  I crossed a pleasing open square by the Victorian library to reach the final station on the line, Walthamstow Central.

There's a modern bus station surrounding it - a Ken Livingstone-era one, so it's quite nice.  I darted across the busy bus lane to take my last Victoria Line selfie.

I rode the escalators down to the platforms feeling a sense of achievement at finally visiting all the stations on the line.  The London Underground has always been special to me, all the way back to when I was a teenager and I'd ride the trains for entire afternoons just because it was there.  I could happily do it all over again.  In fact, how many stations are there on the Underground?  Hmmm....

NO!  That way, madness lies.  Besides, it'd make the Underground less special.  I like it being this place I can just dip into and get excited by, unlike Northern Rail which can sometimes be a bit of a chore.  I sat down on one of the specially tiled seats - this one features a William Morris pattern, a tribute to the artist who lived nearby - and waited for my train back.

The Victoria Line in four blog posts:

Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four


Henry said...

But, the David McFall fibreglass black horse isn't "new" - it too is from when the station opened. Just less lovely. Not its fault...

Mark Cooper said...

Do tell me to shut up if you so desire but

"The section of the Victoria Line between Finsbury Park and Seven Sisters is the longest bit of Tube line without a station"

is not strictly true.

The section between Finsbury Park and Seven Sisters is the longest stretch between two stations that are underground. The longest gap between two stations on the Underground is between Chesham and Chalfont and Latimer on the Metropolitan Line.

Scott Willison said...

HENCE my use of the phrase "Tube line", as opposed to the "sub-surface" or "surface" lines.

*claps hands together with a smug finality*