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Railfanning London‘s Railways

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Visitors to London who are also transport enthusiasts (‘railfans’) sometimes ask for advice as to the ‘best’ things to see on London’s railway network. This page is part of a guide which aims to answer that question.

If this is the first time you have reached these pages then it is best to go to the Opening Page which sets the scene, explains the difference between the small and the large profile trains, offers advice on the best type of ticket to buy and photography tips.

Alternatively, it is possible to view everything on one page

Station Architecture & Features

Being an older system which dates back to the 1860's London Underground station feature a wealth of both historic and contemporary structures and whilst over the years some of the older buildings have been modernised and even rebuilt out of all recognition some partially or even fully survived in their original forms long enough for their historic ambiance to be recognised and even celebrated in the present - day era.

This page looks at a few of the more noteworthy stations of historic interest. More such stations can also be found on the relevant pages about the different lines which they serve. Also on these other pages are some of the more noteworthy Docklands Light Railway and 1990's Jubilee line extension stations.

Sometimes the older stations are actually more functional than present-era stations for which the designers often seem more interested in what might look good than whether it actually performs well.

Metropolitan line subsurface train at Hillingdon station. . Piccadilly line tube train at Hillingdon station.
Some people - especially those from younger generations - look at historic brick and stone heritage ‘museum piece’ stations from yesteryear somewhat unfavourably, seeing them as being relics of a byegone era. Their thoughts are that a modern railway should have stations that feature a cutting edge glitzy design which uses modern materials such as concrete, metal and glass (or similar).

Served by Metropolitan (left) and Piccadilly (right) line trains, Hillingdon station was re-sited in the early 1990's as part of a new road project and the replacement station is of the contemporary design which younger people desire. It is bright and airy, but it has to be asked what they think about the white painted metal joists (with peeling paint) and what look like ‘el cheapo’ residential ‘car porch’ style lights on the platforms?
Historic station sign Ealing Broadway. . Historic station sign West Brompton.
Historic station name signs in the District line trainsheds at Ealing Broadway (left) and West Brompton (right).
The solid disc sign at Ealing Broadway dates from before Edward Johnston designed the familiar roundel in 1919.
Historic UndergrounD Map Temple Station. . Historic UndergrounD Map Temple Station.
Just outside Temple station (District & Circle lines) there is an historic 1932 UndergrounD map. These images only show part of the map.
Note that not all the services shown on the map still operate and that the Bakerloo, East London and Piccadilly lines have partially faded.
In those days the Moorgate - Finsbury Park Northern City line was owned by the Metropolitan Railway.

On the Underground stations with Victorian and Edwardian-era buildings can be found on all the subsurface lines, as well as 'open air' sections of the Central line east of Leyton and Northern line north of Finchley Central which were built in the 1800's and converted to tube trains in the 1940s.

The 1930's saw much expansion of the London Underground with many brand new stations plus older stations rebuilt in an architectural style called Art Deco. These are looked at below.

For the rest of London's railways the fate of the station buildings largely depends on whether the routes have always been busy or the stations have been replaced / downsized as economy measures. An example of the latter a general theme stations which were once served by steam trains but became part of London Transport in the 1940‘s have been preserved better than those which remained part of the national railway network. For example, if you travel on North London line (London Overground Stratford - Richmond) you will see some stations where British Railways knocked everything down and nowadays there is nothing much more than ‘bus stop’ shelters on the platforms. eg: Finchley Road and Frognal.

Note that although not specified in the image comments below, since 2000 many stations on the Underground have seen much refurbishment and installation of new safety systems and CCTV camera systems. Typically stations were refurbished in a way designed to retain what is now seen as their 'heritage' styling, with (especially) platform walls being retiled on an almost ‘like for like’ basis.

Barons Court has what is perhaps one of London's most ornate station buildings. Built in an Edwardian Baroque style and designed by HW Ford this station opened in 1905. The steps to the platforms and the platform canopies date from a 1931 partial rebuild and are less ostentatious.

street view Barons Court station building. Barons Court station entrance. Barons Court ticket office.
The insanely ostentatious station building and ticket office area at Barons Court.

Either side of the ornate station entrance are 1920's bronze information panels with swan-neck lamp brackets and globe lamps. The south-east corner has a cartouche with the DR (District Railway) monogram plus bronze information panel and lamp. As the cartouche is in shadow it is also seen in an inset. The retail shop fronts feature three section art nouveau glazing above their picture windows.

The ticket hall features distinctive green tiling with a frieze of darker green tiles with sunburst motifs (as seen in the inset). There are two pedimented ticket windows, each with a bronze illuminated box sign above them, which was added later.

Barons Court station is now a Grade ll listed building, read more:
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1358562 .

Another Grade ll listed station is Hanwell in west London.

Historic unique seat Barons Court station.
Also at Barons Court station are these original and unique
(on the London Underground) back-to-back wooden bench seats.
platform view Hanwell station. stairwell with ancient style lamps Hanwell station. island platform seating bay at Hanwell station.
The historic Hanwell station - these three views were taken on the island platform.

The platform canopies, ironwork, etc (especially on central platform) are thought to include part of the original Brunel station which opened here in circa 1838.

The station is seen as important because it represents the least altered example of the stations along this route after they were all rebuilt in the late 1870s.

Hanwell station is served by some (not all!) TfL Rail trains from Paddington and will eventually become part of Crossrail line 1 (Elizabeth line).

Read more:
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1358787 .

Finger pointer sign Hanwell station London.
Historic sign with finger pointer (not an arrow) telling passengers to use the steps and pedestrian subway if they wish to cross the tracks.

Typical Edwardian Era Tube Stations

street view of Covent Garden station. . platform wall tiling at Covent Garden station.
Designed by the architect Leslie Green, London‘s Covent Garden station is typical of the over 40 stations built in the first decade of the
20th century by the Underground Electric Railways Group (UERG) for what nowadays are known as the Northern, Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines.

The UERG corporate style included distinctive ruby red glazed bricks and - to maximise financial income from the valuable land space - a structure
which permits several floors of offices to be built over it.

Note the distinctive London Transport roundel symbol located on the side of the building where it can be seen by people elsewhere
along the road and act as a ‘homing beacon’ making the station even easier to find. Typically these were illuminated at night

In those days not everyone was able to read so to aid regular passengers travelling in passing trains to identify the stations
the wall tiles at each of these stations followed different colour schemes and patterns.
lift lobby scrum Covent Garden station. spiral staircase Covent Garden station.
Typically these 40 stations were built with lifts (elevators in the North American dialect).
Whilst some of them have been rebuilt with escalators, Covent Garden still uses lifts and being at the heart of an area which is very popular with both locals and tourists this station is often so busy that even with four lifts crowding is commonplace. To avoid the crowds some passengers use the emergency spiral stairway instead, although this is discouraged - because the distance between the upper and lower levels is equivalent to that of a 15 floor building!
Historic Earls Court Road station entrance. . Nocturnal illumination of Warwick Road Entrance Earls Court station.
The Earls Court Road entrance to Earl’s Court station which includes the railway company's names in a frieze near the top of the frontage. This was built in 1915, to a design by Harry Ford.
In sunny weather this is best photographed before midday.
. The Warwick Road entrance to Earl’s Court station which was rebuilt
in the mid 1930’s to serve a new Earls Court Exhibition building.
This image also shows the additional glass rotunda which in the 1960’s was added above the 1930’s entrance.

At one time the various different Underground lines each had their own distinctive style of ‘next train’(s) platform information system. Nowadays they all tend to use very similar dot-matrix screens, however at Earl’s Court station the historic District line information displays have been refurbished and still work!

Historic train describer Earls Court. . street view of Art Deco Acton Town station.
Historic eastbound train describer at Earl’s Court.

The blank position might have been used by the through trains (from Ealing Broadway) to the seaside town of Southend-On-Sea which were known as the Southend Corridor Express.
These trains ran from 1st June 1910 until 1st October 1939, with (usually) three trains a day, per direction, changing between steam and electric locomotives at East Ham or Barking stations.
. Acton Town station is typical of many of the 1930’s Art Deco stations where the ticket hall is capped with a flat concrete slab roof and the brick walls are punctuated with panels of clerestory windows.

Designed by Charles Holden this station was rebuilt prior to the District line service to Rayners Lane & Uxbridge being replaced
by the Piccadilly line.

1930's Art Deco Stations

In the 1930's many new stations were built (and some existing stations rebuilt) in connection with extensions to the Piccadilly, Northern, Bakerloo and Central lines. Typically the stations built by London Transport were designed by Charles Holden (who worked at the Adams, Holden and Pearson architectural practise) and followed a European geometric Art Deco style using brick, reinforced concrete and glass. Although there were individual variations these station buildings often featured tall block-like ticket halls rising above low horizontal structures housing the station offices and retail shops, with the ticket hall's brick walls being punctuated with panels of clerestory windows and the structure being capped with a flat concrete slab roof.

In 1979 the Bakerloo line's Stanmore branch became part of the Jubilee line.

More information about 1930's and immediate post war London Underground stations (and other buildings) built in Art Deco and Modernism styles can be found at these links. The first link also explores the Metro-Land phenomena designed to create new residential areas where the inhabitants would become passengers of the Metropolitan Railway:
http://www.modernism-in-metroland.co.uk/metro-land-and-modernism.html .
http://www.modernistbritain.co.uk/browse/tag/transport/ .

Oakwood station at night. . Inside Oakwood station ticket hall at night.
Oakwood station on the Piccadilly line is another 1930’s Charles Holden Art Deco station and
these views show the ticket hall as illuminated during the hours of darkness.
Arnos Grove station and bus interchange. Inside Arnos Grove station Art Deco ticket hall. Telephones booths at Arnos Grove station.
Variations on a theme (1) - some of the 1930’s Art Deco stations are circular. An example of this is Arnos Grove on the Piccadilly line.

The station frontage includes a bus interchange, albeit only for buses travelling in one direction (or terminating here). Buses travelling in the opposite direction call at traditional kerbside bus stops - as seen in the somewhat faded road markings.

The single concrete support column in the middle of the station building is another common architectural feature.

When this station was refurbished the telephone booths were restored too. At one time these all had twin leaf folding doors, unfortunately the doors were removed to deter people with ill-intent from leaving explosive devices where they could not be seen when the doors were closed.
Art Deco Ealing Common station. . platform seat bay Ealing Common station.
Variations on a theme (2) - some of the 1930’s Art Deco stations are heptagonal (seven sided). An example of this is Ealing Common station
which is served by District and Piccadilly line trains. It was designed by Charles Holden with Stanley Heaps as the on-site supervisor.

This station building also includes some design cues from the 1920’s Northern line extension in south London.
This includes the use of Portland stone cladding on the tower and Aberdeen granite cladding below the tower.

The image above-right shows a recessed seating bay on one of the platforms.

Uxbridge is a town on the north-western edge of London. At one time it had three railway stations but nowadays only the Charles Holden Art Deco 'concrete cathedral' station built by London Transport in 1938 still survives.

Uniquely on the London Underground network Uxbridge station features some stained glass windows. These are easily seen by arriving passengers when walking towards the main exit from the station (ie: not the exit for this bus station). They were created by the Hungarian artist Ervin Bossányi, who emigrated to the UK in 1934.

looking down upon trains and platforms at Uxbridge station. . stained glass windows Uxbridge station.
Piccadilly line tube train and two Metropolitan line subsurface trains
at the concrete cathedral Uxbridge station.
. The stained glass windows at Uxbridge station.
See below

Left: The coat of arms of Middlesex County Council - which ceased to exist after London's local governments were changed in the mid 1960's. This comprises a Saxon crown and three seax - old English for knife. Nowadays a seax is the small / short curved knives (or daggers) used by the Early Middle Ages settlers of Germanic origin, especially the Saxons.
.Middle: The coat of arms of the Basset family, esteemed local landowners who in circa 1180 granted the people of Uxbridge permission to hold a market every Thursday.
.Right: The flag and coat of arms of the historic county of Buckinghamshire include a white swan. This dates back to Anglo-Saxon times when this county was known for breeding swans for the king.

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This page last updated 30th October 2020
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