diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 16, 2018

Purple is happening.

Yesterday was the Farringdon station Open Day, an opportunity for a few fast-fingered members of the public to descend into the actual station where actual Crossrail trains will be actually running in less than six actual months time. We had to enter down the fire escape. By the time you get here, the escalators should be finished.

This is the western ticket hall. Those escalators lead down from the Thameslink ticket hall, at ground level, while behind the stairs will be a direct connection to platform 4. The diamond pattern on the sloping concrete roof is a nod to the station's close proximity to Hatton Garden. Simon Periton's diamante artwork continues around the walls.

Arriving passengers will be funnelled to the rear of the ticket hall where they'll have to double back to join the escalators down to the platform. The back wall doesn't have diamonds on it, so I fear will be the ideal location for an enormous advertising screen, which nobody heading on or off the escalators would be able to miss.

These three escalators will be the transition between the bespoke Farringdon up top, and the generic Crossrail platforms down below. All the lower levels at the central stations will be looking very much like this, so best get used to it.

This is the central concourse between the platforms. At some stations it'll go all the way along, but here at Farringdon it stops after a couple of side tunnels. Something similar happens up the far end, linking to Barbican tube station, but we weren't allowed that far along.

The central concourse is broad and clear with panelled concrete walls, including a layer above head height with spotty indentations. There are no sharp corners here, only softly contoured curves. Here at Farringdon the signage urges departing passengers to walk down to the second entrance, so that arrivals can pour out through the first.

The totem pole signage is unusual, or at least it is to us now, but expect to see it at every central Crossrail station. The elegant symmetry is perhaps an architectural nod towards classic tube stations like Gants Hill. Directions for incoming passengers are on the pole, and directions for outgoing passengers are on the arms.

And yes, the two Crossrail platforms at Farringdon won't be numbered, they'll be labelled A and B. I've seen exactly the same labelling at Custom House, again with A for eastbound and B for westbound, so I suspect this lettering of platforms may be a cross-Crossrail thing.

All the signs are up, including the roundels on the platform, a Legible London map to guide you towards the correct exit, and the "Way Out" arrows pointing to either Farringdon or Barbican. Even the line diagrams are in place, despite the fact the routes they show won't be fully operational until the end of 2019.

What really struck me was the vivid purple colour, apparently tweaked to match the precise colour of the Queen's outfit when she came to open the line. We've not seen this shade on the tube before, so it really stands out. Look at all these interchange connections that'll be possible for the first time. Look very specifically at Tottenham Court Road. Spotted it?

Intriguingly the line diagrams installed at Farringdon have failed to include the Central line connection at Tottenham Court Road. Have the designers messed up? Or is this a deliberate concealment to discourage passengers from changing trains at Tottenham Court Road and nudge them on to Bond Street instead. I suspect the latter. But be it error or white lie, it's not a good look.

And then there are the platforms. The tracks are hidden behind long glass walls, a bit like the Jubilee line on steroids. Doors will open when the trains arrive, and adverts may or may not appear on the panels inbetween. I think the Next Train Indicators are going along the top.

The platforms are very long, but we were restricted to one end. The fitting out didn't look particularly finished elsewhere, almost as if they'd got our end ready first so it would look good on Open Day. But six months should be long enough to get the remaining walls ready, and all the other stations finished, and the trains tested, and everything, probably. Just don't expect to be getting down Bond Street for an Open Day any time soon. [13 photos]

 Friday, June 15, 2018

As London evolves, an increasing number of locations are being recreated as pseudo-public spaces. One of these is the 67 acre development at King's Cross, to the north of the station, where former industrial land is being transformed into a new city quarter. As part of this rebirth the development company are keen to encourage the rest of us to see the new King's Cross as a coherent whole, and to position it on our radar for future activity.

One way they're doing this is by offering a King's Cross DIY Walking Tour, which you can skim through on your smartphone (or download an out-of-date version here). I walked a circuit to see what the places chosen and locations visited might reveal about the future of life and leisure in modern London. To be fair, I think the opening paragraph pretty much gave the game away.

"King’s Cross is an extraordinary piece of London; a diverse and exciting destination with places to work, shop, be entertained and call home."
1) King’s Cross Visitor Centre: Behind the closed front door of the so-called visitor centre is a mostly empty foyer, and a receptionist dressed to impress. I bet she hopes visitors have come to enquire about restaurants or property, rather than circling once round the 3D model and walking away with some free literature.
The tour suggested: "Why not grab a coffee or some lunch at Dishoom or Spiritland nextdoor?" Because I've just started a walking tour, that's why... and because a salt beef sandwich with gherkin and English mustard would set me back £9.50.

2) Lewis Cubitt Square: I was promised a piazza which, "in warmer months, hosts evening concerts, festivals and weekend markets". I got an empty rectangle, adjacent to a building site, where a naked toddler ran through the fountains chased by a dog. Despite it being June, no events are scheduled for the rest of the month.

3) Everyman on the Corner: My smartphone led me to a "bespoke-designed, 32 seat cinema", which was shut, with no information whatsoever outside to tell me what might be showing and when.
The tour suggested: "If you don't have time now, pop back and take in the latest hand-picked films from the comfort of a sofa". Of course I don't have time now, this is stop number 3 on a walking tour. Also, I never ever want to go to a cinema where it's the done thing to hail a waitress mid-film to order guacamole and a bottle of prosecco.

4) Lewis Cubitt Park: Modern developers' idea of a "park" appears to be a rectangle of turf between apartments, where those whose balconies face the wrong way can come down and sprawl in appropriate weather.
The tour suggested: "Head up to the viewing platform and take in the view." The view was of a semi-obscured lawn whose outdoor pool has been removed, a lot of towers, and a backlot with some bins. The top of the viewing platform was so quiet that a couple were making out on the decking, wholly unimpressed that an actual viewer had turned up.

5) The Global Generation Skip Garden: That's a garden full of skips, not an outdoor gymnasium of some kind. The skips are brimming with herbs and other plants, and surrounded by a collection of artfully ramshackle buildings. In one, I saw some office types watching a Powerpoint presentation about "co-creation", "fire exits" and "public realm", the poor sods.
The tour suggested: "You can sample delicious food, grown and prepared in the garden." I passed on beetroot soup and a roll for £5, and a lot of salads, but this was the most interesting location so far.

6) Platform Theatre: A niche theatre is part of the cultural offering of any upstart urban destination. This one's attached to Central St Martins nextdoor. Alas, the place was closed, with zero information out front, and it turned out the next events were two weeks away.

7) Handyside Gardens: Passing through a gate, I found a thin sliver of raised beds and play equipment where various local parents were occupying their offspring. I also found the developer's estate agent's window, flogging apartments for scary amounts per week.
The tour suggested: "The historic train shed to the right is now home to a Waitrose store, cookery school and cafe." A deliberate refocusing on commercial activity rather than heritage? That's new King's Cross pretty much summed up.

8) Wharf Road Gardens: This canalside strip, with raised grass beds, has an air of artificiality about it.
The tour suggested: "Watch this video and learn about a brand new part of the King's Cross neighbourhood." This is a new abomination in digitally delivered walking tours - the in-app video which turns out to be a lengthy plug for how fabulous living here would be. Battersea Power Station do exactly the same thing on their app, coincidentally also at stop 8.
The tour also suggested: "While you're here, kick back on the grass with an ice cream from Ruby Violet." Ruby Violet is a £3-per-scoop ice cream vendor. I'm sure it's good stuff, but King's Cross isn't for the financially challenged.

9) House of Illustration: Ah, Quentin Blake's intelligent repository of drawing-related exhibitions. It's £8.25, if you're nipping in.

10) The Lighterman: A canalside pub with a slightly prefabricated feel, and split level balconies to keep the dining crowd separate from mere drinkers. Don't expect to wander inside without being given the once-over by the door staff.
The tour suggested: "If you have time to stop for a bite on your way round, this would be a good moment." Who stops for food halfway round a hour-long walk? This tour seems obsessed with nudging visitors into a restaurant.

11) Canalside Steps: These astroturfed steps have been here ever since the N1C postcode was freshly minted. A lot of people now "take a break and watch the boats go by", many of them students from Central St Martins up top, but rightly popular with everyone else too.

12) Camley Street Natural Park: This is easily the best free thing to do round here, although it predates the King's Cross development, and some of it is currently closed. Maybe that's why the walking tour doesn't want you to visit it, merely see it from the towpath on the other side of the canal, from which there is no direct connection.

13) Gasholder No 8: Ah, the "iconic" wrought iron form of a Victorian gasholder, which the developers were forced to keep so they turned it into a park. Again "park" means a patch of grass, in this case surrounded by benches beneath a shiny canopy, but the overall effect here is pretty impressive. You could do worse than rest awhile.

14) Gasholders London: Except the real reason we've come out this far is to see some flats. The Gasholders development sees three blocks of very expensive apartments each shoehorned inside a cylindrical skeleton, indeed some are already occupied, with self-satisfied residents looking down at you from on high.
The tour suggested: First they autoplayed a minute-long video, in which some architects were quite smug, and then they directed me to the sales website in case I was wealthy enough to be able to afford one of the 145 luxury hutches.

15) The Plimsoll Building: Another shameless plug, this time for a thirteen storey "world class residential experience". Their website says "Contact us if you are interested in buying an investment property, a London pied à terre or a new build apartment you can call home", as a hint to the overall unaffordability.

16) Granary Square: We've been here already, but this time the tour focuses on the 1000 fountains. A security guard will probably be watching should you consider a mild frolic.

17) The Granary Building: Allegedly this old warehouse is "the heart of historic King's Cross", or at least that's what the developers' marketing team would like you to now believe. They have done a bloody good job of renovating it, however, and the art college inside is second to none.

18) Restaurants at Granary Square: The tour's dining obsession continues, namechecking a coffee shop, a tea shop, a bistro, and exactly the same two eateries they plugged back at stop 1. A salt beef sandwich with gherkin and English mustard still costs £9.50.

19) Coal Drops Yard: Expect Time Out and the Evening Standard to simultaneously orgasm when this place opens in October. A new shopping destination is arriving, its focus on fashion, craft and culture, with "a mix of iconic brands and artisan shops". Coal Drops Yard will be vast, and out of your price bracket, targeted more at the Putney and Kensington set, or those with a nearby penthouse to fit out. I expect it to do brilliantly.
The tour confesses: "Designed by Heatherwick Studio, the group responsible for the Olympic Cauldron and London’s new Routemaster buses." Best not mention the Garden Bridge debacle, eh?

20) Gasholders Sales Gallery: Hang on what? We're being directed out of our way, along the canal, to "discuss available apartments" in a glitzy prefab? But if you do yomp out to see it, you'll discover the Sales Gallery is now closed. How long, I wonder, since this online tour was updated?

21) KERB: Likewise, the viewing platform at the top of King's Boulevard, which the tour now urges you to climb, has long been removed. They've also got the wrong location for the twice weekly KERB streetfood market, which is now held three times a week, indeed should we be trusting anything this placemaking tour is trying to say?

22) King's Boulevard: Here we're invited to look beyond the hoardings to see Google's new groundscraper going up. There's still nothing to see.

23) NIKE Central King's Cross: The tour is now shamelessly store-dropping, in the hope that a sleek trainer shop will get your juices flowing.
The tour suggests: "Drop in to receive expert advice for the best products for your running technique and training style." Perhaps you'll walk out with an even more expensive pair, they hope.

24) Pancras Square: A single oak tree marks the entrance to a triangular courtyard with a sloping water feature, surrounded by office blocks, cafes, restaurants and a library. The walls appear to have been deliberately aligned to block out all sunlight, even in mid-June. It's very popular.

25) German Gymnasium: This is a lovely old building, sandwiched between St Pancras and King's Cross - the first purpose-built gymnasium in England. But it's now a D&D restaurant, so going inside's not really an option, especially given you've already eaten two salt beef sandwiches, a bowl of beetroot soup, a bagful of groceries from Waitrose, a £3 scoop of ice cream, plus a full-on burger lunch at the Lighterman.

26) Battle Bridge Place: Here we find IFO (Identified Flying Object), the giant birdcage which lights up in neon colours after dark. Its appearance serves only to highlight how little public art we've been served up earlier in the walk, indeed I was surprised by the overall paucity of the sculptural offering.

27) Great Northern Hotel: The curving frontage of this former railway hotel follows the line of the buried Fleet River, not that the tour mentions this. Instead it suggests you might be interested in the Manhattan-style bar and the fine dining restaurant, Plum + Spilt Milk, because that's more target audience.

28) The Western Concourse: And finally, our tour ends inside the freshly-bedazzled concourse of King's Cross station. The spectacular domed roof rightly gets a mention, but the tour of course feels the need to add "a host of new shops, eateries and bars", as well as the queue-clogged tourist magnet that is Platform 9¾.

It probably only takes an hour, the King's Cross Walking Tour, assuming you don't stop to splash out along the way. It's good at leading you round an evolving part of central London, and showing you what's there. But having completed it, what struck me is that it wasn't a walk, it was a two mile-long advert by a development company which needs visitors' cash to thrive and grow. I finished with a chain of ideas for places to eat and drink, plus a sense of what living round here might be like if I had the disposable income, but little sense of joy.

In particular I thought I saw the soul of the emerging New London, a commercial environment hell bent on encouraging consumption, where the only things worth doing cost, and the only places to stop and pause are with a drink in hand. Whilst there's nothing inherently wrong with a shopping and dining experience, indeed it's what an increasing number of Londoners seem to want, King's Cross seems to be at the vanguard of squeezing out everything else until spending's all that's left.

 Thursday, June 14, 2018

Location: Pevensey, East Sussex, BN24 5LE [map]
Open: daily from 10am (reduced opening Nov-Mar)
Admission: £6.50
Website: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/pevensey-castle
Five word summary: where William the Conqueror landed
Time to allow: about an hour

When invading England in 1066, William the Soon-To-Be-Conqueror didn't land at Hastings, he landed at Pevensey Bay. At the time it wasn't the low-lying featureless coastline we see today, it was a proper wiggly bay with inlets and everything. The remains of a Roman fort existed here on a small peninsula poking out from a larger peninsula, where William built a temporary fortification before heading off to whop the English. A stone keep was built inside the Roman walls, and later surrounded by another ring of fortifications for added protection. It's big, and it looks like a proper castle, even if it's no longer particularly close to the sea.

The outer bailey, which resembles a large meadow, is fully accessible and has a public footpath running through it. Only if you walk to the far side, and cross the moat/ditch, do you reach the inner bailey where English Heritage hold sway. The lady in the hut, with the guide books and free samples of strawberry wine, was marvellously informative about the back-history of the castle, possibly because she hadn't had anyone to chat to for a while, but more likely because she was good like that.

You can either wander and look at the walls, or better, take an audio wand and listen to a full history of the place on the way round. It'd be easy to miss the steps by the gatehouse down to the dungeon, a proper miserable darkspace, currently with a flooded floor to add to the grim ambience. A so-called oubliette lurks on the other side, a far worse place to be chained up because it had no steps. Harder to miss are the deep well in the middle, various piles of enormous stone cannonballs, and the Pevensey Gun engineered hereabouts in the reign of Elizabeth I in an attempt to see off the Spanish Armada.

Stepping inside the main towers reveals another surprise - wooden floors installed when the castle was used to station US and Canadian troops during WW2. The south coast again risked being a point of invasion, so it was crucial to have soldiers keeping a watchful eye, just in case. That's why the remains of the Norman keep, long toppled, now have a pill box perched on top. The layers of history at Pevensey are legion... and you can find out more in a small exhibition inside the North Tower.

Trot up to the top, via a newly-installed wooden staircase, to get the best view. The sea is now a mile away, along a strand lined with France-facing houses and Martello towers. The intervening marshes were drained after the river was silted up, in this case deliberately, so sheep now graze where once was sea, and the railway crosses what was originally the head of the bay. It's left the village of Pevensey stranded inland too, its former existence as a port on a small promontory almost impossible to discern.

Pevensey's a charming little village, with an Early English Gothic church that's well worth popping inside. On the main street is an old court house and jail, which doubles up as a small museum in the summer months, but which alas wasn't open when I passed by. A tearoom and a couple of pubs survive, but the antique shop in the quaintest row of cottages recently faded away and is currently up for auction. All the everyday facilities are on the opposite side of the castle, in the village of Westham, so a stream of local residents can often be seen traipsing through the outer bailey between one and the other.

Extra paragraph for readers who only appreciate paragraphs about public transport: Pevensey has two railway stations. One is Pevensey and Westham, which is deep in Westham, and has all the trains. The other is Pevensey Bay, a couple of platforms on the road to the coast, which is a tumbleweed backwater with barely any service at all. It sees five trains towards Hastings every weekday, and four towards Eastbourne, and everything else rushes straight through. Not for nothing is Pevensey Bay one of the dozen least used stations in London and the South East. I timed my trip home carefully, being careful not to get trapped on the wrong side of the level crossing, and spent some time watching the sheep beyond the far fence. I hid from the sun inside the shelter, where I was intrigued to see a sticker "Presented to Pevensey Bay for Five Star Achievement in the Experience Quality Improvement Process 2010", which is good going for an unstaffed halt. I realised the train was definitely going to stop when it reached one end of the platform before the level crossing barriers had descended fully at the other. And I was the sole passenger taking advantage as we pulled away across the marshes, where the Normans landed, right on time.

English Heritage 2018: Apsley House & Wellington Arch, Eltham Palace, Kenilworth Castle, Dover Castle, Wrest Park, Down House, Carisbrooke Castle, Osborne House, Battle Abbey

 Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Location: High Street, Battle, East Sussex, TN33 0AD [map]
Open: daily from 10am (reduced opening Nov-Mar)
Admission: £11.80
Website: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/1066-battle-of-hastings-abbey-and-battlefield
Four word summary: 1066 and all that
Time to allow: at least a couple of hours

If Battle Abbey doesn't sound too thrilling, English Heritage have another title for the place - 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield. The most important battle in English history took place here, in the most iconic of years, and you can wander at will across the hill where it all happened. [8 photos]

First off, Hastings is five miles away. The town which grew up where the battle actually took place is called Battle, named after the abbey William the Conqueror founded on the site of his victory. And Battle's lovely, a quaint Sussex town with rising high street, tearooms and quirky shops, if that's your thing. The abbey gatehouse dominates the town centre, with a broad welcoming arch beneath, and maybe a coach party or two streaming through. English Heritage will divest you of your entrance money in the gift shop beyond.

This is a strange site, because at its heart is a fully operational independent school. Battle Abbey School has occupied the Abbot's House since 1912, and these days 360 pupils in smart maroon blazers can be seen walking to lessons, having a kickabout or generally chatting in clusters. I imagine history field trips are easy to organise, for one particular topic at least. Visitors should try ignore the school's presence (unless it's the summer holidays, in which case they may be allowed on a guided tour of the main hall).

The gatehouse itself has been recently refurbished, opening up the upper levels for the first time. Take the vertiginous spiral staircase to the exhibition floors, which are perhaps less enthralling than they ought to be, then clutch the rope handrails and climb further to the roof. The top of the tower is an exhilarating spot, affording an excellent view over the High Street and fields to the north, but alas the main battlefield is shielded by the school and a line of trees.

To one side is the newish Visitor Centre, with the cafe most prominent on the upper floor, and all the history tucked down below. I did consider giving the introductory film a miss, but actually it's very good, with an informative commentary from David Starkey excellent at explaining how and why the day's battle panned out. The lengthy stalemate on Senlac Hill ended only after the Normans pretended to run away, for the second time, and the English broke ranks to charge after them... and were mercilessly cut down.

Next it's time for the battlefield walk (or the accessible shortcut along the terrace if you can't tackle steps, or if the field below is a bit of mudbath). A series of wooden soldiers are dotted along the path, which weaves down to the lily pond at the foot of the hill, then back up the grass on the far side. At present the foxgloves provide a super splash of summer, and the long grass runs deep, covering up the worst of the sheep droppings. There are a lot of sheep droppings.

Anywhere else these 100 acres might be just another patch of English countryside. Instead, picture a Norman army on the attack, and the English holding firm at the top of the slope, and the entire hillside covered with seven thousand bodies after a day of carnage. Had Harold taken up position elsewhere, or the flanks of the hill been more steep, or the stream a little wider, you might not be reading this today. This is landscape dictating history, big time.

The spot where Harold fell, arrowed or otherwise, was memorialised as the high altar of a Benedictine abbey. Apparently King William identified the location himself, so it might well be correct, except that the entire summit of the hill was levelled to make building easier, so the precise location is probably a few metres above ground level. Only a few of the foundations of the abbey remain, with the site of the high altar marked by a stone slab, which tourists cluster round to get their photo taken.

Thankfully a fair sized chunk of ruined monastery exists alongside. At first glance the upstairs dormitory looks like it'll be the most impressive, but that turns out to be long and empty, and the real treasure is the gloomier Novice's Chamber underneath with a perfect vaulted ceiling. Other structures to look out for, generally of later provenance, are a precinct wall, a dairy, a not overly-exciting walled garden, and an impressively oppressive icehouse.

There are more imposing historical sites than 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield. Essentially it's a field below some ruins and a school on a hill. But in terms of what it represents, and how it explains our island story, few locations come close. As another memorial tells it, "this stone has been set in this place to commemorate the fusion of the English and Norman peoples which resulted from the great battle fought here in 1066". Visiting the site reminds us we are a mongrel conquered nation, now proud, but by no means as pure and perfect as many would like to believe.

From 4 June until 24 August, Southeastern are running a special off-peak offer to 13 favoured destinations in East Sussex and Kent. London to Battle is only £20, the same fare as to Hastings, Whitstable, Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate and Canterbury. Meanwhile Rochester and Chatham are £5 less, and Sandwich, Deal, Dover and Folkestone £5 more. Check carefully before you book, because my trip was cheaper at the normal price, with a railcard. But there are some cracking summertime destinations on that list, of which Battle is just one.

 Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Anorak Corner (the annual update) [tube edition]

Hurrah, it's that time of year again when TfL silently updates its spreadsheet of total annual passenger numbers at each tube station.

London's ten busiest tube stations (2017)
  1) ↑1 King's Cross St Pancras (97.9m)
↓1 Waterloo (91.3m)
↑1 Oxford Circus (84.1m)
↓1 Victoria (79.4m)
↑1 London Bridge (69.1m)
↓1 Liverpool Street (67.8m)
Stratford (62.0m)
Bank/Monument (61.8m)
  9) Canary Wharf (50.9m)
Paddington (48.9m)

It's been a long time coming, but King's Cross St Pancras finally takes the crown as London's busiest tube station. Its passenger numbers are up 3m on 2016, while Waterloo slips 7m back to take second place. A couple of other swaps follow, with Oxford Circus overtaking Victoria, and London Bridge nudging ahead of Liverpool Street. King's Cross St Pancras and Oxford Circus are the only stations in the top 10 with more passengers than last year, which might surprise you if you thought the tube was getting inexorably busier. Even Stratford is 5m down, but retains seventh position.

For comparison, ten years ago King's Cross St Pancras had 67m passengers, but it's now 98m. Over the same period Stratford has rocketed from 27m to 62m and Bank/Monument from 43m to 62m. Only Victoria has approximately the same number of passengers as it had in 2007, with the average increase in the Top 10 being around 30%.

London's ten busiest tube stations that aren't also National Rail stations (2017)
  1) Oxford Circus (84.1m)
Bank/Monument (61.8m)
Canary Wharf (50.9m)
↑3 Tottenham Court Road (41.3m)
↓1 Piccadilly Circus (40.8m)
↓1 Green Park (39.3m)
↓1 Bond Street (38.8m)
Leicester Square (36.7m)
↑1 South Kensington (33.9m)
↑* Brixton (32.8m)

The top three tube-only stations have remained static over the last twelve months, while Tottenham Court Road leapfrogs to fourth now its street level exits have been improved. The majority of these ten non-rail stations are at the heart of the West End, delivering millions of Londoners to the shops and to work. Canary Wharf is the busiest station on just one line, keeping the whole of Docklands ticking over. And here's Brixton appearing for the first time, having managed to edge out Holborn, indeed it's added 12m extra passengers over the last ten years.

London's ten busiest tube stations outside Zone 1 (2017)
  1) Stratford (62.0m)
  2) Canary Wharf (50.9m)
  3) Brixton (32.8m)
  4) Finsbury Park (31.2m)
  5) Hammersmith (District & Piccadilly) (29.3m)
  6) North Greenwich (28.2m)
  7) ↑1 Shepherd's Bush (22.6m)
  8) ↓1 Camden Town (22.5m)
  9) ↑1 Highbury & Islington (20.1m)
10) ↑* Seven Sisters (18.3m)

The top of this list has barely changed since last year, with the swap between 7th and 8th a statistical technicality. A number of these non-central hotspots are at interchanges with other railway lines, which is how Seven Sisters has managed to nudge into 10th, with Barking and Ealing Broadway close behind. Meanwhile North Greenwich's strong showing isn't so much down to events at the O2, but rather millions of SE Londoners changing for the bus.

Ten tube stations with the biggest increase in passenger numbers since 2007: Chesham (↑163%), Stratford (↑142%), Cannon Street (↑128%), Canons Park (↑100%), Southwark (↑96%), Barkingside (↑89%), Colindale (↑88%), Wembley Central (↑85%), Roding Valley (↑83%), Aldgate East (↑83%)

Ten tube stations with fewer passengers in 2017 than in 2007: Chorleywood (↓25%), Bayswater (↓22%), Sudbury Town (↓21%), Knightsbridge (↓20%), Russell Square (↓16%), Wimbledon (↓15%), Sudbury Hill (↓15%), Charing Cross (↓13%), Holloway Road (↓9%), Ealing Common (↓7%)

And now for my favourite list of the year...

London's ten least busy tube stations (2017)
  1) Roding Valley (368000)
  2) Chigwell (499000)
  3) Grange Hill (669000)
  4) ↑4 Chorleywood (750000)
  5) North Ealing (827000)
  6) Moor Park (938000)
  7) ↓3 Theydon Bois (954000)
  8) ↑2 Croxley (1129000)
  9) ↓2 Chesham (1134000)
10) ↑* Upminster Bridge (1145000)

The least used stations on the Underground remain those at the Essex end of the Central line, with poor Roding Valley proving that you can almost double your passenger numbers over a five year period and still be the least used station on the Underground. The other least used hotspot is the far end of the Metropolitan line, where Chorleywood has unexpectedly collapsed this year, whereas Moor Park, Chesham and Croxley continue to pile on more users. Note that eight out of ten of the least used stations are outside London, the one glaring oddity being North Ealing, which is in zone 3 but with more popular stations close by. Also, ten years ago 16 tube stations had fewer than a million passengers, but now it's only seven.

The next ten least busy stations: Ruislip Gardens, Ickenham, South Kenton, Fairlop, Mill Hill East, West Harrow, Barkingside, Chalfont & Latimer, West Finchley, West Acton

The least busy tube station in each zone (2017)
  zone 1) Lambeth North (3.5m)
  zone 2) Kensington (Olympia) (2.0m)
  zone 3) North Ealing (0.83m)
  zone 4) Roding Valley (0.37m)
  zone 5) Ruislip Gardens (1.2m)
  zone 6) Moor Park (0.94m)
  zone 7) Chorleywood (0.75m)
  zone 8) Chalfont & Latimer (1.7m)
  zone 9) Chesham (1.1m)

And finally, if you add all the entrance and exit figures together, and divide by two, you should get a total number of journeys made on the tube in 2017. That total is 1473 million, slightly below the 2016 figure, but above the number for 2015. This is the first year since 2009 that the total number of journeys has fallen... but the 2017 total is still 24% higher than ten years ago.

London's most average tube station (mean): Leytonstone (11.0m)
London's most average tube station (median): Chalk Farm (5.9m)

Full datasets
» Tube passenger data can be found here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)
» For the annual rail passenger data update, see last December's post

 Monday, June 11, 2018

diamond geezer cafe

Why not stop by for a refreshing beverage while you read your favourite blog this morning?

Enjoy a traditional cup of tea in this, our new shared space.

Absolutely the most stimulating way to start the day!

Tea and good company are all part of the new Diamond Geezer Daily Deal. A bespoke infusion of hand-curated leaves in boiling water can be yours for just £1.50... milk to taste, sugar optional.

Tick here to add a yummy digestive biscuit to your cafe experience.

To join the fun, simply wave your contactless card over the icon, and let the joys of cafe culture begin!

n.b. Unless you live in the E3 postcode area, you will need to provide your own tea. Please ensure that your kettle is plugged in. Teabags are readily available in all good kitchens, whereas digestive biscuits may need to be sourced separately.

n.b. If you do live in the E3 postcode, please make your delivery address clear via the private contact channel. Properties in Mile End may incur a surcharge. Your tea will be provided within the pre-ordained delivery window. Colour may vary. Temperature on delivery is not guaranteed. Please rinse and dry your mug in readiness for collection prior to your next purchase.

n.b. The £1.50 is an administrative charge, and will be charged nevertheless, forthwith and hereto.
Have you ever visited London's Woodhenge?

Deep in the forests of Hainault Country Park, far beyond the outer reaches of the Central line, a unique timber construction has been created. Sixteen carved oak trunks form a large circle around a focal centrepiece, each repurposed from trees felled nearby during the creation of fresh pasture. There's really nothing like it anywhere else in the capital.

A veritable pageant of natural forms are combined within. Are those tadpoles crawling up the stump, transforming inexorably from spawn to frog? As an owl comes in to land, can you make out the geese and harvest mice carved below? Which other fossils can you make out amid the ammonites and crinoids? And is it actually physically possible for two hares to crouch like that?

My apologies, I am no longer able to include a photo at this point because it might interfere with your enjoyment of the new Diamond Geezer Cafe.

Woodhenge is the work of sculptor Jeff Higley, who set about the project in 2005 with the aid of Clint Chaloner, Cheryl Hughes and Kate Pyper. Together they embraced the brief set by forest manager Paul Browne to create a place of wonder as part of an art trail in the woods. Perhaps you'll spot Green Man Head and Chrysalis Bench on your way to the designated clearing, but it's Woodhenge which steals the show.

The structure was created sequentially, starting with four elemental pieces representing earth, wind, fire and water. It's as well to know this before you arrive, as their twisted spiky forms may not necessarily conjure up the correct interpretation. Then came the sculptures representing living things, which steal the show, and only finally the centrepiece, an organic three-way chair with steep backrests. You may need to dust it down, or wipe stuff off, before taking a seat.

As well as creating a place of awe and wonder, the large circle at Woodhenge is also intended to act as an outdoor classroom, a performance space and a gathering point. But I doubt that a lot of this kind of thing actually happens. Instead the site is just far enough off the main beaten track at Hainault Country Park, on the far side of the lake, to be properly secluded. It would be all to easy too pass by and never spot the wooden wonders within, including a twisted dragonfly stump and carved representations of many different types of plankton.

I don't think I can risk adding a photo here either, sorry.

Three years ago the sculpture trail and woodland walk were relaunched in digital form. New information boards were erected, and QR codes added so that smartphone users could get information about the history of the flora and fauna that live here. An exciting new website was launched with more information - hainaulttrails.org - but unfortunately nobody could be bothered to maintain it and the whole thing has vanished into the ether less than a thousand days later.

Instead the only alternative is to drop by Woodhenge yourself, perhaps combining your visit to Hainault Country Park with a spin round the children's zoo, an ice cream from the kiosk and a hike round the lush grassland. Take the 150 bus to its penultimate stop, alighting just before the Essex border, and come look at a few carved bits of wood for a couple of minutes.

I'm super-excited this morning to announce the launch of the Diamond Geezer Cafe.

In what I believe is an online first, each daily post on the diamond geezer blog will now include a segregated space in the top right hand corner for the consumption of tea and conviviality.

Join your friends online in a warm and inviting atmosphere, as we all come together to share the best the day can offer.

Everywhere else is doing it. Every high street, every office, every public space now has a cafe on site, as somewhere for folk to gather, to come together over a hot drink, maybe with a small snack thrown in for good measure. Not only do people linger longer where there's a cafe, but it's also good for business, and for generating a feeling of community cohesion.

The Diamond Geezer Cafe is certified GDPR-compliant. Better still, a full wi-fi connection is guaranteed throughout, without having to register or pay any additional surcharge, because otherwise you wouldn't be able to read the post in the first place.

Imagine the comfort of knowing that hundreds of other patrons are reading the same page as you, creating an unseen but unbreakable bond across the planet, and all with the benefit of a fine cup of Earl Grey, peppermint or PG Tips raised to your lips.

You may have to make the tea yourself, sorry. But how much better to approach each day with mug in hand as you read the latest missive on the diamond geezer blog, suitably refreshed for whatever lies ahead.

Come grab a table, get yourself a drink and pause awhile.

 Sunday, June 10, 2018

Six years on from London 2012, the development bandwagon around the Olympic Park rolls on. Two new projects held public consultations yesterday - one big and flagshippy, the other small and ignorable.

East Bank

This is the new name for what Boris nicknamed Olympicopolis, a mixed use development of residential blocks and cultural icons overlooking the Bow Back Rivers. It'll fill the remaining strip of land to the north of the Aquatics Centre, between Westfield and the Olympic Park, on the empty backlot where several temporary funfairs have taken place. Anchor tenants at East Bank will include Sadlers Wells, the BBC and the V&A, which is an impressive line-up in anybody's books.

The consultation: 8 drop-in sessions at the Aquatic Centre over the next two weeks (includes three Saturdays)
Signage outside: None
Getting inside: The security guard on the door thought I was trying to go inside to watch the swimming event. He then claimed not to know where the consultation was. So I persisted, showing him the details on my phone, and he said "Oh yeah, the exhibition's just inside on your right."

Boards to read? Hell yes, lots, plus sticky post-its to add in appropriate places.
Most whizzy artefact: Goggles to allow you to view the proposals in virtual reality.
Level of text: Occasionally verging on the over-excitably meaningless (e.g. "Trees will create a comfortable micro-climate") (e.g. "More than just a thoroughfare, it will be a place for residents to pause") (e.g. "Materials will be chosen that help to make Stratford Waterfront a unique but complementary part of the park")
Consultation team: Professional. A bit stand-offish. We didn't engage well.

What stage are we at? Final planning application published.
When might East Bank be opening? End of 2022.
How's it going? Slowly. A previous consultation event took place at the Aquatics Centre two years ago.
Can I engage in the consultation online?: Absolutely.

Best thing about the revised plans: In the last draft, the plan was to have two 47 storey residential towers at the tip of the site, dominating the centre of the Olympic Park. The flats would have commanded a high price, thereby funding the cultural offering, but the disfigurement would have been utterly ghastly. In the new draft there are four residential towers half the size, not because everybody complained, but because they'd have damaged the view of St Paul's from Richmond. Hurrah for anachronistic planning regulations, I say.
Consequence of the revised plans: The apartments now take up more of the available land, so the remaining cultural buildings have had to be pushed a lot closer together. Space remains on the waterfront for "larger outdoor activities", such as live performances, markets and film screenings.
Worst thing about the revised plans: The northernmost residential block "takes inspiration from an eroded rock face, stepping back every six levels to create terraces with views over the park". It looks crass and out of place. Still, at least it's not twice the height.

Number of homes: About 600
Number of affordable homes: All we've been told is that "at least 50 per cent of new homes across the remaining development sites on the Park will be affordable". So I bet none of the flats on East Bank are (and all the affordable stuff is down by Stratford High Street instead).

How many cultural icons? Embarrassingly many. Three BBC studios, a four-storey V&A museum, a fashion college with 6500 students and a 550-seater dance theatre. But probably more shops and cafes by the time they've finished.
Trendiest thing: A hip-hop academy.
Blandest thing: Trying to rebrand the project 'East Bank'.
Saddest thing: For the BBC, Stratford will be the new Maida Vale.
Most amazing thing: All of this. In Stratford.

Vulcan Wharf

This is a small site on the Newham side of the River Lea, just to the north of the Bow Roundabout. Cooks Road has an industrial history, which is being inexorably replaced by flats as part of the Pudding Mill masterplan. Half the Vulcan Wharf site is already cleared, while the remainder is home to a company who deal with smelly waste oils in tumbledown sheds. The new development proposes several apartment blocks of different heights, plus a micro-brewery to retain some manufacturing roots. Bellway's anodyne 'Legacy Wharf' is nearing completion across the road.

The consultation: One brief drop-in session on a Saturday lunchtime, held half a mile up the road in the Holiday Inn on Stratford High Street, promoted via a mailshot three weeks in advance.
Signage outside: Two posters pointing towards the door.
Getting inside: Once inside, all signage ceased. Only by joining the queue at the front desk and asking for help did it become clear that the consultation was on the first floor, along a passage past the drinks machine, in a room the hotel bosses optimistically describe as a "Conference Centre".

Boards to read? Several, lined up along the windows.
Most whizzy artefact: A wooden model of the development and its surroundings.
Level of text: Informative and well-pitched. Meaningless buzz-phrases thankfully absent.
Consultation team: Architects and developers included. Cheery and helpful. This is how they get you on side, by being nice.

What stage are we at? First tentative stab at public consultation on a new development.
When might Vulcan Wharf open? Uncertain, but construction may start in 2020.
How's it going? Pretty much no information online as yet.

Number of homes: About 650
Number of affordable homes: 35% (all in the shorter blocks, while the tall blocks with the better views are 100% unaffordable)
Height of tallest tower: 27 storeys (which I might have said was too high for the Bow Roundabout, except there's already a 42-storey monstrosity alongside)
Distinctive architecture: The roofs will be 'chamfered', i.e. sloping, partly to add some interest, but mainly so as not to block out too much sunlight down below.
Distinctive use of building materials: Each block will be surfaced in a subtly different shade of brick, including one that's mostly white (to reflect the history of soap and wax manufacture on the site).

Best thing about the plans: An actual micro-brewery, a stone's throw from the Bow Roundabout. One end of the site will be given over to alcohol manufacture, with a tap room under the flats alongside.
Most cynical thing about the plans: Of all the industries you could put alongside lots of flats, craft beer must be one of the few that pushes up the price of the flats.
Most eco-friendly thing about the plans: There are also plans for a drop-in cycle hub, to take advantage of busy two-wheeled traffic on the Lea towpath.
Most unlikely part of the plans: "And this building on the corner might become a cafe. Or a gym".

Best thing: It'll open up the waterside, and serve beer.
Worst thing: Yet still more flats locals will never be able to afford to live in.
Saddest thing: Take a look at the cheery diverse crew who currently work at City Oils. Now imagine the beardy hipster micro-distillers who'll be replacing them.

 Saturday, June 09, 2018

We're now precisely six months from the launch of Crossrail, the day that trains take passengers through the central section for the first time.

Crossrail will transform travel by adding capacity and fresh connections, as well as speeding up journeys across the capital. But how much will it speed things up? To help find out, I've been out on the existing network making journeys between consecutive Crossrail stations. For example, the next stop after Paddington will be Bond Street, so I've timed how long it takes to get from Paddington to Bond Street as things stand. Then I've compared that to the new journey time published on the Crossrail website. Just how many minutes might we save?

n.b. Hundreds of new direct journeys will become possible when Crossrail opens, but I've chosen to concentrate solely on consecutive stations to keep things manageable.
n.b. I timed my tube journeys from platform to platform, because that's how Crossrail have timed theirs. I have not factored in the time needed to enter the station at the start, or exit at the end.
n.b. I stood on escalators when changing trains, rather than walking. If you're willing to walk up or down, you could beat my times.
n.b. Crossrail's times are to the nearest minute. Mine are to the nearest half minute.
n.b. If my journey required more than one train, I've assumed a minimal wait for the next service.

PADDINGTONBOND STREET (by Crossrail: 3 minutes)
PaddingtonBaker Street Bond Street (today: 6½ minutes)
When the Underground works, which it did for me, Paddington into the West End is surprisingly fast. That's four minutes on the Bakerloo to start with, a brief dash through the connecting passageways at Baker Street, then two minutes on the Jubilee.

PaddingtonNotting Hill Gate Bond Street (today: 12 minutes)
Even though it looks the same distance as 'via Baker Street' on the tube map, going 'via Notting Hill Gate' takes roughly twice as long. Just the Central leg of the journey takes the same time as the whole of the aforementioned route. Also, you can expect a longer wait at Paddington, because Circle and District line trains aren't so frequent. Moral of the story, never go via Notting Hill Gate.

Paddington → (walk) Lancaster Gate Bond Street (today: 10½ minutes)
A well known shortcut to avoid Notting Hill Gate is to walk between Paddington and Lancaster Gate. The walk doesn't take long - it only took me 5½ minutes - but by the time I'd taken the lift down to the platform, it would already have been quicker to go via Baker Street.

Overall saving using Crossrail: 3½ minutes
Bond StreetTottenham Court Road (today: 2½ minutes)
There's already a direct connection between Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road, namely the Central line, so the time saving via Crossrail (which skips Oxford Circus) isn't enormous.

Overall saving using Crossrail: 1½ minutes
Here's where things get complicated. Tottenham Court Road to Farringdon is a genuinely fresh connection, indeed travelling by tube today requires at least two changes of train. So which route is currently best? I had multiple attempts...

Tottenham Court RoadWarren StreetKing's Cross St Pancras Farringdon (today: 13 minutes)
It looked promising on the tube map. Up the Northern line to switch to the Victoria at Warren Street (where the interchange proved slightly quicker than at Euston). Then a second train to King's Cross St Pancras, then back up the escalators for a sub-surface train to Farringdon. Each step of this journey took two and a bit minutes, as did each of the connections, making a grand total of 13 minutes.

Tottenham Court RoadHolborn King's Cross St Pancras Farringdon (today: 13 minutes)
It looked promising on the tube map. Along the Central line to switch to the Piccadilly at Holborn. Then a second train to King's Cross St Pancras, then back up the escalators for a sub-surface train to Farringdon. But this takes just as long to reach King's Cross as the previous route, again making a grand total of 13 minutes.

Tottenham Court RoadChancery Lane → (walk) Farringdon (today: 10½ minutes)
A much better route, it turns out, is to take the Central line to Chancery Lane and walk the last bit. The tube journey's quick, and exiting from the depths of the station takes a while, but the walk at the far end is only six minutes. You could do the last leg of the journey quicker by 17 or 45 bus, but not significantly quicker, because they don't quite go as far as Farringdon station.

Tottenham Court Road → (bus) Farringdon (today: 14 minutes)
Or you could take the bus the whole way. I took route 55 from the bus stop called Tottenham Court Road station to the bus stop called Hatton Garden (for Farringdon station). The bus journey took me just nine minutes, which could have been a winner. Alas this second bus stop is a five minute walk from the station entrance, which knocked the total time up to 14 minutes, making this the slowest option of all. Also I had good traffic, and the timetable suggests it's not usually this fast, so maybe don't take the bus.

Overall saving using Crossrail: 7½ minutes
FARRINGDONLIVERPOOL STREET (by Crossrail: 2 minutes)
BarbicanMoorgate (today: 1½ minutes)
Here's an oddity, a slower journey by Crossrail, thanks to the 'chaining' of Crossrail stations through the City. Farringdon's Crossrail station will also have an exit to Barbican, while Liverpool Street's Crossrail station will also have an exit at Moorgate. Hence it's currently quicker to take the Metropolitan line from Barbican to Moorgate than it will be to ride Crossrail, and that's without taking the long hike down into the depths and back up into account. For comparison, I can confirm that Farringdon to Liverpool Street via the Metropolitan line currently takes 5½ minutes, and Crossrail will be quicker.

Overall saving using Crossrail: potentially slower
Liverpool StreetWhitechapel (today: 4½ minutes)
This link already exists, via the Hammersmith & City line. I got lucky, and my train whizzed across the points at Aldgate East without one of those interminable waits passengers often suffer. Also I got on a train straight away, and the H&C generally only runs every ten minutes, so in reality the current journey usually takes a lot longer than 4½ minutes. Crossrail will be a genuine improvement here.

Overall saving using Crossrail: 2½ minutes
WHITECHAPELCANARY WHARF (by Crossrail: 3 minutes)
WhitechapelCanada Water Canary Wharf (today: 10 minutes)
First let's try the more obvious route. The first part of the journey (on the Overground) takes six and a half minutes, which isn't fast, but the connection at Canada Water is dead quick and the Jubilee line whisks you into Canary Wharf post haste.

WhitechapelShadwell Canary Wharf (today: 10½ minutes)
Now let's try the less obvious route. This time it's the DLR section which takes six and a half minutes, and the change at Shadwell is quite a schlep, but the total time taken is almost the same as via the Jubilee.

Overall saving using Crossrail: 7 minutes
CANARY WHARFCUSTOM HOUSE (by Crossrail: 3 minutes)
Canary WharfCanning Town Custom House (today: 8½ minutes)
This journey can be completed solely on the DLR, but it's much quicker to do the first leg via the Jubilee line, which takes four and a half minutes to Canning Town, and then another three and a half to Custom House.

Overall saving using Crossrail: 5½ minutes
CUSTOM HOUSEWOOLWICH (by Crossrail: 4 minutes)
Custom HouseCanning TownWoolwich Arsenal (today: 15½ minutes)
Because Custom House and Woolwich are on different outer arms of the DLR, and bus connections are currently poor, the quickest route is to head west to Canning Town, then head back east. It's still not especially quick, even with 'perfect' connections (which may not actually be timetabled in real life). Also, as Woolwich is the only Crossrail station being built entirely from scratch, I had to terminate my journey at Woolwich Arsenal instead. If you want to be purist and cross Plumstead Road to where Woolwich's Crossrail station is going to be, the total journey time would be nearer 20 minutes.

Overall saving using Crossrail: 11½ minutes
WOOLWICHABBEY WOOD (by Crossrail: 4 minutes)
Woolwich ArsenalAbbey Wood (today: 5 minutes)
This is one of the feebler time savings, as Southeastern already run trains between Woolwich and Abbey Wood, stopping at Plumstead. But then Crossrail isn't about short hops, it's about cross capital connections, including all the places that residents of Abbey Wood are suddenly going to be able to reach so much quicker.

Overall saving using Crossrail: 1 minute
Six months from today. Six months.

 Friday, June 08, 2018

Its easy to cut the frequency of a London bus route because almost nobody notices.

Cut the frequency of a tube or rail service and passengers yell. Cut an entire bus route, or trim one back, and a long public consultation is required. But for TfL to run less frequent buses than they used to, that's easy. All they have to do is publish their intention in a fortnightly online document hardly anyone looks at, and suddenly one day fewer buses run.

Here's a list of all the buses whose weekday daytime frequencies have been cut since June last year. In most cases the cut is about one bus an hour. If the cut is two buses an hour, the route number is in bold. If the cut is three or more, the route number is in bold and underlined.
5, 11, 14, 18, 22, 24, 28, 29, 31, 41, 42, 47, 48, 57, 58, 63, 74, 89, 92, 94, 100, 105, 106, 118, 119, 134, 156, 161, 163, 176, 187, 198, 200, 205, 210, 213, 222, 224, 225, 228, 230, 233, 236, 253, 264, 268, 269, 274, 276, 279, 281, 282, 285, 287, 319, 321, 327, 329, 343, 345, 349, 353, 368, 371, 384, 391, 430, 452, 483, 484, 488, 491, C1, C3, C11, E3, E6, H98, P12, RV1, U4, W11, W12
To save you counting, that's 83 different London bus routes whose frequencies have been cut since this time last year. Of the 543 daytime TfL bus routes, that's 15%. One in every six London bus routes now runs less often during the day than it used to. It's just as well nobody's noticed.

The most common cuts are from "every 8 minutes" to "every 10 minutes", and from "every 10 minutes" to "every 12 minutes". They're the kinds of cut it's hard to spot. People don't look at timetables any more, they focus on when the next bus will arrive, so it's easy not to twig that average waiting time has increased.

The biggest cut was on the RV1, the tourist-friendly bus which shuttles from Covent Garden to the Tower. Its frequency was halved in February, dropping from every 10 minutes to every 20, essentially no longer a turn-up-and-go service. That chop may have made the media, even if TfL held firm, but cuts on other routes have remained far below the radar.

In total, that's approximately 100 buses every hour which used to run this time last year, but no longer do. Over the course of a day that's well over 1000 buses removed, which adds up to a useful saving for a budget-strapped transport authority. TfL are trying to cut their annual bus mileage from 486 million km last year to 471 million km in 2018/19, so this'll help.

Most of these service cuts are "to match demand". If fewer people are using buses, it makes sense not to run them as often. Cut the service from, say, 6 buses an hour to 5, and everyone still travels, just squeezed onto slightly fewer vehicles. But there's also a potential vicious circle here. If buses arrive less frequently, or are packed out when they arrive, passengers may choose to divert to other means of transport, or not travel at all... and the service may be cut again.

Indeed this seems to be what's happened on two routes cut last year, and scheduled to be cut again this month. Route 31, which runs between White City and Camden Town, was cut last July from "every 6 minutes" to "every 7½ minutes". In two weeks time it's going down to "every 10 minutes", which'll be a total loss of 4 buses an hour. Likewise route 24, which runs between Hampstead and Pimlico, was cut last November from "every 7½ minutes" to "every 8 minutes", and will reduce to "every 10 minutes" by the end of the month. Either passenger numbers have fallen further, or TfL have cunningly concealed a large cut by introducing it in two smaller stages.

For balance, I should list all the buses whose weekday daytime frequency has increased in the last year. Here they are.
390, H14
The 390 is a special case, because it was rerouted last June to make up for a curtailment of route 73 at Oxford Circus. The only genuine increase is for route H14, an outer London connection between Hatch End and Northwick Park Hospital. That's 83 reductions in daytime services over the last year and one, maybe two, increases. The direction of travel is very much clear.

Bus frequencies are also being cut back at weekends.

Here's a list of all the buses whose Sunday frequencies have been cut since June last year.
5, 11, 14, 22, 24, 28, 29, 47, 63, 74, 92, 94, 100, 106, 134, 210, 222, 228, 268, 274, 282, 345, 391, 488, C3, H2
Sundays are an easy time to cut buses, because it's not a working day, and people are accustomed to waiting a bit longer. Trim a service from 6 buses an hour to 5, or from 5 to 4, and leisure-focused passengers probably won't complain.

And then there's overnight.

Here's a list of all the buses whose Friday and Saturday night frequencies have been cut since June last year. Again, bold signifies a cut of two buses an hour, and underlining means three or more.
6, 12, 14, 24, 25, 35, 36, 43, 53, 88, 94, 134, 148, 176, 242, 453, N3, N5, N8, N9, N15, N16, N19, N20, N22, N26, N29, N38, N41, N44, N55, N68, N73, N86, N87, N89, N91, N97, N98, N109, N155, N207, N253, N279
Weekend nightbus cuts have been particularly savage, as you can see from the amount of bold and underlining in that list. 45 routes have been affected altogether, that's a third of the overnight total. In particular, of the 50 N-something routes, which only run overnight, almost 60% have suffered weekend cuts.

24 nightbus routes have had two buses an hour removed, and eight routes have lost more than that. Route 25 has lost five buses an hour overnight. But the most savage chop was on the N29, where buses used to run every 3½ minutes between Trafalgar Square and Wood Green, and now run every 10. That's 10 buses an hour deleted.

Route 14 is another victim of two consecutive cuts, in July from "every 10 minutes" to "every 12 minutes", then in January down to "every 20 minutes". Meanwhile, compared to this time last year, an extra twenty nightbus routes now only run twice an hour. If you're a solo traveller at 3am, on a route with a newly-infrequent service, an Uber may appeal far more than a 30 minute wait.

There is a good reason why TfL are now running 500 fewer buses overnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and that's the Night Tube. This connects central London to all sorts of far flung outposts previously reliant on nightbuses, so there's little need for duplication. But the Night Tube can't always manage the last mile home, plus it's a more expensive way to travel, so shift workers are more likely to be getting a raw deal than occasional clubbers.

In summary, I've counted 83 bus routes whose weekday daytime frequencies have been cut over the last year, 26 bus routes trimmed on Sundays, and 45 nightbus routes culled on Friday and Saturday nights. Altogether, over 130 different London bus routes are affected.

The bus network is always kept under review to match demand, indeed there are bold plans to reshape the network after Crossrail arrives. There's no point TfL running buses if hardly anybody's aboard, and far better to be trimming buses than withdrawing routes altogether. But in a budget-strapped fare-frozen city, cutting bus frequencies remains the easiest way to cut provision and save money without anybody noticing.

 Thursday, June 07, 2018

And while I'm doing Frogmores...

Where was the world's first mechanical paper mill? Not in China, nor the industrial north of England, but in Hertfordshire, just south of Hemel Hempstead. The River Gade was ideal for manufacturing, not just as a source of water but because as a chalk stream it was clear and clean. A chain of small paper mills grew up around the end of the 18th century, initially with every sheet made by hand, and one was selected to try out a new French patent (because the French were otherwise preoccupied with revolution at the time). The pioneering choice was Frogmore Mill, which today lives on as a small business and visitor attraction - the Frogmore Paper Trail.

I'll confess a local interest. I grew up in Croxley, home to the John Dickinson paper mill, indeed my Dad grew up a stone's throw away across the canal. John Dickinson was by far the biggest employer in the village, and I'd always thought Croxley was the jewel in their crown, ever since seeing countless boxes of Croxley Script paper stacked up in the school secretary's office. In fact Apsley Mill was bigger, having become the site where John Dickinson turned their paper into stationery products like feint-ruled ledgers and embossed notepaper, and Frogmore Mill also became part of the JD portfolio. The easy availability of paper also explains why Watford became a nationally-renowned centre for printing... indeed much of the economic history of southwest Hertfordshire can be attributed to the chain of events kicked off at Frogmore.

To go on a tour of Frogmore Mill you need to turn up on a Thursday, or on the first Sunday of the month. I did the latter, and had time to pootle round the shop (which is open daily except Saturday) before the tour began. Golly, the paper they make on site is lovely, from the coloured notepaper stacked in racks on the far wall to the large sheets of handmade art paper, roughly edged and embedded with seeds and leaves and petals. It probably wouldn't do for painting on, but if you were ever planning on mounting stuff, or doing something a bit showy for a celebration, it'd go down a treat.

The tour kicks off with a demonstration of how paper used to be made by hand, the slow technique illustrating why mechanisation was a game-changer. You might even get to have a go yourself. Remember to stir the mix of water and pulped rags vigorously before you dip the mesh, otherwise the resulting sheet of paper might be rather weak. Be sure to sponge as much moisture as you can out of the frame, otherwise it may stick when you lift it off the paper towel. And keep your fingers crossed the member of staff doesn't leave your sheet on the hotplate or the glazing machine for too long, otherwise all your best efforts will have been in vain and your final souvenir will be a torn, shrivelled mess.

The demo takes place in one corner of a small museum, which includes a satisfying number of models, and a history of paper manufacture down the Gade valley. I was fractionally over-excited every time I found something related to Croxley, but you don't need to be local to be intrigued. There's even a corner devoted to Postman Pat stationery, which it seems helped prevent the collapse of the John Dickinson brand for a crucial last few years. Another corner is set up as a letterpress facility, and was in use by a separate group during my visit, indeed if you've ever fancied trying printing, bookbinding, or any one of a number of paper-based workshops, Frogmore might have something to offer.

It's on the large paper-making machine in the mill building proper where most of the real business takes place. This Edwardian contraption was built to test consistency before much larger jobs were launched, but the process is still much the same, indeed recognisably similar to the 1803 original. Mulchy water bubbles in, is squeezed to create a continuous roll of paper, then passes through several heated rollers before winding round a spool at the far end. Frogmore still employs someone to make the stuff, be that parchment for City livery company certificates, banana pulp for Lush gift boxes or recycled paper primed with elephant poo for sale in the shop at Whipsnade Zoo.

Passing further into the mill, things get a bit older and somewhat less well maintained. That's been good news for various movies and drama series who've used the upstairs space at Frogmore to film action sequences requiring a generic "decaying industrial" backdrop. The Flash's lair in Justice League? That was just outside Hemel Hempstead, although I suspect they cleaned the pigeon mess up first.

It was great to see a full-size paper making machine in the penultimate shed, a massive thing with variable-width feed and dozens of heated rollers... although there's no chance of it ever being brought back into working order, for economic reasons, so it may just continue to decay. And right down at the far end is the Apsley Mill fire engine, which still gets out to appear at rallies and the like, surrounded by a display to satisfy the most ardent Dickinsonophile. A fire brigade was always essential in a paper mill, we were told, which helps to explain why the building on the site today is by no means the original. The website suggested that the full tour should last 45-60 minutes, whereas mine lasted double that, and along the way explained much about the valley in which I grew up. [virtual tour]

Apparently narrowboat trips operate from outside the main entrance in the summer, but although I saw the boat laid out with chairs, there was no sign it was heading anywhere. Instead I walked along the Grand Union towpath, this being the most pleasant way to make the 15 minute connection to Apsley station. The adjacent site of the former Apsley Mills is now a trading estate and apartment complex, with waterside pub and Holiday Inn, linked by a spiral footbridge sponsored by an estate agents. But there are a couple of repurposed mill buildings left, one with a splendid Basildon Bond clock on the front and a John Dickinson plaque on the rear.

Hertfordshire is still a hotspot of paper production - the world's largest newspaper printing plant is on the other side of the county outside Waltham Cross. But it's Frogmore where the mass-produced revolution began, helping to bring books and newspapers and printed information to a fast developing society, and spreading ideas that changed the world. It's great to know that some of that history lingers on, and the rollers still turn, and paper's not yet had its day.

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