diamond geezer

 Friday, June 09, 2006

The East London line: Terminating Shoreditch

Finally, the end of the line. After more than a century of intermittent service, Shoreditch station gets ditched tonight. It's all in a good cause, to allow the extension of the East London line northward into the tubeless wastes of Hackney, but in the process the old station gets to be wiped from the map. Not that it'll be sorely missed, not outside the ranks of the anoraked tube afficionado, because this is one of the least used, most rarely open stations on the entire underground network. But it's also strangely charming... at least for the next few hours.

Shoreditch has the air of a small rural station, accidentally dropped slap bang in the middle of the metropolis [photo]. The single track curves round from the southeast, channelled up a deep brick cutting [photo]. Grass grows up between the rails, while wild green weeds edge the disused second platform [photo]. A couple of small red lamps on sticks mark the limit of travel, although the track continues beneath the station building before petering out into the undergrowth [photo]. It's surprisingly quiet too, given that mainline trains to and from nearby Liverpool Street rumble by on the opposite side of the far arched wall. A half-timbered signal box looms above the station on a neighbouring viaduct, like a tiny cottage on stilts [photo]. There might be one or two expectant passengers hanging around for the next train, or there might not. A cleaning operative waits patiently in a small hut at the end of the platform, ready to clear litter from the next train in three minutes flat, should it ever arrive.

Trains don't arrive here very often. Weekday mornings between seven and half ten. Weekday afternoons from half three to half eight. And Sundays from seven until three. And that's it. The rest of the week the station's in limbo, the front door's locked and all the trains terminate back at Whitechapel. It's been good practice for the future.

But eventually a nigh-empty train will arrive. A dribble of passengers will disgorge onto the platform [photo] before making their way beneath the canopy to the foot of the stairs [photo]. It's a short climb up to the tiny ticket hall, which has the look of a cosy village scout hut [photo]. Several green doors lead off into unexplored backrooms, one of which is home to the lonely station supervisor. So quiet is the place that you can still pick up a copy of the Metro newspaper here during the evening rush hour. Not that it's much of a rush, of course.

Outside Shoreditch station, in a cobbled alleyway beside a block of flats, the urban reality of backstreet Spitalfields hits home [photo]. A grizzly old bloke is probably slumped up against the wall swigging industrial strength cider, egged on by an equally sozzled group in the corner of the park. Three lads are stoking a perpetual bonfire inside the big metal bin on the pavement. And how did all those shoes end up dangling from the overhead cable across the street - surely some local hurling champion must be responsible [photo]. Cross the park (if you dare) and you'll stumble upon the unexpected charm of Spitalfields City Farm. It'd be nothing impressive to you lot living out in the real countryside, but Tower Hamlets residents don't get to see a donkey very often. Just the one, mind, and just the one pig too, but there are several goats, a proper gaggle of geese and some rather splendid ferrets. Alas the farm was built directly above the East London line and so, when construction begins on the new extension, the paddocks out the front are doomed. Thankfully Tilly the Shetland pony and the rest of her friends are scheduled to remain.

But most of the handful of passengers emerging from Shoreditch station turn right, not left. It's only a very short distance up the alleyway into Brick Lane - one of the most lively streets in the capital [photo]. Here the Bangladeshi community mixes with Shoreditch's trendy arty set in a lively symbiosis of dynamic cultures. You can wear your embroidered hat to the Jamme Masjid mosque on the corner of Fournier Street., or you can wear your rectangular specs to the bar beside the Old Truman Brewery. The curry restaurants are numerous and legendary, although personally I much prefer the 24 hour beigels. And once a week there's an extremely well-attended street market, which explains why the station opens on Sundays. Sorry, used to open on Sundays.

So, if this is one of the busiest streets in East London, how can the station have been so poorly used? Well, it's not easy to find for a start. It's at the quieter end of the lane, just past the spice/alcohol epicentre. There's just one tiny roundel sign, with paint peeling like athlete's foot, beckoning lamely to passers-by [photo]. The station's name is wholly inappropriate too, because the heart of 'real' Shoreditch is a good ten minutes walk away, at least. If only somebody important at TfL had thought to rename the station Brick Lane instead (because that's exactly where it is), maybe more trendy young things in the West End might have looked on the tube map and thought "ooh, let's go for a curry on the East London line". Alas not. On average no more than 700 people enter Shoreditch station every day, which is a pitifully low number. Across the London Underground, only stations on the Hainault loop of the Central line are less busy. The ELL's Shoreditch service won't be missed in the future, not by more than a handful of real people anyway.

But a few locals will be inconvenienced after the station doors slam shut, so TfL are obliged to run a replacement bus service on their behalf. Look, there it is on the updated tube map. Unfortunately this looks set to be a particularly useless replacement bus service. The problem is Brick Lane, which is too narrow to support bus traffic. Shoreditch's replacement buses therefore have to stop up on Bethnal Green Road, which is in completely the wrong direction, and then follow a distinctly roundabout detour over to Whitechapel. It would be much quicker to walk from Shoreditch to Whitechapel instead, or even better to Aldgate East, rather than taking a ride. Pity the poor bus drivers, soon doomed to repeat this mindless journey several times a day carrying virtually no passengers at all.

So if you want to visit Shoreditch station don't bother waiting for the bus, come down here today. I bet you won't be alone [photo]. The trains into this little backwater terminus will be packed tonight, full of Londoners come to pay their last respects [photo]. And they won't be staying for a curry either. These irregular passengers will be hanging around the ticket hall absorbing the station's doomed ambience [photo]. They'll be hovering at the end of the platform snapping pictures destined for their blog or photo-sharing website. They'll be shooting camcorder footage of the last train to pull in [photo], and they'll be battling for a seat on the final train out [photo]. In the digital 21st century, tube station deaths no longer go unreported or unremembered. But the genuine Shoreditch, a station to nowhere used by nigh nobody, will have faded away rather earlier in the day. And that's the station I prefer to remember [photo].

Last train in: 8.31pm
Last train out: 8.34pm
Shoreditch terminated: 8.35pm

Opened: 10th April 1876
Closed: 9th June 2006
Distance from Whitechapel: 800m
Annual passenger throughflow (2005): 0.4 million
Annual passenger throughflow (2007): 0

Other people's photographs of Shoreditch station
Arrangements for the closure of Shoreditch station
Underground history: Shoreditch station
Last trains - East London line timetable

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