diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The East London line: Wapping

I could write reams about Wapping (and probably will one day, so I won't go overboard now). As far back as Tudor times this was the heart of maritime London, home not just to sailors but to boatbuilders, ropemakers and a considerable abundance of innkeepers. Over the centuries Wapping attracted considerable amounts of lowlife, with prostitutes something of a local speciality, and convicted pirates were hung from an infamous riverside gibbet. These days you're more likely to see an estate agent on the prowl, but they go about their business unpunished. Most of the old warehouses on the waterfront have been snapped up by the upwardly mobile [photo], although you only have to walk a block or so inland to find rows of rather more down-at heel council apartments. The river remains Wapping's best feature [photo], and if you look carefully you can still discover alleyways which lead through to seaweedy steps down to scrappy beaches on the Thames foreshore. And right where the gibbet used to be, on Execution Dock, now stands a station...

Of all the stations on the East London line, this one's my favourite. Not that you'd guess from outside. The squat station building [photo] looks nothing like Wapping's surrounding warehouses. Brunel's original tunnel shaft has been painted a dull creamy colour and resembles a municipal water tank. The tiny replacement ticket hall tacked onto the front of the building looks more like a misplaced corner shop. But things change once you're through the ticket barriers with a choice of two routes down to the platforms. Just for once don't take the lift, it's dead ordinary by underground standards. But the stairs are something else, twisting fifty feet down inside the cavernous vault of the old tunnel shaft [photo]. The elevator and its machinery takes up much of this dark space, but the original pre-Victorian brickwork still dominates. If you don't stop to admire the view you might reach the bottom before the lift (although it's 84 steps back up so the reverse might not be true).

Two short flights of narrow steps lead down to platform level. For the best views head for the northbound platform, because this faces directly back down the Thames Tunnel [photo]. The railway tracks in the right-hand tunnel are clearly visible dipping low beneath the river, shining in the gloom like two parallel silver threads. Daylight floods in through a narrow opening at the opposite end of the platform, while above your head a curved brick arch stands heavy over the station. Both platforms are particularly narrow, far thinner than would be permitted under current health and safety legislation. Indeed initial proposals for the extension of the East London line called for both this station and Rotherhithe to be permanently shut down (too small for planned volumes of traffic) but thankfully Ken stepped in and scuppered that.

While you're waiting, take a look at the enamelled murals commissioned during the station's last major refit in 1995. Nick Hardcastle's charming illustrations look like meticulous Victorian engravings, with subjects ranging from the construction of the Thames Tunnel to contemporary life inside local pubs. Staring at the walls you can almost imagine standing here in 1869 when the first steam train puffed through, filling the tunnels with acrid billowing steam [photo]. But by now there should be the headlights of a modern electric train visible in the tunnel, ready to whisk you onwards, back into the 21st century. Enjoy your last few moments beneath the Wapping shaft, because there isn't another station quite like it.

Wapping
Opened: 1869
Annual passenger throughflow: 1.1 million
Note for visitors: If you want to see the historic tunnels properly floodlit, staff at the the Brunel Engine House organise the occasional 'guided journey' for a fiver (including the last two weekends of this month) [photo]


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream