(So, yeah, look, I thought it was about time to jump on the bandwagon of closed-station visiting. TfL have been raking in tens of thousands of pounds from opening upAldwych over the weekend, for example. Then there's Ajit Chambers, an enterpreneur who's negotiating to buy 26 empty former tube stations and turn them into restaurants, climbing walls, nightclubs - whatever revenue-raising schemes he can cram in. If there's that much untapped cash underground, then organising visits to ghost stations is surely my way to a fortune. But arranging all that health and safety stuff is such a hassle, and a drain on resources, so I thought I'd take a slightly different approach. I'm going to lead visits to stations that aren't yet closed, on the basis that they're exactly the same as ghost stations but with far better access. Come and enjoy the platforms and staircases before they're mothballed - you'll see far more, and everything'll be in much better nick. I'm starting out with what's likely to be TfL's next disused station - Watford - which may soon be cut off by an extension to Watford Junction. The Croxley Rail Link has just passed its first proper public consultation, and plans are now in front of elected officials awaiting funds. After four decades of railroading, it's finally reached the top of the pile at the precise moment when the Chancellor needs a Plan B to kickstart the economy. OK, so Watford's upgrade will probably be trumped by that semi-private pimp out to Battersea, but I plan to take full advantage of this brief window of rampant speculation. Come join me on a tour of London's next ghost station, and give me your money, please, thank you. Kerching!)
Watford Underground station has a mystique surrounding it, enduring since it opened in 1925. The station was never meant to be the terminus of the line, but a proposed Metropolitan extension to Watford Central was sadly never built. The famous Underground station is well known for its proximity to Cassiobury Park, and as the place where drunkards wake up on the night train from Baker Street. Watford station is still used for training purposes and is infrequently accessed by the general public.
Please note that visits to the station are not suitable for children or anyone with breathing or walking difficulties as there are 20 stairs to the platform and no working lift. No digital SLR cameras will be allowed into the station.
The station building is of variegated brown brick with vitrified brick plinth, clay tiled roof and timber multi-pane sash and casement windows [photo]. Built in an Arts and Crafts-influenced vernacular manner, the hipped roof boasts tall brick stacks and three gabled dormers. A polygonal metal canopy on twin Doric columns projects in front of the main entrance, which comprises part-glazed double doors with overlight and flanking windows. Our tour begins with an architectural appreciation of the bike racks near the bus stop, followed by the opportunity to buy chocolate bars and souvenir cigarette lighters from the Newsbox kiosk.
In the booking hall, we pause awhile to inspect the square central light-well overhead with its projecting cornice and moulded panelling. The hardwood surround to the former telephone kiosk matches the panelled hardwood door to the ladies' toilets, which retain original cubicles and wood-block floor. Sea-green and mauve Metropolitan tiling covers the walls, characteristic of architect CW Clark's faux-rural revivalist style. By the ticket barriers the station manager, or rather an actor playing the station manager, will recount anecdotes from Cup Final day 1984, and "that morning the snow came".
A single broad flight of steps with moulded hardwood handrails leads down to the platform, with extensive original tiling to the flanking walls [photo]. The island platform is sheltered by W-section glazed canopies on steel stanchions, manufactured by Lincolnshire's famous Frodingham Iron & Steel Company [photo]. Our tour has been granted rare access to the rectangular brick building containing the waiting room (with boarded walls and built-in seating) and the gents' toilets (with original cubicle partitions) [photo]. Finally we will walk up to the end of the platform [photo], pretending that the station has already closed and there are no trains, and gaze out along the tracks towards the soon-to-be-severed Gade Viaduct. [photo]
You must arrive at Watford 15 minutes before the visit you are booked on takes place. If you do not arrive on time, your place may be sold to another visitor, due to very high demand for this event. Admission to the event is at the ticket holders own risk. The management reserves the right to make any changes to the programme owing to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances, including cancellation of the event. Please send me your twenty pound notes now. You may never get the opportunity to visit a not-yet-closed station again*. (* tours continue until at least 2016)