diamond geezer

 Monday, May 06, 2013

PICCADILLY: Park Royal & Twyford Abbey

The Piccadilly line has more than its fair share of abandoned stations. The more well known are in the centre of town (Aldwych, Down Street, Brompton Road, York Road) but there are also plenty further out. This one's in a corner of Ealing and, just its luck, closed before the Piccadilly even arrived. Let me run you through a history in three parts.

Twyford Abbey
You'd think, if there was an abbey in West London, you'd have heard of it. But Twyford Abbey's hard enough to spot, let alone experience. To be fair it's not really an abbey at all, that's just the name given to the manor house when it was rebuilt by a wealthy coachman 300 years ago. The house then lent its name to the surrounding area, a small group of houses round a 13th century chapel, before being taken over by a group of monks in 1901. They used it as a nursing home, at least until 1988 when they ran out of money and relocated, leaving Twyford Abbey empty. And, somewhat unexpectedly, it's remained empty to this day. There are developers in situ, there are vague plans, but it's difficult to do anything dramatic with a Grade II listed building, and even more so when the building's becoming increasing derelict. One suspects the developers are hoping the building will fall down one day, but it hasn't yet, and remains a not-quite crumbling shell with ambiguous potential.

There is a front gate, but it's firmly locked. Signs attached to the railings warn "Keep Out", "Strictly No Admittance", and the gatehouse is still occupied by a security guard. The drive beyond the gates is sufficiently long and leafy to shield the house from prying eyes, so for a view you need to walk round the houses. At the far end of Brentmead Gardens, almost at the North Circular Road, stands St Mary's Church. It could be an electricity substation, this postwar erection, were it not for the tower and the statue of Mary over the door. But walk up the side through the churchyard and there's the old 13th century chapel tacked onto the back, extended from a capacity of 40 to service the growing population. And beyond that, past the trees and through the hedge, there's the best view you'll get of Twyford Abbey.

It looks a bit like a castle, although those are fake crenellations, and the entire fa├žade has an air of pastiche. The boarded up windows and detached clockfaces don't help. But the surest sign of decay are the yellow and blue-striped awnings flapping from the balconies. Some are intact and extended, others bluntly ripped, others blown up onto the roof above. It's like someone closed down a hotel a quarter of a century ago and whisked the guests away, which in effect they did. The gardens are extensive but now widely overgrown, with cedars rising above, and with tree roots destroying foundations. You could squeeze hundreds of flats into this abandoned space, but as yet nobody has, and so Twyford Abbey decays unseen.
» Four sets of photos from inside Twyford Abbey
» David's video from 2008, stepping through the hedge to explore

Park Royal & Twyford Abbey station
Park Royal earned its name in the same way as did Queen's Park - from the Royal Agricultural Show. The organisers were tired of moving this annual extravaganza round the country so bought a permanent 100 acre site in West London nudging up to Twyford Abbey. The first show at Park Royal opened on 23 June 1903, also the first day that a new station opened alongside on Twyford Abbey Road. The Metropolitan District Railway used the occasion to launch their new extension from Acton through to South Harrow, that's the vertical blue line to the left of a modern tube map. The station was wasn't built with longevity in mind, more a staircase up to a pair of wooden platforms, but it did the job. The Show was attended by King Edward VII, Princess Alexandra and numerous fine specimens of cattle, sheep and pigs. All the latest advances in agricultural machinery and breeding techniques were showcased, and 65000 visitors came along to take a look.

Attendance dropped in 1904, perhaps because West London was so far from the rural heartland. The Royal Agricultural Society attempted to lease parts of the site to other users, but only Queen's Park Rangers could be tempted, moving their home ground (briefly) to the horse-ring. Alas 1905 proved even less successful, with only 24000 visitors turning up, so the Society cut their losses and sold up. The site found more favour with industry, being ideally located for road, rail and canal transport, and eventually grew into the largest industrial estate in southern England. Most notably the horse-ring that had been QPR's home was reborn as the Guinness Brewery, at one point the most productive brewery in the world, but closed in 2005 and since entirely demolished.

And all trace of the station has vanished too. It closed on 6 July 1931 when a new temporary station was opened on Western Avenue half a mile to the south. At this point the trains were still part of the District line - the Piccadilly didn't take over until July 1932. Park Royal & Twyford Abbey was then completely dismantled, with some of its girders transported to Devon to create a footbridge at Dawlish station. A patch of parkland now exists alongside, providing grassy slopes for marketing folk at Diageo HQ to sit on over lunch. It's strangely bland, but rather prettier than the decaying factories hereabouts until not so very long ago.
» A history of Park Royal and Twyford Abbey

Park Royal station
That temporary station on Western Avenue was soon replaced by something permanant, and majestic. Park Royal is a thrusting 30s masterpiece in an Art Deco/Streamline Moderne style. It looks like a Charles Holden, but is actually the work of his proteges Herbert Welch and Felix Lander. The architecture fits together like a set of building blocks - a cuboid for the tower, a cylinder for the ticket hall and a curved quadrant for the shops alongside. Park Royal's brick tower dominates the A40 alongside, rising to mega-roundels only on the sides the public can see. One of the flats above the shopping arcade extends into the foot of the tower, making this one of the most desirable properties in London for the tube-obsessed modernist. The ticket hall is double height with high level windows, its roof supported by symmetrically arranged fluted piers. A cascade of clerestory windows leads each staircase down to platform level. And here, halfway along the northbound, is one of the most delightful waiting rooms on the network. It's more of a shed really, with narrow internal benches and a door that slides shut to keep the winter at bay. In spring, with blossom all around, I can think of few finer stations to dally at.

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