diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 22, 2013

The METROPOLITAN and St John's Wood Railway

Heading north out of Baker Street, the Metropolitan burrows non-stop beneath the streets before emerging at Finchley Road. But there used to be three stations inbetween, opened in 1868 as one of the Metropolitan's earliest branch lines, the Metropolitan and St John's Wood Railway. They closed after the Bakerloo line opened alongside in the 1930s, creating the express route we know today. But those three former stations are still there, if you know where to look, either viewed from the train or spotted above ground. I did the surface level walk.

Baker Street → Lord's
Winding your way up on Baker Street, mind your step for tourists. They queue in stupid numbers for Madame Tussauds and, in the direction we're going, outside Sherlock Holmes' house. It's not his house really, there is no 221B, but they wait patiently outside the museum anyway to have their photo with an actor dressed as a policeman. They might head on into Regent's Park, but they don't veer left up Park Road to follow the Metropolitan. This is the A41, the main road from London to Birkenhead, so mind the traffic. The apartments start early, some like brick ocean liners, another with a drive-in florist at its foot. That's the London Business School on the right, and later the golden dome of the London Central Mosque. A small rotunda cottage guards the posh entrance to Regent's Park, ambassadors this way please. Pause awhile where the road crosses the Regent's Canal and look across to the west. This is the brief section where the Metropolitan surfaces into the open air, forced up by the passage of the artificial waterway. And it's also the site of our first lost station...

They only called it Lord's for the last five months of its life, for the final cricket season before WW2 broke out. The station opened as St John's Wood Road, later shortened to St John's Wood. But if you want to spot it don't follow St John's Wood Road off the roundabout, take the turning beforehand which is Lodge Road. A minor shopping parade leads down to an iron bridge, with old lamps and blue-painted walls. If you look over the edge here you'll see, if you're tall enough, the railway tracks where Metropolitan and Chiltern trains rise into the open. The Metropolitan runs closest, with this bridge the point where trains head back underground into the cut and cover tunnel. That's where the old platforms were, with a few supporting stumps still sticking up like rocks on a wave-lashed beach. The station building's long gone, demolished in the 1960s so that a massive brick-podium hotel could be built on the linear site. The Danubius Hotel is a utilitarian pile that one can only hope looks better on the inside, and not even a couple of layers of leafy foliage can rescue it. But of greatest interest is the mysterious locked door at the foot of the steps, just below the twin flagpoles. This is the emergency exit from Lord's station, still present, still maintained, in case an unexpected event ever requires the Metropolitan to detrain here. "Keep clear Exit from emergency escape route" says a blue sign, beside a door otherwise marked only by the serial number IP6.
Lord's: abandoned stations.org.uk, disused-stations.org.uk

Lord's → Marlborough Road
Had it stayed open, Lord's station would have been wonderfully convenient for cricketgoers. The hotel faces the Nursery End, more particularly the Portland Stone sculpture in the site's SE corner depicting a procession of thirteen sportsmen and women. I would have taken a closer look, but an entire youth cricket team appeared to have descended on the site so that their parents and guardians could take group photos of their assembled smiles. The railway rumbles north past the Wellington Hospital, the largest private hospital in the UK, and then the first of St John's Wood's grand apartments. They call them terraces or courts, even in some cases mansions, whereas really they're well-proportioned aspirational flats. Part way along is St John's Wood station, now on the Jubilee line, opened to replace the last Metropolitan line station and the next. Here the well-to-do mix with tourists hunting the Beatles at Abbey Road, maybe grabbing a cappuccino at the Beatles Coffee Shop behind the semi-tropical flowerbed.

Marlborough Road
Station number two is a couple of blocks north, where Finchley Road widens and veers right. That white-painted building on the corner of Queen's Grove is the former station, still pretty much intact above ground level. Until recently it was heavily disguised as a Chinese restaurant, where you could dine inside the former ticket hall and knocked-through offices. That was kicked out in 2009 as part of the Metropolitan line upgrade so that the building could be used instead as an electricity substation to support greedier rolling-stock. You'd never guess from the outside - nothing hums, and there are absolutely no signs anywhere on any wall or door - but its former station-ness is very obvious. On the opposite side of the road is a tiny narrow house numbered 12½, and a brief cutting open to the sky surrounded by a brick wall. Look over (or more likely point your camera), and there are the former platforms of Marlborough Road, very partially intact but still potentially available as an escape route for detrained passengers.
Marlborough Road: abandoned stations.org.uk, disused-stations.org.uk

A Metro-land diversion
Marlborough Road, the road, has since been renamed Marlborough Place. Follow that behind the American School and you'll find Langford Place, another site visited by Sir John Betjeman for his Metro-land documentary. He related the tale of a Gothic house owned by the 'Clapton Messiah', John Hugh Smyth-Pigott, but without ever mentioning precisely where it was. Thankfully Google's improved since 2006 - the last time I went looking - so I've finally managed to discover not only its location but also that Vanessa Feltz now lives here. That would explain the pink ribbons tied to the front gate, and the perky Mini convertible parked outside. The house looks amazingly out of place, like a slice out of some Transylvanian manor, but softened by a lush garden and the promise of something rather more modern behind. Charles Saatchi used to live here, when he was with the wife before Nigella, so who knows what secrets number twelve holds. [photo]

Marlborough Road → Swiss Cottage
North of the former station, the area becomes a little less exclusive. There are fewer private apartments, and a few more council flats, as the road crosses from Westminster into Camden. Apart from the herd of goats at Quintin Kynaston Academy, loose on site and nibbling the grass, there's not much to excite the urban rambler. It's not long before the Swiss Cottage one-way system intrudes, and there at its apex the chalet-style pub after which the area is named. It's not the original, that was a much smaller building formerly the dairy of a local farm, but that didn't survive the arterial onslaught of road widening in the 1960s.

Swiss Cottage
The Metropolitan line station was located immediately alongside the Jubilee line station, formerly of the Bakerloo when it opened in 1939. Connections were possible, but wartime service wasn't conducive to much passenger traffic and the Met shut down less than a year later. It's not at all far from here up to Finchley Road, a much better cross-platform interchange, so no keen loss was felt. The ticket hall for the Jubilee is located beneath the eastern side of the road junction, whereas the old Metropolitan entrance was to the west. If you head for exits 4 and 5 via the subway, that's sort-of where. On the surface a skylight still exists, long and thin above the former platforms, surrounded by a brick enclosure. A metal grille covers the top so that passers-by can't throw bottles onto the track below, and a line of rampant plantlife discourages anyone from climbing up. The buildings alongside are woefully ugly, including a nightclub with the pretentious name of D'Den Legacy, and an office block called Station House. That's another clue, obviously. And this used to be the terminus of the line, the end of the St John's Wood Railway, until an extension to West Hampstead was built in 1879. Three of the first twenty Underground stations, opened with high hopes, are long closed to passenger traffic. But keep your eyes peeled, be that above or below ground, and clear traces remain.
Swiss Cottage: abandoned stations.org.uk

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