50 years ago today, on Sunday 1 December 1968, the second section of the Victoria line slipped into service. Three months earlier the first section from Walthamstow Central to Highbury & Islington had opened, and now the line was extending three stations further south. It'd take until March 1969 to reach Victoria, and another two years to finally reach Brixton. But linking to King's Cross St Pancras, Euston and Warren Street brought the new line into central London for the first time, making fresh connections that changed the way Londoners travel.
So today I'm continuing my journey down the line, station by station, to see how this cutting-edge forward-thinking initiative is looking fifty years on. If nothing else, it'll be a useful reminder that major transport projects delivered way behind schedule are nothing new, and generally come good in the end.
KING'S CROSS ST PANCRAS
Opened: 1st December 1968 Originally opened: 10 January 1863 Originally originally opened: 14 October 1852 Previously known as: King's Cross (until 1933) Interchange with: Pretty much everything. The Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith and City lines. The Northern and Piccadilly lines. Mainline trains to Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh. Suburban trains to Bedford, Brighton, Peterborough, Cambridge and Sevenoaks. High Speed to Margate and Dover. Eurostar to Paris and Brussels. Even Cricklewood. Tile pattern: Every Victoria line station has its own bespoke mural in the alcoves on the platforms above the benches. King's Cross St Pancras's design is a rebus by Tom Eckersley depicting five crowns in the shape of a cross. On the raised sections of the platform, providing step-free access to the trains, the bottom of the lower crown has been obscured.
Architecture: What stands out at ground level are the two mainline termini of King's Cross (cor!) and St Pancras (wow!). The Underground doesn't have much of an upward presence, apart from some glass canopies above stairwells outside the main station buildings. The former Metropolitan line entrance opposite the Scala has been demolished and is rising again as scaffolded real estate. Nearby development: An astonishing amount, almost all to the north of the Euston Road, indeed to the north of King's Cross station. Pancras Square is a condensed cluster of mixed-use development alongside a hole where Google's groundscraper will one day arise. Beyond the canal is an area of former warehouses converted to collegiate and retail use, and beyond that some thumpingly dense residential uplift sold on the somewhat misleading premise that it's close to King's Cross station. Quite the up-and-comer.
Station layout: Gobsmackingly complex. 3D diagrams here and here. Ticket halls: Four. Let's take them one at a time.
Tube ticket hall: The original, inasmuch as it's been here since 1939 when the Metropolitan line platforms shifted to where they are now. The semi-circular booking hall got a serious refresh ten years ago and has always been the best place from which to access all tube lines. Follow signs to: Euston Road Time to the Victoria line platforms:1 minute 10 seconds
Western ticket hall: Lurking under the forecourt of St Pancras station, this tourist-thronged cavern opened in May 2006 and provides improved connections to the upgraded international station. Follow signs to: Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan and Circle lines Time to the Victoria line platforms:2 minutes
Northern ticket hall: The true newcomer, opened 29th November 2009 underneath the spruced-up KX mainline station. Renowned for its cupcake kiosk, mega-roundel and bloody long walks to the trains. Follow signs to: Regent's Canal Time to the Victoria line platforms:4 minutes 30 seconds (oh my god, the passageways go on and on, and it's always congested with people lugging suitcases, the poor sods, and even after you've passed the Piccadilly line exit there's still a minute and a half to go, and please make it stop) (or FIVE minutes if you enter from the piazza outside Kings Cross and follow the evil sign which sends you right rather than left where you could have done it in two) (or SIX minutes if you enter from Pancras Square down the curving lightshow subway - which may just be London's longest walk from a proper tube station entrance with a sign and a roundel to an actual train)
Pentonville Road ticket hall: Here's the odd one out, which used to be the entrance to the Thameslink station until that relocated in 2007. King's Cross's original 1863 Metropolitan line platforms are mothballed alongside. Today the entrance is owned by TfL and open 7am-8pm on weekdays only, with access down a chain of steps and then a loooong creamy tunnel with SMILE written round the walls. It's convenient for getting to the Victoria line, because that's located over this way, but not great for getting to any of the other lines. Normally the thing to look out for in the ticket hall is the marvellous tiled mural, winner of a BR/LT competition, designed by Badry Mostafa. On my visit, however, the thing to look out for was four inflatable pandas bundling into the ticket barriers. Follow signs to: Pentonville Road Time to the Victoria line platforms:2 minutes 40 seconds
Down below: This being the Victoria line, brought to reality during budgetary doldrums, the platformarchitecture is nothing especially exciting. Tiles are grey. Passageways are functional. On the plus side, there are no digital advertising screens on the far walls, the green lanes trial has been removed, and the Next Train Indicators are perfectly visible from the entrances to the platform. Along the platform the directional signs are very complex because there are so many exits you could leave by. Intriguingly, in every mention of Regent's Canal, the word 'Canal' appears on a sticker. Connections: To reach the Piccadilly or Northern lines, never follow the signs to the Piccadilly or Northern lines because these lead to the Evil Slog Tunnel. Instead follow signs to Euston Road, whereupon a magic staircase down to the Piccadilly line will appear, beyond which is a short escalator to the Northern line. Could save you four minutes.
Factnugget: As you approach the lift, an original London 2012 magenta floor-sticker invites you to 'queue here'. Some photos: Nine, here.