diamond geezer

 Monday, September 27, 2021

Random City B Road: the B500 (Charterhouse Street)

Let's take a walk along one of the City of London's B roads - the B500.

Here's a road sign which proves it exists, and that it starts at Holborn Circus.

This photo was taken on New Fetter Lane which is officially one end of the A4 (the very last few metres if you're travelling in this direction or 130 miles from Avonmouth if you're going in the other). Holborn Circus is a five-way junction, primarily where the A4 meets the A40, but also the meeting point of the B500 and B521. A statue of Prince Albert used to stand bang in the middle but in 2014 they nudged him onto High Holborn to improve traffic circulation. That's the B500 poking off to the northeast, or Charterhouse Street as it's better known.

It's not a historic road, despite its name, having been created in the 1860s at the same time as Holborn Viaduct. That carried east-west traffic across the Fleet Valley for the first time, which meant a separate connection was needed down to Farringdon Road (which now followed the line of the lost river below). Initially it was called New Street, somewhat unoriginally, but swiftly earned the better name Charterhouse Street because that's where it led. It's still very much a road on a slope.

A small City parklet has been squeezed into the sharp corner between Charterhouse Street and Holborn Viaduct. It's not especially exciting, more a patch of lawn surrounded by benches you can't sleep on, and the bins very much need emptying and the fountain's been switched off and drained, but it's well kept and the topiary's smart and it looks like it could cope with two dozen sandwich munchers of a lunchtime. A convenient Pret lurks immediately behind, weekdays only, shuts 3pm.

The first building on the northern side is 1 Ely Place, formerly a branch of Nat West but recently transformed into offices, which means bike stores and showers in the basement where the bank vaults used to be. Ely Place is an amazing street, a private Georgian cul-de-sac built on the site of the Bishop of Ely's medieval palace and still home to his 13th century chapel, but it's not part of the B500 so I can't explore it or tell you more. For similar reasons I won't be telling you about Saffron Hill or Shoe Lane which bear off further down.

Charterhouse Street has its very own Bus Stop M, served by route 17, although it's closed at the moment due to cable repairs on the other side of the road. The opposite bus stop is used by terminating services on route 25 if there isn't enough space on the stand on Holborn Viaduct. As for 17 Charterhouse Street this is the HQ of world-renowned diamond merchants De Beers, a total fortress and very recently refurbished. Very soon we reach Farringdon Street, the valley-bottom road which Charterhouse Street crosses.

Unfortunately the B500 stops here because the remainder of the road has been declassified. That's a shame because the next stretch is fascinating, and also in flux as the Museum of London prepares to move into Smithfield Market, and those refrigerated warehouses have seen better days, and look there's Fabric nightclub, and yes it smells of meat, and here comes historic Charterhouse Square. Alas I'm blogging none of this because the B500 runs for only 150 metres so that's all you get.

No, I won't be introducing Random City B Road as a regular feature.

The main reason for this is that there are only three B roads in the City of London.
B100: Beech Street → Chiswell Street → Finsbury Square → Sun Street (0.6 miles)
B400: Chancery Lane (0.3 miles)
B500: Charterhouse Street (part) (0.1 miles)
They're an interesting trio but also rather short. I like how they're all multiples of 100. This is mostly (but not entirely) coincidental. Also two of the B roads merely run along the boundary of the City rather than through it, the sole exception being the B100.

Four further B roads start on the City boundary but run entirely outside it.
B134: Alie Street → White Church Lane → Osborne Street → Brick Lane (0.9 miles)
B144: Bunhill Row → Bath Street → Shepherdess Walk → Eagle Wharf Road (1.1 miles)
B501: St John Street (0.7 miles)
B521: Hatton Garden (0.3 miles)
There used to be six more City B roads, all since declassified.
B128: Gresham Street (0.3 miles)
B129: Fore Street → Red Cross Street (0.3 miles)
B130: Old Broad Street (0.3 miles)
B131: Lombard Street (0.2 miles)
B132: Lower Thames Street → Upper Thames Street (1.2 miles)
B133: Arthur Street → Monument Street (0.2 miles)
A lot of roads in the City were declassified in the 1990s when the Ring of Steel was introduced. The B129 was lost in the redevelopment of the Barbican. The B132 was reclassified as the A3211 when it became a dual carriageway.

There are also 14 A roads in the City.

serious long roadscentral London linksshort piddly things
A1: Aldersgate Street (396 miles)
A3: London Bridge (78 miles)
A4: New Fetter Lane (130 miles)
A10: Bishopsgate (100 miles)
A11: Whitechapel High St (62 miles)
A40: High Holborn (263 miles)
A201: Farringdon Street (3.5 miles)
A300: Southwark Bridge (1.1 miles)
A501: Moorgate (4.5 miles)
A1211: London Wall (1.3 miles)
A3211: Victoria Embankment (2.4 miles)
A1210: Mansell Street (0.4 miles)
A1213: Gracechurch Street (0.3 miles)
A4208: Shoe Lane (0.3 miles)

The City is the only district in Great Britain to contain A roads starting with 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. It's also the historic centre of the road numbering network. The A3, A10, A11, A40 and A501 used to converge at Bank, with the A1 and A4 starting close by.

#nerdfact Originally the B500 ran along the north side of Smithfield Market, the B501 along the east side, the B100 along the south side and the A201 along the west side (three different starting digits for roads around a single building is unique).

 Sunday, September 26, 2021

One does not simply walk into Thamesmead. It skulks within an unbridged bend in the Thames, hemmed in by brownfield, warehousing and dual carriageways. Great things were planned for it fifty years ago, but only by those who'd never live there. It's somewhere you visit deliberately, rather than passing through, so all too easily overlooked. It's also inexorably changing, which is why it's always worth going back.

Unsurprisingly the sub-neighbourhood getting the biggest regenerative kick is the swathe closest to the station (not that much of Thamesmead is anywhere near a railhead, but Abbey Wood will be bringing purple trains a short walk to the south). A gaudy gold-clad tower coupled to a large Sainsburys arrived first on the Greenwich side, but the main action is now across Harrow Manorway within the London borough of Bexley. All the concrete flats facing the road have been summarily demolished and the only building beyond the roundabout is a Marketing Suite & Discovery Centre painted with the slogan Today. Tomorrow. Together. Yeah right.

To get an idea of what'll be coming next head closer to the lake, to Southmere, where developers Peabody have been intermittently busier. This used to be Tavy Bridge, the iconic corner with the raised concrete piazza and terraced flats looking out across the water. It may have looked photogenic in cinemascope, for example at the close of Beautiful Thing or during the waterfight in A Clockwork Orange, but in real life there was little alluring about a minor shopping parade above a car park whose chief offering was a Costcutter.

The new flats look exactly like you'd expect them to, generically brick-clad and taller than what was here before. Not many are yet habitable which is how I found myself walking up an alley between a few front doors and a building site, disconcerting one vest-clad resident who evidently wasn't used to passers-by. Thamesmead's original architects eschewed ground level entry for fear of potential Thames flooding, but the new lot don't seem to be as worried.

The estate's new centrepiece is Cygnet Square, an irregular piazza leading down towards the lakeside. It's finished but not yet activated, so essentially a dead space at present, boasting a few benches facing nothing much, some lampposts, a litter bin and a tree. It was supposed to include a large central water feature but that got scrapped to save money and the drear end result is austerity writ large. The three-storey building alongside is The NEST, Thamesmead's new library, or in developerspeak a hub promoting resident wellbeing. I wouldn't quite go so far as describing it as "stunning" or "eye-catching", but compared to the temporary shack that's been dispensing books for the last few years it's a gamechanger.

Binsey Walk, where Kubrick filmed Alex and the droogs strutting by the water, is sealed off and has been for several years. Last time I was here in 2018 they'd just decanted the residents and were preparing to knock everything down, which I can confirm they have now done, although at least the steps down into the lake haven't been dug up. When fresh flats arise rather more people will have a view of the lake, but they'll also need to be relatively better off than the original tenants. Even Thamesmead is desirable now, who'd have thought.

Thankfully it's still possible to walk round the lake the other way, past a freshly spruced-waterfront boasting a brightly-coloured pontoon. This sticks out just far enough to get a good view of Cygnet Square and the blocks rising behind, augmented by a line of plants corralling some waterfowl, as if installed by someone needing photos for a promotional brochure. It contrasts starkly with the last lakeside concrete terrace on Portmeadow Walk, not to mention the four 1970s tower blocks on the elevated grey walkway beyond. This still looks like somewhere C4's Misfits would have caused trouble, unlike the new stuff which won't be on any location manager's shortlist.

The far side of the lake remains the realm of geese, so watch where you tread, but has also been smartly upgraded with a rim of green. Take fresh paths down through fresh meadow to a series of fresh jetties poking through fresh waterplants, all the better for watching the ducks, geese and swans. The developers have done a good job here. Further round is the former Lakeside Centre, since appropriated as an arts centre by my local gallery (who seem intent on cultural takeover in suburbs far beyond Bow). This squat concrete building always seems to be locked and unnapproachable when I walk past, but at least the security van with its growly dog has been sent packing.

Don't get the wrong idea, the vast majority of Thamesmead looks exactly the same as before, and there's a heck of a lot of it between here and the Thames. But great change is afoot betwixt the lake and the station, in this visionary suburb that's been becoming architecturally less adventurous with every evolution. It pays to drop in and explore sometimes, ideally before all the memorable stuff gets whipped away.

 Saturday, September 25, 2021

10 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• first care home booster jab
• university students return to fewer restrictions
• US to allow vaccinated visitors from November
• UK recognises Covishield jab
• shortage of lateral flow tests
• Welsh NHS waiting times worst on record
• life expectancy for men has fallen
• cancer backlog may take a decade to clear
• lorry driver shortage affects petrol stations
• Scotland aligns travel testing with rest of UK

Worldwide deaths: 4,680,000 → 4,740,000
Worldwide cases: 228,000,000 → 231,000,000
UK deaths: 135,147 → 136,105
UK cases: 7,400,739 → 7,631,233
1st vaccinations: 48,548,506 → 48,699,874
2nd vaccinations: 44,357,108 → 44,692,956
FTSE: up 1% (6963 → 7051)

Hackney Bridge, the new communal cluster of sheds in the Olympic Park, opened its new food court yesterday. Previously they've only had a few stalls around tables in a courtyard but now they have an indoor area for communal beer and nosh. With autumn setting in it's a sensible commercial move.

I arrived before first orders at noon while they were still hanging balloons and lighting the grills, so missed the half price lunchtime vibe. But I was struck by the international flavour of the new food court, and how only the drinks risked being vaguely local.
Bakes N Stuffingz - St Lucian jerk pork and jerk pulled jackfruit
Hanoi Chay - plant-based Vietnamese rice boxes and banh mis
Made In Puglia - classic Neapolitan pizzas
Rainbo - homemade Japanese gyoza and hirata bao buns
Tamila - flavour packed curries and flakey layered roti
Simply Hooked - ceviche and Sri Lankan spiced fish and chips
Filigrillz - authentic Filipino flame-grilled meats
The Hanger - a micropub and a cocktail bar

I think I saw my first food court in Canada in the 1970s, and was amazed at the idea that everyone could order something completely different but eat it while sitting together. In 1992 Watford's Harlequin Centre was sufficiently cutting edge to open with a food court downstairs, including somewhere that did fish and chips, KFC, Randall's Coffee House and a Little Chef Express. By 2011 Stratford's Westfield had a food court surrounded by fast food chains including McDonalds, Spud-U-Like, Caribbean Scene and Sticky Rice - a tad more adventurous but still fairly mainstream fare.

When Croydon's Boxpark opened in 2016 it was essentially a big canteen with numerous little outlets round the rim, the emphasis very much on global variety rather than a few well-worn staples. This was the streetfood revolution brought indoors, and most modern food courts now play the same game. Bring your crew and maybe sample okonomiyaki, calamari, pokē, katsu or rendang before rounding off with deep fried ice cream or matcha waffle. Portion size might not be great, and by the time you've thrown in drinks it won't come cheap, but that's OK because you're here to meet your mates and the food is almost secondary.

Dining out is undergoing a generational shift, from sit-down menu to collective sampling, from predictable stodge to innovative choice, from meaty to plant-based, from eating to grazing and from meal to experience. Cafe culture used to mean plates, metal cutlery and tomato ketchup, but now it's more likely trays, wooden sticks and spicy sauce. And while it's by no means true that older diners won't touch foreign fare and younger diners never plump for pie, what counts as British cuisine is being increasingly sidelined as the food court revolution takes hold. Should my mates ever drag me off to Hackney Bridge, I guess it's pizza.

Starting on Monday, six years after it launched with contactless, Oyster users will finally able to benefit from weekly capping. If your Monday → Sunday fare total exceeds a certain amount, dependent on where you've travelled, you won't pay any more.

Oyster's been able to cope with daily capping for some time, and weekly capping if you only use buses and trams, but weekly capping's previously been too tough to implement on a legacy smartcard which takes payments in real time. They've sorted it now, or at least found a workaround that'll return refunds of a certain size the next time you tap in, hurrah.

Weekly capping is part of TfL's magic farebox which most users don't understand and generally ignore, trusting they'll end up paying the right amount in the end. Calculating the appropriate cap yourself involves keeping track of which zones you've visited, then interrogating a script on the TfL website or finding the right box in a two page table. So here's my simplified summary, assuming you're paying full adult fare and haven't ventured beyond zone 6.

Only used
bus or tram
Never travelled
in zone 1
  Travelled in zone 1  
at some point
£21.90 any 2 zones = £27.70 
any 3 zones = £30.70
any 4 zones = £36.80
any 5 zones = £46.30
z1-2 = £37.00
z1-3 = £43.50
z1-4 = £53.20
z1-5 = £63.30
z1-6 = £67.70
14.1 journeysabout 3 times the daily cap5 times the daily cap

What you have to be careful of is making one extra journey which messes up your overall cap for the week. For example if you spend Monday to Saturday pootling around Croydon (z5) on buses and trams, then on Sunday take the train up to central London, your cap would almost double. Likewise a weekly commute between Richmond (z4) and Kingston (z6) gets capped at £30.70 so should save you money, but take one train up to zone 1 at the weekend and you'll totally blow it.

Anecdotally the capping system is cleverer than that, scanning all possible caps to find the best fit, so it'd charge my Croydon example as "bus cap + z1-5 return" and my Richmond example as "z4-6 cap + z1-4 journey". But I can find no published evidence that this is actually the case, and you'd only know for sure if it ever happened to you, and most people never hit the weekly cap anyway, which just goes to show how much of a black box the entire fares system is.

None of this is new. But from Monday if you have Oyster rather than contactless, welcome to the world of muddy savings.

 Friday, September 24, 2021

400 things I love about London
[because it's twenty years since I properly moved here]

Life, nightlife, the sense of history, the Underground, the Overground, canalside strolls, the view from Greenwich Park, the fact there's always somewhere new to discover, cutting-edge architecture, classical architecture, curvaceous Regent Street, the chimes of Big Ben, the 2012 Olympics, the Olympic Park, layers of history, nightbuses, world cinema, world cuisine, the world in a city, a Muslim mayor, London is Open, sunlight on the Thames, the museums in South Kensington, the museums that aren't in South Kensington, not needing a car, the unwobbly Millennium Bridge, the City's dragons, a bus stop within 400m, it's quicker to walk, being able to choose from more than two local radio stations, suburbia, Trellick, Balfron, step-free travel, spiralling to the top of Tate Modern, mudlarking, Hampstead, the view from Hampstead Heath, diversity, acceptance, mind the gap, strolling along the South Bank, Waterloo sunset, the view from the top of anywhere tall, low tide, festivals, the Royal Festival Hall, pavement swagger, ghost signs, ghost stations, sitting in the Radio 4 audience, Trafalgar Square, knowing that I could walk home from Trafalgar Square if I really had to, art-filled piazzas, 100% style, tracing a line on a map, taking the tram, realising that the person drinking next to me in the pub is a celebrity, the Woolwich ferry, Hammerton's Ferry, the plurality of alternative routes, St Pancras station, cultural gravity, the highest pod on the London Eye, lost rivers, not-yet lost rivers, walking up the escalator, decent mobile phone reception, clapping the Marathon, density of infrastructure, free newspapers, the last tube, cabbies' knowledge, memories embedded in every streetscape, anachronistic Routemasters, the tiles along the Victoria line, blue plaques, global landmarks, having a local library, taking a shortcut down a back street I've never walked down before, realising that Dr Johnson was right, scouting the rural outskirts, Hawksmoor, Soane, Holden, watching the dawn over Tower Bridge, watching twin bascules rise, Blue Badge guides, the forgotten corner of a Victorian cemetery, the Big Brother House, the Big Breakfast house, the West End, the East End, the Congestion Charge, 24 hour bagel shops, 24 hour supermarkets, culture on my doorstep, Banksy on the wall, the original of that famous work of art, an unexpected rainbow, rainbow crossings, deckchairs in Green Park, Roding Valley, Ruislip Lido, the Embankment illuminated, eyeballing a famous person in the street, recognising where a film was shot, Riddlesdown, revisiting Nairn's London, the DLR, sitting at the front on the DLR, meeting up with mates, Totters Lane, 0° longitude, standing in two hemispheres, the City, parklife, knowing when your bus is coming, Citymapper, the Ceremony of the Keys, being alone under the Thames in a foot tunnel, greasy fry-ups, fast trains to the coast, the view from Primrose Hill, far less fog than everyone imagines, snow on terraced rooftops, a good service is operating on all lines, Covent Garden, yes they deliver, creative possibilities, the view from the front seat on the top deck of a bus, alleys, tunnels, the middle of Richmond Park, free-roaming deer, the Isabella Plantation in spring, being out at 4am, six home Premiership sides, a window seat on the Bakerloo, getting caught up in West Ham turfing out, street art, street food, Kenwood, an unexpected smile in the rush hour, the Gherkin, critical mass, Soho, pie and mash, Longplayer, the opportunity to pop into Parliament, street markets, lidos, late-openings, rooftop terraces, gasholders against a bright blue sky, Open House, speeding down the river beneath world famous bridges, bleak estuary strolls, film premières, Farthing Downs, Happy Valley, regular flypasts, garden squares, General Roy's cannons, gypsy tart from a Bexley bakery, not needing to drive home from the pub, pedestrian countdown lights, postcode identity, hyperlocality, Epping Forest, swiping my Oyster, pay-as-I-go, the smell of bacon from a Cabmen's shelter, undeveloped farmland, the Low Emission Zone, finding myself somewhere you've never been, Northala Fields, high streets that stay open after 5:30, art galleries that stay open after 6, still buzzing on a Sunday evening, always having something to do even when it's raining, Mornington Crescent, pocket parks, atypical roundels, characterful terraces, Denis Severs' House, the Apollo 10 command module, urban wildlife, a night at the dog track, outstaring a fox, Foyles, youthfulness, a nearby launderette just in case, streetlights at night, pounding the Loop, free fireworks on Blackheath, the National, the Saatchi, the Serpentine, the Sales, spotting the City from the outskirts, suburbs pretending to be villages, actual proper unswallowed Kentish villages, anything that Bazalgette built, one hundred different burgers, the heat island effect, Remain, the Hainault loop, crossing Oxford Circus diagonally, cycle superhighways, living in a medieval village, Sister Ray, walking faster than the traffic, overtaking a jogger, Kew Gardens, standing inside the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, living in a city that tourists pay £100 a night to visit, not needing a hotel before catching the red-eye, Spitalfields, King's Cross, never needing to Uber, windmills, forest, hills, fields, Hilly Fields, Strawberry Hill House, the 4th plinth, Norway's gifted tree, the ex-Geffrye at Christmas, the top floor at the V&A, the Sultan's Elephant, gelateria, lavender fields, Limehouse to Little Venice, this not being Ipswich, following in Roman footsteps, stepcounter heaven, plane trees, grime, world-class design, becoming blasé at seeing herons, the Freedom Pass, New Johnston font, so many cinemas, still so many bookshops, wi-fi, 1908, 1948, E20, EL2, X26, 5G, Zone 6, crossing Westminster Bridge at night on the back of a bike, the skyline at dusk, Eel Pie Island, do not touch the walrus, do not feed the pelicans, Beckton Alp, the Hoover Building, a sewing machine museum, a cattle grid, gridlessness, reaching the middle of Hampton Court Maze, long-term planning, wondering what the Turbine Hall will hold next, Golden Lane, the Golden Mile, anything you need within half an hour, if the local branch doesn't stock it ten others might, floating towpaths, legacy, Little Waitrose, Little Britain, international churn, the sheer variety of Theatreland, the contrast between Erith and Twickenham, nipping down to national celebrations, it's only a short dash to the country, every cuisine, knowing the ambulance will get here in time, the British Museum, arthouse pop-ups, brutalist symmetry, Myrtle Avenue, some pubs still aren't flats, free stuff-to-do every weekend, more than its fair share of new stuff, relevance, friends within walking distance, total lockdown variety, Bopeep, a virtual ABBA, Crossrail, Mail Rail, not having to get everything delivered, seeing the Crown Jewels for £1, kingfisher-spotting, towpath-treading, Carnival, being upstream of the Thames Barrier, not needing to consult a timetable, buildings Betjeman loved, fibreglass squirrels, an abundance of public sculpture, the backways of the Barbican, investment, easy walking, QEOP's premature daffodils, locals strutting the streets in their Eid finest, the diversity of bollards, spring tide overspill, Bethlem, casually bumping into Hollywood film crews, casually bumping into national treasures, mild urbex, properly local TV news, graffiti as art, 0171/0181 shopfronts, 071/081 shopfronts, 01 shopfronts, lost byways, decent-sized balconies, the Neasden Nature Trail, LWT, embracing a fare anomaly, History Trees, Rainham Hall, lunch in the Peers Dining Room, Postman's Park, Leinster Gardens, concentrated quirk, Knolly's Rose, Doggett's Coat and Badge, old manhole covers, the National Standard Kilogram, Dorich House, the many wows of Eltham Palace, the emptiness of Hacton, exploring City pedways, the ridge at Totteridge, two millennia of history, the Capital Ring, going against the grain, a hearse behind plumed horses, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, the Greenway, the whiff of a city farm, subway art, Walthamstow Wetlands, the Bermondsey tank, river piers, the Borough of Culture, any old street sign appended with a red postal district, Extinction Rebellion shaking the status quo, the NLA New London Model, Fullwell Cross Library, taking the spiral staircase down to the platform, the panoply of Royal Parks, William Morris, the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, ace-ing a Hopper, the Barbican conservatory, getting the Hampstead Pergola to myself, following the Effra plaques, Mr Benn in Festive Road, stand on the right, inexorable explorability, the Thames from Richmond Hill, tracing the Meridian, a feast of concrete, watching little planes take off, cherry blossom fortnight, whatever I want, anything I need, the anonymity of not knowing my neighbours, being one in nine million, collective consciousness, common ground, independence, invisibility, inspiration, togetherness, cosmopolitan coexistence, centrality, accessibility, the proximity of possibility, social autonomy, human availability, the fact it's not as scary as out-of-towners think it is, Metro-land, moquette, deserted Thames-side beaches, a 600 square mile playground, the buzz, infinite choice, the city's constant resilience, feeling alive, simply living here.

 Thursday, September 23, 2021

In case this week's new station bonanza has warped your memory, here's a reminder of how many new stations have been opened in Greater London over the last 20 years. It's quite a few, and yet not many.

n.b. These are totally new stations in fresh locations, not existing stations gaining extra connections.
n.b. The list includes three stations whose future opening is pretty much guaranteed.
n.b. The list is particulary unfair to Crossrail which is a splurge of fresh links rather than an expansion into pastures new.

 TubeDLROvergroundRail & Crossrail
2005 West Silvertown
Pontoon Dock
London City Airport
King George V
2007 Langdon Park  
2008Heathrow Terminal 5  Mitcham Eastfields
Wood Lane
2009  Imperial WharfStratford International
2010  Shoreditch High Street
Dalston Junction
2011 Stratford High Street
Abbey Road
Star Lane
2016   Lea Bridge
2021Battersea Power Station
Nine Elms
2022  Barking RiversideWoolwich
Brent Cross West

For the first four years of the 21st century nothing new opened. During the next three years it was all about the DLR - an extension to the Royal Docks and an extra station plugging a gap in Poplar. The only tube station to open during Ken Livingstone's eight year Mayorship was Heathrow Terminal 5, although he did set the subsequent burst of Overground/DLR expansion in motion.

TfL opened no new stations during the ten years between 31st August 2011 and 20th September 2021 because austerity hurt, and because Boris was better at snuffing out new projects than starting them. That said the Northern line extension was his baby, and he also kept the faith on Crossrail (first approved the year before he took the helm). Barking Riverside will be the first station delivered under Sadiq's watch.

Right now we're in a busy phase with the Northern line extension this week, Crossrail within nine months and two further stations at the end of next year. But then it goes tumbleweed quiet again with the only very likely new stations being HS2-related in maybe 2026. Long-promised New Bermondsey on the Overground is forever awaiting non-existing money, and just last week the government declined to fund Beam Park in Havering which may now be dead in the water.

Best not complain. A similar table for the East Anglia region would include just three stations (Southend Airport in 2011, Cambridge North in 2017 and Soham later this year), making London's haul of two dozen look positively greedy. Also the list is horribly skewed towards East London with other corners of the capital vastly outnumbered, but at least that's better than opening nothing at all. So best make the most of London's current burst of expansion because after 2022 it's going to go very quiet again, maybe for a very long time.

Two new tube stations means two new tube station names, and this changes a few long-established facts.

For example, it's changed the longest station name on the Underground.
1) Battersea Power Station (21 letters)
2) Heathrow Terminals 2&3 (20 letters)
2) High Street Kensington (20 letters)
2) Totteridge & Whetstone (20 letters)
The Overground can do longer (Caledonian Road & Barnsbury) [24], as can the Dangleway (Emirates Greenwich Peninsula) [26]. The tube map boasts an even longer confection (King's Cross & St Pancras International) [33]. But no tube roundel has a longer name than the brand new Battersea Power Station [21].

It doesn't quite take the title for the tube station name with the most syllables, being narrowly pipped by Heathrow Terminals 2&3. It isn't unique in being named after a listed building, joining (amongst others) St Paul's, Bank, Mansion House and Marble Arch. It's rare in containing the name of a rock band (namely Sea Power, formerly British Sea Power) and almost the name of another (Duran Duran spin-off The Power Station). It's also, tediously, the only station name in the UK to include the word station.

Meanwhile Nine Elms becomes only the fifth tube station with a proper number in its name, joining the three Heathrow stations and Seven Sisters. This allows me, with a little contrivance, to list ten tube stations numbered from 1 to 10.
  1) MarylebONE
  2) Heathrow Terminals 2&3
  3) Heathrow Terminals 2&3
  4) Heathrow Terminal 4
  5) Heathrow Terminal 5
  6) VIctoria
  7) SEVEN Sisters
  8) Notting Hill G8
  9) NINE Elms
10) TotTENham Court Road
Roman numerals and homonyms are cheating somewhat, sorry, but at least the arrival of Nine Elms removes the need to include BrIXton. Interestingly Nine Elms is the second tube station whose name derives from a quantifiable group of elm trees, the other being Seven Sisters.

Nine Elms also joins an exclusive group of tube stations whose names are the anagram of a single word.

see also...
Arsenal - RANALES
East Acton - ANTECOSTA
Eastcote - COESTATE
Mile End - IDLEMEN
Neasden - ENNEADS
Old Street - DOTTERELS
Redbridge - REBRIDGED
South Ealing - LEIOGNATHUS
     Barking - BRAKING
     Debden - BENDED
     Epping - PIGPEN
     Hampstead - HEADSTAMP
     Harlesden - REHANDLES
     Morden - MODERN
     Nine Elms - LINESMEN
     Osterley - TYROLESE
     Stanmore - ONSTREAM
     Temple - PELMET
     Wood Green - GREENWOOD

Battersea Power Station is merely an anagram of WETTEST STROBE PARANOIA, and that's nowhere near as special.

 Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The other new tube station on the Northern line extension is a bit smaller, a bit simpler and a bit more useful for existing residents. It's also in a different borough, which was helpful because it meant TfL could ask for funding from two different councils. The area last had a station in 1848 when the London & South Western extended to a new terminus at Waterloo, and is still dominated by a railway viaduct. It's Nine Elms, and suddenly it's nine minutes from Leicester Square.

Nine years ago this was an underused corner of Sainsbury's car park, ripe for redevelopment and infrastructural refill. The supermarket promptly expanded into another part of the site, hiding its car park underneath, leaving room for civil engineers to carve out a deep box where the trolley store and a burglar alarm factory used to be. For a couple of years you could look down from a passing bus into an enormous trench supported by concrete beams, until they capped it off with a couple of understated boxes and today it's a portal into the 272nd Underground station.

As at Battersea Power Station station the trains arrive either side of a broad island platform, but here there's a lot more island than platform. This is a result of there only being one set of escalators, not two, which leaves a lot more circulation space between the tracks. If escalator counting is your thing, know that Nine Elms has one bank of three and BPS has two banks of two. At the heart of the subterranean expanse is a shiny information arch where you can consult the new version of the tube map (or in case of fire, grab an extinguisher). Inexplicably the two tube maps posted up elsewhere on the platforms are the old version which doesn't include the extension, so could never have been relevant.

You've not much reason to go right to the far end of the platforms unless you need the lift. Nine Elms has just the one, but it does go direct to street level so escaping from the station is much quicker than at Battersea. Poke your nose into the other extremities and you'll find emergency stairs and several doors labelled 'Intervention route to track'. Although it might be interesting to discover what lurks beyond the fire doors, best hope you never find out.

Two things Nine Elms has a lot more of than Battersea Power Station are seats and adverts, for connected reasons. Passengers can expect to wait awhile on the platforms here before a train arrives (currently up to 12 minutes), so TfL have kindly provided somewhere to sit and something to look at. The whole outer wall is postered, unlike BPS which has none, while a few bright digital screens grace four of the pillars. Those coming down the escalators also get to stare at a large unmissable video screen, although on launch day it was only promoting the company that supplied it. According to TfL's most recent blogpost, it's hoped that "advertisers wanting to target affluent residents and shoppers in zone one" will choose to use it.

The gateline is broad and leads swiftly into a ticket hall, then straight out into the street. For those who hang around there's not much to see, partly because the intended artwork got cancelled to save money. But there is a bank of ticket machines on one side and a little office on the other where the staff hang out, plus some large roundels splashed across the glass above each exit. I was particularly exasperated to see a 'Please stay hydrated in hot weather' sign in one corner, given that temperatures hadn't exceeded 20°C since the extension opened and it was the penultimate day of summer and ffs the health and safety pedants are obsessed.

Nine Elms isn't architecturally impressive from outside, more a long porch along the glassy end of a very large grey box. A second featureless cuboid covers the emergency exit at the far end, this even drabber - isolated and adrift amid a blank piazza. It's all because the new station is designed to be built on top of, in this case with a trio of towers containing 479 flats, 40% of them affordable. The percentage is only that high because the current Mayor controls what gets built on TfL's land, whereas the luxury highrises nearer the river got nodded through by the previous incumbent.

What's reassuring about Nine Elms is that it's faced on two sides by some very ordinary pre-existing residential areas. On the other side of Pascal Street is Apple Blossom Court, a sheltered housing scheme, plus a loop of postwar flats around Bramley Crescent. Across Wandsworth Road are the Vauxhall Estate (built by the Church of England) and the Wyvil Estate (a significant cluster of very 1960s blocks). And between them runs Wilcox Road, one of the outposts of Lambeth's Little Portugal, with its characterful parade of independent shops and cafes. It's such a shame that people who come to ride the extension are much more likely to end up in an overpriced Nine Elms eaterie than here enjoying a friendly pavement coffee accompanied by a Portuguese custard tart.

One of the biggest changes hereabouts this week isn't the new station but the arch that's been opened up beneath the railway viaduct. Previously the Thames-side Nine Elms strip was very much cut off from this side of the tracks but now the two sides are connected, purely so that those on the rich side can catch a train. It also means that Nine Elms residents are no longer stuck with Waitrose, they can easily walk through to Sainsbury's, while Waitrose has become directly accessible to those living on the less well-off side. The route follows a temporary slalom across the very eastern end of New Covent Garden Market, its hoardings attractively decorated with pictures of fruit, before negotiating a rainbow crossing and disappearing into the new arch. The workmen giving it a final touch-up on Monday were very keen that I came back after dark to see how they'd illuminated it.

This unassuming walkway is the first publicly accessible breach through half a mile of viaduct in decades. It's not just the new underground railway that's connected Wandsworth to Lambeth, its arrival has made a significant change at ground level too.

40 Flickr photos of the new extension (20 from Battersea Power Station and 20 from Nine Elms)

 Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Normally they turf you off the train at Kennington, but the trains with the brand new destination on the front now go further. After the doors close they enter the loop where services once reversed, then suddenly break out into fresh broader concrete tunnels where the track noise sounds altogether different. It's over a mile to the first station, a concrete cavern which has transformed the land beneath Sainsbury's car park into an outpost of Zone 1. The final part of the journey is quicker, eventually crossing a broad scissor junction which feeds the train into the correct terminating platform. Welcome to Battersea Power Station station, born Monday 20th September 2021.

It's very much not your normal Northern line station, all stooped and curved, more a large rectangular box scooped out of the ground with trains at the bottom. The tracks run to either side, with connecting concourses at both ends and plenty of room for the escalators up the middle. The inner walls are shiny steel, each platform roof a stripe of ribbed timber and the outer walls matt black so as not to distract the eye. It reminded me a bit of Canary Wharf (but without the platform edge doors) and a bit of Heathrow Terminal 5 (though with more money thrown at the aesthetics).

On Day One the station was awash with people come to see what all the fuss was about, notably Freedom Pass holders and infrastructure enthusiasts. Some wandered round briefly, then headed up and out to explore the neighbourhood. Others undertook a full circuit before poking their nose into every cross passage and lift lobby in case they'd missed something. A few set up tripods or crouched patiently on the floor, attempting to get exactly the right camera shot without any pesky passengers wrecking it, something that'll undoubtedly be easier next week. And a lone member of staff sat in his cabin at the inbound end, seemingly watching over us all.

The outer walls are free from adverts and the platforms mostly free of seats, for connected reasons. A train will usually be waiting to take fresh passengers away, so they can sit in that, and at no point will the surface behind be clearly visible. At present the station sees only half a dozen trains an hour, max, with a brief period inbetween when neither platform is occupied and the litterpicker takes a breather. Several doors lead to hideyholes for staff, including one for Cleaners, a Mess, a Train staff toilet and the BPS Train staff tea point. If the roundels look crowded it's because Battersea Power Station is the longest station name on the tube network.

It doesn't matter which set of escalators you take because both lead to the centre of the mezzanine. This is vast with mighty pillars supporting a sawtooth roof, and includes a rectangular gash through which activity on the platforms can be glimpsed. Only those heading for a lift need make their way around the rim. The gateline is a dozen slots wide, easily large enough to cope with future hordes returning from as yet unfinished shops and offices. And occasionally the walls change colour. This is Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset by Alexandre da Cunha, two 100m long kinetic sculptures made from a sequence of rotating billboards which periodically spill a fresh shade from one end to the other. Top marks for its apparent simplicity.

Beyond the barriers are the key components of a 2020s station - five ticket machines, a rack of maps and a departures indicator. Don't expect to find public toilets but there are a number of retail units awaiting tenants, because that's inadequately funded public services for you. You might also bump into armed police keeping a close eye on things, or maybe that was a Day One exclusive. Eventually there'll be a second exit feeding directly into the heart of the Power Station development but for now signs direct you left towards the lesser heights of Battersea Park Road. Keep walking past the place that doesn't yet sell coffee, and then it's up and out.

The final escalators pierce the surface beneath a jagged skylit roof. Imagine a yellow sheet dropped on top of a smaller glass box at a jaunty angle and you'll get the picture. One day this'll be a busy street corner with a multi-towered backdrop, but for now it's just a hoardinged piazza with a few planters acting as passive security barriers. It was buzzing yesterday as crowds flocked in to see the new station and maybe grab a selfie outside. More serious photographers stepped back into the cycle lane for the ideal shot capturing both station and chimneys - a view that'll be sequentially disappearing as time goes by.

The one thing it's currently difficult to do from Battersea Power Station station is walk to Battersea Power Station. The developers have posted up a glossy map detailing all the posh refreshment options by the riverside but failed to mention how to get there, and those who mistakenly choose to walk clockwise rather than anti-clockwise face a much longer hike. It's almost as if the line has been opened a couple of years prematurely because as yet there's nothing convenient to visit, nor any tenants in the strange wiggly flats who might wish to travel to the West End. Instead it's the lucky residents of the Savona Estate opposite and the Patmore Estate behind who've been gifted an ultra-convenient A-list tube connection most other social housing backwaters can only dream of.

Battersea Power Station station's not yet what you expect it's going to be, and all the better for it.

20 Flickr photos taken yesterday (and more from Nine Elms to come tomorrow)
Geoff's opening day video (including a ride on the very first train)

 Monday, September 20, 2021

New tube stations means a new tube map.
And here it is.

It's not in all tube stations yet - it was only in two of the twelve I tried yesterday - but it is out just in time for the first Northern line trains departing Battersea Power Station station this morning.

The new extension was first revealed in a tweet by the Mayor on Friday morning.
That got London talking.

The first thing that stood out was that the extension wasn't straight. It could have been, had the designers chosen to write 'Battersea Power Station' underneath rather than alongside, but they chose not to. Nowhere else on the map is there a bend quite as curvaceous as this, except perhaps on the Heathrow T4 loop, so it really stands out.

This isn't necessarily wrong, just deeply unfamiliar, nor does it appear to be an attempt to reflect geographical reality. However it has inspired several people to suggest renaming the extension the Battersea Droop, a nickname with every chance of catching on, so this might turn out to be a design decision that backfires.

Other things to note...
» Kennington has gained a connector blob to show that only trains on the Charing Cross branch will serve the new extension. But it's a massive connector blob, almost as big as Farringdon and Blackfriars now suffer, which is particularly unhelpful given that Kennington has one of the simplest interchanges on the network - simply stepping through from one Northern line platform to the other.
» On the previous version of the tube map it looked like all trains on the Charing Cross branch continued down to Morden. On this version it looks like no trains on the Charing Cross branch continue down to Morden. In fact some still will still connect during peak hours, as before, so the designers have chosen to show exactly the same thing in a completely different way.
» Battersea Power Station station is within 500m of an Overground station, something that'd normally be depicted with a dotted line. However that Overground station is Battersea Park which is served by just three orange trains a day, and maybe today's extension explains why TfL have never chosen to include it on the tube map.
» The Battersea Power Station development has its own river pier but Battersea Power Station station doesn't have a river symbol. The symbol appears on the enamel diagrams going up in tube stations, which have a much longer lifespan than a paper map, but not here. In fact the pier is only 500m from the station, which suggests it should appear, but the current walking route around the BPS building site is a tortuous 900m so maybe that's why it doesn't.

And then of course there's the rejigged Z1 boundary.

Boris's decision to place Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms in Zone 1 was always going to be difficult to depict on the map, and so it's proven, but I'm chuffed that the chosen solution looks very much as I predicted back in May. That's because the only practical way to depict the correct zone boundary has been to drag Vauxhall away from the Thames to the wrong side of the new extension. This might have been ignorable were it not for TfL's questionable decision in 2019 to show river piers separately on the tube map, which means a dotted line continues north to the riverside creating additional cluttered map-faff.

The other significant change on the new tube map is the appearance of several new step-free stations. There ought to be eleven, because eleven stations have gone step-free since the last paper map was published, but only nine have actually appeared. One omission is Hayes and Harlington because that only went step-free last week and paper maps have awkward print deadlines, but the other is Debden and that went step-free five months ago. The digital map on the TfL website correctly shows Debden as step-free, so I suspect its unblobbiness on the paper map may be a genuine proofing error. One to check, anyway.

The artwork on the front cover of the new tube map hasn't gone down especially well. It's essentially a solid black rectangle, so visually drab, with just six small white words written within. These words say "sit... alongside... and... feel me... breathe" and that's got a lot of people scratching their heads, if not somewhat appalled. "Sorry, but WHAT? Aren't we still embroiled in a pandemic?" chuntered Philip on Twitter, gaining 19 likes. In fact if you read the rationale on the Art On The Underground website "the work questions how we can regain the fundamental principles of our social engagement with strangers as we begin to reinhabit shared spaces", so it's provocatively deliberate, but I expect Philip's partially-informed reaction will be a common one.

Here's the extension's first appearance on the Rail & Tube map.

This doesn't have the tube map's bell-end droop, but it has required four bends to wiggle the NLE extension to the north of Vauxhall. Meanwhile the mainline between Waterloo and Clapham Junction used to have just one bend but now it has five. The more lines you squeeze onto a map, the muddlier they get.

As for the line diagrams inside Northern line carriages, these started to be updated earlier this month.

I've yet to hear anyone offer a positive comment about this design. For a start bending in towards Kennington and then back out towards Nine Elms isn't elegant. Also the peak hours connection between the two branches has been shown this time, and for some reason it's been given the less kinky alignment. But the properly awkward issue is that trains between Kennington and Oval are shown passing through Zone 1 which in real life they don't. Perhaps the designers assumed passengers would only look at the stations rather than the gaps between them, and it is really tricky to depict the correct zonal situation on a long thin diagram, but the end result comes across as a bit of a bodge.

Finally the line diagrams alongside Northern line platforms have been replaced, and the fresh tranche has been a partial production disaster. Last month Geoff Marshall photographed a sign at Golders Green where the two extra stations had somehow been written in the wrong order, i.e. with Nine Elms at the end of the line! And then yesterday he tweeted this howler from Tooting Broadway.

Inexplicably the name of the terminus station had been written as Power Station Battersea, which is jawdropping. Astonishingly exactly the same error had been repeated at Tooting Bec, Balham, Clapham South and Clapham Common, and perhaps elsewhere, which is incomprehensible. Don't rush along hoping to see these particular errors today because they were swiftly covered up. But how appalling does an organisation's quality control have to be to manufacture AND install such flawed diagrams without anybody noticing? If you're off to enjoy the new extension today, keep your eyes peeled.

London has a new tube extension and two new tube stations.
This doesn't happen very often.

The last three tube extensions
1) Heathrow Terminal 5 (2008)
2) Jubilee line (1999)
3) Heathrow Terminal 4 (1986)
   The last three new tube stations
1) Wood Lane (2008)
2) Heathrow Terminal 5 (2008)
3) Southwark (1999)

It only tends to happen when big business wants it to, which is why Heathrow, Westfield and Canary Wharf helped pay for the last few. And it's only happened this time because a consortium of Malaysian investors were trying to upsell flats around a redeveloped power station, and because money talks.
The diamond geezer editorial position on the Northern Line Extension

A dreadful idea well delivered.
It's miserably depressing that the only tube extension since 2008 has been spurred by the need to flog real estate. Former Mayor Boris Johnson was only too happy to gain a shiny transport bauble by kowtowing to greedy developers, having previously binned several projects which would have benefitted existing Londoners. The power station development is due to deliver less than 10% affordable housing and Nine Elms no more than 20%, and all so that rich residents don't have to grab a taxi or walk a bit further to slum it on National Rail.

When you look at the other places which could have been served by a 3km extension from Kennington they include Camberwell, Burgess Park and the Old Kent Road, areas which have been screaming out for a tube connection for decades, but instead the money magnet yanked the connection west to serve a luxury highrise riverside enclave.

Admittedly the historic power station building might never have been saved were it not for the tube link, and better to have a new tube extension than none at all, and some lucky existing residents of Wandsworth and Lambeth are about to get a local tube connection, so it's not all bad. But when the Bakerloo and Metropolitan extensions have essentially been scrapped, and you could have built three Metropolitans for one Northern, today's link to a deluxe shopping mall in an overpriced housing estate is nothing but a deplorable craven boondoggle.

 Sunday, September 19, 2021

Today's the day trains start operating on the Northern line extension. You won't be able to catch one because today's only a dress rehearsal - all southbound passengers are being detrained at Kennington - but the new timetable is now underway. Your ability to take a ride starts at 05:28 tomorrow.

Tomorrow's also the day that thousands more people will discover there's a station called Battersea Power Station station. Let the LOLs be unconfined.

It's a tiny unexpected nugget, the kind of thing you might nudge your partner and tell them, either with a smile or a grumpy "well I wouldn't have named it like that". It's going to get a reaction of some sort whenever you discover it. What intrigues me is quite how long that takes.

The timeline of a shareable thing can be a long one. Someone has to notice or announce the thing in the first place. Awareness of the thing climbs as the information spreads. Events can sometimes cause the rate of spread to spike. Eventually fewer people are left to discover the thing but they still act excitedly when they do. Even years later people will continue to share it, assuming nobody else has heard it before because they hadn't, while the rest of the population look on thinking "oh, that old chestnut again".

Battersea Power Station station is firmly in my chestnut zone. I discovered the name of the station six years ago, and blogged about it, and collectively we had a 38-comment discussion about the dissonance of it all. Readers of diamond geezer were early to the Battersea Power Station station party. It's only because I'm the kind of person who reads TfL project pages, or maybe because somebody nudged me to read them - I don't remember - but I got over the idea that the station's nomenclature was amazing some time ago.

I did not react with glee when somebody messaged me on Twitter last week to tell me that the station would be called Battersea Power Station station. I did not rise to the bait when someone else commented that the sign outside Battersea Power Station station should say Battersea Power Station Station. I kept quiet, as I have on many previous occasions, because it's polite to keep your indifference to yourself.

A similar level of commotion has come from people discovering that Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms are to be in zone 1. This has been public knowledge since 2014 when the Northern Line extension was commissioned, indeed I blogged about it at the time, but most people are only now waking up to the fact that this will be the case. Feel free to be surprised, but technically this is old news and some of us have known for seven years.

All of which exemplifies the awkward topic of whether it's right to tell someone something you think they might not know. If they don't know then you've scored brownie points for bringing fresh information to their attention, indeed something they might otherwise never have discovered. But if they do know then you've essentially wasted their time, and you might only end up feeling foolish.

For those on the receiving end it can be exciting to be told new things, but also frustrating if the other person only ever tells you stuff you already knew. The problem is that they didn't know you knew, they could only guess, and in this case they guessed wrong. I don't particularly enjoy it when people tell me excitedly about something I've already blogged about, but I have to remember they might not have been reading at the time, nor be capable of checking back, it's not deliberate ignorance.

The existence of Battersea Power Station station is a facile example, but any underlying factual disconnect can be really important in society. Who knows what, and who knows who knows what, sits at the very heart of our democracy because facts decide opinions.

If you know a fact about something you might then decide to vote one way on a particular topic. If you don't know that fact you might fill in the gaps inappropriately, or rely instead on misinformation, and vote a different way. It's in politicians' interests that you know as much as possible about some things and as little as possible about others.

Here are some Battersea-related examples, all culled from responses to a single tweet made by the Mayor last week.
Yes, a self serving personal tube station for the luxury flat buyers that not only dodges the law about building affordable homes, making you a hypocrite, but sells off yet more of London's real estate to unregulated foreign landlords & adds little benefit to any other Londoners (@chaosityuk)

Allowing Battersea PS to be in Zone 1 is corruption in broad daylight. (@dadge)

Oh great now we’re all connected to those luxury apartments and shops that only the super rich can afford. Thanks Sadiq you must be so proud glad I pay taxes for this! (@roryfcjames)

Zone 1! How much did the Nine Elms lot put towards your mayoral campaign? (@ed1231)
These are all people screaming at the Mayor for decisions taken by his predecessor over which he had no subsequent control. It's all too easy to shake your fist at government without realising which particular politician put that decision in place or who was pulling the strings. Sadiq's taken full responsibility for several decisions you might well hate, but this is not one of them. Despising him for delivering the Northern Line extension means your opinions are based on assumptions rather than facts.... and that's a dangerously easy thing to do.

Let's not get carried away and blame everything on ignorance. Complex issues like Brexit, party allegiance and who to vote for in elections are based on a whole raft of facts and opinions, not just one thing you might or might not know. But it pays to be aware of what's going on and to realise that you might not know everything. In particular it pays to question whether the truths you think you know are actually genuine, else society can all too easily end up in a misguided pit of populism.

Sharing facts is good, even if you've heard them before, rather than encouraging ignorance and misinformation. Just try not to share them too often because a lot of us already know the thing you think is thrillingly new.

Yes, from tomorrow there's a station called Battersea Power Station station. You'll get over it.

10 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• England won't use vaccine passports
• 300,000 may have broken travel quarantine
• vaccines to be offered to 12-15 year-olds
• job vacancies top 1m for the first time
• booster jabs offered to over 50s (after 6 months)
Winter Plan A: vaccines will see us through
Winter Plan B: return of cautionary measures
• Scotland and Wales will use vaccine passports
• travel rules simplified (green & amber lists merge)
• India delivers 20m jabs in a day

Worldwide deaths: 4,620,000 → 4,680,000
Worldwide cases: 224,000,000 → 228,000,000
UK deaths: 134,144 → 135,147
UK cases: 7,197,662 → 7,400,739
1st vaccinations: 48,395,359 → 48,548,506
2nd vaccinations: 43,895,440 → 44,357,108
FTSE: down 1% (7029 → 6963)

 Saturday, September 18, 2021

Ever since 1974, when my Dad came home with a big map of England's new administrative counties, I've been fascinated by the one spot where four counties appeared to meet. Those four counties are Lincolnshire, Rutland, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire, and the point where they all meet is just west of Stamford. So while I was in town I decided to pay a visit... or at least to get as near as possible on foot.

A bit of administrative history first. Four counties have met here since 1888 when the Soke of Peterborough was officially split off from Northamptonshire. This set-up continued until 1965 when the Soke was absorbed into the new county of Huntingdon & Peterborough, which in turn became part of Cambridgeshire in 1974. At the same time Rutland was absorbed into Leicestershire, where it remained until being recast as a unitary authority in 1997. The following year Peterborough also became a unitary authority, but it remains part of Cambridgeshire for ceremonial purposes. That's how things stand today and that's what's shown on the map above.
1888: Lincolnshire, Rutland, Northamptonshire, Soke of Peterborough
1965: Lincolnshire, Rutland, Northamptonshire, Huntingdon & Peterborough
1974: Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire
1997: Lincolnshire, Rutland, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire
Secondly, alas, it turns out that the four counties don't quite meet at one precise point. Instead there are two tri-points - one for Lincs/Rutland/Northants and one for Lincs/Northants/Cambs - both very close together along the line of the River Welland. Originally they were 500 metres apart but in 1960 the A1 Stamford bypass was built and coincidentally passed between the two, sparking change. The Local Government Boundary Commission For England reviewed the Leicestershire/Lincolnshire boundary in the late 1980s and concurred it'd be much more sensible to shift the dividing line to follow the new road instead. This meant moving Area C to Lincolnshire and Area A to Leicestershire, which had the additional consequence of moving the tri-point in the pink circle to join the other tri-point in the red circle.

Had the LGBCE ever rationalised the Cambs/Northants boundary to match the new road then all four counties would meet at the same point. But they never did, so today the two tri-points are about 25 metres apart - both fractionally to the east of the A1 viaduct. The gap between them follows a field boundary, a river and a railway, indeed if you've ever taken a train between Oakham and Stamford you'll have (briefly) travelled between the two. But you can't quite reach the spot on foot without trespassing, so here's what it looks like from the public right of way across the adjacent field. It's not the most exciting photo, but excitingly it does show four different counties.

OK, enough backstory, here's today's rambling adventure.
You might find a map useful.

How to walk through four counties in 20 minutes

1) Lincolnshire (starting point - Stamford Spa)
Stamford Meadows stretch for a mile beyond the town, increasingly less frequented by people the further you walk. The main channel of the River Welland marks one edge and a shallower stream the other, with the Lincs/Cambs border following the latter. Just before the dual carriageway is a low brick structure resembling a macaroon which caps a mineral spring brought into use in 1819. Afflicted souls believed its iron water might cure their ailments, although I wouldn't risk drinking it today. Instead I enjoyed the peace of the rippling shoals, not to mention the enormous dragonflies, before heading off through the gate to start my four county adventure. A brief walk across the field I showed you earlier brought me closer and closer to the A1 viaduct where lorries rumbled overhead. OK, I'm going in...

2) Rutland (elapsed time: 4 minutes)
Tunnels beneath 1960s civil engineering projects aren't known for their beauty. This one's all concrete with a mess of pebbles underfoot, and has since been decorated with a couple of attempts at floral graffiti. On the far side is a pristine wooden footbridge and then a field of harvested oilseed rape, only the corner of which needs to be clipped. Before 1991 this field was in Lincolnshire so my four county walk wouldn't have worked, but transference to Rutland has made the whole thing possible. Ahead a wooden walkway leads up to Tinwell public footpath crossing, which only sees two passenger trains an hour so shouldn't trouble you, but I had to hold back while a lengthy freight train thrummed past.

3) Northamptonshire (elapsed time: 9 minutes)
On the far side I had to cross a narrow wooden footbridge above an overgrown stream, and that was the end of my very short Rutland safari. A delightfully pastoral scene lay ahead, a golden stalky field with a single footpath climbing gently to an upper plantation. Unfortunately according to my map there ought to have been two footpaths and the one I needed wasn't there. I put this down to the perils of trying to negotiate rural rights of way just after harvest and tried to follow where I thought it ought to have been, first up the field and then sharply back down. I now needed to find the gap in the hedge where a footbridge would allow me to cross a drainage channel, but there was no gap nor any sign of a bridge, just a line of impenetrable thicket. I searched for a while in case the map was slightly out, and more importantly because my 20 minute target could only be beaten if I passed over and ascended the adjacent field. No luck.

Bugger, I thought, Cambridgeshire is less than 500m away but I cannot get to it. As the clock ticked down I realised I'd have to try to get there via some much longer alternative route, so gave up and continued to climb the wrong hill. I've since checked online and can see no satellite evidence of a footpath, nor a second subway beneath the A1, nor a footpath continuing beyond, so at least I think I made the right decision. But I was now heading for the summit village of Easton-on-the-Hill (and its National Trust-owned Priests's House) and what looked like a 1½ mile diversion. Grrr.

A passing jogger - the only other person I met on the entire walk - encouraged me to cut a corner to reach the next connecting footpath. Again this meant trying to find an overgrown footbridge at the foot of a ploughed field, and again after a couple of failed attempts I considered giving up, but thankfully pressed on and eventually located the way across. Stomping up the next pathless field I sighed, but also revelled in a view I wouldn't otherwise have seen of the entire town of Stamford illuminated on the horizon. How I've missed hills.

I emerged at the top of the slope beside a layby on the A43, where Sizzlers Burger Bar hoped to serve up greasy delights to a potential audience of truck drivers. And I was still in Northamptonshire, dammit, and would be until I'd made my way through a forestry plantation called Wothorpe Groves. It was genuinely delightful to be walking through thick woodland, but also frustrating as my elapsed time crept ever closer to one hour. I didn't even stop to investigate the "area of shake holes" shown on the estate map (which I've since looked up and apparently they're limestone sinkholes) because the clock was ticking. Blimey, what are those octagonal towers!?

4) Cambridgeshire (elapsed time: 60 minutes) (finishing point: Wothorpe Towers)
The bridlepath out of the plantation followed the wall around a private estate, within which were the remains of a Jacobean lodge retreat. This folly was built by the Cecil clan to enliven the horizon from Burghley Park, briefly used as a dower house and later abandoned to the elements. A bit of 21st century love has removed Wothorpe Towers from the Heritage at Risk Register but the couple who bought it still have a long way to go to fully restore their romantic ruin. And I would never have seen this Grade I listed Doctor Who filming location were it not for my failed attempt to walk through four counties in twenty minutes. Four in sixty is also hard to beat... but I suspect not impossible.

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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

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flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
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digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
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little britain
credit cards
jury service
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jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
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leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards