diamond geezer

 Sunday, April 13, 2008

Random borough (17): Redbridge (part 1)

Redbridge roundelYou're probably not 100% certain where Redbridge is, are you? It's not got a terribly memorable name, and this isn't helped by it being named after a red brick bridge which was knocked down in 1921. The anonymous borough of Redbridge lurks on the edge of northeast London, consisting of Ilford, the M11 corridor and vast swathes of mid 20th century suburban estates. This is affordable London, home to thousands of very ordinary families, and not in any way on the tourist trail. I was quite worried that there wouldn't be enough out here to report back on, but in the end I was very pleasantly surprised.

Somewhere to begin: Redbridge Museum
Yes, even Redbridge has its own museum. It's spread over a couple of floors in Ilford Library, just off the main shopping street so that most blinkered consumers would never find it. The building is cursed by automatic doors that swish open rather prematurely, as if to draw your attention to the goodies beyond. And what do you know, there's plenty of Redbridge history for the museum to boast about. The main gallery contains a variety of themed exhibits, from the usual archaeological finds to the more recent industrial and social history of the area. Burial and supermarkets are unexpectedly popular themes. In the 1860s the complete skull of a woolly mammoth was uncovered beneath what is now Boots the Chemist, buried here when Ilford was just temperate grassland. And the famous Ilford photographic company started up in the town in the 1870s, but the business moved on 100 years later and a superstore has since been built on the original factory site. The museum clearly has an eye on the primary school trip audience, but everything's extremely well presented. Meanwhile in the first floor gallery they've just kicked off a special exhibition devoted to Suffragette and campaigning feminist Sylvia Pankhurst who used to live in Woodford (and also in Bow, so I was especially interested). Well done Redbridge, more people deserve to hear of you.
by train: Ilford  by bus: 25 (and many more)

Somewhere pretty: The Hainault Loop
Gants HillSee that big orange loop at the eastern end of the Central line? That's Redbridge, that is. Apart from the three really quiet stations at the top which are in Essex, so I didn't have an excuse to alight at Roding Valley, Chigwell or Grange Hill. But I visited all the others, and a few of them are very special indeed. This end of the Central line opened in the late 1940s, delayed somewhat by munitions factories being operated in the tunnels during WWII. Many of the stations were converted from LNER operation, and still retain a period charm not entirely wrecked by Metronet. White wooden canopies, well-worn solid benches and decorative ironwork - all a million miles away from the modern brutality of certain central London stations. Fairlop [photo] is like a rural halt in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Barkingside [photo] has a footbridge from which you can watch half the action at the non-league club nextdoor. Redbridge [photo] is more of a subterranean cavern with central tiled pillars, reminiscent of something Eastern European. But the finest examples of postwar architecture lie inbetween.

There's very little sign of Gants Hill station above the surface, just a large roundabout in the middle of the A12 with five brightly tiled subways leading down into the depths. Pass down into the ticket hall and descend the escalators, and then wow! The central lobby ahead has a mighty arched ceiling, with passageways to either side between tiled pillars leading to the two platforms [photo]. Everything is cream and shiny, even the floor, and the tiles are topped off with light orange trim. And down the centre of this cathedral-like space are three sets of paired uplighters, tall and thin like massive brown goblets. They rise up from a series of marble islands, each with a chunky wooden bench at its heart. Is this an insignificant London suburb or is this an important station on the Moscow underground? The platforms may not be sensational [photo], but they still have a sense of architectural haughtiness. Maybe it's the special London Transport clock, with roundels for digits and another roundel for a hand. Waiting for a train here is no hardship.

Newbury Park bus stationAt Newbury Park the impressive feature is outside the station, not down on the unremarkable platforms. Exit from the ticket hall along a long brick corridor and you emerge into a bus station like no other. This interchange building, with its long barrel-vaulted roof topped with copper, makes a mighty modernist statement [photo]. It's as if someone's sliced a hollow cylinder in half to create a giant concrete insect with a green back and slender curving legs. Inside, beneath the airy canopy, equally-spaced wall-mounted lamps are shielded by thin metal fins [photo]. And down on the ground just one single bus stop serving a mere three single-decker routes, with infrequent service, in one direction only. A most ambitious project, but whose potential was never fully realised in its locality before the building money ran out. At least Oliver Hill's design won a special architectural award during the Festival of Britain, even if the plaque now has a crack across it. It's well worth getting a ticket to Zone 4 just to take a look.
by tube: Gants Hill, Newbury Park  by bus: 66, 296, 396

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