diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tubewatch (37) Brockley Hill
You'd know where Brockley Hill was if it had its own tube station. On the northern edge of town, where the A41 marks the boundary between Harrow and Barnet, that's where. And Brockley Hill should have had its own tube station, nearly did have its own tube station, still has remnants of its own tube station. Except it never did get its own tube station, after all kinds of reality unexpectedly kicked in, which is why it remains an obscure London backwater. And rightly so.

There were plans in the mid-1930s, big plans, to extend the Northern line beyond the suburbs. The railway had already been responsible for the urbanisation of large areas of Middlesex beyond Golders Green, and now the plan was to repeat this beyond Edgware. Three more stations, one at Brockley Hill, one at Elstree South and one at Bushey Heath, each with vast tracts of undeveloped countryside alongside ready to be covered with housing stock. A few preparatory works were completed, but then World War Two started and all efforts transferred to finishing the High Barnet branch instead. After 1945 London's priorities were different, and legislation to enforce an encircling Green Belt stopped work in its tracks. It was pointless to build a new railway if there were no houses to serve and no passengers to carry, so the extension was cancelled and the line still halts at Edgware.

Head into the 1920s housing estate north of Edgware station today and there are a few clues to what didn't quite happen. Most of the houses are typical Betjemanesque Tudorbethan semis, or similar, but a thin line of more modern housing stock has infilled along the line of the railway-to-be. Campbell Croft is thin and a bit exclusive, while Shelley Close is more mainstream with room for bungalows on one side of the road only. Stirling Avenue is fairly normal, as cul-de-sacs go, if rather more contoured than I'd expect a potential railway track to be. And then the invisible line hits the Edgware Way dual carriageway - which, if you look carefully, has a layby by a lone brick wall which was due to support the Northern line [photo]. But it never arrived. The Green Belt starts precisely here.

Beyond the A41, so long as you cross carefully, it's all fields. Damp autumnal grassland, uncultivated and meadowed, where thin fingers of the Edgwarebury Brook drain down. One small corner beyond the river has become Edgwarebury Park, while the remainder (as far as the M25, on a distant ridge) is an extensive nature reserve specked with scabious and sedge. Car boot sales are held here on Sundays, big ones, although the season's over now and the tyre tracks are gone. And amidst the grassland, between the hatchback sales pitches, there's an intermittent line of dilapidated brickwork. Welcome to Brockley Hill station.

Five brick piers are all that's left of the low viaduct which should have carried Northern line trains north to Bushey. Of these only one still has sufficient curvature to confirm that these were once arches - the rest have long since crumbled away [photo]. Each stumpy pillar is about ten foot off the ground, I'd guess, each colonised by vegatation, each standing alone in a very deliberate line. One's a flattened U-shape, so it's possible to can scramble up the pile of earth on the inside, then clamber up onto the top of the stonework for an aligned view. And they've all been graffitied, because Barnet's artists love an unsecured canvas, bringing a splash of colour to these islands of brown in a sea of green. [photo]

Check on an Ordnance Survey map to see a faint cutting running north alongside the dual carriageway, heading for Elstree South where there isn't a station either. Next up was London Transport's Aldenham works, which used to repair buses but is now a large industrial park, and finally Bushey Heath which is merely a roundabout. It would all have looked so very different, almost wall-to-wall urban sprawl, had the Northern line reached out this far. But instead Elstree still feels like a village, and the Edgwarebury Brook still runs through open fields, and residents in the new Barratt housing by the Brockley Hill roundabout have to walk ten minutes up the hill to Stanmore station instead. The tentacles of the London Underground, they only stretch so far, and some corners of London are best left well alone.
(If you haven't already seen it, Jay Foreman's video about the Northern Heights extension is detailed and ace)

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