diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 06, 2012

Walking Overground South

Today I'm concluding my eight mile walk along the London Overground extension from Surrey Quays to Clapham Junction.

My Overground South gallery
[There are 37 photographs altogether] [slideshow]

Clapham High Street
Opened: 25 August 1862 (as 'Clapham')
Renamed: Clapham & North Stockwell; Clapham Road & N Stockwell; Clapham & N Stockwell; Clapham; Clapham High Street

The original station buildings are Grade II listed, a complex mixture of Tudor and Gothic-style brickwork, except they're now flats. The current station is bleak and uninteresting, accessed by subway, and nowhere joyous to linger. In recent years Clapham High Street's passenger numbers have been pitifully low, fewer than for all but one of the stations on the Underground, so it'll be interesting to see how that picks up.

» After a two-mile gap between stations, the next gap's less than half a mile. By backroad the route follows Victorian terraces, again with ornately decorated frontages of the kind that make estate agents salivate. The bridge over the railway on Larkhall Rise isn't very strong so vehicle access is restricted, but it is an ideal vantage point. Hello if you were the bloke standing here with a camera on Sunday afternoon watching the trains go by (and probably waiting for me and my camera to go away). A brisk walk down the hill gets you to the next station before you know it.

Wandsworth Road
Opened: 1 March 1863
Wandsworth Road suffers from being a little station on a big line. Most services bypass this minor halt, whizzing to and from Victoria which is where the great majority of people want to go. The former ticket hall is now a locksmiths, and there's little else in the way of infrastructure apart from a Victorian footbridge parachuted in from Mitcham. Wandsworth Road's another passenger vacuum, even less well used than Clapham High Street, because who'd want to come here when trains are so infrequent? Although this has been a very popular station for transport geeks seeking to ride the daily ghost train to/from Kensington Olympia. For several years Network Rail have been forced to run a service along the otherwise unscheduled curve round to Clapham Junction, but that ends its run tomorrow. From Sunday the Overground will head that way four times an hour, and a new ghost train will be needed across the viaduct to Battersea Park. It's there in the new Overground timetable... the 2232 from Highbury and Islington continues each weekday to Battersea Park (arrives 2359), while a separate train runs the reverse journey each morning at 0618. If you're interested.

» And after a tiny gap, another very long one. It's a mile and a half to Clapham Junction as the crow flies, but nearer two by rail. For my walk I attempted the latter, although it's very hard to get close to the railway around here, at least for any significant distance, because the peripheral areas are full of warehouses and light industry. Abutting the viaduct north of Wandsworth Road is Heathbrook Park, the designated leisure space for residents of the Westbury Estate. I was amazed to see its acres entirely empty on Sunday, not a child in the playspace, not a dog defecating in the long grass, nobody. I know it's winter but, really, can two towerblockfuls really all be inside watching boxsets?

Beyond the bustle of Queenstown Road (the street, not the station) lies the Shaftesbury Estate. Built by the Artizans, Labourers and General Dwelling Company in the 1870s, it covered 40 acres with basic but beautifully proportioned terrace houses. The estate's tree-lined avenues were designed as living space for the working man, whereas today you need to be a little further up the social scale to enjoy living in this extremely desirably corner of Battersea. Eversleigh Road is aligned with the railway embankment, screening it completely bar a single gap for a footbridge (then subway) across the mainline to Waterloo. Only beyond Latchmere Road does the tone of the neighbourhood descend, traversing the manic car park outside a 24-hour Asda to the maelstrom of Clapham Junction.

Clapham Junction
Opened: 2 March 1863
I've made it at last, all the way from southeast London to southwest, to the busiest station in Britain. It was only named Clapham Junction out of snobbishness, because neighbouring Battersea had a much less desirable reputation than distant Cla'ham. I've already explained the changes being made here to accommodate Overground South, and I can report that (as of Sunday) things still weren't anywhere near ready. A new staircase was/is being added, parallel to the old, down from the overbridge. Gaggles of hi-vis-blokes were/are busy tweaking platform 2, hanging things from the canopy, flattening surfaces, dangling from scaffolding, all the essentials. It'll look orangier next Sunday, and a lot fuller, as dignitaries and the over-keen assemble to see off the first train. What I walked in four hours it'll cover in just under 30 minutes, and the outer orbital will be complete.

Video: An Overground driver's view of the new line (TfL, official, 2 minutes)
Video: An Overground driver's view of the new line (Ian Visits, smartphone blu-tacked to cab window, in the rain, with windscreen wipers, 45 minutes)

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