diamond geezer

 Saturday, January 05, 2013

Underground 150 Edgware Road → Baker Street

This is the second of six inter-station walks along the original Metropolitan Railway. Here we hit the Marylebone Road, and stick with it all the way to King's Cross. I'll try not to get too repetitive. [map] [old map] [14 photos]

Transportationally speaking, the road from Edgware Road to the City is pioneeringly important. Not only did the world's first underground railway pass this way, so did London's first bus service - George Shillibeer's horse-drawn omnibus in 1829. Originally the "New Road" had been constructed as a London by-pass, a turnpike for cattle and sheep to reach Smithfield market through the fields of Marylebone. That was in 1756, since when the capital had expanded northwards to reach and then engulf this increasingly important outer orbital. Today it's one of the most important roads in central London, keeping the through traffic flowing and marking the northern edge of the Congestion Charge zone. Just try not to breathe in too often, because pollution levels along here are amongst the worst in the capital.

Edgware Road station is the last time the Hammersmith & City line sees daylight until beyond King's Cross. Trains head into a tunnel beneath the junction of Marylebone Road and Old Marylebone Road, and stay there, following the line of the tarmac. The road's wide, so pedestrians following above ground need to decide which side to walk on. I'd suggest the southern pavement because it has more interesting buildings... but only just. We start with the new Westminster Magistrates Court, a sturdy edifice through which those accused of extradition and terrorism offences pass. It's barely been open a year, but was built on the site of Marylebone's original court house which is older than the underground. Further along are the headquarters of BHS and NCR, that's British Home Stores and National Cash Registers. And then the former Marylebone Town Hall, now renamed Westminster Council House and home to the local Register Office. It's a magnificent municipal citadel, the kind of building where Paul McCartney would get married, and has done twice.

Several residential streets cross at right angles, some important thoroughfares, others quieter echoes of Georgian expansion. And behind The Landmark Hotel is a place you might have thought the new underground railway would stop, but doesn't. It's Marylebone station, one of five mainline termini located along the New Road, and the only one the Metropolitan completely ignored. And that's because Marylebone wasn't here when the first underground was built, it arrived as late as 1899, in time only for the Bakerloo to drop by. Never mind, it's only a short walk to...

Baker Street station: Ah, the pride of the Metropolitan Railway. And still the pride of TfL today, who've managed to preserve as wide a range of heritage features at Baker Street as you'll find anywhere. No crappy Metronet revamp here, but a proper full restoration of the cut and cover platforms, for which we can be truly thankful. Stand here beneath the gently vaulting ceiling and you can easily imagine Victorian gentlemen in top hats waiting for a train, their cigarette smoke mingling with the steam from the tunnels. It was undoubtedly less romantic than that, but TfL's anniversary celebrations will involve the return of steam to this sacred space, and many a tube aficionado will be along to worship. Let's ask someone who knows what they're talking about to wax lyrical.
The platforms are covered by the 1863 broad segmental buff-brick barrel vault of 16 main bays, each with deep lunette set into flanks, clad internally in modern white tiles. Vault soffit repaired 1985 matching original. Footbridges to E and W end. E footbridge lined with glazed brick faience tiling, incorporating oculus inscribed 'MR', probably remodelling of earlier (possibly 1868) bridge. 1911 footbridge at W end, of reinforced concrete, has segmental rusticated arch, and also retains internal tiling, as does stair on N side. Behind this is the 1863 tunnel portal with roll-moulded arch. Remains of basement of 1863 entrance building survive behind N staircase.
If you want the full heritage detail, I strongly suggest you check out this page on TfL's urban design website. But let me tell you anyhow about some of my favourite features. The Metropolitan Railway iron crests pinned to the walls - part of the 1983 restoration and highly evocative. The benches in the alcoves - none of your off-the-shelf metal seats here. The "secret" overbridge at the western end of the platform - which turns out to have been the main entrance in 1863, via two station buildings on opposite sides of the Marylebone Road. And the glazed blue signage above the main entrance to the eastbound platform - originally installed for crowd control reasons for the British Empire Exhibition in 1925, and retained ever since.

Head up the stairs to the main ticket hall, and the hint of a golden age remains. Lettered tiles spell out the name W H Smith & Son above a ticket window and machine, while nextdoor is a similar dedication to "Luncheon & Tea Rooms". That would have been the Chiltern Court restaurant above, a demure dining space much beloved by John Betjeman, but since transformed into a less erudite Wetherspoons (which reminds me - Metroland, 10pm, Thursday 10th January, BBC4, be there). Look up as you climb the remaining staircase to see an elaborate Metropolitan Railway keystone dated 1912. And on the Portland stone wall facing the roadway, where you might not think to look, are two commemorative plaques. One was unveiled by Met chairman Lord Aberconway at the station's rebuilding, the other on the underground's 100th anniversary. I showed you that the other day, remember. It's a proud reminder that out of sight, just beneath the thundering traffic, is where everything started. And continues.

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