diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 06, 2013

Underground 150 Baker Street → Portland Road

This is the third of six inter-station walks along the original Metropolitan Railway. Today along the bottom of Regent's Park, but via the Marylebone Road so there's no park. [map] [old map] [11 photos]

The area outside Baker Street station is dominated by Madame Tussauds. It wasn't here when the station opened - Marie's waxworks was originally located quarter of a mile away at the 'Baker Street Bazaar'. In 1883 her grandson moved the galleries to their present location on the Marylebone Road, and they've been a major crowd-pleaser ever since. They come from far and wide, particularly far, because few of the folk queueing up at the entrance are from Britain. They're here to get up close to their favourite celebs, and to bustle round the pavements afterwards buying souvenirs, waffles and sightseeing bus tickets. Adjacent is the copper dome of the London Planetarium, which began its presentations of the night sky in 1958. But these weren't the stars the international tourist market wanted to see, and the building now hosts a science-free tribute to Marvel superheroes.

For something more educational cross the road to the University of Westminster, built on the site of the Marylebone Work House, or walk a little further to reach the Royal Academy of Music. This august body moved in just over a century ago and now trains 700 students a year in preparation for solo or orchestral performance. Alongside is the Academy's museum, a fairly modern affair, and free to enter. The first floor has a display of stringed instruments (Stradivarius plus) while the top floor's all historic pianos (including a Steinway). It's not a large collection but it's very well presented, and also offers a chance to mingle with students exiting from their adjacent practice rooms.

Across the road is the latest incarnation of St Marylebone parish church, whose foundation stone was laid 200 years ago this summer. It has a striking neo-classical design, with three-storey steeple, and would have been very familiar to Charles Dickens whose son Walter was baptised here. The church is at the top of Marylebone High Street, where once stood the Tyburn Manor House (used by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I as a hunting lodge). A more impressive sideroad is Devonshire Place, very much a four-million-a-house sort of location, and next up is Harley Street. Between the two is The London Clinic, a huge independent hospital ideally located for those referred from the private doctors hereabouts.

For a brief breath of green, the Marylebone Road enters what ought to be the foot of Regent's Park. Instead the gardens either side have been locked behind railings for the sole use of local people, the residents of Park Square and Park Crescent, who live somewhere almost as grand as inner London allows. Nash's stuccoed fa├žade remains hugely impressive, but is now a veneer hiding expensive modernised flats behind. At the centre of the radius is the entrance to Regent's Park tube station, located where the Bakerloo ducks north-south beneath the Circle. The latter doesn't stop because it was built first, and it already had another station a very short distance ahead...

Portland Road station: Located at the very top of Great Portland Street, this station was initially called Portland Road. It was built on a traffic island, counterbalanced by Holy Trinity church opposite, and is still surrounded by circulating traffic. The station building is elliptical, a 1930 rebuild by Charles Clark, and is currently all but invisible behind sheets and scaffolding. At ground level are a ring of retail units, once home to a car showroom, now ideal if you need a cup of coffee, a watch battery or a handbag. Step inside and enter the rotunda, which is supported by eight columns above a brown and cream patterned floor. Compared to Euston Square, the next stop down the line, this is heaven.

Two staircases lead down a level - ignore the directional signs and take your pick - then two more lead down to the platforms. The footbridge between the two is wide and characterful, and, unusually, has windows in the centre allowing you to look straight down across the tracks. The platforms are similar to those at Baker Street so ought to be most impressive but somehow aren't quite. Whereas its neighbour was restored properly by London Underground, Great Portland Street was a guinea pig for Metronet's contractors and they did a cut-price job. Electric cables have been stashed behind a ridged plastic shield which runs the length of the station, lessening the visual impact of the vaulted brick ceiling. The alcoves fill with puddles when it rains. As for the walls, whilst most were restored, Metronet slapped biscuit-coloured vinyl panelling across the rest to avoid repairing what was underneath. The entire eastern end of the station is an unsympathetic hybrid of 1863 and 2004, ditto the area immediately underneath the footbridge, and the result is an ugly synthetic anachronism. Shame.

» Gower Street

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