diamond geezer

 Monday, February 11, 2013

BAKERLOO: Out of line

I've already blogged about a lot of the places the Bakerloo runs through, not least back in 2006 when the line celebrated its centenary. So I thought I'd head further out to an area I don't know well, at what for many trains is the end of the line. To Queens Park, on the border between Westminster and Brent. Which turns out to be two very different places, according to whether you turn left or right outside the station.

Turn left: Queens Park
There is, of course, a park at Queens Park called Queens Park. What's peculiar is that it belongs to and is maintained by the City of London - their sole outpost in this part of town. What's also peculiar is that it owes its existence to the Royal Agricultural Show. This was held in Kilburn, of all places, in 1879, on a 100 acre site bounded by Chamberlayne Road, Salusbury Road and two railways north and south. It rained all week, so the site soon became an unattractive quagmire, but Queen Victoria's visit to see the animals and the latest farm machinery rallied the crowds somewhat. Afterwards there was much pressure to transform the showground into residential land, especially as Queens Park station had just opened that summer, but 30 acres were saved and repurposed as a public park under the direction of landscape gardener Alexander McKenzie. He created an ornate rectangular park with parterre gardens in each corner linked by figure-of-eight paths, plus plenty of space for lawn tennis and cricket. The park opened in 1887, Queen Victoria's Jubilee year, and that's how it got its name. Housing soon encroached on all sides, but they're very nice-looking houses which gives the entire perimeter a pleasant and refined-looking backdrop. Much of Alexander's grand planning lives on, including the octagonal bandstand, although his gymnasium has long been replaced by a children's playground. Only one of the original flowerbeds remains, this in the Quiet Garden (by the wooden Lych Gate that used to be the main entrance, but is now sealed off). At the heart of the park is the Park Cafe, whose notice board has small ads for "nanny share", and where the food isn't necessarily cheap. Elsewhere teenage lads in hoodies hang around the outdoor gym bars, and small children disappear into the petting zoo, and it isn't really the season for miniature golf. Locals who'd like to know more about Queens Park should check out this illustrated 71-page history which is detailed and excellent, which is what you get when the City of London runs your local recreation ground. And next time you see a Bakerloo line train bound for Queens Park, try to imagine this sylvan greenspace at the far end. [photo]

Turn left: Salusbury Road
This is the main road through Queens Park, named after a Welsh friend of Henry VIII who owned property, and definitely on the nicer side of the tracks. Some very middle class shops line the middle of the street, including an artisan bakery and one of those food stores that sells the stuff the colour supplements put in their recipes. Starbucks and Costa have made it here, in advance of most other chainstores, with a small independent book shop sandwiched between. Look up outside for one of the strangest sights in Salusbury Road, the Queens Park Panda, a local landmark which appears to be a stuffed toy in a tree. Rest assured that the street's shopping selection's not entirely highbrow, and the fortress-like Kilburn Police station is a reminder that not all's sweetness and light in NW6. The local primary school opens its playground for a Farmers Market every Sunday, voted Farmers Market of the Year 2012 no less. But my favourite shop, if only for its name, is on College Parade at the top of the hill - a very ordinary toilet-rolls-and-beer corner shop called "Singhsbury's Superstore". For the win. [photo]

Turn left: Paddington Old Cemetery
It's not in Paddington, indeed it's nowhere near, but was opened by the Paddington Burial Board who needed a space out of town in 1855. These days it's a large expanse of green, ideal for dogwalking, as well as continuing to squeeze in bodies as a working cemetery. The 24 acres nudge right down into Queens Park, but have an entrance only on the far side near Kilburn, being otherwise surrounded by a brick wall and a flank of housing. At the centre of the cemetery are two small chapels with porte-cochère and central belfry, and somewhere round the edge is a row of beehives producing Tombstone Honey. If you ever saw the Sylvester McCoy Dr Who story Remembrance of the Daleks, a lot of that was filmed here, including the burial of the Hand of Omega and the final coffin-bearing scene. It must be the weather but it's particularly squishy underfoot around the cemetery at the moment, especially down at the far end where my great-grandfather is buried. We've never found his grave, it doesn't appear to be marked, but it makes sense that he's buried at the Queens Park end, because that's where he used to live. [photo]

Turn right: Kilburn Lane
Until the 19th century wiggling Kilburn Lane was the only road of any status round here, but it's now anything but rural. The land on this side of the railway was developed years before any of the fields to the north were touched, so it's not quite so uniformly attractive over here. Here are the Chicken Cottages, the Lebanese cafes and the launderettes, although also a Bang & Olufsen shop and a Spy Store so it's not all bog-standard. At the eastern end, where the number 36 bus terminates, is a less than exciting gyratory with the entirely inappropriate name of Premier Corner. Further west the lane is lined by small terraced cottages, as befits houses built before anyone realised this was going to be sprawling suburbia. They're rather cosy-looking, especially those along the last dogleg crescent. This is part of the Queens Park Estate, built in the 1870s by the Artizans, Labourers & General Dwellings Company. I've blogged about them before, and their acreage in Noel Park and Battersea, and this estate is no less splendid. It's housing for the working classes, but in Gothic revival style and with something unusual at the time - gardens. Here William Austin built a grid of yellow brick, two storey cottages but with absolutely no pubs, he believed firmly in temperance. All the houses have embellished porches, and some on the street corners have sharp-pointed turrets. You'd live here (unless you already live somewhere better). The six main streets were numbered one to six, and the others lettered A to P, but the latter have since been given proper names from Alperton to Peach. It was on this estate that QPR's first players used to live... because yes, obviously, Queens Park Rangers originally hail from round here. [photo]

Turn back: Queens Park station
If you arranged London's 270 underground stations into aesthetic order, Queens Park would be in the 200s. It has a particularly tedious frontage, thanks to utilitarian British Rail architecture, and even the roof canopy above the platforms is nothing memorable. But the station does have its problems, and rather more of late, as the main northern terminus for Bakerloo line trains. These roll out of the tunnel into platform 3, where all the passengers aboard have to be turfed out before the train can enter the shed ahead. A dispute is afoot between drivers and management regarding how those passengers should be detrained. TfL want drivers to make announcements, flash the lights a bit and then drive on, whereas drivers aren't happy with this in case some nutcase stays on the train into the sidings. They've taken to working to rule, walking back down the train and checking each carriage, whereas the timetable doesn't allow for that. This protracted turnaround is slowing the service down, which often results in northbound trains queueing to exit the tunnel, and stacked up behind that too. The dispute could be ended by placing additional support staff on the platform, but that would cost, or by the drivers taking a risk when isolating themselves, which they're not willing to do. If you see minor delays on the Bakerloo line caused by "operational issues" - and it's happening more and more recently - the Queens Park shuffle is probably to blame. [photo]

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