diamond geezer

 Friday, May 24, 2013

PICCADILLY: the tiles

Doug loves them. He's got a website about the tiles down the Piccadilly line (and down the other lines designed in the Edwardian era). Doug's even written a book, of the lavishly-illustrated £50 type, which could probably be described as definitive. We have three more north London stations to visit.

Skip King's Cross St Pancras, it's been entirely modernised. And you won't spot York Road, that's long closed.

Caledonian Road is a below-ground tiling extravaganza. The ox-blood façade at street level is mighty fine too, but there are plenty of these around London, and downstairs ticks different boxes. The chosen colour here is mauve, in two closely coordinated shades, rippling in zigzags down the wall. Compared to some of the other stations we've visited the effect is quite muted, definitely less polished. There's been no recent wholesale restoration here - indeed close-up investigation reveals a few long-term imperfections. Let's call it character.

If you're looking for the way out, Cally Road offers a choice of signage. The usual modern enamel panels are here, all terribly pristine and normal, but also much more ornate WAY OUT panels tiled beside the exits. The words appear inside a design that could be a ticket window, but is more correctly a free-standing picture frame - the correct term is 'aedicular'. Other exits are marked NO EXIT, similarly framed and glazed. You'll find these aedicular signs at all the other stations I've highlighted, but some of those here are unreconstituted Leslie Green originals.

Head to the far end of the northbound platform to see an original all-red roundel, almost hidden, beyond a staff telephone near the signals. There's another at Covent Garden if you don't want to trek this far out, but again beyond the passenger barrier so best seen from a passing train.

Holloway Road is best seen just after a train has left, with the cylindrical platform empty and brown hoops overhead. That's assuming you like brown. Leslie Green chose two shades of brown as his Holloway Road colours, one richer and darker, the other verging on orange. The lighter hue is used on the platforms to create a bold diagonal design, broken by a broad vertical dark strip. This polychromatic branding continues along the exit passages, even up the steps to the spiral staircase... but not all the way to the top.

A most well preserved station, this, both above and below, and the second in a row with a Grade II listing. It's the attention to detail, the small things, that make the difference. Take the interconnecting passage, for example. Today it's only useful to anyone changing between northbound and southbound trains, which should be nobody, but in its day this was an entrance at the foot of the stairs. Which way to go? The tiling tells you, left To The Trains Hammersmith, right To The Trains Finsbury Park. And all in brown, of course, lovely brown.

Tottenham fans should look away now.

It made perfect sense in 1906 to call Arsenal station Gillespie Road. A fairly minor road, admittedly, but entirely descriptive of the ticket hall's location. It's nowhere near the platforms, though. A long gentle ramp slopes down from the entrance, and down, and down, before reaching a cavity dug out beneath the East Coast mainline. Arsenal football team didn't move in nearby until 1913, and the station name didn't change until 1932. Today the ramp down to the platforms is part barriered-off to provide a protected contraflow system on matchdays, but look behind the metal bars and Leslie Green's striped tiles remain.

Strange colours, though. Purple and green don't really go together, especially when the purple's a wishywashy mauve and the green's dark emerald. You'd expect red and white because those are Arsenal's colours but, like I said, the tiles predated the team's arrival. And the old station name survives on the platforms, with GILLESPIE ROAD written in large flowing capitals at each end. Who cares if that's not what it's called any more, rejoice that it's still here. A century on, the Piccadilly's tiling vision endures.

Finsbury Park rounds off the original line, but has no original tiling. The station's platforms were radically reworked in the 1960s to allow cross-platform interchange between the new Victoria line and the Piccadilly. Instead you can enjoy the sight of six hot air balloons, created in mosaic by artist Annabel Grey, bobbing curvaceously along the length of the platform.

I've now downloaded 28 Piccadilly tiling photos to Flickr. According to Flickr's cavalier new interface almost none of you have looked at them, but the stats lie because you clearly have.

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