diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 12, 2016

5) Moorgate to Holborn
(1½ miles)

When Crossrail opens in late 2018, one thing you're going to have to get used to is the doubled-up stations. Crossrail platforms will be twice as long as is usual on the tube, so add an escalator at each end they can reach out and connect to two consecutive existing stations. Specifically this'll be the case along the northern edge of the City where consecutive Circle line stations lie only 500m apart, so four stations will become two on Crossrail, with Moorgate a second exit from Liverpool Street and Barbican a second exit from Farringdon. Some mighty long subterranean treks are going to become de rigeur, and it's going to become more important to be sitting at the time-efficient end of the train.

On my Crossrail walk I'd just reached Moorgate after a ground level trek through and round Finsbury Circus, which is the extended Liverpool Street conglomerate dealt with. From here I need to continue to Barbican-stroke-Farringdon, which should simply mean crossing the Barbican estate, except that's not as straightforward as it sounds. Yes, we all know the maze of passages can be difficult to follow, but in this case it's become impossible as Crossrail works have sealed off the Moorfields Highwalk. A peculiar escalator used to ascend to the left of the station entrance, but this is being demolished along with the Metropolitan line ticket hall to make way for the 21 Moorfields office development, hence a pedestrian diversion is required. Alas maps outside the station show a longer than necessary diversion because they're only allowed to show public rights of way, and the piazza at City Point (which is the obvious shortcut) is a privatised space with technically limited access rights. I told you this sort of stuff was important.

On the other side of the block, across Moor Lane, a staircase eventually leads up to podium level. It's not the usual entrance to this concrete cathedral, but that's no bad thing, and the elevated panorama is all lengthy grey lines. The inaccessible building opposite retains a very 60s fa├žade with sculpted motif, but sticky-tape crosses in the windows suggest full-on demolition can't be far off. Crossrail passes directly underneath, then runs slap bang through the centre of the postwar development. If you know the Barbican you'll know the half-tubular waterfall at the far end of the lake - the westbound tunnel passes directly beneath, before heading under the Gilbert Bridge and across the front of the Lakeside Terrace. But it turns out this is nothing especially special, the Circle line goes almost exactly the same way (only higher up), and is a more direct hit on the row of fountain wells along the waterside.

Heading down from the highwalk, the existing entrance to Barbican station won't be changing much. Instead the Crossrail connection is being made at the far end of the platforms, down by the signal box, where a considerable building site is apparent. It's even more apparent from Smithfield where an entire block at the far end of the meat market has been completely demolished. The worksite's shield of barriers has been brightened up with Barbican posters and a repeating pattern that's supposed to look like a hedge but is two shades too light, but this can't conceal the lofty crane and gaping hole behind. It seems somehow wrong that this carnivorous corner, silent for so much of the week, will soon be disgorging thousands into the Charterhouse environs, but most will probably find themselves at the other exit from Farringdon instead.

To get there requires passing top nightclub venues, indeed the westbound tunnel is already complete beneath Fluid and Fabric. The walk also includes the entire length of Cowcross Street - that's how long the station is - to arrive at what appears to be the very first completed Crossrail station. Farringdon's modern portal resembles an out-of-town warehouse or aircraft hangar, its cavernous interior seemingly devoid of human-scale features, and presents a stark contrast to the Metropolitan Railway's ornate 1863 original opposite. I know which I prefer. But no, this is merely the Thameslink entrance, because Crossrail will be getting a concourse of its own beneath the bland five-storey office block that's yet to be built in the huge gap at the end of the street.

We'll press on, to cross Farringdon Road which you can see, and the River Fleet and the boundary with Camden which you can't. The diamond district of Hatton Garden lies ahead, and then the street market at Leather Lane which I've never yet seen in action, and whose dowdy canvas is covering only empty tiles when I walk through. The subsequent 'square' at Brookes Market is unfamiliar to me, a peculiar paved rectangle sprouting trees, benches and litter bins and surrounded by a motley collection of residences, including a hostel that used to be a refuge that used to be a convent. Some quite ordinary people still live this close to the heart of London, in what were once less desirable quarters and have yet to be hollowed out.

Gray's Inn is very much a sealed legal quarter, with high walls, barriers and arcane access arrangements, so I have to make a lengthy ground level detour here. I pick up the line of the railway again on Princeton Street, home to the excellent Novelty Automation and the workaday Beck's Cafe. You might be more familiar with Red Lion Square, where Crossrail clips the corner by Bertrand Russell, and below which another crossover will allow passage from one bore of the tunnel to the other. It's been a while since any engineering works have burst through to the surface, so it's no surprise to see familiar hoardings crammed inbetween buildings behind Southampton Row. Two minor streets have been blocked off to squeeze a crane (and a deep shaft) into the demolished space, as yet another random London location succumbs to the cross-capital railway.

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Life viewed from London E3

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