50 years ago tomorrow, on Friday 7th March 1969, the third section of the Victoria line slipped into service. Six months earlier the first section from Walthamstow Central to Highbury & Islington had opened, and in December the line had extended three stations further south, temporarily terminating at Warren Street. Pressing on through Oxford Circus and Green Park to its namesake Victoria stretched the new line across central London, making fresh connections that changed the way Londoners travel. But it'd be another two years until the last push down to Brixton, and another three until the Victoria line was finally complete.
So today I'm continuing my journey down the line, station by station, to see how this cutting-edge forward-thinking initiative is looking fifty years on. If nothing else, it'll be a useful reminder that major transport projects delivered way behind schedule are nothing new, and generally come good in the end.
Opened: 7th March 1969 Originally opened: 30 July 1900 Interchange with: Bakerloo line and Central line Tile pattern: Every Victoria line station has its own bespoke mural in the alcoves on the platforms above the benches. Oxford Circus's design is by Hans Unger and depicts interchange with the Bakerloo and Central lines. This is a reinstatement of the original design, returned in 2009, prior to which a snakes and ladders motif had appeared instead. A larger version of the design appears in the ticket hall. Alas no tiles are present on the northbound Victoria line platform because this was severely damaged by fire in 1984, after which vitreous enamel cladding was introduced to cover the walls, losing the seat recesses and motif.
Architecture: Head to the top of Argyll Street to see the station's original entrances. The Central London Railway building arrived first, with a terracotta entrance by Harry Bell Measures, while the oxblood Bakerloo line building opposite is a classic Leslie Green structure. It's still called Oxford Circus House, and ground floor attractions include a currency exchange kiosk and a tourist-baiting Angus Steak House. A new entrance was needed when the Victoria line opened, so a temporary steel 'umbrella' was built above the main Oxford Circus junction and a new ticket hall excavated underneath. Construction took five years. Health and safety gone mad: The digital nameboards above each entrance staircase display the station name for one second, then the scrolling warning "Caution Floor And Steps May Be Slippery When Wet" for nine seconds, even if it hasn't been raining. Nearby development: Oxford Circus has resisted major redevelopment of late, even fending off part-pedestrianisation, although a lot of the street frontage is but a heritage veneer.
Station layout: Quite the rabbit warren, with separate threaded passageways for entering and exiting. To get your head around how it works, the Central line platforms are the lowest, while the Bakerloo and Victoria line platforms are coupled together a bit higher up. The northbound Victoria line platform was dug beside the northbound Bakerloo line platform, with a new passenger concourse inbetween making northbound interchange quick and simple. Southbound connections were designed exactly the same way. Crossing between northbound and southbound is less simple, however, achieved via narrow passageways which wend over the top of the Bakerloo line. [map][map][map]
Down below: The two Victoria line platforms have contrasting designs, courtesy of the aforementioned fire, not that I expect most passengers have noticed. Southbound is 60s original, with grey tiles and wooden benches, but northbound is somewhat more bland with bog-standard metal seats. These are both particularly busy places, hence the provision of nine platform exit passageways on the southbound platform and eight on the northbound. At present the entire advertising collateral on the northbound platform wall has been bought up by a single marketing campaign for Australian hair products, not just the posters but also the digital adverts projected during the brief pauses when no train is in the station. Next train indicators: Both platforms have two of these, but additional dangling infrastructure makes them hard to read from certain areas. On the northbound it's impossible to identify the next train if standing alongside the front carriage, and impossible to read the time until the next train from alongside the second. Bulky ventilation units suspended from the ceiling are to blame. On the southbound it's impossible to identify the next train if standing alongside the rear three carriages, thanks to a Way Out sign, while a tiny panel designed to indicate the location of the nearest help point has been thoughtlessly hung at a height where it can cause the greatest concealment.
Factnugget: That 1984 fire on the northbound platform, which occurred during renovation works, led to a network-wide ban on smoking on all subsurface platforms. Some photos: Seven, here.
Opened: 7th March 1969 Originally opened: 15 December 1906 Previously known as Dover Street (until 1933) Interchange with: Piccadilly and Jubilee lines Tile pattern: Green Park's design is again by Hans Unger and depicts trees from nearby Green Park viewed from above. Tiles on the Jubilee line platforms show individual falling leaves.
Station development:Green Park is the station where the Underground's two most-recently-constructed lines meet, so has seen two major reconfigurations during its history. The original Piccadilly line station had lifts emerging in Dover Street, but a 1930s upgrade saw the construction of a new ticket hall under Piccadilly linked by (very long) escalators. Construction of the Victoria line saw the ticket hall upgraded, a separate escalator connection added and a (short) passageway burrowed between the two lines at platform level. Construction of the Jubilee line in the 1970s required a further double-escalator descent, plus a shortpassageway to the Victoria line and a footsloggingly long passageway to the Piccadilly. If trying to change lines here, passengers heading to/from the Victoria line get the better deal. [map] Architecture: Ever since the closure of the Dover Street entrance there's been very little to see at ground level, just a couple of staircases disappearing underground past a branch of M&S Food. However in readiness for the Olympics in 2012 Green Park was selected as the one central London station worthy of a step-free upgrade, so a striking new entrance was constructed on the southern side of Piccadilly. Level access was constructed from Green Park itself, funnelled between earth embankments, while a long shelter with Portland Stone cladding topped things off at street level. This features an artwork by John Maine called Sea Strata incorporating depictions of the fossils which formed in the limestone 150 million years ago. Ahem: The poster above the Sea Strata plaque incorrectly states that TfL Rail will become part of the Elizabeth line in December 2018.
Down below: Green Park's Victoria line platforms look pretty much like the Victoria line's other platforms. Both have raised central sections to aid level access. The southbound platform is noticeably less brightly illuminated than the northbound. In the concourse between, the single digit on the sign pointing towards "Victoria line northbound platform 3" has been written in blue pen and stuck on top of whatever number it used to say underneath. Vinyl maps: Last December TfL covered over the vinyl tube maps on both platforms with heritage posters. The heritage poster on the southbound platform remains, but the northbound poster has been replaced with a fresh vinyl map (despite the fact that another tube map exists further down the platform).
Peoplewatching: Because Victoria line trains are so frequent, there's rarely any need for passengers to spend more than two minutes here. They feed in from the Piccadilly line and lifts at one end, the Jubilee line at the other end or the main escalators in the centre, congregating until the next train rushes in. This disgorges hordes onto the platform who either know where they're going or linger briefly to work out where to head. Various streams file off to the various exits, with tourists bringing up the rear, and then the platforms return to passenger-accumulation mode as the next glare of halogen headlights appears in the tunnel.
Factnugget: The loo-oong passageway between the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines has more blue tiles at the Piccadilly end and more grey tiles at the Jubilee end. Victoria line passengers should never need to use it. Some photos: Nine, here.