diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 11, 2020

London has seven Acton stations.

Here's how to visit all seven in under an hour.

Acton Town
Lines: Piccadilly and District
Opened: 1 July 1879
Annual passengers: 6 million
Architecture: One of Charles Holden's splendid geometric brick and glass boxes (Grade II).
Is it in Acton?: Yes, but only just. Across the road is historically Ealing rather than Acton. The borough of Hounslow begins a few steps to the west.
Distance to the centre of Acton: 800m
Inside the station: Trains to Heathrow. Colour coded platform signs. A timepiece made by the Self Winding Clock Company of New York. A Book Exchange. A seriously good illustrated history of several relevant aspects of the Underground, its boards pinned up around the upper walkway at a height optimised for a five year-old child.
Outside the station: A somewhat faded display of local history photographs, labelled (at a jaunty angle) 'Acton Town Local History'. A Brompton bike hire cabinet. 1-Click Properties. The London Transport Museum Depot. The Apple Tree patisserie. Somewhere to get your car fixed.
Closest shop: Churchills (a private hire taxi firm employing a brazen purple roundel)
Time elapsed: zero minutes, obviously

→→ Until 1959 a very minor shuttle train ran to South Acton along a now non-existent embankment from the now non-existent platform 5. In its absence, best to trek down Bollo Lane and Bollo Bridge Road through the emerging Acton Gardens estate, a major redevelopment which looks utterly generically late-2010s on a grand scale.

South Acton
Lines: Overground
Opened: 1 January 1880
Annual passengers: 876,000
Architecture: Heavily fortified hideaway with fretwork canopies, northbound only.
Is it in Acton?: Yes (the almost-Chiswick part)
Distance to the centre of Acton: 900m
Inside the station: Litter bags for recyclables and non-recyclables. Exposed benches. 'Mind The Step' written (twice) along the edge of the platform. A leaflet rack containing slightly soggy copies of an unhelpfully generic leaflet about changes to Overground ticket office hours. A ticket office fully stocked with a wall of maps and leaflets. A security guard arriving to collect the day's ticket takings.
Outside the station: To the south, Victorian terraces. To the north, a generically early-2010s multi-coloured redevelopment.
Closest shop: Sainsbury's Local (relocated from the much smaller unit beside the station at Acacia Court, now vacant)
Time elapsed: twelve minutes


Acton Central
Line: Overground
Opened: 1 August 1853 (oldest of the seven)
Annual passengers: 1.9 million
Architecture: A minor hallway alongside a much more impressive edifice called The Station House, now a pub stroke Italian restaurant.
Is it in Acton?: Convincingly so
Distance to the centre of Acton: 600m (closest of the seven)
Inside the station: An Energy Garden in several planters, from which are sprouting jolly daffodils. Four panels of laminated railway history to gladden the hearts of Men Who Like Trains. Another Book Exchange. A big sign announcing that ticket office hours were cut significantly last week.
Outside the station: A member of staff no longer hidden inside the ticket office. Bike rack. A community notice board. Bins for free newspapers and wellness magazines. A level crossing (which you do not want to get stuck behind, otherwise your 60 minute overall time may be in jeopardy).
Closest shop: Nara Simone Medispa (because Cafe Oak Tree and Roy Robson Surveyors have both closed)
Time elapsed: fifteen minutes

→→ A longer hike, unless you're lucky and the number 70 bus turns up at the stop on the other side of Acton Park, beyond the almshouses. The walking route becomes progressively less interesting after the boarded-up pub. A tedious number of pedestrian crossings is required to negotiate the A40 Western Avenue... and that's a significant chunk of the allocated hour eaten into.

East Acton
Line: Central
Opened: 3 August 1920
Annual passengers: 4 million
Architecture: Poky building with a pitched roof. Almost quaint.
Is it in Acton?: No, it's actually in the neighbouring borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and was never in the Municipal Borough of Acton even when that was a thing.
Distance to the centre of Acton: 2km (furthest of the seven)
Inside the station: Not much downstairs, now that much of the space is taken up by ticket barriers. Two plastic tubes covering staircases to the two platforms. Rather more pleasant waiting conditions for westbound passengers than eastbound.
Outside the station: Bins. Bike rack. Two cameras, Electric charging points. Cafe Pizzeria 59, an impressively generic seller of carbs and coffee. Corner shop which hasn't sold Mars bars, or anything, for some considerable time. Several streets named after famous goldsmiths. Avenue of trees in full blossom.
Closest shop: AK Convenience Store, purveyors of Lebara Mobile and three boxes of citrus fruit.
Time elapsed: thirty-seven minutes

→→ CENTRAL (select an Ealing Broadway service to tick off East, North and West on one train)

North Acton
Line: Central
Opened: 5 November 1923 (joint youngest)
Annual passengers: 7 million (busiest of the seven)
Architecture: More a portal than a building.
Is it in Acton?: Yes, but really quite North.
Distance to the centre of Acton: 1.9km (almost the furthest of the seven)
Inside the station: Best disregard the ticket area. Steep forking steps to the westbound. A footbridge to the eastbound. Unbranded clock. Boarding ramp. 'Find Your Way Around Park Royal' map. Small perspex cage beneath wooden canopy. Passengers waiting to go up the branch not served by the train they arrived on.
Outside the station: Fenced-off multi-level public realm, uninvitingly devoid of reasons to linger, optimistically called North Acton Square by brazen developers. Water fountain being used as a rubbish bin. Block of flats named after a demolished BBC rehearsal room. Towers of mercenary student flats. Lower floors of what will be west London's tallest residential building. A pub they daren't knock down because it's the only characterful thing left. The New Purgatory.
Closest shop: Tesco Express
Time elapsed: forty minutes

→→ CENTRAL (stay aboard!)

West Acton
Line: Central
Opened: 5 November 1923 (joint youngest)
Annual passengers: 1.7 million
Architecture: Triumphant box with massive glass wall, unexpectedly not by Charles Holden but GWR architect Brian Lewis (Grade II).
Is it in Acton?: Only just. The Acton/Ealing boundary runs a short distance to the west.
Distance to the centre of Acton: 1.3km
Inside the station: The best benches on the Underground, long and sleekly wooden, one curved into each of the shelters on the two platforms. Workmen fixing the stairs. Uplighters illuminating a lofty featureless ceiling. Poster about taking bikes on the underground.
Outside the station: West Acton Radio Cars. Roundel on a spike. A single step down, which didn't matter to architects in 1940. Yo Yo Kitchen. West Acton Superstores. One of those expensive cashpoints.
Closest shop: Japan Services Ltd (property investment, letting and management)
Time elapsed: forty-three minutes

→→ One final long walk, mostly along Noel Road (the 218 bus might help, although its detour round North Acton Playing Field may waste time instead), then a bit of Horn Lane. Don't dawdle, the hour's almost up.

Acton Main Line
Line: Crossrail-to-be
Opened: 1 February 1868
Annual passengers: 310,000 (lowest of the seven)
Architecture: Small hut, alongside skeleton of unfinished step-free upgrade
Is it in Acton?: Yes
Distance to the centre of Acton: 1.1km
Inside the station: Building works. New footbridge. New staircases. Many cameras. Lots of loudspeakers. Cables. Gantries. Help points. Pansies in cuboid planters. Purple-ended benches. Non-stopping trains. Narrow bits of platform you shouldn't wait on. Twenty-nine minute waits. Not many passengers.
Outside the station: Harry's Bar and Cafe (sellers of famous Tudor coffee). Giant video billboard advertising EastEnders. Mini roundabout. Fake blue plaque for artist Patrick Caulfield (born in Acton). Purple plastic barriers. Hooded team in hi-vis. Fresh paving and pedestrian crossings, in readiness for this backwater becoming a key transport portal.
Closest shop: Fresh Look barbers (closed Mondays)
Time elapsed: fifty-nine minutes (klaxon)

Further trips in this series:
» The Seven Harrows
» Five Go Mad in Ruislip
» The Ealing Quintet
» Penta-Clapham

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