diamond geezer

 Thursday, September 23, 2021

In case this week's new station bonanza has warped your memory, here's a reminder of how many new stations have been opened in Greater London over the last 20 years. It's quite a few, and yet not many.

n.b. These are totally new stations in fresh locations, not existing stations gaining extra connections.
n.b. The list includes three stations whose future opening is pretty much guaranteed.
n.b. The list is particulary unfair to Crossrail which is a splurge of fresh links rather than an expansion into pastures new.

 TubeDLROvergroundRail & Crossrail
2005 West Silvertown
Pontoon Dock
London City Airport
King George V
2007 Langdon Park  
2008Heathrow Terminal 5  Mitcham Eastfields
Wood Lane
2009  Imperial WharfStratford International
2010  Shoreditch High Street
Dalston Junction
2011 Stratford High Street
Abbey Road
Star Lane
2016   Lea Bridge
2021Battersea Power Station
Nine Elms
2022  Barking RiversideWoolwich
Brent Cross West

For the first four years of the 21st century nothing new opened. During the next three years it was all about the DLR - an extension to the Royal Docks and an extra station plugging a gap in Poplar. The only tube station to open during Ken Livingstone's eight year Mayorship was Heathrow Terminal 5, although he did set the subsequent burst of Overground/DLR expansion in motion.

TfL opened no new stations during the ten years between 31st August 2011 and 20th September 2021 because austerity hurt, and because Boris was better at snuffing out new projects than starting them. That said the Northern line extension was his baby, and he also kept the faith on Crossrail (first approved the year before he took the helm). Barking Riverside will be the first station delivered under Sadiq's watch.

Right now we're in a busy phase with the Northern line extension this week, Crossrail within nine months and two further stations at the end of next year. But then it goes tumbleweed quiet again with the only very likely new stations being HS2-related in maybe 2026. Long-promised New Bermondsey on the Overground is forever awaiting non-existing money, and just last week the government cast doubt on funding Beam Park in Havering.

Best not complain. A similar table for the East Anglia region would include just three stations (Southend Airport in 2011, Cambridge North in 2017 and Soham later this year), making London's haul of two dozen look positively greedy. Also the list is horribly skewed towards East London with other corners of the capital vastly outnumbered, but at least that's better than opening nothing at all. So best make the most of London's current burst of expansion because after 2022 it's going to go very quiet again, maybe for a very long time.

Two new tube stations means two new tube station names, and this changes a few long-established facts.

For example, it's changed the longest station name on the Underground.
1) Battersea Power Station (21 letters)
2) Heathrow Terminals 2&3 (20 letters)
2) High Street Kensington (20 letters)
2) Totteridge & Whetstone (20 letters)
The Overground can do longer (Caledonian Road & Barnsbury) [24], as can the Dangleway (Emirates Greenwich Peninsula) [26]. The tube map boasts an even longer confection (King's Cross & St Pancras International) [33]. But no tube roundel has a longer name than the brand new Battersea Power Station [21].

It doesn't quite take the title for the tube station name with the most syllables, being narrowly pipped by Heathrow Terminals 2&3. It isn't unique in being named after a listed building, joining (amongst others) St Paul's, Bank, Mansion House and Marble Arch. It's rare in containing the name of a rock band (namely Sea Power, formerly British Sea Power) and almost the name of another (Duran Duran spin-off The Power Station). It's also, tediously, the only station name in the UK to include the word station.

Meanwhile Nine Elms becomes only the fifth tube station with a proper number in its name, joining the three Heathrow stations and Seven Sisters. This allows me, with a little contrivance, to list ten tube stations numbered from 1 to 10.
  1) MarylebONE
  2) Heathrow Terminals 2&3
  3) Heathrow Terminals 2&3
  4) Heathrow Terminal 4
  5) Heathrow Terminal 5
  6) VIctoria
  7) SEVEN Sisters
  8) Notting Hill G8
  9) NINE Elms
10) TotTENham Court Road
Roman numerals and homonyms are cheating somewhat, sorry, but at least the arrival of Nine Elms removes the need to include BrIXton. Interestingly Nine Elms is the second tube station whose name derives from a quantifiable group of elm trees, the other being Seven Sisters.

Nine Elms also joins an exclusive group of tube stations whose names are the anagram of a single word.

see also...
Arsenal - RANALES
East Acton - ANTECOSTA
Eastcote - COESTATE
Mile End - IDLEMEN
Neasden - ENNEADS
Old Street - DOTTERELS
Redbridge - REBRIDGED
South Ealing - LEIOGNATHUS
     Barking - BRAKING
     Debden - BENDED
     Epping - PIGPEN
     Hampstead - HEADSTAMP
     Harlesden - REHANDLES
     Morden - MODERN
     Nine Elms - LINESMEN
     Osterley - TYROLESE
     Stanmore - ONSTREAM
     Temple - PELMET
     Wood Green - GREENWOOD

Battersea Power Station is merely an anagram of WETTEST STROBE PARANOIA, and that's nowhere near as special.

 Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The other new tube station on the Northern line extension is a bit smaller, a bit simpler and a bit more useful for existing residents. It's also in a different borough, which was helpful because it meant TfL could ask for funding from two different councils. The area last had a station in 1848 when the London & South Western extended to a new terminus at Waterloo, and is still dominated by a railway viaduct. It's Nine Elms, and suddenly it's nine minutes from Leicester Square.

Nine years ago this was an underused corner of Sainsbury's car park, ripe for redevelopment and infrastructural refill. The supermarket promptly expanded into another part of the site, hiding its car park underneath, leaving room for civil engineers to carve out a deep box where the trolley store and a burglar alarm factory used to be. For a couple of years you could look down from a passing bus into an enormous trench supported by concrete beams, until they capped it off with a couple of understated boxes and today it's a portal into the 272nd Underground station.

As at Battersea Power Station station the trains arrive either side of a broad island platform, but here there's a lot more island than platform. This is a result of there only being one set of escalators, not two, which leaves a lot more circulation space between the tracks. If escalator counting is your thing, know that Nine Elms has one bank of three and BPS has two banks of two. At the heart of the subterranean expanse is a shiny information arch where you can consult the new version of the tube map (or in case of fire, grab an extinguisher). Inexplicably the two tube maps posted up elsewhere on the platforms are the old version which doesn't include the extension, so could never have been relevant.

You've not much reason to go right to the far end of the platforms unless you need the lift. Nine Elms has just the one, but it does go direct to street level so escaping from the station is much quicker than at Battersea. Poke your nose into the other extremities and you'll find emergency stairs and several doors labelled 'Intervention route to track'. Although it might be interesting to discover what lurks beyond the fire doors, best hope you never find out.

Two things Nine Elms has a lot more of than Battersea Power Station are seats and adverts, for connected reasons. Passengers can expect to wait awhile on the platforms here before a train arrives (currently up to 12 minutes), so TfL have kindly provided somewhere to sit and something to look at. The whole outer wall is postered, unlike BPS which has none, while a few bright digital screens grace four of the pillars. Those coming down the escalators also get to stare at a large unmissable video screen, although on launch day it was only promoting the company that supplied it. According to TfL's most recent blogpost, it's hoped that "advertisers wanting to target affluent residents and shoppers in zone one" will choose to use it.

The gateline is broad and leads swiftly into a ticket hall, then straight out into the street. For those who hang around there's not much to see, partly because the intended artwork got cancelled to save money. But there is a bank of ticket machines on one side and a little office on the other where the staff hang out, plus some large roundels splashed across the glass above each exit. I was particularly exasperated to see a 'Please stay hydrated in hot weather' sign in one corner, given that temperatures hadn't exceeded 20°C since the extension opened and it was the penultimate day of summer and ffs the health and safety pedants are obsessed.

Nine Elms isn't architecturally impressive from outside, more a long porch along the glassy end of a very large grey box. A second featureless cuboid covers the emergency exit at the far end, this even drabber - isolated and adrift amid a blank piazza. It's all because the new station is designed to be built on top of, in this case with a trio of towers containing 479 flats, 40% of them affordable. The percentage is only that high because the current Mayor controls what gets built on TfL's land, whereas the luxury highrises nearer the river got nodded through by the previous incumbent.

What's reassuring about Nine Elms is that it's faced on two sides by some very ordinary pre-existing residential areas. On the other side of Pascal Street is Apple Blossom Court, a sheltered housing scheme, plus a loop of postwar flats around Bramley Crescent. Across Wandsworth Road are the Vauxhall Estate (built by the Church of England) and the Wyvil Estate (a significant cluster of very 1960s blocks). And between them runs Wilcox Road, one of the outposts of Lambeth's Little Portugal, with its characterful parade of independent shops and cafes. It's such a shame that people who come to ride the extension are much more likely to end up in an overpriced Nine Elms eaterie than here enjoying a friendly pavement coffee accompanied by a Portuguese custard tart.

One of the biggest changes hereabouts this week isn't the new station but the arch that's been opened up beneath the railway viaduct. Previously the Thames-side Nine Elms strip was very much cut off from this side of the tracks but now the two sides are connected, purely so that those on the rich side can catch a train. It also means that Nine Elms residents are no longer stuck with Waitrose, they can easily walk through to Sainsbury's, while Waitrose has become directly accessible to those living on the less well-off side. The route follows a temporary slalom across the very eastern end of New Covent Garden Market, its hoardings attractively decorated with pictures of fruit, before negotiating a rainbow crossing and disappearing into the new arch. The workmen giving it a final touch-up on Monday were very keen that I came back after dark to see how they'd illuminated it.

This unassuming walkway is the first publicly accessible breach through half a mile of viaduct in decades. It's not just the new underground railway that's connected Wandsworth to Lambeth, its arrival has made a significant change at ground level too.

40 Flickr photos of the new extension (20 from Battersea Power Station and 20 from Nine Elms)

 Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Normally they turf you off the train at Kennington, but the trains with the brand new destination on the front now go further. After the doors close they enter the loop where services once reversed, then suddenly break out into fresh broader concrete tunnels where the track noise sounds altogether different. It's over a mile to the first station, a concrete cavern which has transformed the land beneath Sainsbury's car park into an outpost of Zone 1. The final part of the journey is quicker, eventually crossing a broad scissor junction which feeds the train into the correct terminating platform. Welcome to Battersea Power Station station, born Monday 20th September 2021.

It's very much not your normal Northern line station, all stooped and curved, more a large rectangular box scooped out of the ground with trains at the bottom. The tracks run to either side, with connecting concourses at both ends and plenty of room for the escalators up the middle. The inner walls are shiny steel, each platform roof a stripe of ribbed timber and the outer walls matt black so as not to distract the eye. It reminded me a bit of Canary Wharf (but without the platform edge doors) and a bit of Heathrow Terminal 5 (though with more money thrown at the aesthetics).

On Day One the station was awash with people come to see what all the fuss was about, notably Freedom Pass holders and infrastructure enthusiasts. Some wandered round briefly, then headed up and out to explore the neighbourhood. Others undertook a full circuit before poking their nose into every cross passage and lift lobby in case they'd missed something. A few set up tripods or crouched patiently on the floor, attempting to get exactly the right camera shot without any pesky passengers wrecking it, something that'll undoubtedly be easier next week. And a lone member of staff sat in his cabin at the inbound end, seemingly watching over us all.

The outer walls are free from adverts and the platforms mostly free of seats, for connected reasons. A train will usually be waiting to take fresh passengers away, so they can sit in that, and at no point will the surface behind be clearly visible. At present the station sees only half a dozen trains an hour, max, with a brief period inbetween when neither platform is occupied and the litterpicker takes a breather. Several doors lead to hideyholes for staff, including one for Cleaners, a Mess, a Train staff toilet and the BPS Train staff tea point. If the roundels look crowded it's because Battersea Power Station is the longest station name on the tube network.

It doesn't matter which set of escalators you take because both lead to the centre of the mezzanine. This is vast with mighty pillars supporting a sawtooth roof, and includes a rectangular gash through which activity on the platforms can be glimpsed. Only those heading for a lift need make their way around the rim. The gateline is a dozen slots wide, easily large enough to cope with future hordes returning from as yet unfinished shops and offices. And occasionally the walls change colour. This is Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset by Alexandre da Cunha, two 100m long kinetic sculptures made from a sequence of rotating billboards which periodically spill a fresh shade from one end to the other. Top marks for its apparent simplicity.

Beyond the barriers are the key components of a 2020s station - five ticket machines, a rack of maps and a departures indicator. Don't expect to find public toilets but there are a number of retail units awaiting tenants, because that's inadequately funded public services for you. You might also bump into armed police keeping a close eye on things, or maybe that was a Day One exclusive. Eventually there'll be a second exit feeding directly into the heart of the Power Station development but for now signs direct you left towards the lesser heights of Battersea Park Road. Keep walking past the place that doesn't yet sell coffee, and then it's up and out.

The final escalators pierce the surface beneath a jagged skylit roof. Imagine a yellow sheet dropped on top of a smaller glass box at a jaunty angle and you'll get the picture. One day this'll be a busy street corner with a multi-towered backdrop, but for now it's just a hoardinged piazza with a few planters acting as passive security barriers. It was buzzing yesterday as crowds flocked in to see the new station and maybe grab a selfie outside. More serious photographers stepped back into the cycle lane for the ideal shot capturing both station and chimneys - a view that'll be sequentially disappearing as time goes by.

The one thing it's currently difficult to do from Battersea Power Station station is walk to Battersea Power Station. The developers have posted up a glossy map detailing all the posh refreshment options by the riverside but failed to mention how to get there, and those who mistakenly choose to walk clockwise rather than anti-clockwise face a much longer hike. It's almost as if the line has been opened a couple of years prematurely because as yet there's nothing convenient to visit, nor any tenants in the strange wiggly flats who might wish to travel to the West End. Instead it's the lucky residents of the Savona Estate opposite and the Patmore Estate behind who've been gifted an ultra-convenient A-list tube connection most other social housing backwaters can only dream of.

Battersea Power Station station's not yet what you expect it's going to be, and all the better for it.

20 Flickr photos taken yesterday (and more from Nine Elms to come tomorrow)
Geoff's opening day video (including a ride on the very first train)

 Monday, September 20, 2021

New tube stations means a new tube map.
And here it is.

It's not in all tube stations yet - it was only in two of the twelve I tried yesterday - but it is out just in time for the first Northern line trains departing Battersea Power Station station this morning.

The new extension was first revealed in a tweet by the Mayor on Friday morning.
That got London talking.

The first thing that stood out was that the extension wasn't straight. It could have been, had the designers chosen to write 'Battersea Power Station' underneath rather than alongside, but they chose not to. Nowhere else on the map is there a bend quite as curvaceous as this, except perhaps on the Heathrow T4 loop, so it really stands out.

This isn't necessarily wrong, just deeply unfamiliar, nor does it appear to be an attempt to reflect geographical reality. However it has inspired several people to suggest renaming the extension the Battersea Droop, a nickname with every chance of catching on, so this might turn out to be a design decision that backfires.

Other things to note...
» Kennington has gained a connector blob to show that only trains on the Charing Cross branch will serve the new extension. But it's a massive connector blob, almost as big as Farringdon and Blackfriars now suffer, which is particularly unhelpful given that Kennington has one of the simplest interchanges on the network - simply stepping through from one Northern line platform to the other.
» On the previous version of the tube map it looked like all trains on the Charing Cross branch continued down to Morden. On this version it looks like no trains on the Charing Cross branch continue down to Morden. In fact some still will still connect during peak hours, as before, so the designers have chosen to show exactly the same thing in a completely different way.
» Battersea Power Station station is within 500m of an Overground station, something that'd normally be depicted with a dotted line. However that Overground station is Battersea Park which is served by just three orange trains a day, and maybe today's extension explains why TfL have never chosen to include it on the tube map.
» The Battersea Power Station development has its own river pier but Battersea Power Station station doesn't have a river symbol. The symbol appears on the enamel diagrams going up in tube stations, which have a much longer lifespan than a paper map, but not here. In fact the pier is only 500m from the station, which suggests it should appear, but the current walking route around the BPS building site is a tortuous 900m so maybe that's why it doesn't.

And then of course there's the rejigged Z1 boundary.

Boris's decision to place Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms in Zone 1 was always going to be difficult to depict on the map, and so it's proven, but I'm chuffed that the chosen solution looks very much as I predicted back in May. That's because the only practical way to depict the correct zone boundary has been to drag Vauxhall away from the Thames to the wrong side of the new extension. This might have been ignorable were it not for TfL's questionable decision in 2019 to show river piers separately on the tube map, which means a dotted line continues north to the riverside creating additional cluttered map-faff.

The other significant change on the new tube map is the appearance of several new step-free stations. There ought to be eleven, because eleven stations have gone step-free since the last paper map was published, but only nine have actually appeared. One omission is Hayes and Harlington because that only went step-free last week and paper maps have awkward print deadlines, but the other is Debden and that went step-free five months ago. The digital map on the TfL website correctly shows Debden as step-free, so I suspect its unblobbiness on the paper map may be a genuine proofing error. One to check, anyway.

The artwork on the front cover of the new tube map hasn't gone down especially well. It's essentially a solid black rectangle, so visually drab, with just six small white words written within. These words say "sit... alongside... and... feel me... breathe" and that's got a lot of people scratching their heads, if not somewhat appalled. "Sorry, but WHAT? Aren't we still embroiled in a pandemic?" chuntered Philip on Twitter, gaining 19 likes. In fact if you read the rationale on the Art On The Underground website "the work questions how we can regain the fundamental principles of our social engagement with strangers as we begin to reinhabit shared spaces", so it's provocatively deliberate, but I expect Philip's partially-informed reaction will be a common one.

Here's the extension's first appearance on the Rail & Tube map.

This doesn't have the tube map's bell-end droop, but it has required four bends to wiggle the NLE extension to the north of Vauxhall. Meanwhile the mainline between Waterloo and Clapham Junction used to have just one bend but now it has five. The more lines you squeeze onto a map, the muddlier they get.

As for the line diagrams inside Northern line carriages, these started to be updated earlier this month.

I've yet to hear anyone offer a positive comment about this design. For a start bending in towards Kennington and then back out towards Nine Elms isn't elegant. Also the peak hours connection between the two branches has been shown this time, and for some reason it's been given the less kinky alignment. But the properly awkward issue is that trains between Kennington and Oval are shown passing through Zone 1 which in real life they don't. Perhaps the designers assumed passengers would only look at the stations rather than the gaps between them, and it is really tricky to depict the correct zonal situation on a long thin diagram, but the end result comes across as a bit of a bodge.

Finally the line diagrams alongside Northern line platforms have been replaced, and the fresh tranche has been a partial production disaster. Last month Geoff Marshall photographed a sign at Golders Green where the two extra stations had somehow been written in the wrong order, i.e. with Nine Elms at the end of the line! And then yesterday he tweeted this howler from Tooting Broadway.

Inexplicably the name of the terminus station had been written as Power Station Battersea, which is jawdropping. Astonishingly exactly the same error had been repeated at Tooting Bec, Balham, Clapham South and Clapham Common, and perhaps elsewhere, which is incomprehensible. Don't rush along hoping to see these particular errors today because they were swiftly covered up. But how appalling does an organisation's quality control have to be to manufacture AND install such flawed diagrams without anybody noticing? If you're off to enjoy the new extension today, keep your eyes peeled.

London has a new tube extension and two new tube stations.
This doesn't happen very often.

The last three tube extensions
1) Heathrow Terminal 5 (2008)
2) Jubilee line (1999)
3) Heathrow Terminal 4 (1986)
   The last three new tube stations
1) Wood Lane (2008)
2) Heathrow Terminal 5 (2008)
3) Southwark (1999)

It only tends to happen when big business wants it to, which is why Heathrow, Westfield and Canary Wharf helped pay for the last few. And it's only happened this time because a consortium of Malaysian investors were trying to upsell flats around a redeveloped power station, and because money talks.
The diamond geezer editorial position on the Northern Line Extension

A dreadful idea well delivered.
It's miserably depressing that the only tube extension since 2008 has been spurred by the need to flog real estate. Former Mayor Boris Johnson was only too happy to gain a shiny transport bauble by kowtowing to greedy developers, having previously binned several projects which would have benefitted existing Londoners. The power station development is due to deliver less than 10% affordable housing and Nine Elms no more than 20%, and all so that rich residents don't have to grab a taxi or walk a bit further to slum it on National Rail.

When you look at the other places which could have been served by a 3km extension from Kennington they include Camberwell, Burgess Park and the Old Kent Road, areas which have been screaming out for a tube connection for decades, but instead the money magnet yanked the connection west to serve a luxury highrise riverside enclave.

Admittedly the historic power station building might never have been saved were it not for the tube link, and better to have a new tube extension than none at all, and some lucky existing residents of Wandsworth and Lambeth are about to get a local tube connection, so it's not all bad. But when the Bakerloo and Metropolitan extensions have essentially been scrapped, and you could have built three Metropolitans for one Northern, today's link to a deluxe shopping mall in an overpriced housing estate is nothing but a deplorable craven boondoggle.

 Sunday, September 19, 2021

Today's the day trains start operating on the Northern line extension. You won't be able to catch one because today's only a dress rehearsal - all southbound passengers are being detrained at Kennington - but the new timetable is now underway. Your ability to take a ride starts at 05:28 tomorrow.

Tomorrow's also the day that thousands more people will discover there's a station called Battersea Power Station station. Let the LOLs be unconfined.

It's a tiny unexpected nugget, the kind of thing you might nudge your partner and tell them, either with a smile or a grumpy "well I wouldn't have named it like that". It's going to get a reaction of some sort whenever you discover it. What intrigues me is quite how long that takes.

The timeline of a shareable thing can be a long one. Someone has to notice or announce the thing in the first place. Awareness of the thing climbs as the information spreads. Events can sometimes cause the rate of spread to spike. Eventually fewer people are left to discover the thing but they still act excitedly when they do. Even years later people will continue to share it, assuming nobody else has heard it before because they hadn't, while the rest of the population look on thinking "oh, that old chestnut again".

Battersea Power Station station is firmly in my chestnut zone. I discovered the name of the station six years ago, and blogged about it, and collectively we had a 38-comment discussion about the dissonance of it all. Readers of diamond geezer were early to the Battersea Power Station station party. It's only because I'm the kind of person who reads TfL project pages, or maybe because somebody nudged me to read them - I don't remember - but I got over the idea that the station's nomenclature was amazing some time ago.

I did not react with glee when somebody messaged me on Twitter last week to tell me that the station would be called Battersea Power Station station. I did not rise to the bait when someone else commented that the sign outside Battersea Power Station station should say Battersea Power Station Station. I kept quiet, as I have on many previous occasions, because it's polite to keep your indifference to yourself.

A similar level of commotion has come from people discovering that Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms are to be in zone 1. This has been public knowledge since 2014 when the Northern Line extension was commissioned, indeed I blogged about it at the time, but most people are only now waking up to the fact that this will be the case. Feel free to be surprised, but technically this is old news and some of us have known for seven years.

All of which exemplifies the awkward topic of whether it's right to tell someone something you think they might not know. If they don't know then you've scored brownie points for bringing fresh information to their attention, indeed something they might otherwise never have discovered. But if they do know then you've essentially wasted their time, and you might only end up feeling foolish.

For those on the receiving end it can be exciting to be told new things, but also frustrating if the other person only ever tells you stuff you already knew. The problem is that they didn't know you knew, they could only guess, and in this case they guessed wrong. I don't particularly enjoy it when people tell me excitedly about something I've already blogged about, but I have to remember they might not have been reading at the time, nor be capable of checking back, it's not deliberate ignorance.

The existence of Battersea Power Station station is a facile example, but any underlying factual disconnect can be really important in society. Who knows what, and who knows who knows what, sits at the very heart of our democracy because facts decide opinions.

If you know a fact about something you might then decide to vote one way on a particular topic. If you don't know that fact you might fill in the gaps inappropriately, or rely instead on misinformation, and vote a different way. It's in politicians' interests that you know as much as possible about some things and as little as possible about others.

Here are some Battersea-related examples, all culled from responses to a single tweet made by the Mayor last week.
Yes, a self serving personal tube station for the luxury flat buyers that not only dodges the law about building affordable homes, making you a hypocrite, but sells off yet more of London's real estate to unregulated foreign landlords & adds little benefit to any other Londoners (@chaosityuk)

Allowing Battersea PS to be in Zone 1 is corruption in broad daylight. (@dadge)

Oh great now we’re all connected to those luxury apartments and shops that only the super rich can afford. Thanks Sadiq you must be so proud glad I pay taxes for this! (@roryfcjames)

Zone 1! How much did the Nine Elms lot put towards your mayoral campaign? (@ed1231)
These are all people screaming at the Mayor for decisions taken by his predecessor over which he had no subsequent control. It's all too easy to shake your fist at government without realising which particular politician put that decision in place or who was pulling the strings. Sadiq's taken full responsibility for several decisions you might well hate, but this is not one of them. Despising him for delivering the Northern Line extension means your opinions are based on assumptions rather than facts.... and that's a dangerously easy thing to do.

Let's not get carried away and blame everything on ignorance. Complex issues like Brexit, party allegiance and who to vote for in elections are based on a whole raft of facts and opinions, not just one thing you might or might not know. But it pays to be aware of what's going on and to realise that you might not know everything. In particular it pays to question whether the truths you think you know are actually genuine, else society can all too easily end up in a misguided pit of populism.

Sharing facts is good, even if you've heard them before, rather than encouraging ignorance and misinformation. Just try not to share them too often because a lot of us already know the thing you think is thrillingly new.

Yes, from tomorrow there's a station called Battersea Power Station station. You'll get over it.

10 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• England won't use vaccine passports
• 300,000 may have broken travel quarantine
• vaccines to be offered to 12-15 year-olds
• job vacancies top 1m for the first time
• booster jabs offered to over 50s (after 6 months)
Winter Plan A: vaccines will see us through
Winter Plan B: return of cautionary measures
• Scotland and Wales will use vaccine passports
• travel rules simplified (green & amber lists merge)
• India delivers 20m jabs in a day

Worldwide deaths: 4,620,000 → 4,680,000
Worldwide cases: 224,000,000 → 228,000,000
UK deaths: 134,144 → 135,147
UK cases: 7,197,662 → 7,400,739
1st vaccinations: 48,395,359 → 48,548,506
2nd vaccinations: 43,895,440 → 44,357,108
FTSE: down 1% (7029 → 6963)

 Saturday, September 18, 2021

Ever since 1974, when my Dad came home with a big map of England's new administrative counties, I've been fascinated by the one spot where four counties appeared to meet. Those four counties are Lincolnshire, Rutland, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire, and the point where they all meet is just west of Stamford. So while I was in town I decided to pay a visit... or at least to get as near as possible on foot.

A bit of administrative history first. Four counties have met here since 1888 when the Soke of Peterborough was officially split off from Northamptonshire. This set-up continued until 1965 when the Soke was absorbed into the new county of Huntingdon & Peterborough, which in turn became part of Cambridgeshire in 1974. At the same time Rutland was absorbed into Leicestershire, where it remained until being recast as a unitary authority in 1997. The following year Peterborough also became a unitary authority, but it remains part of Cambridgeshire for ceremonial purposes. That's how things stand today and that's what's shown on the map above.
1888: Lincolnshire, Rutland, Northamptonshire, Soke of Peterborough
1965: Lincolnshire, Rutland, Northamptonshire, Huntingdon & Peterborough
1974: Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire
1997: Lincolnshire, Rutland, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire
Secondly, alas, it turns out that the four counties don't quite meet at one precise point. Instead there are two tri-points - one for Lincs/Rutland/Northants and one for Lincs/Northants/Cambs - both very close together along the line of the River Welland. Originally they were 500 metres apart but in 1960 the A1 Stamford bypass was built and coincidentally passed between the two, sparking change. The Local Government Boundary Commission For England reviewed the Leicestershire/Lincolnshire boundary in the late 1980s and concurred it'd be much more sensible to shift the dividing line to follow the new road instead. This meant moving Area C to Lincolnshire and Area A to Leicestershire, which had the additional consequence of moving the tri-point in the pink circle to join the other tri-point in the red circle.

Had the LGBCE ever rationalised the Cambs/Northants boundary to match the new road then all four counties would meet at the same point. But they never did, so today the two tri-points are about 25 metres apart - both fractionally to the east of the A1 viaduct. The gap between them follows a field boundary, a river and a railway, indeed if you've ever taken a train between Oakham and Stamford you'll have (briefly) travelled between the two. But you can't quite reach the spot on foot without trespassing, so here's what it looks like from the public right of way across the adjacent field. It's not the most exciting photo, but excitingly it does show four different counties.

OK, enough backstory, here's today's rambling adventure.
You might find a map useful.

How to walk through four counties in 20 minutes

1) Lincolnshire (starting point - Stamford Spa)
Stamford Meadows stretch for a mile beyond the town, increasingly less frequented by people the further you walk. The main channel of the River Welland marks one edge and a shallower stream the other, with the Lincs/Cambs border following the latter. Just before the dual carriageway is a low brick structure resembling a macaroon which caps a mineral spring brought into use in 1819. Afflicted souls believed its iron water might cure their ailments, although I wouldn't risk drinking it today. Instead I enjoyed the peace of the rippling shoals, not to mention the enormous dragonflies, before heading off through the gate to start my four county adventure. A brief walk across the field I showed you earlier brought me closer and closer to the A1 viaduct where lorries rumbled overhead. OK, I'm going in...

2) Rutland (elapsed time: 4 minutes)
Tunnels beneath 1960s civil engineering projects aren't known for their beauty. This one's all concrete with a mess of pebbles underfoot, and has since been decorated with a couple of attempts at floral graffiti. On the far side is a pristine wooden footbridge and then a field of harvested oilseed rape, only the corner of which needs to be clipped. Before 1991 this field was in Lincolnshire so my four county walk wouldn't have worked, but transference to Rutland has made the whole thing possible. Ahead a wooden walkway leads up to Tinwell public footpath crossing, which only sees two passenger trains an hour so shouldn't trouble you, but I had to hold back while a lengthy freight train thrummed past.

3) Northamptonshire (elapsed time: 9 minutes)
On the far side I had to cross a narrow wooden footbridge above an overgrown stream, and that was the end of my very short Rutland safari. A delightfully pastoral scene lay ahead, a golden stalky field with a single footpath climbing gently to an upper plantation. Unfortunately according to my map there ought to have been two footpaths and the one I needed wasn't there. I put this down to the perils of trying to negotiate rural rights of way just after harvest and tried to follow where I thought it ought to have been, first up the field and then sharply back down. I now needed to find the gap in the hedge where a footbridge would allow me to cross a drainage channel, but there was no gap nor any sign of a bridge, just a line of impenetrable thicket. I searched for a while in case the map was slightly out, and more importantly because my 20 minute target could only be beaten if I passed over and ascended the adjacent field. No luck.

Bugger, I thought, Cambridgeshire is less than 500m away but I cannot get to it. As the clock ticked down I realised I'd have to try to get there via some much longer alternative route, so gave up and continued to climb the wrong hill. I've since checked online and can see no satellite evidence of a footpath, nor a second subway beneath the A1, nor a footpath continuing beyond, so at least I think I made the right decision. But I was now heading for the summit village of Easton-on-the-Hill (and its National Trust-owned Priests's House) and what looked like a 1½ mile diversion. Grrr.

A passing jogger - the only other person I met on the entire walk - encouraged me to cut a corner to reach the next connecting footpath. Again this meant trying to find an overgrown footbridge at the foot of a ploughed field, and again after a couple of failed attempts I considered giving up, but thankfully pressed on and eventually located the way across. Stomping up the next pathless field I sighed, but also revelled in a view I wouldn't otherwise have seen of the entire town of Stamford illuminated on the horizon. How I've missed hills.

I emerged at the top of the slope beside a layby on the A43, where Sizzlers Burger Bar hoped to serve up greasy delights to a potential audience of truck drivers. And I was still in Northamptonshire, dammit, and would be until I'd made my way through a forestry plantation called Wothorpe Groves. It was genuinely delightful to be walking through thick woodland, but also frustrating as my elapsed time crept ever closer to one hour. I didn't even stop to investigate the "area of shake holes" shown on the estate map (which I've since looked up and apparently they're limestone sinkholes) because the clock was ticking. Blimey, what are those octagonal towers!?

4) Cambridgeshire (elapsed time: 60 minutes) (finishing point: Wothorpe Towers)
The bridlepath out of the plantation followed the wall around a private estate, within which were the remains of a Jacobean lodge retreat. This folly was built by the Cecil clan to enliven the horizon from Burghley Park, briefly used as a dower house and later abandoned to the elements. A bit of 21st century love has removed Wothorpe Towers from the Heritage at Risk Register but the couple who bought it still have a long way to go to fully restore their romantic ruin. And I would never have seen this Grade I listed Doctor Who filming location were it not for my failed attempt to walk through four counties in twenty minutes. Four in sixty is also hard to beat... but I suspect not impossible.

 Friday, September 17, 2021

Gadabout: STAMFORD

Forget Peterborough, the town-to-visit is Stamford ten miles to the northwest. It got lucky when the Great North Road became a turnpike because it was one day's stagecoach ride from London. It lost out later when the local landowner refused access to the Great Northern Railway so Peterborough won that instead. The resulting economic slump froze the town in a splendid Georgian bubble, to the extent that many now deem it one of the most desirable places to live in the country. They are not wrong.
[12 photos] [visit Stamford]

Picture a market town rising above river meadows with streets of limestone houses and soaring spires. Imagine somewhere the Germans mostly ignored and modern redevelopment completely passed by, but where you can still buy pretty much everything on the high street. That'd be Stamford, a charming throwback at Lincolnshire's southwestern tip, and very much beloved of makers of period drama. The BBC filmed Middlemarch here, Hollywood picked it for Pride and Prejudice and I spent a lot of time thinking "yes, if you blotted out those TV aerials that'd make a great backdrop for a crowd in bonnets". Equally Stamford's still very much a working town rather than a tourist-focused chocolate box, so is best experienced as a whole rather than in a single perfectly-framed photo. I never did manage to take one of those.

Barn Hill is one of the finest backstreets in almost-central Stamford, tipping irregularly down towards the parish church. It boasts a blue plaque to a disgraced antiquarian, a massive Georgian townhouse, a lot of cobbles and (potentially) a number of tourists consulting a map to discover what every building is. More typical are the narrow lanes like Blackfriars Street lined by humbler but no less attractive cottages, where hundreds of Stamfordians are privileged to live. Parking might be an impossibility, but imagine living in a house with a circular medieval chimney and having a limestone-fronted M&S Food Hall at the top of the road.

Only the High Street is pedestrianised - elsewhere you'll share the street with traffic threading through the back lanes towards the single bridge over the River Welland. These other roads host a number of small shops, including such staples as countryside outfitters, cookware emporia and (as seen on Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing) local cheesemongers. Those in the know frequent the alleyways off the main drag for their lunchtime sandwiches or take afternoon tea in a former coaching inn. I gazed in nostalgic wonder at the custard tarts, iced buns and cream horns in the window at Asker's Bakery. I could not resist a succulent Melton Mowbray pork pie from Nelsons Butchers. I feel obliged to point out that Robert Humm & Co Transport Booksellers are down to their last few copies of The Melton To Oakham Canal.

The town was once wealthy enough to boast seventeen medieval churches, of which five remain, hence the regularly-punctured skyline. On most days you can go inside most of them, even the one that's no longer used for worship because it's run by the Churches Conservation Trust. That'll be St John the Baptist, which was also my favourite because of the brightly painted angels with outstretched wings arrayed across the 15th century roof timbers. The south wall has a plaque commemorating Sir Malcolm Sargent who was a chorister (and learned to play the organ) here. Of the others All Saints is the largest and oldest, St Mary's verges on the Catholic, St Martin's is the odd one out south of the river and St George's is currently inaccessible because the guys from Rutland Scaffolding have been erecting out front.

The churches are the closest thing Stamford has to a visitor attraction, other than the town itself. You'd expect at least a museum but 'Discover Stamford' was closed in 2011 and a slimmed-down selection of exhibits relocated to the library (temporarily closed for roof repairs) and the town hall (essential visits only). Fret not, the town is essentially its own museum, especially if you pop into the Tourist Information Centre and grab the free trail leaflets which are impressively detailed enough to fill a few hours. I might otherwise have missed that the bus station used to be a castle, that 19 St George's Square is "arguably the finest house in Stamford" and that England's heaviest man is buried in St Martin's graveyard. That'd be Daniel Lambert, an uber-corpulent showman who died while visiting Stamford in 1809 and had to be buried within easy dragging distance.
In Remembrance of that Prodigy in Nature.
DANIEL LAMBERT, a Native of Leicester:
who was possessed of an exalted and convivial Mind
and in personal Greatness had no Competitor
He measured three Feet one Inch round the Leg
nine Feet four Inches round the Body
and weighed Fifty two Stone eleven Pounds!

Further treasures include an enormous medieval almshouse gifted to the town by a medieval wool merchant - that's Browne's Hospital - whose current inhabitants need to be active enough to tackle several sets of stone steps. Naturally there's a Corn Exchange, which'll be hosting an am dram version of Cats next weekend. The town once had an Eleanor Cross to mark the overnight resting place of Edward I's wife's dead body, but it crumbled long ago and has been replaced by a peculiar tall stone spike sculpted by Wolfgang Buttress. Stamford's bridge is a Victorian rebuild, but greatly enhanced by sloping Georgian streets climbing to either side. And although the Welland isn't much of a river its water meadows are splendid and much beloved by dogwalkers. Walk a little further than most to find the site of the ford where Ermine Street once crossed the river, now marked with a plaque commemorating Queen Boadicea's pursuit of the Ninth Roman Legion across the shallows.

A mile outside town, technically in the neighbouring county, is the most impressive building of all. This is Burghley House, an Elizabethan prodigy house knocked up by the all powerful Tudor courtier Sir William Cecil. It's over-turreted, over-chimneyed, over-roomed and enormously impressive, even from a distance. To reach it you walk first through an extensive landscape rippled by Capability Brown and grazed by sheep, then into a central deer park blessed with oak spinneys... or you drive in round the back and park near the gift shop. I recommend the walk. As time was short I got no further than the ha-ha, so sadly never quite reached the central lake, but was suitably delighted to be able to explore the parkland for free. Only the house and gardens are extra... but be warned they're closed for the next fortnight for filming, because Stamford's still very much that kind of town.

 Thursday, September 16, 2021


75 miles north of London, just under an hour by train, lies the medieval market town of Peterborough. It might still be a quaint throwback were it not for the railway, which arrived here in 1850 because neighbouring Stamford didn't want it. It might still be quite ordinary had it not been selected in 1967 to become a New Town, which is why over 200,000 people now live here. It's modern with the occasional flash of old. It's been a city since 1541. It's worth a quick look.
[6 photos] [visit Peterborough]

Peterborough Cathedral
900 years on the cathedral is still Peterborough's most amazing thing. The wow starts outside with the unique triple-arched West Front, which is topped off by a confection of gables, spires and towers. It's quite the skyline to see poking over the top of Starbucks and Nat West while you're out shopping. Entrance is free, which is nice, and the wow continues when you're inside. The nave is long and indubitably Norman, stretching from the font to a bright red crucifix hanging over the altar. The painted ceiling is an exceptionally rare 13th century makeover, still emblazoned with its original design of gold-rimmed lozenges. Henry VIII's first wife Catherine of Aragon is entombed on one side of the sanctuary, while Mary Queen of Scots was briefly buried on the other side before being removed to Westminster Abbey. The cathedral's summer gimmick is a moonscape laid out on the floor between the transepts under the tower, for traipsing across in flat-heeled shoes only. It's far better than any New Town deserves, and an excellent civic centrepiece.

Peterborough Guildhall
This is the oldest municipal leftover, a small assembly room (circa 1670) raised above a covered space where markets could be held. Today it lacks purpose, other than as a gathering place for local youth at the heart of Peterborough's best attempt at a heritage precinct. During the day the Cathedral Square Diner dishes out Jumbo Lincolnshire Hotdogs and Delicious Chips, while of an evening it's more about Pizza Express, Wildwood and Nando's. Alas the market moved out to a corrugated green box some years ago, less conveniently located, and is currently pencilled in for 150 flats so faces a most uncertain future.

Every New Town needs a shopping centre and Peterborough got Queensgate, opened in 1982 not by the expected monarch but by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. It's dense and large and has all the big guns, relegating the town's other streets to also rans, although it suffered a major blow when John Lewis announced they wouldn't be reopening after the pandemic so that's its anchor tenant gone. Peterborough's last department store is a downsized Beale's, recently reopened on the ground floor of a repurposed office block, and hardly Westgate's most alluring building.

River Nene
The Nene - from here to the Wash essentially a navigable drain - just scrapes into the UK's Top 10 Longest Rivers. It also very much divides Peterborough in two, which is bad news for the suburbs south of the city centre connected by a paucity of road and footbridges. The chief access is via Town Bridge, watched over by a 17th century tollhouse and ideal for swan spotting. Pedestrians and cyclists can use the nearby crossing known locally as Asda Bridge (due to unfortunate supermarket proximity), beside which high speed trains cross the river via an original 1850 cast iron span. For several miles upstream the banks are flanked by Nene Park, which sounds lovely, but the city centre riverside only disappoints.

Nene Valley Railway
This popular steam railway runs for seven miles from (almost) the city centre to a Neneside village. Alas it doesn't operate midweek so that's a pleasure for another day, as is Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery which was closed by the time I arrived, not that I'll be rushing back.

If you're counting, and I am, today it's eighteen months since the Prime Minister advised us to stop all unnecessary travel. It's been the most atypical eighteen months of my life, and because I've been counting I have some idea how atypical.

I continue to count the number of times I visit each London borough, with each day I set foot in a borough counting as 1. The maximum possible total in eighteen months is 548.

In normal times I'd expect my home borough of Tower Hamlets to be in the 500s, neighbouring Newham to be in the 200s, busy Westminster to be in the 100s and all the other boroughs to be somewhere between the 20s and the 80s. But the last eighteen months have very much not been normal times.

Tower Hamlets scores an almost-maximum of 545 because I've only spent four nights away. The other huge numbers are the boroughs comprising the Olympic Park, which I have walked up and down a ridiculous number of times since 16th March 2020. Next comes the City of London, way lower down, followed by the other boroughs it's easiest to walk to. What's extraordinary is that I've only been to ten boroughs more than three times... not because Boris told me not to but because I continue to stick close to home. I really should be trying harder.

I should be ashamed at only having been to Wandsworth, Haringey and Bexley once, in each case only marginally. I should be even more ashamed that there are 13 London boroughs I haven't been to at all in the last year and a half, including one that's less than seven miles from home. As for leaving the capital I've only done that seven times, and only once for more than a day trip. It's plain wrong that I've been to East Sussex more than Ealing and Lincolnshire more than Lewisham.
5: Norfolk
2: Essex, Lincs
1: Cambs, E Sussex, Kent, Northants, Rutland
In my defence I have managed to continue blogging while focusing on the coloured bits of the map, because tons goes on in East and Central London, but I really do need to get back on some public transport again. The next six months had better not be atypical too, and hopefully that'll all be down to my mindset rather than the Prime Minister telling me what not to do.

 Wednesday, September 15, 2021

It's been a bonanza year for delivering step-free access at TfL stations.

2020 was quite good.

Tube (2020)TfL Rail (2020)
79) Mill Hill East
80) Cockfosters

2021 has been even better.

Tube (2021 so far)TfL Rail (2021 so far)
81) Amersham
82) Debden
83) Ealing Broadway
84) Ickenham
85) Whitechapel
86) Wimbledon Park
Acton Main Line
West Ealing

West Drayton
Hayes & Harlington

Hayes and Harlington went step-free yesterday, which means there's only one more TfL Rail station to finish and that's Ilford.

As for the tube, when Amersham's lifts opened in February the proportion of step-free tube stations hit exactly 30% (81/270). Last month Wimbledon Park lifted that to 31.9% (86/270), and next week it gets even better.

Tube (next week)
87) Battersea Power Station
88) Nine Elms

Two new fully-accessible Northern Line stations will bring us to 32.4% (88/272).

Also, if I've counted properly, it'll tip the proportion of step-free stations on the tube map over 50% for the first time. Today it's only 49.9% (251/503) but next week it'll be 50.1% (253/505), i.e, more step-free stations than not. Counting stations on the tube map is somewhat subjective, and even being one out would tweak the result, but by my calculations the Northern line extension is the tipping point. Interestingly we'd have got there sooner if Thameslink hadn't been added to the tube map - I think Southall would have done it.

And the year's not over yet.

Tube (rest of 2021)
??) Osterley
??) Sudbury Hill
??) Harrow-on-the-Hill

Three more tube stations are due to go step-free before the end of 2021, and whichever's third will mark the point at which one-third of tube stations are step-free (91/272 = 33.5%). It's nowhere near enough, but four years ago it was only 28% so we're getting there.

With my final visit to a random City of London ward, that's my latest psychogeographical task complete. Phew, and hurrah.

I've completed a handful of larger projects before, namely picking London boroughs out of jamjars, walking London's lost rivers and visiting boroughs just outside London, but this task had the advantage of being fully lockdown-friendly.

These are the 25 wards of the City of London - administrative districts of medieval origin with an electoral function. They vary greatly in size and shape, the largest being those once outside the city walls. Each elects one alderman and a number of councilmen commensurate with their resident and working population. Many have cracking names. Here's a full list, with links for future reference purposes.
Aldersgate, Aldgate, Bassishaw, Billingsgate, Bishopsgate, Bread Street, Bridge, Broad Street, Candlewick, Castle Baynard, Cheap, Coleman Street, Cordwainer, Cornhill, Cripplegate, Dowgate, Farringdon Within, Farringdon Without, Langbourn, Lime Street, Portsoken, Queenhithe, Tower, Vintry, Walbrook
Ward boundaries had been mostly unchanged for centuries until 2003 when administrators with perverse objectives set about redefining most of them, severing historic links and in several cases splitting off the features that originally named them. My explorations have therefore felt a little artificial in places, taking in one building but not the next, or inexplicably zigzagging down half a backalley. But several groups of wards retain quite distinct characters, for example the ones along the Thames, the pair now dominated by the Barbican, the large ones west of the Fleet and the compact crowd between Bank and the Tower. I'd happily direct a tourist to Bassishaw, Bridge or Walbrook. I wouldn't rush back to Broad Street, Dowgate or Portsoken.

For the last year I've visited one ward every fortnight, always on a Sunday morning, and attempted to walk down all the streets within its perimeter. I took thousands of photos, because they're usually the best way of remembering what you've seen, and stuck 200 of the best on Flickr. And I wrote up each ward visit in approximately 1000-1200 words, which meant glossing over the finer detail in favour of a broad overview, but it still took absolutely ages.

A typical City ward has an area of just 20 acres, but also centuries of history so I was never lost for content. I can't think of a better location for concentrated heritage-focused blogging anywhere else in the UK. On the bright side I've now been absolutely everywhere in the City, restrictions permitting, and know my way round a heck of a lot better. On the downside I've now blogged about absolutely everywhere in the Square Mile so there's nowhere left to surprise you with, although I only skimmed the surface and the City is always changing so I'm sure I'll manage.

My compartmentalised exploration confirmed that two events - the Great Fire and the Blitz - shaped the City's future above all others. Very little survived 1666 so medieval and Tudor buildings are very rare, while 1940 took out a significant random selection of what followed. Several corners of the City have therefore become bland commercial warrens, but it's been precisely this ability to knock down and start again that's delivered such staggering financial benefits since. Footprints are getting larger. Towers are getting higher. Churches are increasingly redundant. It never ever feels like home. But there is still absolutely nowhere else like it.

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