diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 14, 2022


50 years ago today, on Thursday 14th September 1972, the final station on the Victoria line slipped into service. The first section from Walthamstow Central to Highbury & Islington had opened in September 1968, extending to Warren Street in December, Victoria in March 1969 and Brixton in July 1971. But it took another year to finally open the intermediate station at Pimlico, which was very much the Bond Street of its day.

So today I'm completing my anniversary 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's a useful reminder that major transport projects delivered way behind schedule are nothing new and generally come good in the end.


Opened: 14 September 1972
Originally opened: 14 September 1972 (the only totally new station on the line)
Interchange with: Nothing. Pimlico is the only non-interchange station on the line, a proper one-off.
Tile pattern: Every Victoria line station has its own bespoke mural in the alcoves on the platforms above the benches. Pimlico's design is a grid of op-art yellow dots referencing Tate Britain, which is close by, and was designed by Peter Sedgely.
Main entrance: This lies underneath an stocky brick office block built ten years after the station opened. A cubbyhole that would once have sold newspapers has been taken over by a coffee shop selling Mango Magic smoothies. At the top of the steps are two magnificently quirky roundels resembling a Star Trek transporter pad, a colourful one in the ceiling and grey one in the floor.

Other entrances: Three subways also lead down into the ticket hall, two of which swiftly merge. They're decorated with artworks you might have seen at Tate Britain, for example by Dali, Lowry and Mondrian. The subway from the south side of Bessborough Road is wigglier and features a plaque to Sir Alan Dawtry, chief executive of Westminster council, noting 'Pimlico station was built due to Sir Alan's perseverance'. In a separate poster TfL remind you that the public subways are the council's responsibility and nudge you to direct any complaints their way.
Architecture: Just outside the station is the startling Pimlico Cooling Tower designed by Eduardo Paolozzi to disguise the ventilation shaft for a new underground car park. Its silvery sheath resembles a robot with pipes for arms, and its four lower panels feature a futuristic mishmash of cogs, wheels, chains and butterflies.
Nearby development: Modern Pimlico is a mishmash of Georgian geometry, postwar flats and monumental mansion blocks. Westminster council discourage major redevelopment hereabouts, preferring to leave dense gaudy skyscrapers to the vulgar crew at Nine Elms on the opposite side of the Thames. Shops around the station include patisseries and street cafes but also a bookies and a launderette. The urinal at the end of Tachbrook Street looks potentially very useful if you're a) desperate b) male.

Station layout: 3D diagram here.
Step-free access: Haha haha haha no.
Ticket hall: The ambience is efficient rather than appealing. These days its more a funnel overseen by inactive staff than somewhere to purchase a futuristic yellow ticket. A plaque above the staircase confirms that the station was opened by the Lord Mayor of Westminster on 14 September 1972, so hopefully somebody who works there has twigged that today's the anniversary.
Lower concourse: Heading down the escalators is like time-travelling back to the 1970s, an era when architects tried to convince us grey was silver. The only bright colours come from a dozen illuminated adverts, a list of warning notices on a locked door and an orange panel beside the door to the station supervisor's office. The concourse's tiled floor clearly had more money thrown at it than the panelled ceiling. Turn right for Brixton and left for central London.

Platforms: These are structurally simple, as befits a non-interchange station, and very much of Victoria line vernacular. The tiles change colour from dark grey to light grey as you step onto your chosen platform. If that's northbound you'll see a pair of signs saying [Front of train → less crowded] in the hope you'll turn right, and if you walk to the very far end you'll see nobody's bothered to post adverts on the wall because hardly anyone gets this far. The Victoria line has such a frequent service that some of the recessed wooden benches rarely see a bum either. Do not trust the headwall clocks, they may be a few minutes or several hours out. A low whine can be heard down the tunnel long after a northbound train departs.
Roundels: Pimlico's lovely backlit roundels (with mis-proportioned text) are now unique on the Underground, and help add to the sensation that you've wandered into a space station by mistake.

Heritage slip-up: The Pimlico station history poster, introduced to save TfL the expense of replacing tube maps, mistakenly references an artwork called Design Work Leisure which is actually at Vauxhall.
Announcements: Many's the pedant who's grimaced at the statement "Stand behind the yellow line at all times", because if you do you can never board the train. At Pimlico they play an announcement which gets round this logical foible, but at the expense of making the text much longer and harder to take in. "Please stand behind the yellow line at all times until the train comes to a complete stop in the platform and it is safe for you to board the train." You can almost imagine the meeting at which they shoehorned in the extra words (No, we need to say 'complete stop') (No, we need to specify the train has to stop 'in the platform') (No, people must still board only if 'it is safe' to do so) (Marvellous, we've plugged all the loopholes and only made it three times longer). Sometimes managerial jobsworths should just shut up and play the simple flawed version instead.

Cats (part 1): A notice taped to the Service Information Board at the end of the northbound platform advises drivers To All Train Ops, The Cat Has Been In The Tunnel Since Friday And The RSPCA Will Come Tonight Sunday 11th Sept To Colect It. Thank You For Your Co Operation.
Cats (part 2): A notice tucked onto the Service Information Board in the ticket hall advises passengers If You Have Lost A Grey Cat Recently In The Pimlico Area, Please Talk To The Pimlico Underground Station Manager.
Cats (part 3): A notice stuck to a wall outside the station offers a £150 reward for information leading to the return of a Lost Silver/Grey Cat Last Seen Pimlico 10th Late PM. Not An Outdoor Cat. I would have rung the number but Vito's disappearance alas post-dates the emergence of TunnelCat.

Factnugget: Pimlico is the deepest station on the Victoria line at 22.5m below street level.
Some photos: Twelve, here.

Full trip along the line: Walthamstow → Highbury & Islington → Warren Street → Victoria → Pimlico → Brixton
(and a gallery of 130 photos here)

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