Charles Holden’s Legacy


I have used the London Underground almost all my life. My earliest memory is of visits to South Kensington where my maternal grandparents lived in the early 1950s.

Bright Underground Spaces

It was not until Helen and Bill gave me this book for Christmas that I had ever paid attention to the architecture of the stations, despite many thousands of trips through many of the total of 270.

This beautifully presented work, which I finished reading today, would appeal to anyone even vaguely interested in our capital, its history, its buildings, or its communication networks. Lavishly illustrated with contemporary photographs and original drawings., the author tells of what must have been the boom period in the 1920s and ’30s of the laying down of the underground veins of the metropolis. These were the decades of Holden’s architectural influence, before progress was interrupted by World War 2. Although he continued to operate into the 1950s, this was largely in a consultancy capacity.

I suppose, like most of us today, I concentrate on battling my way through the crowds, having ‘no time to stand and stare’ at the truly amazing complete design projects that are these working stations, now far more busy than could have been originally envisaged. Nevertheless, most of these early facilities, albeit many adapted and updated, are still in use today, although some have been renamed. Most have survived well, and are still up to the task.

Piccadilly Circus Station

I could not estimate the number of times I have walked around the splendid underground ring of Piccadilly Circus without understanding that it replicated the overground ring surrounding the statue of Eros.

Drawings for Eastcote

These drawings for Eastcote demonstrate the thought and skill that was applied to all furniture and fittings.

Morden Station

When we lived in Morden, I used that terminal station of the Northern Line frequently. The sight of the classy shops and sparse populace would amaze anyone currently fighting their way into the station, and being depressed by the current items on offer in the rather less attractive outlets. (Like many illustrations, this one was a double spread).

Clapham Common Station

Anyone who has not read of or does not remember the use to which the Gents at Clapham Common, outside which a gentleman stands with his arms folded, has now been put, may care to follow this link to A Bit Of A Bummer.

Trinity Road Tube station

In I feature a photograph of Tooting Bec station as it is today. When first built it was called Trinity Road, on the corner of which it stands. From 1980 until moving to Newark in 1987, a pack on my back, I ran past this building every weekday on my way to Edgware Road in North London. The Camp Coffee advertised on the wall to the left in Trinity Road was a treacly mixture to be stirred into a cup of hot water, administered by my maternal grandmother. If it is still available today, I don’t want to know.

As mentioned in,in the summer of 2013, the public house ‘The Colliers Tup’, opposite Colliers Wood tube station, has undergone a complete facelift and has been renamed ‘The Charles Holden’. I will look upon his legacy with fresh eyes in the future.


Our friends Vicki and Barrie joined us for the evening, which was as hilarious as we expected. In her own fair hand Jackie wrote me out a menu in order to expedite this post. She was too humble to add the necessary superlatives, but I’m sure you could supply some yourselves. Cabernet sauvignon, Hoegaarden, water, and fruit juices were imbibed


  1. I suppose, like most of us today, I concentrate on battling my way through the crowds, having ‘no time to stand and stare’ at the truly amazing complete design projects that are these working stations…

    I enjoyed your words as much as I enjoyed your photographs and images. There are times, too, when fighting the crowds makes one forget to stop and enjoy the beauty around us. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Is Arnos Grove the one built like a Soviet era station. I also did the is for the tube but thought I’d save that my clearly you’ve beat me to it. I need to get that book

  3. The things that become a regular part of our physical and emotional environment connect strong emotional threads. We become so accustomed to them that it is only when they are removed or we are reintroduced to them through another’s eyes that we find the thread reverberations.

    BTW Had to look up Camp Coffee. The bottle labels left a strong impression on me, even though I’m sure we never had it in the house. Have not seen it around for ages, but I believe it still being manufactured. 🙂

    1. Camp Coffee, despite the name’s somewhat unfortunate overtones, is still available, still with its faintly racist, outdated Empire image on the label. The unpleasant ingredient is chicory, a supposed coffee “substitute”, which tastes nothing like coffee, and not much like anything else desirable either. I must have been introduced to it on camping trips, but would rather stick to water.
      The link back to the Clapham WC inspires me to coin a mildly vulgar pun, which I wouldn’t inflict on this “family show” audience of commenters for fear of offence.
      The Tube station designs are terrific. I had no idea of the perpetrator’s name.

      1. Thanks, Paul. Even when I saw, in 2014, that the pub had been renamed, I had no idea who Charles Holden was. I can’t imagine what you mean by your pun 🙂

  4. Isn’t it amazing – I recall being captivated by much of which I observed on my rare underground visits. It was enough of a rarity to engage both my attention and my imagination as I used to narrate an adventure to my daughter as we travelled, about a post apocalyptic world where life was lived in the tube stations. Luckily for posterity it never got written down!

  5. I only know the London Underground from books, stories, and movies. (I’ve only been to London once–when I was 10. ) Thank you for sharing.
    I love Jackie’s handwritten menu. 🙂

  6. I love those drawings and plans and the old photos. I think sometimes we miss beauty while running hither and yon in a hurry. And of course, anyone slowing down to look would be run over! Jackie’s menu made me wish I was there for supper!

  7. Jackie’s menu looks superb without the superlatives.

    I had a month in London once and used the subways a fair bit. I was astonished by how far underground some of them were. Like descending into the underworld. There were often buskers entertaining us and surprisingly, a number of professional beggars telling sad stories and asking for money.

  8. That’s really interesting, Derrick. It’s not that different from the old Edwardian football grounds, many of which survived into the early1990s…Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and so on. All wonders of functional architecture.

  9. I used Camp coffee recently for flavouring. Not really a coffee drinker but can’t see the problem with a good cup of Camp Coffee and condensed milk. Doesn’t taste any worse than most of the stuff you get served and you can have a gallon of it for the cost of one Starbuck’s coffee.

    However, I do agree with everyone about the standard of architecture in the London Underground.

    INteresting post, as always.

  10. The things we take for granted! We do it all the time. Thanks for the bit of history about London’s subway system.

  11. Also, I bet invitations for lunch or dinner at your house are much coveted.

          1. Actually, until you asked and I looked it up, I had no idea one could do it. I may just look into it, even only to report back 🙂

  12. The underground railway station is certainly beautiful and the diagram, which is quite like a blueprint, is so detailed. It reminds me of the shells which are circular and exquisite. I cannot off the top of my head think of their name.
    My grandmother, Dad’s mother, had people from England and she was the closer relative to Alexander Calder. Her maiden name was Eveline Holden. I know it may be like Jones or Smith in America, but I felt a small wave if pride for the man, Charles Holden.
    Tell Jackie the menu sounds “superb” and the dessert, “sublime.” The company sounds marvelous since you mention the evening was “hilarious.” 😀

Leave a Reply