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

‘All Is Flux, Nothing Stays Still’

Dawn across the lawnMorning across the lawnMorning sun through window
After a night of steady rain following an unrelentingly graphite-layered day on which the sun never got out of bed, it stirred itself this morning, weakly lifted its head, peeped through the trees on the Eastern side of the garden, sent exploratory fingers across the lawn, then stared through the living room windows.
Just before noon, when the sun was making its way painfully to its evening resting place on the Western corner, I wandered around the garden before we set off in the car for Clapham and Wolf’s 85th Birthday Party. TreesNot always managing to penetrate the cloud cover, it did manage a feeble salute for Gladstone’s sequoia.SkullSequoia
Yesterday, on the forest verge of Upper Drive I had noticed a recently exhumed skull of some forest creature. I wondered how it had found itself there, and, indeed, what it had belonged to. It is still in situ.
Our journey to Wolf And Luci’s home for the afternoon party took just over three hours, sixty five minutes of which was a slow crawl from the moment we left the A3 at Shannon Corner near Raynes Park on the A298 straight through to Clapham on the A24. We hardly ever reached above 7 miles an hour. Consequently we had the opportunity to look about us and see the changes to the landscape that is rows and rows of buildings on either side which are constantly undergoing evolution.Istanbul Meze Mangal Tooting, which had just a few Asian shops when I lived there thirty years ago is now dominated by establishments reflecting the Indian sub-continent. The Colliers Tup opposite Colliers Wood tube station has, in just over a year since we left Morden, had a complete facelift and been renamed the Charles Holden. As recently as 31st October 2012 I photographed Delhi Heights which had, before it was that fusion establishment, been an English pub. It is now Istanbul Meze Mangal, offering Mediterranean Cuisine. On the 16th of that same month The Emma Hamilton in Wimbledon Chase was no longer operating as a public house. I photographed it in its reincarnation as a car wash enterprise. It has now been pulled down and has developers’ hoardings surrounding the space it had occupied.
Even the Nelson Hospital, where our children Matthew and Rebekah were both born, has now disappeared. One part is, the boards tell us, allocated to a McCarthy and Stone residential enterprise. The rest, retaining its facade, but otherwise demolished, bears the NHS logo on its protective barriers.
To the side of the Istanbul restaurant in the picture above can be seen the ‘black elephant’ of Colliers Wood. This is a building which is apparently unsafe either to use or demolish because it stands over the underground railway. It has, I am told, been empty for many years.
It was the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said: ‘All is flux, nothing stays still’.
Some things however, do remain constant. One of these is my forty-five year friendship with Wolf Blomfield, whose party it was today. At a small and convivial gathering Jackie and I enjoyed the company of the great man and his wife Luci, and renewed some old acquaintances, notably Wolf’s children Vishvapani  and Sarah who Jackie and I knew when they were children. Grandchildren were represented by Leo and Anna. Some others there have known Wolf longer than I. One goes back seventy years.
143We were provided with a feast of tasty sandwiches, samosas, scones with jam and clotted cream, and finally chocolate birthday cake. A variety of drinks was on offer. I enjoyed some very good red wine.
Kiti, who managed the catering, and Luci took a number of photographs. If our friend can take a hint she may e-mail some to me so that I can add one or two to this post. In the meantime, here is one Luci took of Wolf and me not so long ago.