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

The Vacuum Cleaner

Yesterday afternoon Jackie drove us to Wimbledon where she attended her former workmates’ office party and I should have had a straightforward District Line journey to Edgware Road whence I would walk to the Akash (see 31st October post) to meet Jessie.  Not a bit of it.  There were no trains in the station.  The indicator informed passengers that the first train in would be for Edgware Road on platform 2.  It wasn’t.  This was a Plaistow train which arrived on platform 1.  We were obliged to board that and change at Earls Court.  As Wimbledon was the starting point, I got a seat.  On which I sat, going nowhere, for fifteen minutes while other travellers filled the train.  Prising ourselves out of the packed carriage and onto the even more packed platform at the interchange station was a delicate operation.  We then stood, eyes glued to the indicator board, watching for a lighted arrow to be pointed at Edgware Road.  After some time an announcer told us to catch the next train which was terminating at the following station, High Street Kensington.High Street Kensington 12.12  After another wait those of us on the crowded platform had to force ourselves into the equally crowded train.  A seat was out of the question.  I was back in London.  It was almost a relief to walk along the brightly lit Edgware Road with the hustle and bustle of its thriving Arab community.  At least you could walk round people as they stood on the pavement outside the shops, gesticulating; or outside the pubs, smoking.

In the year since my last visit to the Akash, Arab shops and restaurants have spread further up Edgware Road from Harrow Road.  This is apparently affecting Majid’s business, because their customers don’t eat curry.  However, the Akash continues to thrive, largely through takeaway trade.  I had a very enjoyable meal with Jessie and was welcomed as an old friend by Majid, Zaman, and Shafiq.  As always, there were other regulars there.

The tube journey back to Wimbledon and the drive home to Minstead were straightforward.

Waking up a world away from Edgware Road, over our morning coffee we were intrigued by a steady distant drone with a bright tone.  After a while it stopped and I, for one, forgot about it.

I walked the loop taking in the road to Furzey Gardens and the ford, making a diversion to look up Steve Cattell who I had been told would be the man to tell me about Seamans Lane.  Steve wasn’t at home, but his wife, Pat, invited me in, had a chat, and took my details.  Pat, in her sixties, has lived in the village all her life.

I had intended to do my walk in reverse, but hearing the bright drone again, and seeing a slow-moving vehicle start up the hill towards Furzey Gardens, I decided to catch up with it and ask the operative, Jeremy, if he was hoovering the road.  Indeed, he was. Hoovering the road 12.12 He stopped and we spoke.  On a couple of occasions he had to manoeuvre his vehicle to allow cars to pass.  One of these must have been a parish councillor’s because, when he explained his mandate, he said one had just driven past.  Jeremy works for The New Forest authority. Jeremy 12.12 Three or four times a year he clears the Minstead Roads, when requested by the Parish Council.  He told me that when he first cleaned Minstead, in four days he collected loads totalling sixty tons.  The vehicle looked like a traditional hoover with a vast tank for its casing and thick concertinaed pipes like elephants’ trunks coiled around the back end.  Since there is nothing much other than equine excreta needing to be sucked from Minstead’s asphalt, I thought that tonnage represented an awful lot of recycled grass.

Our evening meal featured Young’s fish pie followed by Jackie’s trifle.  Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I had some more of the Le Pont St. Jean minervois.

Yes, We Do Have Toys

This dull and gloomy morning I travelled by my usual route to Carol’s in SW1.  Yesterday I described a bizarre passenger on the tube, and on 26th September an extraordinary coincidence.  Today I will focus on a typical sample of travellers on London’s underground.  In common with the overground railways London Underground Ltd. no longer term their clientele ‘passengers’.  Now we are all ‘customers’; such is the consequence of our nation’s all-consuming business ethic.  The snapshots which follow are representative of an everyday journey.  On the Northern Line from Colliers Wood to Stockwell, a number of races and both sexes were present.  An Asian man was studying a hefty tome, his document holder, until removed to make way for a paying customer, lying on the seat beside him; another probably originating from a different part of that  vast continent, was either working or playing on a mobile device; a Caucasian woman was reading a novel, and various others were reading Metro.  All were silent except a couple drinking takeaway coffee; the man of oriental appearance with a Scots accent.  I do not wish to indicate that they were slurping their coffee, simply that they were talking to each other.  As the carriage filled up newcomers had to stand.

Metro is a free newspaper widely distributed, and is, I believe, available in other editions in different cities.  Most are found discarded later in the day.  This despite notices in the trains asking people to take them home or place them in receptacles positioned outside stations for the purpose.  In terminal stations like Morden, staff traverse the carriages collecting the unwanted newspapers and dropping them into large transparent plastic bags.

From Stockwell to Victoria the crowd had thinned out.  Metro was still being read; one man’s choice was The Times; and another, plugged into earphones, was attempting The Telegraph crossword.  A young woman wrote in her diary.  A small baby, nestling in a buggy, was crying as his parents vainly tried to comfort him.

The platform and escalators at Victoria were swarming with hazardous wheelie bags.

Boris Bikes 10.12Boris Bikes (see August 29th) awaiting takers were lined up alongside Westminster Cathedral, facing a young man whose smart racing cycle rested against a wall as he consulted a map.  Mansion flats nearby were undergoing splendid maintenance; railings surrounding one block in Carlisle Place receiving a facelift; and brass fittings in the many entrances to Ashley Gardens glistening gold in the gloom.

As I left Carol’s the rain began and lethal umbrellas were brandished in their multitudes.

Knowing that Sam was planning a visit with Malachi this afternoon, when I returned to Morden I popped into Lidl to see if they had any toys on offer.  You never quite know what you will find in the central aisles bazaar.  As I didn’t think a drum kit would be appreciated by the parents of a new baby, or, for that matter, my neighbours, I left there disappointed; which is just as well because at one point later Malachi said he wanted to play with his drum.  I did, however, have a result in the Poundshop which stocked enough cars and farm animals to satisfy this lad who had asked for toys when visiting The Firs.  Danni had set an example when she bought some to produce at Mum’s party.  Taking a leaf out of Bill Burdett’s book (see 4th October), I hid them conspicuously around the flat.

When my grandson arrived he dragged me to a chair, got out his Leappad, which is a junior type of i-pad, and proceeded to show me how to play games on it.  ‘Oh, dear’, I thought, ‘I have been superceded by technology’.  I needn’t have worried, however, because he soon asked me why I hadn’t got any toys and I was able to send him on his treasure hunt.

This evening we raided the freezer for a medley meal consisting of Jackie’ bolognese sauce with freshly cooked pasta; and my chicken jalfrezi with Watch Me pilau rice, chapatis, and egg godamba roti.  Racking our brains we decided the Watch me contributions must have come from a doggie bag gleaned from an outing we had there with Jacqueline and Elizabeth.  Jackie finished the Wickham white wine and I began a bottle of Maipo Merlot 2010

A Night At The Globe

I began the day by photographing the corner of the garden in which the new fernery is located, so that Danni can see where it is.

Jackie then drove us back to Morden in readiness for a visit to The Globe Theatre this evening.  Sam and Holly had given me two tickets for Richard III for my birthday.  Disaster then struck.  I had left the lead for transferring photos from my camera to my laptop at The Firs.  I therefore walked to Jessops at Colliers Wood and back, to try to purchase a new connection.  They do not sell them, but sold me a Multi Card Reader.  Since I have been using a card reader system at Elizabeth’s, I thought this would be fine.

In the precincts of Abbey Mills Centre by the river Wandle, a heron was offering suggestions to a puzzler.

Walking back through Morden at school finishing time, I was reminded that I had left rural Hampshire for the end of the Northern Line, gateway to the South, as Peter Sellers put it when chanting of Balham.  I had to weave my way through milling schoolchildren, taking care to dodge their icecreams and sticky sweets; make way for mothers pushing buggies; elude shoppers with wheelie bags, endangering my sandalled feet; and avoid motorised vehicles for people with disabilities.  I was back on familiar territory.

Settling down with my laptop I followed the meagre instructions which came with the reader.  Nothing was happening.  I could not download my pictures.  I telephoned Jessops, whose representative said it sounded as if the reader was faulty, and advised me to reboot my laptop and if it still didn’t work return to the store.  It didn’t, so I will return to Jessops in the morning and hope to be able to add photographs to this post.

This evening we travelled by underground to Sam Wanamaker’s gift to the world.  Our mode of changing trains at Kennington is best described in Jackie’s words.  As we approached a train about to leave for Waterloo she reports that I flung myself into the closing gap in the doors and left her standing on the platform.  I turned, held my hand up to the window and raised one finger.  This was to indicate that Waterloo was one stop away.  Contemplating the amused glances of the other passengers, I felt grateful that it wasn’t two stations away.

Some twenty eight years earlier I had been taking Sam and Louisa on the underground for a trip somewhere or other.  Sam was walking beside his sister in her pushchair.  He trotted into the train just as the doors were closing.  Having just taken Louisa out of it, I quickly shoved the puschair into the gap.  The doors simply pushed the wheeled vehicle out of their way.  This time it was Louisa and me left on the platform.  I found a station employee.  He rang down the line.  Two young men on the train who had seen what had happened escorted Sam off the train at the next station.  Louisa and I followed on, and left, the next train at the same station.  A perfectly happy Sam, munching chocolate, was resting in the arms of a huge London Transport man.  Panic over.

Walking along Blackfriars Road Jackie spotted, through a gap in the streetscape, The Shard, hailed as Western Europe’s tallest building.  Sun reflected from this edifice causes the blinds to be drawn in her office on the eleventh floor of Morden’s Civic Centre.  The view of the skyline we enjoyed as we walked along the Thames to the theatre can clearly be seen from that same office window.

We had a meal of meze at The Real Greek, a couple of doors away from The Globe.  This was so good we wished we had had more time.  Our only complaints might have been that the small tables were rather cramped together, and someone had taken a bite out of the bowl in which my excellent beetroot salad was served.  Jackie drank Mythos, a Greek beer she enjoyed.  I was less adventurous and sampled Kronenbourg.

The Globe is a replica of Shakespeare’s famous original.  In The Bard’s day those who could afford them sat on hard wooden benches under a thatched roof.  Those who couldn’t, known as groundlings, stood in the central enclosure, open to the elements.  So it is today.

Neither of us knew the play and we were therefore surprised at its comic nature. The theatre was jam-packed with spectators, and we had to force our way through the groundlings to reach our bench, which was fully occupied.  The play having just begun, we stood silently on the stairs until a steward approached, moved another couple out of our places, and, equally silently, ushered us in.  Almost polished away by the many bums on these seats, our numbers were just discernible.  This splendid production held our struggling attention until a wave of activity in the central open area, punctuated by the patter of raindrops, rendered what was happening on stage inaudible.  The cast soldiered manfully on.  I say ‘manfully’ because, as an authentic rendition of Shakespearean times, women’s roles were being played by men.  Suddenly the activity in the pit became frenzied.  The downpour drummed on the roof.  The lighting illuminated vertical sheets of rain.  Torrents bounced off hastily donned hoods and scarves.  Shirts and blouses of those who had come unprepared became transparent second skins.  Hair was plastered to scalps, and rivulets ran down necks.  Some who had brought umbrellas were told to close them.  A few who sat on the stairs we had vacated were instructed to leave and stand in the rain because they were blocking an emergency exit.  Staff, and the occasional fortunate child, were issued with clingfilm wrappers by a young woman circulating among the rapidly diminishing throng of saturated, unsheltered, spectators.  Whilst this continued the cast strutted their stuff on stage.  I am sure they must be quite accustomed to such interruptions.  After all, Shakespeare’s groundlings made an awful din.  It will, however, be apparent from the attention I paid to all this going on in front of me that I had lost the plot.  So had Jackie.

P.S. Dated 21st January 2014. Roger Lloyd-Pack, who was speaking as the Duke of Buckingham through the worst of the din, died a week ago. A splendid actor, may he rest in peace.

Back to Normality

After three weeks in the idyllic village atmosphere of Sigoules I returned to Morden today.  Having spent the morning continuing ‘the big tidy up’, the rest of the day was spent travelling. Flybe plane 8.12 By Lydie’s taxi to Bergerac airport; by plane to Southampton; train to Waterloo; and finally tube to Morden.

Having started it last night, my reading on the journey was almost the rest of Hammond Innes’ ‘The Land God Gave to Cain’.  Whilst standing in the queue at the departure gate at Bergerac, I noticed a wallet underneath a still occupied seat in the lounge.  Leaving my bag to mark my place, I walked over, picked up the wallet and asked the man sitting above it if it was his.  It was.  He was most grateful.  He turned out to be seated across the aisle from me in the plane, and continued his thanks there.  Whilst waiting for the call to board I got in conversation with a family of four.  The youngest little boy had a toy rabbit called ‘ra-ra’ which was clearly his transitional object.  It was dropped under the seat so often that his mother decided to put it in her bag for safe keeping.  As we were queueing to present our passports at Southampton I jokingly asked if she’d got the rabbit.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t sure and had to rifle through her bag to satisfy herself it was still there.  Oh dear.  Perhaps that was an unnecessary anxiety.

By the time I arrived at Waterloo I was pretty drowsy.  There’s nothing like trying to cross that Underground station to wake you up.  Everyone is rushing.  Most people keep their eyes fixed on the direction in which they are going, often dragging their wheelie-bags behind them.  Here was a reminder of what life is like for those still in work and an abrupt reintroduction to the big city after the more relaxed atmosphere of the countryside.  This is not just a question of different countries.  It is the contrast between less populated rural and congested city lives.  It was something that struck me when we moved to Newark from Streatham in 1987.  Suddenly people spoke to you in the street.  They were prepared to give way when driving.  They didn’t push past you in a crowd.  Somehow they all had more time.

Today at Waterloo I had just come from an environment where people all said good morning to you whether they knew you or not, and had plenty of time for each other.  Being fortunate enough to find a seat on the tube, I joined the rest of commuting London.  Each individual was isolated behind their newspaper, book, or thoughts.  Hammond Innes made sure I was just the same as everyone else.  Anonymity is possible in a crowded environment, impossible in a sparsely populated area.  In a day or two, no doubt, I will be a Londoner again.  Just now I’m a country boy.  At least I know which country.

After a while spent catching up with each other, Jackie and I had a meal at ‘Watch Me’, our favourite Morden restaurant.  Our absence whilst I have been in France was noted, but it didn’t stop the waiter, knowing what we like, to suggest what we would wish to eat.  We followed his accurate choices and drank Kingfisher.

Busking On The Underground

Drinking a complimentary coffee in Le Code Bar prior to my departure for England I watched a ceremony on T.V. commemorating French soldiers killed in Afghanistan.  David told me another had joined them.  Why, oh, why do we not learn from history?  How many more young military men and women (not to mention countless forgotten civilians) must be killed across the globe over issues that, in a short space of time, will be unresolved and unremembered except by those who have lost loved ones?

Leaving behind the first cloudless day in Sigoules, by means of Sandrine’s taxi to Bergerac; Flybe’s plane to Southampton; I don’t know who’s train to Waterloo; London Underground’s tube to Morden; and my feet to Links Avenue, I returned to a muggy Morden at least as warm as my French village.

Feeling rather travel-drowsy on crossing Waterloo Underground station I was revived by the sound of a very good guitarist playing at the bottom of the escalator.  As long as I can remember there have been buskers operating in the London Underground system.  For many years they were seen on their way by London Transport Police.  Now, however, they can be allocated officially sponsored pitches.  I don’t know how they qualify but it seems to me they have brightened up what can sometimes be a pretty drab experience and possibly improved security.  I have heard pop and folk singers with voices; classical violinists, male and female; flautists; plenty of other guitarists; and a trumpeter, to name a few.  Mind you, I have also heard singers without voices and fairly poor instrumentalists using electronic backing for their efforts.  But they are now part of the system and in my view can only enhance it.  Many of them, in mid melody are able to thank people for donations.  Late one night at Leicester Square there was a deafening noise from an electronic system supporting some kind of rock group.  This was not pleasant and I was pleased to get in the tube and away from it.  They were also partially blocking a passage between two platforms, and certainly not on an officially recognised pitch.  It was all rather aggressive and alarming.  Maybe they were moved on.

Another unpleasant alternative is men (usually men) moving from carriage to carriage, having a few strums on the strings, passing round the hat, and moving on at the next stop.

The passages in the Underground, especially late at night or when there is no-one else about can be quite eerie places.  It just may be that the presence of a busker could deter anyone from alarming behaviour and provide the lonely traveller with a sense that someone friendly is present or available.  I well remember the very long tunnel at Finsbury Park which 20 years or so ago I used to frequent.  This was quite scary, whatever the time, if no-one else was about, or even if they were.  I don’t know how many official pitches there are, and suspect they are only at the most lucrative central London stations, but I wonder if there is a way of increasing them to everyone’s benefit?  Probably not.

This evening Jackie and I ate at the Watch Me Sri Lankan restaurant described on 25th. May.  It was good to have a curry again.  You can’t generally get a decent curry in France, although I have found one in Bergerac.  As has been seen in the last few posts, there are compensations.