I lived in London for a year (2008–2009) and though walking was my preferred mode of getting around the city, it wasn’t always possible to walk to my destination. So that’s where the Tube or the London Underground came in as the fastest, though not necessarily the cheapest, mode of travel. Travelling by the Tube made me re-look at perceiving public transport as only a means to get from point A to point B. It showed me that it could also be a place to showcase art, make a design statement, and a place that reflected the ethos/culture of the area it serviced.
Transport for London is the company overlooks the public transport in London through the Tube, buses, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), trams, trains, etc. Though I used all these modes at some point during my stay in London, I loved the Tube and the DLR the most. I loved it so much that I photographed the unique aspects of the various tube stations I passed through, its various lines and routes, escalator and tube etiquette, etc. I never tired of admiring the little and big things that made each station unique and special. Even today, the Tube remains eminently gush-worthy.
About 2-3 weeks back, BBC Entertainment channel in India started airing a programme on the London Underground. This programme, which airs every Saturday at 9.00 pm, looks at “London’s 140 year-old Underground system” and “what it’s like to run the world’s most complex train network”. In other words, it is a behind-the-scenes look at the people who run and manage the Tube.
Not surprisingly, this has become my favourite television programme and has inspired me to write this blog post today. But this post is not about the efficiency or a behind-the- scenes look of the Tube; it is simply a post on the beautiful tube stations of the London Underground — the ones that caught my eye with their unique design, art or architectural element.
So are you ready for some station hopping?
The Westminster Tube Station provides access to the Big Ben, the Houses of the Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Whitehall and the London Eye. The platforms at Westminster Tube Station are some 100 ft below the ground, making it one of the deepest on the tube network. The interiors of the station can be considered either as space age or industrial looking, depending on your viewpoint. When one comes out of the platform, the sight of towering concrete beams and the crisscrossing steel elevators and floors, and the gleam of steel in artificial lighting is quite a sight. I am not a steel and glass person, if you know what I mean (being more of a stone and brick person), but the sight is quite mesmerising.
Some stations are equipped with Platform Edge Doors. A safety feature, these are glass sliding doors which open only when a train halts and close when it is ready to leave. The Platform Edge Doors really do make you feel like a spectator to the world rushing by. When I first saw them, I went ‘WOW’.
Southwark Tube Station is where you get off if you are visiting the Tate Modern. Designed by Richard MacCormac, it has a sleek design that looks like the interiors of a ship?
Canary Wharf Tube Station is one of the busiest stations on the Tube network as it serves the central business district of London. It is no wonder then that this is also one of the largest and grandest stations with additional features like a mall and a food court at the station. The glass dome and escalators are the most striking features of this station.
The Tottenham Court Road Tube Station has a unique design element not seen in any of the other stations on the network. Its walls are covered with stunning, colourful mosaics of abstract designs, insects, musical instruments… you name it.
Gloucester Road Tube Station has a very ambiance. With a brick and plaster interiors lit up by soft sunlight streaming in from the roof, it is one of my favourite stations.
Holborn Tube Station is the stop for educational institutions like the LSE and King’s College as well as for the main office of the BBC and the Indian Embassy, among others. It is also the stop for the British Museum, and that is the theme that the station walls mange to convey very beautifully.
I love the vintage tile work at Covent Garden Tube Station and every time I passed through the station, I would always stop to look at the signs there.
St.John’s Wood Tube Station has these antique lamps and signs designed like the Tube roundel itself. I passed through this station only once, but spent so much time admiring the various design elements that I got late for an appointment and got penalised for spending so much time inside the station !
I like Tooting Broadway Tube Station for two things—the green and black tile design and its funny name.
Then you have the interiors of Marble Arch Tube Station which literally dazzle with colour and how !
Northwick Park Tube Station was my stop to go to the University. It was a station that was above ground and on clear days the view around was breathtakingly beautiful. Though, I must admit, that if it were raining or snowing waiting for a tube to arrive was rather painful !
But the station that I love the most and have a special corner for is Baker Street Tube Station. It was the closest to where I stayed and even if I did not travel by Tube on a particular day, I would at least pass by the station. This Tube station is an important hub and is serviced by the Metropolitan, Jubilee, Bakerloo, Hammersmith &City, Circle and District Lines and each having a distinct design. The stations for the Metropolitan and Bakerloo lines are the best as you will see in the photographs to follow. But first have a look at the photograph below—an erstwhile luncheon and tea room at Baker Street has been transformed into a space for purchasing tickets as well as for housing an ATM.
Many Londoners crib and complain a lot about the Tube—the fact that it is crowded, there are delays, and on weekends certain sections get suspended for line upgradation or repairs. Yes, all this happens. But for someone who is used to the Indian system, these were minor irritants, and besides delays and closures were always communicated in advance. In such a scenario, I would always make alternate arrangements for travel or avoid travel on those days completely. What I liked and appreciated the most about the Tube is that passenger safety is their topmost priority. Let me share with you this incident.
It was a Monday morning and Krithika, a friend, and I were walking to Trafalgar Square from Russell Square. As we passed the Russell Square Tube Station, we noticed a large crowd outside and station doors being shut. When we asked a passer-by as to what was happening, we received a rather surprising answer. “The station has been shut down due to overcrowding. It will be re-opened after some time.”
Krithika and I were stunned by the reply and fled from there giggling, because we found it extremely funny. I mean, imagine a Mumbai train station shut down because of overcrowding ! But then we sobered down almost immediately as we realised how much importance is given to human lives. Contrast this with the railway accidents that happen in India, and the attitude towards them.
I am a great fan of public transport and always advocate travel by buses and trains. Many years back I consciously took a decision to not buy a car and travel only by public transport as far as possible. Of course it helps that I live and work in Mumbai which has a good public transport system. I wonder what would have been the case if I lived in Pune! But it took me a year of living in London to realise what it means to have a great public transport system as it makes a big difference to the standard of living. Hopefully, with the metro and monorail coming to Mumbai, this difference might be bridged !
PS: The photographs posted here are only a sampling of a huge collection of photographs that I have. I had written two photo essays on the London Tube in 2009 (which you can access here and here), and one on the Docklands Light Railway (which you can read here). If you’d like to read more about the London Underground, then I would highly recommend this blog.
PPS: Which station did you like the most?