Tag Archives: London tube

Voices from the Void

Not driving a cab and in possession of a Freedom Pass (an oxymoron if ever there were these days), I have discovered the Underground network to be a pretty scary subterranean place.

Signs everywhere warn of impending danger lurking around every corner: Stand on the right; Wear a face mask; Carry dogs; Fold pushchairs; and for we Baby Boomers: Please hold on to the handrail, which for me should have ‘for dear life’ appended.

You don’t want to hear this

The warning you don’t want to hear over the announcements is “Inspector Sands…”. Apparently, this is a warning of fire somewhere in the bowels of the system.

Luckily the most ubiquitous announcement is “Mind the Gap”, in fact, a whole souvenir industry has sprung up around this urgent warning of impending danger: tee shirts, mugs and even underwear.

When taking my daughter for her first job interview some years ago, we were sitting on the tube when a drunk sitting opposite awoke to the announcement “Mind the Gap”. Our slumbering passenger then started to doze off again, until that is, we reached another station and upon hearing the Mind the Gap announced a second time declared to the rest of the carriage “F**k Me! That bloke gets around”.

First announcement

The original Mind the Gap announcement which had awoken our slumbering friend was first heard in 1968 when AEG Telefunken supplied the recording of an unknown actor, unfortunately, the fellow had insisted on being paid a royalty every time his voice was heard. Unsurprisingly that recording was scrubbed and re-recorded by someone cheaper.
Sound engineer Peter Lodge then took up the baton and his sound tests proved so popular with the powers that be it was decided that his voice should be the announcement broadcast.

Listen to the 12th Earl of Portland

The Earl of Portland was a title bestowed on the first Earl for mopping the fevered brow of King William III who at that time was struck down with smallpox. The 12th and current Earl could once have been heard on the Piccadilly Line, his Mind the Gap announcement earning him the princely sum of £200. Tim Bentinck is best known as the actor who plays David Archer in Radio 4’s The Archers.

The gap problem like so much these days can be blamed on London’s bankers. When tunnelling commenced early in the last century, engineers were concerned that the excavations would undermine the City’s banks. It was decided, where possible, to tunnel beneath the roads, many of which followed their Medieval routes.

As a consequence despite billions being spent on planning, building, refurbishing and rebuilding our trains just don’t fit the stations. Passengers on the Central line at Bank are regularly reminded of this fundamental flaw in the Tube system, gaping enough to accommodate mobile phones, umbrellas, wallets and purses, and Oyster cards.

The sharpest bend

This fear of being sued by powerful property owners has meant Bank station has one of the sharpest bends on the Tube network. This sharp bend has even become represented on Harry Beck’s iconic Tube map where Bank Station is given its own unique kink. There is even some speculation the bend had to be made even sharper so the tunnel didn’t end up in the Bank of England’s vaults.

So just in case you didn’t hear the announcement or are hearing-impaired, platforms now also have the warning painted on the edge at regular intervals. At Baker Street, the worst for gap incidents on an annual basis (which brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘gap year’), blue warning lights have been installed as an extra precaution. Apart from Tim Bentinck, another sounds a bit like Joanna Lumley, and I wait in vain for a ‘darling’ to be added to the end of the announcement.

Voice from Beyond.

At Embankment Station the doom-laden tones of the ‘Mind the Gap’ message on the Northern line station are those of theatrically-trained Mr Oswald Laurence whose stentorian performance is worthy of Shakespeare. He enunciates perfectly, and adds a dramatic pause between the word ‘Mind’ and ‘the’, just to get our attention. His voice had been heard at many a station on the Northern Line, but it was slowly phased out until Embankment was the last place it was used.

After he died in 2007, his widow Margaret would still enjoy listening to his voice, but one day just before Christmas 2012 she was devastated to find he had been replaced. No longer could she enjoy her late husband’s announcements. But when TfL learned that she was missing her Oswald’s voice they did a wonderful thing – they reinstated him.

Featured image: Passengers have to “Mind the gap” at Bank Central Line station by David Hawgood (CC BY-SA 2.0). The Central Line through Bank station is curved sufficiently that the well-known announcement “Mind the gap” warns of a substantial gap between the end doors of a carriage and the platform. The girl in the photo is jumping onto the platform, the woman behind waits to step out.

All Change

Gillespie Road, Post Office, Great Central and Sandy Lodge are not very inspiring in conjuring up travel around a great city, but these, amongst others, were once names of Underground stations.

Dozens of stations have changed their name, for instance, Great Central became the more romantically named Marylebone, and take Embankment, if you will, located on, well The Embankment. It would seem a perfectly reasonable name, and so it was when it opened in 1906, eight years later it was renamed Charing Cross (Embankment), then presumably as it was a bit of a mouthful with that parentheses nonsense they dropped the brackets and it became Charing Cross. Two generations of commuters later, in a nod to nostalgia, in 1974 it was renamed Charing Cross Embankment. Then two years later was given the title we know today (well, at least at the time of writing) of Embankment.

Other stations have changed due to their near neighbours. Famously Gillespie Road became Arsenal in 1932 but with the suffix Highbury Hill, which was later gradually dropped. Curiously Arsenal Station is closer to the Emirates Stadium than Arsenal’s former ground. So could it be renamed again?

Harry Gordon Selfridge was not so successful when he opened his eponymous Oxford Street store. He wanted Bond Street Station to be renamed Selfridges Station and drew up proposals for a direct subway connecting the station to his store. The proposals were declined. Take that to its logical conclusion Oxford Circus should become TopShop or Marble Arch, Primark.

Bank despite one of its entrances accessed via the Bank of England’s building was first called City Station.

In the days before we lost our high street post offices, rather confusingly there was an Underground station given that very name. The possible confusion ended in 1937 and the station renamed St. Paul’s just in time for Germany to try and bomb the cathedral out of existence.

The first ‘run’ on The Knowledge starts at Manor House Station, so named, not after a baronial manor house, its bucolic grounds gently sweeping down to the nearby River Lea, but some long-forgotten public house. This boozer had a chequered history, first opening its doors in 1820 then closed only to be resurrected before demolition. Over the years its name transmogrified into the Manor House fortuitously in time for the 1931 opening of the tube station that takes its name, much to the relief of residents setting them apart from downmarket Finsbury Park.

Likewise, Sandy Lodge conjures up a small building at the entrance to a baronial estate near the sea. In reality, it’s near Moor Park (and its current name), one of the most prestigious golf clubs in Britain, so should Moor Park be renamed Tiger Woods Station, or would that sound like a forested area inhabited by large cats?

Sometimes they realise their nomenclature mistake soon after opening. Eastcheap Station opened in 1884, only three weeks passed before it was renamed The Monument, and like many stations losing the definite article over time.

For some locations just don’t inspire a memorable name. Kennington Road Station was changed to Westminster Bridge Road, finally, it was settled with the prosaic title of Lambeth North Station.

The street of Charing Cross is just a few yards long, but it was decided to change the inspirationally named Trafalgar Square Station after this small unprepossessing street.

For London’s, most confusing stations look no further than Queensway and Bayswater stations which make for curious companions. Located just north of Hyde Park and barely yards apart, Bayswater Station is located in Queensway and has been called variously Bayswater; Bayswater (Queen’s Road) & Westbourne Grove; Bayswater (Queen’s Road); and Bayswater (Queensway). While one of Queensway Station entrances are in Bayswater and has been called Queen’s Road Station. Confused? You should be as there is no Queen’s Road in Kensington. It has taken over 46 years to stop this renaming malarky.

Arnos Grove Station

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building which you might have passed without noticing.  This pre-war classic has three and a half million passengers passing through it each year.

Although I am always saying that I’m a cockney (in fact Bow Bells weren’t repaired until 6 years after my birth), I might have been born in Fitzrovia but my childhood was spent in a leafy suburb in North London.

[A]t school the highlight of the week was swimming lessons; not taught in an open-air unheated pool but a beautiful Art Deco swimming baths, a sister to the building opposite – Arnos Grove Station.

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Arnos Grove Station is widely regarded as one of architect Charles Holden’s finest works, it was designed soon after London Transport headquarters at 55 Broadway, itself an innovative office block, was completed.

Holden and Frank Pick between them gave us the Underground we know today. Holden’s belief was that his work should:

“ . . . throw off its mantle of deceits; its cornices, pilasters, mouldings . . .”

The two men had toured Europe together to observe the latest innovations in the design of public buildings prior to the northern extension to the Piccadilly Line.

Opening in 1932 Holden described his creations simply as “brick boxes with concrete lids”.

That may be so but its elegant simplicity with towering vertical windows and perfect symmetry Holden shaped a building that was different from anything that had gone before in London. It’s very impressive and yet somehow its harmonious design makes for an almost gentle pleasing form.

Frank Pick would visit his newly completed stations ensuring that nothing would detract from the clean unobstructed Art Deco lines. Alas most of that has now gone Arnos Grove is surrounded by street furniture and inside signage has broken up the clear verticals of Holden’s design.

Arnos Grove In 2011 Arnos Grove Station along with its sister station Oakwood was uprated from a Grade II listing to Grade II*, the category reserved for ’particularly important buildings of more than special interest’.

This is in part due to architectural critic Jonathan Glancey who has written at length on the merits of Arnos Grove Station and put it in his 12 greatest modern buildings of the world, alongside the Sydney Opera House and the Empire State Building. He might like to consider the Arnos Pool.

Main picture: Julian Osley CC BY-SA 2.0; Clutter around Arnos Grove Station: Christine Matthews CC BY-SA 2.0; Arnos pool: Alan Myers CC BY 2.0