(Above photo - Cyril Powers 'Tube Train' - my favourite piece of Tube art, perfectly captures the essence of a crowded carriage )
Growing up in London in the 80s and 90s, the London underground aka - the Tube - has always held a special place for me in my various interactions with my home city. Of course - obviously - it's always been a useful means of travel. Growing up as I did in Hadley Wood, which was actually Hertfordshire but had a 081 telephone number (denoting Outer London), I was always the suburban boy continually in thrall to the pull of the metropolis. I could consider myself a Londoner as I had a London phone number but my address said 'Hertfordshire' so I was neither hither or thither, a betwixt and between anomoly inhabiting the fringes. It frequently felt like an existence of outside looking in and back in those days the Tube was my way in. Of course, the plight of the suburbanite in thrall to the pull of the metropolis has always been a recurring theme in music, literature and art.
(Above photo - St Mary The Virgin at Monken Hadley )
Hadley Wood was pretty much equidistant between Cockfosters (Picadilly Line, end of the line) and High Barnet (Northern Line, end of the line). As a youth after drunken nights out in London, many a time I took the last train back to Barnet and walked - well swayed - the 3 miles home down into Hadley Wood. An advantage of being 'end of the line - last stop' was you could fall asleep - drunkenly, comatose - without missing your station. Part of the walk home involved a short cut just after Hadley Common through the graveyard of St Mary The Virgin at Monken Hadley - a particularly spooky and gothic looking space replete with horror movie wrought iron lamps swaying in the misty moonlight. Not to mention faded grave stones and moss ridden mausoleums emitting a perpetualy musty and damp smell. On this section of the walk I would increase the pace whilst nervously looking over my shoulder every wary of headless apparitions and ghouls.
Back then you could still smoke on the Tube - weird thought (stopped after the Kings Cross fire in 1987) - and I remember on a more than a few nights when I overdid the drink being sick ON the train and collapsing in a paraletic heap on the floor of the carriage. I know, I shouldn't be publicly admitting to this shoddy behaviour. God knows how I managed to walk home in that state. The Tube always felt like a weirdly reassuring presence in my life, I felt quite soothed by its noises as I trundled through the North London suburbs, the carriages squeaking and howling more intensely on bends as the wheels screached on the track - overground before it entered the depths before Highgate station. The fascination continued it's hold as I studied for my A Level art and did some oil paintings - sadly now lost - depicting scenes on The Tube, inspired a large part by the work of Cyril Powers, thanks to the excellent reccomendation by my art teacher at the time the wonderful Mr Higgins. In terms of Tube art, Powers has to be the master for me, the symmetry and bold strokes of his lino prints - in conjunction with the concurrent art nouveau aesthetic - really captures the feel of the underground. In fact the art deco / nouveau look of the Tube is often a thrall to aesthetes as many stations - including Southgate and Bounds Green - are listed buildings. Much of the expansion of the network occured in the 1920s and 30s and the architectural beauty remains intact to this day. Similarly the logos and typography all retain an art deco aesthetic.
(Above photo - Cyril Powers - The Tube Station )
As the oldest urban undergound train in the world, the Tube always held a fascination for me. Such a vital part of the city, the human arteries supplying bodies for work and pleasure all over the city, although the main pull being the centre, the dual magnets of the West End and The City. Work, shopping, a night out 'up West', theatre and dining. I even liked the smells of the underground, the warm musty belches of the city pumping out as the trains emerged from the tunnels, the bowels of the city. When I was a regular user you would have a mental memory of train stations - the shortest walks on changing between lines, where to stand to wait for trains so your exit at the next stop required less walking, a psychic geography that has of course now since dissolved with time.
(Above photo - Art Deco Tube - Arnos Grove )
Travelling on crowded trains, particularly in the height of a humid summer - no air conditioning - could be uncomfortable and irksome. Pushed into strangers, squeezing yourself into packed carriages, trying to forgo hangups about personal space and hygiene. But I always felt these interactions offered a sort of civic shared experience which contributed to the fabric, depth and personality of the city. Interactions with fellow Londoners from all walks of life as a sort of communal experience even though you would rarely talk to fellow travellers - in fact sometimes even eye contact or any form of interaction was always avoided.
(Above photo - Down the Tube )
The shared communal experience of The Tube reached it's apex during the Second World War when the Tube was used as a shelter from the German bombs which reined down on London (and other parts of the UK) during The Blitz courtesy of the Luftwaffe. Being 200 metres down would provide refuge from V1 bombs (nicknamed 'Doodlebugs' due to the sound they made in flight) that fell from the sky. Hence the Tube moved from transporting people to saving lives and in the process cemented it's place in the hearts of Londoners. Indeed my own grandmother Alice Worster would have sheltered down the Tube (probably Essex Road or Highbury and Islington I imagine close to where she lived) as bombs fell from the sky.
(Above photo - Highbury and Islington - the grand facade before being bombed in the Second World War )
In fact the original Highbury and Islington Station used to be a very grand building (see above) which was flattened during World War II after a V1 demolished much of Highbury Corner and 26 people lost their lives. The old grand building was replaced by the very non-descript incarnation that still stands today, but stands as a testament to the continual growth and renewal of - in my humble opinion - the greatest city on the planet. To this day, the Tube still grows as new lines are continually added - the London Crossrail, Europe's biggest construction project - is still being worked on to complete a 73 mile line that dissects the city East to West, Abbey Wood to Reading (via Heathrow). An immense project, cutting through parts of this ancient city, a logistical and technical nightmare but necessary to see the Metropolis can continue to thrive and keep humans moving and off the congested roads. From history onwards, via the Second World War and looking to the future with the new constructions projects, the Tube still remains the veins of the city.
(Above photo - Crossrail: Let's do this )
(Above photo - Londoners sheltering at Picadilly Circus during World War II. The Blitz spirt: children still smiling )
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