Many of the lines that make up the London Underground network are renowned for their architectural qualities. The most famous of course is the Picadilly line with its Modernist masterpieces by Charles Holden, such as Sudbury Town and Arnos Grove. The Northern Line also has some early Holden stations, with his Art Deco works in Portland stone along the Modern extension and a later masterpiece at East Finchley. The Northern Line also features a number of stations by one of Holden’s predecessors, Leslie Green, with his distinctive Oxblood tiled buildings in Belsize Park and Mornington Crescent. More contemporary designs can be seen in the Jubilee line Docklands extension stations, such as Sir Norman Foster’s Canary Wharf and Canada Water by Buro Happold and Eva Jiricna. Lesser known than the buildings mentioned, are the post-war Central line stations that make up most of the lines eastern and western extensions.
The Central Line was opened in 1900 between Shepherds Bush and Bank, extending 12 years later to Liverpool Street. As part of the New Works Programme, extensions were planned, westerly through Acton towards Ruislip and easterly through Leyton and out into Essex. These extensions were interrupted by the Second World War, with the result that many of the stations were designed before the war, and then redesigned after it to account for the lack of materials. Here is a short guide to the stations that sprang out of this period.
Most of the interesting stations along the Western extension were designed Brian Lewis. Lewis was an Australian architect who moved to Britain to study at the Liverpool School of Architecture and later became Chief Architect to the Great Western Railway. He designed the stations at West Acton (1940), Hanger Lane (1949), Perivale (1947) and Greenford (1947). Of the four, only West Acton was finished to his designs, with a glass frontage sandwiched between two brick side walls. The other three designs were modified post-war by Dr. F.F.C. Curtis. Hanger Lane is a drum style station similar to Holden’s Arnos Grove and Southgate, but with a less decorative concrete finish. Perivale features a concave glass and brick frontage. Greenford also features a curving frontage, but much lower than Perivale, and still has an original wooden escalator in working condition.
Dr. Curtis was also the designer of South Ruislip station. One of the most distinctive stations on the line, it features a polygonal metal clad ticket hall that contains a cast concrete interior frieze by artist Henry Haig. Although the station opened in 1948, the hall was not finished until 1960.The later western extension stations in Ruislip and Northolt were designed by John Kennet and Roy Turner. West Ruislip (1948) is the terminus of the western extension and is notable for its splayed concrete front canopy. Another prominent station at the western end of the Central Line is White City. It was completed in 1947 to the designs of Seymour, Bilbow and McGill. Its asymmetrical brick frontage helped it win an architecture award at the Festival of Britain in 1951.
The eastern extension of the Central Line expanded out from Liverpool Street into Essex through the East London towns of Mile End and Leyton. Leytonstone (1940) was designed by Thomas Bilbow, part of the team that designed White City. It is a Streamline Moderne style station, that now features mosaics celebrating local lad Alfred Hitchcock. The principal architect of the stations at this end of the line was Charles Holden. Redbridge (1947) features a tower and a circular booking hall similar to his iconic 1930’s stations like Chiswick Park, but show Holden edging towards a more ‘Festival’ style. Wanstead (1947) is one of Holden's most austere works, with its grey prefabricated panel construction and finish in grey render, replacing the all glass tower Holden had originally envisioned. Holden had been a consultant to the Soviet Government in their Moscow subway construction of the 1930’s, and some of that experience is reflected in the design of Gants Hill (1947). There is very little surface building to this station, but plenty to see underground, where the barrel vaulted halls bring to mind the famous Moscow stations such as Kiyeskaya and Smolenskaya.
Holden wasn't the only architect to produce progressive buildings on the Eastern extension. John Murray Easton of the firm Stanley Hall, Easton and Roberston designed Loughton (1940) station with a square ticket hall featuring glass brick arched windows, and platforms with flat-slab canopies. Oliver Hill’s Newbury Park bus station (1949) adjacent to the tube station, also won a Festival of Britain award for its concrete arches and copper clad barrel vault roof. Although the completion Central line stations of the 1940’s took much longer than anticipated due to war, and their designs were modified due to material shortages, they are a fascinating example of a change of architectural styles. Moving from the Holden style moderne stations of the 1930’s towards a more Festival of Britain and even proro-Brutalist style that would show the way for the golden age of public building design in the 1950's and 60’s, these stations deserve to be ranked among the most interesting on the London Underground network.
This blog is an amended version of an article that first appeared in The Modernist magazine #8 "Carried Away".