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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Transformed by the Tube - Oliver Green Talk

Last night I attended a fascinating talk at the London Transport Museum on how the London Underground transformed and in some senses actually created suburban towns between the 1st and 2nd World War. It's always good to see a
full lecture room, and even better when the room is filled with people of all ages and a roughly equal mix of men & women.

Live in Edgware posters

Oliver Green began with a quote from George Orwell on the "huge peaceful wilderness of outer London" and how few people actually admit to living in the suburbs. Much of the theme of the night was really how the suburbs aren't actually suburbs when they get a Tube station, as they change into this place that's neither town or countryside. There's a difficulty of marketing a place as the peaceful place to live, when at the same time you want to say it's really easy to get to the City. However, much of Transport for London's advertising tried to do that.

Golders Green posters

The poster of Golders Green, which was the first Tube suburb was a good illustration of this. You had the father still in his work clothes having time to tend his idyllic garden just after work & enjoy time with his wife & baby. Yet the London Underground can be seen in the background.

Golders Green was an example of how the area changed within about five years of the station being built. A shopping centre, theatre & cinema also helped the transformation.

Ickenham's station didn't transform the town

This was a good contrast to Ickenham, which hardly became a thriving suburb. I used to pass through Ickenham each day when I went to Brunel University & travelled into town on a work placement and even in the eighties, I hardly saw anyone get on or off the station.

Tube means housing

Green showed a beautiful poster from the 1920's which again tried to show how once a Tube station existed, housing and a town soon followed. No words were needed to put across this message.

Yet there was still this problem of keeping an idyllic suburban image. Once your town's built up it's not "the country" any more. People building houses often gave them a mock Tudor facade, with fake wooden beams. However, the stations were all modern.

The success of Morden

It was interesting that when stations like Morden were built, there were cheaper "workman" tickets before 8am. So people used to queue from the early morning & then hung around in central London before work. Green said that the picture above showed the really long orderly queue (top right) and that Morden was victim of its own success. "It had the beginnings of the Misery Line, even before that term was used", he said.

Here's a picture of the wooded area of Arnos Grove before the Tube came along, with a rather basic sign showing the area was reserved for the Underground.

Arnos Grove reserved for the Tube

These early stations along the Piccadilly Line built by Charles Holden were based on a library design from Stockholm. Holden called them "Brick boxes with concrete lids", but now they stand out for their art deco design and are all listed buildings.

Southgate Tube like a spaceship

I loved the image of Southgate Tube station at night. It really looked like a spaceship illuminated in the darkness.

Arnos Grove advertising

Again Green showed some Tube advertising at the time. Transport for London's principle was that a timetable wasn't needed and only the frequency of the trains was shown.

Two ways of advertising Piccadilly Line Extension

The problem of not knowing what image to portray to travellers was highlighted by the posters above. Transport for London used one of their best artists, Edward McKnight Kauffer, to produce a very modern (at the time) poster which just advertised the extension of the Piccadilly Line. Yet the poster on the left was less striking and more factual. "It's as if they weren't sure what customers would respond to best, so they tried everything", said Green.

King's Cross station with show home in the foreground

An area outside of King's Cross station was known as the "African Village", due to the chaotic mixture. But amongst that chaos, a show house was built (see the house in the front to the left), so you could compare this to the calm place you could live if you moved to the suburbs.

Green also showed the first printed example of Beck's Tube map. The map has always had the river on, just as marker rather than having any geographical relation to how the river runs through London.

Becks first printed Tube map

He advised us to pick up copies of the current riverless Tube map. "They'll be collectors items. The mayor's guaranteed that the river will be back on the next ones, so this current ones will be worth something", he laughed.

Green ended his talk with a look at Queensbury station. The name of the station came as the result of a competition where the public could win a few bob for naming it. The name of the station then became the name of the town that grew up around it. It was a great way to show how an area owed its whole development to the Tube.

Queensbury named after the Tube station

Hopefully some other people will write about Green's talk as I've not covered everything we learnt in the hour. All of the pictures I took on the night are in this Flickr set - Transformed by Tube.

Thanks to Oliver Green and London Transport Museum for putting this talk on and I'm looking forward to the next in the Suburbia series which will be on Betjeman & Metroland on January 19th 2010.

; Posted by annie mole Wednesday, November 18, 2009 Permalink COMMENT HERE