Wednesday, December 07, 2016
Anorak Corner [National Rail edition]
It's time once again for the annual splurge of passenger data from across Britain's railway network.
A word of caution before we start. The statisticians who put the report together have used a revised methodology this year, with particularly significant effects across the London area. Passengers using a Travelcard to travel by rail within London are now being counted more accurately, using a TfL model, rather than being averaged out according to out-of-date data. As a result some central London termini have lost a few million passengers, and certain stations outside zone 1 have similarly gained, especially on the orbital Overground. This doesn't mean that the old data was wrong, merely that the new data is better, but it does mean that year on year figures aren't necessarily directly comparable. Take any big changes with a pinch of scepticism.
London's ten busiest National Rail stations (2015/16) (with changes since 2014/15)
1) -- Waterloo (99m)
2) -- Victoria (81m)
3) -- Liverpool Street (67m)
4) -- London Bridge (54m)
5) ↑1 Euston (42m)
6) ↑3 Stratford (41m)
7) -- Paddington (37m)
8) -- King's Cross (33m)
9) ↑2 Clapham Junction (32.3m)
10) -- St Pancras (31.7m)
Most of London's Rail Top 10 is filled by the same old stations with the same old rankings. Waterloo is still easily top of the list, with Victoria and Liverpool Street sitting comfortably behind. But there are three changes, all of them upwards, and all at big stations also served by the Overground. Stratford is the big mover, with over 10m more passengers than last year, about a third of which is genuine growth and the remainder due to the change in methodology. That's an astonishing vote of confidence in a station which ten years ago had only 8m passengers and was in decline. Meanwhile Clapham Junction creeps into the Top 10, and Euston nudges up, both at the expense of an unexpected collapse at a well known rail terminus. Charing Cross used to be in fifth place, but now they're counting the numbers differently it's slipped to 11th, and is in danger of being overtaken by Highbury and Islington.
London's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't central London termini (2015/16)
1) -- Stratford (41m)
2) -- Clapham Junction (32m)
3) ↑2 Highbury & Islington (28m)
4) ↓1 East Croydon (24.3m)
5) ↑3 Canada Water (23.6m)
6) ↓2 Vauxhall (21m)
7) ↓1 Wimbledon (20m)
8) ↑11 Whitechapel (19m)
9) ↑1 Barking (13m)
10) ↓1 Richmond (12m)
Once you strip out the central London termini a rather different picture appears, and it's substantially orange. More than half of this Top 10 features stations with an Overground service - not always the main flow, but boosting passenger numbers all the same. Whitechapel is the biggest climber, despite several weekend closures, as the new way of counting boosts its passenger numbers by 63%! And that's not the biggest percentage increase - Shepherd's Bush is up 69% (last year not even in the Top 40, this year 20th) and Canada Water up a whopping 71%.
London's ten busiest non-TfL stations outside zone 1 (2015/16)
1) Clapham Junction (32m)
2) East Croydon (23m)
3) Wimbledon (20m)
4) Barking (13m)
5) Richmond (12m)
6) Lewisham (11m)
7) Balham (10m)
8) Surbiton (9.4m)
9) Putney (9m)
10) Bromley South (8m)
Here's a more traditional-looking list, focusing on suburban commuter traffic, with stations operated by the Overground and TfL Rail stripped out. Other than Barking, look, all the big-hitters are south of the river. For comparison purposes, North Greenwich tube sees over 26m passengers a year, so is busier than all but one of the stations listed above. But remember that these are only figures for entries and exits. Clapham Junction's total almost doubles if you include interchanges, and interchanges also account for a large proportion of the crowds using East Croydon and Lewisham.
London's ten least busy Overground stations (2015/16)
1) Emerson Park (259,000)
2) South Hampstead (456,000)
3) Headstone Lane (473,000)
4) Stamford Hill (503,000)
5) Turkey Street (604,000)
6) Penge West (641,000)
7) Cambridge Heath (647,000)
8) Hatch End (707,000)
9) South Acton (722,000)
10) Crouch Hill (825,000)
Here's a list I don't think has been done before. Topping the 'Overground Bottom 10' is Emerson Park, the only halt on the runty Romford-Upminster service. That's no surprise, but it's also true that passenger numbers have increased significantly since TfL took over the line, up over 100,000 since last year. Headstone Lane, Hatch End and Turkey Street are the other contenders from outer London, but a lot of the other poor performers are much further in, just not particularly well used. South Hampstead is very close to Swiss Cottage, which has a better service, and likewise a lot of passengers near Cambridge Heath will prefer to use Bethnal Green. In total twenty Overground stations have annual passenger numbers below a million, whereas only two tube stations in London can claim the same.
London's ten least busy National Rail stations (2015/16)
1) ↑3 Angel Road (28000)
2) ↓1 Sudbury & Harrow Road (31000)
3) ↓1 South Greenford (62000)
4) ↓1 Sudbury Hill Harrow (71000)
5) ↑1 Morden South (88000)
6) ↓1 Birkbeck (117000)
7) ↑3 Crews Hill (120000)
8) ↑5 South Merton (140000)
9) ↓1 Drayton Green (153000)
10) ↓3 Belmont (159000)
Big news, London has a new least-used station. It's been Sudbury & Harrow Road for several years, but now Angel Road has taken the crown. Both have rush-hour-only weekday services, but changes in counting methodology have reduced Angel Road's total by 68% whilst boosting Sudbury & Harrow Road by a third. Crews Hill, in the meantime, has genuinely lost a third of its passengers without any tweaks to methodology at all, and South Merton (on the Sutton Loop) appears in the list for the first time. Expect Angel Road to leap in popularity in a few years time when the proposed STAR service to Stratford opens, and expect the stations on the Greenford line to plummet when Crossrail severs their direct trains to Paddington.
OK, enough of London.
The UK's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't in London (2015/16)
1) -- Birmingham New Street (39m)
2) -- Glasgow Central (30m)
3) -- Leeds (29.7m)
4) -- Manchester Piccadilly (26m)
5) -- Edinburgh (22m)
6) -- Gatwick Airport (18m)
7) -- Brighton (17.3m)
8) ↑1 Reading (16.8m)
9) ↓1 Glasgow Queen Street (16.4m)
10) -- Liverpool Central (15.6m)
There's not much change here, in terms of ordering. Only two stations change places, presumably because Reading's a bit more attractive now it's had its upgrade. But numbers of passengers have increased at all the other stations in the Top 10, with Birmingham New Street enjoying a post-upgrade boost of over four million. New Street is also the only station outside London to make it into the national Top 10, slotting into the otherwise-all-London list at number seven, between Stratford and Paddington. And if you're intrigued by Liverpool's representation being a Merseyrail station rather than the expected biggie, rest assured that Lime Street is in fact 11th, less than half a million passengers behind.
The UK's ten least busy National Rail stations (2015/16)
1) -- Shippea Hill (12)
2) ↑2 Reddish South (38)
3) ↑3 Pilning (46)
4) ↓2 Coombe Junction (48)
5) -- Barry Links (68)
6) ↑7 Denton (74)
7) ↑8 Stanlow & Thornton (88)
8) ↓5 Tees-Side Airport (98)
9) ↑10 Chapelton (100)
10) ↑4 Clifton (116)
Finally, here's the list everyone always finds the most intriguing. These are the stations that can't even muster 10 passengers a month, such is the inaccessibility of their location or the paucity of their service. Shippea Hill (near Ely) remains Britain's most ill-used station, despite having two (ill-timed) trains each day, whereas Reddish South, Denton and Pilning get only one a week. Any changes in position within the top 10 should be taken with an enormous pinch of salt due to the volatility of the statistics when passenger numbers are so low. But Tees-Side Airport trebling its usage cannot be ignored - perhaps visits by enthusiasts who love a challenge have made the difference. There are also three stations here that haven't been in this particular list before - Stanlow & Thornton is located inside an oil refinery with barely any public access, Chapelton is a minor request stop on the line to Barnstaple, and Clifton was closed for most of last year while works were undertaken on a nearby tunnel. Those living in south London may grimace at the service they receive, but at least they have trains.
» Rail passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)
» Previous updates: 14/15, 13/14, 12/13, 11/12, 10/11, 09/10, 08/09, 07/08, 06/07, 05/06
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, December 06, 2016Ten years ago today, TfL announced big news.
TfL Commissioner reveals plans to upgrade Circle, District, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan linesThe biggest single rolling-stock order in Britain was underway. It was no overnight solution.
Detailed plans to upgrade a third of the Tube network over the next decade and help tackle climate change were announced by the Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy today.And now here we are a decade later. So how's the planned tube upgrade been going?
In terms of introducing new trains, pretty well.
The Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines will get new air-conditioned trains from late 2009, together with a new signalling system and renewed track.The first we saw of these new trains was in September 2008 when a mock-up tube carriage was displayed outside Euston Square station for the public to inspect. At this stage it was expected that the first new train would enter service in early 2010, a date that later slipped to the end of July.
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said: "This upgrade will be felt by passengers every day, who will benefit from air-conditioning and extra space on the trains."Air-con was the big selling point for passengers, who on certain days each summer endured sweaty rides that would now cease. But the big selling point for TfL was capacity, because longer trains with fewer seats meant more people could climb aboard, helping rush hour commuters to get around more easily.
"The upgrade of these lines is the next stage of Transport for London's investment in the renewal and improvement of London Underground."Replacing all the 1960s trains on the Metropolitan line took two years, with the last 'A Stock' running in public service in September 2012. Attention then switched the other sub-surface lines, where the rush hour crush was much worse, with the Hammersmith & City line first to see longer trains.
Trains on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines will increase in size from six to seven carriages, an overall capacity increase of 17 per cent, as will those on the District line between Edgware Road and Wimbledon.Six-car 'C Stock' was the target, with complete replacement on all three lines achieved in February 2014. Few mourned the disappearance of these clunking workhorses, and it's now much easier (and cooler) to take a ride.
Back in 2006 it seems the intention had been that only District line trains running to Edgware Road would be replaced. But that aspiration was swiftly extended to cover the whole line, even though the fleet of 'D Stock' units had only recently been refitted.
Since January 2015 these District line stalwarts have been removed from the network at a rate of roughly one a week, trailered off for reuse or scrap, with a scheduled removal deadline in late 2016. New 'S Stock' trains have dripfed into service to replace them, and a couple of weeks ago the last of the new sub-surface fleet of 192 trains was delivered.
Not quite, and the issue is signalling.
TfL's attempt to upgrade the signalling on the sub-surface lines hasn't been going well, in fact it's been a disaster. The first contract faltered, then collapsed, with expensive repercussions. The latest contract is going much better, but will cost much more and is running several years behind the original schedule.
As a consequence, all 192 S Stock trains are having to return to the factory to have a new in-cab signalling system installed. They're being taken off to Derby a few at a time, and coming back future-proofed, but while they're away TfL needs spare trains to make sure it's always possible to run a full service.
And that's why, even though all the old 'D Stock' units were supposed to have been removed by now, a few remain. I understand ten old trains are theoretically available, but no more than five are generally out in service, and often it's rather fewer than that.
Almost all the trains you'll see out on the District line are new ones, halogen lamps blazing, with higher capacity and fewer seats. But stand for long enough on a District line platform and an old train will eventually turn up. It just might take a while.
I tried catching one the other day, and failed. An old 'D Stock' pulled into Bow Road on the opposite platform, which I couldn't reach in time, and then I saw nothing but 'S Stock' for the ensuing hour. The following day a 'D Stock' pulled in at West Ham running west, but I was going east and had no time for a detour.
Expectations are that these few old trains will continue in service until February next year, when presumably they'll be withdrawn in a blaze of congratulatory publicity. In the meantime, if you'd like to take a final nostalgic ride on the District line you have a couple of months, and you'll need some luck.
LU Managing Director Tim O'Toole said: "The upgrade will provide more robust and reliable trains, with more integrated and flexible services on all of the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. The new trains will have air conditioning and deliver more reliable and comfortable journeys for passengers. Shorter journey times will be delivered through a combination of track improvements, a new signalling system and reduced boarding times at stations." (6th December 2006)What's impressive here is that TfL announced a decade-long rolling stock replacement project ten years ago, and ten years later it's virtually complete. They're a heck of a lot further behind with the signalling, and the regenerative braking, and the improved service pattern, but it's good to know not every mammoth public transport project faces inevitable delays.
Previous dg coverage of the S Stock revolution:
Ken announces first air-conditioned train will arrive in 2009 [December 2006]
Public invited aboard a mocked-up carriage [September 2008]
Boris unveils aircon tube [June 2009]
First air-conditioned Metropolitan line train in public service [July 2010]
Metropolitan 'A Stock' celebrates its 50th anniversary [July 2011]
Last A Stock train runs on the Met [September 2012]
First new Hammersmith & City Stock train runs from Barking [December 2012]
Last C Stock train runs a commemorative tour [June 2014]
District, Circle and H&C now all fully airconned [some time in early 2017]
posted 07:00 :
Monday, December 05, 2016Beyond London (15): Epping Forest (part 2)
Having dealt with Chigwell, Buckhurst Hill and Loughton, the next stop on my district safari was scheduled to be North Weald. Had it been 1993 I could have taken the tube all the way, but economic reality meant I could only take the Central line as far as Epping and then switch to a bus. Unravelling what buses go where in southeast Essex is somewhat of a minefield, with several commercial operators running diverse services, often irregularly, and no easy way to see the overall picture other than a single interactive map. That proved cumbersome to translate into reality, especially when only three of the 12 buses shown actually ran on a Saturday, so turning up and checking the timetable proved easiest. But I'd just missed one, and the next wasn't for half an hour, so I decided to walk because it was a nice day, and it was only 3 miles, and a stroll along roads through autumnal Epping Forest would be pretty. Sure, the bus overtook me somewhere near the Coopersale turning, but hey, we Londoners have it easy.
Somewhere historic: North Weald Airfield Museum
North Weald Airfield opened at the height of the First World War and is celebrating its centenary this year. Peak importance came during the Battle of Britain, with numerous bombing runs despatched, and a handful of reciprocal attacks by German fighters endured. Combat units continued to be based here until 1958, and the RAF stayed until 1964, before the council eventually bought it up and North Weald became a civilian airfield. It's still a busy one, as the low flying prop buffeting over my head and various other takeoffs during my visit attested. The airfield's wartime history is told in a small museum out front in the former RAF Station Office, behind a curved memorial currently hung with the tributes of remembrance, and focused around a memorial stone donated as a debt of honour by the people of Norway. It's open on weekend afternoons, and admission's only a couple of quid.
Unfortunately the NWAM closed on the last week of November for the winter break. It's OK, I knew this before I arrived, so I wasn't left disconsolate. But being a December tourist in the shires is rarely straightforward.
Thankfully I wasn't at North Weald for the museum, I was here for the market. This covers a large area at the south of the site, very close to the museum, but with direct access alas fenced off. Online directions assume you're arriving by car, because this is Essex, and driving requires entering the airfield from the opposite direction, up towards the junction with the M11. I couldn't see any signs directing pedestrians to a way in, nor did my map show any direct connection between the village and its airfield, so reluctantly I made a mile and a bit's diversion... along the lane up to the parish church and back down inside the security perimeter, alongside a stream of cars arriving and departing. It's busy, this one.
Somewhere retail: North Weald Market
Once described as the largest in the country, North Weald's open air market covers an area of hardstanding off the edge of the runway, and takes place once a week. Every Saturday the stallholders wheel in and set up shop, followed closely by the general public who park up in long lines between the market and the control tower. I think it's free - nobody asked me to cough up simply for wandering in. According to OpenStreetMap there are three long parallel rows of stalls, but on my visit only two, which might be because it's winter or might be because the market's size is no longer record-breaking. Having been to Dagenham Sunday Market the set up's very similar, only that took rather longer to walk round, and I suspect I saw several of the same stallholders too.
The goods on offer are cheap and cheerful, and targeting a very different clientèle to Buckhurst Hill. The clothes sometimes have designer labels, dangling from chains hung from the awning above, but are more likely to be mass-produced or utilitarian. Bedding may be labelled 'Hotel pillows' to enhance a sale, and the appearance of three golden retrievers on a bath towel is a carefully calculated move to appeal to the milling demographic. Handbags glitter, rows of inanimate heads model fluffy bobble hats, and every evil demon you might want to mimic on your next motorbike ride has been imprinted on a balaclava. I hesitate to say counterfeit, or knock-off, but I wasn't surprised by how many stalls appeared to be offering Kylie's latest make-up range at a bargain bucket price.
A large part of the market experience is food, peaking with the butchers' vans parked up and offering pork deals for £20, auction-style. Most visitors will succumb to a meal while they're here, with cheesy chips the ubiquitous choice, and the greasy smell of value burgers wafts across the aisles. Youngsters haven't been forgotten either, with one sweet stall unnervingly offering a bag of sherbet-filled "Flying Sources" for a quid. As for the drinks on offer, tea generally trumps coffee, and a Winterberry fruit smoothie retails at half of what a gullible Londoner would pay.
It being nearly Christmas a lot of folk are here buying gifts for the family. The largest crowd is watching The Toyz Boyz Mega Toy Sale, waiting expectantly as a pile of own-brand Scalextric is manhandled up onto the stage. Those in the back row already have boxes of non-Disney princesses and dinosaur slippers stashed in oversized plastic bags slung over the bar of their pushchairs, along with 2-packs of Calvin Classies boxer shorts for the older relatives, on what has already been a productive afternoon. Nearby a man with a pitbull in a knitted bodywarmer smiles as it leaps up onto a fellow shopper, because it's only being playful. And eventually the shoppers walk, or waddle, or mobility-scoot back to their vehicles, after what's been a fine day out, and back again soon?
My next destination was a church in the middle of nowhere seven miles distant, which in rural Essex could be quite a challenger. Thankfully by following some villagers walking home I found a direct way out of the airfield, via some easily overlooked alleyways in a housing estate. Thankfully the next bus back to Epping was just arriving, and the fare was only £2.20 which is small fry for the shires. Thankfully I was pre-planned with the number of my next bus, and it too arrived after only a couple of minutes. This time the fare was £3, with a completely different company, and the vehicle had definitely seen better days. But we rattled through the countryside past undulating ploughed fields of sunlit beauty, through occasional aspirational hamlets to a roundabout by a farm shop, where I got surprised looks as I alighted. The bus turned right to deposit its remaining passengers in Harlow, and I was left wondering if my upcoming long hike back to Broxbourne station had been a misjudgement. The combined journey cost me over a fiver, but I was well chuffed that Essex's public transport system had delivered me from isolation to distant obscurity in thirty minutes flat.
Somewhere random: Nazeing
If you'll forgive me, I visited this next village for me, not for you. Nazeing is in my roots, it's where my great grandparents moved to raise a family, and where my grandmother grew up and married. She moved away before I was born, but when I was little we used to go over occasionally to visit relations, and I haven't been back since.
Nazeing's big as villages go, reputedly one of the largest in the country, at least in terms of sprawl. Several hamlets are scattered across what was once a forested common, long since ploughed for agricultural land, and the parish fills most of the space between Harlow and Broxbourne. The area's most famous for its glasshouses, cucumbers a speciality, although market gardening is now on the decline and being replaced by residential infill. The crossroads in Lower Nazeing is also supposed to be the site of the UK's first self-service petrol station, the brainchild of local resident Alan Pond, on a site shortly to be reborn as six executive homes.
There are two churches in the parish, one of which is a modern thing with a "Bacon Butty service" on the first Sunday in the month, and I'm pleased to say my grandparents were married in the other. All Saints sits on the hilltop in the oldest part of Nazeing, with fine views down across the valleys of the Lea and Stort, and can only be accessed via a dead end lane or a muddy bridleway. The building's Norman, on an early Anglo-Saxon site, with walls of flint rubble and a timbered Tudor porch. I'd like to have gone inside to see the medieval font in which my grandmother was baptised (1901) and the site of those wedding vows (1925), but the door was firmly locked. Instead I wandered around the churchyard, failing to find the graves of any ancestors, then walked off down the lane to be overtaken by a current resident in a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.
My great grandparents moved down from Roydon and settled in the delightfully named hamlet of Bumbles Green, a good half hour's walk away on the other side of the golf course. A hundred or so houses lie clustered around a road junction by the telephone exchange, along with the local football club, a car repair business and one of Nazeing's better pubs. The King Harolds Head is particularly important to me, not because 1066's king ever popped in for an ale, but because it's where my grandmother did the cleaning. I'm told she broke off from her daily chores to chat out of the window to the dishy local postman, who she eventually ended up marrying, and that's why I'm here today.
According to the 1901 census the family home's at the turn of the century was at 48 Long Green. I sort of remembered where it was, and found the street sign, so was disappointed to discover that the modern numbering only goes up as far as 20. And when I got the end of the row of council houses it wasn't there, which didn't come as any particular surprise. What I remember of the cottage is how old it seemed, even when I was very young, as if the relatives still living in it existed in some agricultural weatherboarded two-room timewarp.
In its place is something very New Essex, a courtyard surrounded by low chalet dwellings, fronted by a massive brick wall and two ostentatious wooden gates accessed by PIN code. It probably lights up like Christmas after dark, whereas the original cottage barely boasted electricity, even in the 1970s. The scale of the domestic upgrade wasn't lost on me, nor the increase in living space, whereas a family with ten children had once crammed into something far smaller on the same site. I'm proud to be a product of Old Essex, before the Range Rovers came.
My great grandfather moved to Nazeing because it was within an hour's walking distance of the Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey where he worked as a Danger House Man. I faced a walk almost as long to reach the nearest station, thanks to the local bus service being cut from hourly to almost three-hourly last year. When I finally arrived, after what had somehow been a total of 15 miles of walking around Epping Forest, my trial was completed by a rail replacement bus, which didn't even stop at the town where I'd been hoping to end my day. I've had more successful trips out, but none so close to home.
So far: Dartford, Sevenoaks, Tandridge, Reigate & Banstead, Epsom & Ewell, Mole Valley, Elmbridge, Spelthorne, Slough, South Bucks, Three Rivers, Hertsmere, Welwyn Hatfield, Broxbourne, Epping Forest
posted 00:15 :
Sunday, December 04, 2016Beyond London (15): Epping Forest (part 1)
I've finally reached Essex in my orbital tour around the capital, crossing the River Lea to reach the district of Epping Forest. Only a small part of its area is forest, the majority is sparsely populated farmland, and most of the population lives south of the M25 in the commuter towns at the tip of the Central Line. The only town of any substance in the eastern half of the district is Ongar, abandoned by the tube in 1994, and that big dent you can see in the northern border has been drawn to specifically exclude Harlow. There's plenty to see, indeed I've visited several times, but travelling around the sprawling hinterland can be rather more of a challenge.
Somewhere famous: The Golden Triangle
London collides with Essex along the southern edge of Epping Forest, and three towns in particular exemplify the area's flash brash reputation. One's Loughton, one's Buckhurst Hill and the other's Chigwell, and the zone bounded by the three has been dubbed 'the golden triangle' by columnists who saw its residents on TV and fancied giving it a label. This is TOWIE country, where groomed lads flash their cash and teeth, where bottle blondes totter into souped-up motors, and where obviously not quite everybody lives like that. I hopped on the tube to visit all three golden vertices.
Chigwell: Still perhaps best known for Birds of a Feather, this oversized village's reputation stretches back a lot longer than 1989. Charles Dickens was a huge fan.
"Chigwell, my dear fellow, is the greatest place in the world. Name your day for going. Such a delicious old inn opposite the churchyard, such a lovely ride, such beautiful forest scenery, such an out-of-the-way, rural place, such a sexton! I say again, name your day."So taken was Dickens that he immortalised the 'delicious old inn' as the central location in Barnaby Rudge, fictionally renamed the Maypole but in reality The King's Head. It still has "more gable ends than a lazy man would care to count on a sunny day", but is no longer a pub, having fallen into the hands of one of Chigwell's current residents, the entrepreneur Lord Sugar. It's now a very upmarket restaurant called Sheesh, a name which is nothing if not memorable, serving Mediterranean cuisine to an opulent no-trainers clientèle. Access is via an electronic gate, beyond which staff will valet park your car, and the interior is replete with chandeliers, leather seats and gleaming floors. And yet from outside it retains half-timbered Dickensian frontage with leaded lozenge windows, and still looks like it could be a coaching inn serving pints of bitter, heaven forbid.
Across the road is St Mary's Church, final resting place of many a local resident, including the man responsible for kickstarting London's bus network. George Shillibeer built the first horse-drawn coaches capable of transporting a large group of people, called them Omnibuses and started a fare-paying service between Paddington and Bank in 1829. This earned him rather more money than life as a midshipman, eventually enabling him to buy Grove House in Chigwell Row, and that's why he's buried in St Mary's graveyard, on the main path just beyond the church porch.
The modern heart of Chigwell is the shopping parade near the station, a modest sequence of irregular brick flats with occasionally immodest retail outlets tucked underneath. The dry cleaners is the Chigwell Valet Service and the local caff is the Village Deli, while the showroom at the top end sells top end Volvos. Yes, there's a tanning salon and a health food shop, while the finest ladies' fashions are brought to you by Debra - now downsized into a smaller unit while her former store by the railway awaits rebirth as luxury flats. Elsewhere the avenues are widely infilled by new-money new-build, and security gate installers must do a roaring trade, but Chigwell's not entirely exclusive, nor indeed unfriendly, and six-car households remain the exception.
by tube: Chigwell by bus: 167
Buckhurst Hill: On the other side of the River Roding, and with a little less glitzy oomph behind it, lies Buckhurst Hill. The original hamlet grew up along the ridgetop, on the main coaching route to Cambridge, but the arrival of the railway in 1856 dragged the residential centre downhill. Geographically it's less well defined than Chigwell, bleeding into Woodford to the south and Loughton to the north, its avenues smart if not so grand. But one of Buckhurst Hill's genuine advantages is a better run of shops, somehow meriting two Costa coffees, plus a whopping perfectly-targeted Waitrose at the foot of Queens Road.
This one-way street has been the setting for many a TOWIE insert, especially when the lead characters need to pretend to have a commercial interest. Swish lingerie fills the window at Pretty Things, a golden shimmer surrounds the window at Never Fully Dressed, while the bay frontage of Anita at Crème is awash with frilly bows. Fur boots are easily obtained, these being the seasonal footwear of choice for many a 4×4 passenger, and the lady in the flower shop stepped out wearing a particularly eye-turning pair. Meanwhile I suspect more ITV2 footage has been shot inside The Queen's Rooms wine bar than at the Green Owl cafe, and that several male characters have kitted themselves out at Zap, a slate grey corner shop that's allegedly "the leading men's designer boutique in the UK".
by tube: Buckhurst Hill by bus: 167, 549
Loughton: This is the proper town of the trio, a coaching stop ten miles from the City, with a proper substantial High Street and everything. Much of Loughton covers land that used to be Epping Forest, before an Act of Parliament intervened, and the edge of this marvellous resource is still easily accessible up the top of the hill. The town apparently gained its middle-class character because the Great Eastern Railway didn't offer cheap workmen's fares, and this cachet was preserved when the London County Council decided to build a massive postwar overspill estate one stop up the Central line at Debden. It may not be quite as rich as Epping, but Loughton still has the edge when it comes to flaunting it.
I passed more than one shop selling silver gifts that might look nice in someone's house, including a bunch of silver cherries on a silver cushion on a silver stool. I dodged a lad doused in aftershave with a silver gift bag dangling from his arm, sidestepped a small dog in a silver jacket, and noted a Big Issue seller pleading seemingly in vain for silver. I was too early to step beneath the silver portal at the Nu Bar, and too poorly dressed to have a hope of entering the (ah, jet black) LuXe nightclub. Loughton's by no means all glitz - there's a Wimpy for a start, and Centric Parade is a pig-ugly collection of high street staples. But it's easy to see why people enjoy living here, unswallowed by the capital, in a provincial suburb with class.
While we're here, a couple of buildings of interest. Lopping Hall is the town's community hub, a gothic turrety thing visible above other rooftops, with a large hall and shared space for activities within. The City of London paid to build the facility in return for residents losing their 'lopping rights' in the forest, and it's sited on the original terminus of the railway before this was extended to Epping. Some of the exterior decor is gorgeous, including the terracotta round the entrance, and some proper fifties font work above what's now the main entrance. Meanwhile, up at the library on Traps Hill, an unlikely musical presence is tucked away on the first floor. This is the National Jazz Archive, a charitable repository of all things impro, founded by trumpeter Digby Fairweather in 1988. The collection contains books, journals, photos and memorabilia, but not actual music because the archive's about everything else. If jazz is your thing you can visit the reading room every weekday except Thursday, or hit the website to read interviews and search the catalogue online. Nice.
by tube: Loughton by bus: 20, 167, 397, 549
Places in Epping Forest I might have visited if I hadn't been before:
• Somewhere famous: Epping Forest
• Somewhere historic: Waltham Abbey, Royal Gunpowder Mills, Copped Hall, Greensted Church, Epping Forest Museum
• Somewhere pretty: Gunpowder Park, Theydon Bois, London Loop sections 19 and 20, Epping and Ongar Railway, Ongar
• Somewhere sporting: -
• Somewhere retail: -
• Somewhere random: Roding Valley station, Blake Hall station, Stapleford Abbotts, Hainault Loop, Greenwich Meridian
posted 00:15 :
Saturday, December 03, 2016How booked is it?
Here are 30 things you might want to do today. But can you go, or are they fully booked? I checked online yesterday evening, to save you the effort of looking. And it turns out some are hot tickets, some rather less so.
» The View from the Shard (£25.95): Sold out from 3pm-4pm, only 4 tickets remaining at 4pm, otherwise full availability from 10am-9pm
» Skygarden (free): No slots today (or on any other weekend date within the three week booking window)
» Winter Wonderland - Ice-skating (£14.50): Limited availability in all slots, 10am-9pm
» Winter Wonderland - The Nutcracker on Ice (£18.95): Seats available for noon and 8.30pm (but the four performances inbetween are sold out)
» Winter Wonderland - The Magical Ice Kingdom (£10): No availability 10am-9pm, limited availability 9pm, full availability at 9.15pm and 9.30pm
» Madame Tussauds (£32): Availability from 10am-1.45pm, and then from 3.15pm-5pm (the latter for £29)
» London Eye (£22.45): Apart from 11am and 11.15am, full availability from 10am-8.30pm (costs £21.20 after 5.30pm)
» Warner Brother Studio Tour - The Making of Harry Potter (£35): Sold out for the rest of December (apart from a 2pm tour next Tuesday, and a 10am and 2.30pm tour on Wednesday)
» Wembley Stadium tour (£20): All six tours have availability (but only 3 tickets out of 40 remain for the last tour at 3pm)
» London Stadium tours (£17): There are no tours on match days (but good availability in all timeslots tomorrow)
» West Ham v Arsenal at London Stadium (£?): Limited tickets available, but only to club members and supporters with a booking history
» Arcellor Mittal Orbit Slide (£15): Tickets available for 12.45pm, then almost all slots from 2.30pm-5pm
» Arcellor Mittal Orbit (£10): Full access all day, 10am-5pm
» Dangleway return ticket (pre-booked, £7): Full availability from 8am-8pm (the requirement to pre-book in 15 minute slots has been removed)
» Up at the O2 (£35) Ascents available in every slot from 10am-6.15pm, except for 10am, 12noon and 2.30pm-4pm
» British Library - Maps and the 20th Century : Drawing the Line (£12): "Plenty of tickets"
» Design Museum - Fear and Love (£14): Full availability
» Design Museum - Designs of the Year (£10): Full availability
» Houses of Parliament guided tours (£25.50): Tours run every 20 minutes from 9am-4.15pm, but only the penultimate tour has any availability
» Skate at Somerset House (£16.15): Fully booked from 10am-8pm
» Ice skating at Canary Wharf (£16.95): Full availability from 9.30am-11pm, apart from limited availability 4.45pm-6pm
» Harrods Christmas Grotto (£10): Sold out back in September, all the way up until Christmas
» Breakfast with Santa at Selfridges (£35): Sold out
» Some pop-up alcoholic snowstorm thing in Shoreditch (£8-£85): Completely sold out, 6.30pm-midnight
» Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium (£6.50): Fully booked noon-8pm, apart from one ticket for the 6pm-7.30pm slot
» The Lion King (£62.20-£152.20): Only single seats available
» Wicked (£50.25-£125): Groups of up to 6 seats available
» No Man's Land (£150): Only 4 tickets available
» The Mousetrap (£28.50-£67.50): Still approximately 50 seats available in the stalls
» A nice walk somewhere (£0): Full availability
posted 07:00 :
Friday, December 02, 2016Lost river, anyone?
The Effra is south London's most famous lost river, and once flowed from the heights of Upper Norwood to the Thames, via West Dulwich and Brixton. Its waters were culverted in Victorian times, permitting the suburbanisation of the valley, and only a few clues to its existence remain. Contours are a dead giveaway in the upper course, especially above West Norwood, and the occasional stink pipe stands as a reminder of what still lurks underground. Now Lambeth, the borough through which the majority of the Effra flowed, is seeking to mark the course of the river with intermittent pavement plaques. And what's more, they're gorgeous.
A local illustrator was asked to represent the flow of water within a circular roundel, and fourteen different designs were selected, digitised and retouched. The writing around the edge was set in Albertus, a much-loved glyphic typeface designed by former Stockwell resident Berthold Wolpe. The plaques were then forged in cast iron, the hope being that they would gradually age, and the first six were installed in a new public square outside Brixton Police Station in July. There are rather more of them today.
As far as I know there isn't a public list of where the Effra plaques have been laid, only an aspirational map as part of the Brixton Public Realm Design Study (based on the definitive map in The Brixton Society's essential publication, Lambeth's Underground River). So I decided to walk from source to mouth - it's only six miles - and to keep my eyes open, especially in the vicinity of locations which the map suggested were potential "points of celebration". I had mixed success.
The first location to explore was at the top of Upper Norwood Recreation Ground, a rolling wedge of green below Crystal Palace. Nothing. I shouldn't really have been surprised, because the upper mile of the Effra flowed through what's now the London borough of Croydon, not Lambeth. But I had more luck on the other side of Norwood Park, on Gipsy Road, where the road dips blatantly across the valley. A tall green stink pipe marks the lowest point, and immediately alongside in the pavement was one of the new plaques - small but unmistakeable, and orangey brown in patina.
Next stop West Norwood Cemetery, or more precisely Robson Road which runs along the northern perimeter. About halfway along, not far from the bus stop, I spotted another Effra plaque in the pavement. It was a little browner than the last one, indeed the writing was already quite hard to read, suggesting that these plaques are weathering a little faster than their creators intended. But as a former scholar of all things Lost River I was impressed by the positioning, beneath the wall at what I believe is the precise point where the Effra would once have flowed north out of what is now the cemetery. It's all too easy to get geographical exactitude wrong, but Lambeth council appears to have got it right.
And then my luck left me. I knew there was another plaque somewhere in West Dulwich because I'd been alerted to its existence by a tweet by local artist Priscilla Watkins. But hell no, I couldn't find it. It's difficult following an invisible river which once ran diagonally beneath a grid of streets, particularly when the plaque could be on either side of the road, maybe behind a parked car, and quite possibly covered with leaves. Lambeth's aspirational map suggested one plaque along Thurlow Park Road and another halfway up Croxted Road, along whose pastoral verge the Effra once flowed. Nothing. And when I'd walked in vain all round the centre of Herne Hill, where the river still sometimes emerges and drowns the shops, I wondered if my quest for plaques had peaked.
Not so. Another green stinkpipe rises opposite Brockwell Lido, adjacent to the Meath Estate, and a telltale replaced paving slab lies beneath. What's more I found another just up the road - a stinkpipe and a plaque - at the end of Chaucer Road. This one's by the kerb, appropriately overlooking a drain cover, alas with a six-letter word scrawled into the concrete surround before it set. Then barely 50 metres away another, this time at the junction of Brixton Water Lane and Effra Parade, then almost immediately another at the foot of Barnwell Road. I was now getting a very different view of the project, as if Lambeth were planning to install dozens of plaques along the river's length, rather than just a paltry few.
Because I know my Effra, I zigzagged through the subsequent streets and found another plaque at the corner of Mervan Road and Rattray Road, immediately alongside the rare Penfold pillarbox. The concrete around this one looked like it was almost fresh, and some had unfortunately spilled over the rim of the plaque making the lettering almost illegible. The central design was the same as that back at Effra Parade - the swirly 'fingerprint' pictured at the top of the post - but whereas that looked sharp and golden, this one looked dull and rather more mundane. Perhaps it'll take a while before all the plaques have weathered sufficiently to look distinguished, and we're some way off that yet.
I found nothing else through Brixton, even though the Effra once flowed through its heart, until I reached the new public realm at Canterbury Square. The original plans were for a large cast iron disc "to reflect the manholes and sewers used in Victorian times to culvert rivers", and raised from the ground "becoming a focal point that people can lean or sit on and of course children can play on". That ambition has summarily failed to come to fruition, and instead six small plaques have been laid across the somewhat austere piazza - running in a direction the original river might have followed. It's all somewhat understated, but Canterbury Square is currently the best place to see half a dozen different plaque designs in one go.
The Effra then flowed north, along the eastern side of Brixton Road, so I walked that. This time I found no plaques, but I did find a succession of numbered shapes spray-painted on the pavement, a couple of metres up sidestreets in precisely the locations I'd have expected plaques to appear. The numbers intrigued me. Between St John's Crescent and Cranmer Road I found a 33, 31, 30 and 29 - evidently missing a 32 somewhere, and suggesting there were still another 28 to go. I found none of those - neither a plaque nor a number - as I rounded The Oval cricket ground and finished my walk on the embankment at Vauxhall. I doubt that Lambeth will be able to embed any plaques on the private waterfront at St George's Wharf, but maybe they have big plans for a lot more inbetween.
It seems we're still at the installation phase of this project to commemorate the Effra, and maybe eventually there'll be as many a hundred plaques to find along the route. If that's so then this is an even greater project than it currently appears, combining craftsmanship and art to reconnect the population of Lambeth to their subterranean history. Imagine something similar for the Fleet, Tyburn or Westbourne, if only Westminster had the kind of council that ever did things like this.
If you're interested in taking a look for yourself then Herne Hill to Brixton seems (currently) to be the best bit. There isn't yet an official map, so I've updated my approximate Google map of the Effra with red stars to show where I found plaques, and if you know of any more please let us know.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, December 01, 2016Where are London's bussiest bus stops?
And by 'bussiest bus stops' I mean the bus stops served by the most bus routes, which isn't necessarily the same as the busiest. Most of London's bus stops are served by only one or two routes, but a couple of hundred bus stops get into double figures, and a handful hit the twenties. They're the really cluttered ones.
To determine the definitive list I've juggled a TfL database revealing which buses stop where, then double checked against the TfL website to remove duplicates, then triple checked by visiting the top contenders. Thank goodness most of the really bussy ones are in the centre of town. Here's the Top 10.
1st=) Southampton Street / Covent Garden (A)
1st=) Savoy Street (U)
1st=) Bedford Street (J)
24 buses: 6 9 11 13 15 23 87 91 139 176 N9 N11 N13 N15 N21 N26 N44 N87 N89 N91 N155 N199 N343 N551
London's most cluttered bus stops are on the Strand. More accurately they're in the theatre-y bit of the Strand, between the Adelphi and the Lyceum, just to the west of Waterloo Bridge. A lot of buses chug down the Strand, which is why the street's often a queue of red double deckers, and all of them stop at this particular trio. Specifically that's two stops heading west (Savoy Street and Bedford Street) and one heading east (Southampton Street), each served by an astonishing 24 different routes. Admittedly the total includes 14 night buses, which might seem like cheating, but Trafalgar Square is London's night bus hub and they've all got to go somewhere. Only 10 routes stop here during the day, and there are bus stops below with a lot more than that. But the undisputed kings of heavy numbering are these three on the Strand (sorry, they don't photograph especially well in winter).
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that 24 buses appear on the flag for bus stop A, but only 23 on the flags for bus stops U and J. The missing bus is the N26, which does in fact stop at both, but only for passengers to alight because it terminates down the road at Charing Cross station.
4th=) Waterloo Bridge / South Bank (N)
4th=) Waterloo Bridge / South Bank (P)
21 buses: 1 4 26 59 68 76 139 168 171 172 176 188 243 341 521 RV1 X68 N1 N68 N171 N343
8th=) Lancaster Place (T)
20 buses: 1 4 26 59 68 76 139 168 171 172 176 188 243 341 RV1 X68 N1 N68 N171 N343
Next, it's just round the corner to Waterloo Bridge. A lot of buses come this way, it being the main Thames crossing from the West End to the South Bank. What's more a lot of daytime buses go this way, 17 in total, which comfortably beats those other bus stops on the Strand. The first two here are at the south end of the bridge, inbetween the National Theatre and the Hayward - for many buses the stop immediately before (or the stop immediately after) Waterloo station. The other bus stop to be reckoned with is Lancaster Place, at the northern end of the bridge just before Aldwych, which you'll see has one less bus than the other two. The difference in numbers here is caused by route 521, whose single deckers disappear into the Strand underpass just before bus stop T, cutting the total from 21 to 20.
4th=) Aldwych / Somerset House (R)
21 buses: 6 9 11 13 15 23 87 91 N9 N11 N13 N15 N21 N26 N44 N87 N89 N91 N155 N199 N551
10th=) Aldwych / Somerset House (S)
19 buses: 1 4 26 59 68 76 168 171 172 188 243 341 521 RV1 X68 N1 N68 N171 N343
A short distance away, opposite St Mary le Strand, are the next pair of bussy bus stops. One's outside Somerset House and the other's almost alongside, outside King's College, if you're trying to picture where. This short stretch of the Strand is the street in London with the most bus routes, a gobsmacking 40 in total - a consequence of the one-way system around Bush House. Check the photo carefully and you'll see that no bus stops at both stops, only one or the other. 21 of the 40 bus routes serve bus stop R - they're the ones about to head along the Strand towards Trafalgar Square - and the other 19 bus routes serve bus stop S - they're the ones about to turn left over Waterloo Bridge. Note that bus stop R doesn't even reach double figures if you only count daytime buses, and also that the 748 isn't included in my tally because it's a coach to Hemel Hempstead.
4th=) Edgware Station (G)
21 buses: 32 79 107 113 142 186 204 221 240 251 288 292 303 305 340 605 606 642 N5 N16 N113
If you've been counting, you'll have noticed that there's one more fourth place bus stop to go. And just for a change, it's way out of central London in zone 5, specifically at the entrance to Edgware Bus Station. Because of the way this set up works, all the buses entering the bus station disgorge their passengers here, outside a side entrance to the Northern line terminus, then collect their passengers from one of four different bus stops further on. More than twenty different buses pass by on their way into Edgware Bus Station, five of them in both directions, but you can't tell any of this from bus stop G's flag which merely states 'Alighting point only'. This is the only one of the Top 10 you can't catch a bus from, only get off. And if you're not familiar, those three buses starting with a '6' are school buses, which we'll be seeing more at the next stop.
8th=) Hounslow High Street (K)
20 buses: 81 110 111 116 117 120 203 222 235 237 281 423 E8 H22 H28 H32 H98 635 681 N9
Next it's out west to zone 4, unexpectedly to Hounslow, where the bus stop flag isn't giving much away. The bus stop in question isn't actually on Hounslow High Street, which is served by only half a dozen routes and westbound only, so as not to disrupt people's shopping. Instead it's located at the eastern end of Hanworth Road, which runs sort of parallel, in a rather downbeat spot outside the Des Pardes restaurant. This stop hoovers up all the eastbound services, of which there are many, but more than half of which are just about to terminate at Hounslow Bus Station. This means that although 20 services stop here you can only catch 9 of them, which isn't exactly top drawer.
10th=) Museum Street (E)
19 buses: 1 8 19 25 38 55 98 171 242 N1 N8 N19 N38 N41 N55 N68 N98 N171 N207
Finally it's back to central London, not quite to Aldywch again, but to nearby Holborn. This particular stop is outside St George's church on Bloomsbury Way, and collects every bus service funnelled east along New Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue. Again this means a lot of night buses, most of which are simply extended versions of identically numbered daytime routes, but that's enough to knock the tally up. If you were only interested in daytime buses then this bus stop wouldn't even figure. Indeed, just for completeness sake, the bus stop served by the most daytime routes of any in London is that one in Hounslow, with 19 in total. And if you're interested in the bus stop where you can catch the most daytime buses, the two aforementioned Waterloo Bridge (South Bank) stops hold that honour, along with all four Orpington bus stops in the "equal twelfth place" list below.
12th=) Horse Guards Parade
12th=) Horse Guards Parade
18 buses: 3 11 12 24 53 87 88 159 453 N2 N3 N11 N44 N87 N109 N136 N155 N381
12th=) Bromley Civic Centre (S)
12th=) Bromley Civic Centre (T)
18 buses: 61 119 126 138 146 162 208 246 261 314 320 336 352 358 367 638 N3 N199
12th=) High Street / Orpington War Memorial (R)
18 buses: 51 61 208 353 358 B14 R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R6 R7 R8 R9 R10 R11 N199
12th=) High Street / Orpington War Memorial (S)
18 buses: 51 61 208 353 358 B14 R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R6 R8 R9 R10 R11 654 N199
12th=) Tubbenden Lane (outside Orpington station) (H)
12th=) Tubbenden Lane (outside Orpington station) (J)
18 buses: 51 61 208 353 358 B14 R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R6 R7 R8 R9 R10 654 N199
12th=) Walthamstow Central Station (AP)
18 buses: 20 34 48 69 97 212 215 230 257 275 357 W12 W15 W19 675 N26 N38 N73
posted 01:00 :
Wednesday, November 30, 2016It's the other people I don't like.
They do things differently, the other people.
Have you seen some of the different things the other people do?
I don't like the way other people behave. We've been doing things one way for years and they come along and do things a different way, and it's just not right.
I don't understand the other people. How could anyone want to do the things they do? It's different, and it's wrong, and it disturbs me.
They make me uncomfortable, the other people. I don't like the idea of them doing their different things, and what's worse, doing them quite so close to where I live.
They worry me, the other people. They do these different things that I don't like, and I worry that one day they'll want everyone to do them, because that's their ultimate aim, it always is.
We didn't used to have this problem with the other people doing these things, back when the other people weren't around to do them. Let's be up front, I preferred things how they were, and I bet you did too.
What's more the other people can't see that doing these different things is wrong, they just carry on like doing these things is perfectly normal, whereas in fact it's different.
We should tell the other people they're not welcome being different, that'd stop them doing the things they do. If we all tell them I'm sure they'll get the message, loud and clear.
We'd be a lot happier, and a lot safer, if the other people weren't doing these different things they do.
The other people want to change the things we do, forcing their way of life on ours, and I'm not having it. We should force them to do things our way before they force us to do things theirs.
The other people always stick together. I see them out together, doing their different things, and I don't like it.
I'm proud not to be one of the other people. I bet you're proud not to be one of the other people too. We should stick together.
How dare the other people do things differently to us? It offends me. We should stop the other people doing things differently, it's only right.
We'd be better off if it wasn't for the other people. If we got rid of all the other people doing their different things I'm sure we'd all be better off, in fact I know we would.
We'd have better prospects if the other people weren't being different, if only they went away. The other people are getting in the way of us doing things better, and that's not right.
The other people and their different ways are a threat that must be stopped. The other people are a danger to us all.
So say no to doing different things, say no to being different.
Together we can stop the other people from doing different things. They'll still be the other people, but they won't be doing different things, so that'll be much better.
We must all clamp down on these other people doing different things. Let's focus our efforts on preventing difference, and join together in this uplifting righteous cause.
And then let's turn our attention to the other people doing other things differently.
They do things differently, the other people.
It's always the other people I don't like.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, November 29, 2016Design Museum
Location: 224-238 Kensington High Street, W8 6AG [map]
Open: 10am - 5:45pm (last entrance 5pm)
Admission: free (but two of the exhibitions cost)
brief summary: showcase for contemporary design
Website: designmuseum.org (& Twitter)
Time to set aside: at least an hour
The Design Museum started out in 1989 in a converted banana warehouse on Shad Thames. We never quite hit it off. Getting any further than the shop cost money (£6 in 2005, £11 in 2012), and the restricted gallery space upstairs meant a visit to the ever-changing pair of exhibitions never felt like good value. I rarely went. The Commonwealth Institute opened on Kensington High Street in 1962, an amazing building with hyperbolic paraboloid copper roof and a series of ethnic treasures within. I went once as a child and then, a decade after the place went into liquidation, was first in the queue when they opened up the shell for Open House. Still wow.
Over the last few years the Commonwealth Institute has been gutted and transformed into a new home for the Design Museum. A completely new interior has been installed, with three times the floor space of the old museum, and exhibits have been brought out of storage in readiness for last week's grand opening. But has the upgrade been worthwhile?
It's no longer so easy to see the Grade II* listed building from Kensington High Street, as a substantial sum for the refit has come from plonking three large apartment blocks into the former grounds. Only residents on the upper floors get a good view of the whizzy copper roof, and the size of some of the cars nosing out of the underground car park suggests they've paid a hefty price. Mere mortals can access the museum's entrance from Holland Park, or by dipping under one of the new blocks where the flagpoles used to be, past a shop and some dribbly fountains. The original setting wins hands down.
Walking into the building still brings a wow, but in a different way, the interior no longer a cohesive whole. A new expansive rectangular atrium rises up to roof level, its purpose to showcase the ribs and swooshes careering overhead, which otherwise would be lost to view. A sequence of open stairs and balconies loops up and round to the second floor, a shared circulation space which'll be appearing in thousands of Instagram photos before the end of the year. The first staircase has terraced seating as does the first mezzanine, a visitor-friendly facility other museums often lack. But a lot of the doors you'll pass lead to event spaces, offices and other off-limits facilities, for economic reasons, and the proportion of the building's volume given over to display is disappointingly small.
As a freeloader you can make your way all the way up to the second floor, and the permanent Designer, User, Maker gallery. A lot of this stuff was in the old museum, but more of it wasn't, and end result is a dense comprehensive celebration of global design. An opening timeline skims from Wedgwood to 3D printing, including a forelock-tugging nod to museum sponsor Sir Terence Conran along the way. There is a fair whack of 3D printing in the exhibition, because it's modern and quite cheap, positioned alongside the actual 3D printer on which it's produced. Yes, there's a tube map - they've gone for the 1968 version which looks boss - and also a section on Kinneir and Calvert road signs, including the museum's ginormous blue 'M1 J25' sign propped up above.
All aspects of design get a look in, from the first fitted kitchen to Olivetti posters to a selection of chairs. The Design Museum has always liked chairs. You'll like the evolutionary wall of gadgets, where all the branches (be they music, time, photography, communication or whatever) appear to end up at a Samsung smartphone. I remembered the modernist lemon squeezer from the previous DM's display, and wasn't surprised to find it again later in the museum shop. Almost everything's well labelled, and educationally so, although there are several hints that some of the displays aren't quite finished yet in the rush to get the place open. The filmed interviews on the big video wall, for example, are very interesting but aren't listed in sequence alongside, so felt like they'd probably have gone on forever if I'd stayed to watch. So much has been crammed in that this gallery's going to get quite squashed at weekends, so be warned that staff with clickers are poised to close it off if density passes critical.
So, what else can you see for nothing? The upper floor also has a wall of crowd-sourced design classics, and a small gallery devoted to a selection of Designers in Residence, some of whose goodies can be touched, and others merely admired. Clementine Blakemore has an additional exhibit outside in the one corner of the garden that isn't flats, a small geometric pavilion covering a bench, which on my visit absolutely no other visitors had spotted. Back inside the building there's a surprisingly cramped and downbeat cafe, technically a Coffee & Juice Counter, and a first floor restaurant whose absence of menu keeps all but the gilded of Kensington safely without. Oh, and don't forget to peek in the basement, where the Institute's opening plaques and its lovely Commonwealth map have been retained.
And then there are the paid-for exhibitions. One's in the underground gallery, a two-storey showcase of the Designs of the Year, and the other's at the back of the ground floor and more general. Neither is cheap, and if you want to see them both it'll set you back more than £20, which is the privileged Kensington aesthetic writ large. I skipped the downstairs and treated myself to Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World. Eleven different scenarios are given space within, each with an emphasis on 'design in context', although you'd be hard pushed to guess the connection simply by wandering round.
The most memorable installation is an industrial robot whose arm follows you around, then gets bored and goes off and follows someone else. The meatiest installation is a 20 minute multimedia presentation about Grindr, the gay dating app, and how its location-based functionality has liberated millions but targeted state oppression on others. I was most unnerved by a series of crystalline death masks, Alien facehugger-style, artistically created to capture the wearer's last breath. I learnt a bit about Mongolia and recycling clothes by colour, and stayed an hour mostly by watching all the videos through to the end, but overall found the exhibition disjoint, inextensive and a bit hit and miss, so hardly a £14 must-see.
The must-see is the building, obviously, and the excellent free galleries on the second floor. Hurrah that the Design Museum is now housed somewhere worthy of the name, and that some of our country's finest technologies have been proudly recognised. If you have any youngsters with a creative bent, bring them, and have some plastic bricks or tools out ready to funnel the inspiration when you get home. But maybe avoid the next few weekends, because it's going to be rammed, and rightly so.
» Go on then, sixteen photos of the new museum (mine all mine)
» And 36 from inside the former Commonwealth Institute in 2011 (not mine)
...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan16 Feb16 Mar16 Apr16 May16 Jun16 Jul16 Aug16 Sep16 Oct16 Nov16 Dec16
Jan15 Feb15 Mar15 Apr15 May15 Jun15 Jul15 Aug15 Sep15 Oct15 Nov15 Dec15
Jan14 Feb14 Mar14 Apr14 May14 Jun14 Jul14 Aug14 Sep14 Oct14 Nov14 Dec14
Jan13 Feb13 Mar13 Apr13 May13 Jun13 Jul13 Aug13 Sep13 Oct13 Nov13 Dec13
Jan12 Feb12 Mar12 Apr12 May12 Jun12 Jul12 Aug12 Sep12 Oct12 Nov12 Dec12
Jan11 Feb11 Mar11 Apr11 May11 Jun11 Jul11 Aug11 Sep11 Oct11 Nov11 Dec11
Jan10 Feb10 Mar10 Apr10 May10 Jun10 Jul10 Aug10 Sep10 Oct10 Nov10 Dec10
Jan09 Feb09 Mar09 Apr09 May09 Jun09 Jul09 Aug09 Sep09 Oct09 Nov09 Dec09
Jan08 Feb08 Mar08 Apr08 May08 Jun08 Jul08 Aug08 Sep08 Oct08 Nov08 Dec08
Jan07 Feb07 Mar07 Apr07 May07 Jun07 Jul07 Aug07 Sep07 Oct07 Nov07 Dec07
Jan06 Feb06 Mar06 Apr06 May06 Jun06 Jul06 Aug06 Sep06 Oct06 Nov06 Dec06
Jan05 Feb05 Mar05 Apr05 May05 Jun05 Jul05 Aug05 Sep05 Oct05 Nov05 Dec05
Jan04 Feb04 Mar04 Apr04 May04 Jun04 Jul04 Aug04 Sep04 Oct04 Nov04 Dec04
Jan03 Feb03 Mar03 Apr03 May03 Jun03 Jul03 Aug03 Sep03 Oct03 Nov03 Dec03
Jan02 Feb02 Mar02 Apr02 May02 Jun02 Jul02 Aug02 Sep02 Oct02 Nov02 Dec02