We all talk quite hap- pily about the Underground, but in fact, most of the Tube system is not "under the ground" at all. Of the 260 miles of track, just 101 miles are actually below the surface in "tubes" or tunnels.
For the first 20-plus years of its existence, the smelly steam trains, belching out fumes, ensured that plentiful supplies of fresh air were imperative. Only the arrival of electricity, lifts and escalators allowed the companies to burrow deep down into the bowels of the earth and create the Tube which most of us associate with central and West End London. Travel towards the ends of the various lines, however, and the odds are that you will be looking out onto houses, parks and greenery.
Various companies ran their own section of the Underground and they all tried to establish a distinctive identity. Even today, despite mutilation and rebuilding, the exteriors of many stations often reveal which particular line you are approaching. For instance, red tiles and arched windows are characteristic of the older Piccadilly line stations, modernistic concrete of their newer 1930s colleagues.
The architects responsible should be, but aren't, household names: Leslie Green, Charles Holden, Harry Ford. One of the best was CW Clark, whose imaginative creations for the Metropolitan line are well worth a visit. The cream-coloured oval shape of Great Portland St, two-storey terracotta Farringdon, the superb Baker Street complex (particularly the administrative offices behind in Allsop Place) - this is 20th-century architecture at its best.
Baker Street, as Sir John Betjeman made everyone fully aware, was the gateway to "Metroland" and the rural inter-war charms of Harrow-on-the- Hill, Pinner and Ruislip. Another fine Clark creation is to be found at the end of one of these Met lines, namely Watford.
From outside in the road, Clark's use of friendly brick and tiles gives the impression that this could almost be someone's private residence. Only the usual underground sign gives the game away. Inside are exquisite green and mauve mosaics, which date from the station's opening in 1925. On the platform itself, shelter is provided by a long wooden and glass canopy that allows the traveller to stand in comfort and enjoy the birds singing lustily nearby.
The discomfort of the Tube - the passenger with an irrational hatred of deodorant whose armpits are level with your nose, the crowding, noise and dirt - seem far, far away.
Clark's Watford station is a living embodiment of "Metro-land" at its continuing best. It even has loos - and not a lot of stations can boast that today.
Watford Metropolitan Station is at the end of one of the Metropolitan branch lines. The entrance is in Cassiobury Park Avenue, Watford
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