Sunday 26 April 2020

Secret Moorgate Station

A Sunday just before lockdown began: even the public areas were quiet!

A busy station in the heart of the City of London, with tube and railway lines, is hardly a secret. However, behind the public areas, there are indeed secrets to be found. 

Moorgate is one of the older London Underground stations: it opened in 1865, two years after the very first Underground services began. In 1900, the City & South London line from Stockwell extended to Moorgate (known as Moorgate Street until 1924), because its former terminus at King William Street could no longer cope with the volume of passengers. The line would go on to be extended to Angel, and eventually became the much longer Northern Line of today. 

The Great Northern & City mainline rail line from Finsbury Park opened at the start of the twentieth century. Despite ambitious plans to link it into other parts of the network, it remained fairly isolated. Only in the 1970s was it connected to the main line north; services now run to Hertford and beyond. 

The station would continue to be altered and refurbished in the century or so since. The result: hidden and disused tunnels, traces of old decoration and advertising, and the relics of previous projects. 

Perhaps the most extraordinary survivor, unique in the London Underground system, is an entire Greathead shield still in place. The Greathead shield is a type of tunnelling shield, providing temporary support while the next section of a tunnel is dug. Civil engineer James Henry Greathead's innovation was to build a cylindrical shield, where earlier ones had been rectangular. This one was left here in 1902 when plans to extend the tunnel were abandoned. Turn in the other direction, and the current platform and buffers stretch out ahead. 

Faded signage is painted on neglected corridor walls; although the odd touch of graffiti has been added.

A lift shaft, out of service since 1922, is now empty and used for ventilation. The disused tunnel leading to it has traces of old decor.

Long out of use, a former pedestrian subway still bears the remnants of a few advertising posters. Even Lifebuoy couldn't keep this face clean!

After the end of our tour, a peep through the barrier showed that Moorgate station hasn't finished changing just yet.

I visited the usually out-of-bounds parts of Moorgate station on a Hidden London tour by London Transport Museum. 

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Deptford Sewage Pumping Station

Now known as Greenwich Pumping Station, this site just to the east of Deptford Creek has long fascinated me. For many years, this meant peering through the fence at the Victorian buildings beyond.

The station is now part of the Thames Tideway super sewer project, and let in visitors for a few tours during the 2019 Open House London weekend. It was wonderful to finally step inside! 

The station was built as part of Joseph Bazalgette's great sewage scheme in 1865, with an extension added in 1905. It took sewage from most of South London, fed by three intercepting sewers: one running from Herne Hill through Peckham; another from Balham, through Brixton and Camberwell; and the third from Putney through Battersea and Bermondsey. Its engines lifted that incoming sewage fifteen feet. It then flowed by gravity down to the outfall sewer at Crossness Pumping Station where it was discharged at high tide. (The Deptford station had in fact opened before Crossness, so for a short time discharged the sewage directly into the Thames here.)

The original beam engines are gone, but the site continues in operation as a pumping station. Its Italianate buildings still play their part in London's sewer system.

Outside is the coal shed. Where once huge beam engines required vast supplies of coal to keep running, the machinery now dependson electricity and there is no coal to be seen.

In the grounds stands another feature from the station's past: a water level gauge. 

While the pumping station is not usually open to the public, there is another way to look inside. There is a wealth of historical photography of the Pumping Station, including its former engines as well as air raid damage sustained in 1941, available online at the Thames Water Archive.

Monday 13 April 2020

United Nations in London

It's not all that well-known, but the United Nations has one organisation whose headquarters are in London: the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Their purpose-built home, on Albert Embankment near Lambeth Bridge, was opened in 1983; there are some strong clues to its purpose on the exterior. 

The bronze sculpture is the International Memorial to Seafarers, unveiled in 2001. The sculptor, Michael Sandle, has created various memorials as well as an 'anti-memorial' started during the Vietnam War, A Twentieth-Century Memorial, now in the Tate.  

The IMO was established in 1948, soon after the founding of the United Nations itself. Ten years passed before a Convention passed into force, and the organisation met for the first time in 1959. It is responsible for the safety of shipping and for preventing pollution by ships. To do so, it creates international regulations and standards. A large conference hall where national representatives can meet is therefore essential: this one seats 700 delegates. 

With about 300 civil servants working here, there is plenty of other office space. It is decorated by an eclectic art collection: the items were all received as gifts to the IMO. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of ships. 

Other pieces also carry on the nautical theme. 

Still others represent donor nations rather than obviously marine subjects. 

The building has one more surprise to share: a roof terrace with striking views over Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament.

I visited during Open House Weekend 2019. The Open House charity has lost most of its income during the COVID-19 crisis and is appealing for donations.  

Sunday 5 April 2020

Behind the scenes in Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Cathedral, the distinctive neo-Byzantine building near Victoria Station, is a striking landmark. It has welcomed worshippers and tourists since the building was completed in 1903. There are, though, large parts of the building closed to the public - some of which I was fortunate to see on a Victorian Society visit last year. 

So, let's step out of the nave...

And into the sanctuary, behind the high altar. The cross in front of us is thirty feet high and was designed by the cathedral's architect, John Francis Bentley. Beyond it is a view along the nave. 

Next, a look into the sacristy. Here, services are prepared and priests don their vestments.

Further out of public view, we climb up into the clerestory, with striking views of the nave far below.

There are more than the views to look at, though. Here are the mosaic supplies, for maintaining all the decoration below.

Now that we're up here, it's time to head outside for a walk around the roof.

Once back inside, let's end our peek behind the scenes with some interesting reminders of past events, stored out of the way here. (I can never resist old signs!)

Your next visit might not include all these places, but the cathedral is full of incredible details and well worth a visit once we can head out and about again. Meanwhile, you can visit the public areas of the church remotely: take a virtual tour of the Cathedral here