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Heritage on the London Underground

16 January 2012

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St. John's Wood Tube station escalator 13 Nov 1939. Copyright © London Transport Museum.St. John's Wood Tube station escalator 13 Nov 1939. Copyright © London Transport Museum.

The daily commute on the London Underground provides us with little time to stop and look.  We are too busy looking where we are going (or avoiding eye contact with fellow passengers) to appreciate our surroundings. But many of the tube stations we rush through every day are heritage gems, with stunning architectural features, hidden artworks and unique histories.

Last January, sixteen stations became listed buildings on the advice of English Heritage. They included several of the tube stations designed by Leslie Green, whose ‘ox-blood’ red tile facades pioneered the use of a strong and consistent corporate image which is recognised around the world. 

Oxford Circus's red exterior. Copyright © English Heritage Communications.


Covent Garden Tube station facade, December 1907. Copyright © London Transport Museum.

As Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, has said: “The London Underground not only set the standard for progressive transport systems, but has displayed a remarkable commitment to quality and consistency of design.  The stations awarded listed status today are as valuable to London’s architectural story as many more famous buildings like the Houses of Parliament.”

St John's Wood interior. Copyright © English Heritage Communications.

Arnos Grove Exterior. Copyright © English Heritage Communications.

On your way down into the depths of the Underground you can spot surprising examples of innovative design, such as the Modernist architecture of St John’s Wood Station and Arnos Grove Station. It’s easy to forget that such familiar buildings would have been at the forefront of providing functional and beautiful spaces for London’s new wave of commuters in the 1930s.

Another architectural treasure that may be harder to miss is 55 Broadway, Westminster, London’s tallest office building when it opened in 1929. Sitting atop St James’s Park Station, it is not only the home of London Underground Headquarters, but also of pre-Second World War British sculpture that would have astounded and shocked the public in the late 1920s.  As well as showcasing Henry Moore’s first public commission, the building featured two sculptures of Night and Day by Jacob Epstein, which provoked a fierce debate about whether artistic portrayals of nudity were permissible in a public space.

55 Broadway, 29 August 1930. Copyright © London Underground.

It seems that radical artistic and architectural innovation have always been part of London Underground’s history – from daring 20th century design to today’s ambitious upgrade plans. So remember to take a minute on your way to work to stop, stand and stare at the heritage features that make today’s London Underground a design and transport icon.

Information & images provided by London Underground.

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