Out east on the Central Line

Monday 21st June 2021

It’s not just buses and trains that offer interesting rides.

The London Underground also has an intriguing history and much to explore.

I recently spent a few hours at the eastern end of the Central Line. It’s always an enjoyable travel experience – with each station full of fascinating individual characteristics. Many have heritage from the days when Great Eastern Railway steam trains ran along the tracks before they became part of the Underground.

Stations on the Hainault loop from Wanstead through Redbridge to Gants Hill reflect a different era, being built in the late 1930s and becoming operational after the Second World War.

Trains are currently back to running a 20 minute frequency shuttle between Woodford and Hainault rather than these stations having through trains from Ealing Broadway/West Ruislip and central London, although I noticed the “next train’ indicator signs haven’t caught up with this change, still showing the journey as having come “via Woodford”.

Here are a few of my favourite spots from this end of the line ……

Wanstead is exceptionally the most brutally concrete built station on this section of the Central Line…

… complete with rogue “UNDER GROUND” sign with its unfortunate gap between the “R” and “G” …

… bit it makes up for it below ground with lovely analogue clocks with roundels instead of numbers to denote the hours.

There were originally grand plans for a bus interchange alongside Wanstead Underground Station before it was built. Sadly these never came to anything, and the red colouring gave way to boring plain concrete. Here’s how it could have looked.

Redbridge reminds me of Southgate with its round ticket hall and bus stop for route 366 on the inner road….

… but it also has a tall brick tower you just can’t miss surrounded by a wonderful trellis ….

…. with thirteen roundels placed around it.

Downstairs on the platforms there’s a throwback to the days when Central Line trains ran beyond the terminus at Epping with North Weald, Blake Hall and Ongar still in situ under the covered panel.

The next station along, Gants Hill, has very little presence above ground – just a few roundels at the tops of subways dotted around the ‘Gants Hill Roundabout’ on the A12. But what it lacks on the ground, it more than makes up for beneath with a superb Moscow style inspired cavernous area in between the two platforms…

… with gorgeous uplights either end of double back polished wooden seats.

It also has another of the Central Line’s lovely analogue roundel-for -hours platform clocks..

Newbury Park‘s claim to fame is of course its wonderfully over the top bus station structure to be found immediately outside the very understated station entrance for passengers. The station dates back to 1903 when it was part of the Great Eastern Railway which branched off from the main line by Ilford.

The bus station was designed by Oliver Hill and opened in July 1949. You can’t miss it.

Installed at a time when interchange between bus and Underground train was the future, and what never happened at Wanstead certainly did at Newbury Park.

Barkingside has a rather nice ticket office building, dating from its main line rail days ….

… and as with most of the stations in the open air on the Central, has wonderful well kept floral displays on the platforms.

There’s not much to say about Fairlop, Hainault or Grange Hill.

Chigwell has a perfectly symmetrical ticket office building….

…. built exactly centred above the tracks.

Roding Valley of course has the distinction of being the least used Underground Station, even though it’s situated in a residential area, albeit with low density housing and car/s in the drive; and it’s not too far to walk to nearby Woodford Station with its more frequent service which is probably why passenger numbers are so low.

It’s always lovely to pay a visit to Roding Valley and savour its quietness.

It’s one of only two Underground Stations without ticket gates (the other being Mill Hill East – thanks to alisonprater2014 for reminding me about that station also being gateless in the comments).

Further up the line towards Epping, Loughton Station has an Oakwood and Northfields style entrance roof above the ticket hall which is gorgeously out of proportion to what the floor area would normally justify, but makes for a wonderful airy atmosphere inside. However, it wasn’t designed by Charles Holden as it’s lookalikes were but by John Murray Easton of the LNER company and opened in 1940.

And it has the most adorable old style London Transport bus timetable display holder. The type you really only find in a museum these days, but so reminicscent of what used to be found across the network decades ago, in the “good old days”.

The only downside is its display harks back to the “old days” too including unofficial timetable displays for TfL services as well as well well out of date information for Essex County Council funded routes that have long been withdrawn.

However after my visit when I tweeted about my findings when I was there on Friday 11th June I was delighted to see a tweet from Aidan Knight to report on the following Monday, 14th June, “the team have removed the out of date info that they can”. Well done and thanks Aidan.

And, finally, end of the line, Epping has a lovely rural type station building, with buses pulling up right alongside, which is handy for interchange even though the canopy is sometimes insufficient for the numbers waiting.

And, like Loughton, the bus information is always, but always, out of date here.

Every time I visit, I just know I’ll find something that misleads potential bus passengers such as long collapsed company ‘eos’ advertising its withdrawn route 87 I saw on my most recent visit.

Why oh why use ‘hazard warning tape’ to fix the information? What image to passengers does Epping Forest District Council thinks this portrays about its DRT service?

It’s a shame these small things spoil what otherwise is a magnificent stretch of the London Underground with some wonderful historic features to marvel at.

Including Snaresbrook Station with its original Great Eastern Railway platform canopies and decoration.

Roger French

15 thoughts on “Out east on the Central Line

Add yours

  1. Very interesting article. I’m always struck, as someone who doesn’t currently live in the UK, of how little graffiti there is at these stations… thank god.


  2. Fascinating blog . . . it always astounds me how much is left from decades ago on the Underground system.
    I liked the clocks very much . . . and the enamel route display that references Epping-Ongar (closed in 1994) shows how LT did a proper job in the past . . . if it ain’t broke don’t replace it!!

    My big concern at the moment is the out-of-date timetable information posted around the country . . . Epping is joined by Loughton in having wrong timetables posted at bus stops, some from several years ago. It seems that there is no system in checking and updating bus stop information in London . . . the contractor will do only exactly as they are instructed, and if nobody checks, then nothing will be done. I tried informing TfL a few years ago, but didn’t even get a reply . . . so kudos to getting a response !!

    As an aside . . . in Sheerness on Saturday all (bar one) stops had the timetables covered up by a notice saying that timetables “might” be wrong . . . but my understanding is that most bus timetables are now back to pre-C19 levels.
    How long until these notices are removed? Or will Kent CC delay doing so until they get Buses Back Better funding released??

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely with you on the timetable posting situation. My contact at TfL who would always correct out of date bus stop displays (he was ex B&H) was made redundant a few years ago and not replaced and, as you say, no one now does the job so things don’t get corrected. Crazy.


  3. Some errors in the posts above. Epping and Loughton are in Essex so have nothing at all to do with TfL with regard to buses. The Underground station of course is operated by TfL,. The section of the Central Line between Epping and Ongar is now of course a preserved line. I think they have plans to extend it a few hundred yard into Epping station itself as at present the line terminated a few hundred yards away

    Not sure if the service 20 operated by TfL is fully commercial of ECC supports the section outside of London
    It always gets very confusing on the borders of London. It even got confusing with the Police until 2000. as historically the Met police extended beyond London due to an historical quirk which was the Coal duties act of 1868. Marker posts were erected outside of London to mark where the tax was to be collected on coal coming into London. Many of this marker posts still exist although the collecting of tax on coal coming into London ceased very many years ago but the Met police continued to cover the these area out to the marker posts
    This continured to the year 2000 when the Met police retreated back into the London area only so places like Cheshunt and P:osster PaBar then came under the Herts Constabulary and Waltham under Essex POlice and the same around London


  4. It appears ECC ceased supporting th 167 and service 20 in 2016,. The service 167 was cut back to serve only London and the 20 is presumably now running on a commercial basis outside of Lonond


  5. Grange Hill station looks run-down and shabby enough to be home to Tucker and Zammo 😉

    I love the Kings Cross-style arch in the Loughton station building.


  6. Enhanced Bus Partnerships

    Suffolk County Councils is going down the Enhanced Bus Partnership. Quite how this will work when bus companies operate on a commercial basis who knows. I guess the Councils or LTA will have some leverage with funding but presumably if funding is involved it will have to go out to tender. It dos say as well that LTA’s will be able to register bus services but that sounds messy

    If they really want to transform bus service I dont really see how this model will work


    1. I’m thinking perhaps Doris has developed quite a taste (or necessity) for this governing lark without the need for parliamentary legislation. So, anything goes; as long as it doesn’t need primary legislation.
      Coming back to the subject, we evidently have more than enough to talk about, anyway!


  7. A timetable display similar to Loughton Station used to exist within Mount Vernon Hospital at Northwood. The display was well away from any exits, so even then (Guess about 20 years ago), all the timetables and maps were vastly out of date. However a big yellow properly printed sign was provided next to it saying “historic timetable display only – see bus stops outside hospital for up to date services” That part of the hospital has long been demolished, and I always wonder what happened to it.


  8. I believe the roundel at Wanstead that reads UNDER GROUND was originally designed to carry LONDON TRANSPORT and explains the odd spacing


  9. My experience as part of the team managing a small bus company in Hastings 30 years ago is that there was insufficient public support for bus services at the main station. This was probably because there was little commuter traffic and buses services were not designed to carry luggage. Taxi services worked.


  10. You can see on some of those signs where the Chipping Ongar bit has been covered up so they must be pretty old as that section must have shut over 20 year ago.There was some kind of preserved railway running it but it seemed to be just some kind of front for car owner Barratt box building in the villages along the line.


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