If there is one thing I took away from my Camden Guiding Course, (actually there were lots of things, but I am thinking Transport-related here) it is to look at and appreciate the architecture of London’s Underground stations. Within the London Borough of Camden we have 17 tube stations. Of those, 11 were designed by the architect Leslie Green and four of them are now Grade II Listed – Belsize Park, Chalk Farm, Mornington Crescent and Russell Square.
Leslie William Green was born in 1875 in Maida Vale, the son of an architect. He formed his own architect’s practice in 1897, initially in his father’s offices. In 1903, by which time he had his own offices in Adam Street just off the Strand, Green was appointed architect for the Underground Electric Railways Company (UER), a merger between the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway, the Baker Street & Waterloo Railway and the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway, later becoming our current Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Northern lines. He was commissioned by UER to design 50 new stations – inside and out.
Once you have had a “Leslie Green Station” pointed out to you they will suddenly seem to be everywhere, an early example of a strong and consistent corporate image. They are a very distinctive house style, following a standardised design and plan adapted to suit each site. They were two-storey because this was pre-escalators – they were not introduced until 1911 – so each had an upper storey to accommodate the lift machinery, and the construction was steel-framed to bear the weight. The interiors had a ticket hall at ground floor with lifts and a spiral stair down to the platforms which were usually parallel.
The exterior was clad with distinctive ox-blood red glazed terracotta blocks (known as sang de boeuf) provided by the Leeds Fire Clay Company. The ground floor was divided by columns giving separate entrances and exits (maybe Green knew something about social distancing rules even then), space for retail outlets and with a flat roof for future commercial development above the station.
So the exteriors of Green’s tube stations are very distinctive, but so too were the interiors.
Ticket halls featured deep green tiling in Art Nouveau style with stylised acanthus leaf or pomegranate friezes and ticket windows set in niche surrounds. Unfortunately, few of these original features survive in the stations today. Stairs, corridors and platforms were faced in glazed tiles with directional signage, each station with its unique colour scheme and geometric pattern. Green did this so those who were illiterate would know where they were by recognising the tile colour and pattern.
So let us look more closely at Camden’s four listed “Green Stations”.
Unfortunately, as you can see, the original station name in frieze lettering has been removed. The northern half-bay has an original doorway (intended to serve a future building over the station) and fanlight. The upper storey has timber windows in semi-circular arches with “egg-and-dart” decoration (that is to say ovoid shapes separated by V shapes), ornate frames between the central arcade, an ornate bracketed cornice and a deeply-hooded small round window (known as an oeil de boeuf) to each half-bay.
The ticket hall has been entirely modernised with tiling replicated to the original 1906 pattern. The straight flight of stairs down to the spiral staircase has original cream and green tiling with a pomegranate frieze and wooden handrail. Original tiling in dark red and cream also survives in the spiral staircase. Tiling to the lower passageways and platforms was renewed in 2008 to match the original. The southbound platform has a brass clock with an ornate bracket.
Uniquely among Green’s stations, Belsize Park has a forecourt, enclosed by a set of square gate piers in Portland stone and cast-iron railings and gates on a low stone wall. The exit gate piers have 1920s bronzed poster frames with swan-neck lamp brackets.
Belsize Park Station became a popular air raid shelter during World War 2 and the people sleeping in the shelter were the inspiration for artist Henry Moore’s famous series of sketches (he lived nearby in Parkhill Road).
Lesser known is the extra deep air raid shelter constructed under the tube platforms here (and at eight other tube stations). This shelter stretches along twin tunnels for over ¼ mile from the Haverstock Arms to the Royal Free Hospital. Visible is the white access shaft topped with bomb and gas proof steel and concrete caps. It is owned by the Ministry of Defence and still has 9,000 steel bunk beds in situ. It is currently used for secure storage of archives with 5,500 feet of tunnel being used.
This is considered, externally, to be the most impressive and distinctive of the surviving Green stations, and retains three early tiled Underground signs, now very rare.
The station occupies a prominent wedge shape site at the junction of Adelaide Road and Haverstock Hill, meeting at an acute angle with a curved apex. The Adelaide Road side is the longest of all the Green stations and consists of eight bays. The curved apex is accentuated by an overhanging upper floor with a tripartite window. The ground floor was always a shop, originally an Express Dairy, which also occupied the three adjacent bays on both sides of the angle. The upper storey has timber semi-circular windows in semi-circular arches with the egg-and-dart decoration and cartouches between the arcaded bays and an ornate bracket cornice. Each half-bay has a deeply-hooded, oeil-de-boeuf window.
Above the entrance are blue tile signs with white relief lettering reading UNDERGROUND, added in 1908. To the right of the entrance is a 1930s pole and roundel Underground sign.
The ticket hall retains a number of features including moulded cornices, an early brass clock, six-panelled door with roundels, fluted timber wall banding and railings enclosing the top of the stair. Tiling has been replicated to the 1906 pattern. Some original mauve terrazzo flooring survives in the disused exit area to the rear of the lifts. Original tiling in dark red and cream survives in the spiral staircase and lower corridors. The platform tiling was replicated in 2005, apart from the original soffit banding and some remnants of directional signs.
This is the shallowest lift on the tube network at 30 feet and it is often quicker to take the 53 stairs down to the platforms.
If the station is looking vaguely familiar, it was featured on the pop group Madness’ 1980’s album Absolutely.
This station has two bays to Hampstead Road and one bay on the left return with an ornate bracket cornice, and above the white faience frieze has “Mornington Crescent Station” on both facades. The Hampstead Road facade has original cast-iron lamp brackets and lamps to the entrances.
Some of the interior original features remain too, including panelled exterior lift doors and Art Nouveau decorative grilles above, indicators and lift interiors. The tiles have been restored and the ticket-office window replaced.
In 1992 the station was shut so that the 85-year-old lifts could be replaced. The intention was to re-open within one year but due to lack of funding it remained closed for six years. A campaign to reopen the station was launched, with pressure from Camden Council and the popular BBC Radio 4 panel game “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” which regularly features the game “Mornington Crescent” taking its name from the station. The game is a spoof satirising complicated strategy games. There is a Comedy Heritage blue plaque for comedian Willie Rushton, one of the show’s longest serving panellists, installed in 2002 behind the ticket barrier at the top of the stairs.
This station has four main bays with alternating half-bays. The entrance was originally in the left-hand bay and the exit (now blocked) in the western bay. The ticket hall now occupies the entire ground floor. The two western bays have original gilded raised lettering denoting the station name. The blue tile Underground sign is a modern reproduction, as are the lanterns.
The ticket hall was remodelled in the 1990s and retains no visible original features. A small area of original green tiling remains in the straight stair leading to the spiral stair. Original tiling in turquoise, black and cream survives in the spiral stair and in lower passageways, including directional signage. Platform tiling was replicated in 2009, apart from the soffit banding.
In July 2005 four bombs exploded in London, three on the Underground and one on a bus in nearby Tavistock Square, and a plaque remembering the victims is in the station.
These stations were opened in 1906-7 after which Green’s commission from UER was terminated. He had been suffering ill health and he sadly died the following year in 1908 aged just 33.
So next time you are at one of these stations waiting for a train, look around you and marvel at the wonderful legacy Leslie Green has left behind here in Camden.
The Underground Stations of Leslie Green by David Leboff ,2002
Tube Station Trivia by Geoff Marshall 2018, TfL website
Featured image at top of page is of a Way Out sign at Russell Square station, (c) Lynette Denzey, 2021