I have a long-standing affection for the London Underground. The engineering, history, iconography, maps, posters, trains, cultural references and architecture all fascinate and captivate me. That said, it’s not something I’d ever given much thought to photographing until recently. There are countless others using the system daily as their inspiration, and there seemed little benefit in covering well-trodden ground. Ultimately though, the draw proved too strong and recently I started a new series covering the Charles Holden-era architecture from the mid-1920s to the late 1940s.
In 1924 Frank Pick, the general manager of the Underground Electric Railway Company of London, commissioned esteemed architect Charles Holden to design a new frontage for Westminster Station. The resulting minimalist stepped façade made of reconstituted stone fitted neatly with Pick’s vision of creating a unified modern design for the whole system, and he promptly offered Adams, Holden and Pearson (Holden’s partnership) more work.
Through the mid-1920s Holden designed many stations for the network, mainly on the Northern Line, all using similar design cues and materials. The decade culminated in being given the important task of designing a new headquarters for the Underground at 55 Broadway, directly above St James Station. Completed in 1929, the building remains one of Holden’s masterpieces. Now grade I listed, it continued to be TFL’s headquarters until very recently, though they have now moved out.
As a new decade dawned Pick and Holden became increasingly inspired by the progressive Modernist architecture manifesting itself in Europe. In the summer of 1930, the pair took a trip to Germany, Denmark, Sweden and The Netherlands, taking some of the latest structures championed by the architectural press.
The influence was undeniable and refreshed approach to Underground Stations and their street facing aesthetic would soon be seen evident in London. The new designs, starting with Sudbury Town, used red brick, with extensive use of glass and concrete. Over the next few years Holden, his assistants and contemporaries designed countless new stations for the Piccadilly and Central Lines, some of which are arguably the most enduring and iconic railway stations ever built.
This ongoing photo-series is my tribute to them.