Our final station stop, where this service terminates.
Westminster is quite a station. Of the original, opened in 1868, there is nothing left, but all is now part of the above ground building: Portcullis House, opened in 1999, when the station was also extended downwards to a depth of 34 metres: the greatest depth of excavation ever undertaken in central London, and the deepest station platform on the underground system.
It is a fascinating station to walk round: the district and circle line platforms are heavy and oppressive with the sound of countless people dashing hither and yon, and the growl and rumble of trains, which seems somehow so much louder here as the sound bounces of the walls (say what you like about concrete, acoustically its wonderful). However, going into the bowels of the earth, down the escalators into the “station box” that contains Westminster Jubilee line station, the sound changes. The cavernous escalator halls, half scene from War of the Worlds, half Piranesi engraving, echo with the sound of thousands of feet on springy steel floors, and the chatter of tourists and civil servants, jostling about and getting in each other’s way. Until you reach the tunnels that lead from the hall to the platforms, and the sound suddenly flattens completely and the floor changes to polished concrete, and you emerge into the semi-circular platforms, bi-sected by a glass screen to stop civil servants throwing themselves to their death and to keep the trains from eating anyone. The trains tear through, and the whole thing feels terrifyingly futuristic. You are almost reassured that the world is still as it is when you emerge into Parliament Square and see everything is still as it was.
It is a station of great contrasts, especially with its surroundings. But then how else could it be? Could it rival the Gothic of Westminster Abbey? The revivalist Gothic of the Houses of Parliament? The baroque of Methodist Central Hall? The classicism of Whitehall? I suspect not. So instead they created something utterly within it’s period, well constructed (it needed to be to ensure that it didn’t collapse under the weight of the city, or cause parliament to cave in). The savagery of the station is in stark contrast, in a way, to that which is above it: Portcullis House is sleek, shiny and smooth, even handsome from some angles. Perhaps an ivory tower with reality subjugated beneath?
The trouble with writing about the Abbey is that it is difficult to be pithy. So much history has been made here, and so many people are buried here, that book upon book has been written about the place. So I shall not try to add more to this canon. What I shall say is that the Abbey is really the centre of our little universe. Watts has always stood for the Gothic, both in terms of vesture and liturgy, and both are found in the their completeness at the Abbey. To visit Evensong on a weekday evening is to find Anglican liturgy in it’s finest: dignified, simple, beautifully executed in a way that shows familiarity has not bred contempt. If you are in London at 5, go along and see.
Our bit on the final building of the series is also something of a cop out. Said building is the Houses of Parliament. Now, we all know that the current houses are a 19th century re-build, by Sir Charles Barry, with a lot of the interior worked by A.W. Pugin. Various parts of it have been re-worked over the years, including the House of Commons after the war, due to damage. This work was undertaken by Giles Gilbert Scott the younger, of Battersea Power Station fame. Amongst other things.
What I would like to focus on particularly though, is the oldest continuously used part of the building, which is Westminster Hall. The building has played host to some of the most important events in the country’s history, many lyings-in-state, the trial of Charles I as well as other alleged traitors, as well as state visits and address given by many notable people down the centuries. It’s primary purpose has always been judicial, however.
It was first built in 1097, with the roof being added in 1393. At it’s building, it was the largest hall in Europe. Richard II further embellished it with statues and 88 images of the white Hart, his favourite heraldic beast, none of which are in quite the same position as any of the others.
The roof is a marvel, and the largest of its kind in England: “the greatest creation of mediaeval timber architecture”, made by Hugh Herland, the Royal Carpenter. More recently it boasts a stained glass window in memory of those members of Parliament and their sons who gave their lives in the First World War, the window itself being a memorial to those of the second war.
This concludes out tour of the Circle Line. We are sorry it’s taken so long, and all that is now left to say is All Change Please. All Change.