The Piccadilly Line Extension: Cockfosters

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Despite being the butt of many a joke, ‘Cock Fosters’ as it once was, is a real place and noted for being the northern terminus of the Piccadilly Line. The location itself prior to the opening of the tube was not even a major settlement of any sort, just a small school and a vicarage. This was both in deepest Middlesex and Hertfordshire.
This is the eighth of the series of posts that covers the planning, building, the opening, and the present, with regards to the stations between Finsbury Park and Cockfosters. Each of the series has perhaps more than one part and this post related to Cockfosters will be in several installments. There will also be in due course some further additional posts on the Piccadilly Line extension (like the one on Arnos Park viaduct) once this installment is completed.
The eight stations were open in three stages during 1932 and 1933 and Cockfosters station is colloquially known along with Uxbridge, as a ‘concrete cathedral.’ Charles Holden did not just design railway stations. As a noted architect he was much in demand and some of his earlier work such as Bristol Central Library certainly evoked the sense of being a cathedral. Yet Holden had never designed one. The nearest he got to any sense of a cathedral were the large chapels he was able to design.

The Piccadilly Line’s terminus station was in essence a prototype. Each Holden era was replaced by something more stupendous. From the early stations such as Piccadilly Circus, this morphed to substantial stations such as those down to Morden, then a couple more on the Piccadilly at Ealing and Hounslow. Then we had Sudbury Town. Voila! All pretense had been done away and here was a new brutal design, pure and simple.
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One of Holden’s quotes was: “Eliminate everything which does not fulfill a definite and necessary function.” Hence they had to be free from fads and conceits.
This was carried through to other stations such as Northfields, then those along the Cockfosters extension. Southgate was the first inkling the current early 1930s phase was in demise, and Oakwood the last gasp before Holden once again changed direction completely.

The concept of a brick box with concrete lids was virtually forsaken. The cantilevered styling and airy spaces may have been something Holden hoped would be used elsewhere. In the event the design was reused at Uxbridge, and as I have mentioned before, elements of the design were used at Oakwood (or the other way round perhaps.)
This begs the question, was Oakwood a prototype of sorts for Cockfosters? One can say Oakwood was the original design and then Holden or his associates split the Oakwood canopy style into two and put in this vacant space the now iconic train shed. On the other hand, the reverse could have occurred, being that Oakwood used elements of Cockfosters station. There’s nothing to show this was done either way, but compare pictures of both stations and you will find they have a commonality.
The big difference is at Cockfosters the exits from the platforms were well beyond the train operating areas, and this gave Holden the chance to create a huge train shed that was unbroken by stairwells or station entrances.

On another level, if one thinks about it, there are no Holden ‘boxes’ used anywhere as a tube terminus! Hounslow (similar to Ealing Common) used a hexagonal design which wouldn’t be used at Cockfosters. Again, yes it can be said Morden on the Northern Line is a Holden ‘box’ but its not in the strictest sense a terminus. The Northern Line doesn’t end here. Cockfosters, as a true terminus, would follow suit by once again not utilising a Holden box.
What could Holden build at Cockfosters than yet another tired version of his brick box/concrete lid design? His early plans for Cockfosters do show a new styling version of the box/lid concept. Even that was not good enough. In my view Cockfosters is possibly the ultimate Quaker building, something Holden had ironically never been asked to design. The station site embraced the counties of Hertfordshire and Middlesex, both of which were early pioneers of quaker thought.
Holden was clearly knowledgeable in these counties’ history of the quaker movement and without a doubt had visited many of the local friends centres, some of which had been designed by fellow RIBA architects who were also Quakers.
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The Cockfosters station site. Source: Skydive.
It is evident the station gave a nod to rural buildings, for example barns and mills. Perhaps more so the Friends Meeting House in Hertford. As the oldest Quaker building in the world it too has cross beams and trusses. And this concept is used at the country end of Cockfosters station.
From that end of the station one would enter the station’s cathedral like aspect. But I dont think it was meant to be such. It was a place where people could meet. Where friends could gather together and stand in awe of this impressive structure before going on to do their own thing. Rambles in the countryside, going to the local church, playing cricket in the nearby field, whatever. In other words it was a friends meeting place 🙂
That is still true of the station these days. Countless people travel to Cockfosters and meet there in order to go on local rambles around the area, perhaps visit Trent Park or attend any one of the festivals held in the locality. And yes they still gather here for cricket in the sports field opposite the station.

The 1931 plans for Cockfosters station show it was intended to look very different. These plans show the original design of two large towers and substantial street entrances. Two much smaller towers were used and the station itself considerably expanded.
As these plans are from 1931 its clear Holden made the changes to Cockfosters at a very late stage. In some ways it was fortunate the extension from Enfield West to the new terminus would not be opening until 31st July 1933. The opening had been originally mooted for early 1933 as some tube maps show, but was then pushed back twice during 1933. This indecision must be attributed to the late design changes that were made to the station.
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There is one other thing that tells us Cockfosters was most definitely not going to be like any of the other new stations on the Piccadilly Line is the clock. Instead of a modernist style of clock, Holden went for a traditional clock suspended above the ticket barriers. This, along with the lengthy drop lights (modern chandeliers so to say) is further evidence of the desire for a totally different approach to tube station design. The brick box with concrete lid concept didn’t get totally left out as its used for the signal box at the end of the platforms.

Cockfosters is a station with more considerable country feel than say, Epping or Amersham. Its probably helped by the terminus buildings being set in a cutting (whereas the others are not) thus retaining some element of rural sense to the site as well as the smaller entrance buildings that were ultimately employed. The station only just beats High Barnet as the most northernmost terminus tube station in Greater London.
Next: More about the terminus, its platforms, sidings, and bus station.

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