The new Piccadilly Circus station's anniversary

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Piccadily Circus station’s brand new ticket hall opened 90 years ago! Who have thought…. its actually a very young age compared to the universe itself, yet at the same time there’s practically no-one around now who will have remembered the new station in its first days. It shows just how such things are fading from the human consciousness. In fact there’s no longer a consciousness attached to the early days of this station!

Its only the endurance of the station plus records that helps us to put together this anniversary, yet its not a sufficient anniversary because so much still has been forgotten of it and it cannot be plausibly easy to write a comprehensive post on this, however this post I have written is the best that can be done! Not only that when it comes to historic records people tend to get their dates mixed up and several were in fact tweeting the station’s anniversary on the wrong day lol!

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In real world terms, the station celebrated the end of its anniversary week by being wet, miserable and overcrowded if anything. On Saturday, the day of the actual anniversary of the opening of the Piccadilly Line itself, the station was absolutely packed out and it was in part due to the Xmas shoppers and in part due to the heavy rains for much of the day. Instead of walking and getting drenched people were opting to take the tube.

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The station was absolutely packed to the gunwhales – upon arrival many of us had difficulty actually getting off our Bakerloo train and the stairs and escalators were choc a bloc. Upon arrival at the top of the escalators it seems there was just nowhere to go!

Not only that someone was taken ill on the north side of the ticket hall and very near this there was a large group of tourists, their leader holding up a flag, so they were creating a pinch point which slowed things down even more. On top of that, yes I have seen the subways to the street jam packed but this was a Saturday afternoon and they were even more jam packed, I’ve not seen this even when there have been extremely popular events in the area and the queues to get out of the station stretched right back into the ticket hall area! Not only that people were queuing in the pouring rain trying to get into the tube station!

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Very long queues – just to get out of Piccadilly Circus station!

Its interesting to think that in 1928 this iconic station’s new ticket hall and escalators were built to relive congestion. The very design of the ticket hall, drawn up by Charles Holden, was so it could handle the crowds very well, and its clear its only just managing these days  – and it must be said this is carried out with some great difficulty.

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Unused newsagent’s booth – probably designed by Charles Holden…

Its been the case for quite a long time when crowds get numerous but it was interesting that it became far worse on this particular day, a Saturday, rather than at the usual rush hour times or as the theatres emptied their aisles. In fact some of the exits had to be closed to relieve pressure within the unique circular ticket hall. It was, as we will see next, a sort of phase transition.

This is a crucial time because TfL has been experiencing a drop in passenger numbers but at this particular time things are indeed happening, and that is why I say phase transition because something else is happening. By that I mean TfL has achieved its first ever five million plus passengers to pass through the entire tube system in one single day! This was in part attributed to tourists who are coming to London and taking advantage of the very weak pound. In short we in the UK are now an excellent bargain basement! And Piccadilly Circus is practically the centre of London’s tourism.

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On the floor of the ticket hall can be seen these plaques which are probably from its early days.

The huge leap in passenger (or customer) journeys on the tube has not been mentioned in the news, not digitally (nor on social media) as far as I can see although generally a number of sites do cite five million as a rounded off number (when in fact its been towards the very top end of the four hundred million figure for a long time.)

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Lovely feathered arrow sign at the station. The more feathers the older these are!

TfL does mention on its own website a previous record of 4.821 million passengers (customers) in 2015. But no-one mentions this brand new record. Okay, where was the proof it had gone over five million thus setting a new record for the tube? A small item was published in the Standard for the 14th December 2018 and this tells us on Friday 7th December 2018 (just three days before the station’s anniversary itself) passenger journeys hit a record 5,031,000. “apparently fuelled by an increased number of foreign visitors attracted to London as a result of the Brexit-weakened pound.”

In fact each day that particular week had attained even higher levels and TfL were saying they expected the new record to be possibly broken this week, the very week Piccadilly Circus celebrated 90 years of its new ticket hall. That may have happened because on Saturday the 15th December (which actually is the 112th anniversary of the opening of the Piccadilly Line not the tube station) Piccadilly Circus was just totally jam packed, but so far TfL hasn’t made any further announcements about this.

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The famous World Clock can be found on the east side of the ticket hall.

As has been said Piccadilly Circus is practically the heart of London’s tourist network! For a start many arrive at the station from Heathrow and many also come here just to see the sights, the famous Eros, the bright lights, the adverts, Soho, Chinatown, Regent Street, the Royal Academy, and the theatres around Shaftesbury Avenue – not to mention other things like the hugely popular Google Pixel Curiosity Rooms and the Regent Street Winter Retreat – which were both seeing their last weekends out.

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Commemorative stone on the opening of the new station on 10th December 1928.

This 90th anniversary was for some a bit confusing because its the same week as the anniversary of the opening of the Piccadilly Line itself. Thus many reputable sources were saying the 15th was the 90th anniversary of the new station when in fact it was the 10th of December. Tim Dunn and it seems also Modernism in Metroland got their dates wrong! On the whole however we can say the second week of December each year is always a special one in terms of Piccadilly Circus station and the Piccadilly Line itself. 

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Detail of one of Holden’s art deco lamp standards with several of his brass surrounds on the wall behind plus a modern Legible Streets map.

The anniversary itself was quite ironic in many ways because if this sort of pressure as happened on the 15th December continues, Piccadilly Circus’s ticket hall will have to be knocked down and rebuilt. Don’t worry its just a joke! There is however a serious nature behind this jest. Its clear something will have to be done if this state of affairs does continue because the station is often barely fit for purpose.

This is probably why Oxford Circus tube station had the fortune to retain its original entrances as these are now the exits and the street subway entrances only – not only that Oxford Circus has far more capacity because it was built in the sixties and yet it struggles on an almost daily basis when it come to the crunch. On the other hand Piccadilly Circus has actually retrenched in terms of capacity, its got fewer exits than it started out with in 1928.

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Holden is commemorated with this poster in one of the former ticket office windows. His colleague Frank Pick gets a whole wall to himself!

When Holden built the new ticket hall I don’t think crowd control was considered so essential then no-one would have envisaged just how many people would be visiting London ninety years later! Holden’s design is unusual because it made new connections from the Piccadilly’s and the Bakerloo Line’s separate entrances plus new subway entrances to merge the passenger flows to a single focus point. It also made interchange between the two tube lines far more easier – although the construction of that bit was probably managed more by Frank Pick rather than Holden himself.

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Part of the substantial Frank Pick memorial which was opened in 2016. Its called Beauty < Immortality.

Lots of reputable sources claim the original Bakerloo building in Lower Regent Street (now Regent Street St. James) and the Piccadilly buildings in Haymarket/Jermyn Street were taken out of commission when the new ticket hall came into use. That is not so, these Leslie Green station buildings continued to be used until at least the 1980s when they were knocked down.

This means there were at least three other entrances besides the new subways, making a total of ten possibly more (I have not seen any diagrams to show the total number of entrances and subways.) In the 1980s a reduction in terms of the number of entrances was made from possibly ten to just six.

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This is actually part of the original subway to the Leslie Green buildings on Haymarket and Jermyn Street.

With the rebuilding of Piccadilly Circus and changes to the road layout a seventh was eventually brought into use by adopting a part of the old subway towards the Jermyn Street entrance. No-one ever mentions this its almost always as if the tube station acquired new subway entrances in 1928 and no more other entrances were used from that point onwards. However where the present ticket machines are there were once other passageways leading off south that led to these other entrances.

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Two of Leslie Green’s larger historic buildings were demolished in the late 1980s so this modern carbuncle could come into existence!

I cant find any evidence of this except perhaps the following picture shown here which just about shows the Haymarket entrances on the far left hand side and it seems there was a split in the passageways but its not very discernible, and its possible the entrance has been moved too. The brass signage on the present entrance is totally different from that which can be seen in the picture below, so there was some major change here at one time – however I am at a loss to say exactly what the arrangement was previously.

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Old view of the ticket hall showing the subway to Haymarket with a slightly different arrangement. Source: Silent London.

Piccadilly Circus tube station was not the first in London to adopt the idea of a central ticket hall situatied below a major roadway. It had been done at Bank in 1900, and earlier to an extent at Oxford Circus however the difference was where the lifts were on the outside of the Central’s ticket hall, at Piccadilly Circus the escalators were on the inside, as was done at Bank later. This arrangement made more sense because it enabled an easier flow of passengers and this was the eventual arrangement adopted at Oxford Circus for the Victoria Line.

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Lower Regent Street no longer exists!

Thanks to Charles Holden Piccadilly Circus proved to be a pioneer in terms of how tube stations should be built though I dont think he intended they should all be built with round ticket halls. Holden also rebuilt Hyde Park Corner in a similar style although that and Oxford Circus are unique because its more of a horseshoe arrangement – in other words one cannot walk completely round the outside of the ticket hall area.

There are quite a few other things about Piccadily Circus that make it a rather unusual tube station. First the BR station diagrams are still in use. A lot of people dont really notice the unqiueness of these however if one looks closely it can be seen these were from the seventies and they are still in daily use as tube station signage because, well, the information on them is still pretty well relevant!

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Then there’s the circular staircase which although was largely taken out of use and retained as emergency access, part of it forms an excellent short cut between the Bakerloo and Piccadilly Lines.

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The short cut from the Piccadilly to the Bakerloo Line. Its about 12 steps but actually feels more like fifteen floors lol!

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This plaque is from the Worship Company of Tylers and Bricklayers. This was for excellent standards of tiling work during the rebuild of the station in 1987-89.  

One of the most celebrated and unique aspect of the station is the Bakerloo’s running tunnels and crossover within the platform areas. Indeed its even more unusual than anyone thinks because that arrangement means the traditional tube pits couldn’t be used at this point, thus the Bakerloo platforms are unusual in having substantial sections of concrete base track.

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The running tunnels and crossover at the top end of the northbound platform.

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View in the opposite direction showing both the southbound and northbound platforms. 

Piccadily Circus station’s new look might be ninety years old now, yet in the past couple of weeks its taken on a high tech apperance. The Bakerloo’s escalators were closed for a couple of weeks in November to allow new high resolution lengthwise digital display screens, or more properly digital ribbons, to be installed alongside the escalators themselves.

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The Bakerloo’s escalators with the new digital ribbons installed just a couple of weeks ago.

What is unusual is these practically look like one whole screen from top to bottom of the escalators. Its great because we can now have adverts that scroll downwards or upwards almost in synch with the passengers travelling up or down these escalators!

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I am not sure if there is any intent to collaborate data with people’s mobile phones so that the digital ribbons can scroll adverts that may be more relevant to passengers using the escalators. Its feasible however I have not been able to find out if that will be the case.

As well as being one gigantic advert, at the same time they can be split into smaller segments and each one can display different adverts, or pictures, or movies, or other useful information. Piccadilly Circus was the first of three tube stations to have its new digital ribbons switched on. The escalators to the Central Line at Tottenham Court Road as well those at King’s Cross have also had this treatment.

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Adverts are not actually being used on these three stations new screens, these digital ribbons are just showing off their wares at the moment and real world advertising wont start until January at the three stations. I like those fantasy scenes being shown at Piccadilly Circus involving lighthouses, far off lands and a plane with a banner saying ‘Creativity in full motion.’

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