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85 years of the tube beyond Finsbury Park

This September its eighty five years since the first part of the Piccadilly Line’s northern extension from Finsbury Park to Arnos Grove, was opened.

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Finsbury Park – terminus of the Piccadilly Line for 26 years until services were extended northwards.

The five and half million pound and seven and half mile long line was opened in stages from 19th September 1932, the first being from the Piccadilly’s original northern terminus to Arnos Grove, a little under four miles.

This had been made possible under the 1929 Development (Loan Guarantees and Grants) Act.

Initially the terminus and depot were to have been at Arnos Grove prior to the 1929 act. This was soon changed to a line ending at East Barnet (Oakwood) with a depot there (rather like that at Morden.) It was soon rejected on the grounds a single ended depot was not of much use. That was then altered to provide a through depot.

In order to have the new depot operate with onwards connections either way the Piccadilly Line had to be extended to one more station. This was Cockfosters, thus the new line from Finsbury park acquired three more stations than originally proposed.

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A most unrecognizable Finsbury Park station today compared to when tube services were extended.

The station buildings were a departure from usual tube design too and more radical than those on the Piccadilly’s western extensions built about the same time. Southgate is perhaps the most celebrated that comes to mind, sort of representing a 1930s idea of a flying saucer, however the other stations had their merits too, including Wood Green, Arnos Grove and Cockfosters. Several were designed to be rather more grand but scaled back due to escalating costs.

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Arnos Grove – opened 19 September 1932.

The stations and the platforms were much more spacious. The platform tunnels were two feet diameter larger than other tube stations and to facilitate speedy entrance and exit from the trains, the escalators ran at higher speeds than normal. Some reports say this was twice as fast whilst others claim it was three times faster. Reports do make one thing clear. The new escalators were the world’s fastest. One thing is clear, the escalators ain’t quite so fast these days!

The northwards extension from Finsbury Park had quite a few other radical departures from normal underground design. One of these was the use of tunnel for much of the extension. It wasn’t actually a desire to keep the trains in tunnel all the time (sort of like the Victoria Line) but the fact the lie of the land the new line was built in got more hilly and the route had to keep climbing to keep somewhat reasonably near the surface. The spot where the trains could reach the surface was not an easy one to find and the hilly nature of the route meant huge viaducts were necessary to traverse the deep valleys on the open air sections en route.

The route itself was debated in the early stages leading to the parliamentary bill authorising it, one idea mooted was the Piccadilly should head straight for Turnpike Lane, leaving Manor House out altogether and saving on costs. A branch from Wood Green to Alexandra Palace was also proposed but discounted due to cost.

DSC 0755 - 85 years of the tube beyond Finsbury ParkThe escalators at Southgate. Originally high speed but very much slowed down these days! Opened 1933.

As we have already seen, despite the attempts to keep construction within reasonable costs, the problems with the original plans for a terminus and depot at East Barnet (Oakwood) were not well received in terms of operational capability, and this ultimately forced even more costs onto the project as the line had to be extended beyond there, with Cockfosters as the northern terminus.

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Oakwood (Enfield West) not on original plans which included a depot near Arnos Grove. Opened 1933.

Some of the stations were given different names to start with. Enfield West was originally meant to be East Barnet. That at Lordship Lane ultimately became Wood Green. Southgate was pencilled in as Chase Side, whilst Duckett’s Common was mooted for Turnpike Lane.

Ironically the station at Arnos Grove had a competition to see who could come up with a name for the station. Other suggestions included Arnos Park and Southgate. Yet everyone seemed happy with the first to be postulated – Arnos Grove!

I’m not sure about the proposed station at Harringay, yes in 1929 there were discussions it would be built here but I find evidence that by late 1929 the stations had been finalised with no mention of Harringay.

When the extension first opened journey times from Piccadilly were touted as being approximately half an hour. Its rather more sedate these days due to additional speed restrictions and the fact most trains get sent on to Cockfosters. There are three an hour to Arnos Grove yet the effect is such that the Cockfosters trains can be slowed down long before their terminus as they move up the queue of trains waiting for their allocated platform spaces at Arnos Grove. There’s usually a brief respite beyond Arnos Grove before queuing once again begins for the final bit to Cockfosters.

Up until about the late 1990s quite a few trains were terminated at Wood Green. I was a regular user of the line in the 1980s yet I dont seem to have experienced the delays that now affect trains making their way to Wood Green, en route to Arnos Grove/Cockfosters.  This may be because there were somewhat fewer trains back then. The other reason was Wood Green was a dedicated stepping back point and staff were always on hand to ensure passengers alighted and trains quickly moved into the reverse siding. Nowadays trains are turned at Wood Green as a last resort, and it causes delays because there isn’t the staff to deal with these particular trains.

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Cockfosters station. Opened in 1933 and similar to, but also very different from that at Uxbridge.

In the 1960s the Piccadilly Line at Finsbury Park once again changed. Its platforms were altered in order to provide accommodation for the Victoria Line and enable cross platform interchange. As a result only the northbound Piccadilly platform is the original, its southbound one being taken over by the northbound Victoria Line’. The former Great Northern & City platforms to the east were remodelled and made available for both southbound Piccadilly and Victoria lines, however this necessitated a lot of work building new tunnels.

Today Finsbury Park tube station is undergoing yet further changes at all levels. Construction work is underway to provide new lifts to make it easier to interchange between the tube, street level and the main lines. In some ways its a restoration of the situation that existed until the 1920s when the station had lifts for a similar purpose. Part of the improvement work involved building new staircases within the southern pair of those former lift shafts in order to improve passenger flows and a new subway will be built to enable level access to the new lifts.

This post is the first in a series covering the line to Arnos Grove and Cockfosters.

Next: Finsbury Park and Manor House

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