Notes from West London

Central London Changes

Tottenham Court Road station has changed dramatically. Earlier this week I took the train there and exited from the station for the first time in over 18 months, the first time since all the major refurbishments began.

It’s a station I used to know well, and never liked it much: the small, grubby ticket hall (below ground level), the narrow corridors, the old wooden escalators. I have never suffered from claustrophobia but if I did the old corridors leading to the Central Line would have been unbearable. Now it’s all opened out. The corridors are wider. The ticket hall is on ground level, bright and spacious like the new Jubilee Line stations. And I experienced an odd sensation: a sense of loss, knowing that I will never see the old station again, even though the new station is unquestionably better. That sense of loss is tied up with the loss of many of the things that have drawn me to Tottenham Court Road over the years: Chubbies sandwich bar and Cloud 7 records, back in the 1970s; The Astoria and its sister venue the LA2 (which was also known as the Mean Fiddler for a while); and more recently the 12 Bar Club and Tin Pan Alley Studios in Denmark Street.

I later took a walk up Tottenham Court Road itself, all the way up to Warren Street station, and that’s changed too. Most of the old computer and electrical shops have gone. For over 20 years I have bought hardware of various kinds along here, including my old Sony Mini Disc Walkman (still working over 18 years later), more than one PC (none of them still in daily use), and countless media for storing information (floppy disks, Mini Discs, SD cards, USB sticks). Instead there are coffee shops and other food places, and a large Waterstones bookshop. It’s like Charing Cross Road (which is still home to bookshops and coffee shops) has expanded northwards and most of the old Tottenham Court Road businesses no longer exist. Or are they now clustered somewhere else, like King’s Cross? I had noticed some time ago that “We Will Rock You” is no longer playing at the Dominion theatre, but it still surprises me.

Having lived in London all my life I have seen many buildings come and go. The old Marquee club in Wardour Street was the first of the music venues that meant something to me to disappear (the building was pulled down in the 1980s and replaced by flats); most of the others that no longer have live music even if the building is still there. The Red Cow in Hammersmith became Latymer’s (pub and Thai restaurant last time I checked), The Nashville Rooms in West Kensington is now “The Famous Three Kings” (also a pub). Old workplaces have come and gone too, whole blocks in central London torn down and rebuilt, mostly in glass and steel. I can walk down Holborn, Knightsbridge, Victoria Street or Berners Street and see former workplaces converted into new office complexes or (in one case) a big hole in the ground.

Like a lot of other knowledge my knowledge of London needs to be constantly updated. Until five years ago (the last time I bought a new Windows PC) I would have recommended browsing in Tottenham Court Road for a new computer. Until 18 months ago I would have recommended Denmark Street for a night out, even after the new Intrepid Fox closed down. Longstanding pub names have changed. The old Marquis of Granby on Cambridge Circus is now “The Ape and Bird”. The only pub on Oxford Street (known as The Tottenham in my lifetime) is now called The Flying Horse, which I learn is how it was known in centuries past. It’s very near Tottenham Court Road station, which takes up back to where we started.

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