Hidden London: My Charing Cross Station Tour

TfLHiddenLondonBannerOn Sunday 14th, after the Blogtacular conference, I had a long-awaited date with some murky tube tunnels.  This subterranean world was, in many ways, as far away from the cheerful bright colours of a creative conference as one can get, but I was equally excited by it.  Gone was my Colette Chantilly dress; on were my jeans, trusty Lacostes and ribbed jumper was I waited by the exit of Charing Cross station.

A decent number of London folk know that Transport for London (TfL) organises tours of ghost or disused stations, or areas not accessible to the public, under the banner of Hidden London.  The problem isn’t the knowledge, though – it’s being quick enough off the mark to get onto one!  This time success was ours, and I had the company of my mum and one of her good friends for the day in town.

After we’d been met by a steward, briefed and braceleted up, our group was led down the escalators to a hidden door within the wall, just by the Bakerloo line platforms.  Down we went another set of escalators to be received by Martin and John, our friendly tour guides for the day, and greeted by the cheerful orange spectacle at the beginning of this post.

They began with a brief history of the Jubilee Line from conception to East London extension, which necessitated the closure of the terminus at Charing Cross.  Initially, the extension was to follow the course of the now-subterranean River Fleet, but a change of mind saw the Jubilee Line run from Green Park to Waterloo and beyond, just skimming the south of the river (here’s a link to the tube map for the uninitiated).  Although I was 16 years old when this work was completed, I had little use or memory of the station as it was.  Here are a few snaps of the concourse:

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This part of the tour was led by Martin.  Childish though it might sound, I liked him best because he’d worked on the tube for 35 years and spoke about his world with all the gusto and generosity you might be able to imagine.  Now retired, he pointed us towards a modern reprint of a job advertisement for a canteen worker.  He and John told us that the wage was equivalent to £3.75 per hour in today’s money – and that even in it’s day it was poorly paid.  Ever grateful for his pension, Martin was very happy to remain attached to his former life on the London Underground, but later on I realised just why he’d highlighted the workers’ situation and the union’s fight on their behalf.


After our group had formed a loop around the two platforms we were shown clips from recent films that had used the Jubilee Line platforms for filming: The Bourne Ultimatum, Skyfall and Paddington.  The shaft and tunnel that Daniel Craig descends in Skyfall was also part of the tour – but I’m getting ahead of myself!

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At this point our group was divided in two so that we could see that ventilation tunnel and shaft, and the construction tunnel under Trafalgar Square safely and separately.  I nudged my company towards Martin’s group, so we saw the Trafalgar tunnel first.  This was accessed through a grating in one of the station corridors – “The world of the passengers,” in Martin’s poetic words – and after being safely marshalled by Susanna, we were ushered into the netherworld amid some bemused and intrigued passenger stares.

Down we walked amongst dust and dirt: these areas are still used for storage, and we saw many bags, railway sleepers and even odd bits of rail.

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We stopped at a juncture between two different construction methods in the wall, where it went from uninterrupted roundels, some of which were filled with cement.  Many of the rings had dates branded or embossed into the metalwork – artefacts in action.  Even now, engineers build tunnels using the same methods, but with somewhat more powerful equipment.

Here’s a short video of Martin addressing the group (courtesy of my mum):

See? Told you he was a good ‘un :).

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In the snap below you can see the Victorian engineers working by candlelight (don’t worry, no gas in the vicinity then or now!) with picks and shovels, and on the right candles have been exchanged for lamps.  You can also see some rails laid down on the floor, doubtless getting longer as the build progressed.  Incredible stuff, and awesome to see just how well it has lasted.

From here we took a left down another tunnel (above left), past a generator (below) and up a ramp to the walkway above the Northern Line platforms.

CharingXTunnel7Yes, that’s right – we all got to stand directly above live trains and unsuspecting tube passengers!  I managed to get a few stills, but my mum’s phone is better and quicker at capturing video than mine, so everyone watching this video owes her a debt of gratitude!

It was surreal; the gratings are only metal, so not recommended to anyone with vertigo.  This sometimes applies to me, but I have got better at managing it over the years (including forcing myself to walk across the Hungerford Bridge) and during that moment, I was glad to have had some control over it.  I would not have missed the view or those precious few minutes for the world.

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And here’s the video!

I was glad we had the long walk back through the tunnels to start absorbing what I’d seen: up next was the Skyfall shaft, and after having another little giggle at bemused and baffled passengers we went single file to another door, where we were issued with hard hats in anticipation of any falling debris.

Winding our way through another tunnel, we arrived at the shaft.  The tunnel that Daniel Craig runs down whilst Q is heard and seen via his earpiece and cross-cutting was blocked off to us, but here are a few shots of what we could see:

CharingXTunnel10The space was too narrow to really get a good angle of the daylight above us, but never mind that; the geography was more impressive.  We were directly under Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth!  And judging by the group’s response to this information, I wasn’t the only one to have lost all sense of space.  My bearings had gone and I’d entrusted my wellbeing to someone else – much like I and millions of others do when travelling on public transport.  In the third picture here, you can just about make out the same registration information seen on the construction tunnel roundels and cubes.

CharingXSkyfallShaft1It was the end of our tour, and we were buzzing with wonder as we eventually found ourselves back in the world of the passengers.  Martin pointed us all in the direction of other tours at other stations – as if we needed any encouragement! – and after the three of us had made a pact to commit to any other Hidden London visits, my only other question was whether I could get one of the T-shirts modelled by our guides and stewards.  The answer was no, it’s uniform only – but if I’d managed to get one, I’d have tweeted and Instagrammed it with pride!

CharingXSkyfallShaft2Just over a week later, I am still fascinated and inspired.  I was lucky enough to find a programme on BBC iPlayer, How They Dug the Victoria Line, made in the late 1960s.  Seeing the miners and engineers working, putting together identical tunnels to the ones I walked down last week.  No hard hats or high-vis clothing, or ANY protective clothing – just dedication and industriousness; it brought a tear to my eye.  I will definitely be back on another TfL tour.  Using the tube will never be the same again.


Easter weekend and other stuff

There’s definitely been a sense of newness, or preparing for things to come in my corner of the world over the last few weeks, and I’m looking forward to stuffing them into future posts wherever possible.  I’ll say now that there’s been a change or two that will affect my output of designs, but don’t worry, they will still manifest, and here’s some proof for you!  I’ve been working on some garments and accessories, mostly for new courses in autumn/winter, but one is for June.  It’s a crochet one and here’s a sneak peek:

CrochetSneakPeekIn time, you’ll find this design and pattern as part of a class at Sew Over It, aimed at crocheters who’ve taken the beginners course and want to learn a bit more about creating slightly more elaborate patterns whilst making something lovely to wear.  I’m hoping that project-oriented classes are the way forward and that people like them.  The downside for me is that they take much more time to produce (nobody else at SOI crochets or be my design assistant, but if they did… What a life that would be!) and have to be fitted in amongst my other work.  But I hope that folk are interested, and most importantly patient.  I’m getting there, I promise.  And if you’re a knitter, watch this space – I haven’t forgotten about you!

I’ve also been excited about teaching children how to crochet this last week or two.  For MONTHS I have been waiting to get into playcentres a town or two away from my home in London. and it finally happened this Easter break.  I ended up going to three different sites, and at each one I met delightful, imaginative, clever children fascinated by what happens when you take a weird-looking metal stick, colourful yarn and start pulling loops through each other.  I had my hands full (surprise, surprise!) and even got some of the staff interested, but I shared this snap on Instagram after the first batch of children had gone outside to play or have lunch:

TheDevastationAfterAChildrensCrochetClassIt took a little while to get the place straightened up again…and that photo’s just the area I could fit in the frame!  I enjoyed every minute of it and will be back for more during the summer holidays.

The increased busyness means I have been working away on my Choux Chevron every chance I get.  Alyssium has been put to one side because there’s enough crochet going on right now, so the knitting is back in the front seat.  I’ve finished the body and am now on the first of the sleeves:

ChouxBackAndFront ChouxSleeve1 ChouxSleeve2The weather has also warmed up nicely in London, so there’ll be more immediate use for a cotton layering piece.  But don’t worry: Alyssium is about 60% done – I’ve reached the bottom ribbing, so not too much more to go.  Actually, that leads me nicely onto the next part of my Easter weekend – a trip to Bath.  Alyssium was my travel project (told you it’d be good for that!) and I got lots done on a 4-hour round trip – even late during the evening.

One of the highlights of the Bath trip was a visit to the Fashion Museum – how could I not?!  Even though the first part of the day was sopping wet, the city was so beautiful and, more importantly, walkable, that the rain wasn’t important.  I’ll be writing a post about the Fashion Museum fairly soon – in fact, I’ve a few museum visits in the planning (Women, Fashion, Power; Fashion on the Ration; McQueen) but until then, here are some snaps.  The one in the bottom right corner is the view from the cafe window, where there was a race to see which would finish first: our pot of tea or the constant rain!  It was the tea of course, but at least the rain went away – eventually!

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Review: Thea Porter exhibition

Last Thursday evening I went to the Fashion and Textile Museum to see the Thea Porter exhibition.  I’ll confess: the exhibition – well, I needed to think about it a little bit.  I’ve never quite understood boho chic *cowers slightly at the thought of glowering readers* – not that the designs and prints aren’t beautiful, but more the floaty frippery that seems to characterise the look.  It makes me wonder what the difference is between a boho-style garment and a massive offcut of pretty fabric: so long as both are wrapped around your shoulders and fastened with a pin, you’re all set.  I’m seasoning my sentiments with humour, but you get the drift.  Clearly I’m missing something, if only appreciation for the look and where it all began.  Plus, this is partly what exhibitions are all about – learning – and besides, not visiting the FTM for several months would’ve been too weird; it’s one of my favourite museums.

So off I went.  The colours were very inspiring, but I was most fascinated to learn about Thea herself; she seems to have been a fascinating person.  The one sadness I felt, looking around, reading and listening, was that she wasn’t really suited to the business side of the fashion industry.  In many ways, it cost her dearly.  Creative vision though, she had in spades: it takes a lot of depth and breadth to wring out such variety from one or two simple shapes.  Dotted around the exhibition are headphones, through which you can listen to her daughter, Venetia, reading excerpts from her unpublished autobiography/scrapbook.  I won’t retell the story of Thea Porter’s life, but it is one of those cautionary tales that explains why so many current designers are so plugged in to the financial side of their business.  Given the influence that Porter has – and continues to have – on fashion, it is a shame that her story ended sadly.  I feel oddly sentimental about it, partly because I can identify with some of her character traits.

Anyway – enough borderline schmaltz!  Here come the photos:

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This first group is a selection from the ground floor of the exhibition, which showcases the early part of Porter’s career.  I liked the curation here: the vinyl records and photographic backdrops really helped to bring the designs alive, and the references to other people of the time was great for contextualisation.  Sometimes I think that fashion exhibitions should be more like this: if arrangements like this don’t show context, they show the designer’s inspiration.  Incidentally, the corridor leading up to this atrium had lots of childhood photographs and memorabilia, so you really got the measure of where Thea found her inspiration and the sights of her childhood in Beirut.

These photographs are of some shirts created for Pink Floyd.  The light was tricky here, so apologies in advance.  The embroidery and tapestry on some of these was gorgeous:

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On the upper floor were more commercial collections.  The first one, Paris, is the first to feature lace and uses about three or four colours.  It is testament to Porter that these don’t look boring (unless you put them next to her usual colourful fare!):

TheaPorter_07 TheaPorter_08I particularly liked this cream embroidered dress.  It wasn’t part of the Paris collection, but it does continue on from the understated look and I can’t help but be charmed by yet more surface embroidery.  I think this might be my favourite dress.  The beading around the neckline was also beautiful.  On loop was an extended interview Thea gave to the Today show, in which she detailed the man hours that go into intricate finishing like this – just in case you weren’t impressed with it by looking at the garments themselves!  You never know…

Last were some collaborations with other designers, or up-and-coming print designers.  It was nice to be reminded of the eye-popping prints that made Porter’s name in the first place, but here they were given a refreshing twist by new eyes.  There should be more teamwork like this in the fashion world.

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All in all, a great afternoon and I’m glad I went even though the 1970s aren’t usually my cup of tea, from a fashion design perspective.  (As an aside, I really like disco music – always gets me off a chair!).  Thea Porter, on the other hand, was an inspiration.  I left with a newfound appreciation for her life’s work.

Mission Cardigan: Update

Last time I wrote, I promised to let you know how my cardigans were coming along.  Here’s a round-up of the last few months’ projects.  First, the finished objects (FOs for those in the know) towards the end of 2014:

DarknessCoat DrewCardiganI’m really happy with how the Drew cardigan turned out, but I can safely say I’m over the boyfriend cardigan – back to normal fitting cardigans for me!  Along with the Thor cardigan, it’s been my go-to piece for layering.  Cosy and comforting, much like the Darkness coat on the left.  That was for a dear friend, and last I heard she was enjoying it immensely.  The Brushed Fleece yarn was beautiful to knit and so nice to wear, I caved in and bought some for myself…  Below are my current projects – the pink theme wasn’t a conscious choice, I promise!

PrettyPinkProjectsThe guilty pleasure – sorry, Brushed Fleece – is at the top here.  I don’t normally wear red, but this shade (Nook) has a lovely depth and fiery warmth.  I think I’m drawn to it because several shades of red make up the flecks in the yarn.  I think that red can look flat sometimes, but this definitely doesn’t.  I’m making the Mild cardigan from Kim Hargreaves’ Still.  It is a quick knit, but having three projects on the needles isn’t helping!  Heart is in the middle (about which more below) and at the bottom in pale pink is my shell lace jumper/cardigan – not decided yet – in Lima, to complement the Pisces pullover I made towards the end of 2014.  Here are some closeups of Mild and the Lima shell lace:

MildCardigan1 ShellLaceSweater1Unfortunately I’ve had to put these to one side because I’ve just got too many personal projects on the go – plus some sample knitting and new designs.  Over the last few weeks my main focus has been Heart, just because it was cast on first.  Happily, all these cardigans are chunky knits – needles range from 5.5mm to 6.5mm – so the end is in sight.  Preferably before the weather warms up!

HeartCardigan3 HeartCardigan4Originally, Heart was designed as a boyfriend cardigan – but like I said, I’ve had enough of those.  This is more of an average length – for me, this means the hem finishes just above the leg break – so amendments have been necessary.  The pocket linings now run into the ribbing and the front slope shaping has been adjusted so that it starts a few rows below the armhole cast-off stitches.  It’s still a gentle slope of a V, but I don’t mind at all.  Means my neck stays warm!  Sometimes V-necks can be a little cold if the shaping’s not right.HeartCardigan6








The plan is to get the right front cast off by the end of the week.  My big wish is to have the cardigan finished by the end of the month…and I can see it getting plenty of wear as soon as I’ve finished sewing it up 🙂  I’m already looking ahead to summer knit and crochet projects but I’m going to be disciplined.  Get this batch out of the way first!

Selfish Knitting: The Pisces pullover and the not-so-Bleak cardigan

Over the last couple of weeks I have been blessed with the luxury of free time!  Wow!  Part of this involved a long weekend in Edinburgh, and part of this involved getting things done for myself, and no-one else.  It’s a bit like the shoemaker’s son going barefoot, or the builder’s house falling down: I’ve been designing knitwear for others to wear (one hopes!), but with no recourse to my own personal projects.  Where is the time?!

Luckily, time can be found in a number of places, especially long train journeys.  For many reasons, I LOVE trains (so tempted to write “choo-choos”, but I resisted…sort of 😉 ) and when you’re sitting on one for 4.5 hours it’s impossible not to knit.  So I packed my Pisces pullover, which has been waiting patiently for a neckband, and the Bleak cardigan from Kim Hargreaves’ North.  Here’s how they look now, beginning with Pisces:

PiscesJumper4 PiscesJumper5As ever, I adore it.  When I put this jumper on for the first time, I truly regretted not making it a lot sooner than I did.  My other Lima garment is a knee-length version of the Able skirt, but the sensation of wearing that is nothing compared to a sweater.  I could go to sleep in it.  A cat would be all over it, kneading its claws into every stitch.  I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but I want it to be cold!

Bleakcardigan_back Bleakcardigan_front Bleakcardigan_sleeve1Here we have my not-so-Bleak cardigan.  Regular readers will see immediately that this has progressed far more quickly than the former project!

Progress has been good enough for me to envisage my wearing this in October.  The greedy voice in my head wants to run away with me and say later this September, but the sensible voice, so often drowned in a wave of enthusiasm, says, “Play safe.  Then, if you’re early, so much the better.”  So I might listen to it for a change and see what happens.  At last count, I had two grey hairs.  We’ll see how many more I have before Sensible Voice becomes the default.

This cardigan is just right paired with full skirts and other high-waisted styles, but I’ve made one modification detailed here on Ravelry, which knitters of certain figure types might find useful.

I do love a cardigan.  It looks as though my next few projects will be cardigans too.  Is it me, or are cardigans the most grossly underrated and underestimated of all garments?  They are so cosy, comfy – and PRACTICAL.  The back of my mind has been tickled by a military/aristocratic reference to the Earl of Cardigan, and for good reason – here’s a brief reference to the story.  It’s impossible to escape the practical, utility-driven motivation behind knitwear and its development throughout history.  I’ll wind up the digression here, but not before pointing out that the invention, or widespread use, of the balaclava in the UK was another consequence of the Crimean War, and that the raglan sleeve – although a style not restricted to knitwear design – has similar associations.  Some folk balk at the idea of politicised knitting, but the truth is that knitwear has never been far away from the front line (pun intended).  Even the most cursory skim-reading of the history of knitting will prove otherwise.

And another thing: whilst in Edinburgh I was fortunate to be staying with a friend with one of *the* most amazing collection of handcrafted items I have ever seen.  Writing about knitwear, practicality and utility has reminded me to set down some thoughts I had about a particular part of her lovingly kept collection, and I’ll share these in a future post.

But back to reality, and practicality (ha! – that word again), and this week I’m in the middle of knitting samples for an accessories collection I’ve designed for post-beginner knitters.  As far as I know, that phrase is mine! 🙂 More importantly, I hope it’s understood by everyone else, especially those I have in mind for these projects.  They are aimed at knitters who’ve mastered the basics and want to dip a toe or two into the pool of texture: lace, cables and fairisle in the round.  And no, I haven’t forgotten post-beginner crocheters!  There’s something for them too.  In fact, post-beginners are in for a treat very soon: I’m running workshops at Fringe to support the premise of the collection (see my classes page if you’re interested), and coming up is a post especially for them.  If you’re a post-beginner, watch this space, especially if you need a bit of encouragement and would appreciate some insight into becoming an even better knitter – and I say that humbly!