Now that we have finished marvelling at long escalators (let’s hope they never break down) and the ridiculously long platforms, it’s time to explore some newfound treasures along the route.

Stations Heading East

Manor Park Probably best known for its large City of London Cemetery, but, in the Middle Ages, this was part of a very substantial park. You can get a better idea of its size when you consider that the location of its Manor House is set close to Manor House station near Finsbury Park (some 8 miles away). The driveway to the House now forms part of the North East section of the North Circular. According to Chaucer, it was the first manorial driveway to have a dual carriageway. As you come out of Manor Park station it’s easy to imagine yourself in the park setting, with the large herds of deer quietly grazing until startled perhaps by a noisy woodsman, or falconers going about their art with birds of prey on their gloved hands.

Seven Kings. It is little wonder that the grand Manor (mentioned above) hosted the famous meeting of Seven Kings after which this station is named. Of course, one of the Kings, Harold, has a Wood named after him, as in the Harold Wood station further up the line. The other kings at this grand meeting included Zoltan of Hungary, Boleslaw the Brave of Poland, Gorm the Old of Denmark and Eric Bloodaxe of Norway. If we think our current police have their hands full at these royal occasions, consider that the annals tell of 7 separate anti-monarchy protests, one for each king. These protests included a group of Danes protesting that Gorm the Old wasn’t paying sufficient attention to Early Years School Provision. There was also a party (or gruppe) of Norwegians complaining to Eric that violence, while usually the quickest (and often the cheapest) solution, wasn’t the answer to everything, particularly as a tie breaker at a recent National Origami championship. There was also a more general ‘Stop the Wood’ protest against using wood for fuel. The protestors were proposing a soya/oat alternative which later proved ineffectual in the great freeze of 1012 and the movement died out…. literally.

Although the woods at Harold Wood are modest, the station is on the wonderfully named Gubbins Lane and there is a nearby road intersection called Gallows Corner. What other delights must be in store?

Abbey Wood. As soon as you step out of the station you will be surprised to find that the Abbey is still there. Nestling in a substantial wood, not quite rivalling Epping Forest, but don’t wander into it without a map and a two-way radio, and possibly the number of Helicopter Rescue. Who knows you might meet the Prince of Wales on one of his life-saving shifts? What is more surprising is that such a substantial property survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. The story goes that Henry’s soldiers, normally ready with their pikestaffs when up against unarmed clergy, thought twice about taking on the legendary ‘Thamesmead Crew’.

There was a Convent in South London which also had connections to the local bad boys and was similarly proof against Henry’s Pike Men. The Mother Superior, aside from her holy duties and deep private prayer, ran a protection racket. The Convent is sadly no more. Despite surviving Thomas Cromwell, it was later developed into a B and Q, and the cloisters into a small parade of shops. The area is still known as Nunhead, giving you an idea of the Mother Superior’s influence. Travellers heading west on the Elizabeth line should note that Maidenhead is similarly named due to the link between the Cistercian Sisters there, and the Taplow Crew.

Heading West

Give a wave as you soon pass Acton Main Line. The name – sounds v important, but it is a little used station and few trains stop there. Possibly Thomas the Tank Engine might dwell awhile, but Gordon and Henry, the Main Line Expresses, wouldn’t give it a second glance. It suffers from the fact that trains picking up speed from Paddington don’t really want to stop so soon. It’s a mere 4 miles from Paddington. This was particularly true in steam days when it took five tonnes of coal simply to get the train moving.

There are at least 6 other stations with Acton in the title. Indeed, they include pleasingly a full set of North, South, East and West Actons. No wonder the Actonians like to they spread their custom about a bit with such a choice of local embarkation.

Slough ‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough.’ If John Betjeman’s poem slid the knife into the Town’s heart then the TV programme, ‘The Office’, set in Slough, gave it a few more twists. You feel that however downbeat the town itself is, its name doesn’t help. The word Slough means either a state of deep sadness or the way snakes shed their skin. Take your pick. It’s also tricky to pronounce for the uninitiated, as words ending in ough could rhyme with bough (as Slough) but there’s also tough, cough and though to consider. The phrase ‘How now brown cow could be rendered ‘hough, nough, brown cough’, which doesn’t bear thinking about. All in all, it was an certainly odd choice to pick when the town names were being handed out.

Ironically, the Thames Valley is known for its attractive names: Marlowe and Sunbury for example. Have the Burghers of Slough thought of renaming their own town? ‘Slough on Thames’ would have softened it, but it is near rather than on the Thames. Perhaps a good thing when the river levels start rising.

One consequence of the name is that nobody wants to twin their town with Slough. The council did receive an offer from Mudchute, just south of Canary Wharf (also on the Elizabeth Line) but Mudchute is not a town, so there was little to be gained. One mug manufacturer rather jumped the gun and produced a Slough-Mudchute twinning commemoration mug. Examples can be found on E-Bay for a modest price.

In 2020, the same dilemma faced a Canadian town in Quebec called Asbestos (I kid you not). Of course the product Asbestos was originally ‘the wonder product’. It had even been going for the prestigious ‘The Best thing since Sliced Bread’ Award when the tragic medical evidence began to emerge. They might have considered changing how Asbestos is pronounced, rather like TV’s Hyacinth Bucket becoming Bouquet. But really there is nowhere to go on Asbestos.

So they took the plunge and it is now known as Val-des-Sources – a bit like having a face lift but without the Botox.

Just past Slough is Burnham (and Burnham Beeches). Owned by the City of London they are a wonderful asset for the people of Buckinghamshire to disport themselves at our expense. They are so few other open spaces in Buckinghamshire which provide such an opportunity. This was powerfully portrayed in Charles Dickens’s heartrending ‘Notes from the Chilterns’. Even today each citizen of the county has, on average, just under an acre each in which to roam about. On a literary note, Burnham sounds like Great Birnam Wood, famously mentioned in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This is where one of the witches says that Macbeth will be safe unless Great Birnam Wood moves somewhere else. Well, there are apparently just two trees left in Great Birnam Wood so it must have moved somewhere. Perhaps Burnham does have a claim to a Shakespearian connection?

Let’s end our review at Liverpool St. Gateway to the East – Oddly named as it is nowhere near Liverpool or has any Liverpudlian attractions associated with it. – such as the Cavern Club or the Docks. Nor do any trains from the Station go anywhere near Liverpool. The street itself is rather modest, and must have been a disappointment to some hapless punters who, just off the boat train from Harwich, apparently had been sold fake Eurovision tickets, from some Hoxton touts, thinking that Liverpool St was this year’s venue . Still, the delights of the Elizabeth line were just a step away and were surely more than adequate compensation.

Afterthoughts by Kevin Kiernan – BARBICAN LIFE Summer 2023 Magazine

Kevin Kiernan discovers some treats in store on the Elizabeth Line