Emily Turner explains how she and Paul Burkitt-Gray discover London on their podcast Roundel Round We Go by exploring each of the 272 London Underground stations, one at a time
When my partner Paul and I first told people we wanted to create a podcast about every station on the London Underground, we sometimes received the response that our intentions were ‘a bit ambitious’.
Yet we couldn’t be swayed. Stations are not just microcosms of history and architecture, they are people’s lives and the built environment intersect.
I launched the twitter account for our podcast, Roundel Round We Go, in June, and as an attempt to keep followers engaged I started taking pictures on my travels around London and inviting followers to guess the station. A lot of our followers were really into the idea, and while I was forever impressed with the ability of followers to guess a station from a picture of a few floor tiles, what I found more interesting was the emotional connection people have to stations.
It didn’t take long for people to start replying, ‘Oh! I couldn’t mistake that anywhere! There’s my station!’ – but what did that mean? For some people, it was a station they’d worked at for 20 years, for others, it was a station they’d advised on the construction of, and for yet others, it was the station they used every day during the year they spent living in London in 1979. I’ve heard a wide variety of stories about stations over my year of producing the podcast, but each one hammered home what genuine, emotional connections people have to stations.
The London Underground is full of iconic and beautiful stations. There’s the sleek and modernist statements of Charles Holden’s Park Royal or Southgate. There’s the distinct and colourful design of Leslie Green’s Covent Garden or Holloway Road. There’s even the bold concrete and steel of Sir Richard MacCormac’s much more contemporary Southwark. But while people undoubtedly
appreciate the architecture, these stations mean so much more than that to the people who use them.
When I first moved to London in 2011, my budget and imminent beginning of my master’s degree pushed me farther and farther from central London until I found a place in Neasden. Truth be told, the flat was probably equidistant from Neasden and Dollis Hill stations, but the first time I went there I got off at Neasden and it stuck. I only lived in Neasden for a year, but being full of the energy of being young and in a new city, I shot back and forth from Neasden to central London multiple times a day. An otherwise unremarkable-looking station only ever used by locals
and those going to Ikea, Neasden station was my gateway to all that London had to offer. I’d spent the previous year living in Vienna, with my closest station being the stunning Art Nouveau Otto Wagner station at Stadtpark. Whilst staring at the brick and concrete of Neasden, I sometimes missed the beautiful green detailing and white walls of I knew from Vienna, but soon a train would come along and whisk me away to whatever exciting activity I was off to next and station architecture would be the furthest thing from my mind.
Since starting Roundel Round We Go, I’ve gained an appreciation for the significant role an unassuming station like Neasden can play. Originally being the single station between Willesden Green and Harrow on the Metropolitan Railway’s 1880 extension, Kingsbury & Neasden (as it was originally known) was the site of the Met’s locomotive and coach plant, before becoming the service and stabling depot it still serves as to this day. In 1882, the railway built workers’ cottages in the area surrounding the depot. Th e development named local streets after destinations the Metropolitan Railway had within its aims but wouldn’t reach for a few years to come, such as Verney Junction and Quainton Road. Metropolitan Railway chairman Sir Edward Watkin, upon seeing the success of the developments, stated that railway should, ‘with great good, be permitted to build little colonies contiguous to their railways’. This is the sentiment that, just a few decades later, led to rapid development of swaths of North West London to become what was known as ‘Metro-land’ which in turn became a model for the development of so many other suburbs.
However, if you’d told me all those things when I stood on the platform at Neasden in 2011, though I would have found them interesting, I doubt they would have had an impact on my feelings about the station. The station, in my mind, would still have been the place that beckoned me to take me to uni, to the theatre, to museums, to parks, to meet friends, or to whatever other adventures awaited once I got on that train.
This is not to knock the importance of great design or thorough planning. Creating beautiful and iconic buildings make our cities and towns the types of places that bring us joy and make us want to visit. And in modern design, creating stations that are accessible, easy to navigate, and feature facilities required by passengers is vital to making railways institutions that people want to have interactions with.
But to so many people, stations are more than places people just catch trains; they’re places where so many of the little moments that piece together their lives take place.
For me, the platform at Lancaster Station is where I chose to move to London. Edinburgh Waverley is where my clumsiness stopped a pickpocket escaping with someone’s wallet. West Acton is where I took a phone call to accept a life-changing job offer. Tottenham Hale is where I first led 30 Year 2 students on a school trip. Moorgate ticket hall is where I met Paul, my partner I would
go on to create a podcast about stations with. And of course the unassuming brick building at Neasden will always be my first London station.
While I love gaining a deeper understanding of the history and design of railway stations, they’re always first and foremost places that create the story of my life – and if producing this podcast
has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not alone in this.
Roundel Round We Go is a podcast created by Emily Turner and Paul Burkitt-Gray. Each episode, we draw one of 272 London Underground stations from a bag, research the station and surrounding area, and make a show. We’re only a few stations in to a thrilling journey zigzagging across the history and geography of London, and we’d love you to come along for the ride.