Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gants Hill

This is the first truly underground station I have visited as I go from East to West on the Central line. It has no surface buildings whatsoever.
As I stepped off the Tube the first thing I noticed was this clock where roundels have taken the place of numbers.

There are even ceramic roundel tiles.

There are only two platforms, one for the eastbound trains and one for the westbound.

Between the platforms is this barrel-vaulted hall designed by the modernist architect Charles Holden in the 1930s. It is said that the design was influenced by his visit to the Moscow Metro in 1936. The outbreak of war in 1939 meant that work on the station had to stop. At that point only the tunnelling from Leytonstone to Gants Hill had been completed  and they were being used as air raid shelters.   In September 1940, air raids on the East end of London caused severe damage to Plessey's factory in Ilford which halted the production of vital aircraft components. Plessey moved the production line to the tunnels in 1942 once extra ventilation and access shafts had been made. A railway was built to carry materials to the machines and with a workforce of 2000 there was a canteen that could seat 600 and restrooms for 1600. It took almost two years to dismantle the factory after the war and Gants Hill didn't open as an underground station until December 1947.

Escalators are needed here to take you up to ground level, where you are greeted with these art deco lights and a maze of subways.

Reading newspaper articles from 1986-89, it was obvious that the subways attracted muggers and vandals with a constant stream of rubbish in the subways and vandalised lights. When new tiles were put up in the subways they were coated with an anti-graffiti surface which allows spray paint to be wiped off. In 1993 security cameras were installed at the station. It looked reasonably clean the day I visited so I can only assume things have changed for the better.

The station is situated beneath the junction of five major roads : A12(East and West), Cranbrook Road, Woodford Ave and the High Street. You emerge from the subways onto a busy roundabout which is the centre of Gant's Hill, the name originating from the medieval owners of the land, the Le Gant family. I could find no evidence of a hill! There used to be an art deco cinema next to the roundabout which was a local landmark but that was demolished in 2003 and replaced by a block of flats.

In the centre of the roundabout is this 'work of art'. It was commissioned as something that would give a feeling of arrival and regeneration. Referred to as a 'rusty looking egg whisk' by local people it has not gone down well. I would like to say that it looks better in real life but that would be a lie.

I found this piece of art more welcoming. It is called The Beacon and is designed by a local Infant school in collaboration with  local artists.

There were no upmarket shops here but the usual array of newsagents, hair and beauty shops and takeaways. I do like the shape of the street lamps though.

This is Lloyds bank which has an art deco feel to it. I don't know for certain but I imagine it was built in the late 1930s with the coming of the Underground and the increase in housing and population.

I decided to walk down each of the major roads looking for places of interest. Walking down Cranbrook Road (A123) my first stop was the local library where the staff couldn't have been more helpful. The library was built in 1938 and has a deep basement that was used as a bomb shelter. They didn't have a large section of local history books but I did look at some old photos of the area and gleaned some information from those.

Close to the station on Perth Road is this large three storey, mock Tudor pub. An attractive building with its cream weather boarding and leaded windows. It is huge inside but not particularly welcoming unless you like numerous large TV screens showing sport.

Continuing down Perth Road I came to the side entrance into Valentine's Park. This is a huge park with its ornamental lakes, formal gardens, tennis courts,cricket ground, delightful cafe and of course the mansion.

Valentines Mansion was built around 1696 for Elizabeth Tillotson and her family after the death of her husband, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The  area was very different then with the mansion surrounded by open countryside. The house has been owned by numerous families since then. The last private resident died in 1906 and the local council acquired the house in 1912. Since then the mansion has been a home to wartime refugees, a hospital, a public health centre and a council housing department. As well as the backdrop for the filming of The Great British Bake Off.

After standing empty for 15 years it was restored and opened to the public in 2009
It was a bitterly cold day and so a  hot bowl of soup in the cafe was very welcome before wandering around this large park. It was a delight to find somewhere so enchanting after the dreariness and heavy traffic of the surrounding roads. The park is approximately 125 acres in size.

I walked past the frozen ornamental water and exited the park onto Cranbrook Road.

This corner store caught my eye with its original name on the clock face.

 One of the oldest buildings in this area is the Hospital Chapel of St Mary and St Thomas. Founded c1145 by the Abbess of Barking as a hospice for old and infirm men. It is about a 20 minute walk from Gants Hill station

 Exterior view of the chapel

The complex consisted of the chapel and on either side, the almshouses which housed the poor and the chaplains of which there would have been two. By 1218 the hospital was admitting lepers. In 1960 an archaeological investigation of the courtyard revealed over 20 burials and recent scientific examinations revealed that some had indeed suffered from leprosy. Recently the almshouses have been converted to modern flats.

 At one time this was the Chaplain's house

Above the door is the Arms of Gascogne-Cecil family

On the opposite side of the courtyard is the almshouse
Above the door is the Arms of the Abbess of Barking

I had now explored South of the Gants Hill roundabout so I walked in the opposite direction down Woodford Avenue. Very residential so not much to see. Noticed this 1957 Telephone Exchange. Not quite sure how I managed to make the building alongside it look as though it's about to fall over though!

Just around the corner was Clayhill Park with its children's playground, bowling green and flower garden.

It also had this line of trees. I then noticed the stone on the right of this picture which has a metal plaque embedded into it referring to trees planted in the park on Armistice day 1937 to commemorate the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the mother and father of our present Queen).

'...the leaves on the tree were for the healing of the Nations.' Rev 22.2

My walk around the area of Gants Hill was complete and on this freezing cold day it was definitely time to go home.


  1. Good to see some iced over water. Seems to be quite rare now. You must have acquired my leaning building photographic skill. The station looks quite pleasant.

  2. So enjoy reading your tours. You are a brave soul. You take me to places I will never venture.

  3. Oh the wonderful Gants Hill - another of my old haunts. My school was Valentines High School just around the corner from the Valentine pub (the Val as we called it). We used the underground there when we left school to get into London during the 80's and 90's and yes, it was a place to be very aware of yourself and those around you. Most people that approached me though just needed to know how on earth they got out! It was certainly a maze! Thanks so much for the tours xx

  4. For some reason, because it was all underground I guess, I thought this whole station stop wouldn't be so interesting as all your others have been, and that first sculpture seemed to reinforce that feeling (we see some pretty bad public art over here too as I'm sure you know)... But I was happy to be proven wrong with the beauty and interesting history you found and shared ....

  5. oh this was an amazing post! I watch the Great British Bake Off so was fun to see the mansion.

  6. I didn't know about the Plessey factory moving to the tunnels. So interesting! The station looks quite bright being all underground andthe graffiti-proof tile is interesting. I love the clock with no numbers and underground symbols instead.

  7. Nice post - these places really do pack in the history!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  8. Great details of your journeys. We didn't experience the underground yet, but will certainly do on our UK travels. #OurWorldTuesday #GreyWorldNomads

  9. You are a champion reporter. Braving the freezing weather to give us the history and visuals of Gants Hill. valentines Mansion looked an oasis in the dreary suburb. But you sure found some interesting stuff.


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