By: Charles Holden
Built: 1932 - 1933
Standing on Bramley Road (the A110) in Enfield, north London, Oakwood is a station serving the Piccadilly Line on London Underground. It is the penultimate station on the northern section of the line. Oakwood briefly served as the northern terminus during the construction of the Piccadilly Line, before Cockfosters station, today's terminus, was completed in 1933.
The expansive underground network of modern London has its origins in Victorian Britain, and is the oldest underground system in the world. By the start of the twentieth century the network was beginning to extend out from what today is considered central London, to the suburbs. By 1908 the Hampstead Railway (today's Northern Line) had pushed out as far as Golders Green and Highate, but it would take until 1935 for work to start on a western extension to the Central Line from North Acton to West Ruislip.
In 1933 the London Passenger Transport Act was enacted, consolidating public transport services within the 'London Passenger Transport Area' under the auspices of the London Passenger Transport Board (London Transport). The Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway - today's Piccadilly line - was one such line that was adsorbed into the transport combine. At the time, the line's northernmost terminus was at Finsbury Park, its westernmost terminus was at Hammersmith.
In private ownership passenger fares were never quite enough to offset construction costs, maintenance, operation and shareholder returns, while having the capital to develop the network to meet future needs. However, with public funding now available the Piccadilly Line was extended northwards from its northern terminus at Finsbury Park, reaching Arnos Grove by September 1932, and Oakwood by March 1933, before a final extension to Cockfosters in July 1933.
The extension of the Piccadilly Line coincided with a new school of architectural design achieving greater recognition in Britain. It wasn't until after inter-war period, between the two World Wars, that Britain started embracing Modernist architecture, a style which had evolved in Continental Europe. The Managing Director of the newly nationalised London Transport combine, Frank Pick (1878-1941), had grand ambitions for the system and adopted this new modern style since its sense of modernity, functionality and quality of design were attributes Pick wanted to emphasis in the new London Transport network.
Frank Pick commissioned Charles Holden (1875-1960) to work alongside Stanley Heaps (1880-1962), head of the Underground Group's Architects Office. Holden then worked directly for Pick and his first commissions were for the Northern Line extension to Morden in 1926. But it is Holden's work (primarily) on the Piccadilly Line that has produced a legacy of some of the finest Modernist buildings in London.
Charles Holden used a number of different basic concepts for his London Underground station designs: at Sudbury Town, Sudbury Hill, Rayners Lane and Eastcote Holden used a 'brick box with a concrete lid' design; at Chiswick Park and Arnos Grove Holden utilised a brick-drum shaped ticket hall; and at Osterley and Boston Manor Holden implemented designs with a tower/obelisk feature.
Alongside his work for London Underground, Holden was also accepting other commissions. Between 1932 and 1937 Holden's Senate House was constructed at the University of London, close to Russell Square in central London. That project took an increasing hold over Holden's time and Holden delegated his London Underground design work - not entirely to Frank Pick's satisfaction - to assistants within his own partnership but also to other practices. The design for Oakwood is credited to both Holden and English architect Charles Holloway James (1893-1953). James was, at the time, in practice with Stewart Frank Bywaters.
Oakwood Station was built during 1932 and 1933, and was originally known as Enfield West, but was renamed Oakwood on 1 September 1946. The design is a variation of the "a brick box with a concrete lid", as Holden modestly described his work. Oakwood bears a strong resemblance to Holden's earlier Acton Town station, which itself was a refinement of Holden's Sudbury Town station (1931). Like Sudbury Town and Acton Town Holden used a "double-cube" structure, unlike at Rayners Lane and Eastcote where the "brick box" had a squarer footprint.
The "double-cube" structure forms a tall, central, double-height ticket hall with a single storey to the front and sides of the ticket hall. At street level a wide central entrance is set beneath a deep, cantilevered canopy, supported by three brick piers. Publicity information boards are affixed to the brick piers. The entrance projects from the ground storey, with shops set back on either side. The shops have their own separate entrance and a wide, central three-panel window, with slender ventilation slots above. The outer corners of the ground floor shops carry large advertising boards on both elevations. A ribbon of green tiles is carried above the windows, which corresponds to the illuminated signage beneath the entrance canopy, which carries the station name.
The ticket hall sits behind the entrance, and comprises a five bay, brick-faced structure, with a flat concrete roof with a projecting lip atop a plain, concrete entablature. Each of the five bays (front and back) have metal-framed clerestorey windows. The central window bay carries the London Underground roundel incorporated into the Crittal metal window frames. The sides to the ticket hall have two outer bays, with the London Underground roundel this time set into a concrete surround between the two bays.
Inside the ticket hall the clerestorey windows flood the ticket hall with light. In addition to the ticket office there are two small, free-standing kiosks within the ticket hall, one originally a confectionary stall and the other for checking tickets (a so called "passimeter"). Above, the concrete joists of the roof give the ceiling a coffered effect, a feature used extensively at Holden's 'brick box' stations.
Unlike many London Underground station, there is a single, central platform set below the ticket hall, accessed by a stepped stairwells with clerestorey glazing. The platform is sheltered by a cantilevered canopy, supported by 'Y'-shaped concrete piers.
Outside the station, there is pole-mounted London Undergound roundel. The base forms a circular seating area, with a circular roof above.
Oakwood Station is surprisingly unaltered, given the changes in public transport over time. Such modernisation that has taken place provides travel information, including dot matrix displays, a public announcements system, and closed-circuit television for security and safety.
The building was awarded Grade II-listed status on 19 February 1971 and upgraded to Grade II*-listed status on 20 July 2011.