Standing on a roundabout at the junction of the A1004 High Street in Southgate and the A111 running east-west, Southgate Underground Station serves the Piccadilly Line on the London Underground network.
The earliest Underground lines in London were constructed by the 'cut and cover' method. These tunnels were usually constructed under London's streets to avoid disturbance and potential subsidence to residential and commercial properties. Cut and cover tunnels were built at a fairly shallow depth and construction typically involved the excavation of a trench and the building of tunnel in situ before it was covered over.
The use of cut and cover lines was not always suitable, for example following street patterns was not the most direct or practical route. The construction of deep tunnels was the only viable solution for an extensive underground system in such a densely urbanised environment as London. These deep tunnels required new construction techniques and were more expensive than the cheaper cut and cover option. However, the deep tunnels allowed the Underground network to expand greatly and by the early 1930s the Piccadilly Line had reached its northern terminus at Finsbury Park.
Further development of the Piccadilly Line was completed incrementally, pushing out from Finsbury Park in a series of phased constructions, first to Arnos Grove in September 1932 and finally to Cockfosters in July 1933. Southgate was the first station built after Arnos Grove. Although Arnos Grove Station is the first point where the Piccadilly Line emerges above ground in North London, Southgate station itself is a sub-surface station with a surface ticket hall.
The new Piccadilly Line stations were designed by Charles Holden, who was born in Bolton on 12 May 1875. Working in architectural practice by 1892 he entered practice with Henry Percy Adams (1865-1930) in 1899. By 1913 architect Lionel Godfrey Pearson (1879-1953) joined the pair and the practice became the Adams, Holden and Pearson Partnership.
By the time Southgate Station was constructed Holden had already been working on stations in London since 1926, where his first work was on the Northern Line. At the time Holden's designs set the 'house style' for London Underground and Southgate station is arguably one of the most visually impressive and dramatic stations on the entire network.
Southgate Station is unlike so many stations on the network, being circular in form. The ground floor space is occupied by a circular ticket hall, with an outer ring of shops, offices, toilets and staff rooms. There are two wide, open entrances with escalators down to the platform set at the back of the station. In the centre of the ticket hall is the ticket office built around a central column that supports Southgate Station's dramatic roof. Seen from above, these supports appear as a series of ribs radiating out from the central column.
The flat roof of the station building sits atop a projecting, illuminated band of metal and blue glass carrying the station name. On top, the roof projects outwards from the body of the building forming a deep canopy. Above, and behind, the ticket hall rises in a circular half-height space, lit by clerestorey windows beneath a projecting saucer-shaped concrete roof. A finial, comprising five discs set into a cylinder of glass blocks, is topped with a ball top. The exterior walls are clad brick atop a concrete base.
The open ticket hall, with its central passimeter ticket office, has a central staircase and escalators to the platforms, with spectacular uplighters formed of ribbed, metal columns, with bowl-shaped light fittings. The uplighters descend down to the platforms and are equally spaced either side of the central staircase, with the up and down escalators to the outside. The atrium space between the north and southbounds platform is illuminated by similar uplighters. The walls of the sub-surface areas of the station are clad in cream tiles with yellow-orange banded edging.
Outside the station are a pair of pylons either side of the station building. These comprise an octagonal base, projecting circular roof and pole-mounted 'London Underground' roundel. Behind the station is a colonade of shops, forming an arc.
The station is at its most spectacular at night, with the shops and offices in darkness, the blue band of glass illuminated, and the light from the ticket hall flooding out through the clerestorey windows and glass finial. If you half-squint the station almost looks like an UFO - an Unidentified Flying Object - about to land.
Perhaps it is because Southgate Station is fairly squat in appearance compared to other stations on the network, but one of London's finest Underground stations appears terribly obscured by the clutter of street furniture that blights so many of Britain's urban spaces. Bus shelters, railings, litter bins, telephone kiosks, bike stands and street signage all encircle the building in a 'maelstrom' of twenty-first century urban 'paraphernalia'.
The exterior of the station itself also suffers in a similar fashion with security roller shutter housings and clashing, competing shop brandings spoiling the cohesive appearance of the station when first built.
Despite this, Southgate Station remains one of London's finest Underground stations. The building was awarded Grade II*-listed status on 19 February 1971.
Posted by Richard Coltman on Saturday, February 16, 2013