If you think about it, the escalators on the Underground embody much of what it is great about being British. They are a product of Industrial-era engineering; we adopted them from America; they are a shrine to queuing and etiquette (there is a special kind of hell for people who stand on the left); and, although we don’t have fancy spiral ones like in Las Vegas, or even the longest ones, our affection for our escalators is boundless. Here are the five escalators who should earn our love:
When all the other wooden escalators on the London Underground were scrapped in the wake of the King’s Cross fire in 1987, this wooden mover and shaker stood firm. One of the few escalators to take passengers up to the platform, it also takes the accolade of being the oldest escalator on the network, at one hundred years old. Plus, the grooves are big enough that your stiletto won’t get caught in a step. Who says technology always gets better?
This escalator is the third longest in Western Europe (only Stockholm and Helsinki can beat it), and my aching thighs can personally attest that it feels like it. It has a vertical rise of 27m (90ft) and is 60m (197m) in length, and are so steep that when you stand at the top you can’t see the bottom. Eat your heart out, Alton Towers.
But despite its proud standing as the longest escalator on the London Underground, it’s not the longest in the UK – that would go to the wooden escalator in the Tyne cyclist and pedestrian tunnel (though only by a paltry metre). Don’t worry, Angel escalator; as many men who will ride you will tell you: size isn’t everything. We still love you.
3. St John’s Wood
Abbey Road’s zebra crossing isn’t the only illustrious pedestrian feature you will encounter at St John’s Wood. The Grade II-listed building, built in 1939, features on its escalators the original 58 bronze uplighters and illuminated bronze-edged roundel. These features are incredibly rare – only three sets of uplighters and two roundels survive. If you close your eyes, you can imagine yourself in an age of Art Deco, pre-Oyster card elegance.
Also, fun fact: St John’s Wood is the only tube station without any letters of the word ‘mackerel’ in it. Go on, check…
4. Charing Cross
There are many stations on the Underground rightfully lauded for their quirky design and atmosphere: Charing Cross is not one of them. But this massive round mirror on the escalator (I’m guessing the designers installed it to confuse tourists not paying attention) adds a touch of industrial-sized quirkiness to the otherwise forgettable station. And you can check your hair in it. Surely one of the best combinations of utility and beauty on the network?
5. Canary Wharf
James Bond; Danny Boyle; cathedral-like – yes, we get it. Canary Wharf is bloody spectacular. It’s deeper than a six-storey house and wider than two football pitches. And that glass roof, designed by Norman Foster, which you glide towards when travelling up the escalator, is the best part of all. The urge to crank up the Beyonce and do a little shimmy-swagger when you get to the top is overwhelming.
Listen out for: “experts are agreed that the London Underground is the largest underground system in all of London”. Glad to see the experts are working hard.