London Victoria

London Victoria has always been very familiar to me – it was the start of the journey home to Brighton from trips to London when I was growing up. It marks the start of the second part of my National Rail trail, kicking off my journey to all the Southern rail stops in Greater London.  With over 81million passenger journeys here in 2015/16, Victoria is the second busiest station in the entire country, topped only by Waterloo.

It began life as two separate stations, operated by different companies. The Sussex side, platforms 9 to 19, opened first in 1860, with the Kent side, platforms 1-8, following two years later. There was no way to pass between the two sides internally until the 1920s. The wall between the two sides was only fully removed in the 1980s.

The two sides of the station still feel distinct. The Kent side has retained an impressive Victorian trainshed over its platforms. The end of the roof over the Sussex side was demolished in the ’80s to allow for the construction of the Victoria Place shopping arcade and offices over the platforms. This great photo from 1980 shows how different this part of the station used to look. The area by platforms 15-19, at the very western edge of the station, feels very cramped.  On a lighter note, this is where the International Cheese Centre is located…

The Cask and Glass, 39-41 Palace Street, SW1 5HN

There are only three certainties in life, death, taxes and building works by Victoria Station. Visiting the tube station here in April 2013, I commented it had been a building site for as long as I could remember -four years later, little has changed. The tube station upgrade is due to be completed next year, but I’m sure there will be another project around the corner.

There are lots of mediocre tourist trap pubs on Victoria Street, so we took a side street to visit the Cask and Glass. It’s a few minutes walk from the station, just behind the Cardinal Place complex on the junction of Palace Street and Wilfred Street.Inside, it’s a cosy little one room pub, with a few tables outside at the front too. It was pretty quiet on our Monday evening visit so we were able to get a seat, but I’ve walked past on occasion and its looked rammed.

It’s a Shepherd Neame pub, so commuters back to Kent can enjoy some of their local beers before making the journey home. It had four of their ales on tap – Spitfire, Hog Island, Master Brew and Whitstable Bay. They only do food at lunchtimes between 12-3, offering a selection of toasties for around £4 a pop. With its primary trade coming from office workers, The Cask and Glass is shut on Sundays and closes at 8pm on Saturday.

With its carpet, curtains and leather backed seats, it has the vibe of a village pub a stones throw away from the chaos of Victoria Street. Given its proximity to both Buckingham Palace and Westminster, it’s also no surprise to see pictures of Queen Victoria on the walls as well as the odd political caricature. There is one of Barry Porter, an MP from 1979-1996 and who I’d never heard of before. I have no idea how he gained the accolade of being displayed on the wall here. His Wikipedia entry is pretty sparse and the cartoon in this pub listed in the ‘legacy’ section!

I enjoyed visiting to The Cask and Glass. It’s nice to find a homely spot in an area that is otherwise represented by uninspired tourist fare. If you’re looking for a good spot for a drink near Victoria Station, this is definitely worth checking out.

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South West – in Review

Now I’ve finished off all the South West Trains stations in Greater London, I thought it was a good time for a quick look back at my highs and lows along the way There were 40 stations in total, starting at Waterloo – the busiest rail station in the entire UK – and ending in Worcester Park.  In truth, it was a good route to start off with because the vast bulk of the places I visited were decent and I was really impressed by the caliber of pubs in these parts. I kept expecting to come across more duds but in truth I can count the ones to avoid on one hand.

In terms of particular highlights, I’ll pick out a few here. The Mitre in North Sheen was a great find. It was hidden down a quiet residential street, had twelve ales on tap and a friendly pub dog called Rudi! The Express Tavern by Kew Bridge was also excellent; it had real character and another extensive ale selection. The Sussex Arms in Strawberry Hill stood out for me for similar reasons, it was buzzing on our visit and had a dozen ales on tap. Other top spots along the way included The Vauxhall Griffin(no prizes for guessing where), The Ailsa Tavern in St.Margarets and Woodies Freehouse in Malden Manor.

Perhaps it should have been no surprise I found so many good places – this part of town has a strong pub history behind it. Youngs brewery was based in Wandsworth until 2006 while Fullers Brewery is still going strong in Chiswick today; both were well represented in these opening stages of the blog. Fullers even provided me with a decent pub in Hounslow in The Cross Lances, a big improvement on what I endured for the three tube stops there.

Thankfully there were only a couple of pubs I’d give a ‘steer clear’ warning on. The Broadway Bar in Tolworth was the worst – as I said at the time, it had all the character of an airport lounge. I also didn’t enjoy The Red Lion in Isleworth partly stemming from its Marie Celeste atmosphere and the fact the bar was deserted when we first arrived. Another Red Lion, this time in Feltham was also a bit forlorn, but at least it had a manager trying to pick the place up.

All in all, the lucky folk of South West London have plenty of excellent pubs at their disposal. I thoroughly enjoyed my travels through that neck of the woods – now it’s time to shift eastwards and head on over to Victoria, kicking off my travels on Southern Rail.

Worcester Park

Worcester Park is my final stop on the South West Trains leg of the blog. It first opened on 4 April 1859 and was initially called Old Malden, it gained its present name a mere three years later. The next station heading south on the line is Stoneleigh, which is within the borough of Epsom and Ewell.

The ticket office building here is a simple brick design which looks very ’30s – the station was redeveloped around this time in response to housing growth in the local area. More recent additions at the station include the installation of a new footbridge and lifts in 2014, replacing this metallic structure.

Worcester Park was originally omitted from the proposed route of Crossrail 2 – after people power intervened the plans were modified and services are now planned to stop here, providing the project gets the green light.

North End Tavern, 245 Cheam Common, KT4 7NB

The pub is a brisk ten minute walk south from the station down the main shopping street in Worcester Park. Like the William Bourne a few stops ago, the North End Tavern is a Stonegate pub, complete with its range of discount themed meal deals. It had three ales on tap on our visit, Doombar, Youngs Bitter and Ghost Ship. The beer here was surprisingly cheap, two Doombars came to £5.80, which is cheaper than many ‘Spoons these days!

The North End Tavern is a large pub and was fairly busy when we arrived but we were able to get a table. They have a TV sports licence and had the football on a big projector. By the time of the 4pm kick-off, the pub was rammed which is why I didn’t take any more photos inside as all I would have captured would be a sea of people! They also have a sizeable back garden, this was nearly empty on our visit, although given it was a cold Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t that surprising.

The decor here is fairly generic, however there were a couple of nice local touches I liked here. On one wall there was an old black and white photo of people waiting at a paced Worcester Park station, another had one of the Railway Clearing House – the umbrella body set up to manage the allocation of ticket fares for journeys across multiple companies – diagrams of lines which existed in the pre-nationalisation period of the railways. As well as having a quiz every Sunday, there is also ‘Disco Fridays’, where a DJ plays 80s and 90s music from 8pm till midnight.

The North End Tavern was a solid way to bring a close my run on South West Trains with its cheap ales and friendly atmosphere. If you find yourself in Worcester Park, it’s a sound place for a pint.

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Chessington South

Chessington South brings to a close my short journey on the Chessington branch line – it is also my second to last station on South West Trains – that all went quickly! The station opened in May 1939, again designed by James Robb Scott, like the other three stops on the branch. However in this instance you take steps down to the platforms, rather than up as is the case with the other stops.

Chessington South was never intended to be the terminus of the line, the original intention was it to continue on to Leatherhead. Construction halted with the start of the Second World War and the project was never completed. There is a second platform here, complete with art deco curved shelter, intended for trains returning from Leatherhead. As a result, this has never been used by passengers and the station now operates with just one active platform.

Beefeater (Monkey Puzzle), Leatherhead Road, KT9 2NE

Chessington South is the stop you’re after if you want the World Of Adventures. The only pub in the vicinity is just past the theme park. It’s a fair walk, over 15 minutes from the station south down Leatherhead Road.

Having read the only pub round here was a Beefeater based right by a theme park, my hopes weren’t high. These feelings were only heightened when I realised it was connected to the theme park’s Premier Inn. Online it is listed as being called ‘Monkey Puzzle’ but the only branding I could see outside simply said Beefeater. Inside it’s spacious pub a feeling reinforced by the very high ceiling in its main area. As you might expect, the decor is fairly neutral with the unpainted brick walls decorated with prints of plants and flowers. The exposed piping(ventilation I assume?) gives it a bit of a warehouse look. It also has some outside seating, backing onto Leatherhead Road.

To its credit, there were two ales on tap, London Pride and Hobgoblin. The food isn’t as cheap as I thought it would be, it was £11.99 for a Cheese and Bacon Burger and £12,29 for Fish and Chips. That’s what comes from being attached to both a theme park and a Premier Inn, neither of which are known for cheap food.

Having expected the worse, we actually found it wasn’t too bad in here. My worst fears were a soulless pub filled with a mixture of overtired and hyper kids after a day at Chessingtons. In reality, it was more chilled and less manic than that. There was a family sat near us celebrating an 80th birthday, although that did have me wondering who would come here who hadn’t been to the theme park. I guess that illustrates how few options there are round here.

In short, the pub wasn’t as bad as I had initially anticipated, and certainly better than the couple of Beefeaters I visited out in the sticks for the tube leg of the blog. That said, it still remains a pub by a theme park, over 15 minutes walk from a station at the end of a branch line served by only two trains an hour…

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Chessington North

Chessington North is my penultimate stop on the Chessington branch line. It opened on 28 May 1939 as the route was extended from Tolworth to Chessington South. The station design is very similar, if not identical to the preceding two stations on the branch. Although I have to say I think the curve of the platform shelters is slightly less pronounced here than it was at either Tolworth or Malden Manor.

This is not the right stop for Chessington World of Adventures, as a sign on the platform helpfully informs passengers. That said, it would be more of an adventure getting there from here…

The William Bourne, 273 Moor Lane, KT9 2BQ

The pub is just over 10 minutes walk from the station, heading straight along the main road south. The William Bourne is located near the slightly ominous sounding Bonesgate Open Space which gave the pub its former name.

The William Bourne is a Stonesgate pub, the branding of which is similar to a Wetherspoons and it does have the feel of one. The food is certainly in the ‘spoons pricing range too, with a burger and a drink for £6.25 as well as a two meals for £9.99 offer too, covering options like fish and chips and lasagne. Again, like a ‘spoons, there are different ‘nights’ during the week with themed food discounted, these run every day except Sundays. On Wednesdays for example its ‘Cantina Mexicana’. where you can get a ‘Latin American’ dish(mainly burritos really) and a drink for £5.99. They had three ales on tap on our visit, Deuchars, Doombar and Tribute, so some solid options there.

They have a sports licence – something you wouldn’t get in a Spoons – and the front of the pub was really busy with people watching the 4pm game on Sky Sports. The back area was slightly quieter with families having a Sunday meal out. They also have both a back garden and a small seated area outside the front of the pub. The decor here is fairly generic and inoffensive as you might expect, plus some old photos of the local area on the wall too.

The pub has various events on during the week, including ladies’ darts on a Monday mens pool on a Tuesday and a quiz on Thursdays. I thought only pubs in soap operas had ladies darts nights – a common occurrence in Eastenders back in the day. The pub is actually incredibly close to the border of Greater London, walk a minute further south down Moor Lane and you’re in Epsom and Ewell.

The William Bourne is an alright spot for a drink. It’s nothing special really, as you might expect from a chain, but it would do the job if you were in the area.

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Tolworth

Tolworth station first opened on 29 May 1938. Design wise, it is identical to the previous stop I visited, Malden Manor, with the same art deco architecture throughout. The station briefly served as the terminus of the branch line until its extension to the two Chessington stations almost exactly a year later on 28 May 1939.

Broadway Bar Cafe, 43-51 Tolworth Broadway, KT6 7DW

Tolworth also proved to be barren terrain for pubs. While it may be Zone 5, it still really didn’t feel like London at all here, something further emphasised by the 22-storey 1960s ‘Tolworth Tower’ which dominates the skyline here. Croydon aside, it is rare to see a building this tall in the suburbs. In January 2016, planning permission was granted for four additional towers to go here, so it looks like it will have some high-rise company soon.

The pub we ended up going for, ‘Broadway Bar Cafe’, is part of the low-rise building that is attached to the Tolworth Tower, on Tolworth Broadway a short walk north from the station. It has a curious look from the outside, a design which looks reminiscent of a concrete ’70s carpark.

Inside, the Broadway Bar is a big place. It’s one large open plan room with the bar at the back. The fact it was pretty quiet on our Sunday afternoon visit made it seem even more cavernous. Combined with the bland decor, squirly carpet and stark lighting, it felt like a bar you might encounter in an airport waiting lounge.

The Broadway Bar does food, and cheap food at that. Ham, egg and chips is just £4.95 while sausage & mash is only £5.25. They also do curries which are listed as ‘homemade specials’, a chicken curry complete with rice and poppadom comes in at £7.50. On the beer front I was pleasantly surprised they did three ales, Doombar, Greene King IPA and Bombardier Burning Gold. It will come as no shock that I went for the Doombar, it was an alright pint.

The pub has two pool tables, after all – they’ve got the space for it. They also had a quiz machine but after our recent success at the Earl Beatty, we decided it was best not to try our luck here too. They have a couple of TVs here and have Sky and BT Sports.

The Broadway Bar Cafe fits well with the rather soulless character of the building it is based in. While my pint here was ok, I wouldn’t advocate coming here unless you enjoy soaking up the experience of an airport lounge without having to get your passport out. There are also no other pubs round here, so if you do find yourself gasping for a drink in Tolworth, then you have no alternative but to check in to the Broadway.

(The pub has no website)

 

Malden Manor

Malden Manor is the start of my journey on the short Chessington branch line. The station opened on 29 May 1938, the same day as the line itself.  The station is a simple yet elegant piece of art deco architecture with its slightly curved platform shelters and clear, rectangular ticket hall. The latter could do with a lick of paint though. It was designed by James Robb Scott who was also behind the excellent station building at Surbiton from the same period.

There is also an old permit to travel machine lurking out the front of the station. For the uninitiated, these machines used to be commonplace at stations without ticket machines, allowing passengers to a pay a a small sum(as little as 5p) to get a ‘permit to travel’, allowing them to then purchase a ticket on board their train without fear of being fined. Of course, the flipside to this was that if you didn’t encounter a guard or a staffed station(in the days before barriers were commonplace), you could get yourself a fair distance for a pittance. As the vast majority of stations now have ticket machines, permit to travel machines are few and far between these days. Within Greater London, I doubt the number remaining is in double figures.

Woodies Freehouse, The Sports Ground, Thetford Road, KT3 5DX

Sadly there are no pubs in close proximity to the station. There used to be one at the roundabout just north of it, but this closed several years ago and is now a Coop supermarket. As a result, it is one of the longest walks to a pub that I’ve done for the blog, although am happy to say it is certainly worth it. It’s made longer by virtue of the fact you have to cross the A3 via an underpass that requires a detour. There is a fence in the central reservation so I don’t advocate trying the direct route!

Once you finally reach Woodies on the edge of a sports field, you won’t be disappointed. From the outside it looks like a clubhouse and has an enclosed marquee like area at the front of the pub. This leads to the main pub itself and its spacious interior. My photos don’t really do justice to the decor of Woodies which has bags of character. It has sporting memorabilia hanging from the every free space on the ceiling and plastered across the walls, including FA Cup and Wimbledon Final programmes spanning the decades. A personal highlight for me is a print of ‘The Cricket Match between Sussex and Kent at Brighton’,  from 1849 and showing a game of cricket between those two counties taking place near St.Peter’s Church.

Woodies is a Freehouse but was at once stage run by Youngs, and the breweries signature snap of the Queen Mother pouring a pint is still on the wall. It had six ales on a tap, a mixture of regular faces like London Pride, Youngs Bitter, Broadside and ESB plus a couple less familiar to me in the shape of Horizon Golden Ale and Wellons Tam O’Shanter. It also has a menu of good pub grub at affordable prices – all mains are under a tenner and I had a very tasty burger for £8.95, other options include lasagne for £8.95 and fish and chips for £9.95. As I’ve remarked before, with pub food prices edging ever higher, it is always reassuring to find places where you can still get a decent meal for under a tenner.

The pub was really busy on our Sunday afternoon visit, popular with all ages. At one point I thought we wouldn’t get a table but we found one in the corner by the cricket match picture I referred to. They have a few TVs and were showing the football, having both BT and Sky Sports. Woodies also has pub quizzes every other Monday and open mic nights every other Thursday.

Woodies is a great pub and is a true hidden gem, given its on a quiet road heading towards a sports pitch. It is well worth the schlep to get there – I will certainly be finding a reason to return before too long.

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