Oddities Of London's Tube And Train Platforms

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 12 months ago
Oddities Of London's Tube And Train Platforms

Looking for something to keep you occupied while waiting for your next train? London is rife with platform oddities — from numbers that don't add up, to commuters standing eerily still...

Odd platform numbers

An old platfrom
Part of the old platform 2 at West Croydon - the station now only has platforms 1,3 and 4. Image: Londonist

King's Cross is home to the world's best-known platform anomaly. You know, the one with the weird number. Yes, that's right, platform 0. It exists because it was opened later than the other platforms, and seeing as it was next to platform 1, would've been more confusing to call it platform 12. What's that? Ah yes, come to think of it, there is another platform oddity at King's Cross, namely Platform 9 ¾ — which is less of a platform, more of a photo opportunity outside a gift shop. (The sawn-off luggage trolley has moved about quite a bit, and once upon a time, was actually on a platform here.)

West Croydon station has three platforms, numbered 1, 3 and 4. There used to be a platform 2, but this was nixed with the closing of the line to Wimbledon in 1997, and used to extend platform 3 instead. For similar reasons, London Bridge had no platform 7 for a long time, although since the station's 2018 redevelopment, it's been reinstalled. Just as well really, because the station's already a logistical nightmare.

Abandoned platforms

A disused platform with lots of greenery on it
Barbican is one of many disused platforms you'll spot in London. Image: M@/Londonist

As London's platform topography shifts with the tides of change, so there is always an abundance of abandoned platforms — from Acton Town to Morden. at the latter, TfL staff have turned the disused platform into a miniature oasis popping with hot pink orchids, potatoes, hot peppers and plums. Barbican's erstwhile stop (pictured above) has been given new life with greenery too. Elsewhere, the platforms of the former King's Cross Thameslink station, unsettlingly bark at you 'Do not alight here', even though you were minding your own business passing through on a Thameslink train, and had no such inclination.

See also: a slew of ghosts stations, where abandoned platforms come with the territory.

Unique roundels

A map of roundel oddities
Click to enlarge

Special roundels come and go with the seasons; poppy, Pride, etc. However, some unique roundels are in it for the long haul: think the faux-vintage diamond-shaped one at Moorgate; the red disc roundel of Covent Garden (Ealing Broadway's platforms 8 and 9 have some of these too); and Pimlico's one-of-kind lightbox design. At Southall, you'll clock the only roundel featuring Punjabi Gurmukhi script. At another Elizabeth line station, Hanwell, you'll find a sign for 'Hanwell and Elthorne', which technically doesn't exist; the reason it's there is altogether unsavoury.

We created a map of London's alternative roundels — click on the image above to have a proper explore.

The hidden river of Sloane Square

A tube train rushing through a platform, underneath the hidden river
There is a river in this photo. Image: Londonist

It's always worth looking up when standing on a platform; at Whitechapel you'll see tube trains rattle over the Overground, while at a smattering of tube station platforms you'll be rewarded with the glorious sight of roundel clocks.

A particularly well-known platform oddity hides in plain sight at Sloane Square, where the culverted River Westbourne sloshes over the tracks in a storm drain (that's the riveted green thing in the image above).

Look down too: maybe you'll capture a couple of mice beating the s**t out of each other, as Sam Rowley did in his Wildlife Photographer of the Year photo, 'Station squabble'.

Doors with weird signs on them

The strange doors of Gloucester Road and Embankment. Images: M@/Londonist

Descending into the subterranean nether regions of the London Underground, you could be forgiven you're on the cusp of a parallel dimension; there are enough strange looking portals to suggest this. Among the strangest we've stumbled upon are the 'Private Rod' doors of Embankment (who is this Private Rod? Does he report to Inspector Sands?) and the 'Hobbit doors' on the platform at Gloucester Road (see image above for both of these). The more you look, the more you'll spot these platform doors. Keep an eye out and report back.

The art gallery platform of Gloucester Road

A barmy scene of huge fried eggs on a tube platform
Now that's art. Image: M@/Londonist

Sticking with Gloucester Road, this west London tube station lays claim to being the city's artiest. A disused platform here is commandeered as an exhibition space, and surely the most egg-cellent installation so far was Heather Phillipson's 'my name is lettie eggsyrub' — a barmy arrangement of huge eggs, representing the fragility of life. Coming up in 2023, expect eerie Alice in Wonderland energy, courtesy of Monster Chetwynd.

Of course, the entire tube network is a work of art — keep 'em peeled for everything from Mark Wallinger's Labyrinth series to a Harry Beck tube map at Finchley Central to the storytelling tiles of the Victoria line to Southfields' yearly tennis transformation.

The statues of Brixton

A new life-size bronze figure at Brixton railway station was unveiled today (Wednesday 25, January). Entitled ‘Platforms Piece – The Return’, the statue ‘Joy II’ depicts former Brixton resident Joy Battick, aged 62, and faces her original statue ‘Joy’, created in 1986 by artist Kevin Atherton. ‘Joy’ is one of three listed statues known as ‘Platforms Piece’, which were reinstated at the station today following restoration by Southeastern. -
Four commuters are going nowhere fast at Brixton mainline station.

See the same old commuters in their same old platform spots, day in, day out? If you use Brixton mainline station, you'll certainly have that feeling; four of the commuters here are sculpted from bronze, and aren't going to be hopping on a Southeastern service anytime soon. The sculptures (collectively known as Platforms Piece) are based on real Brixtonites, and in fact two of the statues are of the same person 35 years apart. Read more about them here.

Odd information boards

A departure board with red LEDs
This train terminates in Hell, sorry Wimbledon, I meant Wimbledon. Image: M@/Londonist

Live departure boards are always good for an oddity or two, whether it's intentional (like the broadcasting of live football results) or certainly-not-intentional (like the next train to Battersea Power Station due in 797 minutes).

Though departure board curios tend to be fleeting, head to the Circle/District/H&C Edgware road station, to find one that's always there. The digital display boards here glow up not in the standard TfL orange, but an ominous, nay, hellish red. Suddenly, we're not so keen to go to Wimbledon after all...

Platforms with history hiding in plain sight

A young girl looks across the tracks at a piece of Roman wall on show on a tube platform
Ever spot the piece of Roman wall in Tower Hill tube station? Image: M@/Londonist

Every tube station has a story to tell, and you can often find clues of their past lurking here and there; think tiles showing old station names, or signal boxes put out to pasture.

However, sometimes the history on tube platforms harks back further in time. If we revisit Barbican's abandoned platform, for instance, three 19th century parish boundary markers are built into the wall.

On the platform at Tower Hill, meanwhile, you can spot a little square of the Roman London Wall peeking out — a nice little teaser for what you'll discover above ground.

We've probably only scratched the surface of London's platform oddities — and if you've got a really good one to share, tell us in the comments below, or email will@londonist.com

Last Updated 27 February 2023

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