Happy birthday to a very special London station.
It's the only London station that has two postcodes. Blackfriars spans the Thames, with one entrance on Bankside (SE1), and the other in the City (EC4V).
But it wasn't always thus. 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of the rebuild. Blackfriars has been here for a century and a half in one form or another, but it was only a decade ago that the Thameslink station was revamped to reach right across the water. Its famous photovoltaic roof was added at the same time.
"To mark the 10th anniversary," a press release tells us, "Thameslink has put together 10 top facts championing the station’s rich history". We decided to ignore those 10 facts and instead share our own favourite aspects of this prince among stations.
1. The views
An obvious one to start. The southbound platform offers one of London's best vistas, taking in St Paul's, the City towers, a string of bridges, distant Canary Wharf, the Shard, the Globe and Tate Modern. I've heard gasps of wonderment emanate from those stepping from a train. I gave one myself upon my return to central London after a year's pandemic hiatus. It never gets old.
Admittedly, it's only a good view if you're OK with skyscrapers. If you're of the "What have they done to my city... those awful, awful towers" persuasion, then you should keep your gaze very much to the river and the narrow, watery corridor to Tower Bridge.
The Costa coffee stall on the west-facing side of the station also has a memorable view, and of a different kind. Its seating area looks out over the red stumps of a former Blackfriars Railway Bridge, which we'll come onto shortly...
2. The solars
Besides the views, Blackfriars Railway Bridge is most notable for its roof of solar panels — the largest on a bridge anywhere in the world and enough to generate about half the station's energy needs. We could trot out the usual list of comparatives — size of 23 tennis courts; generate enough electricity for 30 million cups of tea per year — but to avoid cliche, let's just say that they cover almost exactly the same area as Blackfriars Railway Bridge.
3. The wall of destinations
While most of the bridge is a sparkly modern rebuild, one heritage feature takes pride of place in the main concourse. This wall of destinations was part of the original 1886 station, an ambitious list that includes many European destinations beside local commuter towns. Would you choose Lucerne or Sevenoaks? A jaunt to Vienna, or a day trip to Sheerness?
4. The 'Secret' Entrance
Anyone who uses Blackfriars knows there's an exit down to the South Bank. But did you know it's possible to get all the way down to the northern riverside without walking along any roads? To find it, get off the train and head north, but don't go down the escalators. Instead, carry on and bear right to find the upper-exit onto Queen Victoria Street. This route takes you onto some dirty old walkways built into an old BT office building. Follow them round and you'll reach a spiral ramp that curls down to the riverside (although our video only goes as far as the odd sculpture of some stacked heads). Not a lot of people know about it.
5. The unofficial waiting room
You might know it as the Blackfriar pub. We call it the Thameslink waiting room. This unforgettable art nouveau, Grade II listed pub is just 10 seconds from the station entrance (if you time the pedestrian crossing right). That's close enough to consider it a station pub, right?
6. The artwork
To be fair, the station could use a bit of an artistic uplift. For its many wonders, Blackfriars is very modern and functional, with few corners that could be called charming. One exception is the western exit onto the South Bank, which is decorated with this mural by Jimmy C (whose most famous work is the mural of Shakespeare a little downriver near Borough Market). It's also a popular busking pitch, so you get the full audio-visual experience.
7. The reused pillars
So, those pillars. You've no doubt noticed them yourself. They once formed the supports to an earlier incarnation of the railway bridge from 1864, whose disused spans were taken down in the 1980s. The pillars march out across the Thames in pairs, but it used to be triplets. The most-downriver pillars were subsumed into the structure of the modern bridge as part of the revamp (the beige-coloured structure at the extreme right of the above photo).
The remaining stumps are a bit of an enigma, causing many a passer-by to stop and puzzle at their purpose. We've long advocated turning them into a kind of archive for former Fourth Plinth commissions. Like this:
8. Pantographic antics
Pantographs are the articulated structures on top of trains that brush against the overhead wires to draw power. A much-photographed sign at Farringdon reminds drivers to "drop the pantograph", because the following stations use track power rather than overhead cables. Another sign at the next station, City Thameslink (see photo), is less funny because it doesn't sound as much like "drop your pants". But it's really important that drivers obey. If they head into Blackfriars with erect pantographs, then we're going to have a bit of an incident. And it has happened.
9. The station is impressive from beneath as well
It's easy to get down to the foreshore at Blackfriars. A handy set of steps can be found in front of Tate Modern. Once down there, take the trouble to wander over to Blackfriars Rail Bridge and look up. This under-appreciated view is as striking as that of any bridge on the Thames.
10. And finally... the nervous ticket machine
Head beyond the escalators to the 'secret' entrance we mentioned above, and you'll spot London's most timid ticket machine. So few people pass this way that it's hardly ever called upon to dispense a ticket. The machine has got so shy of human contact that it actually wets itself whenever anyone approaches.
We might be getting a bit desperate for original features of interest at this point.
All images by the author, except the one by Tim Dunn... and the one with the author in it, obviously.