Wednesday Picture: Why we love London Overground


These photos from the 1970s show just how far things have come for the previously abandoned Kentish Town West station



Kentish Town West boarded up after a serious fire. A low point for the maligned North London Line, now reborn as the shiny London Overground network.
Kentish Town West boarded up after a serious fire. A low point for the maligned North London Line, now reborn as the shiny London Overground network.

Do you remember the Silverlink Metro? North London’s very own crappy train, itself a 90s makeover of the even more cruddy service that came before it.

Travelling on the old North London Line generally meant 45 minute waits on blowy, unstaffed platforms with no information, followed by a clattering, nausea-inducing ride on a filthy seat amidst a swirling sea of rubbish. And it wasn’t a real journey without the obligatory ten minute stops between stations.

It’s hard to overstate the positives of London’s Overground network. Not only has it polished up a hodgepodge of decrepit, unloved Victorian railways and returned them to a world class infrastructure for 21st century folk, the beloved orange line has had a transformational effect on the areas it now services.

Take a look at Kentish Town West station in the 1970s (above). Boarded up after a major fire, it sat abandoned like this for a decade. Last week’s pictures by photographer Jeremy Ross of the obliterated Prince of Wales Crescent serve as an eye-opening reminder of how neglected the immediate locale was back then.

Double buggy, 1970s style. And not an artisan coffee in sight under the railway arches
Double buggy, 1970s style. And not an artisan coffee in sight under the railway arches

Here, more of his shots reveal life at the time, as the original terraces that lined Prince of Wales Road are razed, making the current Princes Park hoo-ha feel like a minor (if 8-story high) footnote in the ever-shifting history of the landscape.

Kentish Town Station, as it was known for its first 57 years, opened on April 1st 1867. The change of name to Kentish Town West only took place in the 20s. Passenger trains ran from Richmond to Broad Street station, now buried beneath the City’s towering Broadgate complex.

The line has always been an important freight link across the capital, suffering a fatal crash between freight and passenger trains in 1861 just up near Gospel Oak. Controversially, it is still used to quietly transport lethal radioactive materials right through London from Sizewell nuclear power station at in Suffolk for reprocessing at Sellafield.

The rumble of heavy rolling stock at 4am has greeted local insomniacs for years. A sound that carries right over the Heath, it can skew picture frames and shake teacups off tables in the houses nearest the tracks.

Pre-Talacre construction work by the station. The block now houses a Costcutter and Renzo's coffee shop
Pre-Talacre construction work by the station. The block now houses a Costcutter and Renzo’s coffee shop

In 1976 it was announced that Kentish Town West would never open again, but despite this is did indeed get rebuilt and was serving passengers again in 1981.

The decision to create London Overground, an orbital rail network that niftily avoids the need to pass through the centre of town, has opened up an effortless passage to places such as Clapham, Crystal Palace and, of course, all east London’s hipster hotspots.

It’s unthinkable that Prince of Wales Road would be the same today, with its flourishing pubs, galleries and coffee shops, without the coming of the orange line.

The Overground stands as K-Town’s best slice of the Olympic legacy, responsible for regeneration here as it has been all around London. But best of all, its made the whole city infinately more navigable. Adventure begins up the stairs, where once only pigeons and rats held court in a burned out shell.

Condemned Victorian terraces in Chalk Farm in the 70s, the Overground line of the future passes behind
Condemned Victorian terraces in Chalk Farm in the 70s, the Overground line of the future passes behind

  • Show Comments

  • PrinceofWalesDaniel

    A wonderful article. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that if the HS2-HS1 link goes ahead, it will cause years of damage to the Overground service right in our area – just when capacity needs to be increased due to its popularity.

  • Nat

    And a brewery under the arches for a refreshing beer!
    Great article.

  • Ella Phileas Hog

    I sort of miss the old Silverlink, or ‘free train’ as it was known then. Crummy, irregular, and gratis, it was a secret to most people and indispensable to me as a teenager when travelling to Hackney.

  • Asta

    I remember travelling quite a lot on the old Silverlink. Once I got on a crowded train and saw that there was one seat available. I went over to sit on it and realised why it was empty – someone had been sick on the floor right in front of it. It then became quite amusing to watch people get on the train, eagerly head towards that seat and then stop in revulsion when they saw the vomit!

  • april

    I love this! More old pictures of K-Town please 🙂

  • Mike Martin

    I used to get the Silverlink every day to Gunnersbury, on the old yellow and blue trains. They were filthy, freezing in winter and boiling in summer, and always stank. I then changed job, didn’t have to use it any more and they instantly upgraded to the air-conditioned delights of today. Life, eh?

  • James

    Why on earth would anyone complain about the old Silverlink when it was COMPLETELY FREE?

  • RL

    And now we can’t afford a flat!

  • nina miranda (@ninaninotchika)

    Kentish Town circa 1978-85, I liked watching the trains going by… i’d watch them for hours, when I was supposed to be doing my homework- they were going somewhere else, leaving!!!
    …we lived on Ryland Road, you could see our house from the train, the factories alarms were always going off as kids threw bricks in their windows and nicked the bombay mix and Calipo’s…
    the Belle stars and the guy from madness lived on our Road- that was the best bit.
    The rest was shit. Skinheads and girls would chase us with Rocks in Talacre, there we stumbled into a little dog that had been murdered with a pair of scissors, once a double-decker bus was abandoned by Talacre for a week – we went inside and found cut hair on seats and used bags full of glue, we left the bus stumbling, laughing and screaming…
    We attended Rhyl school and got called “posh tramps’, and ‘Brazil-nuts and “Bubble” our friends were called “gorillas and monkeys”…or “ginger nut”.. the teachers were called “tramps”…
    but ‘Interaction’ at ‘Interchange studios’ (a community arts project) was great, disco dancing, and clowning on saturdays for the kids and once a workshop on Edward Lear…and a young CND party, i was loving it but my friends thought i was so wet that they kidnapped me and took me to a Greenland road (camden) warehouse party instead where they all stood looking cool and grumpy holding their red stripe, and i felt like a mouse.