A look at Cannon Street Underground Station


Regular readers who use Cannon Street station will be aware of the massive changes that have been taking place over the past few years. What was left if the original station frontage was replaced as a result of a bland property development in the 1960’s by corrupt architect John Poulson. This too has now been superseded with a striking new building.

As part of the redevelopment the entrance to Cannon Street underground station has been replaced. The modern design exemplifies the current thinking when it comes to underground station design. The only notable exception is that disabled access is provided for the westbound platform only. To have provided this for the eastbound platform as well would have been technically challenging and expensive and was probably beyond what could be reasonably demanded from the new property development in way of a section 106 contribution.

With the project nearly complete now seems to be good time to look at the new features and compare the situation today with old photos of what stood there before which are available on Wikipedia.

The 1960’s underground entrance. This was part of an era where the car was seen to be the future and underground use was declining. Even so it is difficult to believe that even then the minimal entrance provided would have been considered sufficient for usage it would get.

It is difficult to imagine a more awful design. The steep steps go immediately down. To go down the steps you have to step over an initial concrete step which is a trip hazard. The route from the station involves a sharp 180° turn and even negotiating getting past a newpaper vendor!

In the event of station closure potential passengers will be blocking the narrow pavement if not the road as well and unbelieveably someone thought it would be a good idea to put a pedestrian crossing here so that people waiting to cross would block this station exit. Do not be fooled by the lack of people. This picture was almost certainly not taken during the peak periods.

A building widely regarded as of no architectural merit whatsoever.

The 1960’s was also an era where the needs of pedestrians were ignored despite the vast numbers of them pouring out of the station in the morning rush hour. Cannon Street station had and continues to have the largest percentage of users (80%) of any London mainline station who continue their journey on foot. Clearly no significant effort was made to accommodate their needs in those days.

Note that for good measure a bus stop, which probably attracts queues in peak hours, is located right by the bottom of the steep narrow stairs from the main-line station.

We now look at the vast improvements that the latest redevelopment has brought. There are many lessons learnt but probably the most valuable is don’t put an underground entrance on the main street if you can avoid it. This is a something that Crossrail grasped before the designs for Tottenham Court Road station (west) were finalised. This will now have its entrance in Dean Street rather than in Oxford Street.

Once the decision to locate the entrance on a side street is made a lot of other desirable features become possible and we can see many of the advantages at Cannon Street.

The entrance has now been moved around the corner to Dowgate Hill. Note that the main-line station now has wide welcoming steps. The pavement outside the main-line station is now much wider. Whilst the metal City of London bollards are probably primarily there to help prevent vehicle-based terrorist attacks they also serve a useful second purpose in preventing delivery vehicles blocking space set aside for pedestrians. Because the main entrance is now on a quiet side street it become possible to provide a large pedestrian area in front of the station. In the event of an emergency evacuation there is space for people to safely congregate without blocking access for emergency vehicles on the main road. One downside of locating the entrance off the main road is that it is not so prominent so needs to be clearly identifiable. A number of large underground totems placed high up to be easily visible from a distance solves that problem.

The entrance is now much wider, more welcoming and it admits natural light. It is unlikely that space would have been available for such a wide entrance on Cannon Street itself. The only downside with this wide entrance would appear to be that there is no step free access …

.. but then you realise that the previous picture did not show the full width of the frontage. And to the right is the step free access (not yet in use). This entrance also has stairs leading directly to the concourse of the main-line station.

Inside the entrance is much brighter and less claustrophobic than before.

We include the obligatory picture of a lift. When commissioned this will take passengers to the main-line concourse. There is also another lift, quite well hidden, which is inside the paid area and goes from the underground concourse to the westbound platform.

When open this entrance on the main-line concourse will lead to stairs down to the underground. The upper level of the lift will also be here.

Written by Pedantic of Purley