Holloway Road Station on the Piccadilly Line is an unremarkable place. It is inconvenient for most places except the nearby London Metropolitan University. The stop before or after Arsenal, but closed to fans on match-days. It’s one of only two stations on the northern (or is it eastbound?) section of the Piccadilly Line with lifts. And yet it was nearly so different. If the station’s Edwardian construction had gone to plan, this unassuming N7 landmark could have been home to a unique engineering achievement.
The clues can be found in the London Transport Museum Depot in Acton. Dumped down an aisle of jumble and boxes are some dust-covered piles of chains, steps and tangled metal. Don’t pass by so fast: this is the remains of what was supposed to be the world’s first spiral escalator.
And there the trail dries up. Labels attached to the wreckage offer a photo of workmen, and a sketch of what the escalator would have looked like. The picture resembles a DNA double helix. Escalator buffs suggest that Jesse W Reno, inventor of the escalator, was the man behind the designs. Christian Wolmar, in his superb Subterranean Railway history of London and the Underground, notes that the idea was not a success and that, it seems, was that. The construction was abandoned and left to rot until found a few years ago. No spiral escalator, no grand achievement – but at least someone gave it a try.
UPDATE 7/1/10: Visitors to this site from District Dave’s London Underground Site have pointed the way to this comprehensive discussion about the spiral escalator, including some fascinating photographs and the news that sections of it are being restored. If you’re intrigued by what’s here, the site is well worth a look. And is you’re a District Dave regular passing through, thanks for stopping by. And don’t forget to give Holloway Road station a respectful doff of the cap the next time you’re passing by. It’s proof that London is full of interest.