Rush Hour At Liverpool St Station
On Blue Monday, I present my account of the mighty phenomenon that is Rush Hour at Liverpool St Station, complemented by the pictures of Contributing Photographer Simon Mooney, who passes through regularly at that time of the morning and always carries his camera.
At seven, the dark streets of Spitalfields were empty, save the traders waiting outside the market in the rain, yet by then the first commuters were already crossing Liverpool St Station, descending from the trains and walking purposefully into the underground. At this hour before dawn, I found the station hushed and barely anyone spoke, walking swiftly and preoccupied, many were almost sleepwalking – as if they still inhabited the dreams of the night, as if the moment of awakening would be the point of arrival at their destination.
More trains were arriving from eastern counties, each one announced by a loud rattle, thump and hiss, reverberating throughout the cavernous station before another wave of passengers in dark raincoats, and clutching umbrellas and briefcases, poured out into the luminous white concourse. Among a crowd seemingly still intent upon their nocturnal journeys, just a few runners and cyclists punctuated the muted rhythm of the multitude.
Lined up along one side of the vast space, brightly-lit kiosks sold hot drinks – but everyone passed them by, heading for the far end where the escalator creaked, at this hour serving only to transport travellers upward and out of the station. Streaming diagonally from the north-east, where the mainline trains arrive, the primary migration courses towards the City of London at the the south-west corner, drawing all as if by some magnetic force.
Arriving from Walton-on-the-Naze, Thorpe-Le-Soken, Turkey St, Brimsdown, Wivenhoe, Seven Sisters and Silver St, after eight o’clock, the current of humanity is swollen and grown animated, no longer pacing in unison, with more chatting and the occasional smile. The day has broken and the bare murmur of an hour earlier has become the hum of a swarm, teeming through the station. Standing in midst of the current of people when it peaks at eight-thirty, you cannot see through the crush to either end of the station. The momentum of the crowd is palpable, acting upon you as it flows around you like water round a stone in a river. You feel as invisible as a ghost.
You see the masses but you notice the individuals, drawing your attention by a private smile or a fleeting scrap of conversation, and you imagine the dark bedrooms and the alarms that snatched them prematurely from their slumbers, the hot showers that wakened them and the hasty walks to get them to the station.
For a hundred and forty years and throughout the twentieth century, this surging current of humanity has coursed through Liverpool St Station, growing in force. A phenomenon to compete with any migration the natural world has to offer, whether eels, or geese, or even ants, the spectacle of this daily wonder is a fleeting spectre that ebbs and flows, but is entirely incidental to the participants in transit who protect their personal equanimity by resisting the presence of their fellow travellers.
Yet I spot a group of school children in high spirits who are immediately awestruck by the sight of it – as I am – and to them it evokes the magic of the fairground or the carnival, momentarily liberating them to misbehave and play. They recognise the truth of it. With elaborate decorative arches towering overhead, the station is a theatre staging a great epic, performed twice daily, with an infinite cast of characters filling the stage in a chorus of which every one is a leading character, and the drama is called ‘Rush Hour At Liverpool St Station.’
Photographs copyright © Simon Mooney
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