The Circle Line is a bit of an odd one. It has very little of its own track and no stations to call its own – it just slips in where it can between District and Metropolitan trains. It’s not so much a “line” as a “route”.
It was originally built by the Metropolitan Railway (now the Metropolitan Line) and the Metropolitan District Railway (now the District Line). The idea was to create a circular route that would link the main overground termini at Kings Cross, St Pancras, Victoria, Paddington, Liverpool Street, Charing Cross and Cannon Street. Waterloo would later be linked in via the Waterloo and City Line. Fenchurch Street and the now-closed Holborn Viaduct weren’t served, but were a short walking distance from stations that were. Broad Street, to which Paul McCartney gave his regards two years before its closure (coincidence?), was right next door to Liverpool Street. Marylebone wasn’t served for the simple reason that it did not exist in 1884, when the Circle was completed.
It was, for a long time, known as the Inner Circle. There was also an Outer Circle, a Middle Circle and, briefly, a Super Outer Circle.
The Inner Circle was intended to be operated jointly by the Metropolitan and District Railways. The major problem with this plan was that the Metropolitan and District Railways hated each other’s guts. So much so that the District Railway at one point built its own track between High Street Kensington and Gloucester Road just so they wouldn’t have to use the Metropolitan Railway’s track. Given how relatively strapped for cash the District was at the time, you can see just how strong their hatred was.
It took thirty years to finish the Circle off, and problems arose almost immediately. The circle ran in two directions, trains going one way being controlled by the Metropolitan and those going the other way by the District. The companies had separate ticket offices and issued separate tickets.
Now, you may have spotted a flaw in this policy, and the passengers certainly did. Let’s say you want to go from South Kensington to Sloane Square. If you go to the District ticket office, they’d issue you with a ticket to travel one stop on their train. But if you go to the Metropolitan office, they’ll issue you with a ticket sending you right the way around the Circle, a total of 23 stops and a journey time ten minutes short of an hour.
If that wasn’t stupid enough, an incident that took place at South Kensington sounds like something out of Thomas the Tank Engine. There was a siding used by both companies whose ownership was disputed. Rather than, say, take the matter to Court, the District Railway decided to be proactive, and chained a train to the siding.
The Metropolitan tried to haul the train away with locomotives of their own, but were unsuccessful, and the dispute continued for several days. None of my sources state the outcome, but I like to imagine the Fat Controller told the District locomotive that it was a very naughty engine.