Tag Archives: abandoned stations

Give my regards to Broad Street

As regular readers will know, I’m fascinated by abandoned railway stations. Almost as fascinating, though, are the dilapidated ones, the ones that haven’t changed since some time in the early 1980s, shabby, echoey and grubby. Trains are few and far between, as are passengers. I don’t know why I love them so much, maybe it’s because such places feel undisturbed, like I have some sort of privileged access to them. Or maybe it’s just because I’m unbelievably strange and perverted.

For these reasons and more, I wish I’d had the opportunity to visit the terminus at Broad Street. Poor, poor Broad Street. If the London termini were people, Broad Street would be a pitiful drunk sitting in a bar telling everyone how he “used to be somebody.”

It started out so well. Broad Street was originally built by the cumbersomely-named East & West India Docks & Birmingham Junction Railway. The aim of this company was, as its name suggests, basically to make its fortune transporting goods from the Docklands to the London & Birmingham Railway. In this, it succeeded admirably. An early amendment was to change its name to the snappier “North London Railway.”

Commuter traffic was initially a secondary consideration for the NLR – they ran passenger trains fo’ sho’, but this was more of a “we might as well” measure than anything else.  To the surprise of the company directors, though, it turned out that their passenger trains into Fenchurch Street (run by arrangement with the London and Blackwall Railway, who owned that terminus) were very popular indeed. This despite the fact that the NLR took a ridiculously circuitous route around London before reaching Fenchurch Street, no less than 44 miles.

It was therefore decided that the NLR could afford to take a gamble on getting more direct access to the City. Particularly since the London and North Western Railway (of which the aforementioned London & Birmingham Railway was now part) offered to stump up much of the cost in exchange for use of such an extension.  The LNWR also supplied a designer, their own engineer, William Baker. The site of the new terminus was to be at the end of a branch from Kingsland, on the junction of Liverpool Street and Broad Street.

Construction was not without its difficulties. Building through crowded East London necessitated the demolition of many crowded streets – the NLR undertook to provide a cheap workers’ train from Dalston, but those forced out decided they’d rather walk and just moved to the neighbouring streets, making them yet more crowded. Excavation revealed some sort of medieval mass grave whose origins were not known – one theory had it that, as one of Bedlam’s several incarnations was nearby, this had been where its dead were buried.

Nevertheless, in 1865 the station opened. Alan A. Jackson describes the architectural style as “really rather horrid,” which I think is perhaps going a bit too far. The Illustrated London News was more charitable, describing the style as “mixed Italian.” Perhaps it is a bit over-elaborate for the size of the terminus. Oddly, we don’t know who the architect was – presumably William Baker had assistance, but from whom is unrecorded.

One ingenious feature to make the most of the very expensive land was to build the goods depot requested by the LNWR under the station, with wagons lowered by a hydraulic lift. As a result, whatever architectural merits the station may have lacked, it was undeniably an efficient use of space, taking up a mere 2½ acres in total.

The NLR nicknamed the station its “happy afterthought,” for it was immediately popular with commuters and rapidly became the third-busiest terminus in London. At the beginning of the 20th century, more than one train a minute left the station, serving such varied destinations as Richmond, Chalk Farm, Bow, Watford, Kingston, High Barnet, Kew, Potters Bar, Mansion House, Kensington Olympia and even Birmingham.

Unfortunately, this prosperity was not to last. As it turned out, the success of Broad Street was largely based on the fact that it had a monopoly on fast commuter trains. As the Tube, tram and bus networks expanded, so people turned to those instead. The NLR desperately advertised their service as “the open-air route,” but no one fell for it.

In 1911, when passenger numbers reached their lowest since the station’s opening, the LNWR decided that electrification was in order – as has been mentioned before, this was seen as terribly clean and modern. This did seem to slow the decline considerably, but services never entirely recovered.

During the Second World War, many of the East London stations were severely damaged by enemy action, and it was decided after the end of the conflict that it wasn’t worth fixing them up again. The service to Poplar (which was rather unPoplar with passengers) was cut altogether. Broad Street itself had been hit, and again, it was not considered worth repairing.

The main station building was abandoned altogether in the 1950s and replaced by a couple of smaller buildings on the concourse. Traffic at this stage was so poor that only two staff were needed for the entire terminus.

In 1963 British Railways declared their intention to close the place altogether, but were thwarted by local opinion. Instead, BR carried out what is known in railway circles as “closure by stealth,” i.e. not officially closing the station but instead making the station so useless as to render it undesirable to keep open. To this end, services were diverted or cut altogether and maintenance was cut to the bare minimum. Part of the overall roof was removed in 1967 which, as you can see above left, gave the station a half-complete look. By the 1980s, only one platform was needed to accommodate the pathetically small number of passengers. Demolition of the rest began in 1985 and final closure came in 1986.

Although the North London Railway mostly survives as part of the Overground and Docklands Light Railways, nothing remains of old Broad Street. The Broadgate Estate was built on top of it, so it couldn’t be reopened even if anyone wanted to (and they don’t).

And it showed such promise.


Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, East End and Docklands, Geography, History, London, London's Termini, Politics, Shoreditch, The City, Transport

The Necropolitan Line

As I’ve said before, Waterloo Station is a bit of a sprawling mess. You’ve got the main station, then you’ve got the Underground station, then you’ve got Waterloo East, and then you’ve got the abandoned station – sorry, did I not mention the abandoned station until now? Well, now, that’s an interesting one.

Come out of Waterloo Station, on to Westminster Bridge Road, and you’ll the entrance to it, pictured left. If you get a train out of Waterloo heading towards Wimbledon, and you look outside of the left-hand window, you can see where the railway branched off the main line to serve this station.

So what was the point of this station? Why was it kept separate? Why was it abandoned? Well, the traffic this station was designed for was, how can I put this? One-way. This was the London terminus of the Brookwood Necropolis Railway, the first regular train service for the dead. Yes, it’s another entry on the thorny subject of death in London! Hurrah!

As I mentioned in the entries above, 19th century Londoners were rather preoccupied with the subject of death and burial – not out of some morbid streak (although there was that too), but out of practicality. The fina, once-and-for-all solution to the burial issue was proposed by Richard Sprye and Sir Richard Broun – the creation of a 500-acre site at Woking, out in leafy Surrey. This was to be the Brookwood Necropolis, and it was envisioned to not only take care of all London’s corpse-disposal needs at the time, but to provide dying space for the entire city, forever.

And so in 1852, the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company was set up – Broun and Sprye weren’t involved. However, the London and South Western Railway were. That company served Woking on their line to Portsmouth, and so they backed the concept on the grounds that they could make a pretty penny running funeral trains. Actually, they reckoned £40,000 a year was a sensible estimate.

The Necropolis was opened in 1854, despite objections from the people of Woking and Waterloo. The LSWR built a branch running off the main line into the cemetery, with two stations – one for those belonging to the Church of England and the other for Nonconformists. The station at Waterloo was originally built in York Road, a single-platform affair privately owned by the London Necropolis Company. The Lost Property office doesn’t bear thinking about.

The LSWR originally anticipated three trains each way, even building special hearse vans to carry the bodies (neatly side-stepping the question of whether they should be classed as passengers or freight). As it happened, they only ran one per day. Philosophers might claim that death is the Great Leveller, but railway executives think rather differently. Therefore, each train was divided into First, Second and Third Class segments, as well as separate accommodation for Anglicans and Nonconformists. And yes, the segregation by class was carried over into the hearse vans. I can’t speak for the Victorians, but it seems to me that if you’re in a position to worry about the class your coffin is riding as you make your way to your funeral, you probably have other things on your mind.

Waterloo Station was rebuilt at the beginning of the 20th century, and that most terminal of termini was demolished to make way. The presently-surviving terminus at 121 Westminster Bridge Road was built in its place, larger than the old one to enable coffins to be loaded on to trains away from the eyes of the funeral party. It also incorporated state-of-the-art hydraulic lifts and fancy decor befitting this most solemn service. Not befitting the solemnity was the fact that railwaymen had bestowed the nickname of “The Stiffs Express” on the trains, one hopes out of earshot of mourners.

Oddly enough, though people in London were no closer to immortality, demand for the service dropped as the years went on, and by the 1930s there were only a couple of trains running per week. In 1941, a German bomb took out the station, and it was decided that it wasn’t worth rebuilding. The service was brought to an end, with funeral parties (and coffins) from then on travelling on regular trains to the main station at Brookwood.

Thus came to an end to what might have been the strangest train service in London. Perhaps the vision of Broun and Sprye was never quite realised as they had hoped, but at least some part of the old station survives. A monument to the deceased, as it were.


Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Commuter belt, History, London, London's Termini, Transport, Waterloo and Southwark


Some of you South London folk might be familiar with the Tramlink, the (relatively) new service that links Wimbledon with Croydon for some reason. It appears to have been a success, and a number of other tram and light rail schemes have been proposed for the 21st century. Some are more realistic than others, and my proposal for a tram running from my front door to the Tube station has sadly been shot down, despite the obvious benefits to the local community.

At this point, I usually like to go all wise and mysterious, tapping my nose. So if you could imagine that I’m doing that, that would help me a lot.

Anyway. Ah, but did you know that this is far from the first tram in London? The first trams were horse-drawn and appeared in 1860, introduced by George Francis Train, an American eccentric and the possible inspiration for Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg character. Experiments in steam, cable haulage and battery power all made their appearance, but gradually electricity from overhead wires or a conduit between the rails became the norm. By the First World War, there was an extensive network of trams serving the suburbs of London.

Alas, the heyday of the trams was to be short-lived. By the 1930s, it was clear that motor buses were the way forward. They cost less to maintain, they didn’t need a complicated infrastructure and they were far more flexible than the trams. Admittedly they could carry fewer passengers, but this was seen as a small price to pay. There was also, it’s fair to say, a certain amount of politics involved. In 1933, trams were taken over by London Transport, who ploughed the profits they made into repaying debt rather than investing in improvements in the network. They favoured Underground trains and the not-much-more-flexible trolleybus. From the 1930s onwards, the system was run down and closed and on 6th July 1952, the last tram for forty-eight years ran in London.

London trams preserved at Acton. The one in the foreground is known as the Feltham type. Next to it is an E/3.

And that was it for the old tramways. Such tramlines as remained were removed, to the delight of cyclists across the city. Some bits lingered longer than others – Fulwell Bus Garage had a number of surviving tracks until a few years ago. A number of tram buildings survive, some as bus depots and others put to other uses. I recommend Tooting Tram and Social, a pub, to all tram fans. As its name implies, it used to be a tram shed. It retains a number of the old London Transport fittings and, since being refurbished, you have almost zero chance of getting stabbed in there. A great improvement on the old days.

There is one virtually unchanged reminder of the old days in Holborn. I speak, of course, of the Kingsway subway.

Kingsway Subway, Saturday 12th December 2009, 5.30am. Yes, it was a good party now you come to mention it.

This opened in February 1906 and ran from Holborn to the Embankment, designed to link the Northern and Southern parts of the London County Council’s tramway system together. Putting it underground would, of course, minimise disruption to traffic. What’s less well known is that there were a number of other proposals for tram subways at the time. One would run from Victoria to Marble Arch, another from Aldgate to Knightsbridge and one from St Paul’s to Aldersgate. These would have linked up, and the Kingsway subway would not have reached the Embankment but rather would have taken a sharp right along the Strand. Sadly (depending on your point of view), none of these plans were implemented.

The single-decker tramcar in the middle is an F class, designed for use in the subway.

It was originally only able to take single-deck tramcars, as pictured left, of the F and G class. By the 1920s it was becoming clear that this was a bit stupid, as double-decker cars were the norm. Between 1930 and 1931, the subway was enlarged to allow the new E/3 double decker cars (one of which may be seen above) to work through.

Its fortunes faded with those of the rest of the network, and the last regular service took place on 5th April 1952, just after midnight. This wasn’t quite the end, however. Part of the tunnel was converted for motor use and opened in 1964 as the Strand Underpass. Another part was used to house London’s flood control HQ prior to the opening of the Thames Barrier. The southern end, which came out beneath Waterloo Bridge, is now a bar.

Sticker on the pavement on Kingsway.

The northern end, however, is very much intact. It has been used as a store in its time, but is now grade-II listed. The tram station is still in place and, as you can see in the night time photo above, the tracks are still in situ. It underwent some refurbishment this year, and hosted an art installation called ‘Chord’ by Conrad Shaw. It remains innocuous and obscure, but it’s good to see that it’s been saved for the foreseeable future. It’s partly protected by the fact that it’s virtually useless as anything but an abandoned tunnel. A fine venue for filming or exhibitions, but no use as a transport link or for conversion into anything else. Excellent.

Further reading

http://www.measure.org.uk/show11/ex_11_open.html – Chord

http://underground-history.co.uk/kwupass.php – A walk through the underpass.


Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Arts, Bloomsbury, Buildings and architecture, History, London, Transport, Waterloo and Southwark, West End