Site Records

Site Name: Aldwych - Holborn branch (Piccadilly Line)

WC 2
OS Grid Ref: TQ308809

Sub Brit site visits October 1992, September 1994 & August 1995

[Source: Nick Catford]

The line from Aldwych to Holborn was first suggested in the late 1890's as part of a proposal to ease some congestion on the main line north of Kings Cross by building a roughly parallel deep tube line, extending southwards as far as Holborn. These plans were then incorporated into the 1899 Great Northern and Strand
Railway (GNSR) Act of Parliament; running from Wood Green to Stanhope Street on the north side of Aldwych, an area that was under development following massive slum clearance to the south of Holborn. Stations were to be built at Wood Green, Hornsey, Haringey, Finsbury Park, Holloway, Bingfield Street/York Road, Russell Square, Holborn and Strand (later to be re-named Aldwych)

Strand station entrance in late 1907
before opening.
Finance for the new line was difficult to find and eventually the scheme was taken over by an American sponsor, Charles Tyson Yerkes, who was already financing various other underground railway projects in London, one of which was the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus Railway. Yerkes decided that to make both schemes financially viable they should be incorporated into one line, which resulted in a further Act of Parliament in 1902 to extend the line from Piccadilly Circus to join with the GNSR at Holborn. At the northern end the line was to be cut back to Finsbury Park and at Holborn the line to Strand was to be built as a short spur. It was intended that some trains would terminate at Strand while others would run through Holborn terminating at Hammersmith.

A part of the Bill to extend southwards from Strand to The Temple was not pursued. Contractor Alexander Ross & Co began work on the line in 1902, with most of the tunnelling completed by 1904.

The short section from Holborn to Strand was, however, causing problems. On the surface the London County Council (LCC) were keen that the station should blend in with their new Kingsway development and underground the railway company were unhappy with the track and tunnel layout, which they felt, would prove restrictive. Changes were
proposed that required a 3rd Act of Parliament, which was passed on 4th August 1905. The Holborn - Strand line was to become self-contained with two platforms at Holborn instead of one as originally proposed. A single trailing junction would link the branch to the eastbound main line just north of the station to facilitate stock movements. The second platform would be a shorter bay platform, which would allow two simultaneous services to run between Holborn & Strand.

The final agreement with the LCC resulted in a relocation of the station a little to the south with the main station entrance designed by Leslie Green fronting onto The Strand and a secondary entrance round the corner in Surrey Street, both entrances being faced with the standard blood red terracotta tiling and incorporated into office buildings clad in Portland Stone. The station stood on the site of the Royal Strand Theatre (exactly occupying its footprint) whose programme was curtailed mid season to accommodate the new station. The platforms at The Strand were only 250' long, 100 feet shorter than most other platforms on the main line and they were only tiled along part of their length as the company only intended running short trains.

Their pessimism was confirmed shortly after the station opened on 30 November 1907, 11 months after the main line. The

service was initially worked by a two car train shuttling in the eastbound tunnel with a second train running in the westbound tunnel during rush hours. There was also a special theatre train leaving Strand at 11.13 p.m. calling at Kings Cross and Holloway before terminating at Finsbury Park.

Entrance on Holborn station on Kingsway

In its original configuration, the GNP&BR station at Holborn had four platforms (see plan above). Two platforms catered for through-running services, the other two platforms serving the Aldwych branch. One of these was a through platform whose track connected north of the station to the northbound track to Russell Square, the other was a bay platform where trains terminated.

To enable the southbound tunnel to avoid the branch tunnels to Aldwych, it was constructed at a lower level

to the other tunnels and platforms. The tunnel towards Covent Garden (at this point heading southwest) passes under the Aldwych tunnels.

Unlike other stations designed by Leslie Green for the GNP&BR, the station frontage of Holborn was constructed in stone rather than the standard red glazed terra-cotta. This was due to planning regulations imposed by the London County Council which required the use of stone for façades in Kingsway. The station entrance and exit sections of the street façade were constructed in granite and the other parts were built in the same style but using Portland stone.

Traffic was light from the opening day; bus and tram services in the area were good, both Temple and Holborn Stations were close enough to walk and the office development in the area did not progress as quickly as expected. On March 3rd 1908 and all day service was provided by a single car in the westbound tunnel only and a few months later the late night theatre
................................................................train was withdrawn.

Photo:Platform 1 at Aldwych in the 1950s
Photo from Lens of Sutton

Aldwych Station entrance in 1925

The line still failed to attract passengers and after 1912 the service ran from the eastern platform at Holborn to the Western Platform at Strand with a spare train being kept on the other line. In 1915 the station was renamed Aldwych and at the same time Charing Cross on the Hampstead Line was re-named Strand. Two years later the Sunday service was withdraw and the eastern line was abandoned altogether and the track was lifted. During the First World War the disused platform at Aldwych was used to store art treasures from the National Gallery. Between the wars, the

.............................................................................single car service was maintained

As the international situation deteriorated during the build up to the Second World War London's museums looked to safeguarding their treasures and as in WW1 tube tunnels figured in the authorities’ plans. On 30th June 1938 London Transport granted the government a licence for 'emergency storage of articles' at Dover
Street for the London Museum (Lancaster House). It agreed to provide the same facilities at Brompton Road for the Victoria & Albert Museum but this consideration was overruled by interests of national security.

In the same month, representatives of the British Museum, the Public Record Office and Office of Works made a joint inspection of the Aldwych branch, which led to an agreement that the museum and PRO would have joint custody of the tunnel for the duration of any coming war. The passenger service was suspended from 21st September 1940 to allow the station to be put to war time uses.

Photo:The Elgin Marbles being returned to the British Museum from Aldwych Station 1n 1948

Only a small proportion of the museums artifacts were destined for tube stations and others were dispersed to locations much further away in Wales and Northamptonshire. Nonetheless on 2nd September the famous Elgin Marbles (or Parthenon Sculptures), weighing 100 tons, were transported in crates by low-loader lorry to the London Transport depot at Lillie
Bridge, Kensington, and then transferred to railway wagons for their final journey to Aldwych. Later part of the British Museum library and various oriental antiquities joined these treasures and the public war memorial to the Machine Gun Corps was also housed in Aldwych station for safekeeping.As time passed doubts arose over the safety and suitability of tube tunnels for storage and in January 1941 Sir John Forsdyke of the British Museum informed the Office of Works that the tubes were not to be regarded as safe enough to house irreplaceable objects and serious damage might occur if they received direct hits from bombs weighing 1,OOOlb or more.

Shelterers at Holborn Station (click here to enlarge)
At Aldwych the museum’s occupancy was not exclusive in any case. Following a fact-finding visit on 20th September 1940 by Lord Ashfield, chairman of London Transport and Sir John Anderson, Minister of Home Security, part of the tunnel was handed over two days later to the local authority (Westminster City Council) for use as a public air raid shelter to relieve overcrowding at Holborn station. Spaces were provided in the station area and along 320 yards of running tunnel towards Holborn for 2,500 people until the shelter closed in May 1945.

Photo:a concert given by ENSA (Entertainments National Services Association) at to people sheltering ar Aldwych station on 9th October 1940.

In March 1941 events took their own course; press publicity forced the Borough of Westminster to take over much of the museum’s section of the tube in the eastern tunnel under Kingsway. Additionally it was discovered that partition walls erected for the air raid shelter were impeding the airflow around the museum artifacts and to avoid risk of deterioration all British Museum library material was removed to safer storage at Skipton Castle in Yorkshire. The Elgin Marbles remained behind, however, as did the war memorial. The latter was hoisted to the surface again on 5th April 1946, the railway line and

Shelters at Aldwych Station in December 1940 - Click here to enlarge
Aldwych station reopening on 1st July 1946.

The Elgin Marbles themselves enjoyed something of a charmed existence during this period. Although the millionaire art dealer Lord Duveen of Millbank had funded a new gallery for the Marbles in 1938, this was not completed before the outbreak of war. The monuments’ storage underground was fortunate as the gallery built specially for them was badly damaged by
enemy bombing and, of all the old Greek and Roman galleries on the ground floor of the museum, the old Elgin Room was the only serviceable accommodation. It was to here that the marbles were returned, being retrieved from Aldwych station starting 25th November 1948 and attracting considerable press (and public) attention, as they were trundled on trucks through the passages of the station. It was only in 1962 that they were finally installed in the reconstructed Duveen Gallery.

Click here for Further information and pictures of the Aldwych branch

[Source: Nick Catford]

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