Site Records

Site Name: Brompton Road Station & London's
Anti-Aircraft Defences

Brompton Road (Junction with Cottage Place)
London, SW3
OS Grid Ref: TQ292792

Sub Brit site visit 2008

The station was closed on 4th May 1926 at the start of the General Strike but when other stations reopened, Brompton Road (and York Road north of Kings Cross) remained closed.  The company hoped that the station could remain closed but Brompton Road got a reprieve after local MP William Davidson made an appeal in the House of Commons to the Minister of Transport to have the station re-opened stating that local residents and traders were badly inconvenienced as were those wishing the visit the nearby Brompton Oratory

Brompton Road booking office in October 1927
and the parish church. The Minister assured the Honorable Member that the station would be re-opened.

The station did indeed re-open on 4th October 1926 without a Sunday service (hardly convenient for the Brompton Oratory!) but after further intervention from Sir William, the Sunday service was eventually reinstated but the reprieve was to be short lived. Many trains continued to pass through Brompton Road without stopping and by 1929 alternate train weren’t
stopping during the week although at weekends most trains called at the station apart from some early afternoon and late night services.

Since 1909 passengers had become very familiar with trains "passing Brompton Road" and in 1928 the phrase was used as a title for a new West End farce. The show starred Marie Tempest but despite the title the play had little to do with Brompton Road station and revolved around the social ambitions of the central character, Dultitia Sloane, who lived near Brompton Road, and was played by Miss Tempest. Dultitia blamed her lack of society friends on the fact that every other train failed to call at her nearest station, and therefore potential hosts and hostesses overlooked her when it came to delivering party invitations. The production made its debut in Brighton on 11th June 1928, before moving to the Criterion, Piccadilly Circus, where it opened the following month. The reviewers were not exactly ecstatic about it, saying that the storyline was weak, and that it would be best enjoyed “after a good dinner”! Passing Brompton Road’ proved reasonably successful however and ran for 174 performances.

The early 1930’s was a time of recession and in order to relieve unemployment Government capital was made available to extend the tube network including the Finsbury Park – Hammersmith line. The scheme included an extension northwards to Cockfosters and westwards to Hounslow and Uxbridge.

As part of the modernisation and expansion programme the closure of uneconomic stations was expected. This also served to reduce running times from the suburbs to the centre of London. York Road and Down Street stations closed in 1932 but surprisingly Brompton Road initially remained open until modernization was completed at nearby Knightsbridge which was provided
with new entrances at both ends of the station each equipped with escalators. The improvements at the station left little demand for Brompton Road as the new west entrance at Knightsbridge reduced its catchment area.  The station closed after the last train on 29th July 1934 with the new entrance to Knightsbridge opening the following day.

Photo:One of the surviving name panels; there were three panels fired into the tiles on each platform.
Photo by Nick Catford

At the outbreak of war in 1939, many abandoned tube stations (and those that were still under construction) were adapted as deep level public air raid shelters but the Government had different plans for Brompton Road.

The convenient location of the station with its combination of underground accommodation and a two-storied building above ground made it an attractive location. It was no surprise, therefore, that two government departments showed interest in using it as secure accommodation, but since neither body was aware of the other's intentions the negotiations soon descended into tragic comedy.

The Office of Works and Public Buildings was interested in storing art treasures from the nearby Victoria and Albert Museum there, whilst the War Office had other designs on the place. Ostensibly His Majesty's Office of Works had prior claim, having negotiated with the LPTB (The London Passenger Transport Board took over the London Electric Railway Company in 1933) to use the tube station. Independently, the Commander 1st Anti-Aircraft Division, Territorial Army, had held a meeting with the LPTB on 24th May 1938 with a view to locating the Inner Artillery Zone gun operations room (GOR) in the lift shaft of a disused station. Brompton Road was ideal since the building above the station could serve as quarters for the personnel manning the operations room in war conditions.

Photo:Brompton Road station entrance in 1925

Two months later, the Board agreed to lease or sell the property to the Army, at the same time confirming a licence to the Victoria & Albert Museum assuming that joint occupancy would not cause problems. This wasn’t to be however and when word reached the Museum in September 1938 that the station might be needed for storing explosives or ammunition, it complained that this would make the station totally unsuitable for safe storage of national art treasures. An immediate refutation from the War Office stated its sole intention was to use the premises as Operations (Control) Room for the guns of the Inner London Defences, 1st Anti-Aircraft Division and a subsequent letter to the Office of Works apologised, but the scheme had to proceed in the interests of national security.

In justification, the OC (Officer Commanding) 1st AA Divisional Signals stated, "Brompton Road station is ideally situated and a most suitable site for the Gun Operations Room of the Inner Artillery Zone". He had investigated the question of provision of communications to the station with the telecommunications department of the GPO and ascertained that it would be possible to connect Brompton Road station by cable through the tube to the GPO cables in the underground system. "Safety of lines will thus be assured." Accordingly the War Office intended to purchase the westbound platform and the lift shafts. "The lift shafts are suitable for the construction of three or more operations rooms and an apparatus room; these rooms can be connected from the spiral staircase. The LPTB is prepared to build the operations and apparatus rooms and to make the ground level bombproof."

Photo:During WW2 the platform area at Brompton Road was walled off with a small section of platform opposite one of the cross passages to allow military personnel
to disembark from a passing train if required.
Photo by Nick Catford

Thus it came to pass that the War Office secured the station for its exclusive use and on 4th November 1938 the Commissioners of Crown Lands purchased the street-level buildings, lift shafts and certain passages for the agreed price of £24,000 (the Museum was awarded the consolation prize of finance to build a bombproof chamber in its own basement). Conversion of the station for its new use then took place. Brick walls were built on the outer edge of the platforms to create rooms inside, while intermediate floors were built in one of the station's two lift shafts for the operations centre. Of the two walled-off platform tunnels, the eastbound was used as the teleprinter and communications centre, and the westbound one was used for a rest area and staff accommodation.

Throughout the war, the station was the HQ of 1st Anti-aircraft (AA) Division, whose area of responsibility was London and its environs. London Gun Defended area (GDA) was divided into three areas called ‘Inner Artillery Zones’ (IAZ) These were IAZ South, south of the Thames, IAZ North and IAZ East. In addition there was a “Slough and Langley Group” which covered aircraft production in these areas. Normal Administration was devolved through the usual military channels; however the Division was under the operational control of the RAF, in this case the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) No 11 (Fighter) Group, RAF at RAF Uxbridge, who exercised control over all of the South East. This included Fighter Squadrons, Barrage Balloon Squadrons and 1st and 6th AA Divisions.

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Last updated: 04 01 2011
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