Site Records

Site Name: Down Street Station

Down Street
London W1
OS Grid Ref: TQ28618003

Sub Brit site visit August 1995, 19th October 2001 & March 2009

Down Street is probably one of the best known of London's closed tube stations for although its life as a railway station was short and uneventful, it played a vital part in the war effort as an underground protected headquarters for the Railway Executive Committee and also provided a temporary occasional home for Churchill's war cabinet.

During the early years of the development of London’s underground rail network, the Brompton & Piccadilly Circus Railway was one of the first to receive parliamentary sanction on 6th August 1897, when the company was authorised to build an electrified line between Piccadilly and South Kensington with five intermediate stations at Dover Street, Down Street,
Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge and Brompton Road.

Unfortunately the company was unable to raise sufficient finance and work on the construction never started. In 1899 financial problems forced the delay of another venture proposed by the Great Northern & Strand Railway to build a line from Wood Green to Aldwych.

Both lines were eventually revived under the direction of the American capitalist Charles Tyson Yerkes who had played a major role in developing mass-transit systems in Chicago. In 1900, Yerkes decided to become involved in the development of the London Underground network and quickly took control of the Metropolitan District Railway and the unfinished Baker Street & Waterloo Railway where much of the tunnelling had already been constructed. He also purchased the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway and the two ailing

Down Street Station in 1907
schemes, the Great Northern and Strand as the Great Northern Piccadilly & Brompton Railway after receiving parliamentary approval for a link between Piccadilly and Holborn.

Two further parliamentary Bills were required to sanction an additional length of line linking Aldwych with the B & PCR’s proposed terminus at Piccadilly. The two companies merged on 8th August 1902 and the Great Northern Piccadilly & Brompton Railway was officially formed on 18th November that year.

Construction started at Knightsbridge in July 1902 and soon work was underway along the whole length of the route.

Photo:Down Street Station in June 1991
Photo by Nick Catford

Down Street station was sited between Dover Street (now renamed Green Park) and Hyde Park Corner. The street level building, which was the only entrance, stood on the west side of Down Street a narrow street just off Piccadilly; the façade was designed by Leslie Green to his standard design. The steel framed building was faced with ox-blood red glazed bricks supplied by
the Leeds Fireclay Company, with the ground floor divided into wide bays by columns and featuring large semi-circular windows at first floor level. The platforms were at a depth of 60.68 feet and were reached by a pair of Otis electric lifts in a single shaft; there was also an emergency spiral staircase. Down Street was the last but one of the original Yerkes stations to open and the station differs from other Yerkes stations in that is has an alternative emergency exit. From the ‘exit’ subway to the lower

lift landing there is a flight of steps which rejoins the standard spiral emergency staircase about one third of the way up the stairs. The parallel platforms were reached by two stairways and were 350 feet long connected by three cross passages.

The completed line ran from Finsbury Park to Hammersmith (the section between Finsbury Park and Wood Green was not built at that time). It was ready for use on 3rd December 1906 and after passing a Board of Trade inspection was ceremonially opened by David Lloyd George (MP) on 15th December a year after Yerkes’ death. Three of the intermediate stations, including Down Street were unfinished.
Down Street was beset with problems some relating to planning and didn’t open until 15th Match 1907. A short branch between Holborn and Strand (later renamed Aldwych) opened on 30th November 1907. On 1st July 1910, the GNP&BR and the other Yerkes owned railways were merged by private Act of Parliament to become the ‘London Electric Railway Company’.

Down Street was never able to attract sufficient customers to make it viable. This was partly because of its location out of sight from Piccadilly but also because of the close proximity of Hyde Park Corner and Dover Street. It was sited in a prosperous part of Mayfair where many potential customers already had their own transport. Within two years of opening certain trains didn't stop at the station and from 5th May 1918 the Sunday service was withdrawn.

When plans were announced to extend the Piccadilly Line to Cockfosters in 1930 a new siding was required between Down Street and Hyde Park Corner for reversing trains and this meant that a short section of the platforms at Down Street would have to be demolished. With no improvement in passenger numbers closure was announced and the last train ran on 21st May 1932
after nearby Dover Street station has been modernised; this included the installation of escalators to replace the lifts. At the same time Dover Street was renamed Green Park with a new entrance closer to Down Street  on Piccadilly.

Shortly after closure the lifts at Down Street were removed and a ventilation fan installed at the bottom of one of the shafts. The western headwalls of both platform tunnels were modified and the ends of the platforms removed to allow a step plate junction (a junction where tunnels of differing diameters join - the step is the vertical wall filling the gap between them) to be installed, providing access to a new 836' long siding located between the two running lines at the west end of Down Street; this came into use on 30th May 1933.

Booking office in October 1927

With the approaching hostilities in Europe a new use was soon found for Down Street. It was inevitable that the railways would become involved in the government’s planning for Air Raid Precautions (ARP) in 1938.

The committee room under construction in the exit subway in January 1940
Each of the ‘Big Four’ railway companies made arrangements for functioning under attack conditions and in addition a so-called Railway Executive Committee (REC) was set up by the Ministry of Transport. The panel comprised of senior management from the four main line railways (GWR, LMSR, LNER and SR) and the London Passenger Transport Board. Initially its purpose was to advise the government on how rail transport should be planned and operated in the event of war. On the outbreak of war, however, the railways
came under direct government control, with the REC acting as coordinating body between the Ministry of Transport and the individual companies. Protected headquarters for the REC were an absolute necessity and the initial scheme was to strengthen the basement of Fielden House, headquarters of the Railway Companies Association, a body similar to the Association of Train Operating Companies today. Located in Great College Street, Westminster, SW1, the building’s vulnerability to bombing and flooding led to a search for an alternative site deeper underground, such as a disused tube station.

Photo:The operating office of the Railway Executive Committee. The chart below the clock indicates the composition and location of every ambulance train and casualty evacuation train in the UK.

The tale of how Down Street was selected and equipped is told in great detail in two articles by Charles E. Lee in the Railway Gazette (November 17th and 24th 1944). Mr G. Cole-Deacon, secretary of the Railway Executive Committee, was responsible for the design of the offices. The LPTB was put in charge of all structural work, installation of the passenger lift, air raid protection, ventilation and plumbing. Fitting out and electrical, radio and telephone installations were handled by the LMS Railway.

Work was started in April 1939, but by the time war broke out it was only half finished. When on 3rd September the staff of 75 walked down the spiral staircase - a lift was not installed until months later - the rooms had no doors or ceilings. Everything was covered with black dust and in the passages of the tube, with its sloping tiled walls; there was not room for two persons to pass. New works on the station were on similar lines to those at Brompton Road and British Museum and involved walling off the platforms and providing meeting rooms, kitchens, dormitories and other facilities by partitioning the space remaining on the platforms. Further offices, meeting rooms and a typing pool were provided in the low-level subway leading to the platforms from the lift shaft, with gas-proof doors provided at appropriate points.

For further information and pictures of Down Street station click here

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Last updated: 04 01 2011
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