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Site Name: King William Street Station

King William Street

Although there are a number of admirable web sites devoted to the King William Street station, this one does not duplicate them. So if you want to find out more (and something new!) about this short-lived and long-forgotten tube station jump aboard now...

First of all, let's get orientated and see the place we are talking about!

The plan (left) shows the relation of the tunnels to the Thames, also the underground platforms at King William Street to the surface buildings. Also shown is the temporary access shaft and working stage built next to the Old Swan landing stage. The rounded corner block with the entrance to King William Street station is seen clearly (right) in the first of these two aerial views (the second one shows only the rear of the block!). From London Illustrated by Twenty Bird's-Eye Views by Herbert Fry (1894).

The station's claim to fame comes from the railway that built it, the City & South London Railway (originally Subway).

This was the world's first electric tube railway (but not the world's first tube railway—that honour goes to London's Tower Subway - nor of course the world's first underground city railway, London's Metropolitan Railway, originally run with steam traction). The other significant issue with King William Street station

is that it was in use for only a short time, although it found use as an air raid shelter during World War II.

The line was inaugurated on 4th November 1890, from King William Street to Stockwell. The Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII, performed the opening ceremony. On 18th December the line was opened to the public. Less than ten years afterwards the line was extended northwards to Moorgate Street and when this was opened on 24th February 1900, new tunnels were brought into service from the Borough, and the original section abandoned. The old city terminus was most awkwardly placed as regards train running, as it faced almost due west and curved sharply to the left under Swan Pier, crossing the river

under the up­stream side of London Bridge. There was no intermediate station between King William Street and Borough, which meant that there was no interchange station for London Bridge main line and suburban station. In the case of the down line from King William Street this involved a sharp curve and a gradient of 1 in 30 upon leaving the station, while the up line was still steeper, 1 in 14, through the up line crossing over the down line.

The complete line as built. Source: Die Londoner Untergrundbahnen, Troske, 1892, reprinted 1896.

Today the City & South London forms part of the Northern Line of the Underground, with the exception of the bypassed King William Street station and the empty tunnels leading to the abandoned station.

This is Stockwell station, not King William Street, but we have used this picture because it illustrates rather well the so-called 'padded cell' coaches and the small 4-wheeled electric locomotives that hauled them.

It was assumed passengers would have no interest in looking out at blank tunnel walls on their journey, so only small slit windows were

provided. The name of each station was called out when the train stopped. Passengers entered and left these carriages through the 'lift gates' operated by 'gatemen'.


The caption on the engraving reads:THE CITY AND SOUTH LONDON SUBWAY. An underground railway from King William-street, City, passing beneath the Thames to Southwark, and thence to Newington-butts and to Clapham, is now being constructed. One tunnel has been completed from King William-street to St. George's church in Southwark, the first station south of the Thames. The second tunnel is almost completed for the same distance, with the exception of about 100 yards. Both tunnels are being pushed forward towards the Elephant and Castle, and the works for the station there, and the stations at King William-street and Great Dover-street, are in hand. At the terminal station at Stockwell sinking operations will also very shortly commence. The means of access for passengers, between the level of the underground railway and the level of the streets, will be hydraulic lifts, two of which, each to take fifty persons, will be at work at each station. There will also be steps at the stations. As the carriages are to be drawn by wire ropes, working from a stationary engine, the atmosphere should be much fresher than in the tunnels of the Metropolitan Railways north of the Thames. It is hoped that the first section of the line will be opened for traffic in the summer of this year.
[Illustrated London News, 3rd March 1888]

A C & SLR electric locomotive
The line was originally called a 'subway', probably to avoid the negative connotations of the smoke-ridden atmosphere of underground lines then worked by steam locomotives. The name was picked up in America, where it caught on and is still in use for what we British rapidly went back to calling an underground railway. The notion of using rope haulage was abandoned some time before the line was actually opened.

The entrance to King William Street Station was incorporated into an existing building at the corner of King William Street and Arthur Street
East (now Monument Street) with the company’s offices in the upper floor and the booking hall in the ground floor. The station was 75' below ground and was accessed by two hydraulic lifts within a single shaft; there was also an emergency spiral staircase.

Not many illustrations survive of the station in operation but here are two, both from the book London City (published in 1903).

Initially, the station was provided with a single track and two side platforms, one for arrivals and the other for departures. This unusual arrangement prevailed because of the original proposal to use cable haulage required a simple track layout.

This is the original layout of the station, with one track and two platforms (for departing passengers on the left and arrivals on the right). This was altered to two tracks and a single island platform on 22nd December 1895.

By the time the 10' 2" the diameter tunnels reached King William Street they were side by side and opened into a single 20ft high by 26ft wide bore, which had a 3ft lining of brick, and was finished in white glazed tiling. A signal box was provided at the Stockwell end.

For further information and pictures of King William Street Station click here

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Last updated: 04 01 2011
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