Site Records

Site Name: King William Street Station

King William Street

Construction was difficult with regular subsidence due to the water-logged ground around the river but the tunnel and station were eventually completed, with the official opening by the Prince of Wales on 4th November 1890 and the public service commencing on 18th December.

The new line was heavily used from the opening day and the station layout quickly proved unsatisfactory. To overcome this, a Bill was introduced into Parliament in 1882 to construct a new line from Borough to Moorgate Street and abandon the unsuitable terminus. The Bill received Royal Ascent in 1883 but this was for a long term solution. To alleviate the congestion
problems in the short term, surface facilities were improved by taking a lease on an existing building in Arthur Street East for a Ladies Room, Parcels Room and Left Luggage Office. A plan to install a third lift was dropped because of cost.

A rare view of the island platform in use

With 15,000 passengers using the station daily, improvements were also urgently required at platform level so the single line was replaced by twin lines running into an island platform which was completed by December 1895. A scissors crossing was added at the south end allowing trains to use either line but this required a shortening of the platform which could now only be used by three car trains.

Work on the extension to Moorgate Street

started in 1896 and King William Street closed with the inauguration of the new service from 25th
February 1900; the station and the tunnels running under the Thames to Borough were abandoned. Initially no use was found for the tunnels but as early as 1901 it was suggested they could be used for cultivating mushrooms or as a bonded store. The favoured solution was to use the tunnels to carry telephone or electric cables but no user could be found.  Initially the track remained in
place and was used to store empty stock.

The station's entrance was incorporated within an existing office building at 46 King William Street. It is seen here soon after closure with a sign on the right indicating the recently vacated premises is available for letting.

Regis House appeared like this in 1993

At the outbreak of war in 1914, there were fears that the tunnels might be used by enemy agents and a thorough search was undertaken before the track was removed and the tunnels were sealed up. In 1923 the station was offered for sale or lease.

No 46 King William Street was eventually demolished and in 1933 Regis House was built on the site. The 25' diameter lift shaft was filled at this time but access to the former station was retained using the emergency staircase which was reached from the basement of Regis House. Regis House retained the same quarter-round profile as the older structure. Occasional visits to the old station in the basement were permitted and photographic records of two such there was little change until the outbreak of war in 1939.

In 1930 the Underground took steps to dispose of the old station building at King William Street and shortly after this, the old station and office buildings were demolished to make way for a new block known as Regis House. Before this happened, however, the eminent transport historian and journalist, the late Charles E. Lee, paid a visit to the station in 1930, along with the Daily Mirror. Most likely this press tour was instigated by Lee and then taken up by the Underground. In addition, on 28th March 1930 a number of official photographs were taken and these are still available for purchase from London's Transport Museum. This is Lee's description of his visit (Railway Magazine, September 1930, pp 197-199)

The present means of access is through what was formerly the emergency staircase, and this is reached from a cellar under 46, King William Street, the premises which constituted the booking office of the original terminal station. Descending this gloomy circular stairway by the light of two acetylene flares, our party reached the old platform level with the feeling of having
turned back a page of history and recalled those sensations, forgotten by the present generation, which were experienced by the inaugural party through this, the world's first electric tube railway, some forty years ago. As now existing, the old station still retains sufficient traces of its former equipment to enable a fair idea to be gained of its working condition, although the tracks have been entirely, and the platform partially, removed.

At the platform level the station consists of a circular brick tunnel, with a centre platform and the sites of the lines on either side. Openings give access to the old lift shaft, which formerly contained two hydraulic lifts. The shaft has been covered over and the top portion now is utilised for shop premises. Remains of gas fixtures are a. reminder that the stations were lighted by gas during the
first ten years of the railway's existence, electricity being introduced gradually thereafter. At first only on the newer stations. The 'King William Street' station names are still in position in two or three places. At the end of the platform are the remains of the signal box still containing its 22 hand-operated levers. Three of the two-position semaphores are in position. one, at least. of which it may be hoped will be preserved in the company's museum. Beyond the station, the brick tunnel ceases and the line enters the two iron tubes. Our party proceeded along the left-hand tube. The point where the other tube crosses over is easily noticed. and the two tracks are connected by an iron ladder.

The running tunnels at the end of King William Street station are at slightly different levels. By the time the tunnels reached Swan Lane the two tunnels were above each other. Tunnelling was not allowed directly beneath buildings so the tunnels had to follow the path of roads on the surface. Where the road was narrow, the tunnels would have to be built one of top of the other.(1930).

Further on we joined the other tube through a narrow connecting passage on the left and returned to the station. At the mouth of the tubes a much faded board can still be deciphered, notifying "Speed not to exceed 5 miles per hour." Although all traces of the surface station equipment have long since disappeared, this glimpse into the past may be completed by adding that the original charge of 2d. Ordinary fare for any distance was collected by means of turnstiles; and that this system was maintained until the extension to Moorgate Street made it necessary to introduce fares graduated according to distance.

On the 11th November 1939, it was reported in the Evening Star that work would start to convert the running tunnels but not the station itself into a deep level public air raid shelter. The work, which was expected to last three months, would include the construction of eight entrances, air conditioning plant, seats and first aid posts. This announcement was somewhat premature, but the Minister of Home Security had approved Southwark Council's proposal in principle. A rent of £100 per year was agreed with the London Passenger Transport Board and work started on conversion of the tunnels into a deep shelter for 8000 people in January 1940.

The first entrance at Marlborough Yard at the rear of 116 Borough High Street was available for use at the beginning of August 1940. The shelter ran between two concrete bulkheads that had been installed in the tunnel at the time of the Munich crisis in 1938, one was just north of the junction with the Moorgate line at Borough and the second was just south of the River Thames which was fitted with a watertight steel door. A similar bulkhead was built on the north side of the Thames. The bulkheads were built to ensure no flooding of the tunnel would take place if the tunnel under the river was breached by a bomb. A strong room was built on the down side of the line just north of the Borough bulkhead to house Council valuables and important documents.

Each new entrance staircase was built using reinforced concrete segments and would allow a flow of 300 people a minute.
Concrete staircases were built inside the tunnels with a void beneath the steps for ventilation, electric cables and water services. A new concrete slab floor was laid in the running

tunnels, again leaving a void for services beneath. Some wooden seating was provided on both sides and 12 banks of toilet cubicles were built at intervals along both tunnels.  Electric lighting was provided throughout and the walls were whitewashed and at a later date some bunks were fitted.

The shelter came into use on 24th June 1940, six days after the start of the blitz and by August that year thousands of people were sleeping in the tunnel every night even when no air raid warning had been sounded.

King William Street station wasn't part of this scheme. The Southwark shelter occupied the complete section south of the River Thames and the under river sections were isolated by the concrete bulkheads and watertight doors either side of the river. This left the brick lined King William Street station tunnel and crossover tunnel plus the cast iron running tunnels down as far as the bulkheads beneath Upper Thames Street.

The King William Street Shelter nearing completion in 1940

The now blocked steps from King William Street House (click to enlarge)
Early in 1940, the owners of Regis House secured a tenancy to use the station tunnel and the crossover tunnel as an air-raid shelter. Various works were required to convert the tunnel to its new use. A mezzanine floor of reinforced concrete was constructed to provide twice the area for use as a shelter. A new floor at track level was also laid. Electric lighting was installed together with two blocks of toilets in the old running tunnels, a kitchen and emergency forced ventilation. An additional 10' 6" diameter shaft, 64 feet in depth, was sunk in Arthur Street with direct access from the basement of King William Street House (on the opposite side of King William Street from Regis House). This connected with the south side of the former crossover tunnel, a short distance from the point at
which the two separate running tunnels started. The whole works then formed a private shelter for the office employees of Regis House and King William Street House with the two basement access points. The capacity was stated to be 2,000 persons.

The tenancy was continued after the war so that the tunnels could be used for storage. When visited in the 1970's the station was still being used for document storage by Regis House.

Photo:Female toilet cubicles in the northbound tunnel between the shelter and the
bulkhead below Upper Thames Street.
Photo by Nick Catford

Writing about the King William Street shelter transport and communications enthusiast Alan Gildersleve states: "I slept many times in the former King William Street station under Regis House, where my father worked. I was there the night the bomb fell on the Bank station and the tunnel really rocked. The King William Street station was used as offices by the United Dominions Trust and I was intrigued by the PAX extension number 00. Obviously the last remaining spare line circuit in a 100 line PAX! The two running tunnels at the end were toilets apparently running all the way to Borough. One male and one female. The air conditioner made such a noise that when it switched off at about 5 a.m. the sudden silence woke you up! That part that I slept in was north of the Thames, and the only access of which I have any knowledge was from the basement of Regis House (corner of Monument Street) via the standard spiral tube station staircase. This comes out into a double track sized tube tunnel which was much larger in diameter than a normal tube station and then a large office and full of desks and filing cabinets, between which we used to put up camp beds.

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

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