Site Records

Site Name: South Kensington Station (Piccadilly Line & District Line) - Disused tunnels and subways and the District Line deep level express line

Junction of Old Brompton Road & Pelham Street
London, SW3.
OS Grid Ref: TQ269788

Sub Brit site visit 2009

[Source: Nick Catford]
As part of a proposal to link the recently opened London main line railway termini, the Metropolitan Railway (MR) obtained an Act of Parliament in 1854 to construct an underground railway between Paddington and Farringdon Street via Kings Cross; this was to become the first section of London's underground railway system.

Construction of the cut-and-cover line started in February 1860 and the new line opened to the public on 10th January 1863. The Metropolitan or ‘Met’ was an immediate success and was soon carrying 26,500 passengers daily with a short extension east to Moorgate Street opening on 23rd December 1865. 

There was a junction with the Great Western Railway at Paddington and the Met's broad gauge line was initially worked by the Great Western using its own stock. This arrangement was short lived however and after a massive disagreement between the two companies, the GWR withdrew from the agreement. The Met was now forced to work the line itself with
the help of the Great Northern Railway using their standard gauge stock; the broad gauge track was finally removed in 1869.

Photo:The entrance to the District Line platforms at South Kensington in the 1890s

The Metropolitan Railway extended their line southwards from Praed Street (Paddington) to Gloucester Road on 1st October 1868 with a further extension to South Kensington to join the Metropolitan District Railway (MDR) which was building a line west from Westminster. The joint MR and MDR station at South Kensington opened on 24 December 1868. The MDR extended their line east to Mansion House on 3rd July 1871 and although the companies remained independent and were indeed rivals, each company operated its trains over the other's tracks in a joint service known

South Kensington Station in 1890 (click here to enlarge)
as the 'Inner Circle' although the circular route itself wasn't completed until 6 October 1884.

As built, South Kensington had two island platforms and two side platforms with four lines (see plan). The island platforms had a fifth track between them used for terminating and reversing Metropolitan trains arriving from the west. In 1885 the MDR opened a long pedestrian subway from the station beneath the length of Exhibition Road giving sheltered access to the newly
built museums; there was a toll on using the passage until 1908.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the MDR had built extensions to Richmond, Ealing, Hounslow and Wimbledon and was suffering considerable congestion on the southern section of the Inner Circle between South Kensington and Mansion House. Between these two stations it was running an average of twenty trains an hour, with more in the peak periods, which meant there was a permanent smoke-laden atmosphere in the tunnels.

Photo:The District line deep level tube tunnel at South Kensington in the 1920s
when it housed a signal school.
Photo from J E Connor collection

Electrification was the obvious solution but this was costly and the Company felt that electric traction had not yet proved itself under such a heavy load. To relieve the congestion, the MDR planned an electrified express deep-level tube line from Earl's Court to Mansion House. The scheme was announced in 1896 with the new line diverging from existing tracks east of Earl’s Court station from where it would descend on a 1 in 42 gradient towards Gloucester Road running in a pair of 12’ 6” diameter tubes beneath the existing Metropolitan District line to a terminus 71 feet below Mansion House station. The express line would have one intermediate station at Charing Cross, 63 feet below the existing station with hydraulic lifts connecting to the booking hall.

The MDR was still steam-hauled at this time which would have meant a change of locomotive at Earl’s Court causing delays. To alleviate this, it was proposed that the change from steam to electric traction should take place in the first 176 yards of the Cromwell Road covered way while the carriages were held by a rack-railway brake. Parliamentary approval was obtained on
6 August 1897 but little work was done although the tunnel between Earls Court and South Kensington was eventually built as part of the Great Northern Piccadilly and Brompton Railway.

The Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (GNP&BR) was established in 1902 through a merger of two older companies, the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus Railway (B&PCR) and the Great Northern and Strand Railway (GN&SR).  The GNP&BR proposed a deep level tube line from South Kensington to Piccadilly Circus. In 1902 the MDR and the GNP & BR came under the joint management of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London Ltd, the planned tube line was subsequently merged with a third proposed route and opened on 15 December 1906, as the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (now the Piccadilly Line) between Finsbury Park and Hammersmith with the station at South Kensington opening on 8 January 1907.

Photo:The GNP & BR Entrance to South Kensington Station in the early 20th century

The deep platforms at South Kensington were constructed beneath the sub-surface platforms and access was provided from street level by lifts from an extension to the station building. This new extension was designed by Leslie Green and built with the GNP&BR's distinctive ox-blood red glazed terracotta tiled façade. South Kensington was unique as all the other GNP&BR stations were built with both platforms at the same level; at South Kensington the eastbound platform was above the westbound platform which meant that the lifts had two lower landings. Lifts first stopped at the eastbound landing before descending a further eighteen feet to the westbound landing.

The reason for this unusual layout was because the deep level station was planned as a junction between the GNP&BR and the MDR tube lines with the eastbound platform serving both lines but with two separate platforms and tunnels for westbound trains and a junction to the west of the station. A larger diameter tunnel can still be seen from westbound Piccadilly Line
trains at the site of the junction. On the eastbound line, the larger diameter platform tunnel continues beyond the current platform with sufficient room for the District Line to branch off to the right had it been built.

South Kensington deep-level station as built but also showing the proposed deep-level District Line.
Copyright Antony Badsey-Ellis. Reproduced with permission
from  London's Lost Tube Schemes, published by Capital Transport

A section of the westbound Metropolitan District station tunnel was built at the same time and under the same powers as the GNP&BR platforms and its walls were even tiled.  As this section of tunnel is adjacent to the lift shafts it seems likely that the work was carried out at this time to avoid later disruption or damage to the lift shafts if and when the deep level MDR line was ever built; a short section of tiled subway leading from the lifts was also built. The wide junction tunnels mentioned above were also built at the same time as the GNP&BR to avoid later disruption to services.

The two entrances to South Kensington station in 1907

The deep-level line was never built as eventual electrification and resignalling of the MDR increased the line's capacity and the proposed deep-level express line was no longer required. The powers for its construction were relinquished in the MDR's 1908 Act although there were some later suggestions that the line should still be built.

In 1909, the Underground Electric Railway Company of London announced a parliamentary bill for the formal merger of the Baker Street & Waterloo Railway, the Charing

Cross Euston & Hampstead Railway and the GNP&BR into a single company, the London Electric Railway Company. This bill received Royal Assent and was enacted on 26 July 1910 as the London Electric Railway Amalgamation Act, 1910. On 1 January 1913, the UERL purchased the City & South London Railway and the Central London Railway, thereby bringing all but three of London's underground lines at that time into common ownership under the Underground Group brand.

For further information and pictures of this site click here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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Last updated: 27 02 2011
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