The Great Circle Line Journey

Posted by admin | January 10, 2008 6
Off we go! Saturday 10th June 1863 – actually a test run with VIP’s in August 1862 and the working railway never operated with open cars

Baker Street Circle Line Platforms – The vents were to dissipate steam from the locomotives

Circle Line Steam Locomotive

One of the world’s Great Rail Journeys begins on Platform 16 at Paddington Station and ends sometime later at Paddington Station! There are many Great Rail journeys in the world but there is only one which begins and ends at Paddington Station, London, can be done in a day for the price of a TravelCard and brings you through 27 Underground stations and 13 Mainline Railway stations. So join us on this adventure in a Day as we make our way to probably the most historic railway platform in the world, platform 16 at London’s Paddington Station from where the first London Underground Train departed on 10th January 1863.

Paddington Bear

Victorian London was the first Mega City of the modern world, the first city with over a million inhabitants since Ancient Rome, and it had big problems with water, sewage, housing, public health, education and air pollution – sounds familiar? London faced these problems and the London you see today is largely the London shaped by the Victorian’s innovative engineering and social responses to these issues. The London where you can still find the remains (often in new uses) of the public markets and baths, the health clinics and police stations and the lofty high ceilinged schools built to cope with universal education. The hospitals, sports grounds, public clinics and great parks designed to make the inhabitants and their environment healthier. Appalling housing conditions were addressed by charities such as the Peabody, Carnegie and Iveagh Trusts who built swathes of housing for the “working classes” and whose role was taken over with some distinction by the London County Council which strove to build homes “fit for heroes” after World War I. In health the provision of reservoirs, sewerage treatment plants and the London Ring Main by Sir Joseph Balzegette was a work of heroic proportions which led to the building of the embankments along the Thames and the “New Road” (Now Marylebone & Euston Roads) north of the city under which the Circle Line was to run. And in the 13 mainline railway termini and the world’s first underground railway you will find the arteries which keep the heart of this great city beating.

The success of the railways into London created another problem as they brought thousands into the city each day but because of the cost and disruption they were built some way out from the “City” with only Fenchurch Street built within the “square mile” of the City of London. Charles Pearson, Solicitor to the Corporation was an early advocate of a railway into the city and the terrible slums of Clerkenwell along the valley of the river Fleet being rebuilt in the process. Chaos and congestion grew in the central area until in 1854 an Act of Parliament was passed for a 3 ½ mile underground line from Paddington to Farringdon Street with seven stations. It took another 5 years for the finances of 1 million pounds to be raised with Charles Pearson convincing the Corporation to contribute 200,000 and the GWR at Paddington contributing 185,000 as they were anxious to connect their (then) remote terminus at Paddington to the City. For this they won the right to double gauge the track to their broad gauge standard so there were initially 3 rails on each track and won the contract to operate the service. John Fowler was appointed engineer and John Hargreaves Stevens Architect for the project which was anything but smooth. As the line neared completion in June 1862 the Fleet sewer, which had been diverted into a brick culvert, burst near Farringdon and flooded the line back to Kings Cross to a depth of ten feet. The railway was also dogged by funding problems due to the delays and the Crimean War which was then taking place.

Eventually the London Underground opened to passengers from Paddington to Farringdon on 10 January 1863.

The Tube (as it is colloquially known, buy strictly this refers to the deep bored lines, not the cut and cover lines such as the Circle Line) is a great cause for celebration; it is the glue which makes London possible and it was the template for every other Metro system – indeed Metro is a contraction of Metropolitan Railway the company which ran the first public passenger service on 10th January 1863. As its original opening in date in June 1862 was delayed by the River Fleet bursting its banks and unfortunately this means the oft repeated claim that it is the first underground railway is wrong, although there is a debate if short funiculars with no intermediate stops constitute an underground railway?

A VIP service on the completed portion of the line at Edgware Road in June 1862. William Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer is to the right of the man in the white top hat

That title actually belongs to the Ficelle of Lyon, a totally underground funicular railway which opened to passenger service on the 3rd June 1862. While a funicular is not a metro this underground railway was unarguably an underground passenger train service and it was just a half kilometer long.

150 Years Underground

A second underground line, the District, began operating five years later. The two were eventually linked to create the Circle line in 1884. The early underground was a huge engineering achievement and very well used, but had one big disadvantage. Its steam locomotives created a permanent sulfurous fug in the stations and tunnels. In London’s Transport Museum in Covent Garden you can still see the only surviving locomotive from the world’s first underground railway. These locomotives had condensing apparatus added to adapt them for use underground, not that it was too successful judging by contemporary accounts of the smoke filled platforms and trains. The engine displayed, No.23, was built in 1866 by Beyer, Peacock of Manchester to haul passenger trains. After electrification of the sub-surface lines in 1905 it was used on goods trains and on the Brill branch in rural Buckinghamshire. It was finally withdrawn in 1948 and restored to its 1903 condition for the Underground centenary celebrations in 1963

Circle Line  Click on Map to enlarge

The original Metropolitan Railway terminated at Bishop’s Road, Paddington, adjacent to the Great Western Railway terminus, but in June 1864 the line was extended to Hammersmith to accommodate the broad gauge trains operated by the Great Western Railway in the 19th century. At the eastern end, a service opened beyond Liverpool Street to Whitechapel in October 1884 at the same time as the completion of the Circle. Trains have run on from Whitechapel to Barking over District line tracks since 1936.

A branch from Edgware Road off the original Metropolitan Railway line opened as far as Gloucester Road in October 1868 and on to South Kensington in December that year when simultaneously the District Railway opened its line from South Kensington to Westminster. In the ‘clockwise’ direction, the original 1863 line was extended east from Farringdon Street to Moorgate in 1865, Liverpool Street in 1875, and Aldgate the following year and finally in 1884 to Tower Hill, which the District reached itself in the ‘anti-clockwise’ direction at the same time, creating the present Circle. Only the short sections between High Street Kensington and Gloucester Road and between Aldgate and Minories Junction (east of Tower Hill) are used solely by Circle line trains.

Victorian Inner and Outer Circles  Click on Map to enlarge

The Circle line serves 27 stations and requires 14 trains to operate the peak period service. It takes on average one hour to complete a round trip, and it has the distinction of serving most of London’s main line railway termini.

Refurbished “C-Stock” interior

Circle line trains are known as C stock. They were manufactured by Metro-Cammell of Birmingham in two batches in 1969 and 1977. These Six-car trains, made up of three units each consisting of two cars permanently coupled together. The principal depot for the Circle line is at Hammersmith, but there are several other sidings at Barking, Triangle Sidings (in Kensington) and Farringdon.

So let us start our Great Railway Journey at one of London’s great stations built on the Bishop of London’s Estate on the then edge of London beside Paddington Green.


Paddington Train Shed 

Paddington Train Shed

Paddington was built as the terminus of the Great Western Railway in 1850 – 54. Its design was a collaboration between Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Matthew Digby Wyatt. The spectacular train shed has an iron girder roof with three-bays; these have 189 decorative wrought iron ribs and are supported by a cast-iron column every third rib.

When a fourth bay was added in 1916, in keeping with Brunel’s originals, the iron columns were replaced with steel stanchions. Paddington is unusual in that it does not have a principal exterior facade. In its place is the Great Western Hotel, designed by P.C. Hardwick and opened in the same year as the station. Originally the hotel had a lawn at the rear where you could enjoy tea but this is now the shopping centre within the station. Brunel is remembered by a seated statue that can be seen beside the side entrance to platform 1. Children all over the world know the name of the station through the famous “Paddington Bear” created by Michael Bond.

Paddington “Lawn”

Formerly home to the GWR (Great Western Railway but known with affection by its passengers as “God’s Wonderful Railway”) which served all of the West of England and Southern Wales, including ferries from Fishguard to Ireland. Today it is home to First Great Western, Thames Trains and the Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect services to Heathrow Airport. First (Worst?) Great Western is one of the least impressive train “franchises” under rail privatisation. It charges £272 for a first class return the 200 miles return to Taunton in Somerset. For this you will travel (slowly) in a tired looking 30 year old train and receive a polystyrene cup of hot water with a tea bag and a plastic wrapped biscuit on the side. Proof indeed that railway policy in Britain is decided by Treasury wallahs and M.P.’s who have never paid their own train fare in living memory for otherwise they would be very angry and very poor!

Great Western Railway roundel in the Paddington Hilton
Paddington – Great Western Hotel

There are two Underground stations at Paddington. The former Metropolitan Railway station on Praed Street opposite the hotel is a fine building and here you will find the Circle, District (Edgware Road Branch) and Bakerloo Lines in a bright station where the tiling cleverly commemorates the father and son, Marc and Isambard Brunel with a facsimile of the tunneling shield developed by Marc Brunel for the Wapping Tunnel, now part of the East London Line.

The Bakerloo Line platform at Paddington – It follows the curve of the street above to avoid paying property owners for “wayleave” rights

Escalators to Bakerloo Line

To find the original terminus of London’s Underground you have to go on a far less inspiring journey finding Platform 13 and 14 at Paddington Mainline station. You then head along these platforms to a footbridge leading to Platforms 15 and 16 which comprise the other Underground station, Paddington Bishop’s Road. This is not an inspiring sight today. It is partially overhung by a highway overpass and has not been well maintained; indeed all this part of Paddington Station has escaped the renovations undertaken over the past few years in the rest of the station. It is crying out for renovation and a display which records the unique event that the first London Underground train journey took place from platform 16 here in 1863.

Paddington Platforms 15 and 16

So undeterred by the unassuming surroundings, head across the footbridge to begin this Great Railway Journey. We take an Eastbound Hammersmith and City Line train from Platform 16 and we head clockwise on the Circle Line. As the doors close you will trundle on the same lines as on that historic day in January 1863. A short distance on the tracks will become noisier as you go over the points at Praed St Junction which was created when the “Inner Circle” was completed in 1884. In an underground signal box at the apex on the right a signalman with somewhat kippered lungs used to control these points when the services were operated by steam trains.

25th February 1863 – The first customer complaint in the letter column of The London Times – Mind the Doors!

It was also just beyond Praed Street Junction on the 7th July 2005 that the leader of the suicide bombings on London’s transport system, Mohammed Sidique Khan (30), set off a bomb at 8.50 a.m. which destroyed his life and those of six passengers. He lived in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, with his heavily pregnant wife and young child. (Hasina Patel miscarried August 2005). The people he killed here were: Michael Stanley Brewster, 52, a father of two who was traveling to work from Derby. Jonathan Downey, 34, an HR systems development officer with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea from Milton Keynes. David Foulkes, 22, a media sales worker from Oldham, Lancashire. Colin Morley, 52, of Finchley, he used his communication skills to try to help charities and businesses understand their brand. Jenny Nicholson, 24, daughter of a Bristol vicar, who had just started work at a music company in London. Laura Webb, 29, from Islington, a PA.

For more about the 7/7 London bombings see;

Soon you will come to Edgware Road Station which boasts a fine airy glass roofed train shed and two additional platforms where the Wimbledon / Edgware Road Branch of the District Line terminates. This branch is operated by Circle Line “C” stock. Alight here and take the exit at the rear of the platform (morning / evening peaks only) and across the busy racetrack known as Marylebone Road, you will see the fine red brick building aptly named “The Landmark Hotel” and previously the “Great Central Hotel” behind which you will find the terminus of the former Great Central Railway, Marylebone Station.

Edgware Road Station entrance with the “Window Cleaner”
statue on Chapel Street
Edgware Road
Marylebone Concourse
Marylebone after it opened in 1899


Marylebone Station stands in a fashionable district of north London, to the west of Baker Street. The last major railway station to be built in London, Marylebone was built for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire railway, later renamed the Great Central Railway (GCR). The train-shed and hotel date from 1899. The Great Central ran out of money before it reached the capital and the little terminus was never finished. In its heyday Marylebone Station served the Midlands, Nottingham and Sheffield. Following the rationalisation of the railways in the 1960s Marylebone lost its long distance services and since then the station had lower importance and been reduced in size. It has retained its important commuter services to north-west London, Oxfordshire, Aylesbury and Birmingham Snow Hill.

Landmark Hotel originally The Great Central Hotel

The Great Central Hotel, beside Marylebone Station, was designed by Colonel R. W. Edis, who created part of the Great Eastern Hotel at Liverpool Street. No expense was spared on the terra-cotta exterior, with its central tower on the Marylebone Road. After the nationalisation of the railways the hotel became the headquarters of British Railways and was renamed “222 Marylebone Road”. Marylebone Station has been made famous by the game of Monopoly. Just about everybody in England has taken “a trip to Marylebone Station”. Marylebone is considered the most attractive station in London and has featured in many movies including the Beatle’s “It’s a Hard Days Night. Shot in 1964 it also has the side effect of showing how dated and gloomy Marylebone Station was then compared to today’s somewhat shining incarnation!

Today it is the headquarters of Chiltern Railways, a cash cow for Laing Construction who are in the process of cashing in their investment. (Jan. 2008).

Marylebone facade and Porte Clochere

Underground platform at Marylebone showing the original name “Great Central” on the tiling.

Bakeloo Line 

It was threatened with closure in the early 1960’s and a plaque recalls the successful campaign by Sir John Betjeman and others to keep it open. Over the years the Coal Yard, Goods Yard and Depot have been lost to Public Housing, up market apartments and a merchant bank’s headquarters. Head out of the station admiring the restored Porte Clochere and turn left along Dorset Square for the short 5 minute walk to Baker Street. Dorset Square was the site of the world’s first cricket match and the club founded here, The Marylebone Cricket Club or M.C.C. from its base up the road at Lords Cricket Ground is still the regulator for the sport.

Baker Street

Original Tea Rooms

This impressive building on the Marylebone Road contains a major station and junction, having an array of lines running under it. Originally the “flag ship” station of the Metropolitan Line, the old Metropolitan Head Offices are behind it, as is a major British Transport Police Station. Anoraks note – the offices are well worth seeing; the decorations on the face of the building are very interesting!!

Baker Street station was opened by the Metropolitan Railway (MR) on 10 January 1863 as one of the original stations on the world’s first underground railway – these platforms are now served by the Circle and Hammersmith and City lines. On 13 April 1868 the adjacent open platforms, now serving the Metropolitan line, opened as part of a spur to Swiss Cottage station (a closed station different to the current Jubilee Line Swiss Cottage station) which was to be steadily extended to Harrow-on-the-Hill and beyond. Over the next few decades this section of the station saw much rebuilding to provide 4 platforms. The current Metropolitan line layout largely dates from 1925 and the bulk of the surface buildings, designed by the architect Charles Clark, also date from this period.

Bakerloo Line Platform

Above the station is the imposing edifice of Chiltern Court, 186 substantial apartments developed by the Metropolitan Railway and home to H.G. Wells and many other luminaries over the years. On the somewhat tacky concourse you will find the “Metropolitan Bar” which was the original “Chiltern Rooms” dining room. It is worth going into to see the coffered ceiling with impressive plasterwork depicting the coats of arms boroughs and towns served by the Metropolitan Railway.

Baker Street Station and Chiltern Court
Chromolithograph by the Kell brothers of Baker Street Station c. 1871. The lamps are gas lamps and the two gagues on the track can be clearly seen. The 7′ Broad Gague of the Great Western Railway and the Standard gague of 4-8 ½’ which is used today
“Chiltern Rooms” dining room with the arms of places served by the Metropolitan Railway on the ceiling. Now a pub.


Now head down to the Eastbound Circle Line Platform at Baker Street passing as you do the “Shell” memorial to Metropolitan Railway staff who lost their lives in the First World War. This platform was restored in the late 80’s and gives an impressive sense of what the early Underground was like. The brick work is in the warm beige of London Brick Company common stocks and there is no sense of claustrophobia due to the generous scale of the vaulted arch over the double tracks. The effect of spaciousness is emphasised by the view up the track which allows you to see the trains approaching down the gradient from Edgware Road. The platforms are brightly lit as the restoration emphasises the “pavement” lights on either side which in the original incarnation allowed natural light and air in through cast iron grilles on the pavements. These have long since been closed over but the effect is simulated by diffused lighting. Indeed I suspect the platforms are brighter (and cleaner) today than at anytime in their history. Other than Kings Cross (which had a handsome glass canopy) elements of the original construction can still be seen in the other stations of the first underground railway. The generous scale was deliberate as there was lively press debate at the time as to whether the public would go underground to travel and the scale of the construction was designed to reassure a nervous public.

HG Wells plaque on Chiltern Court

Sherlock Holmes statue on the station forecourt

The power of fiction – “Baker St” Prague, Czech Republic!

Baker Street is associated in the mind of visitors to London with the great fictional detective who described his most difficult cases as “3 Pipe problems!.” Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who first appeared in publication in 1887. He is the creation of British author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A brilliant London-based “consulting detective”, Holmes is famous for his intellectual prowess and is renowned for his skillful use of astute observation, deductive reasoning (though in reality, he uses abductive reasoning) and forensic skills to solve difficult cases.Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John H. Watson lived at 221b Baker Street between 1881-1904, according to the stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street, London was the first Museum in the world to be dedicated to a fictional character. There is one small difficulty however, the stretch of Baker Street where it is situated was not built until 1925 in tandem with the station redevelopment and well after the times in which the novels are set. Still, as Holmes might have said, let us not ruin a good story Watson!

Gerry Rafferty

The station is also name checked in Gerry Rafferty’s hit “Baker Street”, a world-weary classic based on his experiences busking in the London Underground as a struggling young musician. “It was first released in 1978 on his album “City to City” and has been covered by over 20 artists. The single reached #3 in the UK and performed even better in the US, where it became a #2 hit, in addition to reaching the top 10 in the Netherlands (#9).

Baker Street

Windin’ your way down on Baker Street
Light in your head and dead on your feet
Well another crazy day
You’ll drink the night away
And forget about everything
This city desert makes you feel so cold.
It’s got so many people but it’s got no soul
And it’s taking you so long
To find out you were wrong
When you thought it had everything

Great Portland Street
Great Portland Street

Take the first train from this platform and down two stations going through Great Portland Street before alighting at Euston Square. Take the exit marked Euston Road North and turn left down Euston Road past the Welcome Institute and Museum and at the next corner you are facing Euston Station.



Euston Station was built in 1837 for the London & Birmingham Railway. The station was the first mainline terminus station opened in a capital city anywhere in the world. It was opened on July 20, 1837, as the terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway constructed by Robert Stephenson. The architect was Philip Hardwick who worked with structural engineer Charles Fox. The station first had only two platforms, one for departures and one for arrivals.

It was also Hardwick who designed the Euston Arch, a 70 feet 6 inches high Doric propylaeum, the largest ever built and which formed the entrance to the station. The grit stone structure complemented the Ionic entrance to the Curzon Street Station in Birmingham (which still exists) which was the other end of the London and Birmingham Railway’s mainline.

Euston Arch 1938
Curzon Street Station in Birmingham – The other
classical “bookend” for the London – Birmingham Railway

Built at Euston Grove, the station was for many years the only north-bound railway exit from London. Designed in the classical style, the most notable feature was the massive Doric Arch entrance. Euston Station was one of the glories of British railway architecture it served as the terminus for travelers to London from Birmingham and the North West. Its architecture, based on Greek temples, was deemed a fitting gateway to the capital and an introduction to the engineering marvels of the railway beyond. It had added later a Great Hall by Philip Charles Hardwick, the son of Euston’s first architect. Commissioned to celebrate the creation of the London and North Western Railway in 1846, this was Euston’s new booking hall. The room immediately impressed by its great scale. Added to this were the double-flight stairs, graceful gallery and elaborate mouldings. Above, the magnificent coffered ceiling, actually built of iron, stretched across the hall’s great width.

Great Hall
Euston Platforms before redevelopment 

Its demolition, with the rest of Euston (1962), was regarded as one of the greatest acts of Post-War architectural vandalism in Britain, the campaign to save it lead to the foundation of the Victorian Society and involved the indomitable Sir John Betjeman. Demolition was speedy and brutal – as recorded in various newsreel documentaries – with the stones being broken and much damaged as the arch was speedily cleared away.

The new station was opened in 1968. Designed in the International Modern style, its somewhat bleak style has been variously described as “hideous”, “a dingy, grey, horizontal nothingness”, “an ugly desecration of a formerly impressive building”, a reflection of “the tawdry glamour of its time” entirely lacking of “the sense of occasion, of adventure, that the great Victorian termini gave to the traveller”, and “the worst of the Central London terminuses, both ugly and unfriendly to use”. Writing in The Times, Richard Morrison stated that “even by the bleak standards of Sixties architecture, Euston is one of the nastiest concrete boxes in London: devoid of any decorative merit; seemingly concocted to induce maximum angst among passengers; and a blight on surrounding streets. The design should never have left the drawing-board – if, indeed, it was ever on a drawing-board. It gives the impression of having been scribbled on the back of a soiled paper bag by a thuggish android with a grudge against humanity and a vampiric loathing of sunlight”.

However British Rail’s cultural vandalism was worse than was realised even at the time. To block off any campaign to rebuild the Arch and despite an offer from the contractor to store the stonework British Rail demanded that it was all dumped and it has transpired the stones were thrown into a tributary of the river Lee in east London. This has now come to light as British Waterways has dredged the channel to salvage the discarded rock on behalf of the Euston Arch Trust as it carries out repair work to the waterways around the 2012 Olympic site.

Euston Gate Lodge with destinations on Quoins

Today’s Euston Station is a forgettable exercise in 1960’s functionalism except for the small matter that it doesn’t function very well on a number of levels. The windswept prairie in front of the station was the ostensible reason for the knocking down the Great Hall and Euston Arch to enhance the commercial value of the development. It contains two nondescript office blocks. One, 40 Melton Street, was the HQ of the much unlamented Railtrack which was the infrastructure company created at rail privitisation in April 1994. The other office block, conveniently, contains the office of a firm of accountants who wound them up when Railtrack went into administration in October 2001. They have now been succeeded by Network rail who are in the same offices.

Euston Arch 1851 – 1962

Now walk across the windswept prairie into Euston and judge for yourself this “functional” station. You will see an expanse of cold, black stone flooring and everywhere you will see passengers camped out on this cold surface for there are hardly any seats for the thousands who must wait here. Whatever coherence the concourse had has been lost by the mish mash of tacky kiosks and retail outlets as Network Rail ”adds value” by increasing rental returns at the expense of passenger convenience. Go into the food court and you will see a place overflowing with passengers looking for seats whilst they enjoy the fast food delights on offer. Pay to use the toilets which reflect the municipal toilet ethos of the rest of the station. Disabled? Well, don’t bother trying to access the Virgin executive lounge or the Britannia Bar on the first floor as Network Rail ignores here (as elsewhere) its legal obligations since October 2004 under phase 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Euston Station’s charming concourse

Far better to leave now before you become too depressed and at the front onto Euston Road you will find all that remains of the Great Terminus which once stood here. In the centre is the war memorial and on either side are two decorative gatehouses with the destinations served carved into their quoin stones. These framed the Doric Arch and the only evidence of this is on the sign of the pub on the forecourt, ironic indeed as this was also part of the “commercial development” which required it to be demolished. Here too you will find the statue of the engineer for the lines into Euston, Robert Stephenson, known as the Father of the Railways. There is no history of weeping statues in front of train stations but as he surveys the mediocre morass for which history was swept away we could allow Robert a few tears.

Robert Stephenson, Father of the Railways
British Library and Pancras in the background

Lift your spirits by turning left onto Euston Road, on the left you will see St. Pancras Church with its porch modeled on the Erecthion of the temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis of Athens supported by Caryatides – Pillars in the shape of females. On the left you will soon pass the wonderful British Library, the life’s work of the architect Colin St. John Wilson. Unfairly derided by Prince Charles and both truncated and hampered during its 31 years as a building project (Yes, 31 years!) Facing Euston Road is a large piazza that includes pieces of public art, such as large sculptures by Eduardo Paolozzi (a bronze statue based on William Blake’s study of Isaac Newton) and Anthony Gormley. It is the largest public building constructed in the United Kingdom in the 20th century and a great tribute to the architect. It is the most well mannered of buildings with its massing and materials acting as a foil to the gothic red brick of St. Pancras, inviting you in to the welcoming and sheltered piazza and then inside leading you onward with its intuitive layout. There is great humanity about the building emphasized by the naturalistic quality and tactile nature of the materials used inside and out. Spirits buoyed by the British Library continue beyond guided by the gothic looking roofline of George Gilbert Scott’s Great Midland Hotel.

St Pancras

Eurostar at St Pancras

The sloping and irregular form of the site posed certain problems and the Midland Railway directors were determined to impress London with their new station. They could see the ornateness of Euston, with its famous arch; the functional success of Lewis Cubitt’s King’s Cross; the design innovations in iron, glass and layout by Brunel at Paddington; and, significantly, the single span roof designs of John Hawkshaw being built at Charing Cross and Cannon Street. When St. Pancras train station opened in 1868 there was no finer railway terminus anywhere in the world. The view down Pentonville Road towards the great gothic facade of the Midland Hotel at St. Pancras was one of the archetypal views of London. Outside it spoke of the confidence of the Victorians and it was designed to make the public accept the new fangled rail travel as the way to go by associating it with images of past greatness. The Train Sheds were the Victorian’s cathedrals, stunning the public with their scale and the beauty of the engineering and frequently suffocating them with their sulphurous interiors!

Barlow’s Train Shed

St Pancras train station was designed by William Barlow in 1863 with construction commencing in 1866. The Midland Railway had a bitter rivalry with the LNER which went into Kings Cross next door so Barlow’s brief was to impress. Unlike the lines into Kings Cross which go in a tunnel under the Regents Canal Barlow brought his lines over the canal giving a wider approach and a lighter feel to St Pancras. To achieve this and prevent a steep incline which would have resulted in the Steam Locomotives ending up on the roadway in front of the station, he built his train shed on an undercroft, effectively an underground goods yard under the station. It is one of the great achievements of architect Alastair Lansley’s design for the restoration is that light is shone on this previously hidden subterranean and the undercroft is opened up to provide the check-in and arrival areas and retail units for the development.

St. Pancras Chambers

The famous Barlow train shed arch spans 240 feet and is over 100 feet high at its apex. On its completion in 1868 it became the largest enclosed space in the world. One of the most recognisable features of St Pancras station today, the red brick Grade 1 listed Gothic front facade was created as part of a competition in 1865 and became the Midland Great Hotel designed by Sir Gilbert Scott and built between 1868 and 1876. It features stunning gothic revival interiors similar to the House of Commons.

The Midland Grand Hotel, the salmon-coloured Gothic fantasia that introduces St Pancras station to London, should not by rights exist. It has spent more of its 127-year life as a problem, a failing building ill-suited to the purposes it was supposed to serve.

The hotel lounge 1907

For the re-opening of the Midland Great Hotel see;

Even at conception, its existence was rackety and perilous. As the author Simon Bradley recounted in his book on St Pancras, it was the last and most extravagant of the great Victorian railway hotels, costing 14 times more than its nearby rival the Great Northern. It opened when the railway boom was turning to bust, the 19th century’s equivalent of the bursting of the dotcom bubble. A floor was shaved off the proposals in an effort to cut costs, and the lavish ornament cheapened. Oak was substituted with cheaper deal. For the completion of its interiors, its celebrated and workaholic architect Sir George Gilbert Scott was replaced with a more malleable practice.

St Pancras Midland Grand Hotel

The greatest threat to the station came in 1966 with plans to amalgamate King’s Cross and St Pancras. However public opinion had been sharpened by the appalling demolition of Euston in 1962. The great poet laureate, Sir John Betjeman took up the cause to protect the station and in 1967 the Government listed the station and hotel as Grade 1. His doughty defence of this station and hotel is remembered in an affectionate life size statue of him admiring the splendidly renovated train shed.

Sir John Betjeman

The previous neglect of St. Pancras is now a distant memory after an 800 million pound refurbishment which has transformed this Grande Dame into London’s gateway to Europe hosting direct services through the channel tunnel to Paris, Lille, Brussels, Lyon and many more destinations. When finished the new St. Pancras Station will be part of a new transport hub with 50M passengers a year when it is completed – busier than any airport. Next door is Kings Cross mainline station, at the back Midland Mainline terminus and between Kings Cross / St Pancras a new Thameslink Station. In 2009 a fast North Kent commuter service to Ebbsfleet, Ashford & Canterbury, the “Olympic Javelin” which will bring you to the 2012 Olympics in 9 minutes and a rebuilt Underground Station with six lines, Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith and City, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria makes this the best connected station complex in London.

Kings Cross

King’s Cross, one of the most famous stations in London, was built for the Great Northern Railway to serve Yorkshire, the north-east of England and Scotland. The engineer was Joseph Cubitt and the station was designed by his older brother, Lewis Cubitt. The station was built in 1851 – 52 on the site of the London Smallpox Hospital. When it opened it was the largest station in England and included coal stores, a six-storey granary and stabling for 300 horses. King’s Cross has always been noted more for its trains than its buildings – the ‘Flying Scotsman’, Britain’s most famous train, made her last journey from here.

The New Underground Western Ticket Hall at King’s X

King’s Cross

In 1830 a monument to King George IV was built at the junction of Gray’s Inn Road, Pentonville Road, and New Road, which later became Euston Road. The monument was sixty feet high, topped by an eleven foot high statue of the king, and was described as “a ridiculous octagonal structure crowned by an absurd statue”. The upper storey was used as a camera obscura while the base in turn housed a police station and a public house. The unpopular building was demolished in 1845, though the area has kept the name of Kings Cross. The modern King’s Cross Station is built on the site of the Cross.

Compared to the elaborate St Pancras Station next door, the design of King’s Cross is functional. The facade, behind a forecourt building, is built of London brick and features two train-sheds arches beneath a 120 ft Italianate clock tower. The 70 ft high train-sheds, one for arrivals and one for departures, extend for 800 ft to the rear of the station. The arched roofs of the Arrival and Departure Halls span about 71 feet each. The cast iron brackets supporting the arches are original, although the laminated wooden arches have since been replaced with steel.

Soon after the station was built, two new platforms had to be created down the middle of the station between the two train-sheds, which proved to be narrow and inconvenient. In 1875 a small suburban station was built alongside to serve north London as far as Finchley and Barnet. Compared to the refurbished St. Pancras next door, Kings Cross started to look tired and sad with very inadequate passenger facilities. Planning permission for the temporary forecourt building expired some time ago and this is also due for redevelopment. The fine train shed roof was dark and dirty, a fact emphasised by the stunning refurbishment of the Barlow shed next door – but now (2012) this jewel of railway architecture has received the TLC it deserves so it can be fully appreciated again.

Kings Cross Train Shed

King’s X – The new piazza

King’s Cross, London has been one of those areas which has been resistant to gentrification presenting at times an alarming and threatening gateway to London for the unwary. Indeed the whole area has seemed stubbornly resistant to improvement with the fine Victorian terraces and squares in front of the station housing cheap boarding houses and the area having a seedy reputation with an undercurrent of petty crime, drug dealing and prostitution.

Well, this has changed out of all recognition as the redevelopment of those two Great Dames of London’s railway stations King’s Cross and St. Pancras has acted as a springboard for a massive £2 Bn regeneration of the neighbourhood. On Christmas Day 2012  – when there were no trains running and therefore no passengers – was the moment when the last section of King’s Cross Station’s 1973 façade was demolished. It marked the start of the last phase of development which will give the station a public square for the first time in its 160-year history. The 7,000 square metre square will open to the public in August 2013 representing a major project deliverable for Network Rail which is responsible for Britain’s Rail Infrastructure.

The removal of the “temporary” concourse, which has been there for over 40 years (!),  means the redevelopment of the Grade I listed King’s Cross Station to a design by John McAslan and Partners, is almost complete, with construction of the new Southern Square under way.  Major remodelling of the station has delivered improved passenger facilities, rationalised operational activities and significantly increased retail opportunities at the station. The redevelopment has played a key role in the wider transformation of the King’s Cross area – infrastructure, social and commercial changes now connect the station with the substantial King’s Cross Central scheme north of the station, as well as improved interchange links with the London Underground, St. Pancras Station, Thameslink services, taxis and buses.

The transformation of the King’s Cross area gained critical mass with the reincarnation of St. Pancras as the Eurostar Terminal to Paris, Brussels and beyond. Now the final piece of the jigsaw is in place as the new concourse at one of the UK’s best-known railway stations was officially opened. The £550 million work at King’s Cross in London represents the biggest transformation in its 160-year history.

The shell-shaped glass and steel building provides three times the space of the current station concourse.Taken in conjunction with the refurbished Tube station the new Kings Cross will offer the millions of passengers who use it a far better experience. There will be better facilities, new links with the Tube, better links to St Pancras station, more shops and restaurants, larger destination boards and clearer station announcements.

King’s Cross Renaissance

The new structure by architect John McAslan is many-faceted to connect what are in effect seven transport hubs which form Kings Cross / St Pancras. Its overriding focus has been the critical demands of the ever-increasing crowds moving between the various components of the King’s Cross area – between St Pancras and King’s Cross, between the suburban train sheds of platforms 9-11 and the Underground station, between platforms 0-8 and everywhere else. There are 100,000 people moving between these places at peak times of the day, and to handle them a new concourse was needed for people to circulate, wait and move on.

The “temporary” canopy which lasted over 40 years has now been demolished

King’s Cross Station is well-known to anyone who has ever played Monopoly and has recently become even more famous since it first featured in the Harry Potter books.

Platform 9 3/4

Platform 9 3/4 serves the famous Hogwart’s Express but not many people seem able to find it! However, in the film ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’, St Pancras stands for King’s Cross Station – the Gothic building fits in better with the magical story than functional King’s Cross!

Today King’s Cross runs services to and from north and north-east of England and Scotland, and suburban services to north London and Hertfordshire. Platforms 1 – 8 are located in the main train-sheds, while Platforms 9 – 11 forms a suburban terminus.

The Flying Scotsman at King’s Cross
A 1950’s British Rail poster of a night service leaving King’s Cross

On November 18th 1987 a dropped match started a blaze at King’s Cross tube station that killed 31 people. Smoking on the sub-surface portions of the Underground had been banned two years before the 1987 fire, but at the time smokers were still allowed to light up on their way out of the station. It’s thought that a smoker’s match fell beneath the wooden escalator and ignited the mixture of grease and rubbish that had built up underneath. Firefighters arrived to find smoke billowing from the exits to the tube and it wasn’t until six hours later that the fire was finally extinguished

King’s Cross Fire 18th November 1987

The escalator on which the fire started was built during World War II, and had never been replaced since. The stairs and sides of the escalator were made of wood, meaning that they burned quickly and easily. Although smoking was banned on the subsurface sections of the London Underground in February 1985 (a consequence of the Oxford Circus fire), the fire was most probably caused by a commuter discarding a burning match, which fell down the side of the escalator onto the running track (Fennell 1988, p. 111). The running track had not been cleaned in some time and was covered in grease and fibrous detritus.

In total, 31 people died and more than 60 received injuries ranging from severe burns to smoke inhalation. The fatalities were among those unable to escape from the ticket hall before succumbing to the effects of the latter stages of thick smoke and the intense heat. Ironically the fatalities were amongst those who followed their natural instinct to escape upwards; those who stayed on the platforms were largely unharmed.

Kwasi Afari Minta, the disaster’s most badly burned survivor, 

has endured 30 operations in 25 years

A public inquiry into the incident was conducted by Mr. Desmond Fennell, QC, assisted by a panel of four expert advisers. It found the primary cause of the fire was the disposal of the lighted match and the secondary causes as inadequate maintenance, inadequate communication and failure to learn the lessons from pre-cursor events as there had been a number of previous escalator fires.

The Fennell investigation’s findings prompted the introduction of the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989 (usually referred to as the Section 12 Regulations because they were introduced under section 12 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971). These led to: the replacement of all wooden escalators in sub-surface Underground stations with metal ones, with the only remaining wooden escalators (as of 2006) located at the above-ground Greenford station. Additionally, the regulations called for mandatory installation of automatic fire sprinklers and heat detectors in escalators, mandatory yearly fire safety training for all station staff, and improvements in coordination with emergency services. It also led to stringent restrictions on the types of paint permitted for use on the Underground.

Emergency services at Kings Cross after the 

London bombings on 7 July 2005.

Memorial to the victims of the London 7/7 Bombings. 26 passengers
were killed on the Piccadilly Line between Russell Square
and King’s Cross Underground stations on the 7th July 2005

The attacks by four suicide bombers on the London Transport system on 7th July 2005 were the largest mass murder in Britain in peacetime killing 52 passengers on The Tube and on the No. 30 bus at Tavistock Square and injuring 800 more, many seriously. Twenty-six people died when teenage suicide bomber Jermaine Lindsay blew himself up between King’s Cross and Russell Square Tube stations in the deadliest of the four atrocities on July 7 2005. Earlier delays on the Piccadilly Line meant the train was packed with up to 1,500 passengers in ”crushed” conditions, the hearing was told. One woman travelling in the carriage where the bomb went off said she had never seen so many people in one Tube carriage before.


Lindsay, 19, was also able to claim more victims than his fellow terrorists because the Piccadilly Line is much deeper underground and has narrower tunnels than the Circle Line, where the other blasts took place. In contrast to the other attacks, survivors of the King’s Cross explosion escaped from both ends of the train. The force of the blast in the King’s Cross bomb attack in London on 7/7 was so great that six of those killed were blown on to the tracks, the inquest heard.

Remembering the London Bombings

King’s Cross Underground Station today is a station transformed as part of the works for St. Pancras Eurostar and the building of a complete new circulation areas and ticket halls with step free access envisaged to the Circle / Metropolitan, Victoria, Piccadilly and Northern Lines. The new Northern ticket hall at King’s Cross St Pancras was opened in December 2009. The new Northern and Western ticket halls significantly increased the capacity of the station to manage the rising number of customers interchanging between the Underground and King’s Cross and St Pancras International mainline stations. The Northern Hall features new direct access routes to the Piccadilly, Victoria and Northern line platforms via newly constructed pedestrian tunnels, and lifts to provide step-free access to the Piccadilly and Victoria lines from street level. The ticket hall also includes the first permanent artwork integral to a station since the 1980s – Full Circle, by the Norwegian artist Knut Henrik Henriksen, which is on the new Northern line concourse at platform level. The Western Ticket Hall similarly connects King’s Cross with St Pancras and provides greater capacity and step free access to the Metropolitan / Circle Line platforms.

Full Circle, by the Norwegian artist Knut Henrik Henriksen

North ticket hall

Now back to the Circle Line in the bright and refurbished Underground and head one stop eastwards to Farringdon.

Farringdon Station

The station was opened on 9 January 1863 as the terminus of the original Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground metro line, with a banquet for 350 of the good and great of London and opened to passenger service the next day. The station, initially named Farringdon Street, was originally located a short distance from today’s building. The line ran from Farringdon to Paddington, a distance of 4 miles (6 km). The station was relocated on 23 December 1865 when the Metropolitan Railway opened an extension to Moorgate. It was renamed Farringdon and High Holborn on 26 January 1922, and its present name on 21 April 1936. The lines from Farringdon to King’s Cross stations run alongside the culverted Fleet River, which was located here until 1812. The station building is an unusually well-preserved piece of early 20th-century London Underground architecture; it still has its original signage (with the name “Farringdon and High Holborn” on the facade) and other indications of the Metropolitan Railway’s ambitions to be like the main line companies, with a sign for a “Parcel Office” surviving on the exterior wall.

Farringdon, Tube and Thameslink Platforms

In 1902, 19.2 million passengers used Holborn, Ludgate and St. Paul’s. Use declined with the loss of the cross London traffic until electrification. The growth of council housing developments in S. E. London and Kent increased traffic but this was not maintained and in 1960 they were back to the 1902 level with 88% of the traffic arriving or departing during the rush hour. The “City Line” was still a vital north-south freight link with some 90 trains a day in 1962, but all regular freight and parcels services were withdrawn in 1969. Although disused for many years the Snow Hill tunnel was finally abandoned in 1971 and the track was lifted.

The Snow Hill tunnel was reopened in 1988 as part of the new Thameslink network which came into service in May 1990, initially as part of British Rail but privatised since March 1997. To coincide with the opening of Thameslink, Holborn Viaduct Station was closed on 22nd January 1990. The line into Holborn Viaduct over Ludgate Hill was removed and a new line built that drops down steeply from Blackfriars station into a new station called City Thameslink (opened 29.5.1990) beneath the former Holborn Viaduct Station. The station was originally called St. Paul’s Thameslink but was renamed in 1991 to avoid confusion from St. Paul’s station on the Central line. There is a major project to enhance the Thameslink Line which goes from Bedford to Brighton taking in Luton Airport, Central London and Gatwick Airport on the way. As the project was originally called Thameslink 2000 you may suspect there has been some slippage!


This is a station where all the platforms are nominally underground, on three levels. The top level, which is really a cut and partial cover, has the Circle, Metropolitan and City lines passing through and serves as a terminus for a branch line of the Thameslink service to Bedford. The intermediate level is the terminus for a branch of the WAGN service out to Cambridge and the Anglia Region. The bottom Level is where the Northern line passes through. All in all, this is a large, busy station with only the entrances showing above ground. On 28 February 1975 a London Underground train crashed at Moorgate station, killing 43 (including the Driver) and injuring many more. The train, arriving from Drayton Park, was packed with commuters when it overshot the platform and ploughed into a dead-end tunnel.

Moorgate Disaster 1975

A train travelling downhill into Moorgate (the last station on this short line) sped through the station and crashed into the wall at the end. As rescue workers prepared a long fight to bring all the injured out of the mangle of compressed carriages, a full-scale investigation was set up into the Moorgate tube disaster.

There was a lot of speculation on what caused the crash. The key question is why the driver, Leslie Newson, aged 56, accelerated into the blind tunnel when his 8.37am commuter train from Drayton Park should have been braking. It sped past platform nine at twice the usual speed of 15mph and then ran out of track.

The first three of the six coaches telescoped at the end of the 80-yard tunnel after crashing through sand piles and over the buffers. Many of the dead had been found beneath the first carriage; the first fifteen feet had been compacted down to two feet and is embedded in the end wall. All that day teams of doctors, fireman and nurses wrestled with the wreckage, in dust and withering heat, attempting to reach those still alive. A teenage policewoman was carried out after twelve hours. One of her feet had been pinned down by the tangle of metal and had to be amputated at the scene.

The driver was elderly, so heart attack or something similar was assumed. The trains are fitted with a “dead-man’s hand”, which has to be held in position manually all the time, so that if a driver has a heart attack, for example, and released this, the train would brake automatically. The British tabloids made several outrageous claims, including that the dead-man’s hand was held in place with some object, that traces of whiskey were found in the driver’s flask, that the guard was negligent, and so on.

In fact no satisfactory explanation has ever been given for the cause of the Moorgate disaster. The driver of the death train had been in perfect health, was found not to be suffering from alcohol or drugs, and was very unlikely to have committed suicide – he had cash on him to buy his daughter a car that afternoon. He was also known as steady and reliable – not the suicidal type. He had also been with the Underground since 1969 and was known to be a careful, conscientious driver, the only thing sullying his record was a single instance of slightly overrunning a platform. The guard admitted that he had not noticed the train getting faster, as he had been sat down, reading a newspaper. People on the platform when the train arrived all said they could see the driver sitting in his cab, looking straight ahead, and apparently holding his controls, including the “deadman’s handle”, in the normal position. Investigations carried out after the crash confirmed this, and the unfortunate driver had not even raised his hands to protect his face at the moment of impact.

Nothing was wrong with the train, or the signalling equipment and track. So what did happen? Possibly he “ran out of railway”. In those days you had to work as a Guard before you could apply for a Train Driver’s job and Leslie Newson had been a driver for only 3 months. From Drayton Park to Moorgate took only 10 minutes and the driver had made that journey 4 times already that day. Sometimes a driver goes into a state of mind where he is detached from the railway and becomes myopic. If this happens at a station you can sometimes overrun or miss it altogether, and continue on to the next station. The reason for the overshoot was never satisfactorily determined by the subsequent inquiry. London Undergrounds’ signaling systems today are designed to stop a similar incident.

Barbican Station from the road bridge
Barbican Tube Station showing the 
cut and cover nature of the track with the 
towers of the Barbican Centre in the background 
Barbican station platforms

Back onto the Circle Line we pass through Barbican Station on the way to Liverpool Street. Originally called Aldersgate (from the Norse / Old English for “Old Street” where the Roman Road to the Midlands, Watling Street, entered the City) this was bombed in the WW11 destroying the impressive glass and cast iron roof whose supports still forlornly overlook the Underground and the peak hour Thameslink platforms. The bombing led to a firestorm destroying a huge warehouse complex in the area which supplied the city with foodstuffs. The impressive Barbican Arts Centre and residential complex was built by the City of London on the ruins.

Barbican was originally called Aldersgate Street station but the name was changed to avoid confusion with the similar sounding Aldgate Station on the Metropolitan and Circle lines. When it was still known as Aldersgate a bomb left by an anarchist group on a Metropolitan Railway train exploded at the station on 26 April 1897. 60 people were injured, ten seriously, but the only fatality was Harry Pitts (born in 1861 in Devon) who died from his injuries. At the inquest into Pitts’ death, the jury found that he had been killed “by a bomb, or some other explosive, maliciously placed in the carriage by some unknown person or persons”. A verdict of “wilful murder” was recorded.

Liverpool Street Station

Liverpool Street in the 1920s and today

Liverpool Street Station, the terminus of the Great Eastern Railway, was opened in 1874 – the last of London’s great mainline stations to be completed. Its lines radiate to much of North East London and Essex, and out to Cambridge, Ipswich, Harwich and Norwich. Standing at the northern edge of the City, Liverpool Street Station is one of the capital’s busiest commuter stations, indeed viewing the concourse in the morning peak you may feel you have stumbled on a remake of “Day of the Thrifids”! The building was designed by E. Wilson, chief engineer of the GER, who also designed the Gothic-style offices and entrance.

Liverpool Street Concourse

Great Eastern Hotel

The Great Eastern Hotel, built in 1884, and extended in 1901, was designed by Charles Barry, whose father worked with Pugin on the Houses of Parliament. Liverpool Street remained virtually unchanged until the mid-1980s when it was transformed by a major redevelopment programme in association with the impressive Broadgate development which utilised the airspace over the tracks. The facilities of the station were modernised and the eastern train shed was demolished for a new office block. The platforms to the east of the station are now located beneath that office building. The redevelopment was particularly successful as it allowed the modernisation of the station and greatly improved the station environment, yet retained the grand 19th century architecture. Indeed unless you know where the old and new begin it is very difficult looking at the impressive ironwork of the concourse roof to detect the join. There are two other architectural items of note. The station bar “Hamilton Hall” was the former booking office and contains fine plasterwork including exuberant cherubic ladies in a state of undress! And across the road the property development talents of the Metropolitan Railway can be seen in the handsome Liverpool Street Arcade. We rejoin the Circle Line here to head down to our next station, Aldgate.

Liverpool St. Train Shed with Class 90 Loco

Shortly after we leave the station we cross the area where another of the suicide bombers at 8.50 a.m. on 7th July 2005 destroyed his life and those of 7 innocent commuters on a similar eastbound Circle Line train. Shehzad Tanweer (22) lived in Leeds with his mother and father working in a fish and chip shop. The people he killed here were: Lee Baisden, 34, an accountant from Romford who was going to work at the London Fire Brigade. Benedetta Ciaccia, 30, an Italian-born business analyst from Norwich. Richard Ellery, 21, was travelling from his home in Ipswich to his job in the Jessops store in Kensington, via Liverpool Street Station. Richard Gray, 41, a tax manager from Ipswich. Anne Moffat, 48, from Harlow in Essex, who was head of marketing and communications for Girl Guiding UK. Fiona Stevenson, 29, a solicitor who lived at the Barbican, London. Carrie Taylor, a 24-year-old graduate from Billericay, Essex.

Aldgate Bombing 7th July 2005


The station was opened on 18 November 1876 with the southbound extension to Tower Hill opening on 25 September 1882, completing the Circle. Services from Aldgate originally ran far further west than they do now, reaching as far as Richmond, and trains also used to run from Aldgate to Hammersmith (the Hammersmith & City Line now bypasses the station). It only became the terminus of the Metropolitan Line in 1941. Prior to that, Metropolitan trains had continued on to the southern termini of the East London Line. The station was badly damaged by German bombing during World War II.


Platforms 1 and 4 at Aldgate are two of the only three platforms on the network to be served exclusively by the Circle Line (the other being Platform 2 at Gloucester Road). All other Circle Line platforms are shared by the District, Metropolitan and / or Hammersmith & City Lines.

Aldgate was the easternmost gateway through London Wall leading from the City of London to Whitechapel and the East End, the name is derived from Ale-gate, literally open to all, as uniquely, no tolls were exacted at this gate. Aldgate along with much of the Circle Line has appeared in literature, in this case by Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Aldgate is a junction, and there was a network of points. On these his eager, questioning eyes were fixed, and I saw on his keen, alert face that tightening of the lips, that quiver of the nostrils, and concentration of the heavy tufted brows which I knew so well.

‘Points,’ he muttered, ‘the points.'”

The Bruce-Partington Plans

We stay on the (now) Westbound Circle Line as we negotiate the Aldgate Curve and pass through Tower Hill station which serves the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Tower Hill station first opened on September 25 1882 as Tower of London station. It was soon renamed Mark Lane (Tower Hill). The station was closed on 4th February 1967 when the nearby Tower Hill station was opened in its place and it is looking much brighter after a recent refurbishment. The line now passes close to but unusually not through our next mainline rail station, Fenchurch Street.

Fenchurch Street

This station is unusual in that it is the only Central London mainline station not to have direct underground access, the nearest Underground being at Tower Hill. The Station is fronted by quite a nice little concourse. This first railway inside the walls of the City of London was originally the London & Blackwall Railway, founded in 1836 to compete with the river traffic of the Thames. From street level it is obvious that the station is constructed on a viaduct. As a consequence the spacious main concourse is set at first floor level. The original terminus was in the Minories but in 1853 the line was extended to Fenchurch Street. This station also served the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway (LT&S) and the Eastern Counties Railway, later the Great Eastern. The London to Blackwall trains used Platform 1, while the trains for Tilbury and the Great Eastern Railway departed from the other platforms. Built in 1853 – 54, the station was designed by George Berkeley, engineer of the LT&S. The facade, with its rounded gable roof, is of grey stock brick, and in the 1960,s the flat awning shielding the entrance was replaced with a striking zigzag canopy. The first floor facade has 11 round-arched windows, and above these is a frieze with the station clock.

We continue through Monument station named after Sir Christopher Wren’s (That is the attribution but it is more probably by Robert Hooke) nearby monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Monument to the Great Fire. In September 1666 the heart of
England’s capital, the City of London (now London’s financial district),
was devastated by fire. The Great Fire of London started in
a baker’s shop in the aptly named Pudding Lane

Monument station

Cannon Street

Cannon Street Tube entrance after redevelopment

London’s Cannon Street has seen many changes of its structure and appearance since its opening on. By 1876, the Metropolitan Railway (MR) and Metropolitan District Railway (MDR) had constructed the majority of the Inner Circle (now the Circle Line), reaching Aldgate and Mansion House respectively. The companies were in dispute over the completion of the route as the MDR was struggling financially and the MR was concerned that completion would affect its revenues through increased competition from the MDR in the City area. City financiers keen to see the line completed, established the Metropolitan Inner Circle Completion Railway in 1874 to link Mansion House to Aldgate. Forced into action, the MR bought-out the company and it and the MDR began construction of the final section of the Inner Circle in 1879. On 6 October 1884, the final section of the Inner Circle was opened along with Cannon Street station.

The only obvious original part of Cannon Street Station still in existence are the two huge towers either side of the platforms, along with the original side walls (all of which are listed). The original train shed roof was removed in the late 1950’s due to extensive World War II bomb damage and the platforms lost their weather protection as a result. The current six story office block seen above the station today was constructed in the late 1980’s and gives platforms underneath it a rather claustrophobic feel about them. One of the reasons for the poor quality of the redeveloped station and the hideous offices above – now thankfully replaced by a high quality new development – was a notorious example of post-war corruption. The architect selected to design the new building was John Poulson who was good friends with Graham Tunbridge, a British Rail surveyor whom he had met during the war. Poulson took advantage of this friendship to win contracts for the redevelopment of various British Rail termini. He paid Tunbridge a weekly income of £25 and received in return building contracts, including the rebuilding of London Waterloo and East Croydon. At his trial in 1974 he admitted that shortly before receiving the Cannon Street building contract, he had given Tunbridge a cheque for £200 and a suit worth £80. Poulson was later found guilty of corruption charges and was given a seven-year concurrent sentence; Tunbridge received a 15-month suspended sentence and £4,000 fine for his role in the affair.

The Cannon Street Hotel c. 1910

The station had a very similar hotel to Charing Cross Station at the rear, although it was never as successful and subsequently does not survive today. The station is a contrast between “totally functional” and “interestingly historic”, due to the totally different designs combined. There are currently seven platforms in use. Having said that, the concourse has an airy and uncluttered feel due to the retail units being on a lower entrance level. It is currently being redeveloped as the 60’s offices above the station frontage are demolished and replaced so a new improved station should emerge from the scaffolding.

Cannon Street from the river
The original pre WW11 station canopy

It is worth while breaking your journey here to see two wonders of London. Look to your left as you leave the station towards St Paul’s and you’ll realise the truth of Wren’s epitaph “If you seek his monument, look around you”. Cross the road and to your left go up Walbrook (originally a stream by the city walls, it still flows underneath) and you come to St Stephen Walbrook. Go inside to see the best (and only symmetrical) Wren church interior. There are 37 Wren churches of the 49 he built still extant and a number are a short walk from here including St Mary Abchurch and St Botolph’s. There is also London’s oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks, which is built in the same style and presumed to be by Wren or one of his pupils. Chad Varah, the founder of the Samaritans, was vicar here for many years and its free lunchtime concerts provide moments for reflection in the midst of the bustle of the City.

St Stephen Walbrook

At the top of Walbrook turn left and in the front of a 60’s office block you will find the Temple of Mithras. This is a Roman temple dating from the 3rd Century A.D., The cult of Mithras was a Persian cult with adherents in the Roman Army who were attracted to it being an all male cult. It has many similarities with the later Christian worship including redemption through a blood sacrifice and its temples were the model for the Christian basilicas.

Temple of Mithras

Mansion House – Home of the Lord Mayor of London

Head back to Cannon Street and stay on your clockwise journey through the station call Mansion House even though Bank Station is closer to the Lord Mayor’s house. The station was opened on 3 July 1871 by the Metropolitan District Railway (MDR, now the District Line) when the company extended the line from Blackfriars. The station became the new eastern terminus of the MDR. In the 1920s the station entrance was rebuilt to a design by Charles Holden. It featured a tall glazed screen with Underground roundel. Unfortunately this was demolished in 1989 as part of a nondescript office development in the airspace above the station so there is little to detain us here as so stay on the train to Blackfriars.


Blackfriars station, built by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway on the south side of the River Thames, was opened in 1864. Some twenty two years later, after construction of the bridge across the river, a new station was opened during 1886 on the north side and the original one closed. When opened it was named St. Paul’s, a name it kept until 1937 when it was changed by the Southern Railway to Blackfriars. Ever since its opening it has been an important terminus servicing trains to Kent and south London. For many years it was, as well as a terminus, a through station with trains calling at its two most westerly platforms en route to and from Holborn Viaduct, crossing Ludgate Hill on a handsome bridge that has featured on countless Christmas Cards down the years. The beautifully renovated crest on the south side of the Blackfriars Bridge proudly proclaims the railway’s original owner.

Old Blackfriars Railway Bridge with
London, Chatham and Dover Railway crest.


Blackfriars was a sad site internally with a cheap and nasty post war train shed and a depressingly claustrophobic and awkward interior. However there is a major redevelopment planned with new platforms and a luminous glass station being built on the bridge over the Thames as part of the Thameslink Project. Onward now as we head through the Temple (originally named after the nearby church of the Knights Templar) to Embankment Station.

Temple station 


For more on the Inns of Court including the Inner and Outer Temple see;


Embankment Station

This station derives its name from the Thames Embankment, a major feat of 19th century civil engineering in central London. Designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, it incorporates the main low level interceptor sewer from west London, over which a wide road and riverside walkway were also constructed, as well as a retaining wall along the north side of the River Thames. The Embankment was constructed along the Thames foreshore leaving the reclaimed foreshore to be occupied by the Circle Line and the sewer with a roadway and the rather lovely Embankment Gardens on top.

The final chamber of the Fleet Sewer.The huge metal doors are the floodgates onto the Thames and the circular objects are one way valves which open when the tide on the Thames is out to release the chambers contents into the river. The Circle Line and the Embankment Gardens are beside this main interceptor sewer.


For more on Joseph Bazalgette and the OTHER subterranean London see;

Leave Embankment station and head up Villiers Street. The station was built at the back of Charing Cross Station and this was its original name. If you look up to your left you’ll see the Hungerford Walkway, a pedestrian route which connects Charing X, Embankment and Waterloo Station via the Hungerford footbridge which also affords a wonderful perspective of London’s riverside. Go a short distance into Embankment Garden’s on the right and you will see Embankment Gardens, the last remaining Watergate along the Thames. This will show you the original width of the Thames which was a wide muddy river where the mansions had “Watergates” for boats as this was the safest and most dignified way of travel with the royal palaces mainly lining the Thames at Greenwich, The Tower of London, Whitehall, Ham, Kew and the great palace at Hampton Court. Further up river was the palace of the Duke of Savoy which gives its name to the hotel and the road lining the river was “The Strand”. Head back up Villiers Street to Charing Cross.

Watergate, Embankment Gardens

Charing Cross

The name Charing Cross derives from the last of the 12 commemorative crosses erected by a grieving Edward I in 1290. The crosses marked each stopping place of the funeral cortege of his queen, Eleanor of Castile, as it made its way from Nottinghamshire to Westminster Abbey. The cross that now stands in the forecourt of the station is a 19th century replica. This cross is the point from which all UK road distances to London are measured. Both the monument and the Charing Cross Hotel were designed in 1863 by E M Barry, the architect of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Eleanor Cross

Charing Cross Station, on the site of the former Hungerford Market, was built for the South Eastern Railway (SER), and opened in 1864 as an extension from their London Bridge terminus. In 1992 a new office block and shopping centre was built above the station platforms. This building, designed by Terry Farrell, dominates its neighbours and resembles a great ocean liner, with portholes looking out over Villiers Street. The building is seen at is best from the river.

Charing Cross Station from the river


Charing Cross Station was once the gateway to Paris and the Continent and details of its former destinations can be seen on the frieze in the concourse. In 1923 the newly formed Southern Railway decided to concentrate its Continental traffic at Victoria. Today Charing Cross serves south-east England, including Dover, Folkestone and Ramsgate, and is mainly a commuter station. Head back down and continue one stop on the Circle to Westminster.

Westminster Station

Escalators at Westminster

As part of the Jubilee Line extension the station was completely reconstructed to designs by Michael Hopkins & Partners. During the reconstruction, a vast, 39 metre (127 foot) deep void was excavated underneath the old station to house the escalators, lifts and stairs to the deep-level Jubilee Line platforms. This made it the deepest ever excavation in central London. One of the most difficult problems the engineers faced was to construct the station around the Circle and District line tracks, which continued in service throughout the construction. The tracks had to be lowered by 300 millimetres (1 foot), an operation achieved a few millimetres at a time during the few hours each night that the system was closed. The station was by far the most complex in terms of engineering of any of those on the Jubilee line and it was the last to open, on 22 December 1999. Portcullis House above the station, by the same architect, was carried out in parallel with station works. Nothing of the old station remains. The station’s design won a 2001 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) award and earned it a place on the shortlist for the RIBA’s prestigious Stirling Prize.

Take time to travel down the “box” to the Jubilee Line extension with its platform edge doors. The “box” gives you the impression you are in an Escher engraving and the spray concrete used in the “Austrian Tunneling Method” is deliberately left exposed to demonstrate how it was constructed. Back to the clockwise Circle Line to travel one stop to St. James’s Park, where the Underground’s listed headquarters was built in the airspace over the track.

St. James’s Park

In 1926 The Underground Group commissioned 55 Broadway, over St James’s Park station, as its new headquarters. It was to replace Electric Railway House, whose offices were too cramped for the growing organisation. The headquarters was to symbolise the company’s vision of public transport being at the heart of London’s social and commercial life. Frank Pick, assistant managing director of the Underground Group, commissioned the architect Charles Holden of the firm Adams Holden and Pearson to design the building.

On its completion in 1929, 55 Broadway was the tallest building in London on one side overlooking the Houses of Parliament and on the other side overlooking Buckingham Palace. The Directors had a clear idea of their place in the world! However, building restrictions prevented the floors above the seventh being used as offices. The modern and assertive design was considered an architectural masterpiece with the cruciform layout enabling natural light and ventilation throughout. It was awarded the London Architectural Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1929.

55, Broadway, London Underground’s HQ

The Underground Group’s desire to make a bold architectural statement in keeping with the ideals of the company had been realised. The obsession with clear design and image was continued through to Harry Beck’s famous schematic map, commissioning its own “machine typeface” to make its posters, signage and publications clearer, building instantly recognisable branded station buildings and station fittings and using engaging and innovative advertising in the 30’s. Today London Underground’s trademark roundel is the second most recognised brand worldwide.

 Harry Beck and his famous schematic Tube map

Holden commissioned some of the most famous sculptors of the day to carve large figurative reliefs, depicting the four winds, directly onto the stonework. These are high up each side of the four wings. The sculptors were Eric Gill, Henry Moore, Eric Aumonier, Samuel Rabinovitch, Allan Wyon and Alfred Gerrard.

Platform Kiosk 1935

Holden commissioned Jacob Epstein to create two groups over the entrance fronts called “Day” and “Night”. Their primitive, vital style and the figures’ nudity created a furore. Both Pick and Holden stood by the sculptor, Pick even tendering his resignation in support of Epstein. His resignation was not accepted and the sculptures stayed. However an inch and a half had to be removed from the penis of the figure in ‘Day’, as the original size offended contemporary sensibilities. Epstein’s sculptures were not universally slated. One contemporary commentator wrote, “When one looks at them one hardly likes them, but they make such a powerful impression on the mind that when one has left the building they stand out in the memory and seem vividly to symbolise their subjects”. The same commentator went on to say “one would be happier if all buildings were as good as this”

For more about 55, Broadway;

For more about Charles Holden;

In the 1980s the ground floor of the building was redesigned to create a new, improved reception area and a shopping mall. 55 Broadway is now a Grade II listed building. Now we head clockwise one stop to the station named after the person described on her own coinage as “Deo Gratia, Victoria Regina Omnia Britanorum, Imperatrix Indianorum, Fidei Defensor.” Alexandrina Victoria Saxe-Coburg Gotha, By the Grace of God, Queen of all the Britons, Empress of India, Defender of the Faith.

London Victoria

The National Rail station is officially named London Victoria, a name that is commonly used outside London, but rarely by Londoners. Operationally, there are effectively two separate stations: The eastern (Chatham) side, comprising platforms 1–8, is the terminus for services to Kent on the Chatham Main Line and its branches. The western (Brighton) side, comprising platforms 9–19, is the terminus for services to Surrey and Sussex, including Gatwick Airport and Brighton on the Brighton Main Line and its branches.

Victoria Station and Grosvenor Hotel

Its origins lie with the Great Exhibition of 1851 promoted by Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, when the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway came into existence, serving the site of the exhibition, which had been transferred to Sydenham from Hyde Park. The terminus of that railway was at Stewarts Lane in Battersea on the south side of the river. In 1858, a joint enterprise, the Victoria Station and Pimlico Railway, was set up to take trains over the river, 1.25 miles (2km) in length. The railway was owned by four railway companies: the Great Western (GWR); London & North Western (LNWR); the London, Brighton and South Coast (LBSCR); and the London, Chatham and Dover Railways (LCDR). It was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1858. The station, opened in 1862, was in two parts: the western side, occupied by the Brighton company, with six platforms, ten tracks and a hotel (the 300-bedroom Grosvenor Hotel); while the Chatham company occupied a less imposing wooden-fronted building. The latter’s station had nine tracks and was shared by broad-gauge trains of the GWR, which arrived from Southall via the West London Extension Joint Railway through Chelsea. The approach tracks and station were built on the route and basin of the Grosvenor Canal.

Victoria Station Frontage
The Orient Express at Victoria
courtesy; J. Gadston


Today’s Victoria Underground station is straining at the seams with frequent closures due to overcrowding and a much delayed congestion relief scheme is taking place along with a major property development of the District Line station buildings and arcade. The Victoria Line is the only tube line to be exclusively named after a mainline station and when it was fully opened in 1971 it was the first new underground line since the early 1900’s. All of its stations, except Pimlico, are interchange stations and it is the only Underground line which is actually underground throughout its entire length, only its depot at Northumberland Park sees daylight. Head back to the clockwise Circle Line and heading through Sloane Square, whose impressive glass and cast iron roof was destroyed by wartime bombing. We now come to South Kensington.

Sloane Square Station with the nondescript 1960’s property development over the station 

The money from property development was not
invested in the station as the poor design
standards on the platform indicate 

South Kensington

South Kensington Station arcade


Coming into South Kensington it is immediately obvious that the sub-surface station once had 4 lines rather than the current two with a central island platform. In its original incarnation there were two tracks for the Metropolitan Railway (MR, later the Metropolitan Line) and two for the Metropolitan District Railway (MDR, later the District Line). There were separate platforms making a total of 4 platforms. The station frontage and arcade is an iconic part of this fashionable London area which owes its character to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and its aftermath which saw the building of the Albert Hall, The “Imperial Colleges” and the great museum quarter of London with the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and last but not least, The Victoria and Albert Museum.

South Kensington Eastbound Platform

This area was dubbed by the Victorian press as Albertropolis’ a name coined in the 1850s and resurrected in recent years for the 87-acre site south of Hyde Park, purchased by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 with profits from the Great Exhibition. Exhibition Road – whose route the subway follows – forms the spine of “Albertropolis”. The nickname satirised the vision of Prince Albert, the Commission’s President, of the area as a centre for education, science and art – an ambition largely realised within a few decades of the Prince’s death. In 1885 the MDR opened the pedestrian subway from the station beneath the length of Exhibition Road giving sheltered access to the newly built museums although there was a toll on using the passage until 1908.

For more on Albertropolis see;

Built in what was then a brand new quarter of London, the 433 metre (474 yard) subway stands as an early example of managing foot traffic below ground and was recently listed to preserve its status as a relic of South Kensington’s long-standing function as an international exhibition centre. With stalls, buskers and other facilities it is an underground street and forms the core of a project by the local council to restore and enhance this quarter by 2012.

Subway to Museums

South Kensington station was opened on 24 December 1868 by the Metropolitan Railway (MR, later the Metropolitan Line) and the Metropolitan District Railway (MDR, later the District Line). The MR had previously opened an extension from Praed Street (now Paddington) to Gloucester Road on 1 October 1868 and opened tracks to South Kensington to connect to the MDR when the later opened the first section of its line to Westminster. Although the two companies were rivals, each company operated its trains over the other’s tracks in a joint service known as the “Inner Circle”.

Following the purchase of the MDR by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London Ltd in 1902, 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 (GNP and BR, now the Piccadilly Line) between Finsbury Park and Hammersmith. A new building to access this tube line was uilt at the rear of the existing station designed by Leslie Green and built with the GNP and BR’s distinctive ox-blood red glazed terracotta façade. Following the replacement of the original lifts with escalators, the GNP and BR station building has not been used to provide access to the tube platforms. It remains abandoned on Pelham Street though the remainder of the terrace of which it once formed a part has been demolished. It is possible that the entrance may be reinstated as a means by which the mobility impaired may access the tube platforms.

Original “Piccadilly and Brompton” station entrance 

Being in a fashionable part of London the station and its buildings are somewhat iconic and have appeared in many movies. They have been blighted for over 20 years by property development proposals which have not passed muster with the local council. Going back on the clockwise Circle Line train we then head through Gloucester Road. This has 4 surface platforms:

Platform 1: District Line westbound
Platform 2: Circle Line westbound
Platform 3: District and Circle Lines eastbound

The disused platform 4 is used for Platform for Art installations, often placed into the brick recesses in the northern retaining wall and providing a welcome changing display for passengers going through this station. Here the Circle Line diverges as we are about to cross over the most extreme example of the uneasy relationship between the prosperous MR and cash strapped MDR when they jointly operated the Circle Line, the only part of the Underground system built illegally!


Gloucester Road “Platform for Art”
Artist Brian Griffiths filled the disused platform at Gloucester Road 

with Life Is A Laugh, an epic installation which is part 

assault course, part giant panda head.

Construction of Gloucester Rd. Station 1867

The rivalry between the companies was often intense with separate timetables, ticket offices and the most extreme case of all was when the MDR constructed, without Parliamentary authorisation, a duplicate pair of tracks from High Street Kensington to Gloucester Road – the “Cromwell Curve” – just so it could demand an increase in its share of the mileage-based Circle revenues because it had a greater mileage (it took a 19-year lawsuit to establish that this idea was flawed).

High Street Kensington 1892 Note the signs for where the First Class carriage will stop. Trains with First Class to Aylesbury and Watford ran through here until 1941.

Soon we find ourselves on a wide section of track as we go through three stations. The first, High Street Kensington is approached by an attractive arcade in this upmarket shopping district, part of a successful 1980’s property development.

The excellently restored arcade at High St Kensington
showing the District Railway “DR” and Metropolitan Railway
“MR” outlined in the frieze decoration

High Street Kensington

It also has a terminus bay which operates a shuttle service to Earls Court and Kensington Olympia where there is a major exhibition centre. This was a station on the “Outer Circle” but the area was heavily bombed during the war and none of the original station remains. This transport link is being revitalised as part of the London Overground orbital development by Transport for London. Next we go through Notting Hill the original terminus of the “twopenny tube” as the Central Line was originally nicknamed after its flat fare.

Bayswater Station under construction 1867
Bayswater station on Queensway

Finally, Bayswater is the last station before we complete the Circle and return to Paddington. Of all the stations on this last side of the Circle it is the one which stills shows best the grandeur of these the last stations to be completed on the Circle. The station is located on Queensway and is close to Whiteleys shopping centre, Westbourne Grove, Queens ice rink and bowling centre, Kensington Gardens and St Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Less than 100 metres (330 ft) away is the Central line’s Queensway station.  The station was opened by the steam-operated Metropolitan Railway (MR) (now the Metropolitan line) on 1 October 1868, as part of the railway’s southern extension to South Kensington where it connected to the Metropolitan District Railway (MDR).

Notting Hill Gate Station 

But after this section was completed London and Parliament had enough of cut and cover construction, the attendant disruption of excavations and spoil being carted away and the noise of the trains going through residential areas for these were not slum areas with tenants but well heeled upper middle class areas with denizens who could make their objections heard.

23/24 Leinster Gardens, the “fake houses”

Close up of the ‘entrance’ to 24 Leinster Gardens, complete with railings, door and plants. There’s a long London tradition of practical jokers sending pizza deliveries, taxi cabs and religious representatives to this address!

Indeed in Leinster Gardens in Bayswater you can see the length the railway companies went to placate residents where two “houses” are in fact false facades to disguise the Circle Line behind. Closer inspection of these two “houses” reveals that they’re a complete fake. These are no houses – they’re a facade to disguise the fact that the circle line comes to the surface at this point. The front door and windows are actually painted concrete.

The route of the line between Paddington and Bayswater (opened in 1868) necessitated the demolition of 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens, situated on a long, upmarket terrace of five story houses, and it was decided to build a 5ft-thick facade which matched the houses either side of the break. The ensuing gap behind the facade left a stretch of railway track open to the elements, which proved to be a handy place for passing locomotives to ‘vent’ off – venting was an essential means of keeping the underground tunnels clear of smoke and steam. The original locomotives on the Metropolitan and District Line were powered by steam, and although they were fitted with condensers, engines still needed open air stretches of track to disperse the fumes. But it was to no avail for after this stretch was built there was no more approval for cut and cover and all future lines had to be deep bored tunnels – The “Tube” had arrived.

23/24 Leinster Gardens, the back of the “fake house”

Finally we pull into our next station Paddington Circle Line Platform originally called Praed Street to distinguish it from our starting point at Platform 16 at the rear of Paddington Station.

Paddington Circle Line Station

We have now completed one of the World’s Great Railway Journeys. We have traveled on the first underground Metro line ever and seen 27 Underground Stations dating from 1863 onward; we have seen 13 Mainline Stations and had a unique insight into the first Mega City of the modern era and its development from a fortified Roman Colony. In the process we have had an insight into our modern world and the technologies and achievements which were the “Industrial Revolution” the catalyst for the most intense period of human development ever in history. We have done this and seen what makes a city on the scale of London possible and still not we have not seen London’s oldest railway station, London Bridge, nor its largest Waterloo. We have also seen a line which reflects the diversity, complexity and challenge of being a Great World City. We have passed through Moorgate and King’s Cross, the sites of the Underground’s worst disasters and over the sites of two of the four suicide bombings of 7th July 2005 which were Britain’s worst mass murders of civilians in peace time.

The Circle Line is pure Victorian Engineering from a different era built by competing private companies and would not be built today. However like the rest of the Underground it gives a complexity and texture to London and has the great advantage that it is fully paid for. It is quiet simply the most iconic of London Underground Lines and the one which defines London in the mind of natives and visitors alike.

Its Victorian engineering and complexity are not without problems. Orbital routes have an intrinsic timetabling robustness problem. The trains are constantly “in orbit” so there is little scope for “recovery time” if they are delayed. A single delay can have long lasting knock on effects and be much more disruptive than on a non-orbital railway. Recovery time can be created by timetabling for longer stops at some stations but this increases journey times and reduces train frequency.

The end of a Great Journey – Paddington District and Circle Line Underground Station

Furthermore as Hammersmith and City, Edgware Road Branch, District and Metropolitan Line trains also operate over the “Circle” it has an operational complexity and is often hit by the knock on effect of problems on other lines. Asset failures are not infrequent and also affect robustness. In addition because of the age step free access is poor excluding not just mobility impaired customers but families and those with luggage. This is a pity and these stations would be the easiest to provide such access due to their shallowness and layout. This is a major issue particularly at interfaces with mainline stations where passengers have heavy luggage.

Squaring the Circle

These problems are acknowledged and there are programmes and proposals in place to tackle them, albeit not as fast as most passengers would like but as the history has shown Nirvana on the Circle Line has always been a journey, never a destination! Meanwhile enjoy and experience this most iconic and charming underground lines, a unique part of the fabric of London and of the history of transport, the world’s first Metro and the daddy of them all, The Great Circle Line Journey.

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