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King William Street
City & South London Railway
Memories of the first tube City terminus
"An engineering blunder"
Charles Grey Mott - C&SLR Chairman
About King William Street Station at
the C&SLR shareholders meeting - February 1892
A rare picture of the interior of King William Street station, showing
a three car train set on the original single track layout.
In 1895, the station was converted to two track operation with island platform and
Under Monument Street (formerly: Arthur Street East). Access
located originally in 46, King William Street.
Northern terminus of the C&SLR from 1890-1900. Active
again during WWII as an air raid shelter.
Probably the most well known disused station of the London Underground. King William Street
was the northern terminus of the City and South London Railway, the first London tube, opened in
1890. Situated in the City, cramped and unpractical despite its refurbishment, converting from one
track to two tracks with crossover, the station was abandoned in 1900 - altogether with tunnels
under the Thames - after the extension of the C&SLR to Moorgate. Disused for many years, the station
was converted during WWII as an air raid shelter.
Access through 25ft diameter liftshaft, 75ft deep + emergency stairs. Original running tunnels
10.6ft in diameter. Station chamber: 20ft high, 26ft wide with a 3ft brick lining. Gas lighting.
Signal box with nine levers.
Approximate location of Old Swan Shaft and the two superimposed tunnels under the Thames.
Intersection of Arthur Street and Upper Thames Street.
New (1995) Regis House
Entrance of Regis House (as seen in February 2001)
- 1887 - Start of the works in the Thames at Old Swan Shaft.
- 1890 (November 10th) - Formal opening of the line by the Prince of Wales
(afterwards King Edward VII). The royal party boards a Stockwell-bound train at King William
- 1890 (December 19th) - Opening of the line and King William Street station.
- 1893 - Extension of King William Street station surface premises in Arthur Street East,
in order to provide a ladies waiting room, parcels room and left luggage office.
- 1895 - Track layout modified to two tracks/island platform, with scissor
- 1898 - The City & Brixton Railway made a proposal for the purchase of the tunnels.
- 1900 (February 25th) - Closure of the station.
- End of 1900 (Date unknown) - Closure of the C&SLR offices at street level,
moved within Moorgate station premises.
- 1910 - proposal for converting the tunnels for the culture of mushrooms.
- 1923/1924 - under river sections near Borough Junction are used for the storage
of rolling stock during the reconstruction of the line.
- (date unknown) - removal of the tracks from Borough Junction up to King William Street.
- circa 1940 - Conversion as an Air Raid shelter, altogether with some parts
of the tunnels near Borough Junction.
- circa 1960 - old tunnels right above London Bridge station are used for the ventilation
of the Northern Line platforms.
- From 1990 - the Jubilee Line Extension near London Bridge causes extensive works, cutting
at least one tunnel leading to King William Street station.
- 1996 - complete rebuilding of Regis House, located above King William Street station.
The tight curve of Arthur Street with which the C&SLR had to cope with.
"An engineering blunder":
The harsh words of C.J. Mott were indeed justified. Cramped conditions conjugated with
steep access ramps from under Thames, a soil prone to subsidence and the one track
layout designed for cable haulage, almost everything contributed to doom King William Street station
from day one.
King William Street station chamber after abandonment (looking East). Note the derelict signal box and the
start signals hanging from the ceiling. No background information available on this picture.
However, the above may have been taken circa 1930 during a promotional press tour of the premises, as
part of program from the Underground Group to dispose of the station premises.
Another view of King William Street station, looking Westward. No
background information available available, but is likely to be contemporary of the one
above. Note the gas lit candelabras, to be compared with the picture on the top of this page.
The C&SLR was originally designed for cable haulage, using the Hallidie system (used on
San Francisco cable cars). As a consequence, special provision had to be made at both
termini in order for the operator to switch from the "up" cable to the "down" cable. Thus,
King William Street was a single track station with platforms on each side.
In 1888, the Patent Cable Tramway Corporation, the British company who had the ownership
of Hallidie's patents, fell into bankruptcy. Newly appointed C&SLR chairman, Charles Grey Mott,
decided to switch to electric traction. For some unknown reason, the Stockwell terminus was
converted to island platform with two tracks and scissor crossover, while King William Street kept its original design.
In 1895, the C&SLR have decided the extension of the line northwards toward Islington. Despite the
planned abandonment of King William Street, extensive works were performed to convert the station
to the same design as Stockwell (i.e. island platform with scissor crossover at the western end).
The works were completed in December 1895 in almost six months, without interruption to the service.
New signal box equipment included a bank of 22 levers, including 5 spares.
One of the drawbacks of the new layout is that the platform length was reduced to three cars + loco (due to scissor
crossover, no provision being made for the lengthening of the station).
However, nothing was done to ease the severe gradients in the tunnels from the Thames. Trains
coming from Borough had to face a 1 in 40 gradient followed by a 140ft radius curve under
Arthur Street to access King William Street. It has been reported that a train had to make sometime multiple
attempts to get over the gradient, having to coast backwards in the under-river section before
trying again or seek help from the engine-in-waiting at King William Street. Some kind of
"Get in or die at King William Street" approach, unthinkable nowadays, but reflecting the
pioneering spirit of the C&SLR.
Despite the cramped conditions and the lack of stabling space, King William Street terminus was
able to handle 440 trains a day at the end of its operational life in 1899.
The following text was reported in a London newspaper by an unknown passenger on the first day
of operation of the C&SLR (December 19th, 1890). The one track station indicates the passenger
boarded at King William Street:
"It is a real treat to be spared of tickets. Just outside the street door
of the booking office are two turnstiles, with a window at each. You pay
a uniform fee of twopence to the clerk at the window, and pass through,
either to make your way down the spiral staircase or to enter the lift,
which is close at hand. Arrived at the bottom, you step out upon the
platform, and are in a well lighted, warm and dry tunnel, on the floor
which is a single line of rails.
"There is very little waiting, as trains run every five minutes and
by-and-by, when the line has been worked up to its normal condition
of control, it is hoped to start the trains at two minutes intervals.
There need be no difficulty about this, as the up and down lines are
carried in separate tunnels placed at such a depth under the surface
of the roads to avoid all interference with one another or with
sewers and other underground structures. The comparatively small
but ample platform accomodates the waiting passengers, who have
at present only the bare white walls and arched roof to gaze upon.
"By-and-by a rumbling is heard: it becomes a roar, and then swells
into a rush as the advancing train, emitting electric sparks apparently
from the region of the rails, emerge from the black mouthed tunnel.
Each train is composed of three long cars, and all alike are comfortable.
The atmosphere of the subterranean stations is no doubt somewhat
close, but no unpleasantly so.
"Padded Cell" interior - LT Museum - Photo ©2001 by F. Delaitre
"The passenger are shut into their carriages by doors at either end,
and the only ventilation is through small apertures over them. Some
of the travellers seemed to think that they would not object to a
little more air, and in a few instances, through some defect in the
connection, the electric lights in the carriages went out when the
train started, leaving one lamp at either end of a long car as the
only remaining means of illumination. This, however, was an accidental
occurence. It should be remembered that, except where the line is
underneath the Thames and the adjoining wharf, it passes through its
entire length underneath the streets, and it thus relieves the great
stream of passenger traffic which now passes over London Bridge, between
the Borough, Newington, and Stockwell; a relief for which the pedestrian
on London Bridge is thankful.
Punch was more critical about the C&SLR, nicknaming it the "Sardine Box
Railway" and describing a typical journey as follows:
"The train rocked alarmingly. It was so packed with people that getting
in or out was a regular scrimmage. We entirely endorse the railway
company's advertisement in that it is the 'warmest line in London'."
Like the Beach Pneumatic Subway in New-York, much have been said about
King William Street station and the abandoned tunnels under the Thames, including many rumours,
unsupported claims and urban legends. You will find below some of these unverified information.
Visitors to this page are most welcome to send me their comments.
- Plans existed to reopen KWS as an alternate terminus for peak hours.
- KWS station has become off-limits for visit due to takeover by MOD or London Civil Defense
at the time of Gulf War.
- One of the under river tunnels is used to house an electrical feeder for the power supply
of the Jubilee Line at London Bridge.
The following books were used as a reference in the making of this page:
- The First Tube / The story of the Northern Line - Mike Horne & Bob Bayman - Capital Transport 1990 - ISBN 185414 128 7
- The City & South London - T.S. Lascelles - The Oakwood Press - 1955 reprinted 1987 - ISBN 0 85361 360 5
- City and South London Railway / Reopening December 1924 - Reprint 1990 for Northern Line centenary - West Farthing Grange
- The Amazing Electric Tube - Printz P. Holman - London Transport Museum - 1990 - ISBN 1 871829 01 1
- Rail through the clay - Desmond F. Croome and Alan A. Jackson - Capital Transport - 2nd edition 1993 - ISBN 185414 151 1
- London Under London - Richard Trench and Ellis Hillman - John Murray - 1984 - ISBN 0 7195 4080 1
- Romance of the London's Underground - W.J. Passingham - Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd. - 1935
- London's disused Underground stations - J.E. Connor - Connor & Butler - 1999 - ISBN 0 947699 29 5
- Abandoned stations on London's Underground - J.E. Connor - Connor & Butler - 2000 - ISBN 0 947699 30 9
Also on video:
- London's Lost Stations - Wilf Watters / Jim Connor - OnLine Video - 1990
- Underground Review Volume Three - Wilf Watters - OnLine Video & the John Huntley Archive - 1993
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© 2001 by Frédéric Delaitre
Last modified: 02/12/16