1915 – Events on the London Underground a Century Ago

During 1913 I thought it might be worthwhile to note significant historical events that occurred in years gone by on a month by month basis. A triumph of hope over experience, this proved hopelessly optimistic in terms of the time and discipline required, so perhaps an annual excursion into interesting events of the past might prove more feasible. This year we look back to 1915. I may tackle 1865 and 1965 on a separate occasion.

Extension to Willesden

The most significant event of 1915 was the extension of the London Electric Railway’s Bakerloo Line from Paddington to Queens Park, with the intention of eventual projection of tube trains over main line railway tracks to Watford Junction. This was the first occasion that tube-type trains were allowed to share tracks with ‘big’ trains and it was not accomplished without some interesting challenges.

The scheme resulted from work already being undertaken by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) to widen its lines between Watford and Kilburn and introduce electric trains on the new tracks, together with additional stations. South (or, more correctly, east) of Kilburn, tracks would disappear into main-line sized tubes all the way to Euston where a reversing loop was to have been built under the main line station. Parliamentary powers for all this were obtained in 1907.

For several reasons there was uneasiness about the loop part of the proposal and whether there were better options, especially as Euston was not a very conveniently-located station. The outcome was a decision to have three southern terminals. Broad Street was selected as the City terminus, with connections added at both Willesden Junction and Chalk Farm and the route over the North London Railway electrified (that line had just been taken over by the LNWR). Euston was retained, but without the loop—the electric tracks would share the local lines for the last mile or so into the existing terminus. The third ‘terminus’ was the Bakerloo Line, which offered a direct West End route without the need for changing train. The Bakerloo was not the first option. A connection with the Hampstead tube at Chalk Farm was looked at but not found to be feasible so the more expensive Bakerloo scheme then became the preferred route to the West End.

This arrangement suited the LER very well. It would capture a valuable new traffic and help fill the spare capacity along the existing line, and all at modest cost. It would also resolve once and for all how the Bakerloo should approach Paddington where the station layout inevitable predisposed the trajectory of any further extension (vacillation about what to do after reaching Paddington had prevented the Bakerloo getting beyond Edgware Road as it was impossible to agree a route to Paddington without knowledge of where a future extension might go). Paddington was reached in 1913, with the GWR paying £18,000 towards the scheme and providing a free wayleave under its extensive terminus.

The LNWR raised much of the funding for the tube scheme and provided a one million pound perpetual loan facility at an interest rate of four per cent, perhaps the only occasion in the Underground’s history where one company has raised finance for another; this funding was expected to cover the whole construction cost. Accounts suggest that only £830,000 was actually needed. The extension was authorized by the LER Act 1912 and the work, undertaken by Walter Scott & Middleton began in October. Stations were located at Warwick Avenue, Maida Vale, Kilburn Park and Queens Park, which was in the open air.

At low level the three tube stations were very similar, with a pair of platforms flanking a lower concourse containing a pair of escalators and fixed stairway leading to the upper station. At Warwick Avenue (to have been called Warrington Crescent) there was a sub-surface ticket hall under the road, and two exits via stairwells on either side. Maida Vale (the name Elgin Avenue had been contemplated) had a street level corner building but the ticket hall was built in the basement, an arrangement necessitated by the escalators having to rise directly underneath Randolph Avenue (then Portsdown Road). At Kilburn Park (the ‘Park’ was an afterthought) the railway alignment was not constrained by the road layout and it was possible to bring the escalators all the way up to street level, within a large station building of similar style to Maida Vale. This station perhaps reflects the ideal Underground station with level access at both top and bottom landings. At Queens Park the LNWR already had a station, opened in 1877, and to accommodate the new services a new street level building was erected on the Salusbury Road bridge and the platforms on the fast tracks removed to make some room. The Bakerloo tracks rose from their tubes about a quarter mile south of the bridge and were carried up a 1:48 ramp before passing under the bridge to reach the new platforms, between which the Bakerloo tracks were laid. The platforms were to be islands, with the Bakerloo on their inner faces and LNWR electric lines outside, but the LNWR tracks were far from complete when Bakerloo trains began operating.

Unfortunately, by the time work on the extension was well in hand, the Great War had broken out and this and other delays (including some very bad weather) somewhat disrupted plans. The Bakerloo service began on 31 January 1915, trains calling only at Warwick Avenue and Kilburn Park. Opening was preceded on 29 January by a special 4-car inspection train allowing various worthies and press representatives to view the new works before being wined, dined and speeched at the Great Western hotel at Paddington. Queens Park (though still incomplete) was sufficiently advanced to open on 11 February 1915, and Maida Vale was finally ready on 6 June 1915. At Queens Park, reversing trains proceeded into a 4-road car shed west of the station, the two centre roads being arranged to reverse trains via a crossover at the east end from which trains could proceed to the southbound platform. The outer two shed roads were initially used for stabling but were intended to form the future north and southbound running roads to the LNWR stations further north, retaining a stabling role overnight—surely a unique arrangement. Power was supplied from the Underground’s power house at Lots Road via a new substation at Kilburn Park. Signalling was of the latest fully automatic type, with a new power-operated signal box at Queens Park.

The extension obviously required additional trains. A small number of new cars were obtained from Leeds Forge and Brush, but most of the extra stock mopped up spare cars from the Hampstead and Piccadilly Lines, some requiring extensive conversion work.

But what of the LNWR electrification itself, seriously delayed by the war? The new ‘electric’ tracks had been completed and brought into use between Harrow and just north of the Kensal Green tunnels from 15 June 1912, and from Watford Junction to Harrow on 10 February 1913. The extra tracks were not then electrified and trains were all steam-hauled, returning to the ‘slow’ lines via a temporary junction north of Kensal Green. It was not possible to contemplate steam trains using the line further south because steam locomotives were not allowed through the new tube-type tunnels at Kensal Green and Primrose Hill. To make progress, Bakerloo trains were extended from Queens Park to Willesden from 10 May 1915, the 15-minute service using either of the bay roads there and connecting with the steam service using the outer roads. The LNWR power station was not ready and power was temporarily supplied from the Underground’s Lots Road power house.

The remainder of the works towards Watford were subject to further delay taking it out of our 1915 timeframe for coverage at a later date.

Power Stations Closed

1915 was the year when two of the Underground’s power stations closed. In the early days of London’s electric railways, each had to build its own source of power as, in the absence of any national grid, no other source of supply was practicable. Public supplies were available from small local supply stations but these were mainly intended for lighting purposes and did not have the capacity to supply an electric railway. The exception was the Underground Group’s power station at Lots Road, built, with American know-how and confidence, large enough to supply the three tube lines and the whole of the District Railway and came into use in 1905. It had been built on such a large scale that it was fairly easy to enlarge and keep up to date (which is of course why it lasted for about a century).

When the Underground Group took over the City & South London Railway in 1913 the view was taken (very quickly) that power could be made available to the CSLR more cheaply and reliably if supplies were switched from the small power station at Stockwell to Lots Road, the changes requiring new substations at Stockwell, Elephant & Castle and Old Street, and enlargement of the Underground’s existing substation at Euston (expanding into the old Drummond Street station building, which had just closed). The Stockwell power station had opened in 1900 (replacing  the original, precarious plant) with steam generated by 12 mechanically-stoked Davey-Paxman boilers and a variety of reciprocating engines and dynamos, to which later additions had been made. The power station, with the car sheds, has all disappeared beneath council flats, but curiously the substation still in use today is still on the site, apparently remote from the railway but connected to it by the maze of old tunnels that formed part of the network of sidings at Stockwell.

Obtaining power from the new substations allowed the efficient but idiosyncratic distribution system to be standardized too. Hitherto the running rails had been at zero volts with the current rails on the northbound line at +500 volts and those on the southbound line at -500 volts. These were supported by feeders at +1000 and -1000 volts respectively (a potential difference of 2000 volts). At the substations were rotating machines called balancers, together with batteries, which sought to maintain consistent traction voltage notwithstanding the lengthy distance from the power house. Section gaps had to be left in the current rails approaching termini so that the traction polarity could be reversed without the risk of a disastrous short circuit. While this ‘Highfield’ 5-wire system wasn’t a model of efficiency it worked well enough until a reliable alternating current high-voltage distribution system came along.

The other power station closure was Waterloo. This plant serviced the Waterloo & City Railway and came into use in 1898. The power station (a grand name for a small and crampt facility) was parked in one corner of the semi-underground depot at Waterloo and required coal trucks to be brought down the hoist north of the station and shunted into the depot (the tracks for these trucks is still there). When the London & South Western Railway embarked on large-scale electrification of its own tracks it built a large and moderately efficient power station at Wimbledon and it was convenient to meet the Waterloo & City’s modest requirements from Waterloo substation, achieved in 1915. When built the boiler house accommodated five (later six) Davey Paxman boilers and the engine house there were five (later six) Bellis & Morcom high speed (reciprocating) steam engines, each coupled to Siemens dynamos, each capable of generating 225kW at 550V (about 400 Amps). When the Wimbledon power station took over, feeder cables were led to the W&C switchboard and the boilers and generators shut down. Three boilers were removed and the others adapted for heating the LSWR offices, though three engines and generating sets were retained as a standby, but it is doubtful if they were ever used. Various auxiliary equipment and batteries were retained until as late as 1990. Though the Waterloo & City has been part of the London Underground since 1994, Network Rail remains responsible for power supply (obtained from the national grid following closure of Durnsford Road in the 1960s).


Disused power station buildings at Waterloo [Streetview]

4-tracking completed

Earlier blogs have covered the addition of ‘fast’ lines on the north side of the Metropolitan Railway between Finchley Road and Wembley Park . In 1915 the 4-tracking work was completed when the section from Willesden Green to Kilburn came into use. This included lengthy sections of new viaduct and the two massive steel bridges across Kilburn High Road and Christchurch Avenue. The Kilburn High Road bridge is 221ft long and weighs 600 tons.  Although the new lines passed Kilburn station, no platforms were provided on the fast tracks (today the southbound Metropolitan and Jubilee Lines), but the new works required reconstruction of the entrance, not achieved until 1916.

Rebuilt stations

Praed Street and Finchley Road stations were rebuilt in 1915. At Praed Street the original single-storey structure of 1868 was replaced by a much larger 2-storey building designed to exploit the commercial possibilities of this very busy road. The ticket hall had in fact been in the basement of the old building already, but the very wide but narrow frontage was largely occupied by stairwells and could not easily be improved, so an entirely new superstructure was decided upon. It was designed by the Met’s architect, C.W. Clark, and finished in what became his signature style, including a covering of cream faience tiling with the name Metropolitan Railway displayed at first floor level. At the low level the station layout was not much changed.


Paddington station as built. The train shed roof can be seen behind the narrow surface building. The station exit was the door to right of canopy.

The original layout persisted in the (very sensible) habit of segregating incoming and outgoing passengers. Incoming passengers needed access to the booking office, lavatories, waiting rooms and a refreshment room before making their way to the ‘departure gallery’ from which stairs led to each platform. Outgoing passengers were directed up separate stairs, and on the ‘down’ side to a rather nice bridge that is still in place, before (so the plans suggest) being ejected directly onto the street. Plans show two subways to and from the GWR station, but it is not clear beyond doubt whether these were ever built. The present subway dates only to 1887.


Paddington Praed Street entrance today

At Finchley Road, the first station was built by the Metropolitan & St John’s Wood Railway in a fussy over-decorated style not easy to adapt to increasing traffic. The rebuilt station was needed because of the provision of the new fast lines to Wembley, referred to earlier. Although the fast tracks did not serve Finchley Road, it meant replacing the existing side platforms with a single island (today’s northbound platforms) and major alterations to the supporting girder-work. The new station was of three storeys, the upper one built into a mansard roof, and facilitated more commercial letting. As far as I can see, the entrance remained in Canfield Gardens until about 1938 when the addition of the second island platform meant further reconstruction of the ticket hall, at which point the entrance was shifted to the corner where it is now. C.W. Clark made further use of his cream faience here, and couldn’t resist the addition of a certain quantity of raised decorative work along the upper storeys and chimneys. I’m not all that keen on this myself, but it is less ‘cold’ than much of Holden’s work (and if you’ve spent as long waiting for trains at Holden’s open-air stations as I have you will know I mean ‘cold’ in all senses of the word). Holdenism has of course assaulted the 1938 frontage with indifferent results and an all-too-obvious tide mark.


Finchley Road station today, amidst appalling street clutter. The corner face has been seriously mucked about with since 1915 rebuilding and lack of ornamentation suggests refacing up to roof level. [Streetview]

Common Fund

The Underground Electric Railways of London Ltd (Underground Group) was a companies act company (not a statutory one) which exercised control of the (statutory) Metropolitan District, London Electric and (later) the City & South London and Central London Railways. It also purchased the London General Omnibus Company (which, being a bus company, was not controlled by statute either). The railway subsidiary companies had definite statutory duties and it was not possible for one company to cross subsidize another or make agreements which materially favoured one company to the disadvantage of another, even where the combined benefit was substantial.

This was not how the Group wanted to operate—it favoured working substantially as a single organization providing a simple transport network for Londoners. The outbreak of the Great War unexpectedly provided an opportunity. The Metropolitan District Railway was brought under government wartime control, but not the tube lines, and the financial arrangements were different (for a start, the District staff would get a war bonus whilst tube staff would not, creating immediate internal unrest). Albert Stanley (the Group’s managing director) managed to persuade the Board of Trade to bring the tube staff (and bus staff) within the scheme by a process of pooling. By creating a ‘Common Fund’, as it was called, the finances of the whole of the Group’s bus and railway interests could be treated as a single entity. The Board had some sympathy with this and facilitated the Group obtaining the necessary Act of Parliament (the London Electric Railway Companies’ Facilities Act) on 29 July 1915, retrospective to the beginning of that year. Essentially each company, after satisfying its agreed costs, would contribute its surplus (assuming there was one) to the fund and receive an agreed shareout according to a formula.

This uninteresting-sounding development paved the way for the Group to treat its transport subsidiaries as a single entity. At a stroke it avoided complex and tedious cross-accounting resulting in an expansion of through ticketing and simplifying the inter-running of trains between lines and simplification of staffing where one company could run a station even though parts were owned by another. It may reasonably be asserted that this was a major step in the operation of the London Underground as a transport network and historically rather important.

Pools between statutory companies (like railways) were not all that unusual, but to include the vast and profitable LGOC in such a scheme was a definite coup and indirectly improved the profitability of the more delicate of the Group’s railways. The Group’s tramways and non-transport interests were not included in the scheme, at least in part because they were all owned or controlled through complicated arrangements involving other parties or were not relevant to the immediate problem in hand.

Conversion of lifts

1915 is also the year that the Underground lost many of its hydraulic lifts. This is a complex area so I really note it as something to be gone into at some time in the future. When The City & South London Railway opened in 1890 it employed hydraulic lifts, two at each of its six stations. These were far from problem-free and in 1898 a lift at Kennington was successfully converted to electric operation following which all new stations between Euston and Clapham were built with electric lifts by Easton Anderson (leaving seven hydraulic lifts in service). When the Underground Group took over in 1913 it took an instant dislike to the hydraulics which were quickly updated to electric operation, but details are elusive. There is little coverage of any of this but Rails Through the Clay observes some of the CSLR lifts were replaced by LER (Otis) lifts from stations that had been equipped with escalators and we know Otis lifts were later to be found at Kennington, Elephant & Castle and Borough. We do not know about Stockwell and Oval which later had escalators and there must be doubt about whether, for what was expected to be only a short time, the lifts were replaced or just modified or simply left alone. By 1915 lifts would have been released from Oxford Circus (3) and Earls Court (2) but I do not have any more detail than this. The lifts at Oval were not displaced by escalators until 29 May 1926 and I would very much like to know if they were still the 36-year old hydraulic lifts, which were direct acting and relied on a deep cylinder and piston underneath.

Where there were only two lifts anyway, it must have been very difficult indeed to maintain a lift service at all given that converting a lift from hydraulic (piston below) to electric drum wind above was a major piece of engineering; I’m not sure how this would have been possible. I recall the lift car at Borough (which I had to operate one night) and it looked to me like a standard Otis car, so that perhaps suggests the whole lift car was changed as well. Hardly a quick and simple job. What’s more the lift cars from Oxford Circus were the wrong shape, as they were designed to go three in a shaft. If used, they would have needed substantial modification!

After the loss of the CSLR hydraulic lifts, such lifts remained in use at Finsbury Park until about 1921, Shepherd’s Bush until November 1924 and Highbury until 1952 (replaced by Otis lifts from Baker Street).

So that’s what is what was going on 100 years ago this year.

About machorne

I have always lived in London and taken a great interest in its history and ongoing development. This extended into the history of its transport services, about which I have written a number of books - I have spent most of my working life working in the industry and observing changes from within, mostly to the good, but not always so. I continue to write, and have a website with half finished stuff in it so that it is at least available, if not complete. Several new books are in hand. I have many 'works in progress' and some of these can be found on my website; the we address is http://www.metadyne.co.uk
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