Site Records

SiteName: Aldwych - Holborn branch (Picadilly Line)

WC 2
OS Grid Ref: TQ308809

Sub Brit site visits October 1992, September 1994 & August 1995

[Source: Nick Catford]

The line from Aldwych to Holborn was first suggested in the late 1890's as part of a proposal to ease congestion on the main line north of Kings Cross by building a roughly parallel deep tube line, extending southwards as far as Holborn. These plans were incorporated into the 1899 Great Northern and Strand Railway (GNSR) Act of Parliament; running from Wood Green to Stanhope Street on the north side of Aldwych, an area that was under development following massive slum clearance to the south of Holborn. Stations were to be built at Wood Green, Hornsey, Harringay, Finsbury Park, Holloway, Bingfield Street/York Road, Russell Square, Holborn and Strand (later to be re-named Aldwych).

Aldwych Station entrance in October 1992
Photo:Aldwych Station entrance in October 1992
Photo by Nick Catford

Finance for the new line was difficult to find and eventually the scheme was taken over by an American sponsor, Charles Tyson Yerkes, who was already financing various other underground railway projects in London, one of which was the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus Railway. Yerkes decided that to make both schemes financially viable they should be incorporated into one line, which resulted in a further Act of Parliament in 1902 to extend the line from Piccadilly Circus to join with the GNSR at Holborn. At the northern end the line was to be cut back to Finsbury Park and at Holborn the line to Strand was to be built as a short spur. It was intended that some trains would terminate at Strand while others would run through Holborn terminating at Hammersmith. A part of the Bill to extend southwards from Strand to The Temple was not pursued. Contractor Alexander Ross & Co began work on the line in 1902, with most of the tunnelling completed by 1904.

The short section from Holborn to Strand was, however, causing problems. On the surface the London County Council (LCC) were keen that the station should blend in with their new Kingsway development and underground the railway company were unhappy with the track and tunnel layout, which they felt, would prove restrictive. Changes were proposed that required a 3rd Act of Parliament, which was passed on 4th August 1905. The Holborn - Strand line was to become self-contained with two platforms at Holborn instead of one as originally proposed. A single trailing junction would link the branch to the eastbound main line just north of the station to facilitate stock movements. The second platform would be a shorter bay platform, which would allow two simultaneous services to run between Holborn & Strand.

The final agreement with the LCC resulted in a relocation of the station a little to the south with the main station entrance designed by Leslie Green fronting onto The Strand and a secondary entrance round the corner in Surrey Street, both entrances being faced with the standard blood red terracotta tiling and incorporated into office buildings clad in Portland Stone. The station stood on the site of the Royal Strand Theatre (exactly occupying its footprint) whose programme was curtailed mid season to accommodate the new station. The platforms at The Strand were only 250' long, 100 feet shorter than most other platforms on the main line and they were only tiled along part of their length as the company only intended running short trains.

Their pessimism was confirmed shortly after the station opened on 30th November 1907, 11 months after the main line. The line was initially worked by a two car train shuttling in the eastbound tunnel with a second train running in the westbound tunnel during

Plan of the branch line - from 'London Railway Record'

rush hours. There was also a special theatre train leaving Strand at 11.13 p.m. calling at Kings Cross and Holloway before terminating at Finsbury Park.

Traffic was light from the opening day; bus and tram services in the area were good, both Temple and Holborn Stations were close enough to walk and the office development in the area did not progress as quickly as expected. On March 3rd 1908 and all day service was provided by a single car in the westbound tunnel only and a few months later the late night theatre train was withdrawn.

Platform 1 in October 1992
Photo:Platform 1 in October 1992
Photo by Nick Catford

The line still failed to attract passengers and after 1912 the service ran from the eastern platform at Holborn to the Western Platform at Strand with a spare train being kept on the other line. In 1915 the station was renamed Aldwych and at the same time Charing Cross on the Hampstead Line was re-named Strand. Two years later the Sunday service was withdraw and the eastern line was abandoned altogether and the track was lifted. During the First World War the disused platform at Aldwych was used to store art treasures from the National Gallery.

Between the wars, the single car service was maintained but with the coming of the second world war it was suspended from 21st September1940 with part of the line being used as a deep level air raid shelter and the disused eastbound tunnel used to house treasures from the British Museum including the Elgin Marbles.

Buffers at the southern end of the east line in August 1995
Photo:Buffers at the southern end of the east line in August 1995
Photo by Nick Catford

The service resumed on July 1st 1946 with a peak hour (7 - 10.30 am and 3.30 - 7 pm) service Monday - Friday. Initially there was also a service running between 7 am and 2 pm on Saturdays but this was withdrawn after 18th June 1962. In 1956 some pre-war experimental stock was refurbished and used on the line until 1963. That year a three car train of 1962 stock came into service on the line and in 1973 this was replaced with the new standard stock used on the rest of the Piccadilly line.

Further information and pictures about this site continues here

[Source: Nick Catford]

Home Page
Last updated: Thursday, 23-Jan-2003 20:54:22 GMT
© 1998-2002 Subterranea Britannica