The first underground railway to be bored with a tunnelling shield opened in 1890 between Stockwell, in South London, and King William Street in the City of London. It was also the first major electric railway in the UK. Within ten years, though, the northernmost section was abandoned when the line was extended north through the City of London on a different alignment. It has been unused since, apart from use for a bomb shelter during air raids during the Second World War.
Thanks to a friendly contact in London Underground, I visited these abandoned tunnels several years ago, before they were severed by the Jubilee Line Extension works. This article is written of the tunnels as they then were. Regretfully many years passed between taking these photographs and writing this page, so much of the detail has escaped me, as have some of the pictures I'm sure I took at the time.
We accessed the disused tunnels via a door and shaft at London Bridge underground station. They are now part of the ventilation system there, and we climbed down a long passage to reach the C&SL bores. The tubes are of cast iron segments about 10' 2" in diameter with a flat floor. In the floor were slots to extract stale air from the present day Northern Line platforms, and we were able to look down at the unsuspecting passengers waiting below. If any of them saw our torches they pretended not to notice - but that's Londoners for you !
Our guide took us quarter of a mile northwards to where newly built walls block the tunnels roughly under the edge of the River Thames. Once you could walk right through to the original King William Street terminus and see the old platforms and posters, but the London Civil Defence authorities blocked it off. This is a crying shame as it is an historic relic of London's early Tube railways.
We then returned to London Bridge and followed the gently curving tunnels south. We saw the several sets of steps down which once thousands of Londoners had come nightly for refuge from the Luftwaffe.
There were still a couple of posters on the walls ("No Smoking!" "Air Raid Precauations!"). You could also see the stub ends of drainpipes where the latrines had been (unfortunately I didn't photograph them!). It was all extrememly dusty and dirty.
There are several cross-passages between the two running tunnels. For some reason, they are at slightly different levels.
At the southern end, about 3/4 of a mile from our entrance, there are again brick walls; however these have gridded gaps in for ventilation, and you can see the platforms of Borough station about 300 yards away.
Finally we walked back, the length of the running tunnels, once more to London Bridge, and up a newish flight of stairs, which took us into the new ventilation complex.
The large ventilation tunnels, which date from 1968, open at the foot of the former lift shafts at London Bridge Northern Line - these of course dated from when that station was first opened, on the Moorgate extension which replaced the King William Street line. Again I don't seem to have photographed the lift shaft itself.
Above left picture is looking down from the top of the steps, up from the CSL tunnels to the new works. Right is taken standing where the new ventilation tunnel debauches into the original lift shaft (not pictured). Looking backwards to the steps just around the angle, we see the group gathered at the base of the next flight upwards.
From the ventilation tunnel, a smaller staircase led up and debouched through a red painted door onto a landing on the emergency staircase, underneath the original London Bridge Underground station.
Like many early Tube stations, entrance from the street was past a ticket office to one side of the lifts, whilst exit was through doors on the opposite side of the lift giving directly onto the street. We could stand on the edge of the lift shaft and look across to the louvres, which now blocked where once thousands of passengers had exited the Northern Line.
Richard Griffin has written (November 2000) that "A recent visit illustrated that the old tunnels are still largely intact and dry on the south side of the river: in the vicinity of London Bridge station the southbound has been cut through completely by the Borough High Street escalator shaft, and partially filled in a little further north apparently for strengthening purposes. The northbound tube remains continuous all the way from the under-river bulkheads (now completely bricked up on both tunnels to prevent any possibility of flooding from a river-bed breach) to Borough Junction", but you'll have to ask him for more about that !
Much historical information at Subterranea Britannica Disused Stations on King William Street
Maps of the CSLR and of the air raid shelters.
CULG (Clive's Underground Line Guide) on the history of the Northern Line.
Ragga John's LU history site for London Bridge (now hosted by Pendar)
Richard Griffin's photos showing the post-Jubilee Line pictures referring to the CSLR tunnels.
Lost Subways - King William Street.
The Northern as it might have been if all had come to pass.
Walk from London Bridge to King William Street:pictures before it was cut off from the CSLR, very interesting indeed. From Pendar Sillwood's Abandoned Stations.
Carriages of the C & S L R.
Electric Traction in 1935 has a photo showing the CSLR loco axle-drive motor that I haven't seen elsewhere.
The Underground At War by Nick Cooper - stations, shelters, bombs.
Underground History: Disused Stations on London's Underground by Hywel Williams.
Disused tunnels of the CSLR at Euston by Robert Stainforth.
London Underground Railway Society
In Paris, Erwann Jouan has visited many disused Mêtro stations
Google about the subject.
Home Page --> Bridges and Tunnels | Last updated 10th June 2007 - Links updated | All photographs Copyright N.J.Leverton