In Part 1 of our journey below Smithfield we followed in the footsteps of John Bull’s underground wander down the Widened Lines from Barbican. Here in Part 2 we leave him fumbling in the dark and emerge blinking into the light at Farringdon.

We will not linger on the surface for long though because, as we have already discovered, the hidden delights lie underground. Scratch the surface, or dive beneath it, and you discover there is much more to the Smithfield area than meets the eye.

On this second leg of our journey we thus look at Farringdon then head south towards Snow Hill. As in Part 1, given the likelihood of disorientation in the labyrinthine depths, we hope the various maps and plans will be useful. We also look at both what has been saved from the substantial railway lands at Farringdon and at what has been – or is in danger of being – lost forever.

A refresher of the area

A refresher of the area

Harsig's excellent diagram of the Met lines in 1926

Harsig’s excellent diagram of the Met lines in 1926

Farringdon – growth, capacity and safeguarding

When complete, Farringdon will become a key interchange between Thameslink, Crossrail and London Underground. It is planned that over 140 trains per hour will flow through Farringdon in the peak, on just six platforms. It will become one of Britain’s busiest train stations, and a key link to the business hubs in the City and Canary Wharf.

The current Thameslink route, however, is hemmed in with few opportunities to provide additional capacity, and the proposed 24tph service through the core will be challenging to operate, particularly if there are disruptions. With the Smithfield Sidings only able to take 10-car trains in the event of failure or delays, and then only from the south, there are few ‘bolt holes’ through the core.

But as we have already seen in Part 1, tunnels lie empty under Smithfield and the ex-Thameslink route to Moorgate is to be relegated to a siding, alongside the overcrowded Met line. Sadly it is a similar story on the route south to Blackfriars, as bit-by-bit the alignment has been lost, and this process is still going on today.

Therefore, during our journey through the area’s nether regions, we will seek to learn from opportunities missed, and will ask what potential might still exist to expand Farringdon as a transport hub, and how would the alignments be safeguarded?

In this context it is perhaps ironic that Crossrail has engendered a new burst of masterplanning for the area, not least through the Farringdon Urban Design Study, a series of reports produced for a consortium of clients including London Borough of Islington, TfL and Crossrail. The aim was to look at the area overall and outline opportunities for development and public space improvements, give a clearer understanding of what can be achieved over the next 15-20 years and encourage landowners to pursue a coordinated vision for the area.

In this vision the mediocre offices built on old railway land alongside Farringdon are rebuilt (see picture below), which of course raises the potential to recreate space for rail beneath… except that the new Crossrail station now sits right in the middle. So much for joined-up thinking…

If this masterplanning process had preceded Crossrail, and had there been a clear strategy on safeguarding rail infrastructure, would the outcome have been different?

The Urban Design Study vision

The Urban Design Study vision

To save you leafing through the archive, back in 2009 Mwmbwls looked at the works for the new station, including the redevelopment of some of the neighbouring office blocks, and we have also covered the new station design here.

Starting with the ongoing Crossrail works at the south end of the station, the old Widened Lines alignment to Moorgate is now covered by a temporary ramp up to Charterhouse Street, which JB peeked out at from the tunnel here. The view in the photo below would be looking across at JB in the distance under the ramp, and is taken early on in the construction of the extended Thameslink platforms. On our subterranean quest perhaps the most interesting areas are on the right, which used to be underground and part of the old Great Northern (GN) goods depot. And on the far right where the Thameslink lines disappear are the buffers of the Smithfield Sidings. More on these later.

Farringdon worksite looking east, courtesy of Tubeman at Skyscrapercity

Farringdon worksite looking east, courtesy of Tubeman at Skyscrapercity

Swing to the right and the view today is shown below – the new Crossrail station site. Farringdon Street is in the background behind the hoardings, Cowcross Street is on the right. What most people would not know is that goods sidings used to emerge between the brick columns on the right and run across the site, part of the extensive GN Goods depot and shown on the plan below.

Farringdon Crossrail station worksite, located on part of the old GN Goods depot

Farringdon Crossrail station worksite, located on part of the old GN Goods depot

The GN Goods depot opened in 1874, with GN traffic accessing the Widened Lines via the Hotel Curve and York Road Curve at Kings Cross. The depot was renowned as a dark and difficult place to work, with trains briefly emerging into the light under the Ray Street ‘Gridiron’ before climbing steeply and clanking into the arrival road and cramped warehouse. The depot was closed by British Railways in 1956 after being severely damaged in WW2 and, after standing derelict for years, was eventually demolished in October 1988.

The north section of the GN depot in 1959

The north section of the GN depot in 1959, looking south with the Widened Lines Down platform just visible behind the wall on the left

GN depot prior to demolition

GN depot prior to demolition, taken from a similar spot as the Tubeman’s photo above of the Farringdon worksite, but looking north with the GN sidings running beneath. Photo courtesy of Steve White2008 on Flickr

Farringdon GN Goods looking south along Farringdon Road in 1988

Farringdon GN Goods looking south along Farringdon Road in 1988, photo courtesy of Lost-Albion on Flickr

Farringdon GN Goods later in 1988 during demolition

Farringdon GN Goods later in 1988 during demolition, photo courtesy of Lost-Albion on Flickr

The basement plan of the GN goods depot (below) emphasises the scale of the underground sidings compared to the space occupied by the station itself. Mwmbwls’ piece back in March on the Angle and Wangle at Farringdon described the challenge of shoehorning twelve-car platforms into a cramped 8-car station. The irony will not be lost on long-serving rail planners who knew how substantial the railway complex was up until the 1970s.

Original Farringdon GN goods depot basement plan courtesy of Basilica Fields

Original Farringdon GN goods depot basement plan courtesy of Basilica Fields

The extent of the old GN goods depot can also be appreciated from the aerial photo we brought you back in April (below). The GN depot stretched from the top of the photo and along the west (left) side of the station, through the Crossrail station site and then beneath the Smithfield General Market as far as Snow Hill, which is the road just to the right of the tower crane in the bottom left of the photo.

Just to emphasise: this was all railway land, in the centre of London, alongside an existing busy station, now mostly lost to development.

Farringdon from above

Farringdon from above

With Farringdon fast becoming a major station and a key hub in the rail network, it is tempting to consider what the station could look like today if the depot site had been safeguarded and converted to platforms, for intensive services along a four-track route up from Blackfriars, and perhaps even extended beyond Farringdon in a new tunnelled route north.

Alas a drab office block filled the space left by the GN depot, which looms large in this recent Mwmbwls photo (below), looking south with the Met lines on the left and Thameslink on the right.

Farringdon by lights

Farringdon by lights

Mwmbwls is standing on the Clerkenwell Road bridge, and next time he is there we’ll ask him to look left and around the corner on Farringdon Lane and explore the other Farringdon goods, at the other end of the scale in capacity: the Metropolitan Vine Street depot at the northern end of the station. The Met opened this depot in 1909 with two sidings each seven wagons long and a regular service from West Hampstead. Trains were electrically hauled with a maximum length of 14 wagons, but despite this the depot was very busy, handling over 25,500t in 1915 and operated at over-capacity until the late-1920s.

The depot building is still there, now a bleak cladded box, open at track level, with little indication of its current use.

Vine St depot c1910, photo courtesy of London Transport Museum

Vine St depot c1910, photo courtesy of London Transport Museum

The same view today.  Courtesy Hewson

The same view today. Courtesy Hewson

Vine St at street level c1910-1915

Vine St at street level c1910-1915, photo courtesy of London Transport Museum

Vine St Met goods depot today

Vine St Met goods depot today. Source: Farringdon Urban Design Study

Smithfield Sidings and Snow Hill

Time to return underground and we now head south towards Snow Hill. Looking again at the basement plan of the GN goods depot above, the Smithfield Sidings lie at the southern end, leading off the Thameslink route at Snow Hill. The buffer end of the sidings is now at the southern extremity of the newly-lengthened Thameslink platforms.

As the GN depot plan makes clear, the Smithfield Sidings ran alongside the GN depot but were not connected to it. There were four sidings, and were mainly used by London & South Western Railway (LSWR) stock after working the Richmond to Ludgate Hill services, which ran via Addison Road (now Kensington Olympia). The empty trains descended to the sidings, two of which had a turnplate for reversing locomotives.

The signalling diagram below shows the junction at Snow Hill, which is also where the Smithfield Curve east towards Moorgate branched off. The Smithfield Curve was closed in 1927 and therefore is not shown on this 1941 diagram. The diagram also omits the extensive GN tracks alongside because there was no physical connection, although today the space remains open across the entire width.

Holborn Low Level, 1941

Holborn Low Level, 1941. Courtesy of John Hinson at The Signal Box

Only two of the Smithfield Sidings remain now, retained for use by any northbound Thameslink trains that fail the AC-DC changeover at City Thameslink. But, given that the sidings are 8-car length, from 2018 they will be of limited use with the new intensive Thameslink timetable using 12-car trains.

We are reminded of the extent of the GN depot by the photo below. Taken below Charterhouse Street and looking south, the Smithfield Sidings are to the left of the pillars and beyond that the Thameslink tracks. At this point the railway alignment had eleven tracks, with room to spare.

GN depot south end in 1981

GN depot south end in 1981. Photo courtesy of Nick Catford at Disused Stations

The extent of the alignment is shown in the plan below, taken from the planning permission documents that sought to demolish the Smithfield General Market that lay above… more on this later. Snow Hill Junction is in the yellow section “D” and the platforms of Snow Hill station lay just south of this. “E” is the southern end of the GN goods depot, and “A” is the Thameslink line north to Farringdon. It is clear from this, and the plan of the GN goods depot above, that a large rail space fans out from the bottleneck at Snow Hill.

Smithfield General Market

Smithfield General Market planning permission document showing locations

Also faintly visible in the background of the plan above at “D” is the stump of the Smithfield Curve east from Snow Hill. We covered the Smithfield Curve in Part 1, and the remains of this section of tunnel are now part of the basement of the Document Store building, now disused.

The site of Snow Hill junction is shown in the photo below. This is a view south onto the disused Snow Hill (Holborn Viaduct Low Level) platforms, the photographer is standing on the alignment of the Smithfield Sidings, and to the right is the southern end of the GN depot, now used as a City of London salt store. The Smithfield Curve diverged east on the left side and the portal is walled up.

Holborn Low Level and Snow Hill Junc in 1986

Holborn Low Level and Snow Hill Junc in 1986. Photo courtesy of Nick Catford at Disused Stations

Below is the view north along the Thameslink lines roughly where “A” is marked on the plan above. The view is towards Farringdon, the faint spot of daylight in the distance. The Smithfield Sidings are the other side of the pillars to the left and the GN depot tracks are the other side of that.

Thameslink north of Snow Hill in 1986

Thameslink north of Snow Hill in 1986. Photo courtesy of Nick Catford at Disused Stations

As an aside, that distant tunnel mouth at Farringdon is seen in the mid-20th century photo below, looking north towards Farringdon platforms. The little siding was where a banking engine resided to help push goods trains up the steep incline to Ludgate Hill Station. In the wonderfully atmospheric photo below, the banking engine is about to couple onto the rear of the train from which the photo is taken.

Farringdon siding for banking engine

Farringdon siding for banking engine, picture courtesy of Tubeman at Skyscrapercity

Smithfield General Market – demolition and the position of Network Rail

Returning to the plan of the Smithfield General Market above, this was taken from the planning permission to demolish within the marked boundary and redevelop the site. Owned by the City of London, the historic market and the associated buildings are in a Conservation Area but have been left to slowly rot over the last decade or so. The sad dereliction has been recorded by Urban75 and Forever Changes among others. As Urban75 laments:

With little prospect of these fine buildings being saved, it seemed important to document them before they disappear forever.

As the outrage over the proposed demolition grew and became more focused, organisations such as English Heritage and SAVE Britain’s Heritage ultimately took up the cause, and the case eventually went to a Public Inquiry in 2007. The Inquiry final report recommended against the development and in August 2008 Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities, announced that she upheld the inspector’s decision and that the buildings should not be demolished.

Aside from the City of London’s shabby policy on the heritage fabric of Smithfields, the story casts an interesting light on the position of the Network Rail. One of the justifications for demolition was that extensive repairs to the rail tunnels (PDF) were only really possible by demolishing and rebuilding the tunnels as part of a redevelopment. With overhead electrification extended down to City Thameslink station, and a more intensive service pattern, a program of repair work to the tunnel lids becomes much more difficult using short engineering possessions. For Network Rail, the proposed demolition offered obvious advantages in terms of replacing worn infrastructure and improving future reliability. However, the inspector threw out this argument, adding that:

The buildings and tunnel lids are in a poor condition, but this is due at least in part to neglect. Less weight should, therefore, be given to the costs of repair which would help the viability of any re-use scheme. (Sec 13.1.2)

In other words, it is the responsibility of the owners to keep the structures in a fit state, and allowing them to fall into disrepair is not a justification for demolition and redevelopment.

The City of London is the owner of most of the railway tunnels around Smithfield, and has responsibility for their upkeep. Its Plan A for the Smithfield General Market is clearly flawed, but there doesn’t appear to be much of a Plan B. We have already seen in Part 1 how a spat may be brewing between the City of London and LUL over the ex-Widened Lines tunnels from Farringdon to Moorgate. Does this indicate a more hardline view of its responsibilities for rail infrastructure maintenance? And if so, what should Network Rail’s strategy be?

This must also be of interest to TfL, not only because of its responsibility for LUL, but also if its ambitions for taking over franchises extend to the Thameslink route. For example, if it was discovered that major structural repairs were required in the tunnels around Smithfield and that these resulted in major and prolonged service disruptions to Thameslink, who makes the decisions and who picks up the bill?

Example of the complex tunnel roof structures around Farringdon/Smithfield

Example of the complex tunnel roof structures around Farringdon/Smithfield, largely owned by City of London. 1934 photo courtesy of London Transport Museum

Missed opportunities and a case for safeguarding

It is clear that the railway estate in and around Farringdon was once very substantial, but that bit-by-bit this infrastructure has been lost. Every parcel of land that is lost means it becomes harder to justify the safeguarding of remnants along the route.

Our recent brief history of sidings discusses how important these facilities are operationally, not least in building resilience into the system. So how, and where, should TfL be safeguarding rail infrastructure in the Farringdon/Smithfield area?

We will see this being played out next with the planned redevelopment of Ludgate House on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge, which we will cover in a future piece. This redevelopment is an opportunity to recreate the alignment for tracks onto the west piers of Blackfriars Bridge, and provide additional bay platforms for Elephant & Castle trains. But it will take a concerted and strategic approach by the rail planners to achieve it. Without this, the safeguarding opportunity is lost for perhaps another 50 years.

Looking again at the City of London’s proposed redevelopment at Smithfield General Market, should Network Rail (or TfL or the TOC) have proposed that a six-track alignment be preserved, allowing for future expansion to four tracks through Farringdon plus the Smithfield Sidings?

South of Snow Hill was the expanse of Holborn Viaduct and then a four track alignment through to Blackfriars and beyond. If the City Thameslink redevelopment had provided a four-track box, then the planned Blackfriars bay terminating services from the Elephant & Castle route would have been able to extend to Farringdon (and possibly beyond), where it could have used the plentiful below-ground space afforded by the GN goods depot.

Construction of City Thameslink box in 1990 looking south

Construction of City Thameslink box in 1990 looking south, the route from Snow Hill emerges right and the remains of Ludgate Viaduct station can be seen in the distance. Photo courtesy of Nick Catford at Disused Stations

As recently as May 16th 2012 planning permission was given for the redevelopment of the office block over Snow Hill station where, although the line was two tracks, the alignment had the further width of the platforms so could have provided four tracks. Alas the redevelopment plan shows that the new building will be supported on pillars along the site of the old Snow Hill platforms. Another opportunity missed.

Basement level Citicape House, 2011, showing disused Snow Hill station platforms

Basement level Citicape House, 2011, showing disused Snow Hill station platforms

So, what can we learn from the rich rail history in the Farringdon and Smithfield area? Much has been lost, although a considerable amount of Railway land (and thus opportunites) remain. Some of that substantial rail legacy, however, is still being eroded or lying empty awaiting a use. How may it have looked given some foresight and a clear strategy on safeguarding? It’s a question to which there is no easy answer.

Sadly – although perhaps not unsurprisingly – that’s a question that is not confined to Farringdon. Indeed it’s a theme we will return to a little further down the line (both temporally and physically) in a look at the proposed redevelopment of Ludgate House at the south end of Blackfriars. It’s a site which raises very similar issues, and may become another opportunity lost.

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There are 45 comments on this article
  1. Greg Tingey says:

    But (in spite of all the evidence) people are STILL erm “thinking” that we will all be going by car or bus or lorry.
    It has been 50 years since Marples put his henchman Beeching in charge to wreck the railways, and that thinking will still take time to eradicate.

  2. Dominic Sayers says:

    It looks like Mwmbwl’s photo is taken from Clerkenwell Road bridge. The Vine Street bridge is a step further north.

    Astonishingly, the Google StreetView van has bothered to venture onto the bridge despite it being a cul-de-sac so you can get a 360° view of the area, including the street-level remains of the Vine Street depot

  3. Lemmo says:

    Well-spotted Dominic, my mistake, duly amended. I wonder what the old depot building is used for now?

  4. Geoff Smith says:

    “Snow Hill sidings” (as shown on John Hinson’s diagram) were opened on 19th December 1881 and (I believe) retained that name throughout their original incarnation.
    “Smithfield Sidings” is a modern perversion which makes little sense.

  5. Geoff Smith says:

    The “turnplate for reversing locomotives” was a fantable, to allow locomotives to run round.
    Prior to the opening of Snow Hill sidings the LSWR stock ran to Holborn Viaduct.

  6. Paul says:

    The impression given above is that Smithfield sidings will not see much use once Thameslink is mainly operated by 12 car trains, but the current plan is that the 12 car trains are only in the majority in the peaks, and then only at 14 tph of the total 24 tph. However in the offpeak, 6 tph of those 12 car services don’t run, so 10 of 18 tph are then 8 car…

    From Table 5.2 in the London & SE RUS (and obviously capable of change).

  7. Anonymous says:

    It is my understanding that a 12 car train could be put into one of the Smithfield Sidings in an emergency. It would be foul of the points for the other siding but clear of the main line which is the important thing.

  8. Anonymous says:

    It is fascinating seeing the photographs of the site now but especially the old goods depots. When I was a very young lad in the early ’50s, my dad was station master at Billingborough & Horbling in Lincolnshire. Once a month a van fit was loaded with one ton of feathers. These were in huge sacks that completely filled the van from end to end, roof to floor. The destination was Farringdon GN. I was told Farringdon Goods was in London but it was years before I realised exactly where and what an interesting journey those feathers had. The sender was a well known mattress maker so I suppose the consignee was in the same line of business in the Farringdon area.

  9. Anonymous says:

    On the topic of lost opportunities and failure to safeguard – the Broad Street Station footprint could have been safeguarded for additional platform capacity for Liverpool Street – this could have been configured relatively easily as a sub-basement, as the Liverpool St platform level is of course some way below street level.

    In this case, the opportunity has been lost twice -once in the mid-eighties when Braodgate was developed over the site of Broad Street, and recently again, with the re-development of one of the early phases Broadgate which has been demolished to make way for a massive new HQ for UBS – and this in the context of English Heritage attempts to save the eighties office block.

  10. Ig says:

    In Zurich it doesn’t matter if you’ve lost a railway alignment. You just roll the offending building out of the way!

  11. Fandroid says:

    What you have to remember when mourning the loss of land at City Thameslink is that the development rights to all of the spare space probably contributed significantly towards the cost of the fairly serious rebuild that happened then. It was also carried out at a time (late 1980s) when rail was still generally regarded as in decline. Chris Green and crew must have been remarkably persuasive to get the original Thameslink project past Mrs T’s government (she who reputedly never went by train except once or twice on Gatwick Express).

    Anonymous no 3. Ditto Broad Street. BR must have made a made a bomb out of that land. Retaining Broad Street, just in case, would have jeopardised the whole development. 27 years later, trains are whizzing up and down the old Broad Street approach viaduct, and will Liverpool Street need any more platforms once Crossrail is operational?

  12. Mikey C says:

    With Thameslink, the expenditure potentially never stops, there’s always bits of track that can be widened and straightened, stations enlarged, junctions improved, but once you reach a certain point doesn’t it become cheaper to start afresh, as every pinch point you spend money to eradicate just means that the bottleneck moves to another part of the line?

  13. swirlythingy says:

    If the Smithfield Curve is not shown on the 1941 diagram because it closed in 1927, why is it not shown on Harsig’s 1926 diagram?

  14. mr_jrt says:

    Glad someone brought up Broad Street. The loss of that footprint for giving the WAML it’s own station and building the office block on top was criminal!

    Liverpool St will always need more intercity platforms – there’s a lot of Anglia beyond Shenfield and Broxbourne. Indeed, I suspect the redevelopment of Bishopsgate was also a missed opportunity to get an extra pair of lines down…but given the missing platforms at Broad St., perhaps this is understandable.

  15. Fandroid says:

    Was someone looking for a 3-D graphic of Moorgate? I have found one of the Crossrail Liverpool Street station which includes Moorgate, but is cut off fairly sharply just to the west of the Widened Lines buffers.

  16. Lemmo says:

    @ swirlythingy, in Part 1 there is a PDF link to a 1961 Railway Magazine article that says the curve was disused from 1916 and the points clipped out of use and later removed. The Smithfield Curve was not officially closed until 1927, after a dispute between the Southern Railway and the Met had been settled. That’s probably why the Smithfield Curve is not on Harsig’s diagram.

    @ Fandroid, any plans, cross-sections or 3D graphisc are most welcome. Either post the URLs here or email to JB, much appreciated.

    @ Geoff Smith, thanks for the info, and I only use the term “Smithfield Sidings” because that is what they are known as now. One of my aims with these articles is to show that there are a lot of sidings under Smithfield that are generally not known, and there is always potential for confusion over names.

    @ Paul and others, that’s interesting to hear that the sidings can (just) take a 12-car train. Granted that Thameslink services will consist of 12 and 8-car trains from 2018, so the issue of siding length is less critical, but it’s not unlikely that train lengths will increase over time. The main theme of the post is safeguarding, and with an intensive 24tph service pattern it seems sensible to build some resilience into the system. Given that Crossrail is now spurring the redevelopment of most of the old GN goods depot lands, that could release space to extend sidings and also make provision to double up the platforms… except that the new Crossrail station in the middle now precludes that.

    Yes indeed it was an incredible achievement to get Thameslink built in the first place and this is not remotely a criticism of the rebuild in the 80s, but rather an opportunity to explore the issue of safeguarding and making provision for expansion, and who takes the strategic lead.

  17. Rogmi says:

    I’ve found these articles interesting. In the past, places like Snow Hill, Ludgate Hill, Smithfields etc. was just names that cropped up occasionally when London railways were mentioned. Now they actually mean something!

    I’ve been looking through my Alan Godfrey OS maps and comparing the area between the south bank and Farringdon in 1873, 1893 and 1914.
    1873 shows the line all open section from the Thames to Farringdon, with only Ludgate Hill between the south bank and Farringdon. There are large blank areas alongside the and in the general area from Holborn Viaduct to Vine St Bridge. Presumably some of this was areas cleared for the goods depots. Two sheds are shown between Cow Cross St and Charterhouse St, where the LU sidings are now. Although the depot at Smithfields cannot be seen as it’s under Smithfields, the tracks leading to Smithfields from the south can be seen

    1893 shows the addition of St Paul’s (Blackfriars), Holborn Viaduct and Snow Hill stations. It also shows the addition of the GNR goods depots and buildings, and the old goods depots replaced by the (LU) sidings. Additional tracks now run from the south bank towards Farringdon. Smithfields Market has now been extended towards Farringdon Street.

    1914 shows the Vine St depot. There’s not much other change visible. Part of what appears to be sidings and a turntable visible from Charterhouse St now have a building above – presumably railway related. East of Smithfields, where the track comes into the open at Lindsey St, there are some changes to the track layout.

    What does seem amazing is that there are five main line stations in a line less than three quarters of a mile long. Even now, there is City Thameslink station which is only a walking distance away, but I suppose it must generate enough traffic to make it worthwhile.

  18. Pedantic of Purley says:

    Could we add to the list my pet hate which is the BNP Parabas Bank building at Marylebone which means a long walk to platforms 4, 5 and 6.

    Fandroid makes a very valid point. Chris Green did marvels at getting rail schemes going but sometimes needed property development money to achieve it which is why the Chiltern line got revived to the extent that it now would really benefit from the very land that was sold off to fund its regeneration.

    I know Captain Hindsight has 20/20 vision but safeguarding does not necessarily mean cutting back on development. As White City sidings show you can do wonders by building the ground floor or basement in a train-friendly manner for use if required. Indeed I believe there is an office block built somewhere near Fenchurch Street with passive provision for a never built Fleet line station. If only the BNP Parabas building had passive provision on the ground floor for the two platforms it consumed.

    As Mr JRT points out, surely we could have had more platforms at Liverpool Street if the Broadgate Development had made provision for this? Or at the very least replaced some of the existing short platforms with new ones that could take 12 car trains. Surely a main line station in the basement is or ought to be a property developers dream. Get the lift from the 20th floor to platform level. Now that would be integrated transport.

    And a wonderful opportunity was missed at Wimbledon to make the Tramlink terminus fit for purpose and provide tram users with direct access to the Centre Court shopping centre from the basement.

  19. mr_jrt says:

    God yes Parabas. Even if they weren’t needed immediately, imagine what service options we could be talking about if Marylebone had 10 full-length platforms capable of taking 10-car Pendolinos, or with a bit of easy extension, 11-car.

    In a similar vein, safeguarding like this isn’t solely limited to property development – HS2’s plan to rise up out of tunnel west of OOC only to dive back in at Northolt Junction means the New North Mainline route will be lost as a future Crossrail branch for the sake of a few miles more tunnel.

    Earl’s Court’s redevelopment not making provision for a 4-track West London line.

    Westfield not making provision for the same 4-track West London Line, nor restoring the old goods lines to open up services from Ealing to the south via Olympia.

    …the list goes on and on…

  20. Anonymous says:

    Some good pics of the hidden bits beneath Smithfield Market at There are pics of the remains of the east curve here and here, now part of the Document Store. And lots of pics of the old GN depot and Smithfield sidings in the Salt Store.

    Enjoy 🙂

  21. Befuddled says:

    What was on this land before the railways came? In most of London the Victorians built rails just as far as the edge of the urban area but no further (give a take a few slums or cottages that the railways companies could buy out relatively easily). So the principal mainline stations we have today lie in a ring around the core of built-up 1840s(ish) London.

    But this area is the one place they managed to build surface lines all the way across the city. Why?

  22. Anonymous says:

    @pedantic: I believe the old office block at the front of Cannon Street station was built with space for a Fleet Line station in or under the basement. Is that the one you are thinking of or is there another one at Fenchurch St as well? I don’t know whether the demolition and rebuild of the Cannon St building will have affected the provision made.

    @befuddled: actually building stations like St Pancras, Charing Cross, Liverpool St etc involved huge amounts of property demolition – this was one reason Parliament required the railways to provide cheap workmen’s trains so the displaced workers could afford to commute back to central London. There was a Royal Commission which recommended that no mainline railways should penetrate an area roughly the same as today’s Circle Line. But I don’t know how the Snow Hill line got approved despite this.

  23. Greg Tingey says:

    Beacuse the first part of the “Circle” was opened, using cut-&-cover to Farringdon 1863/4
    Extensions were also C&C, the Embankment bit on the S side was done at the SAME TIME as the Outfall Swere/Embankment project itself.
    The widened lines were relief roads for the circle (& properly tunnelled, not C&C)
    Note that the short connection to Ludgate Hill was also in proper tunnel!

    Two extra terminal platforms @ St Pancras – presumably on stilts over the road to the West – it CAN be done, there is kust enough room ……

  24. Lemmo says:

    I’ve checked the planning permission documents for the Cannon St rebuild and no mention there of any provision for a tube station, but this redevelopment appears to have been long in gestation so there may be reference to this in the earlier permissions back in 1997 or 2006.

    Yes indeed we looked at the 1846 Royal Commission in a post last year, and the lasting effect this has had on the shape of London’s rail network. It essentially created a ring of termini served by radial lines, which today concentrate demand from an ever-growing metropolis onto the same city core as in the 1850s.

    According to David Turner at Turnip Rail, the 1846 Commission did recommend a couple of lines through the city core, one of which was the LSWR route into Waterloo. Furthermore, they suggested that one line be built across the Thames west of Vauxhall to link northern and southern railways, and that may have eased the way for the LCDR’s City Line to the new cut & cover Met lines at Farringdon.

    Going back to Rogmi’s comment, indeed it’s a strange quirk of history that mainline stations existed in the short distance through Blackfriars Bridge, Blackfriars, Ludgate Hill, Holborn Viaduct (and the Low Level station at Snow Hill) and then Farringdon, a story well told on Nick Catford’s Disused Stations website and also on Abandoned Stations.

  25. timbeau says:


    The LCDR route from Farringdon to Blackfriars continues the line of the River Fleet, which Thameslink and the Met follow from Kings Cross. This river formed the western boundary of the City of London. Tthe area between Newgate Gaol and the river was full of riverside industries and wharfage but and gradually became an open sewer as its catchment area became increasingly bui;lt-up. The river was gradually culverted over for various projects in the 18th and 19th centuries, such as New Bridge Street (and the Metropolitan Railway further north), making the wharves and industries unviable even if the sewage had not. After culverting, the area between Ludgate Circus and where Holborn Viaduct now stands was used as a market, until the railway came.
    The entire Fleet valley had become a slum area by the 1860s, and one of Pearson’s aims with the original Metropolitan project was slum clearance. This would have been just as relevant between Farringdon and the river.

  26. Rogmi says:

    Greenwods 1827 map:-
    shows buildings, but generally doesn’t give their use, unlike the OS maps. The map shows the area before the coming of the railway and all the other changes. Just keep clicking on the map to zoom further in.

    Looking at the map (spread over two tiles) it is fairly easy to see where the development has taken place. Near the join of the two tiles is Skinner Street (Holborn Viaduct) and “Market”. Market is where Farringdon Road is now, and I assume it referred to Farringdon Market, which moved to the side of Farringdon Street where the workhouse is shown.
    Between Ludgate Hill and Skinner Street (Holborn Viaduct) was the Fleet Prison. The tracks ran through the (site of) prison yard and is where the throat of Holborn Viaduct station is shown on later maps.

    If you go north from Market, and then north west to Vine Street, you can follow the angle that the railway would take.

    The Fleet River used to run between Great Saffron Hill and Turnmill Street on it’s way to the Thames at the site of Blackfriars station. The Fleet is still in evidence on the map between Ray Street in the north and Skinner Street in the south before it goes under cover. Cow Cross Street was apparently named after a cattle crossing over the river. I like the way street naming was so logical in the past!

    Between the 1827 map and the first OS map, there was a lot of work undertaken in the area with the creation of new roads, sewers, the cut and cover of the underground railway and the new Smithfields market etc.. Looking at the blamk areas still showing on the 1871 OS map, it appears that a lot of this work was probably tied in together over the years, with a general clearance of the area. – the widening of existing roads to create Farringdon Street (now Farringdon Road), the diversion of the Fleet under Farringdon Street and the new railway line to Farringdon.

  27. Lemmo says:

    In the Smithfield General Market section above there is a link to a PDF report, in which p50 and p62-3 give a useful history. The section on p65 shows how Farringdon St and the General Market were built up from ground level, and that the railway was not dug much below the original ground level.

  28. Josh says:

    The new Thameslink ticket hall is tiny compared to the footprint of the Crossrail works. Will the Crossrail ticket hall be of a similar size and the rest of the footprint used for redevelopment?

  29. Paul says:

    I firmly believe from drawings on the NR and Crossrail websites that the recently opened ‘Thameslink ticket hall’ is already designed for both services. Its western wall is temporary, and when it is removed it will give access to a large ‘stairs and escalator box’, but the gateline is the final size, which leads me to believe that Crossrail are only providing additional circulation space at a couple of levels – all on the paid side of the present gateline, so there is no separate Crossrail western ticket hall.

    AIUI there will also be direct access to/from the south end of the northbound Thameslink platform and the Crossrail ‘main escalators’ level.

  30. Mackenzie says:

    Smithfield siding is not a 8 car siding. A 10 car 376 is permitted to use the sidings in latest sectional appendix.

    A 12 car will fit tho it fouls the signalling.

    Can you update John to reflect current fact not opition please.

  31. MiaM says:

    With the Moorgate part of Thameslink disconnected, is there any good reason left for having the DC/AC switchover at City Thameslink – Farringdon area? Too bad that there are no DC electric line north of Kings cross, otherwise any train that fail the switch could be sent up that line (regardelss of it’s original destination).

    Southbound there aren’t any possible diversion for trains that fail the AC/DC switchover.

    Are those failures common? Or is this more a last-resort if a train gets sent the wrong way and nobody notices it until it’s time to switch electric systems?


    Regarding that Thameslink can always consume money for upgrades, perhaps semi captain obvious:
    Unless there is a decision to extend the platforms in the core route for trains longer than 12 cars, the two tracks themself is a limit and the 24 TPH could not be increased that much. If you somehow put in far more powerful motors and accelerate and brake harder perhaps you could squeeze in a few more TPH but in the foreseeable future we shouldn’t expect more than the highest TPH on any rail infrastructure (underground lines could perhaps have 36-40 TPH max). Therefore if a bottleneck is renoved and the removal makes room for a few more TPH than todays 24 TPH then that removed bottleneck would never be a bottleneck again.

    Also as Thameslink has a few branches outside of the central part, each of theese branches only has to cope with it’s share of the central parts maximum TPH.

    Is there really any bottlenecks left to remove on the branches that needs to be adressed (when Blackfriars and London Bridge are fixed) to get 24 TPH today?


    Re Marylebone:
    IMHO the solution isn’t to make more/better terminus space, the solution is to build another crossrail. Electrify up to Aylesbury and electric trains could take over the Amersham-Aylesbury branch completely.

    Some of the Chiltern Mainline trains could perhaps in short term go to Paddington once Crossrail takes over some GWR trains from Paddington terminus. In the long run electrification of Chiltern Mainline must be a good thing, and then those trains could go through “Crossrail 17” with a station at Baker Street (scrap Marylebone as Baker Street has far better TfL interchanges).

  32. MiaM says:

    Cross section of Liverpool Street – Moorgate crossrail station:

    (I’m posting this separately to make sure that the stuff above don’t get hold back if a post with a link needs moderation)

  33. Graham Feakins says:

    I’ve checked the planning permission documents for the Cannon St rebuild and no mention there of any provision for a tube station, but this redevelopment appears to have been long in gestation so there may be reference to this in the earlier permissions back in 1997 or 2006.”

    @ lemmo, it goes far further back than that, to 1969 in fact. Pedantic is correct. From p92 of a book “Reconstructing Londons Underground”:

    New steel columns and girders fed in from above between the Bailey bridges replaced the old wrought-iron construction of the station roof. Reinforced-concrete road slabs spanned these girders and replaced the old jack arches, and lean mix concrete was used to fill up to the level required for the road construction. At this stage [1969], provision was made for openings on the railway wall to provide access from the ticket hall to the future Fleet Line…

    By November 1970, “Towards the end of stage 4 the existing contract was extended to cover the Southern Region superstructure which included the construction of a ticket hall for the Southern Region above the London Transport ticket hall, and part of a future high level walkway.

  34. Josh says:

    If you wanted to up the frequency even more, you could have dual platform loops with islands in between. That way a train can arrive at a station with another not fully clear yet just by going to the other loop. And with islands in the middle, passengers won’t be bothered by which side it comes in on.

    Kind of like Finchley Road, where you’re wanting to get to Baker Street and you’re standing on the Southbound platform and really you don’t care whether a Met arrives on one side or a Jub on the other since both will do the job and the fact that the Met expresses to Baker Street is not significant enough to make it worth waiting for one if a Jub comes first especially given the way Mets often dawdle their way into Baker Street anyway.

    The difference is that these are only platform loops. The trains with operate on the same track when clear of the station.

  35. Mike P says:

    Pedantic of Purley says:

    “Surely a main line station in the basement is or ought to be a property developers dream”

    Quite the opposite according to Robert HH Peto BA (Land Econ), MA (Cantab) FRICS in 2004, on page 72 of

    His opinion (talking about West Smithfield) was that removal of all of the existing railway infrastructure (!!!!) “would create the best prospects for the creation of an institutional investment” (4.4)

    4.6 tells us that this opinion was based in part on his “knowledge of other major office developments in Central London such as Broadgate and Ludgate”.

    So there we have it, in black and white from the investment “professionals”. If you want the best return on your investment in office development in Central London, make sure there’s no railway infrastructure underneath it. Strip it all out if it’s there. So you couldn’t be more wrong, Mr Pedantic. (please note high ferrous content in that last sentence).

  36. John Bull says:

    @Mac – thanks, have updated the figure

    @MiaM (and anyone else interested I suppose), I upped the amount of links allowed before it holds a comment for moderation to three links the other day.

    About a week ago I rolled out a new layer of spam-catching tech to supplement that which we were already using, and this seems to catch more of the low-link spam first, so I figured it was worth relaxing the link limits a bit and seeing what happens.

  37. Anonymous says:


    Failure do happen and it’s always good to have a back up. The plan for a train failing to changeover is this;


    Try to change at Farringdon, if fail, continue onto City and have a second attempt. If this fails as well, terimate train and use the new crossover in the Snow Hill tunnel to leave the Core.


    Try to change over at City. If unable to terminate there and if an 8 car go to Smithfield sidings. If 12 car use crossover south of City to gain right line and head south out of the way.

    However changeover at City is currently not happening but will soon. Current policy is for any failed train at Farrington to be pushed out the way.

  38. Josh says:

    How difficult would it be to wire up the tracks where Thameslink currently operates?

  39. Paul says:

    Josh 1018

    Surely the question should be more concerned with where Thameslink WILL operate once raised to 24 tph; which of course is yet to be decided.

    However even if you only cover the existing routes, for a start you have the whole Brighton main line, much of which is four track, (all services have to use all four tracks and diversionary routes during perturbations) and it would still have to cope with all the DC services joining off all its many branches, so you are talking full dual voltage electrification over a significant area. That leads to major changes to signalling being needed, because in DC land they normally use AC track circuits.

    Policy is to keep dual electrification schemes to a minimum, because in the overlap earthing and traction return current arrangements become very complex.

  40. Lemmo says:

    Mike P, you could well be correct, but there is also the possibility that this one consultant’s opinion is not entirely representative. It could also be something of a generalisation: there will be property developments where an integrated station is a positive factor, for instance to improve accessibility, and perhaps others where it is a liability.

    Perhaps also it is not entirely coincidental if a consultant’s opinion aligns with the how the client thinks. In this case the client (CoL) was found to be neglectful in terms of maintaining its rail infrastructure, and then trying to justify redevelopment on the basis that it was the only way to make the repairs required. Network Rail went along with this story, hence why I asked what TfL’s strategy might be if it took over the Thameslink franchise. Clearly there are risks if the infrastructure is indeed crumbling, and the freeholder’s strategy might be changing, and meanwhile the route is gearing up for an intensive 24tph intensive service with little slack built in to accommodate disruptions.

    @ Josh, this is exactly the sort of layout I was referring to. If it turns out that reliable Thameslink operation at 24tph is constrained by insufficient capacity at Farringdon plus issues with the DC-AC changeover, then should this not have been addressed in an integrated masterplan for the whole area? What I wanted to explore was how the extensive former railway lands would have made this possible, along with 12-car sidings at Smithfield. But now sadly it is not.

  41. Rogmi says:

    If anybody’s interested, Britain From Above:
    has some reasonably detailed overhead photos taken in the 1920’s of the Farringdon area, such as the one below:

    Either search via entering the criteria into the search nox or, with the search box empty, click on Browse to bring up a UK map from which you can navigate and zoom in to the area you want.

    When you have a photo on the screen, it is best to click on Download (to bring up a higher resolution picture) then save the photo (right click on the photo then Save Picture As) so that you can zoom into it more.

  42. Lemmo says:

    @ Rogmi, thanks for this, a great resource.

    Downloading the pic and zooming in brings up the detail. It shows Snow Hill station open to the sky, and the junction to the Smithfield Curve just to the north.

    It also shows the extent of the GN depot either side of Cowcross St. The depot building on the south side may have been quite grand, judging by these photos found via the National Railway Museum archive: the remains of the facade from Cowcross St , and inside at street level above the basement shown in the plan above. The latter clearly shows where the wagon hoists were to the floor below – the frames in the middle of the picture.

  43. Anonymous says:

    A little late in the discussion, but I want to answer Lemmo’s note dated 3rd July 2012.

    The Vine Street Depot building until recently was used as a store by LU Lift & Escalators Dept. They have since moved on and the building is to be converted into a substation as part of the Metropolitan line Power Upgrade.

    The facades won’t change

  44. Ubahngricer says:

    Readers of this fascinating site might be interested to know that the former vine st met goods depot was, for many years, the central stores of the LT lifts and escalator department, and is currently being rebuilt to become a power supply substation for the forthcoming increases in service on the circle line.

  45. Stainless says:

    We explored the 1866 tunnels under Smithfield Market in the late 1960s (1968 – 1970 ?), the Winkle was soon to be converted into a Car Park Ramp I think. We found 7 ft broad gauge and mixed gauge track under the Market and near the Snow Hill Tunnels. I’m sure we found an old Lime Pit that was shown on our old map as being left over from an old jail/prison down there. There was an old Signal Box by a junction at the bottom of the incline up to the River Thames Bridge, and an old office had several leather jerkins that crumbled into dust as we climbed in. We used to get in over a Farringdon Road wall, and through a water/sewer pumping station. I just wish we had taken cameras with us, and it is so interesting to read about your later explorations.

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