In focusing our attention on the ELL Extension to the south, we appear to have unfortunately missed on a little bit of activity to the north – the re-siting of the Broad Street War Memorial.
Previously located next to Liverpool Street, Broad Street is now one of London’s forgotten Termini. Opening in 1865, by 1913 it had nine platforms serving trains from Poplar, Watford and Richmond – much of the territory the North London Line covers today.
Over the years, Broad Street saw a gradual decline in passenger traffic, particularly as bus and tram traffic increased in North London. By the end of the 1930s, with North London on the rise economically, it seemed that Broad Street might once again prove useful, but the arrival of WW2 (and more significantly the Luftwaffe) put paid to its resurgence. Broad Street itself was damaged by bombing, and one by one many of the key stations it served in North London were bombed into closure as well – Haggerston in May 1940, Shoreditch that October. Victoria Park closed on 1st November 1942 and indeed the whole of the Poplar line had been suspended by the end of the War.
It was a situation from which Broad Street would never recover, and by the 1960s, its closure had begun to appear almost inevitable. Beeching suggested it be closed, and it only avoided this fate by a whisker. The writing was, however, essentially on the wall and its services were gradually curtailed and redirected. The diversion of its Richmond services to North Woolwich in 1985 would prove the final nail in the coffin, and demolition of the station began shortly after.
Though it had limped on through the 1970s into the 1980s, few had expected anything other than its ultimate closure, indeed Betjeman writing in the 1973 about London’s Terminals, painted a stark picture of a Broad Street very much in terminal decline:
In the ‘sixties, the magnificent iron roof over the train shed at Broad Street was removed. The large Lombardic buffet and the shops for City clerks were shut down, and in 1970 the scale model 4-4-0 engine, whose wheels went round if you put a penny in the slot, was either removed or stolen. Standing in the empty concourse at Broad Street today, one has a feeling of its former greatness. A few steps back from the concourse will take you into what was once an enormous booking hall, whose timber roofs tower above the station shops. Along on the concourse now stands the 1914 War Memorial of the North London, a miniature version of the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Beyond it, incongruous and ridiculous, in red brick with pavement-light windows is a streamlined booking office for the few passengers who use this potentially popular line. May God save the Old North London!
Since its demolition, it is the war memorial Betjeman mentions above (originally erected in 1921) that has been one of the few surviving pieces of Broad Street station. The massive girders outside of Liverpool Street’s Broad Street entrance are another – and until now have been by far the easier to find.
In contrast the memorial, which commemorates the men of the North London Line who lost their lives in the Great War, had a slightly less pleasant fate. It was put into “temporary storage” by British Rail and relocated to Richmond – the other end of the North London Line – where it has sat near the car park.
Shortly before the ELL opened, however, we discovered in conversation with some of the project’s managers that they hoped to bring the Broad Street war memorial back closer to where they felt it belonged.
The newly extended ELL makes use of much of the old Broad Street infrastructure (notably the viaducts that carried its access lines) and features several stations that would have been familiar to its commuters, thus there was a fair case for saying that, to a certain extent, the ELL could be seen as the memorial’s spiritual home.
At the time of the Line’s reopening, this was still a plan that was dependent on time and logistics, but it had the firm backing of then-Managing Director Ian Brown and the hope was that it could be relocated to the pavement outside the new Hoxton Station.
It is this that has, in fact, now come to pass. This summer, the memorial was moved to Hoxton Street and TfL have confirmed that it was rededicated in small, low key, ceremony led by Reverend James Westcott of St Chad’s church.
With the march of progress it is sometimes easy to forget not only that the history and heritage of the railways is important, but also that this history is not just about engines and infrastructure. The men of the North London, like many railway men, played their part in the Great War and their memory is worth remembering as well. Hopefully the relocated Broad Street memorial will help this generation and the next continue to do that.