Piccadilly Line's Hounslow anniversary

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This week is the anniversary of the commencement of Piccadilly Line services from Northfields to Hounslow West on 13 March 1933. This day was also the start of the service at the other end of the Piccadilly Line, from Arnos Grove to Enfield West, a subject I have covered considerably in other posts.

This post is more of a celebration of the older Hounslow West station with a brief history and the terminus’ ultimate demise. We start with a background to the Piccadilly’s history. The London Passenger Transport Board (and its predecessors) eyed expansion of the tube services – both the Hounslow and South Harrow branches were potential candidates.
Even though Hounslow was already served by the District Line, it was viewed that a direct tube connection to Central London and considerable upgrade would enhance services and tie in with the brand new extension then being built north from Finsbury Park to Arnos Grove/Cockfosters.

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District Line to Hounslow Barracks 1921

The original District’s terminus at Hounslow Barracks consisted of a single platform. A brand new station with three platform lines was built in order to accommodate the Piccadilly services.

Charles Holden designed substantial station buildings to go with the new terminus platforms. This opened on 5 July 1931. The new buildings at Hounslow West were unusual in they copied the style of Holden’s older designs on the Northern Line, such as Morden.

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Northfields station

The Piccadilly originally terminated at Hammersmith however the District Railway’s extensions westwards enabled the Piccadilly to extend too. In order to enable this a brand new four track railway (two for each line) was built from Hammersmith as far as Northfields. Almost every station along the new route was either new or had an upgrade of some sort.

By January 1933 Northfields, with its brand new depot for both District and Piccadilly line trains, was reached. Just five stations remained westwards and the Piccadilly’s trains began serving these, including Hounslow West, from 13 March 1933.

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News report on the Piccadilly’s new extensions to Hounslow and Enfield West

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District/Piccadilly to Hounslow West 1933

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District/Piccadilly to Hounslow West 1938 – the latter apparently non-stopping Northfields

Services on the Hounslow line were shared between the Piccadilly and District Lines until 1964. (The cessation of the District’s services was a disaster as far as the Heathrow extension is concerned – I have written about that elsewhere – and will write some more in a future post.)

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District/Piccadilly to Hounslow West 1960

In the early days of dual line working, the District served all stops, whilst the Piccadilly initially missed out South Ealing. Piccadilly trains began serving this station from 29 April 1935. It is noted on late 1930s LT underground maps Northfields was too missed out. Exact details are not known.

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The District Railway’s 1883 signal box at Boston Manor

Both the new Boston Manor and Osterley were not completed in time for that 1933 opening, however Boston Manor was partially opened because there was no other alternative. Osterley fortunately still had its old station. This, at Spring Grove just a short distance away was built as part of the original District line to Hounslow Town.

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Osterley Spring Grove early 1986 (note the old hydraulic buffers dumped on the platform!)

Other pics I have of Spring Grove station at the time show the bridge covered in huge letters saying ‘John Lennon RIP.’ The old station has been a bookshop since 1971!

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Charles Holden’s classic brick tower with spire at Osterley

Osterley and Spring Grove station’s continued use gave the LPTB another year to complete the new Osterley station, which opened on 25 March 1934.
The District Railway originally ran to a twin platform terminus at Hounslow Town. This is now the site of the Hounslow bus station and garage. This station closed in 1886, and the single track branch westwards to Hounslow Barracks (now of course  Hounslow West) became the new main line and its track was doubled.

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The course of the old District Railway’s line to Hounslow Town, as seen from the train

Observant people will be able to spot the old formation to Hounslow Town at the point the Piccadilly Line swings to the west, before passing the large substation and thence into the present station (this was opened 1886 and known by the old name until 1925. All three Hounslow stations were renamed in 1925 as Hounslow East, Hounslow Central and Hounslow West.)

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Evening at Hounslow Central station

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1912 District Railway tiling at Hounslow Central

Hounslow East and Hounslow Central were both served by the Piccadilly Line from 13 March 1933. Hounslow Central is the only station on the entire route to retain its buildings built pre 1933. The present station building opened in 1912 when it was known as Heston and Hounslow station.

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Piccadilly to Hounslow West 1970

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Holden’s building ten years after the original terminus closed. The corrugated metal passageway is evident

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The stairs down to the old Hounslow West terminus still remain. The hooks carried the train indicators

Hounslow West, until 1975, was the ultimate end of the Piccadilly Line. The station itself is of course no longer with us. What that means depends entirely on one’s personal view. Of course the classic Holden station building still exists but its essentially lost its limbs.

I say that because the new platforms and their surface buildings a short distance to the north clearly look out of place. This building, plonked right in the middle of the station’s car park, is just absolutely dreadful.

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A nuclear bunker perhaps? What else can it be. A dodgy council depot? Holden’s building is on the right

The ‘new’ Hounslow West station for all its worth, is a total disaster. Its a hotch potch of different designs none of which fit together properly. The entire lot looks so temporary, as if it was meant to last no more than a couple of years.

I just dont like the ‘new’ Hounslow West station. Its essentially crass. Whoever designed this mess should have lost their job. A proper new station should have been built, with Holden’s splendid heptagonal building sensibly incorporated into the design.

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The austere passageway from the ticket hall, across the car park, to the 1975 platforms

The old station felt positively right out in true London surbubia. It was one of London underground’s unique stations. In that I refer to the other underground terminii which all have straight platforms whereas Hounslow West’s were curved. I imagine the considerably long overground run from Barons Court culminating in this sweeping curve round into the station, the Holden building standing proud ahead, made it even more unique as far as London’s Underground was concerned.

That was the real Hounslow West station – and it had character. The new one simply does nothing for me. In fact Holden’s building these days seems so miserably out of place.

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Hounslow West in the 1950s. Source: Twitter (Note: Twitter account Greatest Capital seems to have been deleted.)

My family commuted to the station during the Second World War when some were employed at the armament factories on Hounslow Heath. So I knew Hounslow West had ‘always’ been there – and that it always would be there. How wrong I was – its much regretted because I didn’t take any photographs of the old station and pictures of the old station are not easy to come by.

Although I have memories of the Heathrow extension under construction, I didnt take any photos either. As a schoolboy I had an Instamatic but photography was still a very expensive hobby and thus the camera was rarely used.

The Heathrow extension came quite fast. Although powers were approved in 1967, in August 1969 it was reported “LT has stressed the extremely strong case for early extension of the Piccadilly Line from Hounslow West to Heathrow Airport in a renewed appeal in June to the Ministry of Transport for authorisation of the project.” LT were clearly desperate to get it underway. They wanted it done by 1973. The £28 million project eventually began in April 1971 with a special ceremony at Heathrow Airport.

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The centre of this view from the new station was where the old Hounslow West platforms ended

A number of houses had to be demolished and roads moved. Ambassador Close, to the north of the present station was originally on what known as Elm Road. There were ten Elm Cottages and then the twenty-eight houses/flats at the end known as Ambassador Close. Both Elm Road and Elm Cottages were demolished and a new road build from Vicarage Farm Road into Ambassador Close. Nine houses on Vicarage Road were also demolished.

Hounslow West Methodist church, a relatively new building of 1956 on the west side of the station area, was closed in 1971 and subsequently demolished because it was in the way of the new Heathrow extension. I can remember there being an almost continuous trench lined with steel piling all down the north side of Bath Road and the Great South West Road.

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The exact point at which the Heathrow and terminus lines deviated. This is the view as the train emerges from the Heathrow tunnels. The post (ringed red) is clearly a remnant of the old Hounslow West terminus

The final days of the old terminus were executed quite rapidly. The last trains came in as scheduled and left empty to depot. Almost immediately the signals and tracks were taken out of use and lifted. The permanent way was dug to a deeper level to allow the new tracks to descend towards the new, replacement, sub-surface station.

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Interior of Charles Holden’s station at Hounslow West

It is said in one article (LURS’s Piccadilly to the west) there was a rail connection between the old Piccadilly tracks and the new ones to Heathrow and this was available from 29th September 1974 to allow engineers trains to access the new extension. I’ve never seen any evidence of this connection, even LT’s archives show no such instance.

Conversely an in depth report by LURS (Underground News 163) doesnt make any mention of this either, simply detailing how the lines were disconnected and slewed to the new alignment before engineers trains could even gain access. Other than this perhaps there had been a very temporary connection over that weekend in September 1974.

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Photograph I took of the remains of the old Hounslow West terminus station in 1986. The station car park at the time was being further expanded. The platform canopies still had their signs indicating the A1 express bus service to Heathrow! See this post for more pictures…

The following schematic map which I created specially, shows the exact location of the old Hounslow station (based upon the OS.) Trains heading to Heathrow pass through where the end of platform two and three in the old terminus once stood. Holden’s station building fronting onto Bath Road can clearly be seen. The long corridor leading from Holden’s station building to the new one on the Heathrow extension can be seen. ‘SB’ and the white square mark the site of the old station’s signal box.

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The above map does not show this, however there was a double crossover to the east of the station.

London Transport Museum’s archives has very few pictures of the station in the way I described it earlier. I did a search through its archives and the following links to just three of the museum’s images may give people an idea of the old tube station’s character.

Hounslow West Underground station 1931 – This is a great photo because it shows the Holden building under construction with District 1905 stock evident.

Another view this time showing the old station (originally known as Hounslow Barracks) – Hounslow West Underground station April 1931.
Hounslow West Underground station May 1957 – The photographer, W. H. R. Goodwin, knew what he was composing. Classic view of the curved platforms and Holden’s building straight ahead. Compare this view with the recent one I took:

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2018 view at the Hounslow West car park upon the alignment of the old platforms to the station building

In the 1970s the station was largely demolished save for Holden’s octagonal building. This view, Hounslow West Station 1975, and this other, Platforms at Hounslow West circa 1975, show the old station on its last legs. The first says its dated 17th March 1975, but I think its actually late in 1974. The second doesn’t give a date but is possibly July 1975.

Very soon after the tracks to Heathrow were connected they demolished the remains of the original Hounslow West terminus, which sat in a minor cutting, and filled the site in. This was necessary to build the new and much bigger car park.

As a bonus, I like this one too even though its not strictly Piccadilly Line. District Railway station gardens competition 1924 – There used to be a milepost within these gardens. One or two photos I have seen of Hounslow West indeed shows this.

Its now 43 years since the old terminus was closed and the station began its new phase as a through station on the new Heathrow line. I wrote about that new line last year.

5 thoughts on “Piccadilly Line's Hounslow anniversary

  1. A really interesting article and some great memories from my childhood growing up in Hounslow West, I was born in 65. Remember much of what you talk about and one of the joys of using the station was coming down the stairs and seeing a red train waiting as most were white.
    A Couple of corrections. The road you refer to where houses, and indeed a furniture store, were demolished is Vicarage Farm Rd and the tunnel was built mainly to the South, not North, of Bath Rd, it crossed over just past the station.
    I actually remember playing on the building site and looking down through to the tracks below and indeed prior to the work commencing as the were working on widening and repaving the Bath Rd I managed to trip on a paving and crack my head open, requiring a trip to hospital and stitches.
    Anyway a great article and I enjoyed looking at the photos.

    1. Coming down those stairs was great. One felt important! Thanks for your memories and the feedback 🙂

  2. Many thanks for this article. I remember the old terminus platforms when I used to visit my Grandparents Percy and Alice Beckley in the 60s, who lived from (1930-73) in Vicarage Farm Rd in one of the houses demolished. Percy and his brother had a car repair buisness in Elm Rd parallel to the platforms, that he accessed from his back garden.

  3. Many thanks for this article. I remember the old terminus platforms when I used to visit my Grandparents Percy and Alice Beckley in the 60s, who lived from (1930-73) in Vicarage Farm Rd in one of the houses demolished. Percy and his brother had a car repair business in Elm Rd parallel to the platforms, that he accessed from his back garden.

  4. Remember Hounslow West well as a kid. If you travelled back from the West End on a one station ticket but went all the way to the West, you could get out, cross to the up East platform and get out at Hounslow East on a one station ticket.

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