The Snow Hill lines' 30th anniversary

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Today is the 30th anniversary since Thameslink began its public services through the Snow Hill tunnels beneath the City of London. On this day the line’s full timetable of services to from Bedford to Brighton and Guildford began. Its not just a Thameslink anniversary for its also 30 years since the old Snow Hill lines once again saw regular train services after many years out of use.
In a nutshell the official opening of Thameslink took place 30 years ago on 28 April 1988 with Princess Anne officiating. In the interim period to 16 May 1988 Thameslink ran a basic service to help with staff training and increase driver knowledge of the routes. Some of these were were run as unadvertised public services hence one could on the off-chance travel from Bedford to Brighton – well before public services actually began on the 16th May. I wrote about this roughly three weeks ago.
Basically the Holborn Viaduct lines and Snow Hill tunnels are the vital elements that make Thameslink what it is – and on this particular occasion I take a look at the route in question as it is today and see if anything’s left of the old order – and where the tunnels run. This post is not really about scenes of trains apart from the historic pictures in the second half of the post.
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Leaving Farringdon station….
When one departs Farringdon station on a Thameslink service the train plunges into the Snow Hill tunnel almost as soon as it has left the station platforms behind. But where exactly does it go if one follows the route above ground? And where was the old route towards Blackfriars?
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The platforms practically reach the start of the Snow Hill tunnels
In the older days it was quite possible to see the Snow Hill tunnels from Farringdon Road because they were partially open to that side. Today its not even possible. The tunnels almost immediately run beneath the Port of London Authority Buildings at an angle and the way this property is aligned reflects the railway below.
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In a matter of seconds one’s train has entered the tunnels – where does it go?
Where do the lines go indeed? I have drawn a map showing approximately where the Snow Hill lines go, this shows both the newer City Thameslink (in red) and the original Thameslink/SECR routes (in yellow.)
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Farringdon at left, Blackfriars at right. City Thameslink/Holborn Viaduct/Ludgate Hill in the centre section
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Thameslink passes beneath the right hand side of the Port of London Authority building in Charterhouse Street
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The Snow Hill tunnels run beneath Gate 19 and West Poultry Avenue on the right
Once Charterhouse Street is reached the Snow Hill line crosses below this throughfare and runs in part beneath the Smithfield markets. Its route is diagonal from the frontage of the Port of London building under the north west corner of of the New Poultry market and then below West Poultry Avenue to its junction with West Smithfield. The large rectangular green building seen on the Farringdon end of the above map is part of that shown above, with its green roof just visible.
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Looking along the alignment of the Snow Hill tunnel as it passes beneath West Poultry Avenue
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Looking in the other direction towards the Port building. The concrete barrier more or less reflects the tunnels’ alignment
It is evident from the buildings and maps the Thameslink lines run diagonally across West Poultry Avenue and at the other end of the avenue one can see an old building, notice how it is angled. That is because it is built to accommodate the Snow Hill lines running below.
At one time this very location was the point where the other line hereabouts and long gone, the east Smithfield curve, began. This once provided direct access from the south to the Moorgate lines. The curve did not last very long as it was little used, being of quite tight radius and thus could not be used by anything other than fixed wheel railway carriages and so it was closed in 1916. The ‘flat-iron’ building shown below is actually built on part of the old Smithfield curve.
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Sort of a Flat Iron building! Its shape is dictated by the route of the railway below
At this point there used to be an open stretch of railway line in the gap below. One of the reasons for that gap was it constituted the site of the junction between two lines (Snow Hill & east Smithfield curve.)The rather awkward layout of buildings in this part of Smithfield is explained by the fact the railway runs through the area. The huge canopy – shown below – is at such an obtuse angle to the street precisely because of the position of the Snow Hill lines. The following OS map shows the situation as it once was.
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The awkward layout of the Smithfield market buildings as shown here is simply because of the railway
At various times over the years the tunnels have been visible due to construction works (including Thameslink) and there was for many years two permanent short open air sections which could be viewed from above.
These open air sections are shown on the map. From this the triangular layout of the buildings in the area can easily be seen.  It is clear there used to be emergency access to the old Snow Hill station site on the north side, marked by steps. However that access has now been moved to the other side.
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One can easily work out where the tracks are beneath Snow Hill by way of the emergency exit (previously a wooden door) that gives access to the Thameslink tunnels. The door was replaced about 2014.
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On the other side of this building in Snow Hill itself one can see the present emergency door leading to the tunnels
On the other side of Snow Hill, flanking the north side of Holborn Viaduct (opposite the doorway mentioned above) there was another open air section of line and this is the image of the line as shown in April 1954 on the disused stations website. This section is the second ring marked on the above map. The photo in question by R. C. Riley shows signals and these are too marked on the above map. At this point was the former entrance to Snow Hill station – or as it was sometimes known, Holborn Viaduct Low Level.
Hereabouts is the start of the new turnback sidings for Southern trains that terminate at City Thameslink. These use part of the old goods sidings that once served Smithfield. The access to these is apparently via the ramp at Smithfield (this is just round the corner from the emergency doorway. That ramp is also used for access to the Farringdon Crossrail works.) These sidings are quite short and I dont think they’ll see a lot of use in the future especially with the demand for longer trains.
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At Holborn Viaduct the route is beneath Tesco’s. The old station of the same name was where the newer building with white pillars is next door.
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At one time once this would have been a view towards the platforms of the old Holborn Viaduct station
Holborn Viaduct station was so named because it served the road of the same name. The station was originally opened by the London Chatham & Dover Railway in 1874. It closed in January 1990 to make way for what is now City Thameslink and the oversite development.
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Looking south where the old Holborn Viaduct railway once ran towards Blackfriars
Compare with the map below which shows more or less the same site. Notice the subway that was once part of Fleet Lane. This ran more or less across the bottom of the above picture. Some may notice the Holborn Viaduct station buildings are on the right as shown on the map, not on the main road itself as it usually was. This was the situation for some years when the original buildings were bombed. The later South Eastern and Chatham railway’s goods depot next door was taken over for several decades and was finally relinquished when the new Holborn Viaduct station was opened in the sixties.
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Holborn Viaduct on the OS map. The Snow Hill lines are on the far left.
The Snow Hill tunnels ran straight beneath the main area of the station before curving slightly to the left to pass under Holborn Viaduct itself. The current Thameslink alignment is slightly different, being a bit more towards the west – the current lines having a somewhat pronounced curve from the north end of City Thameslink towards Holborn Viaduct/Snow Hill.
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At the west side of Fleet Place this spot marks the southern portal of the Snow Hill tunnels
Where the Snow Hill tunnels once began, there was too another tunnel which passed underneath the tracks just before they entered the Snow Hill tunnel and deep below Holborn Viaduct station itself. This was the road tunnel belonging to Fleet Lane, as shown on the above OS map. Even though it no longer exists, its alignment is reflected by the present Old Fleet Lane on the west side and St George’s Court on the east side.
The present roads do provide access to City Thameslink, both in terms of emergency access but are also important when engineering works have to be done or railway equipment needs to be moved in.
Looking the other way from the above photograph, and strangely even though all the old buildings have been knocked down the alignment of the original tracks leading down into the Snow Hill tunnels are curiously replicated by the current gap that can be seen between the new buildings at 5 Fleet Place and 10 Fleet Place.
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Looking in the other direction the old alignment of the Snow Hill lines can be seen between 5 and 10 Fleet Places. The older building mentioned below. 1-6 Farringdon Street, can just be glimpsed at the far end of this alley.
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The small gap on the extreme left at the rear of 1 – 6 Farringdon Street is where the western edge of the viaducts ran
We come to the first building south of Holborn Viaduct. This is 1-6 Farringdon Street and it was built alongside the Holborn Viaduct and Snow Hill lines. At this very point train passengers could look down upon the pedestrians and traffic in Farringdon Road. Today people can still do the same however that’s is from the top of the steps leading up to 10 Fleet Place. These steps are here for a purpose and that is to take the new pedestrian thoroughfare over the top of the City Thameslink station box.
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The steps on top of the Thameslink lines leading down from 10 Fleet Street to Farringdon Street
The rear wall of 1-6 Farringdon Street marks the western side of the viaducts heading towards Ludgate Hill bridge.
Ludgate Hill was where the celebrated railway bridge once stood. In 1990 this was removed and Thameslink obtained a new sub-surface alignment that passes beneath Ludgate Hill itself.
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The spot where Ludgate Hill bridge once stood. Leon’s was once the Old King Lud inn – right up against the bridge itself
Have you ever seen a picture of the main ticket hall at City Thameslink? I havent! Googled it and there’s none apparently taken right inside the ticket hall itself – so I took the photo below specially for this post!
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City Thameslink’s substantial ticket hall just off Ludgate Hill
At this spot where the ticket hall now is was the commencement of the old Ludgate Hill station. This was sandwiched in between Holborn Viaduct and Blackfriars station. These three must have had some of the shortest distances between stations on the same stretch of line on Britain’s railway system. The remains of Ludgate Hill station endured until Thameslink was built when the platforms were demolished. Two years later the whole structure itself came down when the viaduct was removed and the new lines through St. Paul’s (now City) Thameslink were built.
The map below shows where Thameslink currently passes under the footbridge at Aopthecary Street. This was once the site of the tracks leading to Holborn Viaduct. In the final years at this location the tracks were moved westwards (after the former station platforms were demolished) so Thameslink trains ran on that side. The tracks were then moved back to the original alignment after 1990 when the new route through City Thameslink had been built!
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OS map of the southern end of Ludgate Hill station. The little red marker denotes a LEB sign discussed later
Basically the original Ludgate station platforms were demolished in 1986 (shows how early the works for Thameslink began!) to enable new tracks to be built on the west side for both Holborn Viaduct and Thameslink services. The width of Ludgate Hill bridge was reduced. The Holborn Viaduct trains then reached their destination by a spur off the Thameslink tracks north of the revetted Ludgate Hill bridge. In due course this work then enabled most of the Ludgate station site to be demolished in due course ready for the start of the construction of the new sub-surface Thameslink station.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, it was hoped to start the works to built the new Thameslink station during 1988, which is why this work was being done at such an early stage. However due to delays the work did not actually begin until 1990 hence the Ludgate Hill viaduct and bridge remained two years longer than had been planned.
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The stairs up over Thameslink at Waithman Street (formerly the east side of Apothecary Street)
The footbridge across the Thameslink lines between Waithman Street and Apothecary Streets is a bit odd. Its never felt right and that’s because it doesn’t really pass as a footbridge. Its actually much more of a hassle trying to pass from Blackfriars Road to Apothecary Street this way – quicker to walk along the nearby roads – and explains why hardly anyone uses this crossing. I think a pedestrian underpass would have served better.
Its the result of some dodgy 1990s architect who drew up the plans for the entire area with little insight into what was actually needed and also explains the rather hotch potch arrangement of the site above City Thameslink. The only merit this so-called footbridge has to offer are the splendid views of Thameslink’s lines as they ascend to Blackfriars station.
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View from Apothecary Street footbridge of the Thameslink lines to Blackfriars station
Whilst people argue about the crucial viewpoints towards St Paul’s, the fact is many of these viewpoints have been considerably eliminated over time. That formerly seen from Blackfriars is now impossible as the pictures below show. It used to be a good view and clearly some architect has plonked his building right at this location to make absolutely sure no-one can see the cathedral.
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Great views of St Paul’s were once possible at Blackfriars….
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This Google Street view shows the scene seven years later in 2008 – no more St Paul’s….
The above and below Google Street views show the older Blackfriars station which was sited underneath the bridge itself.
Alhough they built a new bridge at Blackfriars for the new Thameslink and remaining Holborn Viaduct services, when the latter was closed and Thameslink sent down onto the new St Paul’s Thameslink alignment, part of the closure in early 1990 involved dropping one end of the new bridge so it sloped downwards from Blackfriars station towards St Paul’s Thameslink. Its actually the one and only bridge built for the original Thameslink back in 1988.
Its also a bridge with the rare distinction of being moved and reused rather than replaced! But to most it does look like its actually been replaced. However I can assure you its actually the original. These three pictures derived from Google’s Street views shows the bridge itself as it morphs to a more modern appearance.
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2008 view – notice the old Blackfriars station entrance
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2012 view – the new Blackfriars station entrance is partially in use. Notice the bridge’s new embellishments
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2014 view of Thameslink’s fantastic new bridge!
On the wall below the bridge itself and alongside Queen Victoria Street, the tracks to Ludgate Hill station once ran and the older crossing was much wider. A gap has been left and one can see that the Thameslink bridge runs along the easternmost alignment of the tracks that once led to Holborn Viaduct station. I found this LEB marker (pic below.) I am sure it was there perhaps forty years ago when all the tracks were complete and passed above the road at this point. Even though the brickwork has been re-pointed the bit behind the marker’s not been done – a clear sign it hasn’t been shifted ever since it was placed here!
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The LEB plaque which once stood underneath the old Holborn Viaduct/Snow Hill bridges
To complete this post, here are some historic pictures of the Snow Hill lines & trains from other sources.
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Holborn Viaduct Station 1985 (Source: Wikipedia)
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Down into the tunnels probably 1989 (Source: Pinterest)
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Ludgate Hill bridge’s demolition 1990 (Source: Pinterest)
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St Pauls Thameslink 1990. Source: Wikipedia
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Another picture of the new Thameslink route and station 1990 (Source: Pinterest)
The above picture is quite interesting as it still shows the alignment of the wall on the west side of the tracks descending into the Snow Hill tunnels. One can see from this how both routes are still separate at this northernmost point. Thameslink on the east side and Snow Hill lines on the west side. The Snow Hill lines then passed over to the east side and Thameslink to the west side just before reaching Holborn Viaduct itself where they then merged completely.
Interesting picture of railtour descending into Snow Hill Tunnels before they were closed in the 1970s.

6 thoughts on “The Snow Hill lines' 30th anniversary

  1. That view of St Paul’s along Queen Victoria Street was only temporarily available. I worked at the time in Church Entry, a narrow lane that runs south from Carter Lane, while the original building was demolished.
    The building was the old Printing House Square — the Times’s editorial and printing office was on that site from the 18th century until it moved to Grays Inn Road in the 70s or 80s (before the move to Wapping in the mid 80s).
    At some point (probably post-1945) it had been replaced with a very solid concrete building, with a very thick floor to support the printing presses. Its demolition in 2001-02 made a huge amount of noise and a lot of dust.
    But it had been tall enough to block the view of St Paul’s dome for decades.

  2. Re the views of the Thameslink ‘fantastic new bridge’ over Queen Victoria Street, surely the bridge has been raised at the Blackfriars station end (as evidenced in your pictures) – rather than as your text states that this ‘involved dropping one end of the new bridge so it sloped downwards from Blackfriars station towards St Paul’s Thameslink’.

  3. Its a nice idea. However there’s absolutely no way this was done – unless you can show me as such. AFAIK it would have meant raising the other bridge (which is within the intermediate space between the building on Queen Victoria Street and the Blackfriars station buildings themselves) as well as the lines across Blackfriars bridge.

    1. The veracity of your response persuaded me to revisit everything again and I can now see that there is something of a visual illusion in the 3 images, showing the bridge over Queen Victoria street, where the gap over the bridge’s southern end decreases as the work progresses. However I can now see that this is mainly due to the new side screening. I was also rather taken in by the’ before & after’ image sequence – as the north end landing of the bridge is at the same height in all 3 images. Nevertheless on rereading the blog and with the aid of other material – it is now clear to me that the lowering of the north end landing took pace some 28 years ago. I had originally read the text as suggesting that it was part of the recent Blackfriars station rebuilding – and I can now see that this is my error. The bridge (413) north landing lowering work – was originally linked to the change of vertical alignment of the track – associated with the removal of the over bridge at Ludgate Circus in 1990. Reusing/moving bridges in the rail industry – is not particularly unusual, particularly where the structure concerned is modern and in good condition.

  4. Thanks I tried to make it clear what had happened without writing too much as my posts get very long. It was indeed 1990 when they tilted it to accommodate the new railway slope down to St Pauls/City Thameslink. The new look (the side screening) does indeed make it seem as if its a new bridge in a somewhat different position.

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