Central Line: beyond Caxton Road #2

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Remember the popular post Central Line: Beyond Caxton Road published more than two years ago? This is a follow up and its based around several old photographs of the area plus some of the latest developments at Westfield. The DIMCO buildings, which some will know were once part of the coal fired power station that generated electricity for the Central London Railway, is undergoing major redevelopment to become an entertainment centre – and its expected to be open this November.

To start this post off proper, its quite hard to believe a power station, and even a large railway depot once existed to the north of Caxton Road. In fact compared to the days when I first knew the Central Line en route to school, this being nigh on sixty years ago, there’s pretty much nothing left of the old order (industry, derelict walkways for the British Empire exhibition, railway cuttings, overbridges and even the disused platforms as the train trundled through the old Wood Lane station.)

There’s absolutely nothing to see north of Caxton Road these days, but when riding the tube one can still sense (or even hear) the squeal of the train wheels as they traverse the quite sharp reverse curves in the nether regions deep below Shepherd’s Bush and the Westfield shopping centre.

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The original Beyond Caxton Road post was written in April 2017.

Of the power station buildings these at least still exist although I must admit they do seem quite out of place among the Westfield Centre with little indication as to their original purpose. They are known these days as the Dimco buildings and are Grade II listed. Pictures of the buildings in use as a power station for the tube railway are rare and even so too are any pictures of the work on the Central Line’s extensions in the Wood Lane area. However there are some new historic images – and it’s why we have a follow up to Central Line: Beyond Caxton Road.

To start off, the image below is quite intriguing because it was on Twitter quite recently. I have not seen this picture before and it grabbed my attention. Its of an old publicity post card for the new Central London railway and shows a route map of the line and its stations – as well as its power station. There’s a turntable too and that’s quite a rarity as far as tube lines go! It was probably more for the use of locomotives coming off the main line nearby with rakes of coal wagons for the power station.

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Postcard from 1904 of the power station looking north west. The viewpoint has now been totally obliterated by the Westfield shopping centre. Source: Twitter

This particular image set me thinking there’s more material on ‘Caxton Road’ than anyone thought. Thus I set off to dig up more stuff covering the old Central London/Central Line above ground route between Caxton Road and White City….

The Central London Railway’s power station buildings were constructed in 1898. From the above picture it seems an extension was added to the east side of the power station between 1900 and 1904. The shorter but wider chimney for this extension can easily be seen.

I also discovered the following image which shows the power station under construction and its generators installed. There’s also a picture showing Bank station ( the Central London railway’s original eastern terminus) and this clearly shows the steel beams used to form the roof of the station’s new ticket hall. Not that it too shows the motorised bogies for the Central London railway’s locomotives. Its an image that’s rarely seen because it is erroneously labelled under the Great Central Railway category! Ironic because the Great Central was 100% a steam railway!

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Pictures of the Central London Railway power station (also Bank station) under construction and in use. Source: Grace’s Guide.

Speaking of steam railways, one would think steam locomotives had not ever been down the deep level tube tunnels, but were only ever seen on the sub surface lines. It might come as a surprise to learn at one time Liverpool Street, Oxford Circus, Bond Street and other tube stations deep down in the bowels of the earth once saw steam locomotives coming along their platforms hauling works trains!

‘Steam trains on the deep level tube? In those 11 foot 8 inch diameter tunnels? No that is just not possible!’

I can assure you it is absolutely true. History is however extremely light on this. Its known at least three steam locomotives were used in London’s deep level underground system. Two were built for the Central London Railway, and a later one was acquired for the building of the City and South London Line’s extensions to Angel and Euston. Pictures of these are extremely rare however here’s a couple of peeps at some pics I found:

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Fantastic picture showing Wood Lane’s power station c1900. Source: Gettys

One striking aspect of this particular image is the fact it shows the Central London Railway’s steam locomotive and its an extremely rare picture. I have only ever seen one or two other photos of these locomotives. They were of course coal fired, but used oil firing instead when they worked down in the tube itself. They also had condenser equipment to reduce the amount of steam being let off. These locomotives have indeed been down the tube as far as Liverpool Street and undoubtedly also worked right up to Ealing Broadway.

Here’s another photograph of one of their locomotives, clearly showing the rather squat profile needed to get through the 11 foot 8 inch diameter tunnels.

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CLR no.1. This is clearly the maker’s photograph. Source: Grace’s Guide

The picture describes it as a yard locomotive which it was most of the time. It was mainly used to shunt stock and deliver coal to the power station. However it was used in the tunnels when they were first built to assist with fitting out, and continued to venture into the tunnels on rare occasions when the power had to be switched off and track maintenance or other work was being undertaken. The locomotives also assisted in the construction of the Central London railway’s extensions to Liverpool Street and Ealing Broadway before being withdrawn completely.

One more photograph of the CLR steam locomotives can be seen here. This is number two and its an interesting photo because it shows these locomotives at least looked quite nice with their lined livery. They do evoke memories of ‘Russell’ – the famous locomotive which too at one time was cut down to a more squat appearance in order to fit the tunnels on the Ffestiniog Railway.

The next picture shows what the power station looked like in a different part of the buildings but am not sure which of the two large buildings this would have been.

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The power station’s interior. Source: Twitter

The Dimco buildings, as the power station buildings are called now, are currently receiving major work to convert them into a huge exhibition and entertainment centre known as Exhibition London.

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The uncompleted new upper floor of the building with the old Central London railway crane evident. Source: Twitter

I have never been inside the buildings however this image below shows how they looked before the current work to convert them began.

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This shows the time when the buildings were in use as a bus stabling point. The old Central London Railway tiling can be seen on the walls. Source: Twitter

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Close up of the old Central London railway’s tiling. Source: Twitter

A lot of the area round the Dimco buildings and on the opposite sides of the roads are currently out of bounds to pedestrians so its difficult to see what is actually going on in terms of progress. One can at least look at the works from some parts of the site but as my picture below shows, there isn’t really much to see other than workmen going about their business! Not very exciting is it?

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View of the Dimco buildings frontage, September 2019.

If anyone wants to see what the new venue is about, click on following the link to its site where one can see floor plans, artists’ renditions and the different venues on offer. Its said the new centre will be ready by November 2019. Exhibition London.

Let us move on and explore the site a little more, especially in relation to the Central Line itself. But first, a map!

This shows the route taken by the Central Line though the Westfield estate. A good bit of this route was formerly open. The cross indicates roughly where the former bridge over the Central Line in Ariel Way was (see my pictures of this below.) BTW its not meant to be absolutely accurate as I’m not certain of its exactness. Its a pretty good indication however of where the Central Line runs. This map simply shows the northbound line – the southbound has a totally different alignment that runs almost parallel to Wood Lane itself.

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The BBC TV Centre and Wood Lane is on the left. The Dimcos (the former power station) is at bottom centre. White City station is at the top. Wood Lane station and the Circle/Hammersmith line runs diagonally from top right to bottom left. The map itself was sourced from Google Streets.

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In this 2002 view from a train heading northwards from Caxton Road, a brick building, as well as the top of the BBC Television Centre, could be seen from the Central Line! The brick building was called Network House and we shall refer to it later. The position of the bridge itself is marked by the ‘X’ on the map.

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This shows the actual view from the top of the bridge itself. The location is now under Westfield itself.

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A quite similar view to the older one, except its probably 30 metres further south. (This bit of Ariel Way was out of bounds during my visits so I had to resort to Google!) Source: Google Streets

As has been mentioned Ariel Way has now been moved to the south side of its old alignment and its difficult to envisage the scene properly as it was when I took that earlier picture from the top of the bridge itself. The exact location is no longer available, being underneath the shopping centre. The fact the Wood Lane overbridge can be seen in the distance in the above image does help however. Both scenes used very different focal lengths (my early digital camera was probably 28mm) thus the bridge looks further way in the newer view.

Up above ground the exact position from where I took these earlier pictures is no longer available. Its right under the Westfield Centre extension! One can however sense the trains running beneath this huge patch of artificial grass in front of the Westfield extension.

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The patch of ground between the old Ariel Way bridge and Wood Lane viaduct today. See the old picture below for comparison.

The view shown below was taken in about 1946 and shows the construction of the new tube alignment in order to connect it up to the new White City station (opened 1947.) One can see how it curves to the north, and of course the alignment had to pass beneath one of the arches of the Wood Lane viaduct. This is in fact an arch almost next to the mosiac roundel at Wood Lane station.

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The construction of the Central Line’s new alignment in 1946. The old White City stadium is evident.

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In this view showing the former power station buildings, the Central Line itself passes near the furthermost corner of the power station and then underneath One Ariel Way within the new Westfield Centre extension on the left. The location where I took my photograph from the old railway bridge is probably about 30 metres to the left and below the shopping centre itself.

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If one walks to the other side of the Westfield building (next to One Ariel Way) currently there is this vacant shop frontage. Its quite ironic, I dont know if its a deliberate intention, however the ‘subway’ sign is almost exactly over the below ground alignment of the Central Line!

There’s nothing left above ground these days that indicates the tube alignment. But depending on where one stands along the alignment itself – the rumbling of the trains can be felt quite easily and its a pretty good indication one is on the right spot!

From White City station itself (or alternatively sighted from a southbound train) one can easily see the last visible bit of the original 1945-47 built line. This is the side walls and the tunnel entrance itself. That now marks the first daylight Central Line trains will have seen since Mile End station.

In the image below, which I took, I tried to show the 1947 tunnel entrance in relation to Westfield itself. Its evident there’s quite a tight alignment here as the line has to come across from Westfield’s and then straight underneath Wood Lane station before emerging to meet the tracks leading into White City station itself.

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The 1947 tunnel portal seen from Wood Lane. The short track with a buffer stop on the right is the spur from the White City train depot.

To conclude this post, here’s an atmospheric painting from 1907! It’s Wood Lane Power Station by artist Charles Holmes. The power stations at Wood Lane, Lots Road and Battersea (non-underground of course but nevertheless a notable example) have been glorified in paintings, and clearly despite their rather brooding appearance they provided inspiration for dramatic works of art.

However few would realise the significance of this painting. Its in fact a very early representation of London’s underground electric railway system. There are of course works of art covering the sub-surface lines, but the deep level tube lines, barely anything from those very early days – but at least this is something the Central London railway relied on very much!

There’s another interesting aspect to this particular work of art. It was done from Holmes’ own flat. He lived at 73 Ladbroke Grove and across the rooftops of London he could see the power station. Where he lived was right at the top of the hill that formed the summit of Ladbroke Grove, so there was a pretty good view towards Shepherd’s Bush and Wood lane!

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Charles Holmes’ Wood Lane, 1907. Source: Twitter

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