This is an overview of the stations and route forming the third part of the Victoria Line in 1969. The stations were Oxford Circus, Green Park and Victoria. The problems of building a station underneath the Peter Robinson store was told in the first part published last December. The famous Oxford Circus umbrella is covered in this post as well as Cavendish Square and other aspects of the station’s major upgrade works in the sixties.
The Oxford Circus umbrella
The Oxford Circus umbrella with the Peter Robinson store on the left. Source: Twitter
The proposed new ticket hall was another major construction problem. It’s ceiling is only two feet six inches below the road surface! Clearly such an undertaking could not be done without the road on top collapsing by way of the sheer weight of the traffic upon it.. Thus the ‘umbrella’ was built. Its in fact a bridge (or deck if one prefers) weighing a total of 600 tons spanning the four roads intersecting here. It raised these roads several feet higher and that gave the workmen the space they needed beneath to remove the old road, dig a space for the new ticket hall and then build reinforced foundations on top for the new road that would be later laid.
The plans for the ‘umbrella’ were announced by the London Transport Board on 20th May 1963. The contract was let to Mitchell Bros and Sons Ltd. That however was not the start of the works. Like the Peter Robinson store, preliminary works also had to be undertaken. This began on 20th September 1962, and was conducted almost nightly for the next four months to determine where the many services beneath the road were and establish the locations at which the very deep foundations needed for the new umbrella could be drilled.
Work was done at night for six months prior to the installation of the ‘umbrella’ to locate the different utility services which would ultimately need to be moved when proper construction work got underway.
Although Mitchell Brothers were the company given the contract for the umbrella, the construction of this was done in partnership with Kinnear Moodie, whilst the work to build the actual bridge and its steel framing was sub-contracted.
The huge steel structure was manufactured by Rubery Owen at their works near Wolverhampton whilst the road decking was subcontracted to Carter Horsley Limited of Tipton (whose equipment used for the work actually came from their southern base in Crawley!) The asphalt work was contracted to the London firm Limmer and Trinidad Lake asphalt company. Limmer apparently went to the Black Country to install the asphalt decking at the time a trial installation was undertaken there.
There were in total 245 pieces of ‘umbrella’ that had to be put together. An average time of eleven minutes each was taken for every one of the 245 pieces. Saunders of Woolwich were contracted for the smaller lorries and low-loaders that would be needed during the actual construction works. Cranage was provided by Mobile Lifting Services Limited (a subsidiary of Tarmac) who operated the largest fleet of mobile cranes in the UK at the time.
Preliminary works in Oxford Street to build the foundations over many weekends and overnight sessions in 1962 and 1963 prior to the construction of the famous umbrella. Source: Twitter
As mentioned briefly, the ‘umbrella’ was in fact put together off site first to see it all fitted together as intended. I do not know where this was done, but assume it was done up at Wednesbury or somewhere in the Wolverhampton area convenient to both Rubery Owen and Horseley Limited. The parts were brought down to London over the space of two weeks, with the smaller supports going first.
The design of the new umbrella and how deep its piles actually went. Source: Twitter
In June 1963 25 boreholes were drilled in preparation for the 25 stools that would soon be installed to support the new umbrella bridge. The holes were excavated to around fifty feet in order to ensure a firm foundation, and a bell shaped based was then excavated. Steel tubes, used as a form of temporary shoring, were then inserted almost right down to the bottom and the cavities filled with concrete. At a stage when the concrete was of a certain consistency the steel tubes were removed to be used in the next hole.
The beginnings of the new Oxford Circus umbrella. Source: Twitter
On Tuesday 23rd July 1963 a trial installation at Oxford Circus was undertaken. This was to establish exactly the positioning of each small key support – these were about two feet high and called stools. These stools had to be brought down from Rubery Owen’s works to London where they were then placed in position and holes drilled where the plans said these should be – so when it came to the actual installation of the umbrella it would all fit perfectly.
Although this was a weekday the work was undertaken with the traffic continuing to use the roads. The appropriate lanes needed for this work were closed where needed. A lot of measuring up during this work was undertaken, after having ascertained what sort of tolerances would be needed for the different parts to fit together, and then the stools were taken back to Rubery Owen for further refinement.
The umbrella was built by Mitchell brothers in the space of an extended weekend break during August 1963. All the parts were brought from the Midlands to Cavendish Square and stored here prior to the bank holiday weekend. Each part was numbered so they would be taken in the correct order necessary to build the umbrella. As the work itself got underway a small fleet of lorries took each section individually the short distance from Cavendish Square to Oxford Circus itself where the pieces were then craned into position.
Some onlookers can be seen in this picture during initial construction of the umbrella! Source: Twitter
It is claimed in some news sources the entire location was closed off to the public but it wasn’t. It was meant to be out of bounds but it didn’t stop people coming to gawp. As a news report written halfway through the bank holiday weekend in question tells us, ‘the spectacle attracted a steady procession of interested persons yesterday. “Its a bit embarrassing to have so many people watching; makes you feel as if you are going to make a mistake” a foreman said.’
There is a common misconception the ‘umbrella’ was finished on Tuesday 6th August 1963. It wasn’t. The work to build this was actually finished on the Monday at 12.15pm, just 15 minutes after the planned noon deadline. The remainder of the time was used to tidy up the area, establish services, install new traffic lights, road signs and place in position kerbing, mark out the pedestrian crossings and so on.
Constructing the Oxford Circus umbrella August 1963. Source: Brunel University
The original plans were for the umbrella to be in place for just three years. It was retained for five years instead. After three years, on August bank holiday 1966 the bridge decking was extended eastwards to enable the linking subway and the Central Line escalators to be built thus allowing another entry/exit route from the new ticket hall to be established. This linking subway is invaribly used in one direction only and this is from east to west.
The new umbrella progresses. Source: Twitter
A lot of historians and blogges and the likes applaud the umbrella as if it was something totally unique. Perhaps but it wasn’t really. A far simpler form had been used at Bank more than sixty years earlier involving the use of plain decking whilst a new ticket hall was being built beneath the roadway. The piece de resistance in terms of these umbrellas was the Jubilee Line – a total of three umbrellas were used during its construction! (Bond Street, Charing Cross and London Bridge.)
What happened to the famous umbrella? It was mostly sold for scrap. After most of the works at Oxford Circus had been finished there was much less need for nearby Cavendish Square, which had been used as a major works site for the building of the Victoria Line. It became a temporary site for storing the dismantled umbrella in early 1968 whilst attempts were made to sell the valuable steel. Its said the various steel sections were sold for £7 a ton.
The new umbrella in use. Source: Twitter
Cavendish Square as a worksite
Following on from the preparation work underneath Peter Robinsons and the installation of the umbrella, the main part of the work to build the new station could begin.
The construction of the Victoria Line from Oxford Circus to Victoria, worth over £2 million, was awarded to John Mowlem and Sons on 23 October 1963. The other section towards Warren Street (and on to Euston/King’s Cross) was awarded to Mitchell Bros and Sons Ltd on 28 November 1963.
Looking down the Cavendish Square shaft. Source: Standard
The nature of the site meant it had to be dug by hand and a new method of mucking out the clay soil dug at this point was devolved and this involved a substantial processing and sorting plant in Cavendish Square just north of Oxford Street as well as a conveyor belt in Regent Street North to take away the spoil for the new ticket hall.
It wasn’t too much of a problem anyway. It has generally been found that any new tunnels under 2km are invariably better dug by hand or other mechanical equipment. Tunnelling machines are better suited to lengths of 2km or more and this explains why several sections of the Victoria Line were dug by hand – including a section underneath the Lea Valley were the ground was so bad the machines failed to work.
Cavendish Square became a major construction site and also provided storage space for the many tunnel rings and other associated stuff needed to build the tunnels. As the newspapers of the time observed, every single item from the large to the small was ‘elaborately labelled.’
A substantial operation was also in place at the top of Regent Street where excavated material was conveyed from the site for the new ticket hall and then carted away by lorry. This was in a rather restricted location with part of the umbrella passing over it.
The lift at the top of the Cavendish Square shaft. Source: Standard
The reason for the lift at Cavendish Square going higher than ground level was for a very good reason. There would be so much spoilt to remove from the Oxford Circus area, and this being a restricted site (remember it too had to store equipment, the tunnel lining segments and other stuff used in the line’s construction) the purpose of this elevated section was so that these rail wagons full of spoil could be tipped directly into a processing plant below, before the spoil was taken away.
Hall and Company were the company contracted to take away the spoil and the clay excavated during the works.
The access tunnel from Cavendish Square to the station work area. Source: Mail
One of the biggest challenges in the area was the Post Office railway tunnels. These thread through the site of Oxford Circus tube station but they also pass beneath Cavendish Square. This meant the Victoria Line contractors had to deal with the Post Office Railway tunnels twice within a short distance when it came to building their own shafts and tunnels for the new tube line.
The Cavendish Square shaft is not there anymore, however like most other working shafts it wasn’t even capped over, although the tunnels to from Regent Street North where there was a connection to the running tunnels north of Oxford Circus station site, are sealed off. After the Victoria Line work had finished the square faced another couple of years turmoil for the construction of an underground car park which opened in 1971.
After fifty years of use the car park is pencilled in for closure. Originally a new underground shopping centre was to built in its place. However with the downturn in retail business this was deferred and since then the developers’ aspirations have changed. Two days ago (30 April 2020) plans for an entertainment and healthcare complex were approved by Westminster Council as the Standard reports.
Oxford Circus southbound platform in early days. Source: Twitter
Other Oxford Circus considerations
One of the biggest changes to the plans for Oxford Circus involved the decor for the ticket hall. It was intended to have the walls of the new structure lined with a special design of brick. When LT found it would take three months to make these bricks they simply changed tack and ordered the walls be lined instead with concrete! Not any special concrete – just the cheap and nasty mass produced stuff!
Another major engineering problem in regards to Oxford Circus was the fact the tunnels had to cross each other. The Victoria Line tunnels switched over between Highbury and King’s Cross to provide right hand running (for reasons of cross platform interchange at Euston) however the switch back to normal left hand running had to be done between Warren Street and Oxford Circus.
It meant much additional engineering work and for this specific job three working shafts were built within the short section between Warren Street and Oxford Circus. These were at Whitfield Street, Fitzroy Square and Great Titchfield Street. With the all important main working shaft at Cavendish Square added there were in fact four construction shafts alone in this section.
In April 1967 the tunnels at Oxford Circus were the last on the new line to be completed.
In the summer of 1968 the new ticket hall came into use with three of the new entrances also coming into use and one pair of the four new escalators was put to work carrying passengers down to the Bakerloo Line.
Experimental LT roundel at Oxford Circus with yellow section. The idea was soon dropped. Source: Twitter
The Victoria Line’s 1900’s buildings!
Despite the huge modernisation that was undertaken to the station and the building of a new ticket hall, Oxford Circus station has the very unusual distinction of being the only Victoria Line station with a Leslie Green building! Not only that there’s the original Central London Railway building too still in use and both these buildings generally form the exits from the three tube lines – and the surprise is these were built in the early 1900s.
To be fair it must be said Finsbury Park still has some of its original tiling and stairs dating from the construction of that station in 1904 and that came about only because the Victoria Line shares some of the station’s access with the Piccadilly Line.