As noted earlier the new sixties built tube line was originally planned to be a more substantial affair, however it turned out somewhat austere which led to numerous complaints. The only real relief in terms of visual appreciation was at the most important station of all – Victoria. This was the attractive tiled motifs featuring Queen Victoria herself – in turn a somewhat misleading portrayal because the main line railway station wasn’t actually named Royally but rather after the area itself. But nevertheless the new station’s importance also decreed it would be the central focus of the Royal Opening of the Victoria Line in 1969.
Victoria tube station in the days before the Royal opening
The station was a very busy hive of activity in the weeks up to the Royal opening of the line in March 1969. As well as putting finishing touches to the station and completing any outstanding works, a number of staff had to be employed to deal with the huge numbers of press corps that visited the station for the preview tours that were on offer to the media. The pending Regal event was no doubt worldwide news and there was huge demand from all quarters of the planet for news, pictures, even television scenes, on what the new tube line offered – especially as it would be the world’s first automatic public subway – and what the Queen herself would see when she came to conduct the official opening of the line.Embed from Getty Images
Victoria Line train in the new station – the text says 10th March 1969. The date refers to publication in the Evening Standard – not the actual day it was taken, which was 5th March. Source: Gettys
In terms of the above picture details being incorrect its clear to me this must be a pre Royal opening photograph because of the absence of people on the platform, plus the fact the train has arrived at Victoria’s northbound platform. It displays ‘Warren Street’ on the front – which suggests it has come from that station out of service. This isn’t anything new because the same technique was being used when the Victoria Line first opened between Walthamstow and Highbury. Generally trains terminated at Highbury via the crossover to the north of the station. However some trains in fact continued to the as yet unopened Warren Street station empty, and then returned north. And it is known in terms of the second part of the line’s opening between Highbury and Warren Street, trains too were continuing to Victoria in order to turn round there. Of course with all the pre Royal opening publicity quite a few photographs of the new station would of course show a train present at the platforms – not as some nice touch for the press to photograph but rather more likely because these had come down from Warren Street in order to turn round. Of course the other aspect of all this is it too gave train operating staff considerable experience of the new sections of line before these were even opened to the public.Embed from Getty Images
Another photograph purported to be from 10th March 1969, but which I think was likely taken during a press preview day held on either 3rd or 5th March 1969, this being the week of the Royal Opening. There’s work going on at the bottom and the delegates are no doubt being guided by one of the station staff. Source: Gettys
The escalators at Victoria on the same day! The two men seen working at the bottom in the previous picture are in full view here. Source: Standard
Train Operator William Eagle (who was in charge of the southbound Royal Train) admires the new motifs at Victoria just before public services began on 7 March 1969.
In terms of the artistic merits of the Victoria Line, news reporter Anthony Sampson, after comparing other metro systems and their efforts to embrace art and culture around the world, often successfully too, Sampson claimed the new Victoria Line was nothing but ‘a journey into limbo.’ The reasons he gave in his article for the Observer, published 9th March 1969, are as follows:
‘Why should London be resigned to the idea of public squalor underground? The cost (£70 million) of the Victoria Line is so vast that the cost of this artistic improvement is relatively tiny; indeed, in terms of public education, to use a place where the public have to be anyway could be an actual economy.
On the next stage of the Victoria Line, as it happens, there is an obvious opportunity for such decoration – in the station at Pimlico, which will serve the Tate Gallery. On the existing underground lines, Trafalgar Square (for the National Gallery), Russell Square (for the British Museum), or South Kensington (for the Kensington museums) could all be used as extensions of the galleries above; it is just the kind of popularising project that ought to interest Jennie Lee or the new generation of showmen curators, like Roy Strong of the National Portrait Gallery.
Why should the idea of cultural patronage be confined to the cut-off world of museums and galleries? Why cannot culture be brought down to the places where people would see it every day? Surely the Victoria Line needs something more than automatic tickets and coloured tiles if it is really to be (as its advertisements proclaim) ‘London’s pride.’ ‘
That’s just one of the many huge criticisms lobbied at the Victoria Line, of which some others have been featured in my previous Victoria line posts. The mainly grey tiling that populated most of the new line was indeed a little depressing and rather monochrome. The only colours were in the station names (blue) and the roundels (blue and red.) There were of course artistic touches but these were limited to the motifs. The entire line was functional more than anything else, nevertheless it was well lit throughout compared to other tube lines. The station layouts were rather austere and indeed the design of some of those has proved to be problematic even to this day.
Possibly a news reporter (or member of newspaper staff) posing with the new tiled motif – again this would be the station’s preview day. Source: Standard
In late 1968 the rumour in the press was the new part of the Victoria Line would be officially opened on 2nd March of that year. That day would of course be a Sunday, which was LT’s preferred day for introducing new things, giving a full day’s service before the following Monday morning’s rush hour service when the new system would really be tested. Both the earlier stages of the Victoria Line has been opened on a Sunday. It was announced on 3rd January 1969 that mid afternoon on Friday March 7th would be chosen as the official day for the opening of the penultimate section of the Victoria Line. This wasn’t of course a Sunday but being the end of the working week it was a subtle move in fact. First, it would allow the Queen to officiate in the official opening of the new section. Secondly the very late opening of the new line to the public would at worst only see one rush hour period of use, this being the evening peak. Any problems that arose during that brief first day of operation could be tackled over the ensuing weekend. That way the new line would be 100% up and ready to go the following Monday morning. There’s more about the Royal Opening in the next instalment of this series.
Poster announcing the Official Opening on 7 March 1969. Source: Reddit
The Royal Opening is featured in a separate post.
The Victoria station upgrade in brief
Mention must be made of the fact the station has a new look – its barely anything like it was when the Victoria Line first opened. Huge pressures on the station plus the rather inconvenient arrangement where the platforms afforded two exits to the surface (one to the BR station and the other to the District/Circle Lines) but that extra capacity which was indeed unique on the whole of the Victoria Line itself (Seven Sisters and Finsbury Park for example have multi exits too but not with escalators directly to the platforms.) But even with this additional capacity it wasn’t enough to deal with the huge numbers of passengers coming through the main line station and it also caused a considerable pinch point on the District and Circle Line platforms which inconvenienced things further.
The overall design for the upgraded Victoria line/sub surface lines stations. Source: Twitter
It must be said the Victoria tube station upgrade was very complex in terms of progress. There was a lot of other additional work as well as the building of the new tunnels and services. Much alteration and underpinning of properties had to be done, and in fact a rebuild of the King’s Scholar’s Pond sewer had to be undertaken too. The work merits a whole publication to itself or at least a series of posts covering the various aspects and stages in detail and its not something I can do here.
Although the late 1960s built Victoria tube station still has elements that exist as a reminder of how it once looked, today’s station is almost a total rebuild. Part of that work was of course to provide full accessibility to both the sub surface platforms and the main line station itself as well as facilitate a more generous ticket hall that would distribute passenger flows better. The old 1960s style ticket hall is no more, with the new one being perhaps three times bigger and extra flights of stairs being provided from the main line station down to it.
That concrete flooding!
In terms of the Victoria station upgrade, one very peculiar event took place and that is possibly the one thing many will remember of the upgrade. This is the day the Victoria Line’s control room got totally flooded with concrete! The date? 23 January 2014.
One of the many pictures published showing the mishap that occurred in 2014! Source: Standard
Initially tube bosses had claimed it was mere flooding which had caused the calamity, but a tube worker published photographs showing the Victoria Line’s 1960s signalling control room which had just received an upgrade – even though it still consisted of 1960s equipment too as pictures show – had indeed been flooded with concrete at least two feet deep which had leaked through from the upgrade work being undertaken at the bottom of the new escalators nearby. The tube worker said ‘The only word for it is a f*** up of major proportions. Everyone was f-ing and blinding when they realised what had happened. It was knee-deep in the signal room swamping all the relay equipment and it’s going to be very, very expensive to repair because it was all brand new.’
Anyway in terms of a solution it transpired that tube workers and the upgrade’s contractors panicked and bought as many bags of sugar they possibly could get from local supermarkets, the trick being a commonly employed one – that sugar would stop the concrete setting. Workers toiled to clear out the offending concrete and continued into the night to restore the signal relay room to as new in readiness for train services the next morning. The following is a timetable of what happened. (Sourced from UK Rail Forums.)
Thursday 23 January
13:30 – Report of signal equipment failing.
14:00 – Line part-suspended and bulk of concrete removed.
16:00 – Concrete removed from delicate areas and detailed checks of wiring.
21:00 – Damaged equipment replaced.
Friday 24 January
00:45 – Signalling system tested.
03:56 – First test train runs.
04:25 – Trains tested in both directions.
05:00 Line handed back to resume service as normal.
The next set of pictures shows how one part of the upgraded station has evolved from a rough worksite to a completed escalator shaft – and this is the one that leads from the new Cardinal Place entrance to the Victoria Line. The pictures are not exact perspectives but at least one gets the idea of what sort of work had to be undertaken to even achieve this small part of the upgrade work. Remember it wasn’t done with the luxury of tunnel digging machines, but rather with the best use of what was available plus a considerable amount of hard manual work in those spaces any machinery would be unable to get into.
In the first picture below one can see how the newly dug escalator shaft tunnel has been spray concreted to afford a margin of safety whilst the more manual task of digging and lowering the bottom of the tunnel profile to a considerable depth so that the new escalators and their machinery could be fitted, leaving ample headroom headroom above for the public areas. In this picture one can see the area these men are working on is in fact the bottom of the escalators where they meet the floor level of the interchange hall that leads to the Victoria Line platforms. From that position the men are working in, the shaft had to be dug to practically the same depth as the height that has just been dug!
The bottom of the new escalators leading down onto the tube station platforms. See the next picture for a more advanced state of work! Source: Twitter
The next picture of course shows how the new escalators look. They’re not finished of course. The time period between the two pictures is three years and it would in fact be another year before the whole work at this point was finished. In fact the digging here had begun around early 2012, so it must have taken four years or more just to dig this part! The work had to be done in a way which didn’t compromise the actual station platforms themselves because, with a few exceptions, the station needed to be active at all times.
Students from Southampton University get a preview of the new escalators leading up to the intermediate level where tunnels lead off to Cardinal Place. Source: Twitter
As a result of the work to upgrade the station is now largely operated on a one way system from the main ticket hall to the Victoria Line platforms. The entrance/exit in Cardinal Place however affords a two way system because of the need to access the sub surface platforms as well as the deep level ones. That new arrangement has however created some quirks which were also extant in the old system, thus in some respects the upgrade can be seen as a little bit of a step back. Its good, its great that they have been able to do all this work and it has improved the flows considerably especially in the direction of the main line station. In terms of the sub surface platforms its a bit of a mixed blessing because it hasn’t fully resolved the problems on that alignment. Its an area where further improvement is definitely needed but its very difficult to squeeze much more capacity into the system because the tunnels are right underneath a good number of buildings and the foundations of these simply cannot be compromised.
Next: The Royal Opening March 1969.