Hyde Park Now-Victoria tube station: Construction 1962 - 69

Victoria tube station: Construction 1962 – 69

Continuing the series of comprehensive posts on the history of the Victoria Line – the new sixties tube was originally planned to be a more substantial affair, however as things turned out it gained a somewhat austere atmosphere – which led to a lot of complaints. The only real relief in terms of visual depreciation at tie new line’s most important station of all – Victoria – was the attractive tiled motifs featuring Queen Victoria herself – a somewhat misleading portrayal because the station wasn’t actually named after the Queen but rather the area itself. The image below shows a rather more interesting portrayal of how the station could have looked – its far more futuristic than the denigrated cheap off the shelf bathroom tile look the line’s stations received in the late 1960s!

Hyde Park Now-Victoria tube station: Construction 1962 - 69

An early design for Victoria tube station. Source: Scott Brown Rigg

In terms of size however, Victoria tube station was going to be a quite substantial affair anyway, being a key interchange. As the Victoria Line’s original southern terminus (this is before the Brixton extension was approved) Victoria tube station had to be designed and built for the huge influx of passengers which would come directly from the main line station. In those days railway travel was somewhat on the wane thus no one would really see how much pressure would be put on the station towards the end of the 20th Century as rail travel increased once again, showing how inadequate the original design had been.

The original idea behind Victoria tube station would be that where trains arrived and departed quickly. Thus the idea here was it would be built with a pair of reversing sidings sandwiched in between running lines. In terms of the tube system this arrangement was indeed unusual because the only deep level tube station that had so far received a double set of reversing sidings happened to be Liverpool Street – and that work was done back in 1912! Both these cases however show the strategic importance of these two stations, being at the end of a line where huge passenger flows would be encountered. As had happened at Liverpool Street, the original aspirations for Victoria Tube station soon proved to be redundant when the line was extended – in the same way as that at Liverpool Street was extended towards Stratford, that at Victoria was extended towards Brixton.

Little known to most Victoria station too came with a double scissors crossover. This was present in the early days of the station’s track layout. This and the pair of reversing sidings made sure the station could cope in the very busy peak hours, however I do remember the general method in 1969 was either to clear a train once it had arrived and send it into one of the reversing sidings or if it was to return north, it was then to be dispatched almost immediately from the platform it had arrived at. There were quite a few station staff at work on the platforms making sure the operations were effective and trains were dealt with as quickly as they could be whichever way they were going (to the sidings or returning northwards.)

There was in fact an indicator at the bottom of the escalators which denoted which train would be leaving first, much like those indicators seen at Walthamstow and Brixton. Invariably the overall preference eventually was to send trains into the sidings and keep the platforms as ‘southbound’ and ‘northbound’ although trains still had to be reversed in the platforms themselves when necessary. In those far off days Victoria tube station had more than ample capacity and it wasn’t being fully used. When the extension to Brixton opened the scissors crossing was reduced to a trailing crossover from the southbound platform, thus only that platform in future would see a train terminate and then leave from it to head back towards King’s Cross, Seven Sisters or Walthamstow. Over time most of the reversing at Victoria was reduced considerably as most trains were now going to Brixton thus it didn’t matter too much.

Hyde Park Now-Victoria tube station: Construction 1962 - 69

Victoria Line progress leaflet 1967. This does show the total actual track arrangement of the line in its early days – including the short lived double crossover at Victoria station. Source: Tumblr

Nowadays of course it is quite rare to find a train that terminates at Victoria (or even King’s Cross) and this usually happens only if there is a very serious delays or a need to close sections of the line. Until the late 1990s a number of trains still terminated at either of these stations instead of going through to Brixton or Walthamstow but in terms of operating efficiency these were eventually seen as superfluous because they sort of upset the service frequency and the optimal loading and unloading of huge numbers of passengers. In terms of frequencies and the recently enhanced super frequency service (the Victoria Line happens to have one of the most frequent metro services in the world), stepping back has became the norm at the ends of the line. The use of King’s Cross and Victoria to turn trains is now increasingly rare. What it of course means is service frequencies are now even throughout the entire line rather than the central core having the highest service frequency and the Brixton and Walthamstow extremities the lowest service frequencies as was once the case.

Besides that, its the fact the line now employs a peak hour service, which is a train every 90 seconds roughly, and what that means is there are far more trains running than there are platforms – and every possible spare bit of track is needed to move trains off the line should the need arise to reduce the frequency greatly. As well as Northumberland Park (which is generally the first port of call should any number of trains need to be moved off the system) the spare capacity for the additional parking of trains would be at Victoria sidings (two trains), Brixton sidings (two trains), Walthamstow sidings (two trains) and King’s Cross siding (one train.)

The issue of service frequencies is getting away from the construction of the line somewhat – although it is important to understand London Underground’s original aspirations for the Victoria Line have evolved in terms of the exponential growth in passenger numbers and how Victoria tube station has changed in terms of the services it offered. As we will see later it has also meant the original Victoria tube station itself has changed considerably beyond recognition. Thus the station that was opened by the Queen in 1969 is no longer the station we know in 2021. Even the original opening plaque that was unveiled by the Queen is now to be found in a totally different location and that in itself is an indication of the profound changes that have taken place!

In terms of actual construction at Victoria to build the new tube line, that work began in 1963:

Hyde Park Now-Victoria tube station: Construction 1962 - 69

Work clearly began at Victoria station on Monday 22 April 1963. Source: LURS

The year 1963 is of considerable importance in terms of London’s transport thus the new Victoria Line was of considerable jubilation because the last tube line to be built in London had been nearly sixty years previously. 1963 wasn’t of course the first part of the line to see work begin as construction work actually began some years earlier when long lengths of experimental tube railway tunnel were constructed in order to evaluate new methods of digging tube lines, new types of tunnel segments, even matters such as noise, air flow, the type of track base, and how tube trains could be made to run quieter. In terms of that a report in the Guardian dated 22 August 1962 tells us the Victoria Line would benefit from ‘smoother rides with less rattling. This will be achieved through the use pf long-welded rails, gentler curves and acoustic slabs to absorb noise…’

These very early tunnels which had been built to the east of Finsbury Park were eventually incorporated into the Victoria Line itself. However the fact it was 1963 and this being the 100th anniversary of London’s underground, it meant this was some serious stuff because the city would soon be seeing a new tube line. Various proposals for new tube lines had come and gone and the Victoria Line itself had been on the cards for several decades under various names and proposals. In fact I remember as a kid my huge excitement at the prospect of a new tube line, and looked eagerly at the construction works at both King’s Cross and Oxford Circus – where we regularly walked around the famous ‘umbrella.’ My family reminded me at times that I’d have to wait until secondary school before ‘the new tube’ had even opened. In fact I was in my second year at secondary school when I travelled the Victoria Line for the first time between Highbury and Walthamstow just a week or so after its opening.

Hyde Park Now-Victoria tube station: Construction 1962 - 69

Progress on the new tube’s ticket hall takes place at Victoria bus station, prob 1965. Note the old Wilton Road entrance then under construction. This was replaced by a new one in 2018. Source: Ground Engineering

Compare the above image with the diagram below. The top of the original linking subway which was built during the late 19th Century between the District Circle and Victoria main station can just be seen to the right of centre behind the temporary walkway shown here. This would be doubled in width. Much of the area within this large hole would become the new ticket hall. The steps down from Wilton Place are already partially built and can be seen at the bottom of the picture. The District/Circle line station can be seen on the right – the building with the rounded top windows being a giveaway.

Hyde Park Now-Victoria tube station: Construction 1962 - 69

1965 diagram showing the layout of the Victoria Line and its tunnels, plus the new ticket hall.

As the above diagram shows, the 1960s built ticket hall eventually proved to be too small for modern needs and in the recent rebuild it was increased in size about three times. The station itself would be based in part on the existing subway from the main line terminus to the District and Circle line station. This subway would be expanded and a new ticket hall for the Victoria Line built to one side of it.

Hyde Park Now-Victoria tube station: Construction 1962 - 69

The original Wilton Road entrance to the Victoria Line. This is of course now replaced by the new one a little further to the left. Victoria’s sub surface station (District/Circle) can be seen on the far side of the bus station. Source: Google Streets

The original Wilton Road entrance has now been now replaced by a new one a little further to the left, as shown in the picture below. This was opened in 2018 as part of the station upgrade. Victoria’s sub surface station (District/Circle) is on the north side of the bus station and although its platforms too have had an upgrade to match the Victoria Line’s, the ticket hall is still largely as it has always been save for a few small changes. One of the biggest changes to the Wilton road entrances saw the removal of the air shafts that were placed here. One of these can be seen in the above picture to the left of the station entrance. With the upgrade work the ventilation systems have been improved and that coupled with the much larger ticket halls and new subways has ensured the need for any unsightly ventilation shafts has been avoided.

Hyde Park Now-Victoria tube station: Construction 1962 - 69

Where the Wilton Road entrance once was, now stands this new TfL totem. The new replacement entrance can be seen in the background.

The Victoria Line, unlike its earlier counterparts, would not follow street layouts or roads, being the first to entirely forsake street alignments in favour of a faster and more direct route. This raised concerns for many including the issue of noise and vibration. I detailed some of that stuff a couple of years ago in a different Victoria Line post. Indeed the very first week the line opened its stage one section there were numerous complaints from residents who claim their lives were now be unbearable.

Hyde Park Now-Victoria tube station: Construction 1962 - 69

Driver’s eye view from the south end of Victoria station. Straight on for the reverse sidings and left for Brixton. Source: Twitter

The planners must have known something of this for it is said they gave the Queen and her palace considerable salvation. ‘Although senior officials of the London Transport Executive were confident that vibration would be kept to a minimum, the fact that the proposed route performs a little wiggle round Buckingham Palace, passing instead under the Victoria memorial, specifically to avoid any disturbance to the palace, suggests otherwise.’

The tunnels pass at a depth of 65 feet beneath the western end of The Mall near Buckingham Palace – and as the map below shows, it does avoid the palace! The only problem with this arrangement was the practicality of extending the line towards Brixton. Had the extension been mooted and approved at the same time as the rest of the Victoria Line itself, the route would have no doubt taken a different alignment. The problem of course is the line terminated at Victoria facing the wrong direction somewhat and it meant the line now had to take a huge sweep to the south east in order to reach Pimlico and Vauxhall.

Hyde Park Now-Victoria tube station: Construction 1962 - 69

The early but complete Victoria Line map, probably early 1960s well before Brixton was envisaged. Source: Standard.

Next: Victoria tube station in 1969 and after.