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City & South London Railway
City to Stockwell, central London, UK
associated engineer
Sir John Fowler
Sir Benjamin Baker
date  May 1886 - 4th November 1890
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Railway  |  reference  TQ303765
ICE reference number  HEW 2273
The City & South London Railway is the world’s first deep-level underground (tube) passenger railway. It is also the first urban electric traction railway in England, and is now part of the Northern Line in the London Underground network.
The tunnel for City & South London Railway was the first railway tunnel to be excavated using a tunnelling shield rather than the ‘cut and cover’ method used elsewhere. The shield was designed by South African engineer James Henry Greathead. It was cylindrical and had steel blades that were forced into the soil by hydraulic rams operating at a pressure of 1,575 tonnes per sq m.
Leading construction was Peter William Barlow, with Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker as consulting engineers. Barlow and Greathead had previously worked together on Tower Subway (constructed 1869-70 under the River Thames), the location for the first use of a tunnelling machine in London.
An access shaft was sunk into the River Thames west of London Bridge, near the Old Swan Pier, and tunnelling began in May 1886. The single tracks were to be laid in twin tunnels 3.1m in diameter, heading north to a terminus at King William Street in the city and south to Elephant & Castle.
On 12th July 1887, an Act of Parliament allowed the line to be extended further south to Stockwell, in running tunnels 3.2m to 3.5m in diameter. Further shafts were sunk at the Monument, St George’s Church, Elephant & Castle and Kennington.
The tunnels were at least 12m below the surface, and followed the route of the streets above. Where the streets were narrow, tunnels were placed one above the other rather than side-by-side. These precautions, together with photographs of the buildings before the works, enabled any claims for damages to be settled rapidly.
In 1888, the company asked the Manchester firm Mather & Platt to electrify the railway. The firm had secured the British rights to manufacture Thomas Edison’s dynamo in 1883, the design of which was further improved by Cambridge scientists and brothers John and Edward Hopkinson.
The Edison-Hopkinson dynamos were used in the new power station built at Stockwell. These supplied 14 electric locomotives that travelled at 40km per hour on 450V direct current. Each train had three wooden carriages lit by electricity, which were soon nicknamed ‘padded cells’, and could accommodate up to 96 passengers.
The six stations were of brick construction, crowned with domes that housed the mechanisms for the cramped passenger lifts to and from the platforms. Kennington station still retains its original appearance.
HRH Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) carried out the formal opening ceremony on 4th November 1890, by switching on the electric current at Stockwell with a golden key. Public services began on 18th December.
In its first complete year of operation, more than five million people travelled on the City & South London Railway. Passengers were allowed onto the platforms by turnstiles rather than tickets, and there was no differentiation between First and Second Class — something that is now standard on the tube.
In 1890, the railway was permitted to extend the line south, reaching Clapham Common in 1900.
Trains arriving at King William Street had an uphill slope to surmount and, being furthest from the power station, dwindling voltage. This meant that trains often had to take more than one attempt to reach the station. In February 1900, the station was closed and the line realigned to stop at London Bridge.
The line was extended north to Bank, almost undermining St Mary Woolnoth Church (designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor) in the process. It reached Angel in 1901, and King’s Cross and Euston on 12th May 1907.
The City & South London Railway was bought by the London Underground Group on 1st January 1913. Stockwell power station closed and power was supplied by Lots Road. World War I (1914-18) delayed further work.
During 1922-4, the original tunnels were rebuilt to the standard dimensions for tube tunnels — 3.56m diameter on the straight and 3.81m on curves. A tunnel from Euston to Camden Town linked to the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway in 1924. Then in 1926, the line was extended south to Morden.
Supervising engineer: Peter William Barlow
Tunnelling shield: James Henry Greathead
Electric traction: Mather and Platt
Research: ECPK
"Diamond Jubilee of the City and South London Railway" by T.S. Lascelles
The Railway Magazine, February 1951
"Underground to Everywhere" by Stephen Halliday
Sutton Publishing Ltd, London, 2001
reference sources   CEH Lond

City & South London Railway