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Metropolitan District Railway
District and Circle Lines, London Underground, London, UK
associated engineer
Sir John Fowler
date  June 1865 - 24th December 1868 onwards to 1889
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Railway  |  reference  TQ267788
ICE reference number  HEW 2274
The Metropolitan District Railway was constructed to complete the southern section of underground passenger railway around central London then known as the Inner Circle. The northern part of it was constructed by the Metropolitan Railway. Together the two rival companies created the world's first 'metro' system.
The Metropolitan Railway (MR) had intended to complete what is now the Circle Line, but gaining finance for building a railway in the heart of the city — the most expensive land in the world — proved difficult. Although a substantial portion of the railway could be built inside the Victoria Embankment (constructed 1863-70 by Sir Joseph Bazalgette), the scheme would still cost almost £5m, a huge sum at the time.
At Sir John Fowler's suggestion, a separate company — the Metropolitan District Railway (MDR) — was set up to raise funds independently. The MDR received royal assent on 29th July 1864. Fowler was the engineer, assisted by Benjamin Baker (appointed chief assistant in 1869, later Sir Benjamin Baker).
Construction began at Westminster Bridge (Westminster) in June 1865, and proceeded westwards. Tunnels were built mostly using the cut-and-cover technique, with more of the railway in open cuttings to minimise the problems of poor air quality caused by steam locomotives travelling in a confined space.
Near Westminster Abbey, a 2.1m thick layer of peat was placed around the outside of the tunnel to absorb the vibrations from passing trains. The River Westbourne, now the Ranelagh Sewer, was diverted through a 2.7m diameter iron conduit above the platforms at Sloane Square station. There was a 385m long tunnel under Campden Hill in Kensington.
The first section of the district railway extended to South Kensington, opening on 24th December 1868, the same day that the MR reached South Kensington from Gloucester Road.
Construction continued at both ends of the new line. In the east, the line between Westminster and Blackfriars opened on 30th May 1870. This included some re-excavation of the Victoria Embankment for the subsurface tunnels. Services were run initially by the MR using their own rolling stock, in return for half of the receipts. On 3rd July 1871, the line was opened to Mansion House.
Although there remained just a short distance to close the circle of underground railway, the MDR was beset with debts and struggled to raise capital. Expansion to the west continued, as the land was considerably cheaper than that in the city's Square Mile.
The line from Gloucester Road to West Brompton opened on 12th April 1869, with an intermediate station at Earl's Court opening on 10th October 1871. A branch to High Street Kensington also opened in 1871.
Further expansion from Earl's Court took place, a northern branch to Addison Road — renamed Kensington (Olympia) in 1946 — opened on 1st February 1872, and a western extension to Hammersmith opened on 9th September 1874. By 1st July 1879, the line had reached Ealing (Ealing Broadway). Services south from Earl’s Court opened to Putney Bridge on 1st March 1880, and to Wimbledon in 1889. In the south west, a branch line to Hounslow Barracks (Hounslow West) opened on 21st July1884.
Despite the financial problems, it was clear that completing the Inner Circle line was more important than bickering between the railway companies. James Staats Forbes, chairman of MDR, and Sir Edward Watkin, chairman of MR, met in December 1877 to try to overcome their differences.
With extra money from the City (£300,000) and the Metropolitan Board of Works (£500,000), construction was resumed in September 1881. Engineers John Wolfe Barry and Sir John Hawkshaw were involved with completing the circle.
Working west from Aldgate, the MR reached Tower Hill on 25th September 1882. The MDR worked east from Mansion House and reached Tower Hill on 17th September 1884. Services on the double-track Circle Line began officially on 6th October 1884. It took 70 minutes to complete the 21km round trip by steam train.
Assistant engineer: Benjamin Baker
Main contractors: Peto & Betts, Kelk & Waring Brothers
Research: ECPK
Obituary, Sir Benjamin Baker
Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, 1907
"Underground to Everywhere" by Stephen Halliday
Sutton Publishing Ltd, London, 2001
reference sources   CEH Lond

Metropolitan District Railway