WW1 100: London’s Memorials… The London & South Western Railway Victory Arch (Waterloo Station, Part 5)
London & South Western Railway Victory Arch
Cab Road, Waterloo Station
As we’ve seen in earlier installments,Waterloo station developed in an extremely haphazard manner throughout the Victorian period.
With the terminal divided into various sub-stations, platform numbers laid out in a manner defying all common sense and a set of tracks running directly across the main pedestrian concourse (a Health and Safety nightmare by today’s standards), it is perhaps no surprise that Waterloo was branded “the most perplexing station in London.”
Realising that their ultimate dream of establishing a grand terminal within the heart of the City was off the cards, the board of the London and South Western Railway decided to completely redesign Waterloo and forge it into a station fit for purpose.
Work on the rebuild began in the late 1890s but progress was slow… with one of the main obstacles being the outbreak of hostilities in 1914.
During the Great War, 585 employees of the London and South Western Railway were killed whilst fighting for their country.
In recognition of this appalling loss, the company decided to incorporate a bold war memorial- a ‘Victory Arch’- into the new station’s entrance in honour of their fallen workers.
The new station- the Waterloo familiar with today’s commuters- was finally completed in March 1922.
King George V was due to conduct the opening ceremony but was forced to bow out due to illness, so Queen Mary stepped in to do the honours.
A number of decorated veterans from the Great War were also in attendance for the grand event… please click below to view footage of the station’s opening.
Although millions of passengers sweep beneath Waterloo’s Victory Arch every year, very little is known about its creator, other than that he is believed to have been a Mr Charles Edward Whiffen, a Cheltenham-born sculptor who lived and died at Altenburg Gardens, Clapham.
When he died in 1929, Charles Whiffen had just £662 and 15 shillings to his name.
Waterloo’s Victory Arch is dominated by a sculpture of Britannia bearing the torch of liberty.
Below Britannia, the names of the Great War’s major theatres are listed in a carved arc: Belgium, Italy, Dardanelles, France, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the North Sea.
Either side of the arc stand two further sculptures.
On the left, representing the outbreak of war in 1914, squats Bellona; the ancient Roman goddess of war.
This suitably demonic figure holds court amongst a terrified entourage.
On the opposite side of the arch, representing peace and the 1918 armistice, sits Athena; the goddess of courage and wisdom.
Athena, who is accompanied by a far more relaxed group than the unfortunate bunch cowering around Bellona, is depidted clutching two objects; a palm of peace and a miniature figure of Nike; the winged goddess of victory.
Solemn plaques, bearing the names of the many LSWR railwaymen lost in the conflict line the interior of the arch.
If you are a regular user of Waterloo, please spare a thought for these long lost names… and remember that missing your train by a few minutes is nothing in comparison to the hellish conditions in which these young men met their awful fate.
Waterloo seeks another deep link
After failing to achieve their goal of establishing a link to Trafalgar Square (please see Waterloo Part One) , the board of the London & South Western Railway consoled themselves in the belief that their station at Waterloo was merely temporary and hoped in time to bridge their line towards another vital London hub- the financial Square Mile.
When this ambition also failed the company once again sought to reach their desired destination with an underground link- this time with far greater success…. giving us the ‘Waterloo & City Line’ which, with just two stations- one beneath Waterloo and the other beneath Bank Junction, is the London Underground’s shortest line…. “1 mile, 4 furlongs and 680 chains in length” as proposed in 1891.
Work on what was originally dubbed the ‘Waterloo & City Railway‘ commenced on the 18th June 1894 with the sinking of piles near Blackfriars Bridge; the line’s approximate mid-point.
Construction was carried out by John Mowlem & Co Ltd, whose other London works include Admiralty Arch, Battersea Power Station and Tower 42 (formerly the NatWest Tower).
The Waterloo & City Railway was London’s second deep level tube line- the first being the City & South London Railway (now part of the Northern Line) which had opened shortly before in 1890.
Both of these pioneering lines could not have been tunnelled without the aid of the ‘Greathead Shield’; a tunnelling system named after its South-African born inventor, James Henry Greathead.
Essentially an updated version of an earlier system devised by Marc Isambard Brunel, the Greathead Shield consisted of a sturdy metal tube which allowed workers to burrow at a far deeper level, pushing through London’s clay at an average of 10ft a day and installing the tunnel lining behind them as they went.
Sadly, James Henry Greathead died in 1896 aged just 52 and never lived to see the completion of the Waterloo & City Railway.
A statue of the great engineer was placed outside the Royal Exchange in 1994 directly above Bank Station. The plinth upon which Greathead’s figure stands acts as a ventilation shaft for the tunnels below.
During the construction of the Docklands Light Railway in 1987, part of Greathead’s shield was discovered buried deep in the earth beneath Bank. This surviving piece can be seen today at Bank station, having been incorporated into a pedestrian subway linking the DLR to the Waterloo & City Line- just look for the distinctive red arch…
London’s New Tube
At 1pm on July 11th 1898 the Waterloo & City Railway was officially opened by the Duke of Cambridge whom the board of directors treated to a grand luncheon in the new railway’s Waterloo booking hall- which was described as being “capacious enough to afford ample accommodation to the whole of the assembled company.”
The earliest trains to serve the Waterloo & City Railway were built by the Jackson and Sharp Company of Rochester USA, requiring them to be shipped across the Atlantic.
Although derided by The Times as being “decidedly ugly”, the wooden carriages were praised for affording the “maximum accommodation consistent with the diameter of the tunnel- namely 12ft 2inches.”
The American cars remained in use for over 40 years by which point they were beginning to look decidedly shabby. In 1937, one disgruntled commuter described the rolling stock as “antique and uncomfortable”, “musty and dingy” with “lighting arrangements 25 years behind the times.”
The ageing coaches were finally replaced in 1940 by sleek, Art-Deco style metal carriages which were ultra-modern for their time and remained in service well into the 1990s. Archive footage of the new carriages arriving (and the old ones departing) can be viewed below:
Up until the 1990s, the Waterloo & City Line- which has been nicknamed ‘The Drain’ since its earliest days- was run separately from the rest of the tube, first by the South Western Railway and then by British Rail. This set-up made it something of an anomaly, best illustrated by the livery of the carriages which were painted to match their larger, above-ground counterparts.
The Waterloo & City shuttle service was finally absorbed by London Underground in 1993 with the 1940s rolling stock replaced by trains similar to the ones now used on the Central Line.
Because the Waterloo & City Line exists entirely underground, carriages requiring maintenance above ground are winched in and out by a specially designated crane which can be seen beside Waterloo station’s Baylis Road entrance.
During the delivery of the 1940s stock, the winch (which was originally situated where the now defunct Eurostar terminal stands) snapped sending one of the carriages smashing down to the depths…
A peek over the crane pit allows train-buffs a glimpse into the Waterloo depot…
As well as the Victorian carriages the entire infrastructure of ‘the drain’ was also beginning to look very dilapidated by the 1940s and was described in one meeting at the Guildhall a being a “public disgrace.”
Of particular concern was the main pedestrian link at Bank Station.
Unlike other underground stations served by lifts and escalators, Bank’s main link to the deep platform was a long, steep, dusty tunnel of incremental steps, notorious for being a dangerous, crushing bottleneck in which “hundreds of people meet head on and often collide….in the rush hour complete chaos reigns in the tunnel.”
So strenuous was the passage to negotiate that those of a more mature age were advised to avoid the link altogether, the steep tunnel at Bank being “quite an effort for elderly men and not without danger to anyone suffering from a weak heart.”
Although an escalator was proposed as early as 1931 the plan never went through and further attempts at modernization were halted by the onset of WWII.
The Waterloo & City Line finally received a drastic update in autumn 1960 with the introduction of a ‘Travelator’; Britain’s very first major moving walkway.
Taking three years to construct, the pioneering design was built to whisk 10,000 commuters per hour to and from the trains… and no doubt led many Londoners in the early 1960s to dream of an exciting new future in which moving pavements across the capital would become the norm!
The Waterloo & City Line on Film
Due to being primarily aimed at weekday commuter traffic, the Waterloo & City Line has always been closed at weekends (although a Saturday service has recently been introduced).
Because of this regular closure, the line has often proved popular with filmmakers, most notably in the 1998 romantic drama, Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow in two parallel storylines which split as she attempts to board a Waterloo & City Line train.
Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that Gwyneth enters the system at Bank but boards her train at Waterloo on the opposite side of the line! (Please click below to watch a clip):
The line has also been used for sci-fi T.V classics such as Adam Adamant, The Tripods and Survivors.
In 1962, wannabe cop, Norman Wisdom found himself in a particularly sticky situation on the Waterloo & City Line after attempting a misdirected citizen’s arrest in his film, On the Beat (please click below to view)…
Handling an average of over 90 million passengers a year, Waterloo which lies close to London’s South Bank, is the UK’s largest railway station.
The origins of Waterloo Station stretch back to 1838 with the founding of the London and Southampton Railway, a company established to provide an important rail link between the capital and the docks at Southampton.
Originally designed with freight in mind, the London end of the new connection to the south coast opened on 21st May 1838 at Nine Elms, an area close to a wharf on the southern shore of the Thames- some distance away from the present Waterloo station.
Built in the neo-classical style, the station building at Nine Elms was designed by Sir William Tite, the same architect who designed the Royal Exchange which stands opposite the Bank of England.
Although a convenient place for shifting cargo, the Nine Elms location proved to be most inconvenient for the growing numbers of passengers who were beginning to use the line for trips into London.
There were pleasure gardens at nearby Vauxhall which were a popular destination, but for those wishing to travel onwards to Westminster and the City things were a real hassle with trips having to be completed by boat (which involved a lengthy wait) or by road (which involved high costs due to the existence of turnpike tolls).
As the London Illustrated News reported at the time, “the distance of the South Western’s metropolitan terminus from the heart of London has been a subject of complaint from the first opening of the line.”
Realising that their railway fell short- and that there was of course more money to be made- the company (now renamed the London and South Western Railway) decided to extend the line approximately 2 miles north across Lambeth Marsh in a project costing £800,000- approximately £35 million in today’s money.
The site marked for the new terminal was described as being “vacant ground, to a great extent occupied as hay-stalls and cow-yards and by dung-heaps, and similar nuisances” which lay close to the southern foot of the recently opened Waterloo Bridge.
A lost ‘Trafalgar Station’?
The station’s South Bank site was a plan B option- what developers had really wanted was to cross the Thames and build a station right opposite what was then a pretty much brand new Trafalgar Square.
The snag with this however was that the Duke of Northumberland’s mansion stood in the way and he refused to release the land… a 170 year old decision which still brings cabbies plenty of quick fares across the river during the rush hour!
Had the site been allowed it is quite possible that the LSWR’s terminal would have been named ‘Trafalgar Station‘… either way, a name in honor of one of the great victories of the Napoleonic Wars was inevitable!
Bridging the Bogs
In order to traverse the boggy ground the extension required the construction of a brick viaduct comprising 290 arches- very similar to the London and Greenwich Railway which was constructed on the opposite side of the capital during the same era.
Whilst building the viaduct from Nine Elms to Waterloo the tradesmen certainly didn’t hang around. The arch across Miles Street for example is said to have taken just 45 hours to complete from scratch, despite being at a tricky angle and requiring some 90,000 bricks!
The LSWR turned again to Sir William Tite to design their new terminal and, like the track extension, the station had to be built upon a series of arches in order to rise above the soggy earth; a high-rise position which is still evident to this day.
I wonder how many of the passengers in my cab who asked to be dropped at “Waterloo steps” realise why they have to huff and puff up such a steep flight in order to catch their train….
Named ‘Waterloo Bridge Station’, the new terminal, with a 600ft façade facing York Road, opened to the public on the 11th July 1848 with just three platforms and 14 trains a day.
Originally, the station was never intended to be the end of the line- it was planned that the rails would be forged onwards, right into the heart of the financial square mile.
As we can see today of course, this vision was never realised (with the exception of an underground link which we will come to later) and the site was officially renamed ‘Waterloo Station’ in 1886.
The Decline of Nine Elms
With the opening of the Waterloo terminal, the original Nine Elms Station closed to passengers in 1848.
A vast freight yard and wagon works flourished on the site but suffered heavy damage during WWII from which it never fully recovered. A clip of the site as it appeared in the mid-1960s, during the last days of steam, can be seen below (please click to view).
In the early 1950s, it was proposed that Tite’s surviving Nine Elms station building would make an ideal home for a planned National Railway Museum. However, British Rail refused to release the land and the museum eventually found a very worthy home in the beautiful city of York.
The Nine Elms building was sadly demolished in the 1960s, paving the way for the construction of New Covent Garden Market which still occupies the site today, maintaining the location’s historical link as a major hub for shifting goods into the capital.
In a few years’ time, the area will also provide a home for the new American Embassy.
Back at Waterloo
With the addition of connections to different railway companies, Waterloo station expanded in a messy, chaotic way throughout the Victorian period.
As new platforms were added they gained eccentric nicknames such as ‘Cyprus Station’ and ‘Khartoum Station’; each with their own entrance, booking office and Hackney Carriage rank.
Some platform numbers were duplicated whilst others weren’t labelled at all which created considerable confusion. In 1889, this bizarre situation was satirized by Jerome K. Jerome in ‘Three Men in a Boat’:
“We got to Waterloo at eleven and asked where the eleven-five started from. Of course, nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to… the porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one. The station-master on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local.”
There was even a set of tracks which cut right through the pedestrian concourse and out through an arch towards what is now Waterloo East station.
Even by Victorian standards this rail link was a health and safety nightmare and was rarely used.
However, this curious set-up was still prominent enough to feature in H.G Wells’ 1898 classic, ‘War of the Worlds’ in a scene which describes troops departing Waterloo for Surrey in preparation for a clash with the Martian invaders.
“About five o’clock the gathering crowd in the station was immensely excited by the opening of the line of communication between the South-Eastern and South-Western stations, and the passage of carriage-trucks bearing huge guns and carriages crammed with soldiers.
These were the guns that were brought up from Woolwich and Chatham to cover Kingston. There was an exchange of pleasantries: ‘You’ll get eaten!’ ‘We’re the beast-tamers!” and so forth.”
The unusual bridge which linked the two stations is still in place and can be seen stretching over Waterloo Road.
Until relatively recently, it was used as a pedestrian link before being replaced by a more modern walkway (the grey, tube structure which can be seen running above).