Although Waterloo Station was developing in a haphazard way throughout the 19th century, Victorian engineers were striving to build an organized system deep below the terminal.
Waterloo’s Lost Tube…
As we’ve seen in part one, the board of the London and South Western Railway originally envisioned their line terminating in the heart of the capital with a major station based on the southern side of Trafalgar Square.
When the Duke of Northumberland stubbornly refused to release the land however, the LSWR were forced to decamp to the opposite side of the Thames, meaning that passengers wishing to visit Westminster or the City had to continue their journey on foot, crossing the river via either Waterloo or Hungerford Bridge- both of which demanded a toll.
In 1865 the LSWR’s directors made an attempt to overcome this obstacle by linking their Waterloo terminal to their favored Whitehall spot via an early underground route dubbed the ‘Waterloo and Whitehall Railway.’
Inspired by a recent demonstration at the newly located Crystal Palace in Sydenham, this early tube link was intended to be a pneumatic railway- “noiseless and free from vibration”- which would see 25-seat carriages whooshing every 2 to 3 minutes through a pipe deep beneath the river.
The path of the tunnel was destined to run from a point below Waterloo’s York Road, under the now vanished Vine Street and College Street and out beneath the murky waters of the Thames before reaching the north bank where it would terminate under “the Parish of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields in the County of Middlesex in the street or Place known as Great Scotland Yard…”
The section beneath the Thames was to consist of several 1,000 tonne pipes which would be sunk into a riverbed trench, bolted together and smothered in concrete.
The manufacture of these iron tubes was contracted to Samuda Brothers; a ship building company based on the Isle of Dogs; the idea being that the hefty sections could be shipped the short distance along the Thames before being plunged into the water.
Work on the scheme began in October 1865, encouraged by a general consensus that the pneumatic railway could be “laid in twelve months for a comparatively small sum.”
However, within a few short months investors were struck by a financial crisis and the project ground to a halt, leaving a jumble of “unsightly stacks of wooden piles” jutting out of the river’s construction site.
In December 1866 it was suggested that the tunnel could perhaps be completed and downgraded to a pedestrian walkway, but the idea never received support and the Waterloo and Whitehall Railway was officially abandoned in 1870.
Two years later, an auction was held on York Road outside Waterloo Station in which left over equipment from the defunct scheme was flogged off.
Lots included “pile-driving engines and monkeys…a centrifugal pump…warehouse cranes….scrap iron…timber….an anvil…skips….nuts and bolts….and navvy barrows.”
No doubt some lucky bidder clocked a bargain that day!
In the early 1960s, remnants of the partially built tunnel were unearthed during the construction of the Shell Tower… a building perched between Waterloo Station and the London Eye, which harbors another subterranean secret- its own, underground, Olympic sized swimming pool.
It is also said that the excavations carried out in the vicinity of Scotland Yard on the northern bank of the Thames now form the National Liberal Club’s wine cellar….