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Sunday, 20 March 2011

Making a Mess of a Station - Extending Waterloo Station in 1878 and 1885

Waterloo handled 86,397,666 passengers in financial year 2009/10, making it Britain’s busiest railway station.[1] Yet, Waterloo has always been one of Britain’s busiest stations. The structures that make up the current Waterloo Station complex were the product of the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) rebuilding of the station to cope with the massive increase in passenger traffic after 1890. Yet, the station that stood before the current incarnation looked very different. It was a mess, actually consisting of three stations with three nick-names.

Waterloo Bridge Station, as it should be more accurately known, was built because in 1839 the LSWR's main line did not reach London, its first terminus being at Nine Elms. Yet, the LSWR was determined to strike reach the city, and in 1848 the company opened their new line to Waterloo Bridge. As Colin Chivers and Philip Wood have commented, this new station was never intended to be a terminus, nor the great station that it became. Indicative of this, an original plan (which I cannot reproduce) shows that 3 of the 6 lines went through the station and into the back wall, so as to allow easy extension to the city or Southwark.[2] Yet, the hoped-for extension did not happen and Waterloo quickly became the point on which all LSWR operations were focussed. The first major alteration to the station came in 1860 when four more platforms were built on its north side, bringing the total to 8.[3] Through various alterations this number had risen to 12 by 1878.

After 1870 the number of passengers that the company carried on its line, particularly on its suburban routes, began to increase rapidly. In 1870 the LSWR conveyed 13,387,357 passengers, in 1875 this had risen to 20,998,310 and by 1880 30,294,406 people travelled with the company. This was an overall increase of 126.29%.[4] I have commented in an earlier blog post that this put a strain on the company’s services and about the many complaints were directed against the management as a result (Found Here). But, with such an unexpected rise in the level of traffic it is unsurprising that the management of the LSWR was caught unawares. Thus, in 1874 the LSWR's directors decided to act. While an aspect of their plan was to add an extra line between Clapham Junction and Surbiton,[5] they predominantly focussed on the bottle-neck at Waterloo Station. Here many trains were kept waiting outside the station as there were insufficient platforms for the ever-increasing number that were scheduled to cope with the rising traffic.

However, without an accurate way of predicting how traffic would grow, the extension of Waterloo Station from 1874 onwards was a very ad hoc affair, that reflected that the LSWR managers were simply reacting to the business environment and had no way of knowing what the future would bring. In 1874 the company submitted in its bill of that year a plan to ‘widen and improve’ Waterloo station on the south side.[6] Opened in December 1878, the new ‘South’ station was entirely self-contained, having its own booking office and taxi yard. Crucially, it added a further two platforms to the Waterloo complex.[7]

Continued traffic growth in the 1870s meant that soon after these new platforms opened the extra capacity it provided was deemed insufficient to cope with ever-rising train movements. Thus, in 1881 the company submitted a further bill to parliament for another extension of the station on its north side.[8] Opened in stages in 1885, this new ‘North’ station added a further six platforms to the station, bringing the overall total to 18.[9] This was also technically a separate station and had its own booking office and taxi yard

This was how the station would remain until 1902 (see map - showing 1895). The ‘North’ Station served the Windsor and Reading Lines, the ‘Central’ station served the West of England Main Lines, and the ‘South’ station served the Hampton Court, Kingston and Leatherhead lines.[10] Amongst the public the nickname of  the ‘south’ station was ‘Cyprus,’ after the British annexation of 1878, and the north station became ‘Khartoum,’ after the Sudan campaign of 1885.[11]

The result was that after the adaptations of the original station in 1878 and 1885 passengers were left with a confusing three-part station. Subsequently, when Jerome K. Jerome wrote his book Three Men in a Boat in 1889 the following was said of the station:- “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, or anything about it. 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.”[12]
Furthermore, the LSWR itself did not help to decipher the Waterloo complex for its passengers as the 18 platforms had only 10 platform numbers.[13]
In sum, in 1878 and 1885 the LSWR's management reduced the pressure of traffic on its infrastructure by expanding Waterloo Station. But while they had to do something to solve the problem of accommodating passenger traffic growth, the management could not predict how this would change in the future. Thus, If they had built too much capacity into the station this may have caused unnecessary expense if traffic growth had fallen off. The result was that the station was added to in a piecemeal manner; making Waterloo increasingly confusing for travellers. It would only be a complete rebuild of Waterloo in the early twentieth century that would unravel the mess that the extensions of the nineteenth had caused.
[1] Clinnick, Richard, ‘From Britain’s busiest…to the quietest, Rail Magazine (March 9-March 22 2011) Issue 665, p68-69
[2] Chives, Colin and Wood, Philip, Waterloo Station circa 1900: South Western Circle Monograph No.3, (Catford, 2006), p.2-3
[3] Chives and Wood, Waterloo Station circa 1900, p.4
[4] Board of Trade, Railway Returns
[5] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/247, Traffic Committee Minute Book, Minute No. 724, 17th October 1878
[6] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers [HCPP] 1874 (14) Railway, &c. bills. Report of the Board of Trade upon the railway, canal, tramway, gas, and water bills of session 1874, p.15
[7] Chives and Wood, Waterloo Station circa 1900, p.9
[8] HCPP, 1881 (67) Railway, &c. bills. Return to an order of the Honourable the House of Commons, dated 7 February 1881;--for copy of report by the Board of Trade upon all the railway, canal, tramway, gas, and water bills of session 1881.
[9] Chives and Wood, Waterloo Station circa 1900, p.9
[10] TNA, RAIL 411/255, Traffic Committee Minute Book, Minute No. 911, 18th August 1886
[11] Faulkner, J.N. and Williams, R.A., The LSWR in the Twentieth Century, (Newton Abbot, 1988), p7-8
[12] Jerome, Jerome H. Three Men in a Boat, (London, 1889)
[13] Faulkner and WilliamsThe LSWR in the Twentieth Century, p7


  1. Was there ever a loop line to Charing Cross? If not, why is there still a spur as the line crosses York Road?

  2. No there was never a loop line to Charing cross. However there was line that went out of the back of Waterloo Station and connected with the line to Charing Cross (although facing away from it) at Waterloo Junction Station (now Waterloo East).

  3. Are there any known photos of trains actually using the link to Waterloo East..??


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