RAILWAYS; BROAD STREET STATION

LIVERPOOL STREET AND BROAD STREET STATIONS, LONDON. These adjacent termini each had a very different feel.

I would not arrive in London from my home in Norfolk until mid-morning at the earliest. By then Liverpool Street station had seen the morning commuter rush, but it was still a busy and bustling place. The commuter traffic may have abated, but the long distance expresses from Norwich, Yarmouth South Town and Kings Lynn were continuing, taking up the daytime hours. (In Eastern Region days, as before that in Great Eastern times, all Kings Lynn trains ran to Liverpool Street, not as they do today, when most trains go to Kings Cross.) Similarly passengers from Ipswich and Cambridge were also arriving at Liverpool Street throughout the day. The paper stalls and cafes were still busy, serving the travelling public. In 1960 most of these expresses were still steam hauled, although commuter services into Liverpool Street relied on electric stock, powered by overhead gantries. This differed from Broad Street, were the power came from a fourth rail system.

The branch to connect the North London Line to the edge of the City at Broad Street was conceived in the 1860s, principally as a freight service. It opened in 1865 (a decade before Liverpool Street itself) but it proved a great draw to bring workers into the City. As a result the number of trains on the North London Line increased greatly. By the early years of the twentieth century Broad Street was one of the busiest stations in the capital. The spread of the motor bus after the First World War, and the growth of the tramways began the decline.

Broad Street Station was only a few steps away from Liverpool Street, but the atmosphere was entirely different. It had taken mainline trains in LMS days, but by the postwar era it was essentially a commuter terminus, serving the North London line. This terminated at the other end (as far as we were concerned) at Richmond station, and from 1956 until 1959 my sister Tiggy was studying at Maria Grey Teacher Training College, just across the river in Twickenham. And so we caught the train from Broad Street; it was a very convenient way for us to visit my sister.

I don’t remember the staff who checked our tickets (nor the booth where we bought them), but there certainly were employees of British Railways about at Broad Street. Nevertheless, it always seemed a deserted station. There was a long flight of steps that you had to ascend to reach the train hall at Broad Street. This was because the branch from Dalston Junction was a built on brick arches, so the track was on a high level. This used millions of bricks, but the arches were all let out to commercial concerns, which provided an ancillary stream of income for the railway. On reaching the train hall it was as quiet as the tomb. After the early morning rush hour (which we never saw) things became very ghostly. There were no shops on the concourse at Broad Street, only a 5 inch gauge model tank engine, which, when you deposited a penny in the slot below the case, started the wheels and valve gear that ran for a couple of minutes. It must have dated from the nineteenth century, when steam trains still ran into Broad Street, This I always had to have a go at, whenever I visited Broad Street station.

Travelling on the North London Line was much better than going by underground, simply because you could see the surrounding scene. By contrast the tube was dull and boring, dark and uninteresting. In 1960 the electric trains that had been the exclusive form of transport on the North London Line sine 1916 were all painted green. All electric multiple units on BR were painted in what had been called “Southern Green” under Grouping.

I cannot have made the trip more than a handful of times, but it was always exciting. I never imagine the station was doomed to an early demise. During the seventies services were gradually withdrawn, and the dereliction of the station became much more pronounced. The end came in 1986. It was the only large terminus in the capital to close, although others (like Marylebone and St Pancras) had been threatened. Now the area once occupied by the terminus is a financial centre. Commuter services have been diverted to Liverpool Street.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF RAILWAYS

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