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Heritage: The story of Liverpool Street Station

PUBLISHED: 15:00 28 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:46 30 July 2019

The new-look Liverpool Street Station was inaugurated by the Queen in 1991. Picture: Isabel Infantes

The new-look Liverpool Street Station was inaugurated by the Queen in 1991. Picture: Isabel Infantes

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Local historian Prof Ged Martin looks at the history of Liverpool Street Station

Liverpool Street Station in 1959 after a thunderstorm stopped the trains running. Picture: PALiverpool Street Station in 1959 after a thunderstorm stopped the trains running. Picture: PA

The railway reached Romford in 1839, but the Liverpool Street Station only began operating in 1874, opening fully in 1875. Earlier, the terminus was half a mile further north, in Shoreditch.

This was inconvenient for central London, and delayed suburban development around Romford.

In the 17th century, the site of Liverpool Street had been occupied by the Bethlem (Bethlehem) Hospital, an asylum for mentally ill people. It was a tourist attraction: visitors laughed at the mad inmates.

Bethlem Hospital gives us our word "bedlam". In a Liverpool Street rush hour, it's an appropriate word!

Liverpool Street Station in 1959 after a thunderstorm stopped the trains running. Picture: PALiverpool Street Station in 1959 after a thunderstorm stopped the trains running. Picture: PA

Excavations for Crossrail found a 17th-century cemetery for plague victims under the station.

Liverpool Street Station took 10 years to build, displaced 10,000 people and began with 10 platforms on a 10-acre site. Its high glass roof allowed smoke from steam engines to circulate and escape.

The station was called Bishopsgate until 1909. It's named after Lord Liverpool, prime minister from 1812 to 1827, not the city.

Critics claimed it was too big, but in 1895 it was extended to 15 acres, with eight new platforms for suburban services. Havering commuters still head for Platforms 11 to 18.

Liverpool Street was now one of the busiest stations in the world. By 1912, it handled 200,000 passengers daily - about the same as in 2018.

From the start, Liverpool Street was linked to the London Underground, through the Metropolitan Line. In 1912, it became the eastern terminus of a "Tube", the much deeper Central Line.

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On June 13, 1917, the station was attacked by German bombers in a shock daylight raid. It's sometimes said that 162 people were killed at Liverpool Street, but that was the total death toll across London.

The writer A.C. Benson arrived soon after the raid on a delayed train from Cambridge. He noted ambulances and "an immense crowd, pale, silent, not in any panic. I saw a shrouded figure carried out: the officials grave and absorbed."

In the late 1930s, there was a major expansion scheme for the Central Line. By 1940, deep tunnels had been excavated from Liverpool Street toward Stratford. These were used as mass air raid shelters during the Blitz.

Remarkably, Liverpool Street Station suffered little damage during World War Two. But it had become scruffy. Investment went into electrification: the new trains ran to Shenfield by 1949.

In 1954, the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner blamed "the squalor of Liverpool Street Station" for the fact that rural Essex was not well known. He called the station "cavernous", and the waiting room "suicidal".

Planners condemned the 1895 extension as really a separate station. Next door, there was even a third station, Broad Street, inefficiently handling just local trains from Willesden and Highbury.

In 1975, British Railways announced plans to demolish all three. A new Liverpool Street would be built, financed by selling Broad Street for development.

Victorian enthusiast John Betjeman led a successful campaign to save the glass roof, so modernisation took place within the original station shell. The new Liverpool Street was inaugurated by the Queen in 1991.

With North London Line trains diverted into Liverpool Street, Broad Street was replaced by the Broadgate office complex.

In 1993, a Provisional IRA truck bomb in nearby Bishopsgate caused considerable damage, closing Liverpool Street for two days. In 2005, seven people plus a suicide bomber were killed on a Circle Line train that had just left Liverpool Street Underground heading for Aldgate.

One legacy of Liverpool Street's history is its bottleneck of access tracks. Squeezed into an already built-up district, there was only room for six lines serving the eighteen platforms. High quality traffic management keeps the trains moving smoothly. In 1894, the signal box had 396 massive mechanical levers. Nowadays, everything is electronic.

Elizabeth Line services through Liverpool Street will link Havering to west London, but the project is delayed.

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