vl1dec1968 800x425 - Victoria Line 50th Anniversary #2

On this day, 1st December 1968 the Victoria Line opened stage two of its Walthamstow to Victoria route which entailed just three new stations. King’s Cross, Euston and Warren Street. Much like the first stage, this second was conducted without ceremony with services starting to a normal timetable. Again it fell on a Sunday, London Transport’s preferred day should anything to go wrong and giving more time to iron out any problems.

For the first time ever this latest extension brought the new tube line right into the really busy parts of London. One cannot deny King’s Cross Euston and Warren Street are indeed central locations. However it would be even more central when the line’s next stage opened. The Central itself would truly be reached as Oxford Circus and the Victoria’s other stations opened in 1969. But for the time being, that is until March 1969, passengers had to do with a walk from Warren Street (closely following the line’s alignment would take one past the brand new Post Office Tower) or get the Northern Line in order to reach the more central parts of London.

On the 1st December 1968 the first train southwards was at the same time as that three months earlier on 1st September 1968, which was the 07.32am from Walthamstow (other blogs erroneously claim it was 06.30am.) The balancing service from Warren Street was at 07.46am, achieved by sending an out of service train direct from the depot to begin its day of duty.

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The final breakthrough digging the new tunnels was at Kings’ Cross Sept 1966. Source: You Tube

This section from Highbury to Warren Street was both among the first to be started and the first to be finished as well as the last to be finished! Confused? It depends on which part of the infrastructure one is talking about. Euston (as well as Oxford Circus) was one of the earliest to begin construction and Euston tube station was the first to be opened – much more than a whole year before the Victoria Line itself began operation. However the running tunnels themselves were the last to be completed before any tracks could be laid south to Victoria.

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Tube map with details of stage two opening.

The new extension brought the total operable section of the Victoria Line to just under eight and a quarter miles (13.20km.) The Highbury and Islington to Warren Street section wasn’t even half the distance of the first section. Operationally this new section was a mix of the new line’s high speed metro sections and shorter spaced central area stations. The distances from King’s Cross to Euston and Euston to Warren Street were the shortest on the entire route at 0.74 and 0.76 km respectively.

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The King’s Cross mural – crowns formed into a cross like shape.

The new line’s extension was unusual that the new Euston tube station had been opened many months previously. All its new platforms were designed with the ‘Victoria Line look’ and giving Londoners a taste of the new line from October 1967 onwards. One of the reasons for this very early opening was the new station had to tie in with the construction and completion of the new Euston main line station.

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The famous arch is unusually represented on both the Victoria and Northern line platforms.

The Victoria Line’s designers commemorated the former arch with these quite nice murals on the platforms. There’s quite an ironic story behind this – the arch was demolished to make way for the tube station!

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The ticket barriers/tops of the escalators at Euston is where the base of the Euston Arch once stood.

In fact the ticket hall of the new Euston tube station was built where the famous arch once stood. The ceiling above the ticket barriers and the tops of the escalators is about where the actual base of the arch would have been located, with the ticket hall itself being the site of the arch’s foundations. The oft touted area opposite the entrance to the suburban platforms has in fact has been raised several feet above the original ground level, and with some wishful thinking a more approximate ‘before and after’ view from Euston Grove should really be part-way down the escalators from the main line station itself!

I have written a full post on this aspect of Euston tube station because it seems some did not believe the arch made way for the new tube station! Anyway the idea of depicting the Euston Arch on the new tube station’s murals was ironic even though it was likely an afterthought by the planners of the new tube line.

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The mural at Warren Street station – a play on the word maze.

Despite the murals which were quite impressive, many thought the Victoria Line’s stations considerably dull. This extract from the Observer tells us what their reporter thought of the line’s decor:

“In the chorus of praise and public relations for the Victoria Line, there is perhaps one element that has not attracted enough attention – its extraordinary bleakness. It belongs to the late lavatorial style, with shiny grey tiles, harsh strip lighting. The long echoing passages, with bare, black ribs, seem to be leading to some mass underground grave. Even allowing for the unfinished details – ‘the QE2 look’ – (the tiles which don’t fit, the ticket machines which have arrived labelled ‘out of order’, the blank spaces waiting for advertisements), even allowing for later improvements, there remains a basic assumption that the journey underground is necessarily a journey into limbo.”

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Southbound train arriving at Warren Street.

Practically all of the UK’s railways run on the left and the Victoria Line is no exception. However most of stage two – between Cloudesley Street (east of King’s Cross) and Great Titchfield Street (north of Oxford Circus) – involves right hand running. The reason for this is to facilitate better interchange with the Northern Line at Euston. Whilst the line’s planners may have perhaps liked to have built the switch over points either side of Euston station, it just wasn’t possible so both King’s Cross and Warren Street also had to be built for right hand running. Of course the Northern does it too at London Bridge and Bank and the Central at White City, being quite necessary at the time these lines were constructed.

Train times on the new extension were based on the previous timetable with services simply continuing past Highbury. An increase in rush hour frequencies were also introduced. However this posed some problems. Originally both Highbury and Warren Street tube stations were planned to have double crossovers. In the event it seems both were built with just a reversing crossover. Whilst the Walthamstow to Highbury service had an interval of four minutes during rush hours, that for the new extension south of Highbury was a three minute interval and so trains had to be turned round much quicker at Warren Street. As a matter of interest Victoria station had double crossovers which didn’t last long – the facing crossover was removed in late 1971.

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North end of Warren Street s/b platform with its 60s paraphernalia! The signals (now decommissioned) once controlled n/b departing trains.

The new extension offered a succession of interchange connections between the different Northern Line branches thus the Victoria Line has been the only other tube to offer this facility besides the Bakerloo. The Victoria Line also provides an alternative to the Northern Line between Stockwell and Warren Street/Euston/King’s Cross so it does give a wide range of other options not previously available to tube travellers. The Bakerloo does this too though its onwards connections to the Northern are far more limited since the Jubilee Line opened.

Warren Street like quite a few of the other stations on the line has numerous stainless steel doors, cupboards, vents, letter racks and whatever! Despite remodeling and new tiling decor, some of this paraphernalia is now disused but most still remains in use, giving away the line’s sixties origins. Euston has these treasures too and King’s Cross is perhaps the best with a row of four stainless steel doors. On much of the Victoria Line the original analogue clocks on the platforms remain – however in the central section these were replaced by an older type of digital clock within the clock housing itself. Some have now been replaced by digital clocks outside of the original housing. Talk about confused!

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Row of four stainless steel doors from the sixties at King’s Cross station.

On 1st December 1968 the Victoria Line was brought ‘under sight’ of its control room at Coburg Street near Euston. This controlled the entire line from Walthamstow to Brixton. With the 2009 tube stock’s introduction and a better ATO system in the pipeline, a more modern control facility had to be built in place of Coburg Street. After forty years of use Coburg Street reneged control of the Victoria Line.

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The rear of Coburg Street is still in use in regards to power supplies and ventilation facilities. The control room was on the upper floor to the left.

The replacement control centre, Osborne House, was constructed around 2008-10 and is sited within Northumberland Park depot. Transfer of line control began in earnest during the middle of 2010 and was completed by October of that year. Coburg Street had also controlled much of the Northern Line. This was given up in 2014 however the building still remains in use as an electricity sub station for the two tube lines.

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Osborne House at Northumberland Park, the Victoria Line’s control centre since 2010.

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Osborne House viewed from Marsh Lane, Northumberland Park.

One aspect of the new Victoria Line was made out in August 1968 as a scandal. The media was outraged by the wages its new drivers – or more preferably Train Operators – would be getting. Ordinary tube drivers earned just under £20 a week, however those on the Victoria Line were expected to comfortably earn £30 a week or more with overtime. As the newspapers made out so clearly, the new line’s train operators would be getting more than a 50% increase above a standard tube driver’s pay!

The use of computers entered the Victoria Line’s world long before most other things. Computers were employed to co-ordinate the various construction jobs, deliveries, and costings – these are just some of the examples. Its quite ironic when one reads of TfL’s claims it is going to use computers more and more. The London Transport Executive had been on the game more than fifty years earlier and in fact by 1970 had opened its first dedicated computer processing centre!

This aspect of the Victoria Line received scant mention in the newspapers at the time and despite quite intensive searches I’ve been able to find out very little. However it was a very early use of computer technology for London’s underground. By the time planning and construction of the new tube line was being undertaken, computers were indeed becoming a viable option. No doubt in view of the then ongoing work to develop automated train operation, the line’s planners also thought it best to embrace the new technology as a means of progress.

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Euston Street view of the Coburg Street buildings. The control room itself was on the first floor running alongside Coburg Street.

In fact the choice of Coburg Street as a control centre for the Victoria Line turned out to be an apt location. Just a few yards away Britain’s first ever computer centre had opened on 4th July 1961. This new building in Drummond Street had been constructed for Barclays – the first bank ever to use computers on a large scale. And it seems everyone else was following the bank’s example! The UK Government announced its foray into big data on 23rd January 1962 when it launched the world’s largest traffic survey – and of course computers would play a big role in processing the data. No doubt it was a new trend the London Transport Executive had no wish to be left out of.

Stage Two of the Victoria Line would operate until 1969. The Royal opening of that year took place on Friday 7th March. Unlike most other official openings, it was an odd sort of day as trains continued running between Walthamstow and Warren Street most of the day. This was because the extension onwards to Victoria had been set in readiness for the Queen’s visit. The Royal occasion itself took place at 11.30am with the Queen travelling on one of the new trains. That was followed by a special lunch reception and then at 15.00 hours public services southwards to Victoria began. It was known across London as ‘V Day.’

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The Victoria Line’s special logo used during 1968/69.

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2 Comments

    1. Author

      The name is from Osborne House, the residence on the Isle of Wight owned by Queen Victoria.

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