Above: View looking east on the island platform at Mansion House in 1891. It is taken from ‘London City’ published in 1891 by William John Loftie with illustrations by William Luker (Junior).
Above: Similar view in 2015, standing on the island platform and also looking east.
“London in 1891”
You may not even be aware that there is an underground station called Mansion House. Don’t go looking for the station near the Lord Mayor’s official residence because, although the station is called Mansion House, it is a good five minutes walk to the SW. Why it was so-named is not something we need to concerned with in this article. A better name would have been Garlick Hill Station because its entrance is at the northern end of the narrow hill by that name, at the junction with Queen Victoria Street. However, if that had been its name nobody would know where Garlick Hill is!
Mansion House station was opened in 1871 by the Metropolitan District Railway (MDR, now the District line) when the company extended its line eastwards from St Paul’s Station (now named Blackfriars). Mansion House became the new eastern terminus of the MDR. The date was exactly 20 years before the sepia drawing was made. Trains leaving Mansion House in those days travelled to West London. The District Line now runs much further west and east.
The sepia drawing of 1891 looks east while standing on the island platform. It should be explained that there are three platforms at Mansion House. The one seen on the far left is the single eastbound platform (in the direction of Tower Hill). The other two platforms are on an island with a line either side. The one with the steam engine beside it is a line that terminates at Mansion House. There is a third platform on the far right of the view now used for through trains travelling west.
The sepia drawing shows a large number of people waiting on the eastbound platform. Being drawn in 1891 the engine is powered by steam, with its steam up, ready to travel westwards. On the front of the engine is a board informing passengers that it is bound for Hammersmith. The line was not electrified until some time after 1900.
It should be remembered that the underground line at this station was one of several that were built by ‘cut and cover’. The route for the line was created by digging a large trench about 20 or 30 feet deep, below ground level. Once the railway track had been completed buildings were constructed over the trench to cover it and reuse the land. Such lines were not like the deep-level ‘tube’ lines that run hundreds of feet below ground and had to be constructed by tunnelling.
The station has seen considerable change since the 1900s but the three platforms remain. The recent picture was taken at the end of 2015. Apart from the iron pillars supporting a glass covered roof having been removed, not much has changed. The layout of the three platforms remains similar although the island platform has been widened. In 1891 the platforms were open to the sky but now there are massive columns supporting buildings erected above the platforms.
The sepia drawing is a reminder of one of the Sherlock Holmes stories, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Its title was ‘The Bruce-Partington Plans’ which first appeared in 1895 — only a few years after the drawing was made. Without going into the plot of the story, it illustrates the points that have been made about ‘cut and cover’ underground railways in London.
In the story the body of a young man has been found lying beside the railway tracks of an underground railway “at the point where it emerges from the tunnel immediately before Aldgate Station”. Aldgate Station is also a ‘cut and cover’ station a short distance east of this one.
Sherlock Holmes realises that the body had been placed on the roof of a passing train at some point along a ‘cut and cover’ railway route and then, when the train went round a curve, the body rolled off. In the story Holmes explains “I began my operations at Gloucester Road Station, where a very helpful official walked with me along the track and allowed me to satisfy myself not only that the back-stair windows of Caulfield Gardens open on the line but the even more essential fact that, owing to the intersection of one of the larger railways, the Underground trains are frequently held motionless for some minutes at that very spot.”
Hence, Sherlock Holmes worked out that the body had been placed on the roof of a carriage when it was stationary, waiting at a red signal. The body was lowered from the window of a house which overlooked the ‘cut and cover’ line. The whole scene in the sepia drawing springs to life as you realise that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was familiar with the relatively new form of transport.
The sepia drawing works at two levels. Firstly, it is an interesting drawing and it has quite an evocative look of the 1890s about it. It is also a stark reminder that early underground trains were hauled by steam engines which, in such confined spaces, must have made for a sooty and rather choking ride. Secondly, it links in neatly with the days of Sherlock Holmes when public transport was in its infancy. Now all you need to do is to go away and read the story!
For subscription members there is a large map of the underground in 1908 which can be downloaded from the secure KYL members Website.