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As most will know the Victoria Line fully opened in its original format during March 1969 – and this alone ensured the Victoria Line received great publicity worldwide compared to the mediocre openings of the earlier stages between Walthamstow and Warren Street. It was an event where the Queen of the British Isles became the first monarch ever to ride the London Underground, although she had of course as a princess taken earlier trips on the tube.

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The commemorative plaque which can be seen at Victoria tube station.

This is an overview and history of the three stations and route which formed the third part of the Victoria Line to be opened in 1969. The stations involved were Oxford Circus, Green Park and Victoria and their construction is looked at. The Oxford Circus umbrella is covered in some detail too. In the second part there’s some stuff on the line’s gradients and its air shafts – and there’s a considerable section on the Royal Opening which took place on 7th March 1969.

Planning the Victoria Line began years before anyone even entertained the thought of building any part of it! In fact it had been first mooted during the 1940s, before more defined conceptions emerged in the fifties of how the new line and its proposed route should look. Initial Government approval for the new line was gained in 1955. However the actual funds for the railway took longer.

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Resurrected tube map from a 1957 exhibition on the proposed new tube line. Note the purple colour! Source: Twitter (Note: The Twitter account has mass deleted their tweets so there’s nothing left apart from five sets of images and tweets! Thus an archived image is used here.)

As history shows, the original conception at that time was for a route from Wood Street to Victoria. The line would begin above ground adjacent to the branch to Chingford, and presumably have a depot nearby. It would then go underground in order to reach Walthamstow Hoe Street (now Central.) From there onward the route as we know it is the same.

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The 1957 exhibition on the proposed Victoria Line with the map in question on the wall. Source: Twitter (Note: The Twitter account has mass deleted their tweets so there’s nothing left apart from five sets of images and tweets! Thus an archived image is used here.)

The Victoria Line was approved on 20 August 1962. However a fair bit of work had already been done in preparation for the new line. 2km (just over mile and a quarter) of underground tunnel from Finsbury Park to Netherton Road had been built between January 1960 and July 1961 – though this was originally an experimental work undertaken to test new tunnelling methods and the employment of expanded tunnel lining as a means of speeding up tunnel construction. This work was designed by Sir William Halcrow & Partners and the tunnel segments made by Messrs Charles Brand Ltd.

Another job begun far in advance of the new tube line was the Euston Arch’s demolition – which began on 7th November 1961. Though primarily to make way for the new main line station, this work began far in advance because the site was required in order to dig the hole needed for the new ticket hall and escalators which would eventually link to the Victoria Line. I wrote on this at length here.

The main part of construction did not commence until September 1962. In terms of the line’s stage three section (Warren Street to Victoria) it was the work undertaken to prepare the Oxford Circus site for its famous ‘umbrella’ – as well as the complicated underpinning of a famous store in order that the new tube station could be built beneath.

Let it be said the story of the construction of the new Oxford Circus tube station is a long one and a book would suffice to cover every aspect of it!

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‘Here Is The Victoria Line Look.’ From the London Transport Magazine’s Feb 1969 article on the newly opened Euston tube station.

A lot of people will perhaps think the third stage of the new tube line was that which finally brought it into Central London. In truth people had been able to sample the Victoria Line from as early as October 1967 – almost a year before the line had even opened. This was when the new tube station at Euston became available to the public for the first time. This was a significant milestone because it was entirely built in the Victoria Line style. The northbound platform at Euston too was built right down to the smallest detail complete with Euston arch motifs, seating, stainless steel panelling and cabinets, backlit station signs – and those posh station starter signals that were once a major feature of the Victoria Line.

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The telephone booths in use at the new Oxford Circus station, September 1968. Source: Twitter

Similarly the new facilities at Oxford Circus opened well in advance of the new tube line’s Royal opening, which means people were able to sample more of new line – including the new automatic ticket gates for the first time.

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Publicity shot for the Victoria Line at Woodford at the introduction of ATO operation from there to Hainault. The train was actually in the bay platform at Woodford thus it would have been in manual driving mode! The 1967 stock worked this service until 1988. Source: Twitter

Besides this early sampling of the Victoria Line’s stations, if anyone wanted to ride a Victoria Line train they didnt have to wait for that either. No special effort needed here for the Central Line between Woodford and Hainault had become a test bed for the new automated railway system! This meant a number of 1967 tube stock trains were sent to Hainault depot to work this line and replace the 1960 tube stock that had been first used.

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Victoria Line 1967 stock seen at Woodford between duties on the Roding Valley route. The 1967 stock worked this line for 21 years. Source: Twitter

Of course with stage two, the Victoria Line was extended from Highbury and Islington to Warren Street thus introducing the new tube line to three of the Underground’s central stations in December 1968 – King’s Cross, Euston and Warren Street. Naturally the next section, from Warren Street to Victoria, became the most celebrated part of the new line because it served the West End itself and not only that, it was the Queen who opened it.

The need for a new tube station at Oxford Circus

One of the main reason for Oxford Circus being on the Victoria Line’s proposed route was the station had for many decades suffered from overcrowding. Earlier improvements such as the building of escalators to replace the lifts didn’t do terribly much. The fact the station had two main entrances didn’t mitigate the problems much either. It was all down to the sheer popularity of the area as a shopping and tourist destination.

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Oxford Circus tube station overcrowding in 1958. Source: Twitter

The solution was to build a new tube line and facilitate a much larger station. The old entrances would be retained as exits. A huge ticket hall and a new bank of four escalators would be built beneath the Oxford Circus intersection. In order to allow that to happen a road decking would have to be built and it would permit the new ticket hall and escalators to be built beneath whilst traffic could continue to flow above. This would become the famous ‘umbrella.’

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The station in 1963, just after the initial prepartion work on the Victoria Line had started. Source: Twitter

Overcrowding would be much reduced as a result of the Victoria Line. That’s what they thought! We know these days the overcrowding here is even worse. The Victoria Line is bringing more people here, and the station is these days not fit for purpose. Its regularly closed because the Victoria Line platforms become dangerously overcrowded.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all was the Victoria Line platforms (here and at most of its stations) were built to a much narrower profile. The stations are actually quite substantial but there’s a reason for the platforms being narrower and this wasn’t just for reasons of economy. Thus the line’s future problems were built in from the very start because I do not think anyone expected the new tube line to have to carry so many people as it does these days.

I’m getting ahead here, because this is about the construction of the Victoria Line not its subsequent problems! I have the measurements of all the Victoria Line stations so I can see what’s narrow and what’s wide in terms of each and every one of the line’s station platforms. I had meant to do an article on this and the line’s enormous overcrowding problems but it hasn’t been done yet. Maybe one day…

The Victoria Line would provide much relief for the other tube lines as well as providing expanded station facilities where necessary. That was the plan. There would be more capacity all around.

Much of the work was quite complex and the four previous stations (Finsbury Park, Highbury & Islington, King’s Cross and Euston) were themselves very complicated jobs, yet this third stage too had its problems.

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News on construction work at Oxford Circus tube station. Guardian 15th August 1963.

Oxford Circus was no easy job. It was the biggest headache. First it needed new platforms and secondly a new ticket hall was needed and there was not much space for this. The new platforms and running tunnels had to thread their way through a maze of other ‘tubes’ including the Central Line, the Post Office Railway, sewers, electricity conduits etc.

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1963 Poster illustrating the new station to be built at Oxford Circus. The text on the poster read: “An artist’s impression of the new station, showing how the Victoria Line will run in relation to the Bakerloo and Central Lines and how interchange will be made between the three lines….The work is expected to take about six years to complete.” The poster was republished in the Illustrated London News for 21 November 1964. Source: Twitter

Most of the utilities near the surface beneath the Oxford Circus roadway had to be moved or strengthened before anyone could even build the famous ‘umbrella.’ All that had to be completed before any work could even begin on the new ticket hall and escalators alone.

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The complex network of cables, sewers, drains, water mains at Oxford Circus. The red dots represent the positions for the umbrella’s foundations. Source: Twitter

The Peter Robinson store problem

One of the biggest issues facing any construction of the new tube line was the fact it would practically breach the foundations of the Peter Robinson store on one corner of the Oxford Circus intersection. Surveyors found the roof of the southbound tunnel would be just beneath the third level basement at the Peter Robinson store.

Oxford Circus proved to be the ideal location for cross-platform interchange and meant the Victoria Line had to follow the profile of the Bakerloo platforms closely. This meant the line of its tunnels was practically fixed. Then of course the engineers realised Peter Robinson’s store was in the way!

When it was found the southbound tunnel had to be built along an alignment beneath the stores on the east side of Regent Street one might think ‘why didn’t they just move the tunnel to a different alignment?’ The problem with that would mean the Bakerloo Line station and tunnels would have to be moved too!

This meant that preliminary work had to be undertaken very early on and that is a reason work at Oxford Circus began very early compared to the rest of the Victoria Line. In fact this station and its tunnels was the one part of the entire line that took the longest to construct.

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Schematic diagram of the ground below Peter Robinson’s store. From bottom – southbound Victoria Line tunnel. Above this the temporary access tunnels and works to build the concrete raft and (marked in red) the cable tensile foundations.

This underpinning had to be done in advance of any tunnelling work and in 1962 contractors dug a temporary tunnel 250 yards in length from Cavendish Square. This tunnel was at a higher level than the main access tunnel later dug for the building of the station’s running tunnels and platforms. This small tunnel passed just under the Bakerloo Line and then a diagonal shaft was built for a short distance. From here a further section of tunnel at a different level was built to the bottom of the store’s basement. Experienced miners were used to build these small tunnels.

This alone meant a substantial amount of extra work prior to the main building of the tube line. No money had yet been authorised for the full works between Walthamstow and Victoria thus this particular job had to be done with a very small number of workers toiling in quite cramped conditions.

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Temporary tunnel from Cavendish Square to a point just below the Peter Robinson store. These scenes are from this Victoria Line video

This tunnel ran southwards below Regent Street. In the image above the cables used for anchoring the Peter Robinson store foundations can be seen. The inclined section of tunnel leading under the Bakerloo Line can too be seen in the distance.

Once the tunnellers had reached Peter Robinson’s, they built two further tunnels which were longitudinal underneath the store’s basement. One was a short access tunnel and the other formed the actual work site itself.

Once this had been done workers then drilled a series of holes between these two tunnels. These would be used to accommodate high tension cabling.

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Workmen under the Peter Robinson basement. The small tunnel which the man is emerging from is a short one running west to east below the store.

Once the high tension cabling had been threaded through these holes, the cables were tightened using hydraulics. As the pictures show all this took place in quite cramped conditions. For all we know the tunnels are still there!

The task of installing the high tension cabling had to be done before the next stage of the job could be done – which was to build a concrete raft surrounding the works. This raft would have to be at least a foot thick.

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Workmen using hydraulics to tighten the cables used to strengthen the immediate area between the two tunnels.

The combined strength of the high tensile cabling and the concrete raft spread the building’s load over a larger area. Once this was done, work to build the station tunnels could commence.

This early work its one of the least known aspects of the Victoria Line’s construction! It was unfortunately overshadowed by the construction of the famous Oxford Circus umbrella, which I can remember riding over a number of times on the bus!

At this point it must be said there is a continual leakage into the station tunnel at Oxford Circus tube station. The damaged tunnel wall is evident over a good length from the station platform and has been like this a good number of years. Who knows, it could be the remains of this pilot tunnel that’s causing the problem.

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The damaged tunnel wall at Oxford Circus – possibly a result of the 1962 works to underpin Peter Robinson’s store.

Next: Oxford Circus construction part 2 – The famous umbrella and other works.