1965barbytext - A mystery London scene!

Whilst undertaking research for the history of the Victoria Line, I happened to be viewing a film I have seen several times but for some reason had rather ignored the introductory picture at the beginning and instead gone straight to the subject in question. The other day however I took a closer look at this picture and thought to myself, ‘well its certainly unusual because it has nothing to do with the Victoria Line!’ The picture’s actually of the Barbican area in the City of London while that was undergoing reconstruction!

Don’t ask me how (or why) the picture got to be featured in this film! The only reason I think it got included is because someone thought it was Euston station under demolition and the very reason for that is what appears to be the presence (or so they thought) of the Ebonite Tower (which I have written about here) except it isn’t even that building! Perceptions can be deceptive!

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A panorama of the scene (merged from several clips of the scene seen in the video as the camera panned across it.) The ‘Ebonite Tower’ is at the centre of the picture!

One of the things about this 1965 picture is most I’ve seen were taken from the north or the north west – and very few from the east or the southern side of the area. What it meant in fact was this 1965 picture was a discovery for me! As a result I began undertaking some research in relation to this – and here’s a post I did as a result showing the construction of the Barbican from an entirely new perspective!

Here’s a link to that film in question – The Victoria Line (1965.) You may well ask where was that film’s scenes taken? It seems to me the location in question happens to be about where the bottom end of Moor Lane is. Its a view looking from ground level roughly where the present junction of Moor Lane and Fore Street are and the immediate foreground happens to be the foundation work for Andrewes House.

But first, a crop of that scene showing the buildings in the distance…

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The buildings most instantly recognisable in this view are Murray House (built 1956) and Great Arthur House (built 1957 as part of the Golden Lane estate) and these eclipsed the construction of the Barbican. Other structures have gone – although a few remain as we will see…

I have marked out the picture showing: 1 Murray House 2 Great Arthur House 3 The Jewin Welsh Chapel’s unusual tower 4 Cripplegate Library 5 St Mary’s Tower (which is near the top end of Whitecross St) 6 Rear of the buildings in Chiswell St.

Murray House was in fact built in a space envisaged for the Barbican Centre (no-one had decided on the definitive plans at that time which meant Murray House got approved first!) It meant the Barbican’s designers had to fit their highly vaunted and brand new estate around this earlier building!

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The commemorative stone on Murray House, a building within the Barbican estate – and which predates that estate by several years.

The Cripplegate Library (4) is still there in a modified form. It has a couple of upper storeys added to its structure and has been cleaned up. The same can’t be said for the historic Cripplegate (or Golden Lane) theatre which stood next to the library. Despite the theatre’s fantastic historic interior which I remember from community shows and events, that was sadly demolished in the mid 1990s. Though the images are not clear in that part of the image the Old Brewery (6) still stands as well as the taller buildings still extant on the north side of Chiswell Street.

Looking at the bigger picture again (a crop is shown below for one’s perusal) in the foreground is the beginnings of the foundations and underground car park that will eventually be Andrewes House. The sort of embankment behind this I think is the remains of Milton Street, eventually replaced by what would be the Barbican Lake and Brandon Mews.

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Crop of the lower area of the picture, showing the two railway bridges and the beginnings of Andrewes House.

Its clear from this panoramic view that the new underground tunnels had to dip down from Aldersgate and Barbican towards Moorgate before climbing up briefly again into Moorgate itself. The old Metropolitan railway route was quite level between the two stations and its why the newer tunnel alignment sits at a lower level compared to the older route. Elsewhere I have demonstrated how shallow the Barbican Lake is and how that sits right on top of the new tunnels.

This picture (or cine film rather) was clearly taken in the very early stages of the construction of the Barbican Estate, the year being 1965. The date could be early 1965 before the new tunnels were put to use. 21 June 1965 was the day the Eastern Region/Midland trains from King’s Cross and St. Pancras used the new tunnels to Moorgate. The sub-surface lines however continued use of the old route until December 1965.

The building in the distance (3) that looks rather like the Ebonite Tower is in fact the tower or spire belonging to the Jewin Welsh Presbyterian Chapel just to the north of the Barbican. Below is a picture of the old chapel which was bombed in WWII…

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The old ruined Jewin Welsh Chapel as seen in 1957. Source: Twitter

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The present building with its distinctive ‘Ebonite Tower’ style spire! The chapel was opened in 1960. Source: Google Streets

The tower block with ‘wings’ is Great Arthur House, opened in 1957. At a height of 50m (164 feet) it was billed the tallest residential structure ever built in Britain. Its now Grade II listed. This, the Barbican towers and the City of London’s earlier skyscrapers could once be seen from my old flat – though obviously the new construction that’s since popped up in the past decade or so has blocked those views. Several of the later tower blocks nearer to City Road too chose a similar style of ‘winged’ roof top though not quite as big as Great Arthur House’s.

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Great Arthur House and the Golden Lane Estate with the Barbican under construction in front. The spire of St. Luke’s in Old Street can be seen in the background. Source: Twitter

As part of this latest research I watched a video called Barbican Phoenix (1961) which contains a good number of scenes I have not seen. One of the most endearing of these is the panned shot from the top of the 1965 completed Moor House (now too demolished.) I put together screencaps from those scenes and made a panorama as shown below…

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Panoramic shot collated from the film Barbican Phoenix

It is clear from this the route of the Metropolitan Railway was once a major artery through the old Barbican and Cripplegate areas of London. Although it was largely brick lined cutting with overbridges there was in fact one short tunnel – a rarity because it had separate bores for each Metropolitan track.

Elaborating on the fate of the former Metropolitan railway, noted London railway historian Mike Horne had very recently published the following images. These must have been some of his last tweets, nevertheless they show the Metropolitan railway cutting still existing within the newly built Barbican estate…

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The former Metropolitan cutting can be seen where Speed House and Brandon Mews are – and which pictures Mike Horne says he took as a school kid. This part would have been the former station throat to Moorgate. Source: Twitter (Note: Mike Horne’s account has been closed thus an archived image is used here.)

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I know this shot is not a good picture however it too shows the remains of the Metropolitan cutting on the other side of that old bridge. The year is 1969. Speed House in the background. Source: Twitter

It seems to me the Metropolitan’s former alignment existed until maybe 1970. In the above picture they are clearly still using the former bridge which once carried the southern half of Whitecross Street over the railway as it still provided access for contractors to part of the estate.

On the right hand side of the image is the top of the new Metropolitan tunnels. These were of course at a lower level because the line had to go underneath the Barbican lake! Until the construction in this part of the Barbican was completed the top of this tunnel was left open.

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The old Whitecross Street bridge can still be seen at the bottom of this picture from 1969. To the left (with contractors huts sat on top of the cross beams) are the newer tunnels. Source: You Tube

From this 1969 image its clear how the new railway tunnels go directly underneath Defoe House (and why that particular building along with others on the estate gets so much noise/vibration from tube trains – a subject I have written upon in-depth.) Below is Whitecross Street bridge again and another picture from Mike Horne. This is an earlier date than the previous.

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The Barbican Lake with the Metropolitan cutting visible. This would have been where the tracks fanned out to form the station throat area. This area is now the site of the London Guildhall of Music. Source: Twitter (Note: Mike Horne’s account has been closed thus an archived image is used here.)

The above picture confirms it is mostly the former Thameslink lines that are under the Barbican Lake. The Metropolitan/Circle tunnels only go under part of this at its eastern end and that is why the top of that particular tunnel is still open to the elements as seen here.

The next picture is just to show how that particular stretch of the Metropolitan and British Railways lines once looked….. If one looks at the above and below images, the same building on the right hand side (with a slanted edge on its west side) can be seen.

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A view of the Metropolitan/BR tracks from Milton Street bridge looking towards Whitecross Street bridge. Date is possibly 1963/64. The same viewpoint would now be the gardens behind the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Source: Barbican Living

It seems the construction of the Barbican entailed use of the space left by the old railway tunnels! For example the Barbican theatre’s stage would be in the very location where the Metropolitan/Circle trains once ran!

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This image of the Barbican Theatre under construction indicates the stage area is sited in the space where the Metropolitan/Circle trains once ran! Source: Twitter

The following image (which is another from Mike Horne) proves this because that former railway space is now no other than the Barbican theatre’s stage!

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This image shows the Metropolitan’s route where the Barbican Theatre is now – just before the Shakespeare Tower seen at left. Source: Twitter (Note: Mike Horne’s account has been closed thus an archived image is used here.)

This view from Google Streets shows the base of Shakespeare Tower and what would once have been the course of the Metropolitan in front of it. The same pillars are seen in both Mike Horne’s photograph and the Google Street view.

Just to cap, the next image is one I used in my post on Those Noisy Barbican Tube Trains. This image of great interest because the old Metropolitan/Circle route still exists almost in its entirety whilst the new tunnels can be seen heading straight across the centre of the estate. The Whitecross Street bridge is very evident. If one looks at the far end of the Metropolitan alignment that is the same spot as seen in Mike Horne’s photograph taken to the west side of Speed House.

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The old tunnel alignment can be seen curving along at left of centre. The new tunnels are almost in the centre of the picture and the cross beams supporting their sides can be seen. Source: Greyscape

To conclude, its impossible to get a modern perspective of the 1965 view. The best I can perhaps think of is one (shown below) from the elevated walkway on the north side of Andrewes House looking across the lake. Its not much either because the furthest one can see from here is Shakespeare and Defoe Houses!

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View taken from Andrewes House looking along the 1965 alignment. (Picture taken January 2020.)

Finally if anyone wants to see the location the 1965 film was taken from, it was about where the junction of Moor Lane and Fore Street is today. But be surprised because none of what could be seen in that year can be seen today! But you know you want to have a look – so here’s the very location as seen on Google Streets. Quelle surprise!