Mr Charles Pearson was a City Solicitor, and politician of great ambition for London’s railways, but sadly for him at least, very little direct success.
In 1837, he secured permission to construct a railway running from Camden Town down to a little north of Clerkenwell Road. Built upon brick arches, this steam railway started construction, but barely had it begun than the money failed to materialise, and the venture was abandoned.
Undaunted, in 1844, he proposed the Manchester Direct Railway, which would terminate in London at Farringdon, running along the length of the river fleet up to Maiden Lane (the site of the original King’s Cross station) and thence to Manchester.
This idea didn’t even get as far as starting construction – as Parliament blocked it.
Another plan suggested in 1850 was adopted four years later, as the eventual Metropolitan Line from Paddington to Farringdon, and he campaigned in its favour, helping to raise £1 million from investors towards its construction.
Undaunted though, in 1855 he was back again, and still obsessing about Farringdon Street, his proposal was to sink the earlier brick arches into the soil and build an underground railway. Quite a big one in fact.
This plan for the City Terminus Railway was both above and below, in that not content with just digging up the roads and laying a railway underneath them, he proposed and entirely new road to slice through Clerkenwell with a wide boulevard above ground and eight railway lines below. Yes, eight railway lines!
The railway lines would extend down from Kings Cross to the centre of Farringdon Street, with six intermediate stations. The plans also called for the raising of the roadway at Holborn Hill – which at the time was still a steep in and out of the River Fleet valley (later this bit was carried out, as the Holborn Viaduct).
The new road running from Holborn Hill to King’s Cross would have been 100 feet wide, which would have been sufficient to fit the railways underneath. A Parliamentary Committee investigating the plan did consider whether the road alone would be sufficient to deal with the increasing congestion on the streets, but was urged to consider the benefits of the railway beneath conveying passengers without need for omnibuses.
Not to mention that the revenue from the railway would help cover the rebuilding costs of the road, and the new elegant buildings that would line it.
The elegant buildings however masked another reason for the railway – the “ethnic cleansing” of the poor, who over the past couple of decades had been forced out of the City to the “City Without” by the increasing conversion of housing into warehouses and offices.
The new railway was designed to make it easier for those without to travel within and get as close to their workplace as possible. That it was to be funded in part by elegant housing for those rich enough to avoid the need to travel is an all to typical idea of the time.
Being the age of the steam train, holes would be cut into the road or pavement in places that would allow for the exhausting of steam from below, as well as giving pedestrians above a novel way of looking down on the subterranean world.
As with many railways of the time, cargo was considered as important as humans – or indeed, more so. The original North London railway was a cargo line, with an indifferent obligation to carry passengers – an obligation which very swiftly became a major part of its business.
Mr Pearson’s line to Farringdon also included cargo facilities, and it was that which seems to have doomed the project. For all the advantages the railway offered in getting meat and coal into Farringdon Street, and the associated plans for warehouses, the road congestion created by local deliveries carting goods from Farringdon caused alarm to the Commissioners investigating the plans.
So, the plans were not carried out – at least not at the time.
Charles Pearson died in September 1862, just a few months before the Metropolitan Railway he had helped raise money for finally opened the world’s first underground railway in January 1863.
However, in 1866, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway opened its own railway that runs from King’s Cross, down to Farringdon, and southwards to Blackfriars.
As a through line, it lacked the huge terminus station which would have been built at Farringdon, and probably to the annoyance of railway planners and passengers ever since, contains just two railway lines.
A far cry from Pearson’s plans for an 8-track wide railway under London.
And no main roadway above ground either.
Although none of his plans were adopted directly, his position within the City of London and his campaigning for underground railways to deal with London’s road congestion is considered to be his greatest legacy.