Another look at the construction of the world’s first underground passenger railway as seen by the Illustrated London News – this time from Feb 1861.

The article makes mention of the side tunnel that would link the underground railway with the mainline service above ground just behind King’s Cross station. The line enabled overground trains to run direct into the underground tunnels – and the underground tunnels were built with tracks for both gauges.

These two short stretches were known as the Maiden Lane Curve and the York Road Curve – long since disused apparently.

The Metropolitan (Underground) Railway - Works in progress at King's Cross

The Metropolitan (Underground) Railway – Works in progress at King’s Cross


Annexed are two Views of the works in progress of the Underground Railway from Paddington to the City, one terminus of which is to be at the station of the Great Western Railway and the other in Victoria-street. The main tunnel will be 20½ feet broad by 16½ feet high. The stations, which will not be in the tunnel but in open cuttings, will be at the following places — Paddington, Edgware-road, Baker-street, Portland-road, Gower-street, King’s-cross, and Victoria-street.

There will be branch lines from the North-Western and Great-Western Railways. The underground view shows the Bell Mouth Junction at King’s-cross of the main tunnel with the two branch lines to the Great Northern Railway; one of these branch lines, for goods trains only, proceeds under Maiden-lane and joins the Great Northern line a short distance beyond the station; the other branch for passengers only, runs under the old St. Pancras-road, near the Great Northern Hotel, and will enter on the opposite side of the station to that of the goods line. These branch railways will consist of single lines, running through tunnels of 13 feet 8 inches broad and 15 feet high.

From the Bell Mouth Junction at King’s-cross the main line runs in a curved direction by Bagnigge-wells and Clerkenwell to the proposed terminus in Victoria-street.

The general above-ground view of the cutting at King’s-cross shows the site of what will be the King’s-cross station of the Metropolitan Railway near the junction of the New-road, Old St. Pancras-road, Maiden-lane, Gray’s-inn-road, Bagnigge-wells-road, and the Pentonville-road.

Near this spot a great difficulty had to be overcome in the construction of the branch tunnel to the Great Northern, and that was the Fleet River. This stream of sewage has been successfully inclosed in a huge iron tube, which crosses through the upper part of the tunnel. It will be readily understood that the inclosing this stream, which in wet seasons is very full and rapid, was no light undertaking. It has however, been safely completed, and the trains will run actually under the Fleet River.

Messrs. Smith and Knight are the contractors for the portion of the line from Paddington to Euston-square. Of this portion the works are in progress in Praed-street, Paddington, Chapel-street, the Marylebone and Portland roads.

Mr. John Jay is the contractor for the portion of the line from Euston-square to Victoria-street. The works of this portion are in progress in the Euston-road, at King’s-cross, and in Coppice-row, Clerkenwell. Mr. John Fowler is the chief engineer, and Mr. Marr Johnson the resident engineer. The whole, when completed, will be brilliantly illuminated with gas.

We have to thank the acting superintendents of the works, Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Houselander, for the facilities they afforded our Artist when making the drawings.

Railway Junction at King's Cross

Railway Junction at King’s Cross


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  1. Rob Morris says:

    Victoria Street? I take it that’s now Farringdon? Or is there something I’m missing?

    • IanVisits says:

      Victoria Street was the proposed name for the improved Farringdon Road but was never formally adopted for some reason.

  2. Andrea M says:

    Thanks for the interesting post, Ian.
    This diagram shows the layout of the tunnels in relation to the underground station before and after the Maiden Lane curve was filled in. There is also an engraving showing the same intersection of the Maiden Lane/Hotel curve tunnels pictured in the Illustrated London News from a different angle.

  3. Neil says:

    Wasn’t the York curve recently re-utilised to carry gas mains that were moved for the Thameslink project? – Up until fairly recently you could see the exit for one of the tunnels by looking over the wall on the left hand side of the station on York Road just under where the shunter siding was for GNER.

    • IanVisits says:

      They’ve been reused for various other purposes (storage etc), but are abandoned from a railway perspective.

  4. swirlythingy says:

    Where is the through Thameslink/Great Northern service from Blackfriars to Finsbury Park going to go, then? I thought that was proposed to reuse one or other of the tunnels?

    • Chris says:

      Thameslink now serves King’s Cross (and St Pancras) through a new underground station near the Midland Mainline platforms – north of this the new ‘Canal Tunnels’ were dug north-east and will join the East Coast Mainline in the gap between the first and second set of tunnels leaving King’s Cross.

  5. This is fascinating! UCL is marking 150 years of the underground with a free lecture from Prof Richard Dennis on the history of UCL’s local station, free and open to all on Tues 15 Jan, 1.15pm:

  6. Rosa Matheson says:

    hey am writing about the underground (more as background to the event) and it would be reeeeaalllllly helpful if you would let me have copies of pics……or let me know where you got them from…many thanks..

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