Had things turned out differently, the Northern line would be a lot more northern than it is, and a new exhibition has opened to explore that planned but never built extension.

What is known as the Northern Heights plans would have linked up several branches of the Northern line, and while some were killed off by WW2, one part was killed off by the arrival of the Green Belt around London, and it was that which killed off the extension this exhibition is looking at.

Although construction had started before it was killed off, had it been built, Edgware wouldn’t be the terminus for the Nothern line, as it would have gone north to the then villages of Brockley Hill, Elstree South and ending at Bushey Heath. All villages today, but would have been 1960s new towns if the Northern line had arrived.

A lot of the exhibition looks at the thing that would have enabled the extension to be built, a large plot of land next to the M1 motorway bought to stable the trains, but when the railway was cancelled it was turned into the Aldenham bus works, a major bus repair workshop. One of the great what-ifs of history is how many people driving into work on the M1 would have used a park-and-ride to complete their journey on the London Underground.

The rest of the display is given over to the three tube stations that would have been built, with drawings and artist impressions of what they would have looked like if they had been built.

There are some contemporary tube maps showing all the unbuilt Northern line extensions, and looking at them you can really appreciate how they would have made east-west travel much easier in North London compared to how difficult it is today by train.

However, what really brings the exhibition alive is the thing that dominates the room – a large scale model of the extension. Built over the past couple of years by Tony de Swarte, it’s a truncated representation of the line, with the three stations and the depot included.

Press and hold buttons on the side of the model and you can make the little 1938-era trains run up and down the line, to the considerable delight of visitors on the day. The model railway is an N-gauge, and the little trains were hand-made using a 3D printed body on bought chassis.

A handful of social media curmudgeons complained that the model was inaccurate in some way or other, but they are boring people who need to learn how to find joy in things. Everyone else watched and smiled and loved it.

If you want to smile and have fun, then the exhibition, Off the Rails: The Line that never was, is open at the Elstree and Borehamwood Museum until 20th August.

Entry is free, and you can find the museum on the top floor of the library.

The exhibition is open Tues to Thur 12pm – 6pm and Saturday 10am – 3pm.

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11 comments
  1. Raymond Peentner says:

    It looks fascinating, such a shame it never went ahead

  2. Clive Ireland says:

    Interesting history. I wrote to the mayor’s office a few years ago suggesting extending from High Barnet to the M1/A1 junction on the M25 might be looked at as a cost-effective way of alleviating some of the road traffic into Central London. Nice reply, but that was it.

  3. Tony de Swarte says:

    Thank you for a great write up on our exhibition.

  4. ChrisBCN says:

    This may be the best line you have ever written –

    “A handful of social media curmudgeons complained that the model was inaccurate in some way or other, but they are boring people who need to learn how to find joy in things”

  5. Chris Rogers says:

    Lovely just up the road from me so a definite visit. Us locals know the story of course and I’ve even done a walk of the route.

  6. Andrew says:

    The museum is not currently open on Wednesdays due to staff shortages. Found out the hard way today unfortunately!

  7. Ray Cutler says:

    There is a r missing from northern in the third paragraph. Naughty spill chucker!

  8. Chris Rogers says:

    Popped along yesterday; yes the panels focus on Aldenham, as it’s so local, but there are good shots of the aircraft production years and how that linked to other sites. The model is charming and Tony was on hand too. Telescoping the geography of the extension into one is really clever and gives a good impression of what it would have looked like, especially as the remaining fragments in real life diminish.

  9. David Thomas says:

    In the early 1970s LT still owned and leased out some of the land, including to a working farm which was presumably there first anyway.

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