A wonderful 5 minute video has been dug up by the BBC archives of the North London line when it used to run from Richmond to the now demolished Broad Street Station.

Described as the line that starts nowhere and goes nowhere, the forgotten railway it was a rare example of a service where it was always possible to get a seat.

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Almost impossible to imagine today, but it was so badly used that there was a lobby calling for the tracks to be lifted and the line replaced with a road.

Today, it is part of the London Overground, although sadly, Broad Street station was torn down when Liverpool Street was redeveloped.

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The 5 minute news article, with trains that look a hundred years old, but are, for most of us, still within living memory.

It’s actually worth watching to compare today with yesterday — and marvel at just how massively different something as ordinary as the train carriage has changed over the past few decades.

And just imagine, 95p for a return trip.

The clip is on the BBC Archive’s twitter feed here.

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20 comments on “A forgotten railway… the line that starts nowhere and goes nowhere
  1. Dave Kiriwn says:

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

  2. Michael Young says:

    Well, that’s an interesting piece of history – and example of historic lack of transport investment – but much of the North London line is now part of the Overground system, under TfL, which is greatly used. Major and speedy investment is needed in the Underground. Today to travel from Barnet to Putney, I see ‘severe delays’ on both Piccadilly and District lines. Not good enough. What do the increasing number of visitors to London make of our creaking, overwhelmed Underground services?
    Shame about Broad Street station, but I guess there was too much money to be made short-term in selling the land.

    • Ian Visits says:

      “What do the increasing number of visitors to London make of our creaking, overwhelmed Underground services?”

      Most are amazed — what you have to remember is that London Underground is a marvel compared to most cities around the world. The feedback for example during the Olympics was one of astonishment that such a good service existed.

  3. Ralph Caton says:

    Broad Street and its associated goods yard is a classic case of a terminus that got left behind as the service out of it withered…..the old North London had a return ticket that I and my mother used to use going to Richmond from Ralston that was cheaper than the regular single! The bars across the carriage door windows were because the line ran through so many cuttings that to stick your head out of the window might well have been to lose it in a messy fashion!

  4. Ralph Caton says:

    It was a third rail electrification at 600v DC….unusual… when Broad St came down, they ran the line via Dalston Kingdoms ( a station that originally closed when the Broad St link opened) to North Woolwich. That would be 1986. When the trackbed was brought back into use with the East London Line being connected through the new Bishopsgate people who had bought houses backing onto the old “dead” railway suddenly found the tracks noisier….. it was and still is a damned useful connection.
    Funny thing, at Broad St in 1985, the old closed refreshment rooms at the left of the concourse ( look behind the reporter) still had advertising stickers on the windows from the Festival of Britain in 1951!

  5. george says:

    When I wandered around Broad Street in 1982 or so, it had a long-disused lift on the concourse to the Central Line platforms of Liverpool Street. Wooden doors!

  6. Peter G says:

    Interesting to hear a mention of creating an ‘outer circle’ railway around London – seems it took rather a while to realise that but good that the line survived long enough to be part of it.

  7. Bill Cheatham says:

    Very interesting clip. Since incorporation into the Overground, David Thomas (in the clip) has had his wishes come true! Lots of promotion, full ring route around london, actually part of TfL, not just operating more closely with it, and smarter stations.

    Does anyone know which the station is with the level crossing next to it? Presumably now long gone.

  8. I joined the Southern Region(Central) in 1976,one of the turns we were rostered to do was from Norwood to Temple Mills goods via Willesden High Level and Gospel Oak.For the first two years the train was part fitted ie the first so many wagons were braked the rest merely coupled to each other, this was a night turn and the ‘highlights` of the journey was the extremely tight curve at South Tottenham Junction as well as every time coming home we approached Gospel Oak Signal Box on a downhill gradient. The Signalman would only pull the signal as we were creeping up to the home signal which made the job of the guard a little more difficult as you had to keep the brake applied to a certain extent to help the driver keep control of the train.You never knew if the signal was going to be cleared but it always was.To my mind working partially fitted trains was very satisfying as you had to learn all the specifics of the line such as trap points,boxes,junctions, as well of course the gradients.So it was a pity in a way that those sort of trains disappeared from the Southern in 1978 although I think they continued on other regions for some time after,although I have a vague recollection of working a few trains after 1978. I know this a story about the passenger service but these are some of my memories that I thought some people might be interested in.

    • drhhmb says:

      I used to use the NLL in the early 50s from Finchley Road and Frognal to Gospel Oak to go to school. There were gaslights on the platforms and Gospel Oak station platform was made of wood. In those days the trains had manually operated sliding doors, so one of the joys for 11 year olds was to open the doors in the Hampstead tunnel and lean out to watch the firework display from the arcing pick-ups. I never heard of anyone falling out or being decapitated.

    • Vernon Wright says:

      Interesting. I alighted here in my search for a picture of the type of car you describe, drhhmb, so I could illustrate my special experience of the line. Read on.

      I was six-years-old and had watched the old-timers leap adroitly from the train as she pulled in to Richmond station. Unfortunately I had not yet studied such things as kinetic energy and relative motion!

      Inevitably, therefore, as I tried to emulate their graceful exit from the train, I went base over apex and was soon a guest at the nearest hospital. Not long afterward they took that superb type of car out of service and to this day I feel I ought to apologize for that to the line’s then regular users.

      Those cars and the lovely old London ‘buses one could run after and leap aboard or from which alight as they rounded the corner of High-street and Church-street (Regents, Routemasters &c.): life was so much better before ‘Elf-n-Safety’; when common sense prevailed … well, perhaps not in my case, as you’ve seen

  9. Steve Groves says:

    As young trainspotters aged 13 in 1965 and living in southern electric land, the LMR North London line was an exotic experience as it conveyed us from Broad street to Willesden Junction (High Level).

    The alien window bars added to the quirkiness. These were fitted I believe because of the tight tunnel clearances north of Euston (the stock also operated the Euston-Watford DC services). In those days, the line had a wonderfully derelict air about it, a feeling of solitude and secretiveness.

    Later, in the’70s it took me and my girlfriend to Hampstead Heath and Richmond for summer days out, and also to Camden Road for the full italian experience on offer at Marine Ices. Those mid-70s summers were hot!

    I would recommended a trip on this line to anyone who wants a uniquely different view of the capital.

  10. Jeremy says:

    I can well remember using the line as a young trainspotter aged 12-13 back in the early/mid-60s. It had the unique allure of passing over virtually all the main lines north and west of London thereby being able to spot several regions’ locomotives in one trip. On arrival at Richmond, one could then take the train to Waterloo to catch the excitement of Southern steam. Even now as part of the Overground, it’s an interesting route and well worth retracing.

  11. Nick Chennells says:

    Fabulous short news piece on Londons best line ! I well remember trips up to Hackney Empire and the old Woolwich terminus for the ferry .Travelling from Acton Central..one of my bestest ever days out ! I do remember the mystery surrounding this line in the 1980s when I first discovered it. Where is it from ? Where does it go ? One time waiting at Canonbury as a train went through the station with a very strange load…nuclear waste !!!

  12. BRIAN BERKE says:

    Does anybody know what happened to the large models of Victorian Locomotives that used to be inside the main hall by the main stairs up from the street?

    They were there in the late 60’s early 70’s and probably dated from when the station opened.

    • Jeremy says:

      I recall seeng a North London Railway locomotive model in the Science Museum many years ago. Here’s a link to the NRM website which might help

    • Daniel Rust says:

      On display at National railway Museum York. Unfortunately the coin slot not in use. For an old penny the wheels would turn with proceeds to charity

  13. Steve Conway says:

    Lots of school kids used the line as Gospel Oak served William Ellis Boys, Parliament Hill Girls and La Sante Union Convent School.
    Camden served JFS and Camden School For Girls.
    There was a ” Ladies Only ” carraige.
    The carraiges were lit by a single domestic type light bulb which we sometimes unscrewed in the tunnel between Finchley Rd and Frognal and Hampstead Heath so that we could travel in total darkness.
    Yes same rolling stock also ran between Euston and Watford Jct.

  14. Glenn Aylett says:

    Broad St could have had a future if suburban services from Watford were completely diverted from Euston and some peak hour services, using dual voltage EMUs, were extended to Milton Keynes. Broad St was closer to the City of London than Euston and would have removed the need to change trains at Euston. Also in more recent years, it could have been used as a terminus for Overground services.

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