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GES238 - The Original Metro Line, London - Pt 1

2013 marked the 150th year of Metros, and the one that started it all, London Underground.

For those not British, there's not much to celebrate in Britain these days other than past glories. The present and future being tied up in debt and a declining nation. For me, Victorian Britain was the pinnacle of British achievement. A time of great advancements before it was all thrown away with pointless wars over oil. The London Underground was unique at the time, and changed London for ever, allowing London to expand and create suburbs. From 1840 to 1900, London grew in size threefold to over 6 million, this is when over half of the London Underground was built.

The first ideas for an underground network floated in the 1830s, and were later championed by the 'father' of the tube, Charles Pearson

In 1852, Pearson helped set up the City Terminus Company, with the intention to build a railway between Farringdon and King's Cross. It didn't succeed until other Railway companies chipped in, and the route was extended to Paddington, along what is now the Euston Rd and Marylebone Rd. Royal Assent was achieved in 1854, with John Fowler as engineer. It was built from March 1860 to May 1862, involving great upheaval and numerous incidents.

150 years later, and another proposal was made, this time to GE077. I wanted to walk as much of the original stretch as possible. The easiest (relatively speaking) section to do this would be from Farringdon to King's Cross. We had already made it into King's Cross disused station a few years before. Not really aware that this was part of the original route. Going through the tunnel would be high risk, as there were no escape routes, vent shafts etc. Getting into a workers building allowed us access to the tracks, as well as to the roof to survey the area. This is looking down onto the Metropolitan line tracks (left) and mainline tracks (lower right) One can also see a bridge not used at the time (but now open), and the Clerkenwell Rd forming a V shape. Beyond the two bridges, the bright over exposed area is Farringdon Station.

As with most of our projects, we had studied and reccied the area the best we could. We knew that around 1.30am, a rail gang would meet under the disused bridge, and form a rail trolley. They would then push this North to King's Cross. The power was turned off from the tracks at 1.30am, and the lights would light up the tunnel.

Looking North, 180 degrees from the previous pic, one can see another bridge over the tracks, an opening, and then the tunnel starts proper. The 3 lights under the bridge are the track lights that came on at 1.30am. Left of centre in the picture is the mainline tunnel, disappearing under the Metropolitan line tracks. The mainline will later rise up to the same level as the Metropolitan line tracks. These mainline tracks are known as the 'Widened Lines'. They used to be owned by the Metropolitan company, then GNR, and after 1988 for Thameslink before services stopped in 2009. Now long trains rumble through at all hours.

The workers building on the right, this used to be the site of the Metropolitan's Vine St Goods Depot. Here a lift would raise and lower goods to street level. It was opened in 1909, and closed in the late 1950s. There were 4 Goods Depots in this area, including one for Smithfields Market, a GNR depot for supplying coal primarily, and goods. The fourth was south of the Smithfields depot towards Moorgate, the Midland Railway Depot. This is looking North, clearly showing the mainline tracks disappearing under the Metropolitan tracks. Those at ground level above were oblivious to us below, even whoever was watching the large street camera on the lamp post left of centre, that covered the tracks.The lights aren't on in the tunnel, showing this was taken before the traction power was turned off on the rails.

Void area underneath the workers building, the bricked sides of the Victorian cutting still visible.

Walking to the end of the void area, we got as close as we felt comfortable to the actual Farringdon station. The steel undersides of the two bridges seen from above before, in a V shape. The bridge carrying the Clerkenwell Rd painted in yellow and green, but rarely seen other than by tube drivers. From here we could clearly see workers starting to gather in their orange outfits.

Progressing North up the tracks we came to the last stop before the tunnel. The triangle area seen above. The mainline tunnel tracks disappearing into the earth somewhere below the camera. The glinting cables seen below the camera, carrying flesh frying high voltage. In front of the camera the miss-skewed brick overdose bridge. The area in front of the camera is known as the Ray Street Gridiron, due to the engineering success of putting a rail line under the underground tracks in a deep cutting.

While taking the shot above, GE077 was taking his own shots. The start of the tunnel looming over him.

The tracklights came on, and the tunnel brickwork would emerge from the gloom, all illuminated. The track workers had passed us and into the tunnel with their strange rolling contraption on the rails. The workers out of site, the plan was to follow them through the tunnel from a safe distance. GE077, GE070 and I plodded off into the tunnel. 50m or so in the tunnel, and I grabbed a shot looking back to the start of the tunnel.

Turning around from the above shot, the slinky tracks lured us deeper into the tunnel.

While looking around for a missing lens cap, GE077 & GE070 who had gone a bit further ahead, came running back. The workers we thought would walk along the tracks beyond the tunnel, for some reason had opted to turn around. This wasn't good! We all started running to get out the tunnel. This should have been fine, except when we came around the corner a track worker by himself was walking into the tunnel on the opposite side. Somehow we all decided spontaneously to start tip-toe running, like something out of Scooby Doo. The nature of the tunnel is that it's actually difficult to see people due to the lights, particularly when they're dressed in dark attire. As we passed, he spotted us, and enquired "What are you doing?" We didn't stop to ask, and he didn't seem too concerned. Our fears of swarms of workers outside the tunnel were unfounded, as it was deserted while we ran for the exit.

We went back to the drawing board so to speak, and also decided to give the area a wide berth for awhile. Instead of going behind the workers, we came up with the genius idea of going ahead of them. So we managed to judge the last train coming through, and before the tracklights came on. GE077 and I sat waiting at the tunnel entrance, the lights came on and we ran into the tunnel, trying to make distance. Passing where we'd got to before, we stopped to break out our cameras. The tunnel being mostly straight all the way to King's Cross.

Picture done, we jogged off again. The air temperature dropped, and we were at the end of the tunnel section. Following this is a section of numerous bridges crossing the tracks. The black iron section going across the roof of the tunnel is a branch of the River Fleet. The whole section of track from Farringdon to King's Cross runs in the Fleet Valley. This being where the River Fleet used to run, before being put into a brick sewer.

A bit further ahead an open cutting section with the mainline tracks appearing on the right.

The steel support beams holding the cutting open. There were a number of clusters of spare rails for quick repairs.

A sign we were in King's Cross finally, a warning for syringes from druggies. Obviously a bit out of date, as the area is undergoing gentrification.

A wall on the right separating the former Thameslink mainline station from the LU tracks. Just around the corner was the former King's Cross Metropolitan line station. It was at this point while foolishly looking into the back of the camera to check the shot, I neglected to notice two track workers in bright orange walking towards me. They were about half way between the red light and the bridge, on the same side of the tracks as me. Having the beautiful human quality of going from slightly on edge calm to full blown panic. I entered Scooby Doo tip toe style and nipped off from them. Hoping against incredible odds they hadn't seen me, and dived with a fully extended tripod behind some track cables. Then tried to lie as still as possible. The two guys walked by deep in conversation, not even looking in my direction. As they disappeared I was somewhere between befuddled and confused. Mainly though, I was relieved. Either they genuinely hadn't seen me, or they thought I was some tooled up hardened graffiti writer they didn't want to have to mess with. Either way I nipped around and hopped into the disused station. There GE077 was baffled as to how I'd managed to avoid the track workers. This track running lark is rather dodgy, you don't know where or when track workers are going to appear. It only takes a call on their walkie talkies to have the area swarming with cops.

I was keen to see how close I could get to the live King's Cross Metropolitan line station. Slowly getting closer I heard a phone ring. As I got closer still, I noticed a track worker talking on a phone on the wall. I tip toed (loving that word) back to where this shot was taken. One can just see the posters on the platform wall. The worker on the phone was at the entrance to the other platform out of shot.

I walked back to the platforms, only to see GE077 running off. The two workers who had passed me earlier were coming back. This place was a nightmare, who's idea was it?! I managed to again dive into a space in the wall on the platform as they passed. Again not noticed. I packed up and ran out the exit door, it was too stressful being here.


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