Stranger Things #1

Where's the river gone?

The early engineers for the first London Underground faced numerous challenges as their subterranean navigation took them hither and yon – but none more so than the need to keep passengers at Sloane Square Station safe and dry.

Not a lot of people know this (to quote one famous South Londoner) the River Thames has a number of underground ‘little sister’ tributaries and one of them the Westbourne ran straight through the site of the newly commissioned Sloane Square St. – due to serve the Metropolitan District line in 1868. You didn’t need a university education to realise that the hidden waterway was regularly going to flood the new platforms. Whilst it was not a torrent of Amazonian proportions the Westbourne – rising on Hampstead heath and flowing down through Kilburn, Paddington and Hyde Park before joining big sister Thames – it could not be dammed and the engineers were lost for answers.

Many solutions were mooted and discarded e.g. building the station above ground (resulting in the demolition of many local dwellings) or a pumping station to raise and lower the level of the river (too expensive). However in a moment of Victorian brilliance it was decided to put the river ‘in a pipe’ to transport it harmlessly through the station! You can still see the pipe today if you look up from the platform on the station – it’s a big, green, angular, iron pipe running overhead that still carries the hidden Westbourne River safely over everybody’s heads. This is definitely one for your ‘hidden London’ trip plan.

Sadly Sloane Square was attacked during the Blitz in 1940 claiming the lives of 37 passengers and injuring 79. The ticket hall, escalators and roof were destroyed but the big, Victorian pipe containing the Westbourne River remained unscathed. Things were built to last in those days.