The history of Birmingham New Street station

New Street has seen significant changes in its history.  

Birmingham was the northern terminus of the first inter city railway from London and growing demand for rail services in the 19th century led to the development of a station which was the largest in the country.

Railway modernisation in the 20th century was not kind to Birmingham New Street, but today significant investment in redeveloping the station will turn it into a 21st century transport hub.

The first link with London

The original passenger station for Birmingham was at Curzon Street, opened by the London & Birmingham Railway in 1838. It was joined next door by a station for the Grand Junction Railway and a short distance away by another for the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway.

Curzon Street was the northern terminus of the London & Birmingham line and was designed by Philip Hardwick to echo his grand arch at Euston. However the station was quickly overwhelmed by increasing rail traffic as Birmingham became an important hub for industry and commerce, and the station became inconveniently situated at the fringes of the growing city.

After the merger of the London & Birmingham and Grand Junction railways into the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) in 1846, it was decided a new, more conveniently located station would be built. It would become known as Birmingham New Street and agreement was made to allow this new station to be used by the Midland Railway, which had incorporated the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway in 1844. 

Construction

The original New Street station was designed by Edward Alfred Cowper and constructed by Messrs. Fox, Henderson & Co, who had also built Paddington Station and the Crystal Palace. When it was completed New Street had the largest single span arched roof in the world, being 212ft wide and 840ft long and covering four through platforms and four turntable roads for marshalling trains. Because of the station’s large size and location in the centre of the city a footbridge was built to provide public access from one side of Birmingham to the other.

New Street was initially opened to passengers in 1851 and went on to be officially opened in a low key manner on 1 June 1854. The Queen’s Hotel was opened on the same day and designed to meet passenger demand for accommodation in the city. Designed by William Livock, it was a four storey building with an original 60 rooms in a plain, Italianate style which gave New Street its general appearance. Curzon Street closed to passenger trains and became primarily a goods station. 

Extension

By the late nineteenth century an extension to New Street was necessary and it was decided that both the LNWR and the Midland Railway who shared the station would contribute financially. The extension was designed by Francis Stevenson, Chief Engineer for the LNWR and made on the south side of the station for the use of the Midland Railway, while LNWR services occupied the original north side of the station.

The plans integrated the whole of Great Queen Street (Queen’s Drive) which became a carriageway through the centre of the station and the number of platforms increased to 15.  The extension nearly doubled the size of the original building and New Street became the biggest station in the country at over 12 acres when it opened on 8 February 1885.

Further enlargements were made in the early twentieth century when the LNWR extended the Queens Hotel, which was doubled in size after the addition of a new West wing in 1917.

West Coast Main Line Modernisation

In World War II New Street suffered significant bomb damage which led to extensive work being done to the station structure, including replacing the roof and the remodelling of the public footbridge. Other improvements were planned, but its city centre location made a major rebuild difficult and costly. However in the 1950’s the decision was made to modernise the West Coast Main Line, and this included New Street station. The nineteenth century station was demolished, along with the Queen’s Hotel in 1964.

The second New Street station was designed by Kenneth J. Davies, planner for British Railways London Midland Region. The remodel included a concrete deck above the platforms which was supported by 200 columns. British Railways sold the air rights above the station which allowed the construction of the Birmingham Shopping Centre (now known as the Pallasades) on top of the concrete deck.

The new station was designed with 12 through platforms and the inner ring road was linked to the station at deck level rather than having the Queens Drive carriageway running through the centre. The development also included the Stephenson Tower, a 20 storey office and accommodation block. The new station opened in 1967 and coincided with the electrification of the line between Birmingham and Euston.

Telecommunications and signalling were also modernised with the opening of a new signal box which centralised the control of train movements in the area. This box was designed by Bicknell & Hamilton and W.R. Healey the British Railways London Midland Region Architect and was completed in 1964. It is now a Grade II listed building. 

The Newest New Street

Birmingham New Street has been the focus of much criticism since its modernisation. Over 140,000 passengers use New Street every day, more than double the number it was designed to accommodate and today it is the busiest station outside London.

In 2006 Network Rail announced a regeneration scheme for New Street and work on the station started in 2010. Alongside the station redevelopment, the shopping centre above the station was upgraded and opened as Grand Central alongside a new John Lewis department store.

The redevelopment was completed in 2015. The new concourse is three times larger and is enclosed by a giant atrium, allowing natural light throughout the station. The redevelopment has transformed the experience for passengers, improving links to and through the city centre and is a catalyst for growth for the local area's economy.

Did you know?

The original Birmingham New Street had the largest single span iron and glass arched roof in the world - a record it held until the opening of St Pancras in 1868.