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Opened in 1866, London Cannon Street connects the south and south east of London with the city, serving as an intermediate station between London Bridge and Charing Cross.

It has an iconic design, conceived by Sir John Hawkshaw and John Wolfe Barry, and is characterised by its two Wren-style towers which remain today. The building has been through significant redevelopment over the years, and today sees an average of 22 million passengers passing through the station.

Origins

London Cannon Street, also known as City Terminus, was opened on 1st September 1866 by the South Eastern Railway and was designed by Sir John Wolfe Barry and Sir John Hawkshaw. It was built as a terminal to compete with the London, Chatham and Dover Railway who, in 1864, had obtained powers to build a station at Holborn Viaduct. At the time of construction, it had a station roof longer than that of neighbouring Charing Cross.  

Cannon Street Bridge, built to cross the Thames, incorporated two footpaths, a public tollpath and one exclusively for railway employees. Also designed by Sir John Hawkshaw it opened with the station in 1866. It was originally named ‘Alexandra Bridge’ in honour of Princess Alexandra of Denmark, wife of Edward Prince of Wales.

In its first year of operation around eight million passengers passed through Cannon Street Station. The independent City Terminus Hotel fronting the station followed later in 1867, designed by Edward Middleton Barry. It was taken over by the South Eastern Railway in 1872.

Record Breaking

The original station signal box was located on a gantry across the bridge spanning its width and contained 67 levers. The bridge was widened in 1893 from 66ft 8in to 120ft and two new signal boxes were built to replace the original. Box No.1 contained 243 manual levers and, at the time, had the most levers in any single box in Britain. The widened bridge held the distinction of being the widest railway bridge in the world at the time.

Improvements

In the 1920s the Southern Railway rebuilt the platforms, renovated and cleaned the roof, installed four-aspect colour-light signalling and the number of platforms was reduced from nine to eight. In 1931 the Cannon Street Hotel was closed and turned into an office building called Southern House.

The Second World War

During the Second World War the glazing from the station roof was removed and stored off site in a factory to save it from damage. Unfortunately, the factory was bombed and the glazing was destroyed. The station did not escape war damage. In December 1940 the station was hit by incendiary bombs but were extinguished quickly. The most damage occurred in May 1941 when two high explosive bombs fell on the station and hotel, severely damaging the roof and gutting two floors of the hotel with fire. Because of the destruction of the glazing and the fire damage to the roof, it was not replaced, the skeleton ribs of the roof were left to stand for another ten years.

Modernisation

In 1958, as part of British Rail’s modernisation plans, the train shed roof was demolished and Southern House followed in 1963. The station platforms were lengthened again in 1957.

In 1962 plans were drawn up for a multi-storey office building to replace the station roof and was scheduled to be completed by 1965. It was designed by John Poulson. By the late 1960s the only original features to survive were the two towers and part of the station building side walls.

Despite rumours of closure, British Rail invested a lot of money redeveloping and restoring the station throughout the 1980s. This included the re-decking of the railway bridge and restoring the two original Wren-style station towers.

The weathervanes were gilded to compliment the nearby dome of St Pauls Cathedral and was one of the first major projects for the Railway Heritage Trust.

In 2019, as part of a £45m artwork project, Cannon Street Bridge was lit up using new LED lights, replacing the ineffective and outdated lighting on the bridge. These new sequenced pattern lights will reduce energy consumption and reduce light spill onto the river.

Today the station sees an average of 22 million passengers passing through the station per year.

Did you know?

The station was built on the site of a medieval steel yard owned by the Hanseatic League, a merchant guild of north western and central Europe. They occupied the site from 1250 until 1852 when it was sold to the South Eastern Railway.

The name of the station and Cannon Street itself is not derived from the armament but from the term ‘Candelwykestrete’ which means ‘makers of candles’.

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