The history of London Liverpool Street station

Liverpool Street has a reputation as a steady commuter station having been built in the City of London

However, its Great Eastern lines also take passengers to holiday destinations and historical towns in the east of England. Called the ‘dark cathedral’ before its 1980s redevelopment, the station was praised for its radical modernisation whilst preserving the best of its railway heritage.

A new station for the City

When the Great Eastern Railway was formed in 1862 it quickly drew up plans for a new terminus in the heart of the City of London. It had inherited the nearby Bishopsgate station in Shoreditch from the Eastern Counties Railway, but this wasn’t big enough or convenient enough for the City commuters it hoped to attract.

It gained authorisation for an extension of the line from Bishopsgate to a new terminus just inside the City boundaries, and next door to the North London Railway’s Broad Street station. Broad Street station had been built on a high level on a viaduct. The Great Eastern Railway chose to do the opposite, taking the station to a low level below the street in an effort to join with the Metropolitan Railway.

The dark cathedral

The first suburban trains departed from a partially completed Liverpool Street station in 1874. The terminus’ ten platforms and completed station opened full in 1875 and the old Bishopsgate station was closed and turned into a goods yard.

The station was designed by the company’s engineer Edward Wilson in an L shape with suburban services operating from the shorter platforms, mainline services from the longer ones. The station also had offices for the Great Eastern Railway built into the scheme.

The trainshed was tall and built of wrought iron and glass its transept over the suburban lines immediately giving the station a cathedral like quality.

Over the next ten years demand for services, especially suburban commuter trains into the city from north east London soon outstripped capacity at the station. The GER acquired more land and extended the station to the east. This east side extension opened in 1894 added 8 new platforms housed under a much plainer trainshed roof.

Commuter services

Throughout the early twentieth century the Great Eastern Railway at Liverpool Street built up a steady and solid commuter base. It did look into the possibilities of electrification which was bringing increased capacity to other London stations, but it could not afford to invest.

With no further room to expand its station, the Great Eastern, and its successor the London & North Eastern Railway concentrated on developing and increasing its suburban steam services, a business model that continued until steam was withdrawn in the 1960s. Under its modernisation plan, British Railways electrified all suburban services running form Liverpool Street station, and all steam had been replaced by diesel locomotives by the end of 1962.

A marriage of old and new

A plan to demolish Liverpool Street, and its neighbour Broad Street, and replace them with an underground terminus with overhead office accommodation was first proposed by BR in 1975.

However there was a great deal of opposition to these plans; BR had to come up with a solution, and planning permission was sought for a new proposal which saw the demolition of Broad Street station and the sympathetic redevelopment of Liverpool Street. Permission was granted, and work started on the development in 1985. Broad Street station was demolished in 1986, and a new complex of shops, bars, restaurants and offices called the Broadgate Centre was built on the site.

In Liverpool Street station the 1894 eastern extension roof was demolished and overhead space was also used for office accommodation. The original trainshed roof was completely restored and extended to the south, the extension denoted by the subtly different coloured paint used on the supporting columns.

Quirky elements of the old station were restored and maintained, as were the poignant war memorials commemorating those GER and LNER staff that died during two world wars. A new light and spacious concourse was created with a new booking office, shops, cafes and a steel and glass walkway positioned at street level. The new entrances to the station at street level were marked by four Victorian style clock towers.

Did you know?

Liverpool Street is named after the British Prime Minister Lord Liverpool.