Victoria is two stations in one, telling the story of intense rivalry between railway companies in the 19th century.
Located in the heart of London’s west end and offering speedy connections to seaside resorts, sea ports and Gatwick airport, Victoria Station has always been associated with train travel for pleasure.
Competition for London’s West End
Competing for a line into the West End of London, the London Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBCSR) and the London Chatham & Dover Railway (LCDR) decided to pool their resources and back the Victoria Station & Pimlico Railway. This company had been authorised to build an extension of the line from the West End & Crystal Palace Railway’s ‘West End’ terminus (which was in fact across the river at Battersea), over the River Thames along with a new station at Victoria Street, just a few hundred yards from Buckingham Palace which was truly in the west end of the capital.
Access to Victoria Station was to be reached by the newly constructed Grosvenor Bridge, the first railway bridge to cross the Thames in London and designed for the Victoria Station & Pimlico Railway by John Fowler. Fourteen acres of land had been purchased for the new terminus.
The LBCSR’s side of the station, designed by their engineer Robert Jacomb Hood, was finished first and opened on 1 October 1860. The LCDR’s station on the east side of the site opened two years later on 25 August 1862 with a trainshed roof designed and constructed by their engineer Sir John Fowler.
Two stations – two designs
To please the rich and influential residents of Pimlico and Belgravia, the railway companies had to enclose with a roof the tracks from the station back to Ecclestone Bridge, in order to protect them from the noise, soot and smoke of the steam engines. This meant that little money was left to create proper station buildings; both companies erected crude wooden huts which welcomed travellers on arrival, and these remained unchanged for the next forty years.
Both companies decided to upgrade their respective stations towards the end of the nineteenth century. The London Brighton & South Coast Railway moved first, buying the independent Grosvenor Hotel next to their part of the station in 1899 and extending it to form their new frontage. Designed by LBSCR’s chief engineer Sir Charles Morgan it was built in red brick and adorned with a large clock set in a scroll, giving it an elaborate Edwardian Baroque style to compliment the Grosvenor Hotel. The old trainshed roof was replaced to cover newly extended platforms which could receive longer trains. With an exclusive entrance in Buckingham Palace Road was also created for use by the royal family the new station opened in 1908.
Two stations become one
Not to be outdone, the South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SECR), which the LDCR had joined in 1899, commissioned AW Blomfield to design a new station. The 1860s Fowler trainshed roof was retained; the main buildings were designed and constructed in a very different style to that of the LBSCR.
The SECR station was set slightly in front of its neighbour, and built in white Portland stone, to reinforce the separation between the two companies. This new station opened in 1909. This separation of the two stations was maintained until railway grouping in 1923 when both the LBSCR and the SECR became part of the Southern Railway. The Southern Railway set about integrating the two stations, opening up archways in the party walls that divided the two halves.
The glamour of holiday travel to Brighton and the Continent had been a feature of Victoria since the 1870s, but it was the early twentieth century saw the heyday of travel for pleasure from the station. In the 1930s services such as the Brighton Belle and the overnight ‘boat train’ services to France and Belgium were introduced.
Just before world war two, the Southern Railway briefly experimented with a new ‘flying boat’ service with a connection from Victoria to the new commercial airfield at Southampton. This connection with international travel was rejuvenated with the opening of Gatwick Airport in 1958 and the introduction of the first rail-air terminal at Victoria where passengers could check in to their flight prior to catching their flight at Gatwick. This developed into the Gatwick Express service, introduced in 1984.
Victoria station has developed through the years, with recent additions being made to update passenger facilities. The 1980’s saw the removal of the ‘Brighton’ side roof to make way for Victoria Plaza – a multi-storey office and shop complex. In 1992 the station site was tidied and enlarged, with the two concourses becoming even more integrated through a series of matching shops built through the archway of the original dividing wall.
Did you know?
Victoria Station was first referred to as the ‘Grosvenor Terminus’ as it was built on the site of old Grosvenor Canal basin. It was eventually named after nearby Victoria Street, rather than Queen Victoria.