The history of London Waterloo station

Waterloo is Britain’s largest and busiest station.

London Waterloo has always been a place for important arrivals and departures, whether city commuters, holiday makers, Epsom race goers or armed forces.

elevation of main entrance at London Waterloo station

Serving city and country

Replacing the first terminus of the London & Southampton Railway at Nine Elms, Waterloo Station was opened in 1848 by the London & South Western Railway as part of extending the line two miles to be nearer the city. This original station, known as ‘central station’, had six platforms.

From its very earliest days the station was popular with race goers travelling to Epsom; the original station opening in 1848 was brought forward a week to enable passengers to travel to the Derby by rail for the first time.

The passenger experience

Through the remainder of the 19th century, Waterloo was extended in an ad-hoc way to cope with demand. In 1860 the ‘Windsor station’ was opened on the north-west side of the original central platforms. In 1878 Waterloo gained an additional two platforms on the south-east side for mainline suburban trains in an extension known as the ‘south station’. In 1885 the ‘north’ station was opened, adding a further six platforms bringing the total at Waterloo to eighteen.

It was however a confusing station for passengers with platforms divided between four different sections of the station, unclear platform numbering, four areas which were classed as concourses and poor information displays. There were significant delays to services as the whole station was served by just four approach lines, and difficult ticketing arrangements with rival railway companies such as the South Eastern Railway did not help.

A new station is designed

In 1899 London & South Western Railway (as the London & Southampton had become) sought permission to completely rebuild and expand the station. The Company sent its chief engineer J W Jacomb-Hood to America to gather information on termini buildings to assist its redesign.

Over twenty years as building work took place, Waterloo became a spacious station with a large open concourse. With 21 platforms under a huge ridge-and-furrow roof it became light and airy compared to the dark maze it once was. Widely praised for its architecture, the new curved building to the front of the station housed the LSWR’s offices and facilities for passengers including a large booking hall and upstairs dining room which were simple and elegant with Georgian style panelling in the dining room and Edwardian decoration in the bars.

The Victory Arch

As the station rebuild was drawing to a close, and as a memorial to their staff that died in the First World War, the LSWR commissioned the Victory Arch; designed by J R Scott, their chief architect and made of Portland stone and bronze it depicts War and Peace, with Britannia holding the torch of liberty above. Leading from Station Approach onto the concourse, the Victory Arch forms the main entrance to Waterloo.

International rail services

Waterloo remained largely unchanged until early 1990s when platforms 20 and 21 were demolished to make way for Waterloo International. Opened in 1994 this was the terminus for Eurostar services running through the new Channel Tunnel. However on completion of the new high speed line in 2007, Eurostar services were taken instead to St Pancras and the international platforms at Waterloo closed.

In July 2012 a first-floor balcony opened at Waterloo to help reduce congestion at the station in time for the London Olympic Games. Space has been created for passengers on the concourse by repositioning shops from the middle of the main concourse onto the balcony. With new escalators and lifts Waterloo station now provides step-free access to its neighbouring station, Waterloo East.

Did you know?

Waterloo provided the terminus of the London Necropolis Company. Opened in 1854, the small, private station was designed to accommodate mourners and hold funeral services before coffins were transported for burial at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

The original station building was demolished in 1902 to make way for the expansion of Waterloo; its successor was destroyed during an air raid in 1941 and never rebuilt.

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London Waterloo station