Bishopsgate Railway Terminus

Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1957.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.

'Bishopsgate Railway Terminus', in Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, (London, 1957) pp. 252-255. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

In this section

CHAPTER XVIII - Bishopsgate Railway Terminus

The Shoreditch Terminus of the Eastern Counties Railway Line


The original station on this site was the London passenger terminus of the railway line from Norwich and Yarmouth built by the Eastern Counties Railway Company under an Act of 4 July 1836. (fn. 1) Until 1846 it was known as Shoreditch Station and thereafter officially as Bishopsgate Station.

In December 1834 the company contemplated placing the terminus in the vicinity of Brick Lane. (fn. 2) By the Act of 1836 the terminus was authorized to be sited ’at or near High Street, Shoreditch’. The building of the line was begun in March 1837. (fn. 3) By October 1838 the company was discussing the amount of land to be purchased for the site of the terminus, (fn. 4) and in February 1839 it was decided to proceed with the construction of the passenger terminus at Shoreditch, according to the plan and model submitted by the company's engineer, John Braithwaite. It was to contain five sidings. (fn. 5) In the following month a tender of some £17,500 for the construction of the station and adjacent viaduct was accepted from Mr. Curtis. (fn. 6)

Most of the purchases for the terminus and final stretch of line through Spitalfields were made in 1839 and 1840. (fn. 7) The line through the outskirts of London was raised on viaducts, and the estimated expense was greatly exceeded because of ’the unexpected varying and extraordinary increase of the depth in the foundations of nearly all the piers and abutments, consequent upon passing thro’ crowded building property, intersected with sewers, old ditches and numerous cesspools’. (fn. 8)

By June 1839 the station was ’in progress’, (fn. 9) and a temporary station was opened at Devonshire Street, Mile End, as terminus of the stretch of line from Romford. (fn. 10) The construction of a temporary station at Brick Lane was considered in March 1840 but it was decided instead to open the line to Shoreditch as soon as possible. (fn. 11)

In the meantime, in July 1839, the Northern and Eastern Railway Company had obtained statutory authority to abandon its intended ter minus at Islington and to share the line to Shoreditch with the Eastern Counties Railway Company. (fn. 12) By this Act a station was to be provided for the Northern and Eastern Company ’near to the London Depot or Terminus of the said Eastern Counties Railway’. The management of the station was vested in the latter company, which was empowered to enlarge its station. A correspondent writing to The Builder in 1886 said that ’John Braithwaite to some extent anticipated the development of traffic and proposed a double station, one for the [Northern and Eastern] Cambridge line and another [Eastern Counties] to Colchester, making a much more imposing work, but financial difficulties supervened’. (fn. 13) There may have been a modification in the plans for the station at this time as Braithwaite submitted further plans for the ’proposed stations at Shoreditch and Brentwood’ in March 1840 and in May was required to choose any plan or estimate not exceeding £4,800. (fn. 14)

By November the terminus was sufficiently advanced for the closing of the Devonshire Street station to be considered. (fn. 15) Work continued on it, however, until at least the autumn of 1842. In January 1841 the company had resolved that ’the utmost possible simplicity and economy be required to be kept in view’ in the remaining work on the terminus. (fn. 16) In June it was decided to enlarge the terminus: details of this are not known, but in October the ’Carriage-Road’ on the south side of the station was ordered to be extended, at an estimated cost of £72O. (fn. 17) By the following year some ’opposition of the parish authorities’ had been overcome, (fn. 18) and in September Braithwaite reported that ’the most essential part of the London Terminus is fast approaching completion; and the Offices are now occupied by the respective departments of both Companies’. (fn. 19) The ’South Angle Tower’ was still being discussed in October, but the work was probably completed soon afterwards. In the autumn and following spring the opening of an hotel at the terminus was being negotiated, and by April 1843 attention was turned to the construction of the goods station in Bethnal Green. (fn. 20)

In December 1844 it was reported that the company intended to extend the line ’to the Cityroad, near Old-street’, (fn. 21) but this was not done.

It has been supposed that the station which was replaced by the Bishopsgate Goods Station and which is shown on Plate 50a was built in 1849 by Sancton Wood, the architect of Cambridge and other Eastern Counties stations and of Kings bridge Station, Dublin, to replace the station built in c. 1840, which is attributed to William Evill. (fn. 22) In 1846 and 1847 the company, under the influence of George Hudson, who had become chairman in 1845, obtained authority to enlarge the terminus. (fn. 23) Nevertheless, an aerial view of the terminus in 1843 (fn. 24) and descriptions of the station in 1844 and 1847 (fn. 25) make it evident that the station built in 1839–42 was essentially that which was replaced in 1878 by the Bishopsgate Goods Station. An analysis of the company's accounts from 1845 to 1849 given in a report of a committee of shareholders made in the latter year makes no mention of a rebuilding of the terminus. (fn. 26) The embarrassed state of the company's finances at this time would not have made it easy to carry out the enlargements authorized in 1846 and 1847, and in November 1847 it was reported that the project had been abandoned. (fn. 27) In July 1848 some ground scheduled ’for the enlargement of this station as contemplated in 1846’ was ordered to be purchased. (fn. 28) There may have been some east ward extension at this time but there can hardly have been substantial alterations in the main structure of the station.

In the obituary notice of Sancton Wood published in The Builder in 1886 he was said by a former pupil to have been ’engaged by Mr. John Braithwaite to design the station buildings on the Eastern Counties Railway, and was the architect of the old terminus at Shoreditch’. The correspondent already quoted commented on this that ’his design for the Eastern Counties Terminus was a very different thing from what was executed’, and appears to have identified Wood's design with Braithwaite's abortive project for a ’double station’. (fn. 29) Wood may well have been responsible for the design of the buildings surrounding the platforms and sheds. In the company minute books, however, only Braithwaite's name is mentioned in connexion with the design of the station. Braithwaite was explicitly said to have designed the sheds in the description of the station by William Evill published in The Builder in Decem ber 1844. (fn. 30) In 1845 Sancton Wood prepared plans for the enlargement of the northern, departure, side of the terminus, and also for the building of a goods station in Bethnal Green, both of which he was required to submit to Mr. Robert Stephenson for approval. In May a tender of some £16,000 for the construction of the goods station was accepted, but the work at the terminus was postponed and when in August Wood submitted plans for ’temporary alterations’ costing £4,000 or less orders were given for new plans to be prepared ’on a more limited scale’, (fn. 31) suggesting that any alterations for which Wood was then responsible were not on a very large scale.

In November 1843 a correspondent of The Builder had commended the use of corrugated iron roofing ’like to the most beautiful roof at the Eastern Counties Railway, Shoreditch, excelled nowhere in elegance, lightness and simplicity’. (fn. 32) The station was raised on brick arches, and to avoid the effects of vibration the arches supporting the roof-columns of the shed were independent of those supporting the concourse. The corrugated iron roof of three semi-elliptical spans was supported by two ranges of seventeen cast iron columns, centred at 13 feet 9 inches and linked by light arched ribs. The roof over the middle aisle spanned 36 feet and was raised to admit a light arcaded iron and glass clerestory on each side. The side aisles each spanned 20 feet 6 inches and were day-lit by small circular roof lights, one over each bay. The roof was erected by Messrs. Walker and Sons, of Bermondsey, who purchased the patent of Mr. H. R. Palmer, the inventor and patentee of the corrugated iron, at a charge including fixing of £6 10s. per square of 100 superficial feet, the whole cost of the three roofs being £1,365. A full description is given in The Builder, 1844, pp. 638–9.

The stone-faced exterior of the station was a well composed Italianate design. The concourse was flanked on the north and south sides by long two-storeyed ranges, terminated at the west end, and probably at the east, by boldly projecting pavilions crowned with attic storeys. The western pavilions were linked by the recessed screen-wall fronting the concourse, its two storeys raised on a rusticated basement against which twin stairways rose, left and right, to a doorway in the return face of each pavilion. Before the west front was a semi-circular court or area, partly enclosed by the ramped approach roads leading from the street to the raised concourse. The rusticated basement formed a plinth for the Doric pilastered first storey, where each pavilion had three rectangular windows placed between single pilasters, and the main front had seven arch-headed windows ranged between paired pilasters. This arrangement was reversed in the second storey where the three windows of each pavilion had arched-heads linked by bard-imposts, and the seven rectangular windows of the main front were dressed with corniced architraves, the central window being emphasized with a triangular pediment. The attic windows were rectangular and each pavilion was finished with a bold bracketed entablature and a blocking-course. The two-storeyed north front was feirly simple in expression, with a triangular pediment to rnark the position of the booking-hall entrance.

Originally there were three lines of rails, with a gauge of five feet, under the central span of roof, and one line of rails and a platform under each side span. The station appears to have been considerably altered before 1873, for the Ordnance Survey map of that date shows that the southern range of roof-supporting columns had been removed, and the southern platform curtailed, whereas the departure platform and north range of offices had been considerably lengthened (fig. 64).

In 1851 a guide to London at the time of the Great Exhibition called the station ’a series of elegant buildings in the Italian style of architecture’, (fn. 33) but a more critical guide of the same period thought it ’small and confined’ compared with Euston and King's Cross and regretted that ’a more monumental character’ had not been given to the central block. ’It is respectable, but feeble, in its architectural effect; too much cut up into small parts, and without mass.’ (fn. 34)

By 1857 complaint was being made, both of the difficulty of access to the station and of its inadequacy: a Letter to the Proprietors by John Wallen observed that ’so great confusion exists at busy hours of the day, that passengers accustomed to other lines are frequently heard expressing their disgust and (what is of more consequence to you) they visit it as little as possible’. (fn. 35)

Bishopsgate Goods Station

The opening of Liverpool Street Station in November 1875 allowed the Great Eastern Railway Company, in which the Eastern Counties Railway Company had been merged, to close the Bishopsgate terminus as a passenger station and convert it into a goods depôt. In December 1876 plans for the conversion were ordered to be prepared. (fn. 36) By September 1878 a tender for the first part of the contract was accepted (fn. 37) and in May 1879 the clearance and rebuilding of the substructure were completed. It was then intended that the work should be performed under five contracts, (fn. 38) but the same contractors were apparently employed throughout, (fn. 39) In March 1880 the cost of the conversion was estimated at over £250,000. (fn. 40) By May the old facade and side walls had been completely removed. (fn. 41)

Figure 64:

Shoreditch terminus of Eastern Counties railway, lay-out plan. Based on the Ordnance Survey 1873–5

In January 1881 the station was opened for general traffic but a further £150,000 was intended to be spent to enable it to receive the additional traffic caused by the opening of the ’Northern Extension’ between Spalding and Sleaford. (fn. 42) In all, some £422,000 was spent on the station between December 1877 and June 1885. (fn. 43)

The station (Plate 50b) was designed by the company's engineer, Alfred A. Langley, and built by Messrs. Vernon and Ewens of Cheltenham. (fn. 41)

In 1881 it was proposed to establish a vegetable market at the station but this was successfully challenged by the freeholder and lessee of Spitalfields Market as an infringement of their monopoly rights. (fn. 44)

At the same time as the building of the Goods Station, the line between Brick Lane and the Bishopsgate Low Level Station situated under Commercial Street was enlarged, to relieve Liverpool Street Station of some of the ’excursion traffic’. (fn. 38) Further extension of this station was intended in 1884 and 1885. (fn. 45) The Low Level Station was closed to passenger traffic in 1916. (fn. 46)

The main building at Bishopsgate Goods Station has three lofty storeys. The first is a street-level basement, the second is the goods station, and the third is a warehouse with an iron and glass roof supported by lattice girders, resting on massive iron columns, ranging north to south. The warehouse floor is similarly supported, and the basement below the railway tracks consists of a series of tunnel-vaults, forming roadways and loading bays for the road transport lorries. The north and south side elevations are evenly divided into pediment-gabled bays by rusticated pilasters of white brick, rising from the blue brick piers of the basement arches. The red brick face of each bay contains two tiers of three grouped windows, dressed with white brick, the lower windows having stilted segmental-arched heads, whereas the upper are round-arched. A corbel-table underlines the upper storey and there is a small round window in the pediment-gable. A later twostoreyed addition of irregular plan almost conceals the original front from view. The lower part of this front is open, and massive piers of blue brick, five feet square, support the girders carrying the front of the offices in the upper storey. This is of dark red brick, and in the centre and at each end is a projecting bay containing a group of four round-headed windows. Between the bays are two ranges of nine windows with stilted segmentalarched heads. All the windows are dressed with white brick and moulded terra-cotta. Across the front extends a bracketed entablature of terracotta, its Italianate detail reminiscent of Fowke and Verity's work at South Kensington. The front additions have simple elevations of red brick, divided into bays by rusticated pilasters of white brick. Each bay contains a pair of round-headed windows and is finished with a corbel-table below the parapet.


  • 1. 6 and 7 William IV, c. 106, local and personal.
  • 2. B.T.H.R., Prospectus of Eastern Counties Railway Company, 1 Dec. 1834.
  • 3. Great Eastern Railway Magazine, vol. 3, 1913, p. 115.
  • 4. B.T.H.R., E.C.1.3, 16, 23 Oct. 1838 (Eastern Counties Railway Company Board Minutes).
  • 5. Ibid., 28 Feb. 1839.
  • 6. Ibid., 19 March 1839.
  • 7. British Railways (Eastern Region) Great Eastern deeds S/2, at Marylebone Station.
  • 8. B.T.H.R., E.C.1.5, 6 Sept. 1842.
  • 9. Tallis, London Street Views, N.D. Shoreditch division II.
  • 10. The Railway Magazine by John Herapath, vol. vi, new series, 1839, p. 404.
  • 11. B.T.H.R., E.C.1.5, 3 March 1840.
  • 12. 2 and 3 Vict., c. 78, local and personal.
  • 13. The Builder, 29 May 1886, pp. 795–6.
  • 14. B.T.H.R., E.C.1.5, 17 March, 5 May 1840.
  • 15. Ibid., 25 Nov. 1840.
  • 16. Ibid., 22 Jan. 1841.
  • 17. Ibid., 8 June, 5 Oct. 1841.
  • 18. Ibid., 10 Aug. 1841, 8 Feb. 1842.
  • 19. Ibid., 6 Sept. 1842.
  • 20. Ibid., 11 Oct., 6 Dec. 1842, 11 April 1843.
  • 21. The Builder, 28 Dec. 1844, p. 643.
  • 22. Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Early Victorian Architecture in Britain, 1954, vol. i, p. 524.
  • 23. 9 and 10 Vict., c. 258; 10 and 11 Vict., c. 147, both local and personal.
  • 24. A Cosmoramic View of London, published by E. Wallis, June 1843.
  • 25. The Builder, 28 Dec. 1844, pp. 638–9; A Guide to the Eastern Counties Railway, 2nd ed., printed and published by Stevenson and Matchett,Norwich, 1847 (B.M. 10358.C.25).
  • 26. Report of the Committee of Investigation to the Shareholders of the Eastern Counties Railway Company, 1849 (B.M. 82351.50).
  • 27. Herapath's Journal, 13 Nov. 1847.
  • 28. B.T.H.R., E.C.1.37, 13 July 1848 (Eastern Counties Railway Traffic Committee Minutes).
  • 29. The Builder, 22, 29 May 1886, pp. 761, 795–6.
  • 30. Ibid., 28 Dec. 1844, pp. 638–9.
  • 31. B.T.H.R.,E.C.1.37,17and 24 April, 1,23 May, 10 July, 1, 27 Aug. 1845.
  • 32. The Builder, 25 Nov. 1843, p. 511.
  • 33. Tallis's Illustrated London, in Commemoration of the Great Exhibition of 1851 ... by William Gaspey, N.D., vol. ii, p. 186.
  • 34. London Exhibited in 1851, ed. John Weale, p. 812.
  • 35. The Eastern Counties Railway and District . . . A Letter to the Proprietors by John Wallen etc ., 1857, p. 5 (copy in B.M.).
  • 36. B.T.H.R., G.E.1/179, 12 Dec. 1876.
  • 37. Ibid., G.E.1/14, 11 Sept. 1878.
  • 38. The Builder, 10 May 1879, p. 510.
  • 39. B.T.H.R., G.E.1/165, 10 Oct. 1879.
  • 40. The Builder, 13 March 1880, p. 312.
  • 41. The Railway News, 29 May 1880.
  • 42. B.T.H.R., Great Eastern Railway Company. Report of the Directors to the 37th half-yearly General Meeting, 28 Jan. 1881.
  • 43. Ibid., Details of Expenditure on Capital Account.
  • 44. Ibid., G.E.1/96, 17 May, 7 June, 19 July 1881; G.E. Rly. Co., Directors' Report, 29 July 1884.
  • 45. Ibid., G.E. Rly. Co., Directors' Reports, 29 July 1884, 28 July 1885.
  • 46. Information supplied by British Railways (East ern Region).