150 years of disasters at Liverpool Street Station

It is nearly 150 years old and the third busiest railway station in the U.K. and only behind London Waterloo and London Victoria Station with around 64 million passengers every year acting as a London gateway and exit to travellers from Cambridgeshire, Essex, Greater London, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.

But over the last century it’s seen more than its fair share of tragedy and in a way is symbolic of the way London always finds a way to raise itself from the ashes, often literally.

The station was first built way back in the days of the developing London Underground in 1874, and was to be the new terminus for the Great Eastern Railway’s network. The company operated lines to Norwich and King’s Lynn and needed a new, much bigger, station to replace its ageing terminus at Bishopsgate. The station gained its name from the street its sits on which had been named in 1829 after Tory Prime Minister Robert Jenkinson, the second Earl of Liverpool.

The East London Railway, which was being developed on the London Underground, was also to run from the station and it had a connection to the sub-surface Metropolitan Railway and would become a key hub on that line.

The station itself was built on the site of the Bethlehem Royal Hospital which had been a notorious home for mentally ill patients for centuries and which one way or the other forever gave its name to madness and chaos as locals shortened it to Bethlem and finally Bedlam!

Who would build a railway station over the bodies of ‘insane’ patients from medieval times? Madness!

Around 7,000 people living in tenement blocks had to be evicted to make way for the lines approaching Liverpool Street which shows something of the gung-ho attitude of the early railway planners.

Despite all this, it was opened for business in 1875 and was quickly running at capacity being visited by no less than 600 trains per day. By 1895 the station had been massively expanded so it had the most platforms of any London station.

But in June 1917, disaster struck as an air-raid was launched on London known as Operation Turkenkreuz. During this time, 20 Gotha G IV bombers attacked London and 200 tonnes of explosives were dropped. Three German bombs crashed down on Liverpool Street station with one hitting a carriage on a train that was about to depart and another hit carriages used by army medics.

A total of 16 people were tragically killed at the station and 15 more injured and as a mark of respect, those who died during the war were honoured with a marble memorial in the station booking hall in June 1922.

It was unveiled by senior British Army officer Sir Henry Wilson, but on his way home from the ceremony, tragedy struck for the second time. Incredibly he was assassinated and so his name was also added to the memorial.

Undaunted by such a setback and in true Bulldog spirit, during the 1920s and 30s the station continued to expand become one of London’s ‘big four’.

In the Second World War, in the late 1930s, thousands of children – Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria – arrived on trains as part of the Kindertransport trains to get them out of Nazi Europe where their lives were in danger. A memorial for this is still visible at the station today which I visit on my Great Crimes and Punishments Tour.

Remembering the Kindergarten Transport

Then further tragedy came. The station was again damaged by German bombs which fell nearby in World War 2. Liverpool Street Station also became a massive air-raid shelter for many from the Eas-End to shelter in its numerous deep tunnels as the Blitz rained down overhead.

As with much of London, by the time the early 1990s were arriving, much of the infrastructure was desperately needing renovation, renewal and expansion and just after this all happened in April 1993, the IRA detonated a massive bomb at Bishopsgate that shattered much of the glass in the beautiful station roof that forced a period of closure.

Even the 21st Century hasn’t brought peace as on the 7th July 2005, terrorists set off a bomb aboard an Underground train that had left Liverpool Street on its way to Aldgate with seven passengers tragically killed.

There can be few stations anywhere that have been hit by such a seemingly never-ending stream of disasters and yet today Liverpool Street Station is as beautiful as ever. It’s renowned Victorian architecture has been restored as has its stunning steel and glass roof arches over a beautiful piece of railway architecture.

It is to be hoped that the coming 150 years bring a little more calm to the station but maybe that would be hoping for too much.

A quiet moment at Liverpool Street on Friday.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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