A Brief History Of The Bakerloo Line

By M@ Last edited 7 months ago

Last Updated 20 December 2023

A Brief History Of The Bakerloo Line

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A Bakerloo line carriage empty

What's brown, smelly and can be found under an Elephant? Yes, the jokes are all too easy with the Bakerloo line. It's London's tattiest route, with the oldest train carriages on the network. And what is that smell? Still, there's much to love about the line — from its handy connections to the eons-long drama about whether it'll get an extension. Here's everything you don't need to know about the line in a punchy, five-minute read.

See also: A brief history of the Central line

1898 (June): Work begins on what would eventually become the Bakerloo line. Construction is estimated to take four years, but ends up taking eight. Ahead of construction "six miles of photographs" are taken by Bolas and Co., documenting surface buildings. The point was to have a "before" record in case of subsidence, to help sort out litigation claims. Wonder if those photos are still sat in an archive somewhere?

1904 (26 January): Crooked businessman Whitaker Wright, who partly bankrolled the Bakerloo, is convicted of fraud at the Royal Courts of Justice and sentenced to seven years in jail. He commits suicide while still at the courthouse by swallowing cyanide, favouring the poison over the revolver he'd somehow smuggled into the courts. His death prompts a pause in construction.

1906 (10 March): The official opening of the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway — as practically nobody called it. The word Bakerloo had already been coined a few days before, as the most obvious portmanteau of the unwieldy name. This original stretch actually went a wee bit further than Waterloo, terminating at Lambeth North (then named Kennington Road). Today, Lambeth North is a relatively quiet station, but in the early 20th century it was on, or close to, several major tram routes.

The opening day saw a posse of dignitaries, including five mayors, ride the line from Trafalgar Square down to Kennington Road, and then back up to Baker Street. Unlike the Central line, which had opened six years before, there were no royals or American novelists aboard.

1906 (July): The name "Bakerloo line" is officially adopted by the Underground. That said, stuffier newspapers would still put it in quotation marks for years to come.

1906 (5 August): And now Elephant and Castle joins the party, becoming the new southern terminus. Despite frequent plans to extend the line still farther south and east (see later), the Elephant remains the limit for passengers — although drivers can enjoy a little more tunnel, built as part of an abandoned extension in the 1930s (see below).

1906 (August): The line suffers its first tragedy, when 22 year-old lift operator Charles John Barnett is crushed to death by the Elephant and Castle lift.

1907 (May): A second lift operator is killed, this time at Oxford Circus. According to the coroner's report, Alexander Eathorpe stepped through the lift doors at surface level, not noticing that the lift was down at the platforms. He fell 75 feet to his death.

1908: Stencilled lines are painted onto platforms to show waiting passengers where the train doors will stop — something we take for granted today, but a new idea at the time.

1912 (21 November): An irked J.W. Horsley writes to the Daily News editor, suggesting that the name Bakerloo be changed. "For years the line has not had either Baker-street or Waterloo as its termini... why should it not indicate its real route by being called the Elepadd or the Paddiphant?"

an old route sign showing stops on the bakerloo

1913: The first sizeable extension to the line sees the Bakerloo push north-west through Marylebone and Edgware Road to Paddington.

1913: Also this year, the Lord Mayor of London David Burnett calls for a southern extension to the (still standing) Crystal Palace. Nothing comes of it.

1915: The Bakerloo northern extension pushes on as far as Queen's Park.

1917: Just two years later, the line gets its most far-reaching extension, now heading all the way to Watford Junction. Londoners flock in almost dozens for a day out in Watford.

1931: One of the first serious proposals to extend the line south is made, taking the brown line to Camberwell and Denmark Hill. The plans are even approved. Sadly, the extension languished in development hell, and was indefinitely postponed six years later. The war killed off any immediate prospects of southerly extension.

1939 (20 November): The northern Bakerloo gets a radical (and, to modern eyes, confusing) overhaul. The brown line takes over track from Baker Street to Stanmore — which was previously a Metropolitan service, but is today Jubilee. Two new stations, St John's Wood and Swiss Cottage, are also introduced; three old Met stations, Lord's, Marlborough Road, and the old Swiss Cottage, are closed. Told you it was confusing.

1949: With the second world war out of the way, plans for a southern extension to Camberwell are revived, and even appear on tube maps. Guess what happened?

1955 (2 March): The future King Charles III makes his tube debut. The eager young prince makes his way down to the Bakerloo platforms at Trafalgar Square station (now Charing Cross). He doesn't catch a train, but spends half an hour engaging in a bout of train spotting.

Bakerloo line moquette
Old seat moquette

1979 (1 May): The Stanmore branch of the Bakerloo is transferred to the new Jubilee line. Most stations along this route have now been part of three lines (Metropolitan, Bakerloo and Jubilee).

1982: In another shuffle of allegiance, the Bakerloo is scaled back in its northern regions to terminate at Stonebridge Park.

1984: The Bakerloo begins to creep north again, with some services now going as far as Harrow & Wealdstone. This remains the line's terminus today.

1989: "Let's extend the Bakerloo line south!" concludes a major report into London's rail networks. Two schemes are proposed: one to Lewisham along the Old Kent Road, and the other out into Docklands to support the growing business district at Canary Wharf. Guess which happened? That's right, neither. The Jubilee line had the pleasure of tunnelling into the docks, while the Lewisham plan was put on ice for two decades.

2016: The Bakerloo continues to use its ageing 1972 stock cars, but this year sees newly refurbished and upholstered units entering service.

2017: TfL announces that the Bakerloo will be extended south to Lewisham along Old Kent Road, with possible further routes to Hayes and Beckenham. Where have we heard that before? Plans progress well until the pandemic and subsequent funding crisis put the scheme on indefinite hold.

2021 (3 January): The line's 1972 stock trains become the oldest non-heritage trains in daily passenger use anywhere in the Kingdom. This, after the withdrawal of the Isle of Wight's former underground trains from 1938.

2030s-40: The ancient 1972 stock carriages may finally be replaced, having served Bakerloo passengers for four-score and ten.

2106: Virtual Merge-Mayor Ken Boris Sadiq Rory Izzard III announces that the Bakerloo will finally be extended south to Lewisham.