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City Road and York Road: Story of Islington’s abandoned Tube stations

PUBLISHED: 09:00 24 June 2017 | UPDATED: 14:17 03 July 2017

City Road station pictured in 1915. Picture: Transport for London

City Road station pictured in 1915. Picture: Transport for London

Archant

Spooky shells of two Underground stations survive to this day in Islington.

York Road station's booking hall, pictured in 1915. Picture: Transport for LondonYork Road station's booking hall, pictured in 1915. Picture: Transport for London

Islington is a destination. People travel from way out to visit our borough. Whether it’s clubbing at Fabric (Farringdon), dining in Upper Street (Angel) or shopping in the Nag’s Head (Holloway Road), our Tube stations attract hundreds of thousands of people every week.

Islington is so popular, and has such a dense population, that people would probably welcome a couple of extra stops.

But in fact spooky shells of two Underground stations survive to this day.

They are City Road station, in between Old Street and Angel on the Northern line; and York Road (now York Way) station, in the middle of King’s Cross St Pancras and Caledonian Road on the Piccadilly line.

Both stations were built at the turn of the 20th century. And over their short life spans, both were unloved and pretty much useless.

City Road station, at the junction with Moreland Street, opened in 1901. It was built as the City and South London Railway Service (CSLRS) extended from Moorgate Street to Angel.

But the station survived just 21 years before closure in 1922.

Rob Smith, a tour guide for Clerkenwell and Islington Guiding Association, explained why City Road’s life ended so soon: “This was a time when the railway companies weren’t very good at co-operating with each other.”

The capital’s transport system didn’t yet operate under one organisation, as it does today under Transport for London. There wasn’t much planning going into it.

York Road station, pictured a year after it opened in 1907. Picture: Transport for LondonYork Road station, pictured a year after it opened in 1907. Picture: Transport for London

“The distance between Old Street and City Road stations was so small, it was hardly worth it. And in the context of the 1920s, City Road was a really rough area, so people weren’t exactly rushing to stop off there.

CSLRS became part of the Underground in 1913. But when City Road was built in 1901, its tunnels were a different width from those of the other Underground networks. It meant they had to be dug up.

“The railway companies weren’t very good at working with each other,” laughed Rob. “When it came down to it, City Road’s lack of passenger usage couldn’t justify the expense of extending the tunnel. So it closed in 1922.”

Perversely, the station was actually at its most useful when it wasn’t a station at all.

“It was completely disused until the Second World War, when the authorities were desperate for air raid shelters,” said Rob. “The station site was perfect, and rebuilt as a shelter with a canteen and first aid area.”

“There also a ventilation shaft through the old stairways, which was still there up until three months ago, when it was demolished for a development project.”

York Road, meanwhile, opened in 1906. Built near the junction with Bingfield Street, this station was also short-lived, surviving just 26 years until 1932. Its exterior is still visible.

“Again, not a lot of planning appeared to go into York Road station,” Rob said.

“They seemed to be building stations at random. There were plans for stations in York Road and Caledonian Road. They were unsure about building two in poor areas – but took a punt and built both anyway.

Historian and walking guide Rob Smith. Picture: Ken MearsHistorian and walking guide Rob Smith. Picture: Ken Mears

“It was a really well designed station but by 1909 it was already getting bypassed by the trains. It was used so little that the operators thought it was a waste of time stopping there.”

But would things be different today? In 2005, Islington Council and Transport for London commissioned a feasibility study investigating the potential reopening of York Road (York Way) station.

It was said York Way would ease passenger pressure on King’s Cross St Pancras. But 12 years on, the narrative has shifted with the redevelopment of King’s Cross.

Rob added: “A lot of people are moving to the north part of King’s Cross these days, so I think there’s an argument a station in York Way would be useful. But TfL would need to build a whole new underground section as there is currently nothing there at all.”

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