Search

'Scandal' of the unfinished £3m Northern line extension from Finsbury Park

PUBLISHED: 09:26 18 February 2017 | UPDATED: 14:41 21 February 2017

Author and transport historian Jim Blake called the abandoned Northern line a scandal in his 1993 book, Northern Wastes. He is pictured at part of the proposed extension in Crouch Hill, now part of Parkland Walk. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Author and transport historian Jim Blake called the abandoned Northern line a scandal in his 1993 book, Northern Wastes. He is pictured at part of the proposed extension in Crouch Hill, now part of Parkland Walk. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

Abandoning a major rail project after spending £3m would be a disaster today, let alone the '50s. The Gazette finds how a Finsbury Park Tube extension failed.

Rusting girders of the never-finished platforms and facade at Finsbury Park station. Pictured on a wet day in November 1969, 30 years after work had begun, they were finally demolished in the early 1970s. Picture: Jim BlakeRusting girders of the never-finished platforms and facade at Finsbury Park station. Pictured on a wet day in November 1969, 30 years after work had begun, they were finally demolished in the early 1970s. Picture: Jim Blake

Can you imagine the outrage if Transport for London (TfL) carried out £75million of Tube extension work, with all the infrastructure in place, before deciding to sack it off halfway through?

Well, this is exactly what happened in the mid-20th century (under London Transport, TfL’s predecessor).

In the late 1930s, London Transport began work to electrify branch lines from Finsbury Park to Highgate and Alexandra Palace. It would have become part of the Underground’s Northern line.

But by 1954, the project was abandoned. About £3million had been spent. According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, that’s the equivalent of £75m in today’s terms.

Author and transport historian Jim Blake called it a “scandal” in his 1993 book, Northern Wastes, about the unfinished project.

A Tube train being towed on the main line in Finsbury Park in 1970. This type of train was built in the late 1930s and should have operated on the Northern line extension. Picture: Jim BlakeA Tube train being towed on the main line in Finsbury Park in 1970. This type of train was built in the late 1930s and should have operated on the Northern line extension. Picture: Jim Blake

It’s a subject that still causes a stir. Last Wednesday, Jim gave a talk to Islington Archaeology and History Society in the town hall.

And in July, he will lead an all-day history tour spanning the forgotten line from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace.

“I think it still resonates today,” explains Jim, “because it was a loss of a vital connection – a connection that was never used for its intended purpose.”

Planners launched the scheme 82 years ago, in 1935.

Jim continues: “The New Works Programme was announced by London Transport to alleviate high unemployment and improve public transport.

A generating station built to provide power for the Tube trains beside the line at Crouch Hill, pictured in 1969. After the Northern line extension was abandoned, the building was adapted as a sports hall for Islington Council's Crouch Hill Community Centre. Picture: Jim BlakeA generating station built to provide power for the Tube trains beside the line at Crouch Hill, pictured in 1969. After the Northern line extension was abandoned, the building was adapted as a sports hall for Islington Council's Crouch Hill Community Centre. Picture: Jim Blake

“Work to electrify the lines was very much advanced, but was postponed during the Second World War.

“Official history tries to tell you all work stopped during the war, but they actually got as far as rebuilding the new station at Highgate in 1941.”

London Transport intended to complete the work between 1948 and 1950. But the aftermath of the war prevented this.

“There was a real shortage of money,” says Jim, “and rebuilding homes destroyed by bombing was the obvious priority.

“Over and over again, London Transport kept on putting the work back, and finally it was abandoned in 1954. It meant £3m was wasted including new bridges, viaducts, signalboxes and electricity substations.”

Jim Blake pictured at the Crouch Hill sub-station in its current state. Picture: Nigel SuttonJim Blake pictured at the Crouch Hill sub-station in its current state. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Funds had been directed towards completing the eastern extension of the Central line, instead. And Jim says the implications remain in Islington to this day.

“If it had been completed, it would have alleviated the dreadful traffic in Stroud Green Road, for a start.

“And for people who live in north London and work in the City, it would relieve congestion on the Northern line with a quicker route.”

Jim, who lives in Enfield, has published numerous transport books, many of which are available at London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. Not Northern Wastes, though.

“They don’t like this subject being brought up,” he admitted. “They stopped selling this particular book in the museum!”

Jim Blake’s ‘scandal of the uncompleted Northern line extensions’ history tour (£10) takes place on July 2. His book Northern Wastes is £9.95. For more information, email nleevents@outlook.com.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Islington Gazette

Hot Jobs

Show Job Lists