By Underground to Epsom

What Might Have Been

1920s London Underground Logo
1920s London Underground Logo

London's suburbs grew rapidly, especially during the 1930s when many people moved from the inner metropolitan area to rent or buy homes in what would later became Greater London. These new homes spread into the adjoining counties, built on what had previously been farmland. Many of their residents worked in or near London and used public transport to get to and from work. In the 1920s the Tube was extended into Surrey and Morden Station, opened in 1926, became the southern terminus of the Northern Line. A big parking space was built outside for buses which brought commuters to and from the station, so that they could continue their journeys by Tube. Morden Station - today a busy interchange in Greater London serving Tube and bus - was then deep in Surrey countryside. As well as the normal bus routes, Morden Station saw lines of special buses lined up every Derby Day with a queue of passengers waiting to make their journey to Epsom racecourse.

1939 Map show the expansion of London
1939 Map show the expansion of London
Black Area = Built-up area 1899
Brown Line = Built-up area 1939
Green Area = County of London
Image Source 'Fifty Years of the L.C.C.' by S. P. B. Mais, 1939

Morden underground station under construction, Morden, 1926
Morden underground station under construction, Morden, 1926
Image Source britainfromabove.org.uk

Morden Underground Station, Morden, 1929
Morden Underground Station, Morden, 1929
Note how many houses have been built in just 3 years.
Image Source britainfromabove.org.uk

When not taking the Tube and bus, commuters from the new southern suburbs travelled to London and other destinations by 'Southern Electric' trains. These were operated by the Southern Railway, as it then was, which like the Tube had many electric trains running in and around London. When Stoneleigh was built in the 1930s, largely on what had been farmland, the station (opened in 1932) was operated by Southern Railway. Stoneleigh is on the Epsom-Waterloo line which was electrified in 1925 and 1926. The Tube and Southern Electric both had their own distinctive signs and architecture.

An aerial view of Stoneleigh Station taken shortly after 1932
A 1930s aerial view of Stoneleigh Station looking towards Nonsuch Park.
As you can clearly see Stoneleigh Broadway has not been started and Stoneleigh Park Road,
shown towards the bottom of the photograph, only reaches Station Approach
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum
(We have attempted to trace the current copyright owner of this photograph without success.)

As well as the railways, the new London suburbs had regular bus routes including the Green Line, used by residents for work, shopping and pleasure. Two local routes were the red 93 from Epsom to Putney Bridge Station, and the green 406 from Redhill to Kingston. Both routes still run in 2017 but in modified form. Green Line coaches connected Epsom, Ewell and Stoneleigh with Dorking, St. Albans and Dunstable, running along London Road. Until 1938, when bus route 93 took over, the old route 70 used to run along the same road providing a bus route between Dorking and Morden Station.

A 406 bus in garage c.1930s
A 406 bus in garage c.1930s
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The story of the Northern Line Tube can be traced back to 1890 when the City & South London Railway opened between Stockwell and King William Street (near Bank) using small electric locomotives pulling cars with lengthwise seating; at the ends of each car there were guards who called out the names of the stations. These cars were nicknamed 'padded cells' by passengers. The new Tube was popular with passengers, being direct, bright and warm, and others were planned. A lot of the new Tube lines were built out into North West London where 'Metroland' grew up among the new suburbs called into being by the Metropolitan Railway. Tube lines were also built eastwards where new suburbs were built along the present Central Line. As a result most underground lines ran north of the River Thames until at a further stage on the line trains came out of their tunnels and continued in the open at surface level. Some Tube lines, though, were built down into Surrey.

A City & South London Railway train
A City & South London Railway train)
Image source Illustrated London News, 8 November 1890

In 1900 an extension of the Northern Line was built from Stockwell to Clapham Common giving residents in this area a direct route to London. Then in 1926 the Northern was extended to Morden with a depot was built at the end of the line. By this time the Northern Line had been extended northwards to serve Edgware, Mill Hill and High Barnet; at 17.2 miles, the tunnel between Morden and East Finchley is the longest on the London Underground.

A 1908 Tube Map
A 1908 Tube Map
Image via Wikimedia

A 1930s Tube Map
A 1930s Tube Map

It was at this time that development began to take place at Morden and further out at North Cheam, providing much-needed homes for families moving out from London. Main and side roads were built, and buses and Green Line coaches brought passengers to the Morden Tube and Bus Interchange. New communities came into being and shopping parades were built, while library, park and church visits were popular; so were cinemas such as the Granada at North Cheam, and buses were the most convenient way to get to them before the days of mass car ownership. While garages sprang up to cater for the new car owners, most people did not have cars and relied on trips and visits run by operators such as H.R. Richmond's Epsom Coaches and Surrey Motors of Sutton.

A Richmond Coaches outing
A Richmond Coaches outing (Date not know possibly the 1920s)
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

1933 London Underground Logo
1933 London Underground Logo

In 1933 the London Passenger Transport Board was set up as a public body to operate the buses, trolleybuses, trams, Green Line coaches, and Underground railways in and around Greater London. Independent operators also joined, like the large Thomas Tilling Buses company and so did some small private operators run by a small number of men. The new LPTB soon began to design and put into service standard types of vehicles and trains. The Northern Line received new stock in 1938, only withdrawn from the Underground in 1988, when it was put into service on the Isle of Wight taking residents and holiday-makers between Ryde and Shanklin. These former Tube trains which would have known Morden well have become Heritage Trains, some of them painted with special liveries.

A 1938 stock London Underground train at Morden
A 1938 stock London Underground train at Morden
Image by Tim@SW200 via Flickr cc licence (colour adjusted)

In the 1930s there were plans to extend the Northern Line beyond Morden. The site of the Granada cinema at North Cheam (site now occupied by a Wetherspoon's Pub) was considered as a station for the extension which might have extended further to Ewell and Epsom. In a local newspaper, the Informer, London Transport wrote about this in 1993. The Underground network is confined to the London Clay; any further south and it would have hit gravel, which is much harder to tunnel through. The projected line would therefore have been too expensive and besides, a good local bus network was already acting as feeders to Morden Station. In the 1930s most lines south of the Thames were Southern Electric, part of the then Southern Railway which had numerous commuter routes including Epsom-Waterloo, Epsom-Victoria and Epsom-London Bridge. Before the Second World War, Southern Electric was considering making its Chessington branch longer, to extend from Chessington South to Epsom and Leatherhead. A number of Tube and Southern Electric commuter lines were being considered at this time in the Greater London area, some of which had already started by the outbreak of war. These partly finished projects were still put to good use: on the Central Line extension that was being built in London and Essex, the near-complete tunnel between Leytonstone and Gants Hill became a safe place for the Plessey Company to manufacture aircraft components. Londoners were able to shelter at night in Underground stations away from bombing and damage, another vital contribution by London Transport to the war effort. Early in the war, Green Line coaches were converted into ambulances to evacuate patients from London Hospitals to safer areas, and in addition London Transport turned over some of its land for agriculture, as at Bushey where vegetables and other crops were grown. After the war there seemed little chance of finishing the proposed Northern Line extension to Bushey because of new Green Belt considerations, so it was abandoned in 1950 with a decision instead to make the unfinished railway depot at Aldenham the basis of a brand new bus overhaul works to supplement the famous bus works at Chiswick.

Castle Parade Ewell
A 1940s postcard view of Castle Parade Ewell
Apparently when built a gap was left in the middle of this Parade to allow
for an Underground Station Entrance. The gap was later closed.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Coming up to date, the new Crossrail or 'Elizabeth Line' will run from Reading in the west to Shenfield in the east, and is scheduled to be fully open in 2018/19. The new Crossrail is a marvel of modem engineering and will enable many rail passengers make convenient and direct journeys across London west-east and east-west.

At the same time Crossrail 2 is being planned and Transport for London have sent out information leaflets headed 'Have your say'. It will be a new rail service connecting North-East London and Hertfordshire with South-West London and Surrey. It will run both surface level in open country and underground tunnel in London. Epsom and Leatherhead have been mentioned as possible stations at the southern end of the line, possibly also Chessington. With Crossrail 2 the wheel will give really come full circle, and the planned 1930s extension of the Tube from London into Surrey will become a reality

Peter Lemon, July 2017


Notes:

T.C. Barker and Michael Robbins, A History of London Transport II: The 20th Century to 1970 (London Transport, 1974).:-
'Extensive sidings and car sheds were built south of Morden station. Proposals have been repeatedly made for extension to North Cheam or Sutton, but Morden remains the terminus …

'Opening of the Morden Extension and the Kennington Loop (Underground, 1926). On extension beyond Morden, see London Plan Working Party, Report (1949),17, 24, where the proposal falls to a lower priority'.
Dennis Edwards and Ron Pigram, London's Underground Suburbs (Bloomsbury, London, 1988):-
"As late as 1944 there was talk at London Transport's Headquarters at 55 Broadway of eventually reaching North Cheam'. ('From the hills of Middlesex to the hills of Surrey' was a publicity slogan of the time, and the number of passengers who used the Northern Line grew and grew as a result of travel to work and the growth of house building). 'There were proposals to build a relief tube line to be built from Kennington to Morden and Epsom, and one forward-looking estate developer in North Cheam advertised on a large board at the entrance to his estate, 'Coming this way', with a picture of a tube train. But rising costs of materials in the late thirties and the doubts that in the end the line would not pay its way, resulted in abandonment of the plans'. (Overcrowding of passengers on the Northern line had started by now mainly because the Underground trains then in use had electric rnotors that took up space actually inside the powered cars). 'In 1938 the LPTB's Chief Mechanical Engineer, introduced the first of a large number of new Tube trains where the traction motors were placed beneath the floors, so increasing the passenger space. It was so successful that more cars of this type were manufactured than almost any other design of train in the world! The very last 1938 stock trains ran on the Bakerloo Line as late as 1985' (after which some were put into service on the Isle of Wight. The overcrowding was eased a great deal and the Morden Line became very successful).