South Kensington tube station

From Academic Kids

South Kensington station entrance
South Kensington station entrance

South Kensington tube station is the closest London Underground station to the Natural History, Science and Victoria and Albert Museums, as well as to Imperial College. It is in South Kensington, on Cromwell Road.

The station is on the District Line and Circle Line between Gloucester Road and Sloane Square, and on the Piccadilly Line between Gloucester Road and Knightsbridge. It is in Travelcard Zone 1. A pedestrian tunnel provides access to the museums.


Metropolitan District Railway

The station began life as part of the original route of the Metropolitan District Railway (now the District Line). The land was cheaper here than in central London, and so two pairs of lines could be provided, one acting predominantly as an express route, the other as a stopping service, bringing two sets of platforms - one island and two side platforms.

Piccadilly, Brompton, and Hammersmith Railway

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South Kensington station building

The Metropolitan District Railway soon ran into problems with too many trains from the dual pair of tracks west of the station trying to fit onto the single pair of tracks to the east leading into central London. Also, progress eastward was slow due to the large number of very closely spaced stations. Therefore they developed a plan to create an express deep level tube route heading from West Kensington towards the east end of london directly under the existing line.

The Piccadilly, Brompton, and Hammersmith Railway formed from the merging of plans for a line from the North East of london to the Strand and a line from South Kensington to Piccadilly Circus. The Metropolitan District Railway gained parliamentary approval to build their deep level line at the same time as the Piccadilly, Brompton, and Hammersmith Railway started construction. Noting that the routes met at South Kensington, the Piccadilly, Brompton, and Hammersmith Railway decided to extend their route in parallel with the deep level District line, using the same parliamentary permission.

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Inside South Kensington tube station and the Eastbound platform 2

Construction soon started at South Kensington for both routes, and, the companies, noting that they were not in competition eastwards of the station, decided to put the platforms next to each other to facilitate interchange (i.e. both eastbound platforms next to each other, at the same level, and both westbound platforms likewise, but above the eastbound ones). Since the platforms were separately below a road (in the case of the Piccadilly line), and below the District Line (in the case of the deep level District line), there was sufficient space to provide lift access straight to the platforms. However, because the east and westbound platforms were at different levels, the lifts were unusual in stopping at 3 locations rather than 2.

However, the Metropolitan District Railway soon realised that the addition of the Piccadilly line would reduce the stress sufficiently on their own service that the expense of the deep level line was unnecessary. Construction quickly stopped, leaving two partially finished platforms as the only evidence of the it.

Joining the stations

When the Piccadilly line was connected to the District Line station next to it, by the addition of two flights of escalators (in opposing directions, so as to end up in almost exactly the same place as to start with, except for being at a different vertical level), the new escalators, and connecting passageways to the Piccadilly line platforms, cut through the remains of the deep level District platforms. One partly survived as the circulating area by the eastbound platform, connecting it with the escalators, and the other was cut through. Very little remains except for a small section of the westbound platform accessible by a door within the disused westbound lift lobby.

The sub-surface level District line island platform (the side platforms having been abandoned when the express trains were stopped) was also connected to the circulating area where the two escalator flights meet, thus reducing crowding at the shared (but originally District) ticket hall by removing the need for passengers interchanging to use it.

Other changes

The station was originally placed to serve the local area of South Kensington, but with the founding of the various extensions to the British Museum (which are now independent, e.g. the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum), and a number of other large museums (e.g. the Geological Society Museum (now part of the Natural History Museum) and the Science Museum), at the southern edge of Hyde Park, nearby, the station soon attracted more patronage heading to those destinations. To simplify the complicated series of roads, and busy crossings, to reach the Museums, a wide passage was built leading from the ticket hall to each of the museums in turn. In 2005 the victoria and Albert Museum opened a new entrance leading directly from the passage to the Museum's basement locker room area.

The original access to the Piccadilly line had been straight from ground to platform by lift, and was fully accessible to the Mobility impaired. However, such accessibility was removed when lifts were swapped for escalators, and the lift shafts used for ventilation purposes. This left the original Piccadilly line building abandoned (though, despite the remainder of the terrace, that it formed part of, being demolished, it still stands). Legal pressure to improve accessibility at stations, may re-open this access, since it requires little work, and is relatively cheap.

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