Brompton Road

The Station

Brompton Road surface building With a very similar history to Down Street, Brompton Road, situated between Knightsbridge and South Kensington stations started service in 1906 when the Finsbury Park to Hammersmith stretch of the Piccadilly Line was opened. With so many stations close together and with nearby Knightsbridge's entrance being moved closer due to escalator refurbishment, it was determined that the station's operation was uneconomical and on the 29th July 1934, the last fare paying passengers alighted from Brompton Road's platforms.

Like Down Street, the station had a similar World War 2 use, the platforms being bricked up to be converted into offices and floors were built in one of its three lift shafts to convert it into a 4 story operations centre for use as London's anti-aircraft control centre. Since then then the Territorial Army and Ministry of Defence have used both the surface building and part of the underground complex.

During its wartime use, a small projection screen was painted on the wall at the end of one of the bricked platforms. This was for the screening of information and possibly propaganda films for the people working there. This screen is still there today complete with no smoking sign painted beneath! How many people riding the Piccadilly Line realise they're passing within inches of a cinema while riding between Knightsbridge and South Kensington?

Although the surface building was partially demolished in the '60s, there is still a small distinctive part of the facade in evidence on a side street just off Brompton Road. Surface access to the platforms below is theoretically possible, but is strictly not allowed as surface building is now restricted as it is still owned by the Ministry of Defence as are two of the lift shafts and spiral staircase. Brompton Road therefore cannot be used as an emergency exit point despite the fact that its spiral staircase is still intact.

Around Christmas 1994, a 20 year old student named Sean Harper went missing. Tragically he was found three weeks later at the bottom of Brompton Road's lift shaft having fallen down from the surface building. Nobody knows how he got there or what he was doing in the building - an open verdict was pronounced in the subsequent enquiry.

Like Down Street, the station's location is seen by a change to brick on tunnel walls at track level. In the summer of 2000, the BBC's children's programme Blue Peter featured the station in a special programme and it was shown that some of the maps used during the War are still in place on the walls of the lift shaft operation rooms!

On 28th February 2014, the station's location (206 Brompton Road) was sold by the Ministry of Defence to property developers Spink Property to be converted into luxury apartments. I think it unlikely that the old lift shafts would be re-purposed this way - they're more likely to be capped off with possible access to the spiral staircase being provided by a doorway in the new building.

Station Visit

Visiting this station is very tricky since the only access to the station now is by stopping a train, since its surface access has been blocked as the station's surface building along with a section of the station's interior is owned and maintained by the Territorial Army and access through the surface building is therefore prohibited. When an opportunity arose to visit I jumped at the chance!

We passed the bricked off platforms of Brompton Road and the train stopped at where once the stub platform would have been. When the train's door was opened however, all we could see was a small brick wall at about platform height. We jumped out onto the wall and then down onto the ground below. I suspect that this wall would have originally supported a temporary wooden platform for the Second World War complex, which has since been removed.

The reason for the drop is that when Brompton Road was converted for wartime use, the whole of the platform area was excavated and removed. In other stations this enabled a floor to be added to allow extra accommodation, but I'm unsure why this procedure was carried out here.

Once away from the mini platform, we started walking down the original eastbound platform area. In this section of the station, although the floor was much lower, the tile pattern had been left intact. Immediately to our left was the station's name, fired into the tiles.

Platform level station name

Along most of this platform's length, (and later we discovered some of the length of the westbound platform) many of the station's original Leslie Green designed tile features remained intact, though by now covered by a thick layer of dust and dirt.

No Exit Way Out

I was surprised to discover that most of the platform level is lit by a series of lamps - I was expecting to find the whole complex in complete darkness! As we walked, every so often we encountered partition walls, which had been built to segment the platform area into several discrete areas, which could then have been allocated different wartime uses. Each wall had a small doorway that would lead to the next segment.

After passing through one of these doors and climbing up a small staircase, we found ourselves in a crossover area. Here, an unlit tunnel led up a staircase between the two tracks, which we were to investigate later.

Carrying on down the eastbound platform area we found ourselves in a section where the station tile pattern had been painted in the plain green and cream colours used so often in World War 2 war offices, though in many places the green paint was now mostly covered by grey dust. Presumably this decoration had been done to provide a more comfortable working environment for the staff that worked here.

Painted section

>In this photograph you can clearly see the platform level in the entrance way and the small staircase down to the new excavated floor level.

When we had walked the length of the eastbound platform we came to another crossover passageway with a staircase. When the station was operational, the staircase would have led to the station's lifts. We climbed up the staircase and found ourselves in a short corridor blocked by a locked gate across the passageway. This was the section owned by the Ministry of Defence and access to the section beyond was restricted.

Stairway to Lift shafts MOD barrier

The staircase that originally would have led to the lift shafts and the locked gateway into the MOD section.

The lights were off behind the gate. I was told that this section contained several interesting features:

The section consisted of a corridor that was originally the access corridor to the lift shafts. Brompton Road originally had three lift shafts and a fourth shaft containing a spiral staircase. This corridor apparently gave access to two of these lift shafts and the spiral staircase.

One lift shaft had been floored, allowing several floors of office space. On the wall of one of the floors, an Ordinance Survey map of South East London survives in remarkably good condition with extra notation denoting London's World War 2 anti-aircraft air defences. Other floors would have been used as meeting and office space. There is a photograph in J. Connor's Abandoned Stations on London's Underground showing one of these rooms being used as an operations room.

The spiral staircase provided access to the individual floors of this lift shaft, with extra entrances to each floor provided during the complex's conversion from Underground station to its use by the War Office.

Another lift shaft had been equipped with a staircase running from surface level all the way to the level we were currently standing in.

At the far end of this passageway we were just able to see by torch light what I was told were the original air filtration units that were used to prevent the complex from being contaminated by gas attack. Unfortunately it wasn't possible to photograph these from the gate as there wasn't enough light.

We walked back down the main staircase and onto the westbound platform. Here, another war time feature had been added. At the far end of the westbound platform was a small projection screen, with the words "No Smoking Please" neatly painted in its green border!

Projection screen
Detail of projection screen

The projection screen. Notice the accumulation of dust over the years has almost completely obliterated the green wall colour on the right hand wall!

We retraced our steps all the way back to the other crossover passage mentioned earlier which also had a staircase which during operational times would have led to the other side of the lift shafts (one providing an entrance, the other the exit to the station).

As we were walking down this tunnel, my guide was explaining that around 1996 someone had fallen down the lift shaft and been killed. Just as he was saying this, a nearby door was blown shut by a sudden change in the draft - we nearly jumped out of our skins!

The tunnel itself ended with the entrances to the shaft and some very interesting looking pieces of equipment. Obviously part of the complex's war time ventilation system, as well as some strange looking pieces of metal, a large fan and an electric motor dating to 1940 could be seen.

Ventillation fan Ventillation motor

It was then time to leave. Walking back to the small platform area we had entered the station I noted how thick the dust was in several parts of the station. In places it was so thick that it felt just like I was walking on sand.

We walked past some areas that were now being used by track engineers as storage. Railway components could be seen stored in one place and about 50 sacks of grouting powder in another!

When our train arrived, we were able to climb aboard much to the surprise and bemusement of the passengers in the front carriage, who were witnessing a group of people boarding the train in the middle of nowhere!

By this time my hands were black with dust! By this stage I was also looking forward to a long warm shower!

Old platform level

This final photograph clearly shows the original platform level, from the height of the crossover passageway and the lower level caused by the platform's excavation. In most places like this, a staircase had been provided for easy access.

Dr. James Cox was given special permission by LuL and the MOD a few years ago to visit the section controlled by the Ministry of Defence.This web page hosted by Subterrania Britannica contains a selection of photographs taken during his visit.

Last Modified: May 13th 2014

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