Give my regards to Broad Street

Broad St/east london history/9sep13

‘Give my regards to Broad Street,’ instructed Paul McCartney in his eponymous 1984 movie. But where on earth is Broad Street?

Paul and Ringo in Give My Regards To Broad Street

Paul and Ringo in Give My Regards To Broad Street

In the closing minutes of the film, the erstwhile Beatle is filmed wandering along the dilapidated and crumbling platforms and through the rotting ticket halls of a station of the same name, pausing only to give a cheery smile to a down-and-out swigging from a bottle and bunking down in the station for the night — sure in the knowledge that he is unlikely to be disturbed in his drunken slumber by any passengers.

Most people who saw the film probably assumed Broad Street was a fiction. Everyone that is bar the handful of Londoners who were still using what had once been one of the East End’s first great railway terminal … but was now a decaying, and almost forgotten white elephant.

give my regards to broad street cover

give my regards to broad street cover

Once it had linked the East End docks with the industrial heartland of the West Midlands, and brought many thousands of commuters from East London into the City each day. By 1984 only a handful of Londoners were still using Broad Street. It had become the lost London terminus. Today, few East Enders below the age of 50 will even be aware that beneath the footprint of the giant Broadgate development lies Liverpool Street’s lost twin.

 

The terminus came about with the extension of the North London Railway, which despite the name was the East End’s own big player in the railway boom of the mid 19th century, having its headquarters and engine sheds at Bow (and latterly at Devons Road). In 1865, the ambitious company cleared a huge patch of City land west of Bishopsgate and built seven platforms, adding an eight in 1891 and a ninth in 1913. What had initially been conceived as a goods service, taking imports from the docks at Wapping and Limehouse to the factories of Birmingham had been expanded to take passengers. The terminus had two booking offices, one for the North London Railway, a second for the London and North Western.

For a period, the Great Northern Railway used Broad Street too, supplementing its Kings Cross terminal a few miles west. A century and a half before cross-London services came back to the capital (with Crossrail being the most recent), Broad Street had overcome the nonsense whereby passengers would take a train into London, but then have to cross the city by other means before embarking once more at a terminus on the other side.

Broad Street Station 1898

Broad Street Station 1898

The reason was that there were no other means. No tubes and no trams, and horribly congested London streets that nobody would want to traverse with luggage. For a while, Broad Street was the undisputed giant of East London termini. Its ailing neighbour Bishopsgate would soon be converted into a goods terminal (it would close in 1964 after a fire and finally be demolished in 2003 to make way for the new Shoreditch station). And the Liverpool Street station that replaced it (built on the site of the old Bedlam asylum), wouldn’t be built until 1874.

 

From that year, the two termini squatted side by side. Broad Street was enormously successful. What had started as a spin-off from the freight business was, by 1902, a passenger station handling 27 million individual journeys each year. A train arrived at, or departed from, the station every minute.

 

But as quickly as it had caught on, the station went into decline. the North London Line lost most of its passengers to the expansion of the bus, tram and Tube network and the station became increasingly poorly used. And on September 8, 1915 the station was a victim of the most devastating air raid yet on the City, as ace German pilot Heinrich Matty targeted the financial district of London. A bomb hit a bus outside the station, killing the conductor and a number of passengers, and more explosives hit Norton Folgate, just to the north of the terminus, taking out several of the tracks.

The Blitz of World War II was worse, with a number of stations leading in to the terminal bombed into closure. The loss of Shoreditch, Victoria Park and the entire branch line out to Poplar effectively cut off the life blood of Broad Street. In 1950 the main part of the station was closed, as were all but two lines. East Enders, loyal to their terminus, were still dribbling in each day, but in ever declining numbers.

Those who remember the London of the 60s and 70s will remember a town still pocked with bombsites a quarter of a century after the War. It wouldn’t be until the 1980s that the rebuilding of London began in earnest. John Betjeman, poet laureate and lover of London railways and suburbia, visited the station in 1973, regarded the half-removed roof, and mourned the giant’s decline.

“Standing on the empty concourse at Broad Street today, one has a feeling of its former greatness. Incongruous and ridiculous, in red brick with pavement-light windows is a streamlined booking office for the few passengers who use this potentially popular line. May God save the Old North London!”

But God wasn’t interested, and neither were the old British Railways. By the time McCartney chose the station for the denouement of his 1984 movie, no doubt more attracted by the possibility of a punning title rather than from any great knowledge of London railways, just 300 people were using Broad Street each day. Of course that did make filming (at night in this case) all the easier.

Broad Street 1981

Broad Street 1981

The unkind might have suggested that was approximately the number that saw the movie at the cinema, though the picture did yield the ageing moptop one great song, ‘No More Lonely Nights’, performed as he wanders nostalgically around the near-derelict station (you can check it out on youtube). In 1986 Broad Street, which had narrowly arrived the Beeching axe in the early 60s, was finally closed. A different, more aggressive and more commercial era had been born. As the wrecking balls departed, the builders moved in, to create the new Broadgate complex, of offices, shops, restaurants and squares, where City workers would sip coffee while wielding a curious new invention: the mobile phone — Broadgate was the acme of 80s London. Broad Street meanwhile had vanished without a trace.

Video from driver’s cab of train travelling into Broad Street in the 1970s:

http://youtu.be/mrf61Iz8Bhk

Full movie of Give My Regards To Broad Street: http://youtu.be/pFrVmp41mbI (footage of McCartney walking around the station cuts in at 1hr 35mins

Railway map of London 1899 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d4/Railway_map_central_london_1899.gif

 

About John Rennie

Writing about East London history. Sub at Daily Express. Teaching journalism at City University London. One presented a TV show called the Unsellables and the BT Walletwatcher blog. West Ham fan. Native of Basildon
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