The first urban underground in the world, the Metropolitan Railway, opened in 1863 and operated from Paddington (then called Bishops Road) to Farringdon Street. The first section of the Metropolitan District (MDR) line opened in 1868 and ran from South Kensington to Westminster Bridge. Services used wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives.
The District line was extended west in 1869 and West Brompton station was to be the terminus and only stop on the extension from Gloucester Road (Earls Court did not open until 1871). It was part of a plan that never worked to link the District to the West London Extension Railway.
Initially, the District and the Metropolitan Railways were closely associated and it was intended that they would merge but the District’s level of debt meant the merger was called off. To improve its finances, the District terminated the operating agreement it had with Metropolitan Railway and began operating its own trains. It saw its main hope was to provide a commuter service and extend to the south west, an expanding prosperous residential area.
The District line was extended to Hammersmith in 1874, to Richmond in 1877 and to Ealing Broadway in 1879.
West Kensington station, then known as Fulham – North End, opened in 1874 as part of this expansion. It was renamed West Kensington in 1877 and the entrance was rebuilt in 1927.
What is now known as Barons Court was an area of fields and market gardens in 1974 and there was no point building a station there. A station was not considered necessary until 1905.
The District Railway was next extended to Putney Bridge and this involved more new stations which all opened with the new line on 1 March 1880.
Walham Green (to be renamed Fulham Broadway 1952 after representations from the Fulham Chamber of Commerce) was built as part of this development. It was designed by a Mr Clemence under the supervision of John Wolfe-Barry, son of the more famous Sir Charles Barry:
The original entrance was replaced in 1910 with one designed by Harry W. Ford who also designed Barons Court. It was built on the site of the original station entrance to accommodate the crowds going to the newly built Stamford Bridge stadium. Ford chose to style the facade like a ‘Queen Anne’ town house rather than use the arcaded frontage he had employed at Earl’s Court and Hammersmith. Ionic pilasters and a festoon of fruit frame the mullioned sash windows of the first floor restaurant. Above the cornice a parapet formerly displayed the station name in a recess flanked by swags. This is now a grade II listed building. In 2003 the adjoining site was redeveloped and the station entrance relocated within the new shopping mall.
You can just see the J Lyons tea shop which is mentioned in most descriptions of the station at this time.
Parsons Green station opened on 1 March and was also the work of Mr Clemence, working under the supervision of John Wolfe-Barry.
Putney Bridge and Fulham station was the terminus of the line until 1889 when the Fulham Railway Bridge was built across the Thames and the line extended south to Wimbledon. In 1902 it was renamed Putney Bridge and Hurlingham and in 1932, it became Putney Bridge. The station has an ornate yellow brick façade.
An interesting reminder of our more recent history is the World War II pillbox built at the end of the platform to defend the bridge:
Some things do not change. It was reported at the time that the extension to Putney Bridge attracted “unexpectedly heavy traffic”.
An American, Charles Yerkes, secured effective control of the District line in March 1901. The use of steam locomotives led to smoke-filled stations and carriages that were unpopular with passengers and the District was close to bankruptcy. He announced his intention to modernise the line and proceed with the conversion to electric traction. He set up the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) in 1902 to fund the electrification of the District Railway and electric services took over from steam in 1905.
By Fiona Fowler,
Hammersmith and Fulham Local studies and Archives volunteer.