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While the design and legal work necessary to build the Railway along the route authorised in the 1833 Act was in progress, the Board had second thoughts about the location of their London terminus.  Following some debate (initiated by Stephenson) it was decided to change the location of the London terminus from Camden Town (the site authorised in the 1833 Act) to Euston Grove, about a mile to the south-east.  This change required the authority of a further Act of Parliament, a considerable investment in land, and extensive civil engineering work necessary to cut through a built-up area.  It is to the benefit of today’s travellers that those long forgotten Board members considered the outlay worthwhile. 

On the 3rd July 1835, there passed into law . . . .

“An Act to enable the London and Birmingham Railway Company to extend and alter the Line of such Railway and for other Purposes relating thereto . . . .

. . . . II.  And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for the said Company and they are hereby empowered to make an Extension of the said Railway . . . . commencing in a Field on the West Side of the High Road leading from London to Hampstead, being the Site of the Depot or Station intended to be made for the Use of the said Railway, in the Parish of Saint Pancras in the County of Middlesex, and thence passing across the Regent’s Canal between the First and Second Bridges Westward of the Lock at Camden Town into and through the said Parish of Saint Pancras, and terminating in a vacant Piece of Ground in a Place called Euston Grove, on the North Side of Drummond Street near Euston Square in the same Parish, and which said Extension of Railway will pass through or into the Parish of Saint Pancras in the said County of Middlesex.”

5 & 6 Gulielmi IV. Cap. lvi., RA 3rd July 1835.

Section III. of the Act also authorised alterations to the route at Wolverton, Weedon and Brockhall, by which two tunnels and a bad curve were avoided.

The new station faced the Euston Road, [1] which became, de facto, the barrier for railway termini approaching London from the north and west; King’s Cross, Saint Pancras, Marylebone and Paddington stations are sited along the Euston Road and its extensions.



With an average gradient of 1:85, the ‘Euston Extension’ ― also known as the ‘Grand Excavation’, but now generally referred to as the ‘Camden Incline’ ― was to become the one section on the Railway where the ruling gradient of 1:330 could not be maintained.  As built, the gradients along the sections of the Extension were:

Gradient, Euston to Camden.
There are 80 chains to a statute mile [2]






12 ………… Fall 1 in 156   Euston to Hampstead Road








Rise 1 in 66


Hampstead Road to Crescent Place



Rise 1 in 110


Crescent Place to Park Street



Rise 1 in 132


Park Street Bridge



Rise 1 in 75


Park Street to Regent's Canal

An artist’s impression of a roller from the Camden Incline.

LONDON AND BIRMINGHAM RAILWAY . . . . The stationary engine at Camden-town requiring some trifling repair, the morning train on Saturday last was worked up the incline by locomotive engines, which were to take the trains on from the station last mentioned when more than one engine is required.  In the present case it was expected that one would have sufficed, and one accordingly was attached in front of the train (the eleven o’clock), but a drizzling rain falling, the power, shortly after the train started, was found inadequate, and a second engine was despatched to its assistance.  When it reached the tail of the train, the wheels of the engine in front unfortunately slipped, and a partial collision occurred.  It was, however, sufficient to occasions a severe contusion on the head of Hallam, one of the passengers in the last carriage of the train.

The Era, 30th June 1839.

Due to its steepness and the inconvenience of manoeuvring locomotives in the confines of the planned passenger terminus, it was decided to work the Euston Extension, not with locomotives, but with an endless cable system powered by a pair of stationary steam engines.  These were located at the top of the Incline at Camden Town:

“This rope is ten thousand nine hundred and fifty feet in length, seven inches in circumference, and weighs about eleven tons twelve hundred weight; it runs over hollowed iron sheaves, turning on an axle in an iron frame, placed at distances of twenty-four feet.  The mode, however, in which the engineer has enabled the engine to draw the carriages round a curve of considerable sharpness, is at once most ingenious and beautifully simple . . . . As the curve becomes sharper, the above pulley is placed the more out of the centre of the line of rails over which the carriages are passing ― and the nearer to the convex side of the turning, the guard being towards the concave side of the wall; consequently, as the rope is fastened to the centre of the carriage, it is drawn into the centre of the line as the carriage passes each sheave, and when this is sufficiently passed to allow the rope to drop by its own weight, it falls upon the guard and slides at once into the groove of the sheave.”

Freeling's Railway Companion, from London to Birmingham, Arthur Freeling (1838).

In July 1836, a tender was accepted from the engineering firm of Maudslay, Sons and Field to supply two 60 h.p. condensing steam engines capable of drawing trains up the Incline at 20 m.p.h.  These were installed in a subterranean engine house together with their boilers and the winding gear they were to drive.  The only hint that the traveller had of this machinery was a pair of tall chimneys, described by Francis Wishaw as being of “beautiful symmetry and exquisite workmanship”.

Camden Town Depot. Stationary engine house in the course of erection,
by John Cooke Bourne, May 1837. The original engine house is shown in the background.

In his history of the line, Peter Lecount claims that locomotives were capable of working the Extension, but were prevented from so doing by the legislation, which aimed to prevent the nuisance caused by their noise.  Lecount appears to be referring to section 50 of the 1835 Act, which, while not referring to locomotive engines specifically, can be read to impose the restriction to which he refers:

L. And be it further enacted, That the said Company shall not fix, erect, or build, or otherwise work or use, or permit or suffer any other Person or Persons to fix, erect, or build or otherwise suffer to be worked or used, any Steam or other Engine, Forge or Manufactory, on any Part of the Land or Ground purchased of and conveyed to them by the said Charles Lord Southampton by the Deed Poll dated the Third Day of January One thousand eight hundred and thirty five, which may be or cause any Nuisance, Annoyance, Damage, or Disturbance to the said Charles Lord Southampton, his Heirs or Assigns, or any of his or their Lessees or Tenants in the said Parish of Saint Pancras, without first obtaining the Consent in Writing of the said Charles Lord Southampton, his Heirs or Assigns.”

5 & 6 Gulielmi IV. Cap. lvi., R.A. 3rd July 1835.

That said, locomotives were used to work the Incline when operation of the winding engines was suspended for repair or maintenance.  In all likelihood the noise of the heavy endless cable being dragged over a long succession of squealing rollers was probably comparable in nuisance to that of a steam locomotive under load.

The stationary steam engine chimneys and the locomotive workshops (right background), looking towards Camden. By E. Duncan, 1838.
Barges on the Regent’s Canal are just visible below the workshops ― the canal bridge marked the summit of the incline.

Camden Town Depot. Locomotive Engine House, Chimneys of Stationary Engine, with rails, eccentrics, &c. ― looking towards London.
By John Cooke Bourne, 1838.

The land being on a considerable rise outwards from London is worked, as before named, by endless ropes passing over pulleys in the middle of the tracks, which ropes are set in motion by the stationary steam engines at Camden Town.  Great precaution is required in attaching the carriages to the rope; and this is generally done by one man, who is trained for that purpose.  The way in which he effects the fastening is by means of a small rope, called a ‘messenger’, having a slip knot at one end, which he passes over the rope, and holds the other in his hand as he stands on the foremost carriage in order to release the train when it reaches Camden Town, or in case of accident.  By a signal given to the engineer, the engines are stopped in an instant.  The train is generally drawn up this length of railway in three or four minutes, during which time the passenger passes under several very handsome stone and iron bridges and galleries; the most extensive are those under the Hampstead-road and Park-street . . . . When the train arrives at the Iron Bridge which carries the line over the Regent’s Canal, the carriages are detached from the rope, and allowed to run along the line till they meet the locomotive engine by which it is afterwards propelled.”

The London and Birmingham Railway, Thomas Roscoe and Peter Lecount (1839).

It was during this period that the need for a signalling system between Euston Station and the Camden stationary engine house led (on the 25th July 1837) to a trial of Cooke and Wheatstone’s electric telegraph, of which more in the next chapter.  However, on grounds of cost and reliability the Directors opted for a pneumatic signalling system, which, at Euston, was used to force air along a tube to sound an organ pipe in the Camden stationary engine house.  An identical system operated in the opposite direction, alerting those at Euston of the impending arrival of an up-train:

“As soon as the reeking engine-funnel of an up-train is seen darting out of the tunnel at Primrose-Hill, one of the Company’s servants stationed there, who deals solely in compressed air ― or rather who has an hydraulic machine for condensing it ― allows a portion to rush through an inch iron pipe; and he thus instantaneously produces in the little signal-office on the up platform of Euston Station, where there is always a signal man watching by night as well as by day, that loud melancholy whine which has just arrested our attention, and which will continue to moan uninterruptedly for five minutes.  The moment this doleful intimation arrives, the signal-man, emerging from his little office, touches the trigger of a bell outside his door, which immediately in two loud hurried notes announces to all whom it may concern the arrival at Camden Station of the expected up-train; and at this moment it is interesting to watch the poor cab-horses, who, by various small muscular movements, which any one acquainted with horses can readily interpret, clearly indicate that they are perfectly sensible of what has just occurred and quite as clearly foresee what will very shortly happen to them.”

The London Quarterly Review, Volume LXXXIV (1848).

The cable system remained in use until 1844, when it was replaced with locomotive haulage:

Upon trial it was found, that the locomotive engines could surmount the inclined plane between Euston and Camden Stations with the ordinary trains, and that with the assistance of a second engine, the heavy trains could also be passed to Camden Station.  A saving of ten minutes in time was the result, as well as economy in the cost of working the stationary engines and inclined-plane rope.  After numerous successful trials, the engines and rope were, in April, 1844, abandoned, and in course of time the stationary engines were sold, and they are now doing duty in a flax mill in Russia.

The saving in time thus effected was of little, or no value; and attention being directed to the locomotive stock, it was found, that even with two engines, the required speed could not be attained with the heavy trains.  A number of locomotive engines of large dimensions were ordered, and by degrees the stock has been brought to consist almost entirely of this class.”

Paper by R. B. Dockray published in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Volume 8 (1849).



Excavation at Park Village, showing the work in progress.
John Cooke Bourne, September 1836.

“The first shock of a great earthquake had, just at that period, rent the whole neighbourhood to its centre.  Traces of its course were visible on every side.  Houses were knocked down; streets broken through and stopped; deep pits and trenches dug in the ground; enormous heaps of earth and clay thrown up; buildings that were undermined and shaking, propped by great beams of wood.  Here, a chaos of carts, overthrown and jumbled together, lay topsy turvy at the bottom of a steep unnatural hill; there confused treasures of iron soaked and rusted in something that had actually become a pond.  Everywhere were bridges that led nowhere; thoroughfares that were wholly impassable; Babel towers of chimneys, wanting half their height; temporary wooden houses and enclosures, in the most unlikely situations; carcases of ragged tenements, and fragments of unfinished walls and arches, and piles of scaffolding, and wildernesses of bricks, and giant forms of cranes, and tripods straddling above nothing.  There were a hundred thousand shapes and substances of incompleteness, wildly mingled out of their places, upside down, burrowing in the earth, aspiring in the air, mouldering in the water, and unintelligible as any dream.  Hot springs and fiery eruptions, the usual attendants upon earthquakes, lent their contributions of confusion to the scene.  Boiling water hissed and heaved within dilapidated walls; whence, also, the glare and roar of flames came issuing forth: and mounds of ashes blocked up rights of way, and wholly changed the law and custom of the neighbourhood.  In short, the yet unfinished and unopened Railroad was in progress . . . . ”

Dombey and Son, Charles Dickens (1846-8).

On the 9th December 1835, William and Lewis Cubitt were awarded the contract to build the Euston Extension [3] for the sum of £76,860, [4] the contract including a penalty to be invoked should the work not be complete by the 1st January 1837.  Stephenson appointed Charles Fox Resident Engineer although he, himself, maintained a close interest in the progress of the work.


Above: Park Street, Camden Town, 18th September 1836.
Below: Park Village, 26th August 1836.


Park Street Bridge.
Note the endless cable in the centre of the track and the railway ‘policemen’, forerunners of today’s signalmen.

Partly to economise on land purchase and bridge construction (along its short length, the line originally passed under seven bridges) most of the Extension lies in a walled cutting, the walls being of stronger than usual construction throughout.  The thickness of the walling can be seen in Cooke Bourne’s drawing below.

Hampstead Road Bridge from the Camden side.
John Cooke Bourne, 11th August 1836.

LONDON FIXED ENGINE PLANES. ― From the Euston station to the Camden depot there are four lines of way, which are carried as far as Park Street between retaining walls: the clear width occupied here is about 56 feet; the walls are about 19 feet in height, and are built to a curved batter, with a radius of about 60 feet, the versed sine being about 4 feet 10 inches; lowest part of the foundation is 7 feet from the level of the rails; the thickness of brickwork decreases from the footings upwards, being at the bottom 3 feet 11½ inches, and at the top 2 feet 7½ inches.  The whole length of these extends to upwards of 2,200 yards.

In this length there are seven bridges and archways over the railway, each of which is in two spans.  Some of these bridges are built of brick and faced with stone; and others have iron ribs resting on brick piers.

From Park Street to the Regent’s Canal bridge at Camden Town the are near the general surface of the ground; and the railway is enclosed on either side with neat iron railing and pedestals of brick resting on dwarf walls.

As these planes are considerably curved in some portions, both vertical sloping sheaves are used for the rope; they are fixed in cast iron cases embedded in the ballasting.

The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland, Francis Wishaw (1842).

Due to the section between Park Street and the Hampstead Road being driven through London clay, Stephenson’s specification laid down exactly how the excavation was to proceed ― on no account was the its face to be carried on more than 40 feet in advance of the completed retaining wall without the Engineer’s written permission.  This stipulation took into account the characteristic of London clay to stand for a short time after being cut, but then to bulge outwards with force as it absorbed moisture:

“One of those extraordinary difficulties to which cuttings through the London clay must ever be liable, occurred in this excavation. To facilitate the removal of the material, a gullet had been formed and a temporary railway laid down, when a season of excessive wetness set in; the works however proceeded with that perseverance which characterises the resident engineer Mr. Fox ― when one morning the treacherous material gave way, the gullet was filled up, and the labour of weeks (estimated at a cost of about £800) was destroyed in a night, by an accident which could not have been anticipated, as no previous experience had enabled engineers or directors to provide a preventative, or to expect such a result . . . . One hundred and eighty thousand cubic yards of clay were removed from this cutting.  During the progress of this portion of the line, the Company had no less than 1,000 men employed upon this mile and a quarter of ground.”

The Railway Companion, from London to Birmingham, Arthur Freeling (1838).

The plans and specifications for the Extension illustrate the substantial construction of its retaining walls:

Bridge for intended street on the Duke of Bedford’s estate upon the Exn. L & B Railway.
The retaining wall, shaded grey, is typical of those built along the Extension.

Sections and Elevations of the Retaining Walls are shewn on the various drawings.

The faces of these walls will be a Curved Batter; [5] the radius of this batter will be 50 feet, giving an average batter of 2 inches per foot on 20 feet in every case, excepting in the walls from Crescent Place to Park Street, which have a radius of 61 feet 8 inches, being an average batter of 2 inches to a foot on 20 feet.  The whole of the brickwork of the walls will be laid in courses radiating from the supposed centre of the curve of the batter.  The walls will increase in thickness the nearer they are to the foundations, by half brick offsets, and the footings will consist of steppings of two courses of brick, projecting one quarter of a brick.

One foot thickness of Concrete will be placed under the footings of the walls, it will project 6 inches from the footings in the front, and be flush with the neat work behind.

The space at the back of the walls shall be well Punned
[6] in with clay.  The faces of the walls will be broken at intervals of 16 feet, or thereabouts, as near thereto as consistent with dividing a given length of wall into an equal number of parts, by Pilasters 4 feet by 4 inches wide, projecting half brick, built and bonded with the rest of the wall. Counterforts [7] will be built at the back of the wall, equidistant between the pilasters and bonded into the wall.  A stone plinth 6 inches thick must be built in at the required height, and the wall above it will recede ¼ of a brick from the face of the plinth.”

An extract from Stephenson’s work specification, published in Railway Practice, S. C. Brees (1838).

In addition to the work involved in excavating and walling the Extension, the line passed under seven road bridges and crossed the Regent’s Canal on an iron bowstring bridge, probably designed by Charles Fox . . . .

The Regent’s Canal Bridge.

“The earliest railway bridge on the bowstring principle is that over the Regent’s Canal, near Chalk Farm, on the London and Birmingham Railway.

It is composed of three main ribs of cast-iron open panel work, whose outline is parallel, but which includes an arc extending to its extremities of length and depth, and intersecting the vertical bars which form the panels.  The span is 50 feet and the height of the ribs 10 feet.  The section of each rib is in the form of a hollow rectangle 2 feet 11 inches wide, and the space between its sides is filled with diagonal bracing-frames 5 feet 10 inches apart.  The railway is carried by cast iron girders of the fish-bellied shape, 28 feet between bearings and 1 foot 10 inches deep in the middle; they are suspended from the bracing-frames in the main ribs by wrought-iron suspension rods 2¼ inches diameter; there being sockets in the bracing-frames to receive their upper ends, and in the ends of the cross-girders to receive their lower ends.

The centre main rib performs double duty; and its bracing-frames have double sockets, and carry two suspension rods.  In addition to the ribs themselves in resisting the strain of the load there are longitudinal tie-bars under each rib, there being four under each outside rib in a horizontal row, and eight under the centre rib in two horizontal rows.  These tie-rods are secured to the bearing ends of the main ribs, and are in three lengths, each united by sockets, gibs, and keys.  Upon the cross-girders are oak sleepers for the rails; and the entire space between the rails is filled in with cast-iron plates perforated in the form of trellis-work.  The outsides of the outer ribs are ornamented with cast-iron mouldings and fret-work.  This bridge is of very bold design and certainly a novelty as regards construction.”

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 12 (1856).

Alas, this fine bridge is long gone:

The works associated with the original station included bridges to carry various existing roadways over the line and to carry the line over the Regent’s Canal.  Of these bridges, three are illustrated and described by Simms. [8]  They are the Stanhope Place Bridge, the Park Street Bridge, and the bridge over the Regent’s Canal.  The Stanhope Place Bridge, consisting of two segmental masonry arches, was removed when Stanhope Place was diverted into Mornington Terrace in the ’nineties.  The Canal bridge has also been destroyed, but that over Park Street still exists, as does that carrying Granby Terrace.  The two-arched Ampthill Square road bridge was taken down in 1898 and replaced by girders.  The bridge over Wriothesley Street, the first to be built, had been demolished as early as about 1846-47, when Wriothesley Street was closed.  The cutting running south for a short way from Park Street and spanned by segmental cast-iron struts, is the original structure of 1836-37.”

Survey of London: volume 21: The parish of St Pancras part 3 (1949).

Above: the iron bridge over the Hampstead Road.
Below: the same bridge under construction. George Scharf, May 1836.

View taken from under the Hampstead Road Bridge,
Looking towards the station at Euston Square, 18th September, 1837.


The Hampstead Road Bridge.

“From Euston Square to Camden Town the Railway is formed by a wide cutting or trench, about eighteen or twenty feet deep, the sides of which are composed of beautifully executed brick work, having an iron balustrade at top, which when the trees and shrubs of the adjoining gardens have sprung up, will form a pleasing object . . . .  The whole of this length is excavated from the London clay; and the walls which form the sides are curved, in order to resist the inward pressure; they are as much as three bricks thick at the top and seven at the bottom; the number of bricks used in forming these gigantic walls was about sixteen millions.”

The London and Birmingham Railway, Roscoe and Lecount (1839).

By July 1837, the Euston Extension was complete and the first experimental passenger journey to be made on the London and Birmingham Railway took place.  It was not without incident ― from the casual manner in which derailments are referred to, it seems that they, at least, were not uncommon:


Thursday week the directors gave an excursion to a select party of their friends by way of experiment preparatory to the public opening of the railway from the station at Euston grove to Box-moor
and back.

At one o’clock (the hour appointed for starting) a train, consisting of eleven carriages, left the station, gliding, by its gravity, down a gently inclined plane for 200 or 300 yards, when the engine was immediately attached, amidst the loud and hearty cheers of a great number of spectators outside the line.  The distance (25 miles) was performed in an hour and eight minutes.  At Box-moor an elegant lunch was provided for the company in an marquee pitched on a neighbouring rising ground.  The weather was fine, and every one seemed delighted with the scene.  A second train of twelve carriages left town at two o’clock, and reached Box-moor at few minutes after three.

The train which started at one left for town at four; but in consequence of some mismanagement as to the supply, we believe, of water to the boiler, and the wheels of the engine getting off the rail, sundry stoppages occurred by the way, which protracted its arrival till ten minutes to six.  Just as this train had reached the terminus at the back of Euston square, the engine having been disengaged, but the impetus still continuing at a considerable velocity, the men whose duty it was to check the motion by working what are technically called the ‘breaks,’ not being sufficiently expert, or miscalculating their power, the carriages came with frightful force against the barrier wall at the extremity of the line, dashing it to atoms, and causing a rebound which frightened all and damaged not a few.  The concussion was so great that those sitting opposite in the different carriages being thrown against each other with great violence, we are sorry to say some instances of serious injury occurred.  Among others Lord Hatherton received a severe bruise on the cheek; Mr. N. Calvert, formerly M.P. for Hertfordshire, violent contusions on the face; two gentlemen and a lady had their noses broken; others lost their front teeth, and several sprained their wrists and arms.”

The Bucks Herald, 22nd July 1837.

Other than giving a couple of clues, the article’s author fails to mention travelling over the Camden Incline.  After the stationary engine had hauled the train up the Incline from Euston, the writer’s reference to “gliding by gravity, down a gentle incline plane” refers to the final section beyond the Regent’s Canal bridge, down which the carriages descended under gravity to Camden Depot where a locomotive was attached.  On the homeward journey the locomotive was detached near the top of the Incline.  The coaches were then pushed to its summit, from where they descended to Euston under gravity, the descent being controlled by the carriage brakes ― or in this particular case, by collision with the barrier wall.



In Railway Practice, Dempsey drew on examples to provide sound advice on the dangers of earth swelling when saturated, even when retained by substantial brickwork:

Many instances are recorded of the failure of these structures, which has commonly resulted from the saturation and consequent swelling of the earth behind them; and these effects have occurred frequently, despite the most judiciously-selected forms and materials, and the best attainable system of back drainage.  Indeed, unless the material be adapted to stand by itself, be thoroughly impervious to water, or so completely drained that very little reaches the back of the wall, it is certain that this uncontrollable agent will make its way through the work, and produce sooner or later the disastrous consequences which have already marred the designs of railway engineers.”

The Practical Railway Engineer, George Drysdale Dempsey (1855).

The Primrose Hill Tunnel was not to be Stephenson’s only run-in with London clay.  By 1843 (six years after the Extension had opened), the clay to the rear of the Extension’s western wall had become saturated through inadequate drainage.  Such was the force it then exerted, and despite great care having been taken in the wall’s design, sections of it were thrust forward.  The remedy that Stephenson applied was improved drainage, to which he added reinforcing struts between the facing walls at top and bottom, and vaults behind the upper sections of the western wall:

This excavation intersects the London clay, the dip of which at that part inclines downwards towards the east.  The consequence is, that the wall on the west side is required to sustain constantly an enormous thrust, which is, of course, much increased when the clay becomes swollen by absorbing water from the western environs lying towards Primrose Hill, which are above the level of the top of the cutting.  This wall of the excavation, although built of great thickness, with a curvilinear batter, substantial footings, and bedded and backed in good concrete, and withal, carefully built, showed early symptoms of its inability to withstand the pressure acting behind it; and the upper part of the wall, the weakest, becoming displaced to a considerable extent (in some instances more than 12 inches), it was deemed necessary to adopt the ready means of a temporary support offered by timber shoring.

Meantime, holes of 6 or 8 feet in length, and 3 inches in diameter, were bored through the wall and the backing, and inclining upwards by the apparatus known as ‘Watson’s Boring Machine’; and the perforated tubes used by the inventor of that machine were then introduced, and fixed into the wall.  By this precaution much of the water was prevented from accumulating within the clay; and in some parts the clay appeared to be in some degree drier than it was previously; but in other parts the frequent discharge of water through the wall showed the activity of the mischievous agent, and it became highly necessary to adopt so permanent method of giving support to the failing wall, and preventing any further alteration of its position.

Under the able direction of Robert Stephenson, Esq., the Consulting Engineer to the Company, and R. B. Dockray, Esq., the Resident Engineer, three measures were promptly adopted, which have been found to answer their purpose admirably. These measures were:

First, introducing cast iron girders of a large section between the eastern and western walls, so as to serve as abutments for the latter against the former.
Second, embedding strong wooden horizontal foot-struts between the footings of the two walls, so as to prevent the lower part of the western wall from yielding forward, when the upper part was strengthened by the cast iron girders.
Third, reducing the weight pressing against the western wall by excavating the clay, and constructing spacious vaults with strong walls.

Besides these arrangements, a large side drain was constructed near the western wall, which drain received the water, by means of cross channels formed with drain-tiles, from the clay behind the wall; perforations in the wall being formed for that purpose.”

Discussion at the Institution of Civil Engineers, reported in The Practical Railway Engineer, G. D. Dempsey (1855).

Drawing showing remedial action in the Euston Extension following damage to the retaining walls by saturated London clay, ca. 1842-3.
The diagram shows, on the western side, the vaults; also the cast-iron girders placed across the cutting, braced with transverse cast-iron struts.
From Railway Practice, by J. D. Dempsey (1845).

The above (time ravaged) drawing illustrates the remedial action that Dempsey describes; note also (on the plan) the cast-iron bracing between the girders.



Because the decision to extend the line from Camden Town to Euston was taken shortly after the 1833 Act had been obtained, Camden never developed into a major passenger station ― it did, however, become a major depot.  Other than housing the stationary steam engines and winding gear for working the Incline, Camden fulfilled a number of other important roles, particularly with regards to goods traffic:

“The works on the old station were,

1st, the stationary engine-house, which consisted of vaulting under the railway adjoining the Regent’s Canal; the boiler-houses opening to the railway, and two very handsome chimneys, which formed conspicuous objects in the district.  Two condensing engines of 60 H.P., built by Messrs. Maudslay and Field, were used to draw the trains from Euston up the inclined plane, (averaging 1 in 85) to Camden Station, whence they proceeded on their journey by locomotive power.
2nd. A locomotive engine-house capable of accommodating fifteen engines, together with the requisite fitting shops and offices.
3rd. Sixteen coke ovens.
4th. Two goods sheds and stabling, together with a small accommodation for stores, and a shop for repairs of waggons.”

Paper by R. B. Dockray published in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Volume 8 (1849).

Some of the Companys offices were also located at Camden in, it would seem, insalubrious surroundings:

After serving a few months in the audit office, and in the opening of the through line to Birmingham, I was drafted from the Manager’s office to Camden Station, in connection with the Stores and Construction Departments.  This was a change for the worse as regards my personal comfort.  The office was a rough wooden erection, with an earthen floor, and contained, by day, myself in my great coat, the stores of all kinds, a table, a small cabin stove, and the mice.  Chalk Farm was in the country then, and I had to prepare my meals at the small stove, and to consume them assisted by the mice, who evidently had a great contempt for my presence.  The place was always muddy.  The station had been raised from the road by the earth from the Primrose Hill Tunnel, and this new clay produced a Slough of Despond, which I have only seen equalled at the Royal Agricultural Show, at Kilburn, a few years ago.

Fifty Years on the London & North Western railway, David Stevenson (1891).

Camden Depot in 1839.
The section in blue is the Regent’s Canal.
This map is reproduced by kind permission of Peter Darley, Camden Railway Heritage Trust.

As the Company gained experience in operating a trunk railway and as the volume of goods traffic increased, in common with most of the stations along the line, Camden’s function and layout changed considerably during its early years . . . .

. . . . The whole of these works, (except those of a temporary nature) were constructed in the most substantial and permanent manner.  In the design every pains was taken to anticipate the wants of the traffic; yet such has been the rapid development of the railway system, that in the lapse of ten years from the opening of the line, it has been found necessary to sweep away almost every vestige of these works, and entirely to remodel the station.”

Paper by R. B. Dockray published in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Volume 8 (1849).

Bury 2-2-0 No. 32 leaving the original Camden engine house, by John Cooke Bourne, May 1839.
This locomotive was built by Mather Dixon & Co. of Liverpool.

“The locomotive engines’ station at the Camden depot is a rectangular building of brick, enclosing an open quadrilateral space, and is situate on the right side of the railway going from London, and near to the high chimneys belonging to the fixed engines.  The entrance to this station is by branches from the main line, which pass under two archways in front of the structure; in each of these gateways is an engine turn-table, and a water-column on either side of the way, and above is fixed a large tank.”

The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland, Francis Wishaw (1842).

As soon as an engine has safely dragged a passenger-train to the top of the incline at Camden Station, at which point the coupling-chains which connected it with its load are instantly unhooked, it is enabled by the switchman to get from the main line upon a pair of almost parallel side rails, along which, while the tickets are being collected, it may be seen and heard retrograding and hissing past its train.  After a difficult and intricate passage from one set of rails to another advancing or shunting backwards as occasion may require, it proceeds to the fire-pit, over which it stops.  The fireman here opens the door of his furnace, which by a very curious process is made to void the red-hot contents of its stomach into the pit purposely constructed to receive them, where the fire is instantly extinguished by cold water ready laid on by the side.  Before, however, dropping their fire, the drivers are directed occasionally to blow their steam to clean; and we may further add that once a-week the boiler of every engine is washed out to get rid of sediment or scale, the operation being registered in a book kept in the office.  After dropping his fire, the driver, carefully taking his firebars with him, conducts his engine into an immense shed or engine-stable 400 feet in length by 90 in breadth, generally half full of locomotives, where he examines it all over, reporting in a book what repairs are wanting, or, if none (which is not often the case), he reports it correct.  He then takes his lamps to the lamp-house to be cleaned and trimmed by workmen solely employed to do so, after which he fetches them away himself.  Being now off duty, he and his satellite firemen go either to their homes or to a sort of club-room containing a fire to keep them warm, a series of cupboards to hold their clothes, and wooden benches on which they may sit, sleep, or ruminate until their services are again required; and here it is pleasing to see these fine fellows in various enjoying rest and stillness after the incessant noise; excitement; and occasional tempests of wind and rain; to which ― we say nothing of greater dangers ― they been exposed.

Quarterly Review, Volume LXXXIV (1848).

Edward Bury’s weak-winded 4-wheeled engines were soon rendered obsolete by developments in locomotive engineering, and were eventually replaced with more powerful 6-wheelers.  One outcome from this change was that the turntables in the original engine house were rendered too short to handle their longer replacements, while the building was too small to accommodate anything larger.  To complicate matters further, a reduction in freight rates during 1845 led to a sudden increase in the volume of goods passing through Camden.  The outcome was that in order to enter or leave the engine house, locomotives had to cross lines that were being used increasingly to marshal freight trains, while down passenger trains, which no longer needed to stop at Camden to acquire their locomotive (the stationary winding engine having by now been abandoned), were crossing the yard at speed.  These factors combined to heighten the risk of collision:

THE ACCIDENT ON THE LONDON AND BIRMINGHAM RAILWAY . . . . The mail train which leaves Birmingham (having previously arrived from Liverpool) at fifty-five minutes after twelve, at night, is due at the London terminus at thirty-two minutes after five.  About a quarter past five on Tuesday morning this train arrived at the Chalk-farm end of the tunnel, and proceeded at full speed onwards towards the platform at the Camden station.  The train, which consisted of from ten to sixteen carriages, including the trucks and post-office vans, continued its progress until arriving on the London side of Chalk-farm bridge, where the down luggage train, which was some few minutes behind its time, was crossing from the branch curve lines leading to the luggage storehouses on to the main line.  The fog was so thick that it is described as utterly impossible for any one to see beyond twenty of thirty feet, and the result was, that before any measure could be taken to stop the speed of the mail train, it ran into the luggage train, dashing three of the luggage vans, and three of the carriages in the mail train, literally to atoms.”

Morning Post, 31st July 1845.

Changes were necessary.  Widening the Chalk Farm Bridge allowed extra lines to be built into the Depot, thereby helping to separate passenger traffic from other activities.  In 1846, the original engine house was replaced by two new buildings at opposite sides of the yard for handling passenger and ‘luggage’ (goods) locomotives respectively.  The goods engine house, known today as the ‘Roundhouse’, is one of the few buildings from the Railway’s early years to survive:

The goods engine-house is circular, and 160 feet in diameter, having twenty-four lines of railway, each sufficient for an engine and tender, radiating from a central turnplate 41 feet in diameter.  This form of building was found best adapted to the situation in which it is placed.  The turnplate is one of Handcocks, made by Messrs. Lloyds, Foster, and Co.; the struts and beams are of oak.  To guard against damage to this table, from engines running upon it from any line not corresponding with that on the revolving top, a strong casting is fixed round the periphery of the top, and projects upwards to the level of the rails.  This casting has no apertures for the flanches of the wheels, except at the ends of the rails upon the table itself; thus an engine cannot easily be run upon it, except when the revolving top is so turned that the two sets of rails shall correspond.”

Paper by R. B. Dockray published in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Volume 8 (1849).

The goods engine house at Camden, known today as the ‘Roundhouse’.
The conical slate roof has a central smoke louvre (now glazed) and is supported by 24 cast-iron Doric columns arranged
around the original locomotive spaces and a framework of curved ribs.

Camden Depot in 1847
Reproduced by kind permission of Peter Darley, Camden Railway Heritage Trust.

After about a decade in use, the Roundhouse also became too small to fulfil its intended role.  Over the decades that followed it served various unrelated purposes, including some 50 years as a bonded store for Gin distillers W. & A. Gilbey Ltd.  In recent years the building has become associated with the performing arts . . . .

Restored to something of its original condition, the Roundhouse is now regarded as a notable example of mid-19th century railway architecture and, as such, was declared a National Heritage Site in 2010.





Euston Road was then known as ‘The New Road’.  In 1852, the central section of The New Road, between Osnaburgh Street and Kings Cross, was renamed Euston Road, the eastern section became Pentonville Road and the western section Marylebone Road.


For surveying, the statute mile is divided into eight furlongs; each furlong into ten chains; each chain into four rods (also known as poles or perches); and each rod into 25 links.  This makes the rod equal to 5½ yards or 16½ feet in both Imperial and U.S. usage.


Stephenson’s plan for Euston Station had been approved in the previous month.


Roscoe and Lecount, who state the outturn was £91,528.


“BATTER: the face of a retaining or other wall when built in a leaning position, the top part falling back within the line of base; walls of this description are sometimes termed, ‘tallus walls’.  The batter of a wall is either straight or curved; the latter are also generally commenced straight from the top, the greatest degree of curvature being given to the bottom of the wall.  The average rate of the batter of the walls upon the London and Birmingham Railway is 2½ inches to the foot, and 1 inch to the foot for the wing walls of bridges.”

From A Glossary of Civil Engineering, S. C. Brees (1844).


“PUNNING: a mixture of good tempered clay and sand reduced to a semi-fluid state, and rendered impervious to water by manual labour, as working and chopping it about with spades.  It is used for the purpose of retaining the water in any particular situation, or for excluding it from any works: and it is usually spread in layers of about 12 inches in thickness.”

From A Glossary of Civil Engineering, S. C. Brees (1844).


COUNTERFORT: a pier or buttress, generally applied at the back of retaining walls in modern civil engineering, for the support of the same, and likewise for the purpose of forming a tie to the material at the back of the wall.  Counterforts are also sometimes carried up upon the face of a wall.

From A Glossary of Civil Engineering, S. C. Brees (1844).


F. W. Simms, Public Works of Great Britain (1838).