“Passing Brompton Road!”

Adrian Davies (barrister, local resident, and campaigner for the re-opening of Brompton Road station) writes at bromptonroad.org.uk:

Brompton Road station on the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway opened on 15th December 1906. It was designed by the architect Leslie Green in the “arts and crafts” style, and situated between Knightsbridge and South Kensington, in a location convenient for the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brompton Oratory, as well as the shops of the Brompton Road, but traffic levels were disappointing, and within a few years, a practice arose of running some trains through the station without stopping, to speed up the service.

This practice also obtained at several other stations on the Piccadilly line, indeed it still does between Hammersmith and Acton Town, though a few Piccadilly line trains do call at Turnham Green, but for whatever reason, it stuck in the minds of Londoners in the case of Brompton Road, so much so that the words “Passing Brompton Road” (which the guard would call out at Knightsbridge or South Kensington to forewarn passengers that the train would not stop at the next station) became the title of a West End farce by Jevan Brandon-Thomas, starring one of the famous actresses of the time, Marie Tempest, which enjoyed a run of 174 performances at the Criterion, though the play’s success was attributed more to Miss Tempest’s fame that any merit in the script!

In 2008, a second play centred on Brompton Road Station – Anthony Chew’s Sailing By – was produced by the Byfleet Players.

Brompton Road closed briefly in 1926 as a consequence of the General Strike, but re-opened after a few months by local demand (despite its supposed unpopularity).

By the early 1930s, its then owner, by then London Electric Railways (which became part of the London Passenger Transport Board on 1st July 1933) was looking at ways to speed up journey times on the Piccadilly tube, which was becoming more popular for long distance commuting. The extension from Finsbury Park (its original northerly terminus) to Cockfosters was in contemplation, while the Piccadilly was also expanding westwards from Hammersmith (its original westerly terminus), taking over some lines formerly operated by the District Railway.

The trains of those days could not accelerate away from stations so quickly as modern trains, so it was decided to close three of the less busy stations (Down Street, York Road and Brompton Road) to speed up the service for the benefit of longer distance passengers.

Down Street closed on 21st May 1932, York Road followed on 19th September 1932, but Brompton Road survived till Sunday 29th July 1934, when the rebuilding of Knightsbridge station was complete. Its new entrance in Hans Crescent opened on Monday 30th July 1934.

The idea was that the new southerly entrance to Knightsbridge station was close enough to Brompton Road to serve much of Brompton Road’s catchment area, but that is a very debatable proposition, as anyone who has struggled up the pavement of the Brompton Road in a sea of shoppers and tourists can attest. Local residents, especially in the streets to the north of the Brompton Road (for whom neither South Kensington nor Knightsbridge stations are very convenient) would surely disagree with the suggestion that an entrance to Knightsbridge station in Hans Crescent is sufficient for their needs.

During the Second World War, the station saw use as the headquarters of London’s anti-aircraft defences, remaining in military hands long after advances in aviation had made “ack-ack” batteries obsolete as a defence against enemy bombers. Its present use is a legacy of its wartime past.

Regrettably, the station’s original frontage on the Brompton Road was demolished in early 1972 (together with the former Gladstone pub and a rather fine bank building at the corner of Brompton Square) to make way for the non-descript white fronted building that presently occupies the site, though the side entrance in Cottage Place is almost unaltered.

It was still possible to see the station from passing trains well into the 1950s, but yellow brick walls were later erected to screen the platform area from view (as also happened at Down Street, where more can however be seen from trains even to-day).

If you look carefully to the right from the window of a train proceeding from Knightsbridge to South Kensington (in either direction, since Brompton Road had island platforms, similar to those at Hyde Park Corner) you can see the brick walls. In my experience, they are more easily observed when travelling west from Knightsbridge to South Kensington than in the opposite direction.

Behind them the station is surprisingly intact, though the platforms have been demolished.”

Maev Kennedy reported for The Guardian of 28 Feb 2014:

“A debatably desirable building in one of London’s most expensive areas, which needs slightly more than the usual cosmetic refurbishment, has been sold for £53m.

The former Brompton Road underground station was convenient for Harrods and Harvey Nichols, but already redundant as a tube station by the time it became a second world war command centre for anti-aircraft batteries.

It is also said to have been where Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, was interrogated after he was captured in 1941, when his solo flight in a Messerschmitt – apparently a doomed attempt to negotiate a peace settlement – ended in a crash landing in Scotland.

The complex has been sold by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), and although there was a proposal to restore it as a heritage attraction, it is understood to have been bought by a property developer for conversion into flats.

The buyer has not been disclosed, but the Qatari royal family and a Ukrainian billionaire are said to have been interested…

Above ground it has a drill hall, garages, offices and a mess dating from its recent use as a training base for air cadets and naval reservists…

When the sale was announced the defence minister, Andrew Murrison, said the MoD was aware of its historic interest. “The Ministry of Defence is committed to selling off its surplus land and property in order to provide the best possible value for money to the taxpayer,” he said.

“At the same time we take our role as a custodian of the nation’s history very seriously and have been working to record the historic significance of the building.”

The money from the sale will be returned to the defence budget, Murrison said.”

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