Puppydog tails — 20 September 2019

How devious have you to be when an American banker describes your actions as “the greatest rascality and conspiracy ever heard of”? This was directed at Charles Tyson Yerkes by the founder of the bank J. P. Morgan.

YERKES (serendipitously pronounced like ‘turkeys’) had served time in his native Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary for larceny and embezzlement before he left the United States, leaving behind his creditors to pick up the pieces from his many failed ventures. One of which was the control of Chicago’s rail network for which he had been nicknamed ’The streetcar Czar of Chicago’.

On seeing the rapid expansion of London’s Tube network he resolved to turn his hand to the same complex and questionable deals he had practised in America. Astoundingly before long, he found himself in control of the failing Metropolitan District Railway, the half-built Bakerloo, and the as-yet unbuilt Piccadilly Lines.

But it was the extension of the Northern Line – the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead – that Yerkes was to meet his nemesis in the shape of a middle-class social reformer – Dame Henrietta Octavia Weston Barnett.

Dubious proposals

Despite fierce local opposition to the proposal, Yerkes won the Parliamentary permission he needed for his ambitious, if not dubious scheme, he had after all in the past had his 33-month sentence in the slammer reduced to 7 after threatening to blackmail a number of powerful, influential Pennsylvanian political bigwigs.

Having raised the necessary funds Yerks started tunnelling, with the intention of constructing a station close to the Bull and Bush pub in North End Road the station was to be named North End.

His plan was to use investor’s money to build the railway line and the station and then develop the surrounding farmland around his station into the street after street of gleaming new houses – all built by him of course – the residents using his station on their commute to work.

Charles Tyson Yerkes Yerks had seriously underestimated the English middle class. Henrietta who a few years ago had acquired Evergreen Hill as a weekend home at Spaniard’s End really didn’t want Yerkes’s ghastly new homes on her patch. She wasn’t short of a bob or two either and while Yerkes was busying himself with underground excavations, she established a trust which bought 243 acres of prime real estate around ‘North End’ and incorporated it into Hampstead Heath.

A white elephant

It was a strategic fait accompli, Yerkes could continue to tunnel until he was blue in the face but without permission to develop above ground, his grand scheme suddenly became a white elephant and in 1906 work on the new station stopped.

By the time the line was opened North End had already been bricked up to spare everybody’s blushes. The new trains rattled past, oblivious to the abandoned platforms.

Much of the land which Yerkes was denied developing became the Hampstead Garden Suburb, a model garden city which no doubt attracted the sort of people that Henrietta did approve of to be her neighbours.

While there are 43 other ‘ghost’ or disused stations on the Underground network North End holds the dubious distinction of being the only one built that never actually saw active service. Or a single passenger.

The Tube’s deepest station

It does, however, boast one tenuous claim to fame, at 221 feet below ground, North End would have been the Tube’s deepest station but for Barnett’s intervention, rather than a vast underground void.

The renamed ‘Bull and Bush’ ghost station remains in its pristine unused state. Unfortunately, it is closed to the general public. But one lucky person Hywel Williams on his excellent site Underground History gives an account of his visit.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 27th December 2013

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