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Posted By Robert. Stephenson


Martin Sheppard and  Peter Darley at the entrance to the underground vaults

Change in route could reopen ‘secret’ cavern and save local homes

Published: 7th July, 2011
by JOSIE HINTON

A HUGE underground cavern built beside the Regent’s Canal as part of the country’s first rail link to London could be brought back into use through the government’s proposed HS2 scheme.

The little-known railway vaults, close to Gloucester Avenue in Camden Town, could be restored and opened to the public for the first time in decades if the controversial high-speed link was re-routed, heritage campaigners have claimed.

The forgotten Grade II-listed Stationary Winding Engine Vaults were built by engineer Robert Stephenson in 1837 as part of the historic London and Birmingham Railway.

The vaults, which lie flooded beneath the railway line alongside Camden goods yard, were built to hoist trains up the hill from Euston on an 12,240ft rope – as their engines were not strong enough to power up the slope. 

Although one of the most remarkable surviving features from the early age of railway, most Camden residents do not know the 170ft long, 130ft wide chambers even exist. 

They are only drained for inspection once every six years but remain locked at other times.

Now, as the government continue work towards the HS2 line, strongly opposed in parts of Camden for the demolition and disruption it is expected to cause, heritage campaigners are calling for the vaults to be brought back into use. 

All the HS2 engineers need to do, campaigners say, is change their plans. Once drained and restored, it is claimed the vaults could be used for a variety of commercial purposes such as a café, sports club, swimming pool or even a nightclub. Architects’ sketches show how they could be transformed.

Peter Darley, secretary of the Camden Railway Heritage Trust, said part of the space should be given over to a museum commemorating Robert Stephenson.

He said: “We are giving HS2 the opportunity to do something really special here. The vaults are a relic of the railway which offer extraordinary but viable development opportunity.”


According to the conservation group, HS2 engineers admitted at the Euston roadshow they avoided running the tunnel under railway land as they were unwilling to risk damaging this historic site.

But Mr Darley said investigations had shown it is possible to align HS2’s tunnels near to or beneath the vaults without damaging or destroying them.

“Re-routing the tunnels under railway land would not only remove the threat to local housing, but would raise the question of the future of these large and provocative vaults,” he said.

Martin Sheppard, of the Gloucester Avenue Association, who is jointly submitting the bid, along with the Camden Railway Heritage Trust, said the proposals would also benefit residents of Gloucester Avenue – who would no longer have high-speed trains running beneath their homes.

 

 
Posted By Robert. Stephenson

 

A clay tobacco pipe found in 1977 at St Thomas Street, London excavations and dating from 1850-1900, the decoration features a steam locomotive on one side with a fully rigged (three masts, all square rigged) ship on the obverse. The locomotive is of the Planet type after Robert Stephenson’s Planet of 1830 and the ship is likely to be a Clipper, which became prominent from the 1840s and are probably best know for use in the tea trade with China. Perhaps the pipe celebrates Britain’s Industrial Revolution and the advances of 19th Century transportation.

 
Posted By Robert. Stephenson

HoS exhibition

 
Posted By Robert. Stephenson

The Camden Railway Heritage Trust has joined the campaign to get the alignment of HS2 moved from under the Victorian villas on Gloucester Avenue, to the northwest, to run under the existing railway lines - passing under Stephenson's winding engine vaults.  This provides a possibility of getting the vaults opened to the public as a Museum to Robert Stephenson, one of our most notable engineers.  The vaults are a unique space, and would provide a first class tourist destination - and an attraction that would fit well with the high speed railway line and the industrial heritage of Camden


 
Posted By Robert. Stephenson

In 1830, George Stephenson and Son were called on to decide between rival routes for this major undertaking, promoted by the trading and manufacturing interests of the country.  It was Robert Stephenson who undertook the necessary survey and decided that a route through Hertfordshire via Watford and Hemel Hempstead would be easier to construct and would require less land than its rival route via Oxford. 

Photo:The railway could not have survived in the early days without the use of horses. At Boxmoor, the Station Horse Bus was a regular feature trundling between the Station and the Marlowes Posting House

The railway could not have survived in the early days without the use of horses. At Boxmoor, the Station Horse Bus was a regular feature trundling between the Station and the Marlowes Posting House


Vigorously dissenting landowners held meetings in Berkhamsted and Watford when the plans for the railway were published in 1830 and 1831. The shareholders and trustees of the Sparrows Herne Turnpike and the Grand Junction Canal Company also opposed the Railway, since their routes ran almost parallel and would introduce serious competition.

When George Stephenson discovered in the early 19th century that a locomotive lost three-quarters of its power on a 1:100 gradient, it was clear that valleys had to be banked up, whilst tunnels and cuttings would have to be made into raised ground.

The fact that the original London and Birmingham Railway is still praised today for its smooth, straight and economical running is due to the engineering genius of Robert Stephenson, who built the railway between 1834-38 in strict accordance with his father’s principles.


In Dacorum, the London company of W & L Cubbitt secured the three contracts to construct just over nine miles of track from Kings Langley to Tring Station.According to The Reformer of 18 July 1837, “The directors of this rapidly progressing great national undertaking treated their friends and a large and brilliant party to an excursion along the railway on Thursday last.  The road from a station at Euston Grove to Boxmoor forming a route of 23 miles, and now finished in all essential details, was, as on the occasion of a former trial, the length of the excursion.”  Boxmoor became, in effect, the first terminus for a passenger railway in the world!


 

 

 

 
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