A tweet by Tim Dunn about the new rotunda at Leicester Square in ‘Northern Line’ days (it actually opened in Morden-Edgware line days) prompted an even deeper look at the archives at the LT Museum – plus some detail from a post I wrote in 2016. Hence this is an extra post in addition to the others that have been prepared and its wholly about Leicester Square tube – which was of course the Morden-Edgware line’s showcase station when it first opened in May 1935. The rotunda in the ticket hall was certainly a feature of the new station in those days and passengers were able to see the completed rotunda for the first time just before the Silver Jubilee in May 1935. Its somewhat like the exhibition area at Charing Cross (now Embankment) tube station which was also used for quite a few exhibitions during the 1930s. Both these locations were used regularly until the outbreak of WWII. Both sites, including Leicester Square’s rotunda (as were the station’s three other exhibition areas) were used again for exhibitions after WWII until perhaps the late 1950s.
You know that little rotunda in the middle of Leicester Square tube station ticket hall? WELL. Whilst originally intended as a ticket office, by 1938 it was hosting mini museum exhibitions from @V_and_A & @britishmuseum. Later it was retail display. #SecretsOfTheLondonUnderground pic.twitter.com/LIhPtfteIP— Tim Dunn (@MrTimDunn) August 8, 2023
Tim’s post says the Leicester Square Rotunda was originally intended as a ticket office. That is right however it seems it was never used for that purpose. In fact this part of the station didn’t open until July 1936. That wasn’t a problem because the station already had passimeters provided for both the Piccadilly and Morden-Edgware lines, and Passimeters plus rows of the latest automated ticket machines (ticket-issuing machines as the L.P.T.B. called these) were the Underground’s preferred means of conducting ticket sales. Automated ticket machines were nothing new, the underground had been using these for years, in fact the Bakerloo line had been the first to introduce these new machines at all of its stations.
In the light of this its evident that by this time (1936) the rotunda’s role had been changed. There was no need for any other ticketing facilities at the station for its Passimeters already served that purpose – thus the rotunda instead became an exhibition space that complemented the others already at the station. There’s photographs and pictures which do show the Rotunda was built with a glass frontage for the purpose of showing exhibitions and displays.
Those other spaces included FOUR further large glass fronted areas, making a total of seven altogether (including the Rotunda). The LPTB were looking for ways to increase revenue and what better than just merely having advertising space? Proper exhibition space and lots of it! This obviously came on the success of that at Charing Cross (aka Embankment) station, and it was intended to make Leicester Square the showpiece of the
Northern line oops the Morden-Edgware line.
The exhibitions at Charing Cross tube station which began in the 1920s are too numerous to list but they included several on transit such as this London Transport one from 1935. LT Museum.
Clearly Charing Cross was where larger, more interactive, exhibitions took place. Leicester Square was where smaller modern design exhibitions, took place. The construction progress of the system’s new extensions and stations were regularly billed at Charing Cross exhibitions and included movies and working models on progress at Arnos Grove and other locations. At Leicester Square the rotunda saw exhibitions such as that showing plans for a rebuilt South Bank area scheme (including huge six lane motorways!) The much vaunted V&A exhibitions came later.
By the time the new station had opened the exhibition areas were put straight to use for the Silver Jubilee of George V. This took place on 6th May 1935. The station had opened just two days previously. Clearly it had been GO from the very start with the station carrying several million passengers in its first week! One newspaper described the new station as ‘London Transport’s Jubilee gift to London.’
THE FORMER LITTLE NEWPORT STREET ENTRANCE
This is a little known aspect of Leicester Square tube station which opened as part of the complex in 1935 and since the story of that does tie in with the rotunda as well as the general construction of the new station, its a good point on which to start this special historical feature on the Morden-Edgware line’s brand new tube station!
Leicester Square station once had five exits although only four can be seen today. The fifth is still extant but that one is no longer obvious – even though it still remains. The former entrance now has a different purpose – its a bureau de change In order to make the premises fit for this new purpose the former stairs down to the adjoining subway were backfilled thus increasing the floor space.
When the entrance was opened in 1935 the canopy had the following detail: LEICESTER SQUARE STATION MORDEN – EDGWARE LINE. Evidently at the time the LPTB thought the Morden-Edgware line was to be a permanent tube line! As has been detailed in the earlier pages on this feature, it lasted just three and half years.
Leicester Square station’s No. 3 entrance in 1934. Morden-Edgware line can be seen on the Little Newport Street side of the canopy. LT Museum.
The Little Newport Street entrance was always known as Leicester Square no.3. It might seem a little illogical in terms of the station’s five exits however the three on this section of Charing Cross Road were known as No.1, No.2 and No.3. The other two, Charing Cross/Cranbourn Street were known as no.4 and no.5. Evidently this was achieved by way of chronology – eg the dates the entrances were first completed. No.1 (Charing Cross Road/Wyndhams) was the first to be finished even though it could not be used until the new ticket hall and escalators had been finished. No.2 (by the Hippodrome) was the second to be finished and of course No.3 was Little Newport Street was the last to be completed ahead of the station’s official opening on 4th May 1935.
The Little Newport Street entrance in 1959. This picture shows the site in quite good detail. LT Museum.
The present No.3 entrance isn’t Little Newport Street but rather that opposite which was formerly No.4! Similarly No.5 (Cranbourn Street) has become No.4. The present numbering does however keep the convention of when the current entrances were completed in chronological order.
The same location in August 2023. The S.A. Heaps concrete canopy can be easily seen at the current time as its undergoing some work. The former LTPB entrance has been modified considerably thus its not easy to know there was once an entrance here that gave access to Leicester Square station.
Whilst this entrance denoted it as that for the Morden-Edgware line the other in Charing Cross Road/Cranbourn Street denoted that one as being for the Piccadilly line. This arrangement actually made sense because the Little Newport Street entrance was the quickest route to the Morden Edgware line whilst the new Cranbourn Street entrance was the quickest to the Piccadilly line. Ultimately it didn’t really matter which entrance was used because all these entrances connected up to the new circular ticket hall area although by using those particular entrances one could reach those lines’ passimeters and escalators slightly quicker.
The Little Newport Street entrance on the right (ATM Free Cash Withdrawals sign) and Leicester Square’s No.3 entrance on the left. The subway ran under Charing Cross Road and indeed part of the station’s ticket hall/escalators are under here too. Incidentally the no.24 bus is about where the bank of telephone booths were to be found in the Little Newport Street subway below. One can work out that the ticket gateline leading to the Northern line escalators must be sited roughly between the no.24 bus and the Angus Steak House restaurant.
View of the former Little Newport Street entrance from the main one in Charing Cross Road. Essentially this is a view from the present No.3 exit to the other No.3 exit! Confused? All is explained next. Evidently it was thought the two entrances were a little too close to each other and thus formed a duplication.
Mention must be made of the fact these three new entrance/exits – Little Newport Street, Charing Cross Road west side (Hippodrome) and Charing Cross Road south side by Wyndhams were the only ones to open in 1935. These were the ones that had the plain tiled walls and no additional adornments. Those sited within the original Leicester Square structure were not finished until 1936, and were in fact opened on the 8th of June 1936. These two are the ones with the unusual London Transport tiling plus roundels. The tiling is what TfL call a geometric pattern since it represents and interlocked ‘LT’ within the blue tile banding. Anyway the need for that particular arrangement was in order to permit the station to operate with its old style ticket hall and lifts until the the first half of the new circular ticket hall area (southern part) and the escalators to both the Morden-Edgware and Piccadilly lines were opened.
The Charing Cross Road entrance (the current No.3) with its interlocked ‘LT’ blue tile banding. This was one of the two access points that opened in June 1936. The bottom of the stairs is the site of the station’s former lift shafts. In previous years this view would have been one looking towards the ticket office (on the left) and the top lift landing (on the right).
That phasing of the works which meant these two access points opened later was undertaken to allow the other half of the station (eg the half the above picture is taken in) which constituted the old ticket hall and lifts to be demolished and the new style entrances and lower staircase lobby to be built. That as well as the northern half of the new circular ticket hall.
This part of Leicester Square tube station’s new ticket hall didn’t open until June 1936. Ahead are the stairs (no.3 and no.4 exits) and this is where the former station’s lift shafts were sited. Evidently these had to be cut away in order to facilitate this new arrangement. The truncated shafts were then capped.
The lift shafts were repurposed for facilities such as the famous Leicester Square Control Room and the station’s telephone exchange, as well as ventilation. The shafts were partitioned with floors at regular intervals for the different facilities. Much like other tube stations that formerly had lifts, the lower landings invariably remain although used for other purposes now, as well as the adjacent passageways forming access to the then new facilities constructed within the lift shafts. The station’s spiral staircase shaft still exists but isn’t used for anything and like the lift shafts this too is truncated at the top so there’s no possible route via those now.
Evidently one will no doubt realise the lifts were sited where the 1936 built stairs are. The lower stair lobby is in fact positioned across the old lift shafts. The fact this part of the station with its special geometric pattern tiling was not photographed until more than a year later than the rest of the station proves pretty much they had opened much later than the rest of the station. See these pictures from the LT Museum – Charing X Rd entrance and Cranbourn St entrance for example.
As for the Little Newport Street entrance, even though it closed around forty years ago LRT/LUL/TfL owned the property until recently. The premises were sold off for £9.1million in 2017. (TfL Commercial Property Report July 2017.) Evidently there is clearly no desire to reinstate Leicester Square station’s fifth tube entrance. Its a similar situation of sorts to Piccadilly Circus where there were once more entrances than there are now.
Clearly the No.3 entrance which emerged onto the corner of Charing Cross Road/Little Newport Street (originally Newport Street) was so close to the other in Charing Cross Road it amounted to a duplication. The other entrance a short distance further down by the Hippodrome was also a duplicated entrance however its likely the Hippodrome was so busy that London Underground deemed it necessary. The Little Newport Street one was probably much more lightly used hence LT saw it as surplus to their needs and had been closed by the 1980s. This picture at the LT Museum just about shows the subway in its last years of use.
The passageway under Charing Cross Road from the Little Newport Street entrance. This runs entirely under Charing Cross Road and is still extant as a staff mess/store facility for LUL. LT Museum.
Whilst everyone extols the fact the Leicester Square Rotunda once provided advertising and exhibition opportunities, few know the Little Newport Street subway offered the same too. In the above picture towards the far end can be seen the glass fronts of the said exhibition area.
Part of the 1930s cut-away map for Leicester Square tube station showing the Little Newport Street subway section. The substantial exhibition area is very clearly evident. Image sourced from Facebook.
Interestingly the recessed area by the top of the Northern Line escalators was once a left luggage facility. It seems this began life as an extension off the Little Newport Street entrance. After that entrance closed much of its subway was partitioned off with the remaining section becoming a new bank of telephones plus a left luggage facility.
This couple looking at TfL’s new large map/leaflet/info display introduced at some central area stations prob have no idea a subway exists behind the wall! The entrance to the Little Newport Street subway once stood here! There is a doorway on the left (out of sight) which gives access to the old subway – now used as a utility/office area.
The Little Newport Street subway is still marked on LUL maps – at least those that were released as part of a FOI made to TfL in 2015 where a number of 3D maps for the more important tube stations were released. The extract shown below highlights the section that is the remnant of the Little Newport Street subway. Evidently there’s no exit because there isn’t one!
The Little Newport Street subway is marked on this extract from the Leicester Square axonometric.
This pic is the Hippodrome opposite Leicester Square tube in 1923. The shop called J. Collard would be the station’s No.2 entrance in just over ten years’ time. How things change! Facebook.
If one looks at the next picture, the Hippodrome canopy can be seen again, however next to that can just be seen the canopy over the new No.2 station entrance. This picture is evidence the entrance next to the Hippodrome was finished quite early in the Leicester Square rebuilding works. Of course the Little Newport Street subway and entrance had yet to be finished, and then the old ticket hall and lifts demolished to permit the other two new entrances to be built.
Work underway on the new look Leicester Square station in 1934 when it served the Morden-Edgware line. This section would form the northern area of the ticket hall including the Morden-Edgware line’s new escalators. This is the centre of Charing Cross Road which has been dug up. LT Museum.
The station saw three different parts to the new build. The first took place in 1930 when the southern entrance on the corner of Cranbourn Street and Charing Cross Road was begun. The new entrance was evidently finished first but did not come into use until 4th May 1935 like the rest of the station. That building and its new entrance is specifically Charles Holden. The second part was the new substation in Long Acre. This sort of took place midway throughout the construction period which was 1930 to 1935. The third and bigger work took place throughout from 1930 to 1936 when the new subterranean ticket hall and adjoining escalators were built, along with the Newport Street entrance. Much of the work for the new station was undertaken by way of a large hole excavated in the middle of the Charing Cross Road! Evidently the work had to be done in that order to permit continued access to the station – eg to allow the lifts to continue operation right up until a point where they had to be removed and the new ticket hall and escalators then built.
Report on the new Leicester Square station. The Chronicle newspaper (Canada) 1935. Internet Archive.
The new station is frequently credited to Charles Holden however many sources say it was S. A. Heaps’ work. London’s Underground Stations – A Social and Architectural Study (1983) indicates that Holden did the initial designs but it was largely Heaps’ work. The new Cranbourn Street entrance is one aspect for which Holden clearly drew up the plans at an early stage – this being 1924. Other than that Heaps did most of the work since he knew what Holden would have required.
This following picture is another Leicester Square photograph that has links to the Morden-Edgware line….
The tube map seen in the above picture is the first of the Morden-Edgware line maps and would have included that line (as well as the others) inset into the actual colour lineage routes too. This was the second edition of the hugely celebrated Harry Beck London Underground map. LT Museum.
August 2023 view of the same location – and its still fulfilling the same role as in 1935!
This innovative information kiosk sited by the Leicester Square rotunda was photographed in September 1937. Despite the tube in question now being the Northern line, if one looks closely at the detail within the left hand arrow indicator it clearly says: Morden-Edgware Line. Platforms 3 and 4. LT Museum.
In terms of the discussion on the rotunda at Leicester Square station – whether it had ever been a ticket office to start with or not – the above photograph shows it had clearly been built as a glass fronted showcase. There was no need for a ticket office at this spot because the station had already came furnished with passimeters for both the Morden-Edgware and the Piccadilly lines. Just to stress a point, this part of the station was not available until 1936 (which is when this section plus the new stairs and exits within the old Leslie Green building were opened) thus evidently the passimeters proved their worth, and I’m certain that during the intervening period May 1935 to June 1936 the LPTB had a change of mind thus repurposed the rotunda for displays and exhibitions.
General view of the new Leicester Square ticket hall in May 1935. The Piccadilly line name can be seen on the illuminated indicators straight ahead. To the left can be seen part of the indicator for the Morden-Edgware line. LT Museum.
The same view 88 years later! The display area on the right remains. The pillar on the left is there too but is obscured by a board. The 1935 photo was taken with a wide angle lens which explains why this August 2023 photo looks so much closer.
The escalators, platforms and other areas were all rebuilt as part of the 1930-1936 work. However the scope of that is way beyond the present work. Some other pictures and further detail on the new Leicester Square station can be found in Morden-Edgware line #1.
The now regular Morden-Edgware line bonus feature section!
The Shop – an automated vending machine found on the Morden-Edgware platforms at Leicester Square!
The Shop at Leicester Square on the Morden-Edgware line platforms was a new innovation. The constricted nature of the tube platforms generally made it very difficult to have any sort of retail facility made available. The LPTB came up with the idea of ‘The Shop’ which was an automated facility found on the platforms. It was an attempt at providing some form of retail in the shape of chocolates and snacks. Evidently the other issue was the normal kind of automated vending machine was stand alone (some were chained down no doubt). Use of these could be dangerous especially if they were thrown onto the electric tracks. LPTB’s innovation solved that problem by way of being built into the station tunnel wall. Pic is from Penny Fare 1936.
The feature image created specially for this post shows a roundel with the interlocked ‘LT’ on the blue rectangle section. The roundel is in fact one of Leicester Square’s (its the Opening Night roundel!) The reason it was changed to show the interlocked ‘LT’ lettering was to make it a sort of homage to the new station which opened 1935-36.