South Kensington is a London Underground station in Kensington, west London. It is served by the District, Circle and Piccadilly lines. On the District and Circle lines the station is between Gloucester Road and Sloane Square, and on the Piccadilly Line it is between Gloucester Road and Knightsbridge. South Kensington is the easternmost interchange between these three lines; the Circle and District lines diverge from the Piccadilly line slightly east of the station. It is in Travelcard Zone 1.
The main station entrance is located at the junction of Old Brompton Road (A3218), Thurlow Place, Harrington Road, Onslow Place and Pelham Street. Subsidiary entrances are located in Exhibition Road giving access by pedestrian tunnel to the Natural History, Science and Victoria and Albert Museums. Also close by are Imperial College London, the Royal College of Music, the London branch of the Goethe-Institut and the Ismaili Centre.
The station was opened on 24 December 1868 by the Metropolitan Railway (MR, later the Metropolitan Line) and the Metropolitan District Railway (MDR, later the District Line). The MR had previously opened an extension from Praed Street (now Paddington) to Gloucester Road on 1 October 1868 and opened tracks to South Kensington to connect to the MDR when the later opened the first section of its line to Westminster. Although the two companies were rivals, each company operated its trains over the other's tracks in a joint service known as the "Inner Circle".
On 1 August 1870, the MDR opened additional tracks between Gloucester Road Station and South Kensington Station and on 10 July 1871 the MDR opened its own station facilities.
On 1 February 1872, the MDR opened a northbound branch from its station at Earl's Court to connect to the West London Extension Joint Railway (WLEJR, now the West London Line) which it connected to at Addison Road (now Kensington (Olympia)). From that date the "Outer Circle" service began running over the MDR's tracks. The service was run by the North London Railway (NLR) from its terminus at Broad Street (now demolished) in the City of London via the North London Line to Willesden Junction, then the West London Line to Addison Road and the MDR to Mansion House - at that time the eastern terminus of the MDR.
From 1 August 1872, the "Middle Circle" service also began operations through South Kensington running from Moorgate along the MR's tracks on the north side of the Inner Circle to Paddington then over the Hammersmith & City Railway (H&CR) track to Latimer Road then, via a now demolished link, to the West London Line to Addison Road and the MDR to Mansion House. The service was operated jointly by the H&CR and the MDR.
In 1885 the MDR opened the pedestrian subway from the station beneath the length of Exhibition Road giving sheltered access to the newly built museums although there was a toll on using the passage until 1908.
On 30 June 1900, the Middle Circle service was withdrawn between Earl's Court and Mansion House.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the MDR had made extensions to Richmond, Ealing, Hounslow (now served by the Piccadilly Line) and Wimbledon and was suffering considerable congestion on the southern section of the Inner Circle between South Kensington and Mansion House. Between these two stations it was running an average of twenty trains an hour with more in the peak periods.
To relieve the congestion the MDR planned an express deep tube line from Earl's Court to Mansion House. Parliamentary approval was obtained in 1897 but little work was done. In 1898 the MDR took over the Brompton & Piccadilly Circus Railway (B&PCR) which had a route planned from South Kensington to Piccadilly Circus. The route was modified to join the MDR deep tube route at South Kensington and the section eastwards to Mansion House was cancelled. A short section of one of the MDR deep tube platforms was constructed and tiled but never brought into service (although it was later used as a signal school).
Following the purchase of the MDR by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London Ltd in 1902, the planned tube line was subsequently merged with a third proposed route and opened on 15 December 1906, as the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (GNP&BR, now the Piccadilly Line) between Finsbury Park and Hammersmith. The deep platforms at South Kensington were constructed beneath the sub-surface platforms and access was provided from street level by lifts from an extension to the sub-surface station building. This building was designed by Leslie Green and built with the GNP&BR's distinctive ox-blood red glazed terracotta façade. A short section of one of the deep level platforms was constructed and tiled but never brought into service (although it was later used as subterranean offices).
On 31 December 1908, the Outer Circle service was also withdrawn between Earl's Court and Mansion House.
In 1949 the Metropolitan Line operated Inner Circle route was given its own identity on the tube map as the Circle Line.
In 2005 the Victoria and Albert Museum re-opened an entrance leading directly from the pedestrian subway to the Museum's basement, that had been closed since the 1970s.
Famously, the two members of the band Placebo met here accidentally and then decided to start a band.
The layout of the sub-surface platforms has been altered from the original layout. From north to south, the original layout of the platforms was:
- Platform 1: MR eastbound
- Platform 2: MR westbound
- Platform 3: MDR eastbound
- Platform 4: MDR westbound
Platforms 2 and 3 were island platforms with a track between them used for terminating and reversing MR trains arriving from the west. The reversing track was taken out of use in 1957 and the gap filled to connect the two island platforms. Platforms 1 and 4 were taken out of use in January 1968 and March 1969 respectively. The tracks for these platforms were also removed and platform 4 was subsequently demolished.The widened island platform is now served by the District and Circle Lines in both directions although the trains run in the opposite direction to the original arrangement. Following the closure of platforms 1 and 4, platform 3 was renumbered as 1. The current arrangement has trains running in opposite directions to the original layout as follows:
- Platform 1 (previously platform 3): District and Circle Lines westbound
- Platform 2: District and Circle Lines eastbound
Following the replacement of the original lifts with escalators, the GNP&BR station building has not been used to provide access to the tube platforms. It remains abandoned on Pelham Street though the remainder of the terrace of which it once formed a part has been demolished. It is possible that the entrance may be reinstated as a means by which the mobility impaired may access the tube platforms.
There are points east of the station which allow westbound trains to terminate here and then crossover to the eastbound track.
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