A record of over one and a half centuries of architectural history, the RIBA’s Periodicals Collection reveals news from 150 years ago this month about new buildings from across the the British Isles…

Herne Hill railway station, London

Herne Hill railway station, London
Architect: John Taylor
Source: Building News, 1 May 1863, vol.10, p.337
© RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collection

150 years ago in May 1863 there was news of the competition to design Liverpool’s New Exchange Buildings which had attracted 44 entries and were on public display in the city’s Old Session House (1). Church building was actively taking place, resulting in the opening of new or rebuilt churches such as the Gothic-style Daylesford Church in Worcestershire (2). Generating far more columns inches than these and leaving a legacy we are still using, readapting and investing in today were the railways.

Daylesford Church, Worcestershire

Daylesford Church, Worcestershire.
Architect: J. L. Pearson
Source: Building News, 15 May 1863, vol.10, p.375
© RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collection

“It seems as if the nation had become seized with a mania for railway locomotion, otherwise the excursion train could not have so speedily become a recognized institution in this country.” (Building News, 8 May 1863, vol.10, p.349).

Architectural details, Herne Hill railway station

Architectural details, Herne Hill railway station, London,
Architect: John Taylor
Source: Building News, 1 May 1863, vol.10, p.337
© RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collection

In 1862 Herne Hill was a new station on the expanding network of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, and was featured in Building News on 1 May 1863. The architecture of the station is Gothic, a style praised in the same article as a sign of the “improving state of public taste” (3) and its application on all types of buildings given as evidence of the vibrancy of the style.

Herne Hill railway station in May 2013

Herne Hill railway station in May 2013. It was Grade II listed in 1998
(Photograph by Wilson Yau)

There was also news of the laying of the foundation stone of Blackfriars Bridge (4). When the crossing was completed, the line from Herne Hill station was able to cross the Thames and connect to the eastern terminus of the world’s first underground railway, the Metropolitan line, which had only opened in January that same year.

The use of steam locomotives in the confines of a tunnel proved to be too much for some though. By May the Builder (5) was complaining of the dire state of ventilation in the Metropolitan Underground Railway: “the sulphurous fumes which escape from the tunnel are both unpleasant and unwholesome”. The journal recommended additional air shafts to improve the situation. There were complaints about the impact of the new railways on cities. In the article “Railway vandalism in Ludgate-hill” it was claimed that the new Ludgate Hill Viaduct would block a view of St Paul’s Cathedral and through demolition further ruin London, “proverbially an ugly city” (6). The viaduct was opened a few years later, but removed in the late 20th century.

It’s clear that London has always been a contested space and it has never been easy to build there.



    1. Builder, 30 May 1863, vol.21, p.381
    2. Building News, 15 May 1863, vol.10, p.374
    3. Building News, on 1 May 1863, vol.10, p.327
    4. Builder, 9th May 1863, vol.21, p. 336
    5. Builder, 9 May 1863 vol.21, p.335
    6. Building News, 15 May 1863 vol.10, p.381



About Wilson Yau
I work for the British Architectural Library at the RIBA as part of a team to share news, images and information online about the activities of the Library and the fascinating items we have in our architectural collections – it contains over four million items, so there's plenty to see! If you’re curious about what we do at the Library and with the collections, or want to discover the latest about our education programmes, public events and exhibitions at the RIBA, please visit www.architecture.com

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