The District Railway

The Metropolitan District Railway (1868-1933) was the second of London's Underground railways and is the basis of today's District Line. It was a railway for many years troubled by financial difficulties and want of direction, but day to day control was entrusted to high-calibre managers who provided a reliable service against adversity and extended its train service well beyond its comparatively small network. It took American money and drive to push through much needed electrification in 1905 and within a few years the District was subsumed into the London Underground 'combine' and lost much of its own individuality. 

A Tale of Two Books

In 2015 I was asked to write a definitive history of the District Railway with a view to marking the 150-years anniversary at the end of 2018. This was not a task undertaking lightly since comparatively little had been written about this interesting little railway in comparison with other lines. More had been witten about the Met's Brill branch than about the District, so it appeared.

I had some forebodings about this since it did not make obvious sense why a railway (and in London terms an important one) had been studiously ignored by the usual railway authors who had unearthed much useful information about the rest of the system and published it. A vast tome had appeared about the Waterloo and City and even the old Great Northern & City Railway had had a book written about it. The only book about the District Railway was by Charles Lee, as part of the Oakwood series, and even that was sixty years old. I exclude in these observations the various later line histories written to a formula and where the need for brevity meant eliminating all but the essentials. 

My forebodings were well justified and I discovered for myself what earlier generations of author presumably observed, which was that the formal sources of data (many would call them primary sources but I have reservations about that term) were, to say the least, a bit thin. Compared with the Metropolitan Railway's capacious archives where the general manager's files survive and might be thought a daunting challenge because of their volume, the District equivalent is absent. Moreover the District minute books not only tend to be unyielding but are positively frustrating. For example topics are enndlessly postponed with no clear outcome; matters are delegated to committees that are never referred to again; troublesome correspondence is referred to at board meetings with no reference to what the subject is about, let alone what the reply was. Not all the minute books seem even to have survived and the Ealing & South Harrow company's books seem to have disappeared.

In order to synthesize any meaningful history it was necessary to consult a very large number of external sources in an attempt to piece together a coherant story despite conflicting records of events and mismatching dates, most (but not all) of which were eventually resolved. The outcome is a two volume history of the District Railway, the volume break located at the point of management change in 1901. By happy coincidence this coincides with the change of century and the half way point in the text. The imperative of having something ready for the District's 150th birthday was (I suppose) useful in focusing the mind but inevitably foreshortended the time available for research; there were many things unearthed for which more investigation was called for and another year would have been handy.

Corrections and amplifications to both volumes may be found below:
Corrections to MDR Volume 1
Corrections to MDR Volume 2


Any comments, or additional information, will be especially welcome.

Alternative Link - Click here to view Directors

Alternative Link - Click here to view Earls Court Exhibitions and The Great Wheel

Alternative Link - Click here to view Tower of London & roman wall

Reason for These Website Pages

Having said something of the background to the books covering the District Railway history, and the unavoidable deadline, I come to the 'what next'. No piece of research is probably ever 'complete', whatever that means, and it seemed to me useful to create a channel in which additional information might be made known and corrections and amplifications made and where this is all in one place.

To that end I have added a 'District Railway' section to my website which I have titled: 'The Metropolitan District Railway - Some Historical Footnotes'. These pages are intended to evolve as new information becomes available that might be of interest. It is not intended to cover material already in the books, which should be regarded as 'background'. Inevitably there will be some overlap and it is possible that over time new information might appear here that supersedes odd sections of the book. In the main it is hoped to introduce new material, or more detail, where inclusion in the book was not possible or too detailed for a general historical work. Moreover the book stops in 1933 but the District's history continued to march forward.

I will be dividing material by topic but in order to kick start these pages I will just insert some simple links for now.

The first contribution is about District Railway Directors.


MDR Research

District Railway Directors

District Railway Maps

Snippets additional to my District Railway book

District Railway book - link to Errors & Omissions

District Railway Signals (signal boxes)

MDR Essays

Cloak Lane and the District Railway Vault

The District Railway's Animals

The District Railway and its Elusive Apostrophe

The District Railway's HQ Offices and 55 Broadway

Earls Court Exhibitions and The Great Wheel

Tower of London & roman wall

Additional District Railway photos

Cleopatra’s Needle and the District Railway