Although there is still a station called Aldgate East on the London Underground network, it is not the original. In fact, it’s 150 metres (500 feet) to the east of where it once was. The entire station was moved to allow expansion of a number of junctions on the underground network.
The original station opened in 1884 and served the District Railway. Originally proposed to be called Commercial Road, Aldgate East was chosen as the City of London ward of Aldgate lies east of the station. Perhaps confusingly, there is also a station called Aldgate. The station is actually located in Whitechapel, the district in London famed as the location of the Jack The Ripper murders.
The world’s first underground railway was the Metropolitan Railway which ran from Farringdon Street to Paddington in London, England. It opened in 1863 in response to the city’s massive growth. At that time, London was the most populated city on earth with about 3 million people living there. By 1900, there was 6.5 million. It was not until 1925 that it was overtaken by New York as the world’s most populous city.
The Metropolitan Railway was a huge success and the benefit of transporting people underground was apparent. Plans were made for additional underground lines, one of which was the District Railway. It opened in 1868, running from South Kensington to Westminster. On the same day, the Metropolitan Railway opened an extension from Paddington to South Kensington. The District Railway was extended in 1970 from Westminster. This became known as the Inner Circle as it was possible to essentially ring the entire city on the lines which were jointly run by both companies. It served many important locations in Central London.
Conflict between the two, however, led to delays in completing the full circle and the Metropolitan Inner Circle Completion Railway Company was set up with that aim. The circle was completed by joining a new station at Aldgate on the Metropolitan Railway to Mansion House on the District Railway. At the same time, a short extension to the east joined the Inner Circle to the East London Railway. Aldgate East and St Mary’s were the two stations on this extension. The new services began in October 1884.
When a plan to join the Metropolitan Railway line to Liverpool Street was suggested, it was realised the curve of the track would be too tight and so the station would need relocation. The next station on the line, St Mary’s (Whitechapel Road) was now deemed too close and so it was closed. The new Aldgate East was opened in 1938 with a modernist design. The station had moved only 150 metres (500 feet) but unlike the previous incarnation, the new Aldgate East was completely subterranean. As a result, the track needed to be lowered by 7 feet. To achieve this without closing the line, the engineers dug under the existing tracks and kept them aloft with huge wooden tresses. Then 900 workmen used hooks to lower the entire track in one night.
Remnants of the old station can still be seen however it’s hard to see in the dark of the underground tunnels as the trains pass by. There are a number of abandoned stations on the London Underground such as Aldwych and York Road, each having its own interesting tale.