An advertisement for some of the destinations on the Piccadilly line
The Piccadilly line began as the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (GNP&BR), one of several railways controlled by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL), whose chief director was Charles Tyson Yerkes, although he died before any of his schemes came to fruition.
The GNP&BR was formed from the merger of two earlier, but unbuilt, tube-railway companies taken over in 1901 by Yerkes' consortium: the Great Northern & Strand Railway (GN&SR) and the Brompton & Piccadilly Circus Railway (B&PCR). The GN&SR's and B&PCR's separate routes were linked with an additional section between Piccadilly Circus and Holborn. A section of the District Railway's scheme for a deep-level tube line between South Kensington and Earl's Court was also added in order to complete the route.
When the GNP&BR was formally opened on 15 December 1906, the line ran from the Great Northern Railway's station at Finsbury Park to the District Railway's station at Hammersmith.
On 30 November 1907, the short branch from Holborn to the Strand (later renamed Aldwych) opened; it had been planned as the last section of the GN&SR before the amalgamation with the B&PCR. In 1905 (and again in 1965), plans were made to extend it the short distance south under the River Thames to Waterloo, but this never happened. Although built with twin tunnels, single-track shuttle operation became the norm on the branch from 1918 on, with the eastern tunnel closed to traffic.
On 1 July 1910, the GNP&BR and the other UERL-owned tube railways (the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway, the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway) were merged by private Act of Parliament to become the London Electric Railway Company.
On 10 December 1928, a rebuilt Piccadilly Circus station was opened. This included a sub-surface booking hall and eleven escalators, replacing the original lifts, and was the start of a renovation of the whole railway, including a comprehensive programme of station enlargement.
Extension to Cockfosters
From the 1920s onwards there had been severe congestion at the line's northern terminus, Finsbury Park, where travellers had to change on to trams, buses, or London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) main line trains for destinations in north and northeast London. There had been deputations made to Parliament asking for an early extension of the line either toward Tottenham and Edmonton, or toward Wood Green and Palmers Green.
The early 1930s was a time of severe recession, and government capital was made available in order to relieve unemployment. The chief features of the scheme were an extension northwards from Finsbury Park to Cockfosters. It was also planned to build a station between Manor House and Turnpike Lane at the junction of Green Lanes and St Ann's Road in Harringay, but this was stopped by Frank Pick, who felt that the bus and tram service at this point was adequate. However, a 'Ventilation station', in similar architectural style to tube stations of the time was provided at the site, and is visible today. There was also some opposition from the LNER to the line. The extension began from Finsbury Park to a point a little south of Arnos Grove. The total length of the extension is 12 km (7.5 mi): it cost £4 million to build and was opened in sections as follows:
Powers to link with existing tracks west of Hammersmith were obtained in 1913. A Parliamentary report of 1919 recommended through running to Richmond and Ealing. By the end of the 1920s, the priority had shifted to serving the areas around Hounslow and north and west of Ealing. The outcome involved taking over the inner pair of tracks between Hammersmith and Acton Town as a non-stop service, while the Metropolitan District Railway would continue to provide the stopping service on the outer pair of tracks. Construction of the linking sections started in 1930, and the services opened as follows.
- to Uxbridge: the District Railway had operated services to Uxbridge since 1910. The District services were taken over by the Piccadilly line:
- to Hounslow: the line from Acton Town was quadrupled to Northfields on 18 December 1932 and the Piccadilly line was extended:
- 9 January 1933: to Northfields
- 13 March 1933: to Hounslow West, in conjunction with the eastern extension to Enfield West.
These eastward and westward extensions feature Modernist architecture at their stations, many of them designed by Charles Holden, who was inspired by examples of Modernist architecture in mainland Europe. This influence can be seen in the bold vertical and horizontal forms, which were combined with the use of traditional materials like brick. Many of these Holden-designed station are listed buildings.
During the planning stages of the Victoria line, a proposal was put forward to transfer Manor House station to the new line, and also to build new "direct" tunnels from Finsbury Park to Turnpike Lane station, thereby cutting the journey time in and out of central London. This idea was eventually rejected due to the inconvenience to passengers that would have been caused during rebuilding, as well as the costs of the new tunnels. Even so, the Piccadilly line was affected at Finsbury Park by the construction of the Victoria line. The westbound service was redirected through new tunnels, to give cross-platform interchange with the Victoria line on the platforms previously used by the Northern City Line. This work was completed in 1965, and the diversion came into use on 3 October 1965, three years before the opening of the first stage of the Victoria line.
Extension to Heathrow
Inside a Piccadilly line carriage
In 1975, a new tunnel section was opened to Hatton Cross from Hounslow West. Hounslow West became a tunnel section station. In 1977, the branch was extended to Heathrow Central. This station was renamed Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3 in 1984, with the opening of a one-way loop serving Heathrow Terminal 4, south of the central terminal area. To reflect the demolition of Terminal 1 at the end of June 2015, it was renamed again as Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3, although the station signage retains reference to the demolished terminal.
From 7 January 2005 until 17 September 2006, the loop via Heathrow Terminal 4 was closed to allow the connection of a spur line to the now operational Heathrow Terminal 5 station. All underground services reverted to two-way working into Terminals 2 & 3, which again became the temporary terminus; shuttle buses served Terminal 4 from the Hatton Cross bus station. For a brief period in summer 2006, the line terminated at Hatton Cross and shuttle buses also ran to Terminals 2 & 3 while the track configuration and tunnels were altered for the Terminal 5 link from that station. The station at Terminal 5 opened on 27 March 2008 on the same day Terminal 5 opened.
2005 terrorist attack
On 7 July 2005, a Piccadilly line train was attacked by suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay. The blast occurred at 08:50 BST while the train was between King's Cross St. Pancras and Russell Square. It was part of a co-ordinated attack on London's transport network, and was synchronised with three other attacks: two on the Circle line and one on a bus at Tavistock Square. A small high-explosive device, concealed in a rucksack, was used.
The Piccadilly line bomb resulted in the largest number of fatalities, with 26 people reported killed. Owing to it being a deep-level line, evacuation of station users and access for the emergency services proved difficult. Parts of the line re-opened on 8 July, and full service was restored on 4 August, four weeks after the bomb.