Facebook Memories flashed up a picture at the weekend that I’d taken a few years ago whilst visiting a friend in Kilburn, and it reminded me of the time-consuming wonder of the internet when curiosity gets the better of you.
The picture on the left is a still from the “The Smallest Show on Earth”, a 1957 comedy set in the “Bijou” a rundown, small-town fleapit cinema, and a film I’ve always had an affinity for thanks to my own experiences in the final days of Weymouth’s own fleapit Picturedrome cinema.
The photo on the right is the present day scene – between two viaducts on Christchurch Road next to the Jubilee line’s Kilburn station. Two of my favourite geek interests, cinemas and railways, merging into one story.
Looking at the location as it stands today, I was struck by how odd the scene actually looks. Bits of wall from different eras, doors to who-knows-where, white glossy bricks that look like they used to be on the inside of a building – it’s a mess. As I don’t have a Tardis to whizz back and have a peep though time, I turned to the next best thing, the archive street maps on the National Library of Scotland’s website.
So we can look at the present day satellite view and see the site nestled between the viaducts:
Kilburn station is just the other side of the central viaduct, the Jubilee line running on the”inner” tracks so they can serve the station, and the Metropolitan line running on the “outer” tracks on those same viaducts. Mainline services out of Marylebone station run on the viaduct to the south of the filming location.
Going back in time to 1952, five years after the film was made, we can see this familiar layout…
Not many clues here, although there’s definitely some sort of unlabelled building between the arches, perhaps the shop marked as “A Bream” in the film, squeezed in next to the Bijou and the viaduct. Also note the real “Envoy Repertory Cinema” on Kilburn High Road nearby, another long gone picture house.
Not learning much from that map, I whizzed further back in time to 1892…
Here the scene is quite different. Only the central viaduct exists, and the longer named Kilburn & Brondesbury station sits with platforms either side of it. What we’re looking at here is the original station that was built here in 1879, as the Metropolitan Railway (the precursor to today’s Metropolitan line) meandered it’s way out from central London to the Chilterns.
As the Metropolitan increased in popularity and routes were extended, the tracks were quadrupled and later sextupled (is that a thing?), so one viaduct became three. In the 1930s the Metropolitan came under control of London Transport, new deep tube tunnels were dug out from Baker Street, with new stations at St Johns Wood and Swiss Cottage, and a stretch of the Metropolitan’s line to Stanmore became a new branch of the Bakerloo line in 1939.
As part of these works the station we know today was built on the northern-most viaduct, and making the old down platform defunct just on time to be used as the filming location a handful of years later. And so that little Bijou kinema was built on the back of the abandoned station. My urban archeological question is solved, those hotchpotch bits of wall and door are all that remains of the old Victorian Kilburn & Brondesbury station!
I do love where a little bit of curiosity can lead you. This has me reading up on the other locations in the film, the history of the Metropolitan Railways extensions, the building of the Grand Central to Marylebone, the transfer of the Bakerloo branch to the Jubilee, as well as spending ages looking at the old maps.
I also love the fact somebody’s back garden water feature has made it to that 1892 map. They must have been well chuffed.