Walking the Piccadilly Line: The Mystery of Arsenal Station

Today was a short walk, not far from home, from Caledonian Road station to Finsbury Park station. For most of the way, the Piccadilly either runs directly beneath, or close beside, the East Coast Mainline. Right before Finsbury Park, the Victoria line joins it, coming nearly due Noroth from Highbury & Islington.

The walk was nothing special. This is my stomping grounds, and I have walked these roads many, many times. In addition, with Emirates Stadium plus pocket park, it’s hard to stay close to the actual path. This wasn’t a huge issue; I did this in about hour between two meetings. It was primarily an excuse to get outside.

On the way home, I took St. Thomas’s Road south from Finsbury park, and then turned right onto Gillespie Road. If you know your Underground history, you have likely guessed what I’m going to talk about. This is the home of Gillespie Road Station, now more commonly known as Arsenal Station.

The history of the name change is pretty straight-forward. Originally named Gillespie Road, after the relatively staid and residential street that opens on to, the station was renamed in the early 1930s. Arsenal F.C. had moved to the area in 1913, and the club was instrumental in getting it renamed. The platform tilework still has the original name.

Although it’s a fun little bit of trivia, it’s not the mystery I want to talk about. For this mystery, let’s take a look at a map that has both the station outlines and the actual path of the tracks.

Arsenal Area Map
Aresnal (neé Gillespie Road) Station and Environs. (Source: Apple Maps)

Yeah. The closest tube to Arsenal station is the Victoria Line. But the only line that actually stops at Arsenal is the Piccadilly Line. Which leaves us with a mystery: why doesn’t the Victoria stop at Arsenal? I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that there was nothing to be gained by having the Victoria Line stop there, and of course, a lot of expense to build a station there.

The Victoria Line was planned in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the by-then-unified London Underground. A stated design goal for the Victoria line was to provide as many interchanges opportunities as possible. (Only poor Pimlico has no interchange!). Adding a stop at Arsenal would give you an interchange to the Piccadilly line, but there was already one just one stop away at Finsbury Park. In addition, at Finsbury Park, there’s not just the Victoria-Piccadilly interchange, but the Northern City Line (formerly a branch of the Northern Line), and the East Coast Main Line.

Finally, Arsenal and Finsbury Park are not that far apart. The streets are packed with houses, but they are mostly 2-3 story single family homes, not large apartment blocks. There isn’t the density that would justify two interchange stations that close together.

Here’s the requisite picture of the station. According to Wikipedia, it’s one of the smallest station fronts in the Underground. It’s also one of the least used, although I am sure the lines are terrible on game days.

Arsenal Tube
Arsenal Tube Station Entrance. According to Wikipedia, it has one of the narrowest frontages of any tube stop.