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Bromley-by-Bow: the tube station at the heart of the East End

From the Victorians to EastEnders, Bromley-by-Bow tube station opened up the East End not only to London but the coast too.

Hemmed in by the A12 and A11, both busy dual carriageways, Bromley-by-Bow tube station is effectively hidden from view to all except those who use it. Like much of the East End, its modest exterior belies a vast and varied history. 

Bromley-by-Bow is actually one of the tube’s oldest stations, predating the Underground itself. It was opened in 1858 during the reign of Queen Victoria and notably, the start of the British Raj. 

Then, its name was ‘Bromley’. This was only changed to Bromley-by-Bow in 1967 in order to avoid confusion with Bromley station in the London Borough of Bromley eight miles away, south of the river.

Bromley-by-Bow was initially operated by the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway for trains connecting Fenchurch Street and Barking. The construction of the Whitechapel and Bow Railway allowed the District Railway (now known as the District Line) to start serving the station in 1902. After the District Railway was incorporated into London Transport in 1933, the Metropolitan Line (now part of the Hammersmith & City Line) started operating services through Bromley in 1936.  

It was only in 1969 that ownership of the station was transferred to the London Underground.  

Old exterior of Bromley-by-Bow tube station
1970s design of Bromley-by-Bow tube station. © Ewan Munro on Flickr

Bromley-by-Bow is perhaps best known as the tube station from EastEnders. According to the EastEnders tube map, ‘Walford East’ is sandwiched between West Ham and Bow Road, which is where Bromley-by-Bow is. Characters use the tube station to go ‘up west’. 

There has been many a dramatic scene at the fictitious Walford East, seeing as it is the place where many characters have said their final goodbyes.  

For the show’s 30th anniversary in 2015, Danny Dyer – also known as Mick Carter, landlord of Walford pub The Queen Vic – spoke over the tannoy at Bromley-by-Bow. A Cockney born and bred, Dyer told the BBC that the experience ‘brought back some happy memories’… ‘I remember I used to go through [Bromley-by-Bow] and get off at Mile End on the District Line and change to the Central Line to get to Stratford’.

There have been a few dramatic incidents at Bromley-by-Bow itself. Notably, in 2008, an unexploded bomb from World War II was found near the station. The device was found in a river at Sugar House Lane, where trains cross the Prescott Channel. 

Speaking at the scene, Commander Simon O’Brien said ‘This is the largest World War II bomb to be discovered in the past three decades. It measures approximately the size and length of a man, and weighs around 1000 kilograms’. Rest assured – the bomb was defused in good time.

In recent years, the station has seen a significant makeover. Its low-cost, functional exterior was swept away, with the provision of step-free access completed in March 2018 and a new atrium in 2019. After years of scaffolding and hoarding, Bromley-by-Bow tube station now holds a modern silhouette, topped with a glass canopy, geometric tiling and a brand new roundel.

If you enjoyed this, you may also like The controversial history of Bow Road tube station.

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