London Waterloo station

Things you didn’t know about London Waterloo

In this article, you'll learn the following:

As Britain’s largest and busiest rail station (41.4 million passengers from April 2021 to March 2022), you’ve probably taken a trip through London Waterloo station at least once in your life – particularly if you live and work in the capital. But as you go through the motions of the daily commute, how often do you stop to really take a look at your surroundings?

Waterloo isn’t short of history or character, having first opened its doors to travellers back in 1848. Initially, the station only had six platforms – but it was a busy thoroughfare even then, particularly with those journeying to and from Epsom Racecourse.

Believe it or not, Waterloo station has been used for much more than just passenger travel. Over the years, it’s functioned as a cinema, a filming spot for an infamous novel, and was even a transportation hub for dead bodies! Read on to find out more fascinating facts about this iconic station celebrating its 175th anniversary in 2023.

Secrets about Waterloo station you didn’t know

Britain’s biggest and busiest station

As the biggest UK station by volume and boasting the greatest number of platforms, it’s no surprise that Waterloo claims a spot as one of the busiest train stations in Great Britain. No matter what time or day you visit the station, it’s guaranteed to be bustling with a hubbub of commuters and travellers catching their train or zooming through London on the Underground. In fact, Waterloo used to be a through station to Kent with a railway line running through the concourse, so it’s always been busy. And with approximately 99.4 million train journeys to and from Waterloo made annually (pre-Covid), ‘busy’ might be a bit of an understatement!

Where would we be without London’s speedy and efficient Tube? Providing you with a quick and convenient way to get from A to B, Waterloo’s tube station takes the spot as the second busiest Tube station in London, with St. Pancras pipping it to the top.

The Death Train

Destruction of the London Necropolis Railway station, 1941
The remains of the London Necropolis Railway terminus station

Here’s a slightly ominous fact for you—Waterloo station was once used to transport hundreds of bodies! The moving of corpses began back in the 1850s, when London’s cemeteries started to get worryingly overcrowded, creating the need for bodies to be buried further afield.

When London’s cemeteries closed in 1851, the quick-thinking Londoners soon created a purpose-built railway line to deal with the problem – the London Necropolis Railway. This line transported bodies, alongside their friends and family, over to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. What a grave affair!

Part of the station is listed

With all its history and character, it’s hardly a surprise that part of Waterloo train station is listed. The magnificent main entrance (known as Victory Arch) features sweeping stone steps leading up to an impressive archway, as well as a large clock siting on the face of the building. On each side of the arch you can see figures representing war and peace, and atop it is Britannia, bearing the torch of liberty.

These historic features are Grade II listed and have been an iconic symbol of Waterloo railway station for decades. If you’re a bit of a history buff, it’s worth paying a visit here – even if you’re not planning on catching a train!

There were requests to change the station name

Waterloo station gained its name from the surrounding area, which became known as ‘Waterloo’ after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. However, not all passengers were happy with this name choice!

Back when the Paris-bound Eurostar used to depart from London Waterloo, there were protests by French passengers about the station’s name. They argued that it was an unnecessary reminder of the famous battle between the two nations, and pushed for it to be changed to something less controversial. The complaints even led to claims of a French politician formally requesting a name alteration from Tony Blair, however this was later denied.

The former London Waterloo Eurostar terminal reopened in December 2018 as part of a £800 million refurbishment of the station and now includes The Sidings Waterloo, one of the UK’s best-connected retail and leisure destinations.

BrewDog Waterloo
BrewDog Waterloo at The Sidings

The ABBA connection

If you’re anything like us, you probably won’t be able to read the word ‘Waterloo’ without hearing those upbeat opening bars of ABBA’s famous track playing in your head. The hit Eurovision song led to a knockout second album, and it wasn’t long before the name was known all around the world.

After the success of their track, ABBA took part in an iconic photoshoot at Waterloo station – which many visitors have attempted to recreate over the years.

Waterloo Cinema

A train station might not seem like the usual spot to go and watch a movie, but there’s no denying that a cinema right in the station would prove worthwhile if you’d missed your train! Opening its doors back in 1934, Waterloo CInema showcased a range of animations, current affairs pieces and old Hollywood classics before it closed in 1970.

The Railway Children

Classically British, Waterloo station is the perfect setting for the film adaption of ‘The Railway Children’. After being publicised in 1906, the popular book was later made into a movie in 1970, before it was reproduced later in 2011. It was during the most recent production that Waterloo was used as a filming spot.

But how did filming take place in such a busy spot? Thankfully, producers were able to film in the unused section of Waterloo which was once home to the Eurostar, meaning there were few disruptions to people’s daily commute.

The Great Train Robber

The Great Train Robbery of 1963 was certainly an event to remember. A man named Buster Edwards and a gang of criminals intercepted a mail train running from Glasgow to London after tampering with the track-side signal lights, and amazingly they managed to escape with £2,600,000 of used banknotes.

Most of the criminals were quickly caught at the gang’s temporary hideout, but Buster somehow evaded arrest and took his share of £150,000 to Mexico. The money soon ran out, however, and the Edwards family began to feel homesick.

Not long after he moved back to London, Buster was arrested and was sentenced to 15 years in jail. After serving his time, the reformed criminal ran a flower stall outside of Waterloo station after his release from prison in 1975.

Explore our flexible range of ticket types to find the right one for your trip. Make the most of cheap train tickets to London Waterloo by going off-peak, and those with a Railcard or travelling in a group could save even more.