Sunday 13 July 2008

Deptford Station: a London first

It seems a good time to post about Deptford Station since first, early signs of regeneration are at last appearing and second, I was reminded of its history on a recent visit to London Transport Museum.

What's special about Deptford Station? Simply, it was one end of the world's first suburban passenger railway: the London & Greenwich Railway. This initially ran on a viaduct from Spa Bridge Bermondsey to Deptford, London's first two stations, and opened in 1836. To give an idea of how early this was in the development of London's public transport, Shillibeer had only begun running his horse-drawn omnibus service from Greenwich to Woolwich in 1834.

By the end of the year, London Bridge station was operating and the railway was officially opened by the Lord Mayor of London. The opening was heralded by George Ponsford in the Mechanics' Magazine as the dawn of a new era when 'the ends of the earth will meet' bringing world peace and the transformation of 'spears into steam-carriages'. Mind you, he also suggested that the railway arches be converted into homes - the only problem he foresaw was that the smoke from their chimneys might annoy rail passengers! The railway made it across Deptford Creek to Greenwich in 1840.

The picture here is of a ticket to the opening event, now in the London Transport Museum. It was possibly the only time the railway issued tickets, however: travellers were given copper tokens - silver for directors - instead of paper tickets.

Another unusual feature of Deptford Station is that it has a carriage ramp. This creates a lovely mental image of first-class passengers being driven in their carriages to the very train doors, but the reality is a little more practical. Because the railway platforms are well above street level, the ramp was designed to allow railway carriages to be stored under cover and then lifted up to the station by pulleys. It still survives as a listed, but rather neglected, structure. You can now see it from the Deptford Project cafe, located aptly enough in a railway carriage (and have one of their gorgeous cakes while you're there)! The long-term plan is to have creative businesses in the ramp's arches.

The railway was a great success, carrying over two million passengers a year by the 1840s. Let's hope that the planned redevelopment (ominously, a 'modern glass building') makes it look worthy of its historical status once more!


Anonymous said...

hi Caroline, nice to have another Deptford blogger (although I'm now feeling a bit guilty about my lack of posting recently!). I think the redevelopment plans for the station building itself are relatively modest and appropriate, it's the plans for the new 8-storey apartment building next to the carriage ramp that give some cause for concern. (you can see it on this site In terms of size it is completely out of scale with its surroundings since as you know most of the high street is three storeys or four at the most. Perhaps as well that it seems to be stalled at the moment, although not good news for the station redevelopment, whose funding I believe is all tied in with the new development.

CarolineLD said...

Hello, thanks for the info and link - it's a while since I'd looked at the plans, but I did remember lots of large glass building: obviously the apartments. About as sensitive to their surroundings as the bizarrely wood-coated Waldron Health Centre by New Cross Station...

Unknown said...

Been reading the 1952 edition of Pevsner on London (except the Cities of London and Westminster) and in it he says that “the original station was copied from the Lysicrates Monument in Athens’. Looking at pictures of that on-line that seems rather unlikely but perhaps you know more. A later edition of Pevsner notes that the pulpit of the Chapel of the Royal Naval College was based on the Monument, which I can see. I wonder if it was a mistake in the 1952 edition.