London's First Railway
The London & Greenwich Railway 1836


The First railway in London. 'The London and Greenwich Railway'. 

First opened on 8 February 1836 from Spa Road, (since closed and demolished, relics of the old station platforms can still be seen at Spa Road Junction) to Deptford. The extension from Spa Road to London Bridge was opened on December 14, 1836. The line to Greenwich was delayed a while, Deptford Creek (River Ravensbourne) had first to be crossed but was finally opened on 12 April 1840. 

It opened the year before Victoria became Queen.

The Greenwich Railway was London's first railway, indeed it was the first railway in any Capitol City in the World. It received parliamentary approval on May 17 1833 Built on a viaduct four miles long, known locally as 500 arches, it opened in 1836. Other railways into London had to use the Greenwich railways track into London Bridge. Over the years it has been added to and widened as tracks from other places have joined. The part of the viaduct from Greenwich to the North Kent East junction is the original one.

In 1852 a station bookstall was opened at London Bridge Station by a gentleman called W. H. Smith. The next year he opened another at Greenwich. The land for the London Bridge terminus next to St Thomas Hospital (now moved to Albert Embankment, Guy's which was next door has remained) was previously a Flemish burial ground. The railway arches were built in such a way that those laid to rest would not be disturbed.

As the building of the railway commenced the four hundred or so navvies worked like the devil laying 100,000 bricks a day, causing a shortage of brick in the country. They also drank all the local taverns dry. While working on the job the navvies mostly English and Irish worked well together as a team. Away from work the English and Irish fought like daemons. They tried to overcome this problem by housing them in separate camps. English Ground can be seen on the map as a turning off Toley Street.

The first part of the line to open was from Spa Road, Bermondsey to Deptford. The first two stations in London, Spa Road was closed in 1915, but remnants of platforms can still be seen near to what is now called Spa Road Junction. (The station front under one of the arches can still be seen the words  'Booking Office'). London Bridge was opened on 14 December 1836, with the full length of the line From London Bridge to Greenwich finally opening on 12 April 1840. First of all the line had to cross the River Ravensbourne (Deptford Creek), this put the completion date back two years. Tall masted ships still needed to reach wharves further up the creek from the Thames. At first it was by two arches, one fixed of wood and the other lifting based on a dutch design. Today's bridge is the third.

Charing Cross was not opened until 1864, This was after the North Kent Line was built (Summer 1849) to take the railway from a point near New Cross, (parliamentary approval could not be got for the line to cut through Greenwich Park) to, Lewisham, Blackheath and via a tunnel to Charlton, Woolwich, Erith , Dartford and Gravesend.

In 1878 a tunnel was finally built under the very edge of Greenwich Park, alongside Romney Road, to take the line via Maze Hill, and Westcombe Park to Charlton. The line had to be realigned at Greenwich for this. The old Greenwich station had to be demolished for this and a new one built. The old station stood in front of the present station.

Spa Road Station 1900.

There was another station in Greenwich, Greenwich Park Station, opened in September 1888. The first section of this line from Nunhead to Blackheath Road was opened in 1871. The delay to finish the line from Blackheath Road to greenwich Park was due to the lack of cash. Greenwich Park station was between Stockwell Street and Burney Street, the line crossed Royal Hill to the next Station at Blackheath Hill, near the junction of Blackheath Hill and Lewisham Road. It was here that a road bridge started to collapse in the 1970s, long after the line closed. It then crossed the North Kent Line near St John's. Lewisham Road station was by a bridge in Lewisham Way. The line then ran alongside Drakefield Road and on to Brockley Lane and Nunhead stations. At Nunhead passengers changed for Crystal Palace via Honour Oak and Lordship Lane. A few trains ran to Victoria or Blackfriars and Holborn. The line closed in the 1920s. Just the section from Lewisham flyover to Nunhead still exists for trains going to Victoria, and Holborn Viaduct.

 A map of railways in the Greenwich and Lewisham areas in 1886. The Greenwich Park line can be seen going as far as Blackheath Hill. It is marked out to Greenwich Park, but it wasn't finished until 1888. Also to be seen is the sharp curve the Greenwich line made at Greenwich station to avoid the park when the line was extended in 1878.

In 1844 the Thames and Medway Canal Company built a railway line, the Gravesend & Rochester Railway, through the Strood and Higham canal tunnels. The line was built on the towpath and over part of the canal. passengers from Rochester would change at Gravesend for a steam boat to London. In 1847 an agreement was made for the South Eastern to buy the Gravesend and Rochester. The canal from Higham to Frindsbuy was now filled in and a second track laid. The rest of the canal was finally abandoned in 1934, only the Gravesend basin is now in use. This part of the North Kent Line was opened on 23 August 1847.

This page was designed and is maintained by Toby and John King, I would accept any comments or questions  See Index Page

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