“the wholly inadequate ‘station’ at Spa Road could claim to be London’s first railway terminus.”*

*From: Cathedrals of Steam (2020), by Christian Wolmar:

“…the seeds had been sown for a railway running between south-east London and Kent, although, as was often the case in this entrepreneurial era, it needed the efforts and persistence of one man to champion the scheme and see it through to completion. George Thomas Landmann was a former colonel in the Royal Engineers and a civil engineer who had built forts to protect against potential American invaders when serving in the British army in Canada. His plan was for a railway of three and a half miles starting near the foot of the new London Bridge, whose recent opening in 1831 greatly improved links from Southwark to the City…

…(George) Walter’s campaign to raise money was successful and ensured the London & Greenwich sealed its place in history as the capital’s first railway…As much of the clearance work for the line was carried out in Southwark, an area of mostly poor housing, the London & Greenwich had a strong case…Further towards Greenwich, however, there were fewer houses and it was around Corbett’s Lane, Bermondsey, the halfway point, that work started in April 1834 on the viaducts towards London.

The scale of the enterprise was unprecedented and the initial work of building the viaducts was an object of great curiosity for Londoners…by the autumn of 1835, a temporary single-track railway to transport material had been installed on 540 completed arches…

With vast quantities of bricks set aside for the section towards Greenwich, the company hoped to open the whole line by the
original scheduled date of Christmas 1835. In truth, however,
despite a further 150 men being drafted in, the deadline was

…the magnificent viaduct remains the most remarkable architectural
legacy of London’s railway pioneers, although most passengers
travelling on trains out of London Bridge today will have little
idea of the impact this astonishing addition to London’s built
environment had in the mid-18oos. The assortment of garages,
repair shops, retail outlets and workshops that are now housed
under the arches rather detracts from the sheer scale of London
& Greenwich’s enterprise nearly two centuries ago, which remains
pretty much intact and still supports the key railway route from the
centre of the capital to south-east London and Kent. Partly hidden,
the arches are taken for granted by passengers and passers-by,
mainly because there are few places where it’s possible to get a proper perspective of their majesty in such a built up area. When
fist constructed, however, the viaducts inspired a sense of awe in
Londoners, and contemporary writers were wont to liken them
with some accuracy, to a Roman aqueduct.

The railway had various plans to make use of the arches. One
idea was to create housing and two demonstration houses were built
under the viaduct near Deptford station. These could, according to
the railway company, accommodate some of the many people who
were displaced by the construction even though, under legislation
of the time, the company was under no obligation to do so. They
were to be pioneering users of gas for lighting and cooking – some
forty years before this became commonplace – because it was felt
that smoke from coal would be unpleasant for passengers on the
trains above. However, despite such innovation the concept was,
unsurprisingly, not a success…Instead, the company tried numerous other ways of monetizing the eventual total of 878 arches, none of which were successful…

Above the arches, there were technical issues with the train
tracks as a result of granite sleepers being laid along most of the
line. This was still a period of technical experimentation for railway technology, and granite, clearly more durable than wood, was
thought to be a cheaper solution. However, the inflexible nature of
granite, particularly when compared with wood sleepers, resulted
in rail breaks and, far more frequently, cracks in the chairs, the iron
clamps on which the rails rest. The problem was that other railways
using granite sleepers laid the sleepers on the earth, which had
some give”, while on the London & Greenwich they rested on rigid
brickwork with the result that all the vibration transmitted to the
rails and chairs. Inevitably, the London & Greenwich eventually
replaced them with wooden ones, at great cost…

(Spa Road) station…closed in 1915 as a First World War economy measure and never reopened.”


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