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British Industrial History

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London and Greenwich Railway

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of Winchester House, London

The idea for the line came from Colonel G. T. Landmann, until 1824 a Royal Engineer, and George Walter

1831 November 25th. The company was floated.

1832 January. Reported that Francis Giles was making a survey between London Bridge and Greenwich.[1]

1833 The London and Greenwich Railway Company was incorporated. [2]

The first Act of Parliament was obtained in 1833 for a line from Tooley Street (now known as London Bridge) to a station in London Street Greenwich.

The London and Greenwich Railway was opened in London between 1836 and 1838. It was the first steam railway to have a terminus in the capital, and the first of any to be built specifically for passenger service. [3]

An important features was that the line would run from close to London Bridge, thus making it convenient for journeys to the City. The line would be some 3¾ miles, and the plan was to build on a viaduct of 878 brick arches, some of them skew. This was apparently to avoid level crossings over the many streets which were already appearing in the south of London. Colonel Landman also planned to rent the arches out as workshops. The intention had been to descend to ground level after the Grand Surrey Canal but this was opposed by Parliament.

The ultimate intention was to reach Dover and there was much talk of a London to Gravesend railway which would extend from Greenwich. A scheme was presented to Parliament in 1836 but five others were competing for acceptance, and the bill failed on its second reading.

The line ran parallel with Tooley Street crossing Blue Anchor Road, Corbetts Lane and the Grand Surrey Canal. From there it curved towards the first station at Deptford High Street, and thence to London Street in Greenwich.

The subsoil was a blackish peat, which gave considerable problems; Landmann pioneered the use of concrete to reinforce the foundations. Even so, several of the piers near to Corbetts Lane moved four or five inches out of the perpendicular and, on the 18 January 1836 two arches close to Tooley Street collapsed. Elsewhere, iron ties were used to prevent lateral spread in the brickwork. In 1840 many of the arches were improved by laying 9 inches of concrete above the arches, with a layer of asphalt.

From Deptford to Greenwich, the River Ravensbourne was crossed at Deptford Creek by means of a balanced bridge to allow masted vessels to pass by. When it worked eight men were enough to operate it, but possibly because of trouble with the foundations, it was unreliable. It still exists, and is a listed structure, though the lift section was welded in the down position many years ago due to problems with misalignment of the track.

Originally the track used single parallel rails to the Stephenson gauge of 4 feet 8½ inches, fixed to stone blocks or sleepers.

By 1840 it would seem, however, that there was a mixture of bridge rails, single parallel and double parallel rails. The original rails on stone sleepers caused excessive noise, and also damage to structure and rolling stock. The bridge rails were used on the viaducts, between Deptford and Greenwich initially, laid on longitudinal timbers with cross sleepers at four foot intervals. At this time, the new double parallel rails at 78lb. to the yard were laid for a quarter of mile at Deptford, on timber sleepers, presumably as an experiment. In addition the concrete underlay was replaced with gravel ballast to two foot thickness.

The first section, between Spa Road in Bermondsey and Deptford, opened on 8 February 1836. However, previously to this, a number of demonstration trains had been running from mid-1835. These were suspended for a while after a derailment in November, but resumed the following year, with somewhat apocryphal rumours circulating that some trains had reached 60 mph. On the Whit Monday following the official opening, the line carried around 13,000 passengers. There was a fatal accident on the 7 March, when Daniel Holmes was run over, and a train collided with some carriages.

The line reached Bermondsey Street in October, and finally to London Bridge on 14 December 1836 (Spa Road was no longer used as a stop at this time). At the other end, the line reached a temporary station at Church Row in Greenwich on 24 December 1838, having been delayed by problems with the Deptford Creek lift bridge. The present Greenwich station opened on 12 April 1840.

The first locomotives were a 2-2-0 built by Charles Tayleur and Co and three more by William Marshall of which one was 2-2-2. All would appear to be of the Stephenson "Planet" type. Note: 'British Steam Locomotive Builders' by James W. Lowe places William Marshall in Gravesend, while another source[4] names the maker as William Marshall and Sons of Lea Brook, Tipton.

These were supplemented by two from Bury but subcontracted to George Forrester and Co These were groundbreaking in that for the first time horizontal cylinders were mounted at the front of the locomotive outside the frame. While extremely successful for their time, they swayed so much they were referred to as "Boxers" and a trailing axle was added.

In the next four years three more locos followed, one each by R. and W. Hawthorn and Robert Stephenson and Co with three axles, and one by Day, Summers and Co. This latter one was also modified with a trailing axle soon after delivery.

First and second class coaches were provided and were unusual in that the sole bars and headstocks were below the axles. The railway line, being for much of its length built on a viaduct, this was a safety measure, since, in the event of a derailment, the coaches would drop only a few inches onto the rails.

Between 1836 and 1840 the line carried over 1.25 million passengers a year, benefiting it is thought from a developing tourist trade.

In 1839, the London and Croydon Railway opened on 5 June. It shared the line between Tooley Street as far as a junction at Corbetts Lane (close to what is now Rotherhithe Road). It built its station between the existing station and Tooley Street. It is not clear when the station became known as London Bridge.

It is believed that the first fixed signal used to control a junction was installed at Corbetts Lane. A white disc was installed, to be operated by the pointsman. This, or at night, a red light, showed that the route was set for Croydon. If the disc was edge on, or a white light showed, the junction was set for Greenwich.

In 1840 two further acts were obtained, one for laying additional lines as far as the junction at Corbetts Lane and for improvements and extensions to the stations at London Bridge. These were watched closely by a committee formed by the Croydon line, the Brighton line and the proposed South Eastern Railway. At this time the Greenwich and the Croydon Lines exchanged places to prevent crossing each other at Corbetts Lane. A resited station at Spa Road opened in 1842.

By 1843 annual passenger numbers had risen to over 1.5 million, with an average fare per head of 6.5d.

In 1844 numbers had risen to over 2 million although the average fare had dropped to 5.2d. Greenwich trains ran every 15 minutes, Croydon trains were hourly.

Increasing congestion at London Bridge, and dissatisfaction with the high tolls charged by the London & Greenwich, caused the South Eastern and the London and Croydon Railway to build a new terminus at Bricklayers Arms which they used until 1852.

In 1845 control of the London and Greenwich passed to the South Eastern Railway which leased the line (3.75 miles in length) for 999 years.

  • Note

There was also a tramway run by the London, Deptford and Greenwich Tramway company from about 1875.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. London Evening Standard - Thursday 26 January 1832
  2. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  3. [1] Wikipedia
  4. 'London's First Railway - The London & Greenwich' by R H G Thomas, Batsford 1972