Tag Archives: Greenwich Park Branch

In Search of the Greenwich Park Branch – Part 2 –  Blackheath Hill to Nunhead

In the first post on the Greenwich Park Branch we left train approaching the long gone Blackheath Hill station, having  squeezed between the backstreets of Greenwich, as we attempted to follow the remains of the branch line from Greenwich Park.

Before getting our virtual ticket to travel to Nunhead it is worth recalling a little of the line’s history – the railway was a relatively short lived one, built by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway from and existing junction at Nunhead to Greenwich Park. Most of the line opened in 1871 (apart from Brockley Lane station which opened in 1872) but didn’t reach Greenwich Park until 1888.  The line was never a financial success, journeys into central London much slower than from Greenwich and changes often being needed at Nunhead.  The line closed in early 1917 due war time financial savings.  It never fully re-opened, with the section to the north east of Brookmill Park being largely abandoned and the remaining section eventually incorporated into the Dartford to Victoria line.

Blackheath Hill (top photo below) was the initial terminus for the line when it opened in 1871 as the London Chatham and Dover Railway struggled to fund the development of the route through the already densely built Greenwich.  After the station closed it became a light engineering works with the tunnel under Blackheath Hill to the station was also used as a factory.

A wall bars the way from Blackheath Hill to the recent infill of Robinscroft Mews (bottom left), it is gated at the Sparta Street end preventing any peeking for unlikely remaining signs of Blackheath Hill Station.

A fascinating recent find at the Greenwich Heritage Centre (see picture credits below) shows plans from the Greenwich Board of Works from 1870 for the next section of the route as it dropped down towards the Ravensbourne.

The railway was in a cutting as it crossed Lewisham Road, but any sign of it in this area to the east of Lewisham Road has been completely obliterated by the 1960s redevelopment of the area through the Orchard and neighbouring estates.  Its route would taken it through Melba Way, touching Morden Mount School and then emerging out onto an embankment to smooth out the dip containing the Ravensbourne.  The upper photo below (see credits below) shows the remains of the bridge over Coldbath Street – along with the current view from a similar location.

The only remains of the time when the Greenwich Branch passed through would be a rather grand looking former pub, the Ravensbourne Arms – which closed its doors as a pub in 2013, on the corner of Silk Mills Pat and Russett Way.  It shouldn’t be confused with the also closed pub opposite St Mary’s Church in Lewisham which was known for most of its life as the Coach and Horses.

The railway would have the crossed the northern end of the platform of the Elverson Road DLR station before passing through Brookmill Park – still on an embankment.  The former railway’s lofty perch is still there through the park and on the opposite side of Brookmill Park in the Brookmill Nature Reserve.

After the tracks were removed in 1929, the land was largely abandoned for 50 years by British Rail, presumably used as an informal play area.  The freehold was bought in 1979 by Lewisham Council and with input from several local groups created the Council’s first nature reserve.  There is a rich varied flora within the reserve.

Beyond the nature reserve, the main line into London Bridge was crossed close to St Johns and the Greenwich Park Branch line headed towards the next station Lewisham Road, the name presumably a shortened version of Lewisham Way’s previous name – Lewisham High Road. Unlike the previous two stations, Lewisham Road is still there – at street level at least the building remains, it is ‘home’ to a salvage and second hand shop – Aladdin’s Cave – whose roof is covered with tarpaulins so may not necessarily be in a great state.

The railway is visible at this point too, crossing again Lewisham Way in a deep cutting, the south western side of the bridge is home to a micro library in a listed phone box – visited in the early days of Running Past.

With a railway visible there is little detective work to be done from here on – the penultimate stopping place is Brockley Lane station – there are two clear signs of the former station – the stationmaster’s house and a gate to some steps up to the platform – below (source eBay April 2016)

The route to Nunhead is largely flanked by Drakefell Road to the north and St Asaph’s Road to the south, occasional glimpses of the railway, deep in a cutting are visible via the roads and paths that bridge it.  

Nunhead Station was the terminus for the line and often required passengers to change train to head into Victoria or St Pauls (now Blackfriars).  In addition to the main line from Catford Bridge and Crofton Park, there was also a line to the Crystal Palace High Level Station (a route that Running Past will no doubt follow one day).  At this stage, when the Greenwich Park Branch Line  was functioning, the station was in a slightly different location – closer to the Lewisham side of the bridge, where Bonita Mews and a plant hire yard are now located (the bottom two photographs below) although there is nothing left of the former location of the station..

Looking back, the decision making relating to the route seemed strange in that it skirted Lewisham and by the time it reached Greenwich Park the neighbouring Greenwich station was already well established and most of the other stations also had rivals from other operators.    Combine this with a circuitous route into central London, often requiring a change it is of little surprise that the line didn’t survive.

Picture and Map Credits

 

In Search of the Greenwich Park Branch – Part 1 – Greenwich to Blackheath Hill

Running Past is a follower of things that aren’t always obvious to see – this has included often submerged streams, and a few years ago traced the route of the Greenwich Meridian back to the Observatory from the London border in New Addington.  The Greenwich Park Branch Line is a long closed and largely forgotten railway line in south east London.  However, I attempted to follow the route to see what remains of a line that mainly closed in 1917, ‘armed’ only with Victorian Ordnance Survey maps to guide me.

First the history – the railway was a relatively short lived one, built by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway from and existing junction at Nunhead to Greenwich Park. The original plan was for the branch to terminate at Woolwich Dockyard, but this idea was quickly abandoned, and there were serious problems getting funding for the section from Blackheath Hill to Greenwich – the former opened with the rest of the line in 1871 (apart from Brockley Lane station which opened in 1872) but passengers had to wait another 17 years to reach Greenwich Park, which makes some of the current delays on South Eastern seem almost acceptable.  The unmarked station can be seen at the top right hand corner of the map above. The line was never a financial success, journeys into central London were much slower than from Greenwich and changes often being needed at Nunhead.  The line closed in early 1917 due war time financial savings.  It never fully re-opened.  The section beyond the main line into London Bridge, near St Johns, was re-opened and connected to the main line in 1929, the stations never re-opened though and the section to the north and east between Lewisham and Greenwich had tracks removed and was largely abandoned until after the Second World War when it was gradually developed.

The terminus as the line’s names suggests was close to the Greenwich Park, in Stockwell Street, it opened much later than the rest of the line in 1888. The site is now home to the Ibis Hotel which opened in 1988.  The platforms are now home to a car park and the buildings edging the former station now house the Greenwich Picturehouse which is from the same era as the hotel.

The station building has been described as

‘canopied……built of yellow brick, with segmental arches above doors and windows picked out in red.  Adjoining the booking hall was a buffet, and first and second class ladies’ rooms, a two storey house was provided as a home for the Station Master.

Like much of the rest of the early part of the line, the station was in a cutting.as the levels below show.   After closure, the buildings remained, used first by the Mayfield Temperance Billiard Club and later a timber yard and saw mill.

Other than the footprint of the hotel and the car park, there is nothing to see in terms of remains of the station.  While there are several large chunks of masonry at the western edge of the car park, sadly none seem to be remnants of the station; signs suggest that they all relate to workshops for the blind which seem to have been adjacent to station buildings on Greenwich High Road, formerly London Street.  This was close to the business location of Edmund Pook who was (probably) wrongly implicated in the Eltham Murder in 1871.

While the line effectively closed in 1917, the route is relatively easy to pick out in Greenwich, the gaps between buildings with 20th and 21st century infill between Victorian properties make its course clear.  Out of the car park, the route across Burney Street is easy to spot; there is the now former Police Station on the corner of Royal Hill and the Burney Street Garden which would have been on the route.

The railway was bridged by Royal Hill at this point; the usually reliable Edith’s Streets suggests that there are some remains of the bridge, but alas dear reader, they proved impossible to find.  The next section, though, is easy to spot – there is a long site where there are periodically notices of planning applications which are then turned down by Greenwich Council.  It is currently home to the delightful Royal Hill Community Garden, pictured above.

The railway used to run almost parallel to Royal Hill and its former route continues to be clear as it crosses Circus Street – where a modern infill development, which includes the appropriately named Cutting House, partially fills the vacated space.  The theme of communal cultivation continues beyond Circus Street with the Prior Street allotments filling the void left by the railway.  There was a level crossing at this point.

As Royal Hill turns sharply back towards the High Road, a post war council block, Topham House, and its garages fill the space left by the departed steam trains.  Jervis Court is the next addition to the Greenwich streetscape – a thin block, barely as wide as the tracks that were its predecessor.  The line swung under Blissett Street, its cutting now filled and on the surface an imposing deck access block built into the hillside next to a 1970s fire station.

The railway was in a cutting here as it skirted the foot of Blackheath Hill, while it was filled in, two ‘signs’ of it remain.  A scramble across a small bit of waste ground reveals some of the cutting wall  and back at ground level, next to a basketball and football ‘cage’ that sits atop the former railway, is a bridge weight limit sign, for a bridge that is no longer visible in Lindsell Street, the gap it crossed no longer there but the restriction still applies, presumably due to difficulties of compacting the fill for the cutting. Apparently the void can be reached from the adjacent fire station and the the fire brigade use(d) the area for training, filling it with smoke.

Beyond the ghost bridge, the erstwhile track has been covered by an access road to the postwar council flats of Plumbridge Street and Dabin Close. The smoke and steam from the trains may have long gone but pollution remains as diesel lorries and cars toil up Blackheath Hill.

We will leave the railway at this point – just before the train would have reached the first stop – Blackheath Hill, returning to the line to take it on to its final destination of Nunhead next week.

Picture & Map Credits

Most of the black and white photographs come from Greenwich Photo History Wiki and are able to be used for non-commercial purposes such as Running Past, the exception to this is the photograph of the front of the station which was from eBay in September 2016.  The map is on a creative commons via the National Library of Scotland.