Friday, 1 November 2019

Blackheath Station 150 years


              CELEBRATING 150 YEARS.

In the July  1999 Blackheath Guide Neil Rhind published a two page article on Blackheath Station -  here are some of the highlights:

July 30th this year is an important date in our community because on that exact date in 1849 Blackheath Railway station opened for passenger traffic for the first time.  ....  In 1844 the London Chatham & North Kent Railway published a prospectus ... to reach Lewisham,  Blackheath and beyond. Work started in August 1845 but was constantly delayed. Tunnelling to Charlton under Morden College did not begin until September 1847.

The line was planned to be hidden in the natural valley of the Upper Kid Brook. The line ran through two large estates. -  that of Thomas Brandram of the Cedars, Lee and of John Cator at Blackheath Park and private bridges had to be built so that these estates were not split. As a result of this Blackheath is one of the few districts where the advent of the railway did not split the community. The much-promised service finally came into operation in July 1849. Trains ran every half-hour from London Bridge to Woolwich and hourly to Erith and then to Gravesend and Strood, from 7 3am to 10.30pm.  Tickets cost 5p (lst class) 3.5p (2nd class) and 2.5p (3rd class) and  an annual season ticket was £14 first class and just over £11 second.

Neil goes on to talk about the service and then describes the station which was built by a local architect, George Smith - who designed many other local buildings.  This station has, unusually survived as one of the oldest operational stations in the country not to have been rebuilt or moved. Of two original gateways one survives and is still used. The first passengers had to go down to platform level to buy tickets - the ticket office at street level was built in 1879. 

The original construction depot was to the south of the station and the land was later sold - to become Independents Road together with the, now renamed, Railway Tavern.
Inevitably life and work on the station did not run smoothly and Neil devotes much of the rest of his article to describing the many problems which beset the staff and passengers. An early irate gent described the staff as ‘larking blackguards’. Later, in 1879, and a meeting of season ticket holders protested at the worst mismanagement’  - Blackheath actually had the highest number of first class season ticket holders of any station owned by the Company,

A residential station master was appointed in 1850 and stayed in post for the next fifty years - although he had been presented with a silver salver by passengers at the end of the first ten!

W.H.Smith opened a newspaper kiosk in 1863 and sidings were built in 1879 - this is now the site of the car park and housing beyond it.  In the 1880s a flower shop, tobacconist  and coal office were added.

In the early 1980s  local people began to be concerned about the state of disrepair into which the station had fallen and it was rescued by the Blackheath Preservation Trust and repainted in its original colours,. Neil comments that all of that careful work has been lost with privatisation.

This article first appeared in the October 1999 GIHS Newsletter

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