History of the Greenwich line

The London Bridge – Greenwich railway was the first in London. Building started in April 1834 and it opened in stages: from Spa Road to Deptford in February 1836; from London Bridge to Deptford in December 1836; and from London Bridge to Greenwich in December 1838.          

View from Spa RoadIt is built completely on 878 brick arches, creating a continuous viaduct of nearly 3.5miles, the longest run of arches in Britain. Early attempts to put housing underneath the arches were unsuccessful, and the spaces were used by local businesses, as they still are today.

The biggest problem in building the line was the need to cross the River Ravensbourne. The ground conditions were difficult and a passageway for ships in the busy wharves of Deptford Creek had to be retained. It was agreed to build a drawbridge over the River, to allow access for ships, and it took two years to build the short section from Deptford to Greenwich. The drawbridge seen today dates from 1963 but is no longer used.

At its opening, fares  were one shilling (5p) first class; and eight pence (3p) second class.

Later extensions.  In January 1864, the line was extended from London Bridge to Charing Cross, and in September 1866 to Cannon Street.

In the other direction, it took 40 years before the line was extended from Greenwich to Maze Hill. This was due to strong opposition from the Admiralty to a tunnel underneath Greenwich Park, as they feared it would upset the instruments in the Royal Observatory. Maze Hill station was opened in January 1873, when the line was opened from there to the North Kent line at Charlton, but it was not until February 1878 that Greenwich and Maze Hill were connected, and the full Greenwich line opened. The present Greenwich station also opened at the same time. Westcombe Park (Coombe Farm Lane) station opened in 1879.

A little known curio is that from 1850 to 1901 the London & Greenwich ran trains on the right-hand side; the only British railway ever to do so. When the line was connected to the North Kent line at Charlton, this caused operational problems and a scissors crossing had to be installed to enable trains to cross over to the left.

The other Greenwich line, to Greenwich Park.

Greenwich Park station
Greenwich Park Station

The South Eastern Railway Company, which ran the London Bridge to Greenwich railway, had a fierce rival – the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. They also wanted to build a line to Greenwich, terminating at a station called Greenwich Park. This line was opened as far as Blackheath Hill in September 1871, but did not reach Greenwich Park until October 1888 because of a lack of funds.

Old wall
Friends of Royal Hill community gardens – the old retaining wall for the railway cutting

Greenwich Park station was on Stockwell Street, where the Ibis Hotel and car park are now. Hardly anything remains of this line, but some of the retaining wall for the cutting the railway ran in could still be seen in the Friends of Royal Hill community gardens. Unfortunately, these gardens are now closed. At this point, the railway ran diagonally underneath Burney Street, Royal Hill and Peton Place. The booking office for Lewisham Road station now forms part of the famous Aladdin’s Cave on Loampit Hill.

This line was never very successful as it was a circuitous route from stations in the City and trains took around 30 minutes to reach Greenwich Park, compared with the 11 minutes from London Bridge to Greenwich. The line closed in January 1917, but the track from Nunhead to Lewisham is still in use today for freight services and the Victoria – Gravesend services via Bexleyheath, providing a useful link from the Blackheath and Lewisham area to Peckham, King’s College and Victoria.