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London's First Railway

“Throw down your mouldy coppers!” the children used to cry. But who were they shouting to and did their cries work?

London’s London Bridge – Greenwich line was the first steam railway in London. It was also the first to be built specifically for passengers. It’s an early C19th engineering marvel, an entirely elevated railway and can still be experienced today.

Spa Road was the first London terminus but where was it? Spa Road station, Bermondsey, opened in 1836. Built during an era when station design was still in its infancy, the original terminal was very basic indeed, consisting of two narrow timber platforms connected to the street below by a rickety wooden staircase. The ticket office was at street level and, as the image illustrates, passengers were often required to queue on the stairs whilst awaiting their train.

The Spa Road Station forecourt you can see was built in c.1904. Although the station was called Spa Road and Bermondsey, the prominent sign about the entrance to the booking office only shows Spa Road. The original Spa Road had only narrow timber platforms. The third station seen here had wider platforms with brick and canopies.

The former entrance in the arches below the viaduct survives on the southside Priter Road, the arches are in light industrial use. The wording ‘SE & CR’ and ‘Booking Office’ is still visible in embossed concrete above two of the entrance doorways. Sadly the booking office has been largely stripped but one set of steps up to the platform has been retained and maintained for rail maintenance and emergency egress from the line above. Some sections of both island platforms still survive.

In 1867 the station was re-sited further along the viaduct, about 200 yards to the east. The entrance was accessed via what is now Priter Road. In October 1877, the station was renamed Spa Road & Bermondsey even though it was still advertised as ‘Spa Road Station’.

When the South Eastern and Chatham Railway was formed in 1899 from the South Eastern Railway and its bitter competitor, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, the station was given yet another makeover. The current appearance of the station frontage dates from 1900. The station was provided with two island platforms on the north side of the viaduct. Each platform had a brick building and a canopy. You can still see fragments of these if you go past on a train. A signal box was added at the northern end of the down platform.

Spa Road station was closed on 15 March 1915, part of a WW1 cost saving measure.

You can find out more about Spa Road Station and London’s first railway on Episode 68 of our London History podcast.

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London History Podcast:
November 12, 2021
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