The station opened a
decade later than the North Kent Line, coming into use on 18th July 1859. Its
closer proximity to most of the Royal Arsenal made it an ideal stop for the
factory workers, the complex employing nigh on a staggering 80,000 people at its
zenith during World War I. Before touching on rail connections with the Arsenal,
it is first worth looking at the SER establishment itself. Despite its delayed
opening, the station was by no means modest, or cheaply built, but neither did
it follow the architectural patterns of its marginally older counterparts.
Located on the ‘’up’’ side, the station building was some three-storeys high,
partly because of its tall pitched roof, but even more importantly, as a result
of the platforms being situated within a cutting. To the unsuspecting passer by
at street level, the main building would have only seemed a fairly modest
affair, single-storey in nature with a tall pitched roof, complete with a small
amount of elaborate brickwork and tall chimney stacks. Down at platform level,
plenty more was revealed: the lower half of the structure’s trackside façade
consisted of a trio of arches, akin to a viaduct, and through these was waiting
accommodation. To incorporate a facility in the main building in such a way is
certainly unusual along the route, and the design was unique to Plumstead. It
was usually customary for station buildings to be graced with a suitably sized
canopy to protect passengers from the elements, rather than demonstrating the
scenario just described, but even this the intriguing station did not go
without. Both platforms were each shielded by an intricate canopy: the valances
were at least familiar in their design, examples having emerged at Dartford
station from the outset, but the unusual upward slanting roofs seem to be traits
shared by those stations opened later than the route. Canopy and valance
architecture on the SER network could qualify as an individual website topic in
its own right; there have been a number of distinct variations. The three
mainstream designs in evidence can still be seen at Plumstead, Paddock Wood and
Erith (‘’up’’ side). In order, historical material seems to suggest that the
type installed at Plumstead is the oldest design, with the valances at Paddock
Wood being of seemingly later origin – indeed, this latter pattern carried over
into SE&CR days. These designs did overlap each other during implementation.
No footbridge was provided from the outset, only staircases allowing passengers to descend from street level to the platforms. The road bridge was sufficient for a number of decades, a dedicated lattice footbridge not arriving until 1894. This demonstrated a roof during its earlier career, although it is highly likely that this was an even later feature, not originally part of this structure. The bridge served the three platform faces which had been characteristics since the station’s opening: the third of these was a London-facing bay line, on the ‘’up’’ side. At the western end of this platform was the signal box, opened in about 1892 to the SER’s in-house design. However, it did not even survive up to the mass culling of 1970, during the Dartford Panel commissioning, it instead closing as early as 13th June 1926.
Siding provision here was generous, the majority of the tracks laid being in connection with the nearby Royal Arsenal. Goods sidings were situated beyond the road bridge, to the east of the station, nine lengthy tracks featuring on the ‘’down’’ side, an additional line of similar length being on the ‘’up’’ side. Indeed, a couple of those sidings nearest to the running lines were later electrified for the stabling of EMU stock. The Arsenal received a single-track connection from these goods sidings, which allowed the passage of military trains of guns, ammunition and, indeed, new locomotive parts. After World War I, a number of the Arsenal’s munitions factories became surplus to requirements, but to avoid widespread redundancies in the area, it was decided to have fifty steam engines of Class N (Nos. 1826 to 1875) produced there. Eventually, the Arsenal factories manufactured the components for these locomotives, but they were later transported down to Ashford works for assembly.
Now returning to the station itself: the bay line was connected at its western end to a duo of sidings for locomotive stabling. A water tower and crane were on offer for steam locomotive crews using the ‘’up’’ bay platform. On the opposite side of the running lines was also laid an additional lengthy siding. However, all this was to change on the advent of the June 1926 electrification. As part of this project, the bay line was taken out of use and all surrounding sidings, lifted; only the water tower and crane were left as a reminder of what was formerly situated there. At its eastern end, the former track bed of the bay line was in-filled with earth up to platform level. This then allowed additional waiting accommodation to be provided on the ‘’up’’ side in the form of a timber waiting shelter, this adjoining the existing canopy.
Most of this station’s rationalisation actually occurred during the aforementioned 1926 suburban electrification scheme. The sidings to the east of the station have survived surprisingly well over they years, but by the mid-1990s their usage for freight traffic was virtually non-existent. The single-track connection with the Arsenal had previously taken out of use in 1967, after the military site had been severely degraded. Despite freight traffic decline at this siding complex, the electrified sidings were retained and to this day are used for EMU stabling. The station itself has remained faithful to a bygone appearance, despite the platforms being rebuilt in concrete, the ‘’up’’ timber shelter being removed, and the footbridge losing its roof, all occurring in the late 1960s.
A number of the sidings east of the station still exist today for rolling stock storage. The large white space at
the top left of the map is blank for security reasons, and marks the start of the Woolwich Arsenal complex. As
can be seen, there was a connection from the Arsenal to the goods yard. The embankment running to the top
right covers a huge sewer, which runs through to Crossness Sewage Works.
An eastward view from the ''up'' platform shows, on the right, the track bed of the former ''up'' bay line. On
the ''down'' platform can be seen a banner repeater, required because the road bridge obscures the ''down''
starter signal. At this time, the footbridge still had a roof. © David Glasspool Collection
23rd March 2006
An eastward view on a gloriously sunny day reveals all main structures still in existence. No. 465172 is seen
emerging from underneath the road bridge, having just come out of the sidings. Note the tall pitched roof of
the main building and, below the footbridge, the trio of arches which guard the waiting area. The footbridge
has lost its overall roof, but still looks harmonious with the canopies, these retaining their authentic-patterned
valances. © David Glasspool
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