At platform level, this is a rather austere site, the result of a somewhat dastardly rebuild which swept away much bygone character and charm. Dreary rectangular platform shelters today complete a Spartan scene, but thankfully, once passengers descend the steps to street level, things become much more interesting. A splendidly-restored 19th Century booking office and an elaborate bridge remain as testament to an earlier time, and the station’s placement amongst an avenue of mature trees makes it hard to believe that it is only 5 miles 2 chains from Victoria.
The double-track line between Herne Hill and Beckenham came into regular use on 1st July 1863, forming part of the LC&DR’s independent route through the suburbs to the West End. A station, known from the outset as plain ‘’Dulwich’’, did not come into use until the following October. Two timber platforms were built on the line, the latter of which by this stage was perched upon an embankment. An early drawing of the station shows the platforms to be adorned at their northern ends with hipped-roof shelters demonstrating ornate panelling and brick chimneystacks; then, extending southwards from these were large flat-roofed canopies, fitting of this Middle Class leafy suburb. Perhaps such elaboration was by instruction of the nearby Dulwich College? This was certainly the case for the bridge immediately north of the platforms, carrying the line over Thurlow Park Road, which was erected to a design approved by the independent public school.
At street level was an attractive single-storey booking office, about 30-foot by 60-foot, on the ‘’up’’ side and perpendicular to the running lines. This was built to what we today recognise as standard LC&DR architecture, comprising crème brick walls frescoed with orange-lined arched windows, in addition to a hipped slated roof. Larger versions of this structure later emerged at the rebuilt Chatham and Faversham stations, and these buildings remain in existence today.
Whether or not the aforementioned drawing is fully accurate is open to conjecture, although contemporary maps do reflect canopies of the length it suggests, in addition to square outlines which could quite possibly be the shelters. However, by the Great War, this arrangement had been altered: the panelled shelters had gone and new, slightly shorter, canopies brought into use on both platforms. The canopies were essentially enlarged versions of the shelter design which had earlier been used on the ‘’up’’ platform at Sevenoaks Bat & Ball, featuring timber windbreaks at either end. At the canopies’ southern ends, a planked foot crossing over the running lines was in evidence, which was reached by steps inset to the platforms’ sides. The ‘’up’’ platform could also now be reached midway down by means of a covered walkway starting adjacent to the booking office.
The first public electric trains served the station on 12th July 1925, third rail having become ‘’live’’ from Victoria and Holborn Viaduct to Orpington, via Herne Hill and Catford Loop lines, and Bickley/Orpington Junctions. On 20th September of the following year, the station became ‘’West Dulwich’’, to distinguish it from the 1868-opened North and East Dulwich stations on the ex-LB&SCR line between Peckham Rye and Tulse Hill. It was around this time that the platforms were equipped with the Southern Railway’s trademark Swan Neck lampposts and ‘’Target’’ name signs.
In late 1952, the platforms were rebuilt at their southern ends using concrete which had been prefabricated at Exmouth Junction, but the remaining lengths, from the southern ends of the canopies northwards, remained timber planked. The platform canopies were also refurbished at this stage.
A common issue affecting stations upon embankments is subsidence, which in years gone by has caused platform misalignment at many sites (today, the ‘’up’’ platform at Bexley continues to demonstrate such qualities). In the 1980s, it was decided to tackle this in part at West Dulwich by completely reconstructing the ‘’down’ platform using a series of concrete piers sunk into the side of the embankment. Sadly, this also led to the destruction of the splendid canopy, which was replaced by a soulless bus shelter-style object. Although the ‘’up’’ platform was not rebuilt at this time, the opportunity was also taken to demolish the canopy on that side, this again being replaced by a clinical shelter. The remaining timber planking of the ‘’up’’ side was covered by a layer of asphalt, until this surface itself was rebuilt upon a steel structure in the early 1990s. By the end of these works, the station had two platforms of 600-feet length.
25th February 1962
Steaming through West Dulwich on a wintry morning, we see N15 Class No. 30782 ''Sir Brian''. The engine was fronting the Locomotive Club of Great Britain's ''The Kentish Venturer Rail Tour'', which ran from Victoria to Charing Cross, via Chatham and Tonbridge main lines. The tour also traversed the branch to New Romney, by which time No. 30782 had been taken off the train and replaced by double-heading ''H'' and ''C'' Class engines. © David Glasspool Collection
25th July 2007
This northward view shows that the station has been completely rebuilt at platform level. The parapets of the bridge, designed in accordance with Dulwich College's requirements, can be seen beyond the ends of the platforms. Herne Hill is only one mile distant. © David Glasspool
25th July 2007
Happily, at street level, the LC&DR booking office has survived. The brickwork and arched orange window surrounds are typical of this company. The northern ends of the platforms can be seen to the building's top left. © David Glasspool
25th July 2007
Class 375 No. 375705 is seen passing through southbound non-stop, pairing with unit No. 375703 in the pouring rain. The leafy environs of the station belie the fact that it is little over five miles from Victoria. © David Glasspool