The SER’s Tonbridge ‘’cut-off’’ line was
authorised by Parliament on 30th June 1862 to allow the railway company to
reduce the overall journey mileage between London Bridge and Dover, in response
to the LC&DR’s shorter route from Victoria. Freight began running over the line
on 3rd February 1868, with a full passenger timetable over the entire route
coming into use on 1st May of the same year. At this time, the area of what
became Petts Wood was flowing fields of fruit and vegetables, in the company of
extensive woodland (as per the place name). For sixty years the tranquillity of
the vicinity was maintained, with perhaps the occasional train breaking the
silence as it rumbled by.
Soon after coming into existence in 1923, the Southern Railway initiated a scheme to electrify those former SE&CR suburban lines to speed up services and improve reliability. The first route to receive the LSWR-inspired third rail was Victoria and Holborn Viaduct to Orpington, electric services commencing operation on 12th July 1925. Electric diagrams to the former SER termini of Charing Cross and Cannon Street was made possible from 28th February 1926. The reduced journey times which electric operation brought meant that London commuters could live further afield, which resulted in much housing development during the late 1920s and 1930s. The area of Petts Wood was included within the expansion of the outer suburbs and the flowing fields were soon transformed into residential estates. Petts Wood station came into use on 9th July 1928; initially, only a single island platform of 520-foot in length by 30-foot in width, was provided on the slow lines. However, over the next half decade it was built up to become a ‘’proper’’ station, with two islands serving the 1904-commissioned quadruple track. The platforms were the epitome of what is considered ‘’modern’’ SR design: they were wholly prefabricated concrete in their construction (the components having been manufactured at the company’s Exmouth Junction works) and the canopies were typical of the era. These had a ‘’W’’ shaped cross-section, were timber in construction with a functional valance, and supported on a lattice steel frame. This design became the standard for the SR throughout the whole of the 1930s, the rebuilt Tonbridge and new Swanley station receiving replica examples in 1935 and 1939 respectively. All three stations also shared the characteristic of incorporating solidly built enclosed waiting accommodation underneath the canopies. Unusually, however, whilst the likes of Swanley and Tonbridge had brick-built waiting rooms, Petts Wood’s accommodation was fabricated out of the same concrete used for the platforms, which could be a resultant of the piecemeal construction work. Concrete was certainly well used in other areas, even the station name board frames and lampposts (which supported electric lighting from the outset) being manufactured from it. This was in addition to a pair of rectangular waiting shelters (one on each platform), isolated from the main canopies, being of the same construction. Architecturally, Petts Wood seems to be a station of two extremes; the main building is unique, another example operating in the same capacity never appearing at any other South Eastern Division station, or indeed, Southern station. Consisting of two-storeys, it was built around a steel frame, had a timber-clad upper half, and looked decidedly like a large signal box! Such an analogy would seem to have considerable substance, since the signal box which appeared concurrent with the rebuilt Epsom station in 1929 demonstrated an identical roof, the same timber-clad pattern, and matching window frame design as Petts Wood’s structure. Trading outlets used the ground floor of the building, thus access to the ticket office on the first floor was via a flight of steel stairs. The ticket office in turn led to the platform footbridge linking the two islands; this was also of metal construction, the customary concrete which was so prevalent at the station possibly not being used in light of the bridge’s physical connection with the main building. It stretched over all four tracks to link both the eastern and western sides of the then new town.
Despite being a very late station to the route, goods provision was made here, thus this is worth a mention. Before the coming of the station and its associated residential development, the area was best known for the growing of strawberries and indeed, this would have been the largest single traffic generated here, conveyed to the markets by road. Those fields had to give way for the building of the then new town and the exporting of goods switched to importing, but this time of a wholly different commodity: coal. For this, land was reserved on the station’s ‘’down’’ side for a coal yard of four sidings, complete with stacks – no goods shed building of any form was in evidence.
Significant changes at the station began in accordance with the Kent Coast Electrification. Although the stretch of line to Orpington had already received third rail, signalling had remained mechanical. This system was then superseded, colour light signals at Petts Wood formally taking over from semaphores on 4th March 1962, controlled by a then new ‘’power box’’ at Chislehurst Junction. Later in the same decade, on 7th October 1968, the goods yard closed, concurrent with that at Orpington. The 1970s saw further revisions to the station: this included the demolition of the two separate concrete waiting shelters on either platform and the installation of rectangular glazed bus shelter designs in their place. The concrete lampposts were replaced with metal equivalents and it was decided at this time to tile the inside of the booking office. Additions in 1991 included two more bus shelters, but these of the semi-circular design which can be seen at Beltring. The former goods yard site had for long been a car park by this time. The first revenue-earning Eurostars passed through the station on 14th November 1994, these using the ex-SER main line from Petts Wood Junction all the way through to Folkestone, the majority of the route being passed for 100 MPH running. The most recent change in 2004 involved replacing all waiting shelters (except the original accommodation underneath the canopies) with newer designs.
A London-bound view on 19th April 2006 reveals the two Southern Railway canopies still intact,
albeit with some surface grime, and the original waiting accommodation of the ''up'' side. The
footbridge looks modern, but the flights of stairs are most certainly authentic. One of the shelters
installed in 2004 can be seen on the right-hand side. David Glasspool
The unusual station building is viewed from the street on 19th April 2006. It bears the design
traits of a signal box and its access stairs can be seen on the right. The right-hand side of it
is the circulating area, whilst the three windows on the left indicate the size of the ticket office.
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