Located within a deep
cutting 550-feet above sea level, at the foot of Sydenham Hill, this station has
seen mixed fortunes since its opening on 1st July 1863. Serving the leafy suburb
of Dulwich, the site began life as a somewhat Spartan, economical affair,
particularly in light of its salubrious surroundings. A pair of 420-foot-long
brick-built platforms came into use here, either side of a double-track, and
each surface was host to an elongated single-storey clapboard waiting shelter.
These were over 100-feet in length, rectangular in shape, and lacked any style
or finesse – it almost seems as though the LC&DR added the station as a quick
afterthought, certainly when compared to the grandeur of nearby Penge. The
station was reached on either side of the railway cutting by steeply-graded
pathways cut into the slopes, and no footbridge was in evidence – both footways
did, however, converge at the top of the ''down'' side cutting, the path from
the ''up'' platform coming across the top of Penge Tunnel's portal. With
reference to the latter, this was situated at the ‘’country’’ end of the
platforms, being some 2,200 yards in length and taking the line under the
station’s namesake, ‘’Sydenham Hill’’. At the time, Queen Victoria’s dislike of
the tunnel was well known and this later
provided some of the impetus for the building of the alternative Catford Loop. A
staggering 33 million bricks were used in the construction of the tunnel, and
the material for these had not come far: they were manufactured from the very
same clay that had been extracted during tunnel boring.
The layout here was simple, but the station could lay claim to a single refuge siding. Over 200 yards in length, this was positioned beyond the London end of the ‘’up’’ platform and had a trailing connection with the adjacent running line. The station was signalled by independent contractor ‘’Stevens & Sons’’, a firm which became well known for its work on SER lines. A quaint two-storey-high timber signal box was erected at the London end of the ‘’up’’ platform, built to a standardised outline – in fact, this same fundamental signal box design can still be seen today at Grain Crossing, on the branch across the Hoo Peninsula, where one of the contractor’s cabins remains.
Circa 1890, the LC&DR took the first steps in transforming Sydenham Hill into a station worthy of the area. This resulted in the erection of an attractive 110-foot-long pitched-roof canopy on the ‘’up’’ platform, comprising an iron frame of five struts (from which hung gas lighting) and an ornate timber valance. This was as far as the ‘’London, Smash ‘em and Turnover Railway’’, as it was colloquially known, got in terms of station enhancements, but major alterations were afoot after the formation of the SE&CR Joint Managing Committee in 1899. Within the first decade of its existence, the SE&CR undertook a complete rebuild of the station, leaving only the later ‘’up’’ side pitched roof canopy of the existing site. An identical canopy was erected on the ‘’down’’ platform, and both sides became hosts to completely new single-storey brick-built waiting accommodation (similar canopy modernisations were made at Brixton and Beckenham Hill). New brick buildings also came into use above the cutting, on the ‘’down’’ side, adjacent to the road. These new structures were in turn linked to the platforms by a splendid lattice footbridge, snaking its way through the vegetation and over the running lines for a length of about 320-feet. The footbridge came complete with roof, and passengers had witnessed a substantial upgrade in the facilities on offer at the station. Gentlemen's toilets had been in existence at the site from the outset, being located at the ''country'' end of the ''up'' platform, but the rebuild also seems to have procured ladies' toilets at the same end of the ''down'' platform. The works did not finish there, however: both platforms were extended at their London ends to 630-feet, which required the truncation of the ‘’up’’ refuge siding. The layout was completely re-signalled by the SE&CR, and a replacement signal box was established beyond the London end of the lengthened ‘’down’’ platform. The new signal cabin was a much sturdier affair: brick-built and two-storeys high, its design was based on those earlier Saxby & Farmer products from the previous century, which demonstrated pyramid-shaped roofs and roof overhang. Beyond the signal box, a trailing crossover was inserted between the running lines.
Electrification came early to ex-SE&CR suburban lines under Southern Railway ownership, commencing in 1924 with the Victoria/Holborn Viaduct to Orpington scheme. This involved station upgrades and complete rebuilds, the latter occurring when it was not practical to modify existing sites for electric working. Despite Sydenham Hill existing as a comparatively modern SE&CR rebuild of a once ramshackle affair, significant alterations were nevertheless made as part of the electrification project. The attractive pitched-roof canopies on both platforms were replaced by simpler upward-sloping designs, demonstrating a plain timber valance; the iron framework remained of LC&DR/SE&CR origin. The SR also re-faced the ''up'' platform side with prefabricated concrete. Electric working through to Orpington formally commenced on 12th July 1925 – the refuge siding at Sydenham Hill did not receive third rail.
Sadly, under British Railways auspices, this once attractive station became the subject of vandalism, which swept away much SE&CR influence. However, before destruction occurred, modernisation of the signalling was enacted. As part of ‘’Phase 1’’ of the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme, semaphore signals were replaced by colour aspect lights controlled from a series of ‘’power boxes’’. Colour lights came into use at Sydenham Hill on 12th April 1959: at the entrance to Penge Tunnel, at the end of the ''down'' platform, a four-aspect colour light was brought into use, but its counterpart at the London end of the ''up'' platform was three-aspect. As a result, the signal box was relegated to the status of ''Ground Frame'': it was retained to control the trailing crossover between the running lines at the London end of the station, and to control access to the remaining ''up'' engineers' siding. These connections first had to be electrically released from the 1956-opened signal box at Herne Hill. The 1959 installations were to last less than a decade: on Sunday 21st April 1968, all signals became four-aspect, and colour lights were also installed within Penge Tunnel. Engineers’ sidings at both Sydenham Hill and nearby Penge East were still in existence at this time, but were clipped and padlocked. The signal box was abolished, and the ‘’down’’ side at Sydenham Hill was set to witness destruction when, in 1981, an arson attack burnt out the platform buildings. Their remains were demolished, as was the platform canopy, and in their place emerged a rectangular bus shelter, somewhat reminiscent of the earliest frugal efforts of the LC&DR. This depressing chapter in the site’s history was perhaps partly alleviated by the opening of a new booking office in 1988. Located on the ‘’up’’ platform, behind the canopy and alongside the remaining SE&CR building, the new booking office utilised brown brick, just like those new examples which were appearing on the Dartford Loop Line via Sidcup at the same time. In recent times, the ‘’down’’ platform has seen its waiting accommodation modernised: since 2004, a new glazed curved shelter has been in use.
25th July 2007
The leafy splendour of the location is captured in this view of the station, looking towards the 2,200-yard-long
Penge Tunnel. On the right can be seen the remaining ''up'' side platform canopy: the valance design is of SR
origin, but the iron framework is of LC&DR vintage. On the left, just a glazed shelter is in evidence, the ''down''
side buildings having been burnt out long ago. David Glasspool
25th July 2007
Just passing through: Class 375 unit Nos. 375708 and 375703, on the left and right respectively, pass each
other at the portal of Penge Tunnel. Four-aspect colour lights were installed within Penge Tunnel itself
during the 1968 re-signalling works. David Glasspool
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