Today, this is a modern commuter station in a bustling outer suburb of Greater London, bordering Kent, enjoying an excellent service to and from the capital. Whilst the site is architecturally unremarkable, for the railway historian it nevertheless comprises a mixture of structures from various periods in its history: a footbridge from the pre-Grouping era, Southern Railway (SR) concrete platforms, a British Rail (BR) CLASP waiting shelter, and a main building from early privatisation days.
Crayford came into use with the South Eastern Railway's (SER) "Dartford Loop Line" on Saturday, 1st September 1866, which coincided with the opening of that company's grand City terminus at Cannon Street. The Loop was a 9½-mile-long double-track railway, diverging from the Tonbridge main line at Hither Green and joining the North Kent Line at Dartford. The contractor for the line was Mr Rennie and, prior to opening, the route was inspected by Colonel Yolland, Royal Engineer, from the Board of Trade. At the time, it was reported that the Colonel expressed a strongly favourable opinion of the signalling arrangements and apparatus of Messrs. Knight and Walker that were to be used on the line (ref: The Railway News, 21st July 1866). Mr Knight was the superintendent of the SER and Mr Walker the company's electrical engineer.
The 1861 census shows the population of Crayford to be 3,103; ten years later, it had risen to 3,887. The station provided here comprised two platforms situated either side of the double-track, and the main building was located on the "up" (London-bound) side of the layout. The latter was a typical SER creation of the period: the building was a single-storey structure of timber construction, with a slated hipped roof through which a pair of brick chimneystacks protruded. Extending from the main building was a flat-roofed platform canopy with spiked timber valance; this was identical in design to that example still in evidence at neighbouring Bexley, the latter of which retains the original cast-iron stanchions stamped with the mark of the manufacturer "W. Richardson & Son of Leicester". Maps from around the turn of the century show a structure on the "down" platform with proportions akin to those of a waiting shelter; possibly, this was the same design as that still standing on the "up" side at Bexley.
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© David Glasspool
Based on the 1871 Ordnance Survey edition, no goods yard initially existed at Crayford. There was, however, a single siding immediately west of the station, which made a trailing connection with the "down" running line. By the 1897 edition, a second siding had been laid, this time on the "up" side, terminating behind the platform. At its western end, this siding curved southwards to serve a farm's gravel operation, the latter of which is mentioned in period newspaper sources:
GRAVEL FOR SALE.
The pit being now re-opened for the coming season, any quantity of this famous Dartford Heath Gravel, not less than 4 tons, can be loaded on trucks at Crayford Station, screened, at 3s. per yard or ton, and forwarded to any Station upon the South-Eastern Railway. Railway charges to be paid at the Station. Apply to Mr. A. Bath, Wansunt Farm, Bexley, S.E. N.B.-Post-office Orders payable at Bexley P.0.; cheques crossed London and County Bank, Bromley. [Maidstone & Kentish Journal, 6th December 1869]
A similar advert had appeared in local newspapers a year earlier. The article predates the aforementioned 1871 Ordnance Survey edition; therefore, the map either erroneously misses out the rail link to the farm, or perhaps in the earliest years the "down" siding on the northern side of the running lines was used for loading wagons. The sand and gravel pits referred to here were located about 350-yards south east of the railway station and, in 2000, were redeveloped for housing after many years of being a landfill site for commercial waste. Wansunt Farm was sold at auction in 1886 (ref: The Morning Post, 11th June 1886), but the siding to the farm was still marked on the 1909 Ordnance Survey edition; by that time, it had been extended into the pits. The "up" side station yard had also acquired an additional siding that passed through a brick-built goods shed, and a pair of eastward-facing sidings had been laid on the "down" side of the running lines, west of the station.
A Dartford-bound view from the footbridge shows the trailing crossover that remains a feature today and can be used to reverse trains. The concrete bracket lampposts were installed by the Southern Railway — your author suspects during the 1940s — and were complete with that company’s "Target" name signs. The "down" starter semaphore shows that the line ahead is clear.
© David Glasspool Collection
Since about 1885, the layout had been controlled by a two-storey-high signal box of SER design, situated at the London end of the "down" platform. The timber cabin was situated upon a brick base, and the trademark SER architectural features of hipped slated roof and sash-style windows once evident at Crayford can still be seen at Cuxton and Snodland.
No footbridge was provided at the station from the outset; both platforms had step-free access by means of slopes leading from the road over bridge to the east. By the 1897 edition, a footbridge had been erected between the platforms on the London side of the main building; by 1907, it had been joined by a second footbridge on the Dartford side of the main building. By the same year, the existing "down" siding had been lengthened, a second siding laid adjacent to it, and a trailing crossover laid between the running lines at the Dartford end of the station.
By 1929, the earlier of the two footbridges had been taken down. Under the SR, the existing "down" side waiting accommodation was replaced by a short canopy sloping backwards towards the platform's rear, this of which demonstrated a plain timber valance. Swan Neck gas lamps were also erected along both platforms. The SR's most significant change was the introduction of electric services on all North Kent routes to Dartford at a cost of about £1,100,000 (ref: Kent Messenger, 5th June 1926), the regular scheduled timetable of which commenced on 19th July 1926.
The SER timber station building is seen nearing the end of its existence. Typical features include the hipped slated roof and sash-style windows. One of the advertisement boards, headed ''British Railways'', is promoting horse racing at Epsom. On the right, in the background, can be seen the imposing buildings of Vickers.
© David Glasspool Collection
At this stage, mention should be made of "Wansunt Pumping Station", which belonged to the "Metropolitan Water Board". This was built by the "Kent Water Company" and was completed in 1903 (ref: The Water Supply of Kent [With Records of Sinkings and Borings], W. Whitaker, H.M. Stationery Office, 1908) on the "up" side of the railway, about 400-yards west of Crayford railway station. By 1929, the water board had gained a short gated siding that diverted from the line leading to the gravel pits. The siding was remote from the pumping station and, again based on period maps, the gap between the two was filled by a narrow gauge line.
The sidings serving both the gravel pits and water pumping station were still evident in 1940. By 1960, these had been lifted, but the pair of "down" sidings, west of the station, remained in use, as did those in the goods yard. Of the latter, public goods traffic was withdrawn in January 1965, effective from the 4th of that month (ref: Clinker's Register, 1980). In the April 1969 edition of the RCTS' Railway Observer publication, it was noted that lifting of the former goods yard's sidings had taken place and that a car park was being built on the land. The April 1969 edition of The Railway Magazine remarked that stations at Charlton, Belvedere, Slade Green, and Crayford had seen their existing station buildings replaced by prefabricated "CLASP" structures. Of the latter, these were standardised buildings that comprised precast concrete wall panels affixed to steel frames — most of the parts were factory-made and everything came already painted. The footbridge at Crayford survived the works and your author surmises that access to the station from the "down" side ceased at this time.
On Sunday, 1st November 1970, the signal box and semaphores at Crayford were abolished. Track Circuit Block working and colour lights were introduced, controlled from a then new panel at Dartford (ref: British Rail, South Eastern Division, Signal Instruction No. 31 S.E.D.).
The 19th Century timber ticket office was replaced by the single-storey prefabricated structure seen on the right of this Dartford-bound view. The oldest station structure by that time was the footbridge. A pair of Electro-Diesels, led by No. 73110, are seen passing by the "up" platform with an engineers’ train, likely running from Hoo Junction to Hither Green.
© David Glasspool Collection
In the May 1999 edition of the RCTS' The Railway Observer magazine, it was reported that a new station building was in use by 23rd January 1999. It was also remarked that the old booking office section of the previous CLASP structure was awaiting demolition at that time and, by 15th February, the latter was completed. After flattening of the CLASP structure, work began on extending the roof of the then new main building on the "up" side, to provide a sheltered waiting area. The replacement main building was a much more pleasing design than its CLASP predecessor, being a single-storey red brick structure with a tiled pitched roof, within which was a ticket office and news stand.
In 2012, work started on reopening direct access to the station from the northern side of the railway, involving the provision of a tarmac path and lightning. During summer 2014, there was activity west of the station, upon part of the former site of the "down" sidings, in connection with the construction of a new electricity substation. The electrical equipment was supplied by Siemens and installed by "UK Power Networks", and works were nearing completion by mid-October 2014.
19th March 2012
By the time of this Dartford-bound view, the station’s architecture had much improved since the dark days of the "CLASP" era. A smart red-brick single-storey ticket office has been in use on the "up" side since January 1999. That being said, the prefabricated waiting shelter of 1969 origin remained in use on the "down" platform.
© David Glasspool