Chessington South

In 1930, Parliament authorised the Southern Railway (SR) to construct a line from Motspur Park to Leatherhead, a distance of about 7¼-miles. This was to run to the west of and roughly parallel with the company’s existing line from Raynes Park to Leatherhead via Epsom. In the April 1935 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was stated that the SR proposed to shortly begin construction work on the branch, subject to formal consent of the "London Transport Standing Joint Committee". The line was to be double-track and electrified on the 600-volts D.C. system, and its construction split into two sections: Motspur Park to Chessington, and Chessington to Leatherhead. The raison d'être of the route was to serve then new housing estates under construction.

The Motspur Park to Chessington section was proceeded with first, at a cost of £440,000, extending for 4-miles 16-chains, with stations planned at Old Malden, Tolworth, Moor Lane (Chessington), and Garrison Lane (Chessington) (ref: The Railway Magazine, April 1935). The first section of the branch to Tolworth, 2-miles 29-chains from Motspur Park, was opened to regular public traffic on Sunday, 29th May 1938, which included an intermediate stop at Malden Manor (ref: The Railway Magazine, July 1938). In January of the following year, the SR announced that the proposed Chessington Court and Chessington Grange stations would instead be named Chessington North and Chessington South respectively (ref: The Surrey Advertiser and County Times, 14th January 1939). The remaining 1-mile 67-chains of the line from Tolworth to Chessington South came into use for public traffic on 28th May 1939 (ref: The Railway Gazette, 5th April 1946). At the time, it was reported that the station’s opening resulted in an enormous increase in visitors to Chessington Zoo (ref: Croydon Times and Surrey County Mail, 3rd June 1939).

Earthworks on the branch were extensive. The majority of the line was laid upon an embankment, the core of which was made of a heavy clay subsoil, the upper parts above 12-foot comprising a dry filling. In the July 1938 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was reported that excessive sulphates in the soil along the line required the use of aluminous cement in all drainage works where there would be running water. The same publication also noted that the track was laid upon approximately 8-inches of broken stone ballast, below which was either a 6-inch-thick slab of concrete or a bed of ashes 15-inches deep. The track comprised 95lbs rails set in cast-iron chairs affixed to timber sleepers treated with creosote. The embankment was intersected by seven bridges carrying the line over below roads, these comprising steel plate girder spans encased in concrete and carried upon piers and abutments that were also of concrete construction.

The stations along the line were designed with minimal maintenance in mind (ref: The Railway Magazine, July 1938). Single-storey masonry booking halls were constructed at all stops; the platforms at Chessington South were situated within a cutting, which resulted in the booking hall there being built at a higher level, on the south side of the line — at other stations along the branch, the running lines were upon an embankment, necessitating main buildings to be situated below the platforms at street level. The architecture was functional, being a variation of the designs that had been used by the SR at the likes of Hayes and Barnehurst on the Eastern Section.

Two platforms were provided at all stations along the Chessington branch line from the outset and these were equipped with 200-foot-long canopies. The canopies were of a curved profile, using a cantilevered reinforced concrete design, which meant that no struts were required to support the roof. The canopies were approximately three inches thick, with four layers of reinforcement, and small circular glass lenses were inserted to the roof to allow natural light through during the day (ref: The Railway Magazine, July 1938). For night, the station was equipped with fluorescent lighting. The design of the canopies is known as the “Chisarc” type — the name derived from "Messrs Chisarc and Shell “D” Ltd", who at that time held the patent for this type of construction in Britain. The “Chisarc” approach was useful for those structures that required large spans of unsupported roof, free of pillars, such as aircraft hangars. Reportedly, the design was originally brought to Britain by a Swiss engineer by the name of "C. F. de Steiger" (ref: The German Building Industry, Final Report, British Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (BIOS), HM Stationery Office, 1946).

The coal yard initially had two sidings, but a third had been added by the mid-1950s. A southward extension of the line’s earthworks was made during 1940/41 by the Royal Engineers as a training exercise. This used a combination of chalk and rubble from bomb damage, formed into an embankment (ref: The Railway Magazine, January 1974), but no track was laid upon it. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

A signal box of concrete construction was erected upon what was initially considered the “down” platform, little northeast of the platform canopy. This was equipped with an 18-lever Stevens & Sons frame recovered from an LSWR signal box, and SR standard three-position block instruments were used (ref: The Railway Magazine, January 1974).

Beyond Chessington South, the line continued for about 20-chains as a double-track before terminating. This section, beyond the station, served a spacious coal yard — initially fed by two sidings — situated on the eastern side of the cutting, which opened to public traffic on 1st July 1939 (ref: The Railway Magazine, January 1974). The branch also possessed a goods yard at Tolworth.

During World War II, the line was extended further south as a single track for 13-chains (ref: The Railway Magazine, November 1960). As for completing the second section of the route from Chessington to Leatherhead, the SR and, subsequently, British Railways (BR), had until the end of 1961 to exercise powers granted by the original Act of Parliament (ref: The Railway Magazine, November 1960); however, these were allowed to lapse. Post-war Green Belt legislation prevented a series of planned housing developments southwest of Chessington. The proposed “up” platform at Chessington South, although built complete with canopy, was never equipped with lighting or fencing from the outset; naturally, the intended footbridge to link both sides of the station was not erected either (ref: The Railway Magazine, January 1974). Services exclusively used the “down” side platform; a trailing crossover between the running lines, just north of the platforms, allowed Waterloo-bound trains to join the “up” track on departure.

In May 1963, a mechanised coal distribution depot operated by Charringtons (a well-known London coal merchant of the time) was brought into use in the yard at Chessington South, being served directly by trains from coalfields in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire (ref: The Railway Magazine, January 1974). This was followed by a larger coal depot being opened by the National Coal Board at Tolworth on 4th January 1965; this site, together with that at Chessington South, resulted in the closure of yards at Claygate, Esher, Hampton Court, Surbiton, Walton-on-Thames, and Worcester Park (ref: The Railway Magazine, January 1974).

The last mention your author can find of Chessington South’s coal yard still seeing regular traffic is in the April 1988 edition of The Railway Magazine, when Class 58 diesel locomotives typically fronted HEA Hoppers between there and Didcot Power Station. Evidently closed for a long period, the yard had a revival three decades later, when “Cappagh Group” opened a rail-served aggregate terminal on the former coal yard site. A test train, comprising six JNA wagons hauled by Class 60 No. 60028, ran a return trip to the yard from Willesden on 10th December 2021, after a year had been spent clearing the Chessington site of trees and vegetation, and laying 0.6-miles of new track (ref: The Railway Magazine, February 2022). The plan at the time was to run one aggregate train per week to the terminal.

16th December 1962

One of the rare occasions when passengers stood upon the unused “up” platform is captured in this view of the “South Western Suburban” rail tour, which had been brought into Chessington South by one of the powerful “H16” 4-6-2 tanks, No. 30517. Organised jointly by the RCTS and Stephenson Locomotive Society, the tour was a return trip from Waterloo, which visited Chessington, Hampton Court, and Shepperton branches. The distinctive “Chisarc” curved canopies are in evidence in this London-bound view. The substantial, but utilitarian, two-storey-high red-brick station building is on the right, whilst the signal box can just be seen below the end of the canopy. © David Glasspool Collection