Dagenham Dock

This is a station which has often caught your author’s eye when travelling on a high speed service to St Pancras. Before the train plunges into the twin-bore Dagenham Tunnel — or, indeed, when it emerges from it coast-bound — passengers are afforded a brief glimpse of Dagenham Dock‘s platforms, located upon the Fenchurch Street to Southend line via Tilbury. The station is situated within a dense industrial landscape; first developed in bulk by the Ford Motor Company after their announcement in 1924 to start vehicle production there, the area has in more recent years seen a multitude of distribution centres go up, extensive residential development has started in earnest and, of course, High Speed 1 now slices through the suburb. In spite of a complete transformation of the landscape, including a sea of catenary masts, stacked shipping containers, and the A13 trunk road passing overhead, a station largely of early 20th Century origin still stands.

A double-track line between Forest Gate Junction and Tilbury was opened to scheduled passenger traffic on 13th April 1854, a Board of Trade inspection having taken place on 11th. At Forest Gate was where the then newly-opened “London, Tilbury & Southend Railway” (LT&SR) met the existing rails of the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR); the latter ran into a London terminus at Bishopsgate and, by that time, had a network of lines extending to Cambridge, Ipswich, and Norwich. LT&SR trains ran into Fenchurch Street, reaching this City of London terminus via Stratford. A single-track extension from Tilbury to Stanford-le-Hope opened on 14th August 1854, and to Leigh on 1st July 1855. Scheduled services to Southend commenced on 1st March 1856, and the route east of Tilbury was doubled in the same year.

In the early years, no station was in evidence at the site of today’s Dagenham Dock. The railway crossed desolate marshland, the occasional angler beside what was then known as “Dagenham Lake” being the only soul in sight, and a fish manure factory existed beside the edge of the Thames. As early as 1855 a “Dagenham (Thames) Dock Company” had received Royal Assent to develop part of the river’s edge here with jetties, warehouses, and abattoirs. The work had to be completed within seven years, but the lack of progress saw a five year extension granted in 1862. By 1869, works — which cost £170,000 — were at an advanced stage:

Since then [the very first years of the LT&SR], however, a joint-stock company has displaced those “anglers”, has drained the marsh, has deepened, widened, and with stone work lined the lake, and has cut a canal between it and the Thames. They [the Dagenham Dock Company] have on the faith of an Act of Parliament constructed their docks, built their warehouses, and brought a population to settle on what seemed the most unpromising spot in the neighbourhood of the metropolis. … the Commissioners of Customs, who have refused to licence these most convenient docks for the shipping and landing of such cargoes as require the supervision of a tidewaiter. [The Railway Times, 20th March 1869]

Dagenham Dock was not authorised to operate, in spite of the existing building works, and over twenty years would elapse before the scheme was revived. Newspaper clippings from around the time make reference to a “Dagenham Dock station” being evident on the LT&SR at this point; however, your author cannot find any formal opening nor closure details, so presumably the platforms never came into use for general traffic as a result of the refusal to let the dock function.

As the 7.40 a.m. up train from Gravesend approached the old Dagenham Dock Station (between Rainham and Barking) a horse and cart driven by a man of about 60 years of age, crossed the line through a gate, where there was a man stationed to prevent people from crossing when a train was expected. From some unexplained cause this cart was dashed into by the train, which killed the man on the spot, and severely injured the horse. [Fatal Accident on the Southend Railway, The Standard, Tuesday, 8th November 1870]

There are further references to an early Dagenham Dock station, these of which are in the context of a stop existing there, but not being in use:

Means, I believe, will be tried next [fishing] season to induce the railway authorities to stop an early train at the Dagenham Dock station, as also a pick up in the evening; and if they do so we may look for a rush to the gulf. [Bell’s Life in London, Saturday, 26th November 1870]

The bream I saw this week from Dagenham were in good condition, though none ran very large. Mr Borrett, the proprietor, intends strictly preserving this fine place of water, and if the Great Eastern Railway authorities could be induced to open the Dagenham Dock Station a great boon would be afforded to the anglers. [The Sportsman, Saturday, 9th August 1879]

Although the 1879 article mentions the “Great Eastern Railway”, the LT&SR was independent at this time, at least nominally. The complex history of this company could fill a book, maybe several; the GER’s predecessor, the ECR, along with the Blackwall Railway — which the GER took out on a 999-year-long lease in 1866 — had provided the original capital for the LT&SR. The line was first leased to the contractor who built it, Messrs. Peto & Co., but worked by the ECR, an arrangement which expired in 1875. Thereafter, the LT&SR company started to acquire its own rolling stock and motive power, but as remarked by Alan A. Jackson in his book “London’s Termini” (1969), until 1882 both the GER and Blackwall Railway still had powers to appoint directors to the LT&SR board.

In 1892, it was reported that the final incarnation of Dagenham Dock, the one which did get approval to operate, was in the course of construction:

A New Dock For London

To meet the increasing needs of the Port of London, a new dock is in the course of construction at Dagenham, Essex, nine miles from Fenchurch-street, on the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway. The dock is, to a certain extent, a natural one, consisting, as it does, of Dagenham Lake, so well-known to Metropolitan anglers. At present a large number of men are employed building dams – a work which is already nearly accomplished, so that as far as the quays of the new undertaking are concerned, there is little to be done beyond the facing walls. Two powerful pumping stations and a large number of hydraulic cranes have been erected, and the dolphins forming the river entrance are practically finished. When complete the new dock will have a depth of water equal to that of Tilbury, and be capable of taking the largest vessels afloat, even when fully loaded. It is stated that when opened the Dagenham Dock will mainly be used for coaling purposes, but those most intimately connected with the shipping trade of London are of the opinion that when the necessary powers are obtained from the Board of Customs to allow the landing and warehousing, &c., of dutiable goods the two largest steamship companies of the port will take their vessels to Dagenham. The present scheme was projected nearly 20 years ago, and the construction actually commenced, but was ultimately abandoned owing to the opposition of the then Customs Board. [The Market Harborough Advertiser, Tuesday, 22nd March 1892]

By July 1892, Dagenham Dock was in use. The site had been developed and funded by Samuel Williams, who had bought hundreds of acres of marshland and subsequently brought spoil to the area by barge to fill up the saltings. An indirect single-track connection, also financed by Samuel Williams, was made with the “up” line of the LT&SR; the branch to the water’s edge was approximately 1,500-yards-long and ran onto a jetty at the dock.

Finally, we reach the advent of today’s Dagenham Dock station. In 1901, inhabitants of the area started lobbying the LT&SR for a station to be provided at this point on the line:

Will There Be A Station At Dagenham Dock?

A petition has been sent to the Directors of the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway Company, asking for a station to be provided in Chequer-lane, Dagenham Dock, between Rainham and Barking. A large number of the petitioners are one and a-half miles from Rainham and Dagenham stations. [Barking, East Ham, & Ilford Advertiser, Saturday, 4th May 1901]

The Dagenham station mentioned above had opened to passengers on Friday, 1st May 1885 with a then new line to Upminster, which left the original LT&SR route at Barking. This line was subsequently extended to Pitsea, where the LT&SR line via Tilbury was rejoined, scheduled passenger traffic commencing on 1st June 1888. The new line reduced the Fenchurch Street to Southend distance by six miles and became the LT&SR's primary route between the capital and Essex coast.

In 1907, the local press reported that a station at Dagenham Dock would shortly be in the making:

New Station for Dagenham Dock

We learn on good authority that a railway station is shortly to be erected at Dagenham Dock between Barking and Rainham, on the London, Tilbury, and Southend line. This will be a convenience to those connected with the commerce of the dock, the farmers on the Island, and the residents in the neigbourhood. It ought to tend to develop a further trade in the district. [Barking, East Ham, & Ilford Advertiser, Saturday, 25th May 1907]

The then new station became a reality in summer of the following year:

A new station, Dagenham Dock, which has been built by arrangement with the landowners with a view to the development of property between Barking and Rainham, was opened for traffic on July 1. [The Railway Times, 25th July 1908]

The "landowners" mentioned above must surely have been Samuel Williams & Sons Ltd, the company behind the Dagenham Dock which was commissioned beside the Thames in 1892. Indeed, in "The Book of Dagenham: A History" (1964), the author John Gerard O'Leary remarks that the station at Dagenham Dock was partly financed by that company.

Dagenham Dock comprised two platforms, each about 620-feet-long, situated either side of the double track. Single-storey structures of yellow brick construction, with orange lining, were brought into use on both “up” and “down” sides. Splendid canopies were erected on both platforms, those on “up” and “down” sides being 105-foot and 70-foot in length respectively. Both canopies were flat-roofed and sported intricately-patterned timber valances; these matched the designs brought into use at the rebuilt Barking station in 1889 and the then new site at Benfleet in 1911.

At the eastern end of the site was erected a lattice footbridge comprising four staircases. Two of these staircases linked the platforms; the remaining pair provided a public walking route over the running lines. The footbridge was adjacent to a level crossing over which passed Chequers Lane, leading to the jetties of Samuel Williams & Sons Ltd at Dagenham Dock. Naturally, when the gates were closed against the line, the level crossing could be used by pedestrians rather than the footbridge.

On the opposite side of the level crossing to the station, next to the "down" running line, was a signal box. Two-storeys-high and of all-timber construction, the cabin had been built by well-known contractor “The Railway Signalling Company”. In their 1986 book "The Signal Box: A Pictorial History and Guide to Designs", the "Signalling Study Group" have noted that the signal box came into use during 1901, seven years prior to the station opening here.

All goods sidings here existed on the eastern side of the level crossing, flanking either side of the running lines. The connection with the branch to Dagenham Dock was indirect, requiring trains to make a reversing manouevre into a siding when running between it and the running lines. The formation of these tracks in about 1920 can be seen on the below diagram.

In 1912 the LT&SR was absorbed into the Midland Railway (MR), this being effective from 7th August of that year when the purchase received Royal Assent. As part of the Act the Great Northern Railway (GNR), which had been a vocal opponent of the purchase, was granted running powers over the LT&SR to as far as Tilbury. Parliament's reasoning was that it was not considered favourable one railway company — i.e. the MR — having sole access to such important docks. Additionally, the MR also had running powers over GER lines to reach Fenchurch Street.

In 1924 the Ford Motor Company purchased hundreds of acres of land in the vicinity of Dagenham Dock from Samuel Williams & Sons Ltd. This was intended for a new car manufacturing plant to replace an existing Ford factory located at Trafford Park, Manchester. The first car rolled off the production line in Dagenham on 1st October 1931. After the arrival of Ford, so complex was the maze of lines developed around the LT&SR in this area that diagrams of the layout look like spaghetti thrown at a wall. Huge car-building factories were established either side of the LT&SR, all served by their own sidings; the original branch to the jetties at Dagenham Dock was doubled and, on its way to the water's edge, shot off spurs to a wagon repair works, cable works, concrete block factory, and, of course, connections were made with Ford's complex. At Dagenham Dock station, a multitude of new sidings were laid east of the level crossing, either side of the running lines, and a goods shed emerged behind the signal box. Such was the development that the population of Dagenham grew sharply from 9,127 individuals in 1921 to 89,362 in 1931.

Half a mile west of Dagenham Dock, railway developments were also on the horizon. In 1937, it was announced that the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) — the MR's successor — was to develop a freight yard at Ripple Lane:

The L.M.S. Railway is to spend approximately £50,000 on the construction of a marshalling yard at Ripple Lane, between Barking and Dagenham Dock, which will comprise eight sidings capable in all of taking 522 wagons on the up side of the line, six sidings with a total capacity of 406 wagons on the down side, and reception lines and shunting necks. [Westminster Bank Review, Westminster Bank Limited, 1937]

As part of the British Transport Commission's Modernisation Plan of 1955, it was announced that the Fenchurch Street to Southend lines were to be electrified on the then new standard of 25kV overhead wires. Major works involved the rebuilding of Barking station, including the construction of flyovers to remove conflicting movements, and the transfer of the goods depot from there to a greatly enlarged marshalling yard at Ripple Lane. The latter was developed into a colossal site, unrecognisable from the LMS' yard of 1937; the first part of the enlarged Ripple Lane opened in 1959 and, when completed, had close to one hundred sidings. The Ripple Lane works required a significant track realignment of the running lines immediately west of Dagenham Dock station; the two tracks were set on new courses diverging away from each other when heading in the London direction, so they went either side of the gargantuan marshalling yard.

At Dagenham Dock station, the lattice footbridge span across the tracks was taken down and replaced by a taller solid steel type, to provide enough clearance for the overhead wires; however, the original four staircases of 1908 were retained. One of the electrification gantries pierced through the canopies on either side, and the traditional gas lamps upon both platforms were replaced by modern-style electric lighting upon concrete posts. As part of the electrification works the "Tilbury Loop", as the original route between Barking and Pitsea was known, was re-signalled from semaphores to colour aspect lights, as reported in The Railway Gazette, 1962:

This contract, awarded to S.G.E. Signals Limited, was for the provision of colour-light signalling between Rippleside Level Crossing at Barking and the 31 mile post on the line between Tilbury and Pitsea, a total of 23 route-miles. Provision is made throughout for automatic warning system equipment, completion of the installation then only depending on the fitting of the track inductors.

Intermediate signal boxes at Dagenham Dock, Rainham, Purfleet Rifle Range, Purfleet, West Thurrock, and Grays were fitted with push-button panels. Initially, the traditional crossing gates at Dagenham Dock were retained, but by 1969 these had been replaced by lifting barriers controlled from the adjacent signal box. The full electric timetable came into force on 17th June 1962, and public goods traffic ceased to be handled at Dagenham Dock from 2nd November 1964.

In about 1985, the signal box’s traditional window frames were replaced with plain modern glazing. The cabin remained in use until August 1996, when its functions were transferred to the solid-state London, Tilbury & Southend Control Centre at Upminster.

In 1998, as part of the construction works for Section 2 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL), the running lines west of the platforms were realigned north, to vacate the site required for the twin-bore Dagenham Tunnel. In the following year, a viaduct was completed across the western ends of Dagenham Dock’s platforms, carrying the A13 road that links Central London with Southend and Shoeburyness. The station’s “up” side building was demolished in 2003, for it sat upon the proposed course of the then under-construction CTRL; however, the platform canopy and retaining wall to which it was attached, were retained. The same works also resulted in the sidings immediately east of the level crossing, on the “up” side, being lifted, and connections between the LT&S line at this point and the Ford Motor Company being severed; new links between the two were, however, made at Ripple Lane. Closure of the level crossing on Chequers Lane was enacted, given that the CTRL cut off vehicular access to the northern part of this road. A new footbridge, equipped with lifts, was erected across both LT&S and CTRL routes at this time, at the site of the former level crossing, to maintain a pedestrian link above the tracks. The existing station footbridge was, however, retained.

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

9th March 1957

This 1957 London-bound scene was little changed from when the station opened in 1908. The signal box – a product of "The Railway Signal Company" – is the oldest structure in this view, dating from 1901, and the traditional level crossing gates were closed against the road for the train approaching in the distance. Tapered timber posts constitute the semaphore signal assembly, and it is likely that the curved members upon the footbridge once carried lighting. Chequers Lane passed over the railway here. © David Glasspool Collection

10th May 1969

The footbridge span was replaced as part of the electrification works to accommodate overhead wires, and by the time of this 1969 view the manual level crossing gates had been replaced by automatic lifting barriers. The traditional gas lamps upon the platforms had been replaced by the then standard BR electric lighting. The former "down" side goods yard, behind the signal box, was by this time packed with cars. © David Glasspool Collection

21st May 1992

Overhead wires aside, the station still very much had a traditional appearance in 1992, with both main buildings, ornate platform canopies, and signal box in evidence. In the centre background of this Tilbury-bound view, emerging above the footbridge, is a water tower, which was a feature of the station from the earliest years. The signal box, visible beyond the end of the "down" platform, ceased to operate during 1996. The "up" side station building, on the right, was demolished in 2003 to make way for Section 2 of the Channel Tunnnel Rail Link, but the canopy on that platform and the retaining wall behind were left standing. © David Glasspool Collection

3rd October 2015

An eastward view from Choats Manor Way, which crosses the approaches to High Speed 1's (HS1) Dagenham Tunnel, shows the 1999-completed viaduct carrying the A13 over Chunnel and LT&SR lines, the double-track of the latter being on the left. The platforms of Dagenham Dock station, which were extended westwards under the viaduct in 2012, are evident amongst a sea of wires. On the far right are the rails leading to the sidings of the Ford Motor Company, which make connections with both HS1 and the LT&SR west of Dagenham Tunnel, on the throat of the former Ripple Lane Marshalling Yard. © David Glasspool