Architecturally, this is very much a ‘’Brighton’’ station, but it nevertheless qualifies as a South Eastern Division site. It joins Wandsworth Road and Clapham stations on a list of sites where two alternate routes ran side-by-side, served by separate platform faces. Even today, it remains an impressive spectacle, with a substantial main building straddling four tracks and an equal number of platform faces.
The first rails laid through the area were those of the ‘’Crystal Palace & South London Junction Railway’’ (CP&SLJR), which forged a double-track branch line to its namesake from LC&DR metals at Brixton. Public services between Victoria and Crystal Palace commenced on 1st August 1865. At this time, the LB&SCR was in the process of forming a circuit line between Victoria and London Bridge (the ‘’South London Line’’), which eventually ran parallel with LC&DR metals between Wandsworth Road and Peckham Rye. Public services over the South London Line were set to commence between London Bridge and Loughborough Park (latterly East Brixton) on Monday 13th August 1866. Contemporary newspaper adverts show that Denmark Hill in fact came into use earlier, with the Crystal Palace line. The full circuit between the two London termini finally came into operation on 1st May 1867.
At Denmark Hill, four tracks were located within a deep cutting, the northern pair forming the Crystal Palace line, the southern pair forming the South London Line. The LB&SCR opted for an arrangement whereby the main building straddled the cutting at right angles to the running lines and platforms. This set-up allowed easy access to platforms and provided greater flexibility for the below track layout: ‘’if the level of the rails and platforms was below that of the adjacent streets, that system could be conveniently arranged, as at the new Metropolitan Station at Farrington Street, by carrying the transverse gangways over the rails, and giving easy access to different platforms’’ [Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers: Volume 25 – Page 278]. Substantial buildings of the same architectural outline were brought into use at York Road (Battersea Park), Denmark Hill, and Peckham Rye stations – although this was an unromantic inner suburban line, it nevertheless became an extremely busy rail artery south of the Thames. These buildings, which housed lofty booking halls and living quarters for the Station Master, were of crème brick construction, had distinctive curved rooftops, and came complete with arched red-brick frames housing sash-style windows. Indeed, these were also features common to LC&DR buildings, albeit styled in an alternate fashion. The aforementioned LB&SCR stations on the circuit route were not alone in their appearance: a number of Victorian sewage pumping houses were built in a virtually identical style. One of these still survives alongside Grosvenor Bridge, on the Thames’ northern bank. Similarities amongst railway and sewage buildings were the result of a common architect, Charles Henry Driver (1832 - 1900). He was responsible for numerous LB&SCR station buildings, in addition to various sewage pumping stations around the capital.
Down at ground level, the four platform faces extended for about 580-feet – two of these formed a centrally-positioned island, sandwiched in-between ‘’Brighton’’ and ‘’Chatham’’ routes. They were all linked by a splendid enclosed footbridge, fully glazed and 90-feet in length. All structures upon the platforms were again the product of the LB&SCR, even those surfaces which just served LC&DR trains. Splendid timber canopies, 185-feet in length, were in evidence on all platforms. They featured attractive jagged valances and wrap-a-round ends, the latter of which were fabricated from tongue-and-groove timber and made the canopies look like giant waiting shelters. These canopies have since been much simplified in their appearance, but happily, the intricate valance design which once adorned them can still be seen in evidence at Battersea Park. By 1872, porters on the South London Line platforms were paid 16 shillings a week (£51.22 at 2007 prices).
The station site was located in-between two tunnels, those of Denmark Hill and Grove. Denmark Hill Tunnel, 63-yards in length, was situated just beyond the western end of the platforms, and in fact comprised two separate bores, segregating LB&SCR and LC&DR lines. Grove Tunnel was of similar arrangement, at the eastern end of the site, and its two bores extended for 132-yards. There were no crossovers between any of the four tracks, but the station commanded two signal boxes: one of these cabins was positioned at the western end of the island platform, whilst the second could be found at the eastern end of the LC&DR’s ‘’down’’ platform. This arrangement was altered in about 1880, when the existing signal boxes were abolished and replaced by a single one erected at the eastern end of the island platform. This controlled both ‘’Chatham’’ and ‘’Brighton’’ lines. In addition, a trailing crossover was installed between the two tracks of the LC&DR line, again at the eastern ends of the platforms.