Located at an important junction, where North Kent and Mid Kent Lines diverge, it is amazing that this station still retains traditional railway buildings, given how much the surrounding area has been redeveloped. However, as traffic only increases, your author fears that the vintage booking office, situated within the fork of diverging lines, may not have long ahead of it.
Lewisham came onto the railway map on 30th July 1849 when the South Eastern Railway (SER) formally opened the double-track North Kent Line to Strood via Woolwich, Dartford, and Gravesend. The first Lewisham station, located atop an embankment, was described as follows:
As the line approaches the Lewisham station, 4 miles 30 chains from London Bridge, it passes over, by a bridge of 40 feet span, the Ravensbourne “river”, of which the reader of “Hone’s Every-Day Book” will no doubt recollect some very pleasing reminiscences therein given. The Lewisham station stands on a viaduct of eight brick and three iron arches. The station will afford great convenience to the large population of this delightful district, a considerable portion of which, in consequence of the inconvenient distance of the Greenwich station, now travel by road. [London Evening Standard, 21st June 1849]
Enter the “Mid-Kent Railway” (MKR). This company was incorporated on 23rd July 1855 to construct a railway, 4-miles 17-chains in length, from the North Kent Line at Lewisham, to Beckenham; at the latter, a connection was proposed with the West End of London & Crystal Palace Railway. A total capital of £105,000 was initially authorised, and discussions were entered into with the SER as to whether a joint or separate stations for both companies at Lewisham would be most desirable:
Mid-Kent Railway. – At the half-yearly meeting of this company, which we noticed in our last, it was stated that the bill introduced into Parliament for a railway from the Bromley station of the West London and Crystal Palace Company’s Farnborough Extension to St. Mary’s Cray, touching a populous and beautiful district of Kent, is calculated to prove a valuable feeder to the above-named line; and that in reference to the suggestion of the South Eastern Railway Company, plans have been prepared for a joint station at Lewisham, which are now under the consideration of the officers at that company, and, if the moiety of the cost of such proposed joint station does not considerably exceed the original estimated cost of a separate Mid-Kent station at the same place it will be desirable to adopt the suggestion. [The Kentish Gazette, Tuesday, 4th March 1856]
By late August of the same year, a joint station concept had been settled on:
The directors [of the South Eastern Railway] request the sanction of the proprietors to the following expenditure on new works:– £3,500 [£329,500 at 2019 prices] towards the formation of a joint station at Lewisham at the junction with the North and Mid-Kent Railway. [Sun, Saturday Evening, 23rd August 1856]
The MKR opened to passenger traffic through to Beckenham on 1st January 1857, being worked by the SER from the outset. Today’s Lewisham station, which came into use on that date, resided about 180-yards west of the original North Kent Line platforms of 1849, on the opposite side of Lewisham Road and the River Ravensbourne.
Newspaper articles from the time of the MKR’s opening refer to the then new station as “Lewisham Junction”. Four platforms were in use from the outset; Nos. 1 and 2 for the Mid-Kent and Nos. 3 and 4 for North Kent Lines, linked by a subway. A single-storey booking hall was sandwiched in the apex of the diverging lines; this was of yellow brick construction with stone lining, both of which were architectural features that the SER had used in the building of stations at Erith, Dartford, and Gravesend. The booking hall was flanked on all sides by copious platform canopies; bygone photographs show these to be of the same clover-patterned valance type as those which still exist at Blackheath. However, your author suspects that the intricate valance design mentioned was a later addition. Platform Nos. 1 and 2 — the outer-most faces — were equipped with large waiting shelters which featured the same canopy design as the main booking hall; the shelter on platform 1 comprised a huge brick base (still evident today) to bring it up to platform level.
A single goods siding existed on the North Kent Line approach to the station, dating from the earliest years. This had a trailing connection with the “down” line, located about 450-yards to the east of the station, and fed short stub tracks via a wagon turntable. Its position, in addition to that of an adjacent trailing crossover, can be seen on the below diagram. The siding was called "Granville Park", named after the adjacent road.
Maps as early as 1870 show a "Switch Box" beside the junction, on the "down" side of the line, north west of the station. By 1895, that had been replaced by a signal box directly opposite, on the "up" side of the rails; the later cabin was of SER design, being clapboard in construction with a hipped slated roof, sash-style windows, standing two-storeys-high. A second signal box of similar vintage existed about 390-yards east of the North Kent Line platforms, on the "up" side of the line, opposite Granville Park Siding.
By 1895, the "down" North Kent Line platform (No. 4) had gained an additional clapboard structure, comprising sash-style windows and a hipped slated roof. This incorporated a general waiting room, ladies' room, and gentlemen's toilets, and was a mirror image of the structure which can be seen on the left of 1980 photograph here, in the Bexley section.
Under Southern Railway (SR) ownership, considerable changes were made at Lewisham. These began with the electrification of ex-SE&CR suburban lines, the passenger services between Victoria/Holborn Viaduct and Orpington, via Herne Hill and Bromley, being so worked from 12th July 1925. Scheduled electric services from Charing Cross and Cannon Street to Orpington, in addition to branches to Addiscombe, Hayes, and Beckenham Junction via Lewisham and Ladywell, and Bromley North, commenced on 28th February 1926. The full electric passenger timetable on all North Kent routes to Dartford came into effect on 12th July 1926. A gigantic electricity substation, comprising a steel frame, red brick walls, and arched windows, was built at the foot of the railway embankment, on the "down" side of the line, in-between St Johns and Lewisham Junction stations; construction had begun in 1924:
At the sub-power stations at Grove-park, Elmers End, Loughborough and Charlton, the steel work is being erected and the foundations are under construction at Lewisham, Dartford, Barnehurst, Shooters-hill, Sidcup, Eltham, Sydenham, Nunhead, Shortlands and Catford. [Norwood News, Tuesday, 17th June 1924]
Power was supplied by the London Electric Supply Corporation's Deptford Power House, to which the substation at Lewisham was linked by cables. The latter had four rotary converters, rated at 1,500 kW, and redistributed the current to the other suburban substations which were commissioned as part of the works, the furthest east being that at Dartford. The SR's preference was to build their own power station, to be assured of a reliable electricity supply from the outset. However, the Government decreed that railway companies were not permitted to construct their own power stations.
Click the above for a larger version.
© David Glasspool
A north westward view at the end of platform 3 towards St Johns shows the complicated track of Lewisham Junction. On the left is the ascending double-track of the line to Nunhead, whilst descending on the right is that to St Johns and terminals at Cannon Street and Charing Cross. To the right of the railway, at a lower level, can be seen the huge Southern Railway electricity substation. Note the former station run-in nameboard on the left, which by that time was blank.
© David Glasspool
9th October 1979
A view from platform 2 towards the London terminals shows lampposts in a state of transition. The concrete bracket lamps on the right had already been disconnected and replaced by modern metal types. The concrete platform extensions in the foreground date from 1954.
© David Glasspool Collection