Orpington Carriage Cleaning Shed

Located at milepost 13½ from Charing Cross, this was the longest carriage shed on the Southern Region and, at one time, in the country. It formed a major part of the Southern Railway’s electrification of the first ex-South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR) suburban routes, namely those from Victoria and Holborn Viaduct to Orpington via Herne Hill, and the Catford Loop.

In The Lancashire Daily Post on 9th July 1925, the rolling out of the SR’s early electrification schemes was reported:

More Electric Railways. General the Hon. E. Baring, chairman of the Southern Railway Company, speaking at the luncheon at Guildford, to-day, on the occasion of the first electric train to Guildford, said Sunday next would be a great day in the history of the Southern Railway, for on that day they would open the first stage of the electrification of the South-Eastern and Chatham section lines from Victoria, Holborn-viaduct and St. Paul’s to Orpington via Herne Hill, and from St. Paul’s to Orpington and the Crystal Palace via Nunhead, as also the South-Western section lines from Waterloo to Dorking via Leatherhead, and to Guildford via Cobham. On these and further stages of their electrics schemes they were committed to an expenditure of about £5,500,000. To-day they celebrated a great achievement.

Scheduled electric working between Victoria, Holborn Viaduct, and Orpington via Herne Hill commenced on 12th July 1925, which encompassed the Catford Loop and Crystal Palace branch. The main line from terminals at Charing Cross and Cannon Street was similarly treated, public electric services to Orpington on that route starting on 28th February 1926. The latter included conversion of branch lines to Addiscombe and Bromley North. In the same wave of third rail installation, all North Kent routes to Dartford saw their first electric services - albeit temporary - commence in the following May, although the full electric timetable did not come into force until 19th July.

At this stage, Orpington was a large, well-laid out modern station, which dated from the SE&CR’s quadrupling of the main line between there and Hither Green. Six platforms and an engine shed had been commissioned as part of the works, and four lengthy rolling stock sidings were laid at the London end of the site, on the “down” side of the running lines. As part of the SR’s electrification scheme, the locomotive depot was closed, but it was decided to roof the sidings for stabling the incoming multiple unit stock. At that time, a common complaint against the SR network in the press was that of filthy carriages; even the company’s own shareholders remarked on the state of rolling stock:

A shareholder complained that the railway was every day making enemies in the area between London and Chichester, Portsmouth and Bognor. Trains, he said, were fewer and slower; third-class carriages dirtier.

Directors who never put their heads in a third-class carriage would be disgusted if they did so, and he suggested the directors should spend a week in travelling in third-class carriages between the points he had mentioned. [Portsmouth Evening News, 26th February 1925]

As far as the Eastern Section was concerned, these complaints culminated in a series of carriage cleaning sheds being built. Electric stock would be taken care of in new builds at Orpington and Addiscombe, with the former engine shed at Slades Green also being converted for carriage cleaning. For steam-hauled stock, large structures were commissioned at Grosvenor Road (Victoria) and Ramsgate. Of all these, Orpington was by far the longest, its extent being reported in the Kent & Sussex Courier on 5th June 1925:

The work of electrifying the old South-Eastern section of the Southern Railway system within a radius of 15 miles from London is being pushed forward, and the line to Orpington via New Beckenham and Penge will be opened early next month. The erection at Orpington of the largest carriage-cleaning shed in the country is nearly completed. The building has a length of 1,000 feet, and will have space for the accommodation of roughly two miles of electric trains.

The shed comprised a metal framework clad with corrugated asbestos, and had a pitched roof. It covered four sidings which were first laid in 1904 and was equipped with a suction cleaning plant. A lattice footbridge passed through the shed’s roof, 210-feet beyond the entrance, which carried a public footbridge across the railway.

Much of the early suburban electric stock introduced on the Eastern Section in 1925 had been converted from ex-SE&CR steam-hauled carriages. A batch of 55 three-car new builds were split between Western and Eastern Sections, the latter getting 29 units. 4 SUB (Class 405) units were deployed on the Victoria to Orpington route in 1941, and 2-EPB and 4-EPB units arrived in force on suburban routes from 1952 onwards. By that time, third rail had been taken beyond Orpington, scheduled electric services having operated through to Sevenoaks since 6th January 1935.

As far as your author is aware, those “main line” units introduced in connection with the 1959 to 1962 Kent Coast Electrification Scheme were never stabled in the shed at Orpington; rather, these were berthed under cover at Grosvenor Road (Victoria), Ramsgate, and Dover Marine.

Orpington Carriage Cleaning Shed continued to be used for berthing suburban electric stock until 1992. In that year, the structure was taken down; new lighting gantries were installed over the now exposed sidings, raised walkways built, and a replacement public footbridge installed across the tracks. This was in preparation for the introduction of Class 465 and 466 units as part of the “Networker” scheme, which also involved the provision of new stabling sidings between Hither Green and Grove Park for electric stock.

Track Plan: Post-Electrification

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool


Bulleid-designed 4 SUB No. 4626, wearing all-over BR (S) Green, is seen entering platform 5. The unit had originated from the carriage cleaning shed - background left - and all train movements to and from the depot passed through a mechanical washer. The grounded coach bodies on the right were alongside the former steam shed, which by this time was used by the Permanent Way Department. The vertical cables on the left led to a series of semaphore signal arms. © David Glasspool Collection