Petts Wood

The SER’s Tonbridge ‘’cut-off’’ line was authorised by Parliament on 30th June 1862 to allow the railway company to reduce the overall journey mileage between London Bridge and Dover, in response to the LC&DR’s shorter route from Victoria. Freight began running over the line on 3rd February 1868, with a full passenger timetable over the entire route coming into use on 1st May of the same year. At this time, the area of what became Petts Wood was flowing fields of fruit and vegetables, in the company of extensive woodland (as per the place name). For sixty years the tranquillity of the vicinity was maintained, with perhaps the occasional train breaking the silence as it rumbled by.

Soon after coming into existence in 1923, the Southern Railway initiated a scheme to electrify those former SE&CR suburban lines to speed up services and improve reliability. The first route to receive the LSWR-inspired third rail was Victoria and Holborn Viaduct to Orpington, electric services commencing operation on 12th July 1925. Electric diagrams to the former SER termini of Charing Cross and Cannon Street was made possible from 28th February 1926. The reduced journey times which electric operation brought meant that London commuters could live further afield, which resulted in much housing development during the late 1920s and 1930s. The area of Petts Wood was included within the expansion of the outer suburbs and the flowing fields were soon transformed into residential estates. Petts Wood station came into use on 9th July 1928; initially, only a single island platform of 520-foot in length by 30-foot in width, was provided on the slow lines. However, over the next five years it was built up to become a ‘’proper’’ station, with two islands serving the 1904-commissioned quadruple track. The platforms were the epitome of what is considered ‘’modern’’ SR design: they were wholly prefabricated concrete in their construction (the components having been manufactured at the company’s Exmouth Junction works) and the canopies were typical of the era. These had a ‘’W’’ shaped cross-section, were timber in construction with a functional valance, and supported on a lattice steel frame. This design became the standard for the SR throughout the whole of the 1930s, the rebuilt Tonbridge and new Swanley station receiving replica examples in 1935 and 1939 respectively. All three stations also shared the characteristic of incorporating solidly built enclosed waiting accommodation underneath the canopies. Unusually, however, whilst the likes of Swanley and Tonbridge had brick-built waiting rooms, Petts Wood’s accommodation was fabricated out of the same concrete used for the platforms, which could be a resultant of the piecemeal construction work. Concrete was certainly well used in other areas, even the station name board frames and lampposts (which supported electric lighting from the outset) being manufactured from it. This was in addition to a pair of rectangular waiting shelters (one on each platform), isolated from the main canopies, being of the same construction. Architecturally, Petts Wood seems to be a station of two extremes; the main building is unique, another example operating in the same capacity never appearing at any other South Eastern Division station, or indeed, Southern station. Consisting of two-storeys, it was built around a steel frame, had a timber-clad upper half, and looked decidedly like a large signal box! Such an analogy would seem to have considerable substance, since the signal box which appeared concurrent with the rebuilt Epsom station in 1929 demonstrated an identical roof, the same timber-clad pattern, and matching window frame design as Petts Wood’s structure. Trading outlets used the ground floor of the building, thus access to the ticket office on the first floor was via a flight of steel stairs. The ticket office in turn led to the platform footbridge linking the two islands; this was also of metal construction, the customary concrete which was so prevalent at the station possibly not being used in light of the bridge’s physical connection with the main building. It stretched over all four tracks to link both the eastern and western sides of the then new town.

Despite being a very late station to the route, goods provision was made here, thus this is worth a mention. Before the coming of the station and its associated residential development, the area was best known for the growing of strawberries and indeed, this would have been the largest single traffic generated here, conveyed to the markets by road. Those fields had to give way for the building of the then new town and the exporting of goods switched to importing, but this time of a wholly different commodity: coal. For this, land was reserved on the station’s ‘’down’’ side for a coal yard of four sidings, complete with stacks – no goods shed building of any form was in evidence.

Significant changes at the station began in accordance with the Kent Coast Electrification. Although the stretch of line to Orpington had already received third rail, signalling had remained mechanical. This system was then superseded, colour light signals at Petts Wood formally taking over from semaphores on 4th March 1962, controlled by a then new ‘’power box’’ at Chislehurst Junction. Later in the same decade, on 7th October 1968, the goods yard closed, concurrent with that at Orpington. The 1970s saw further revisions to the station: this included the demolition of the two separate concrete waiting shelters on either platform and the installation of rectangular glazed bus shelter designs in their place. The concrete lampposts were replaced with metal equivalents and it was decided at this time to tile the inside of the booking office. Additions in 1991 included two more bus shelters, but these of the semi-circular design which can be seen at Beltring. The former goods yard site had for long been a car park by this time. The first revenue-earning Eurostars passed through the station on 14th November 1994, these using the ex-SER main line from Petts Wood Junction all the way through to Folkestone, the majority of the route being passed for 100 MPH running. The most recent change in 2004 involved replacing all waiting shelters (except the original accommodation underneath the canopies) with newer designs.

3rd May 1986

A London-bound view from the western of the two island platforms shows a station which remained faithful to its Southern Railway appearance. The western island, which was flanked either side by "up" and "down" fast lines, did not open with the station in 1928, but was evident by 1932, the year in which the platform canopies were erected. A 4 VEP and Bulleid-designed EPB are at platform Nos. 1 (left) and 4 (right) respectively. The main building can be seen emerging in the background, above the canopy on the right. © David Glasspool Collection

29th June 1990

Four years later than the previous photograph, in the interim period the western island had gained a huge advertisement board, and the eastern island had become home to a portacabin, the latter of which had replaced a timber hut. Flower beds and seating were also new additions to the platforms. © David Glasspool Collection

19th April 2006

By 2006, the flower beds had gone, the lampposts had been renewed, and another advertising board was evident on the western island platform. The waiting shelter on the right was installed in about 2004. © David Glasspool

19th April 2006

Your author has always thought that the main building's design could pass for a signal box. The booking hall is located on the first floor and is reached by the staircase on the right. The roof had been asphalt since at least 1986, presumably being slate previously. © David Glasspool