Strawberry Hill Depot

This depot has a long history, having started life as far back as 1897 as a steam locomotive shed. Situated within the triangle formed by the Shepperton branch and Kingston Loop, the current buildings still follow the outline of the 19th Century motive power depot, although they have by now serviced electric stock for far longer than they ever did steam traction.

The 1894 Ordnance Survey Edition does not show the double-track that eventually formed the southern side of today’s triangle at Strawberry Hill. However, this spur was evident in plans of the then new engine shed published in the July 1897 edition of The Railway Engineer, suggesting that it was laid at that time.

The London & South Western Railway’s (LSWR) original engine shed at Strawberry Hill was built to the design of Mr. E. Andrews, the company’s Chief Engineer, under the superintendence of the District Engineer, Mr. A. W. Szlumper. The contract for erecting the motive power depot was carried out by Messrs. Perry & Company, Bow, East London. A six-road dead-end shed was in evidence, the building measuring 210-feet in length by 100-feet in width (64-metres by 30.5-metres), which was able to accommodate eighteen tender locomotives or thirty tank engines. Each shed road was equipped with an inspection pit for its entire length, and one of these was fitted with six hydrants specifically for washing out engines. One side of the building was fabricated from a basic combination of timber framing and corrugated iron that was easily removable, to facilitate a straightforward extension of the engine shed if required in the future (ref: The Railway Engineer, July 1897. This source refers to the depot as both a "running shed at Fulwell" and "Strawberry Hill"). A 50-foot turntable was provided at the northern end of the triangular site, capable of handling the LSWR’s largest engines.

Attached to the shed building’s eastern side was a heavy lift shop, measuring 50-feet in length by 20-feet in width. On this side of the shed could also be found a store room, offices, mess rooms, toilets, and a sand drying furnace. Sandwiched in-between the heavy lift shop and the Shepperton branch was a dead-end elevated coal stage, the latter of which was roofed over. Adjacent to the covered coal stage was a water tank of 40,000 gallon capacity, fed by underground reservoirs.

On this diagram, your author concedes that he has made a supposition on the formation of the connections at the western side of the triangle, particularly that of the siding. © David Glasspool

In the September 1908 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was noted that an extension to the engine shed at Strawberry Hill was nearly complete and part of it had already been brought into use. The extension involved erecting another pitched roof shed attached to the western side of the existing building, covering three tracks. It was remarked that, as a result of the extension, the engine shed could accommodate fifty locomotives — based on the earlier-quoted capacity, this figure must be applicable to tank engines. The entire shed structure was also lengthened southwards. The turntable was relocated to a site south east of the engine shed and sidings were laid on the western portion of the triangle.

Electrification on the third rail system came early to the LSWR’s London suburban lines, and Strawberry Hill was to evolve into a new role. In March 1912, it was announced that the circular route between Waterloo and Wimbledon via Kingston — the "Kingston Loop" — would be one of the earliest recipients of electric trains. Scheduled electric services began running between Waterloo and Wimbledon via East Putney during wartime, on 25th October 1915; Kingston and Shepperton lines followed similarly on 30th January 1916. The first scheduled electric services on the Hounslow Loop (Barnes to Hounslow via Kew Bridge) ran on 12th March 1916, followed by those on the branch line to Hampton Court on 18th June of the same year. At this stage, it appears that Strawberry Hill doubled up as both an engine shed and electric depot, based on remarks in the February 1922 edition of The Railway Magazine. In this publication, it was noted that a war memorial was placed in the engine and firemen’s classroom, which was described as having "emblems of the electrical and locomotive departments; an engine on one side and an electrical unit on the other". This suggests that, for a period, the site was used both as an engine shed and electric depot, probably dating back to 1916 on conversion of the Shepperton branch. During World War I, 142 staff members from Strawberry Hill Depot went to the forces, 19 of whom never returned. As of 1922, 440 men were employed at Strawberry Hill.

The steam layout at its zenith, with relocated turntable and additional sidings, prior to the arrival of electric units. © David Glasspool

In July 1923, Strawberry Hill ceased to be a steam shed after being replaced by a then new locomotive depot at Feltham (ref: The West London Observer, Friday, 9th November 1923). Thereafter, the site became dedicated to the suburban electric fleet.

In 1974, British Rail commenced a programme of asbestos removal from approximately 6,000 carriages and 800 locomotives at a cost of about £30 million (ref: United Kingdom Parliament Hansard, 23rd March 1978). At multiple sites across the country, including (but not limited to) Doncaster, York, Glasgow, Wolverton (Buckinghamshire), Eastleigh, Derby, Crewe, Swindon, Ilford, and Strawberry Hill, "asbestos houses" were established for this task. When this programme was completed, part of the depot at Strawberry Hill became dedicated thereafter to special projects involving the modification and rebuilding of existing vehicles and the commissioning of new rolling stock. This undertaking was focused on the three western-most covered tracks of the depot building, within the engine shed extension of 1908.

Based on your author’s photographic observations, the western half of the former engine shed lost its glazing — the style of which dated back to the earliest years — in 1980. It was replaced by dreary corrugated metal, and the rest similarly followed suit in 1994.

In the run-up to privatisation in 1994, the operation of that part of Strawberry Hill Depot that had become dedicated to special projects and stock commissioning was taken over by "Eversholt Leasing". By this time, the operation used the five western-most covered tracks at the depot, in addition to the adjacent five sidings (the latter were known as the "West Yard"). The rest of the site became part of the South West Trains shadow franchise, although the land upon which the depot was situated belonged to "Railtrack". Eversholt Rail’s train development operation at the site ceased to function from 31st March 1996 and that part of the depot was eventually absorbed into the South West Trains franchise. However, it was not the end of Strawberry Hill’s role as a development centre: in late 2002, a hub was established at the site to commission the then new Classes 450 and 444 Siemens "Desiro" units being introduced by the South West Trains franchise. A dedicated depot for "Desiro" stock was in the course of construction in the Southampton suburb of Northam; however, the first units were scheduled for delivery prior to its opening.

Based on your author’s study of photographs of the site through the years, the eastern side of the depot building — encompassing the original offices and half of the 1897 engine shed — was re-roofed in 2003. Around the turn of 2017, those two loop sidings on the eastern side of the depot site, immediately adjacent to that track feeding the carriage washer (see diagram), were disconnected at their southern ends and partially relaid, ultimately becoming dead-end.

The sidings situated east of the carriage washer road are now dead-end. © David Glasspool

17th June 1976

This view is from a train running on the northern side of the triangle, between Strawberry Hill and Fulwell Junctions. The former engine shed still looked the part — the triangular glazed gables were very similar to those that adorned LSWR engine sheds at Eastleigh and Salisbury. From left to right: former repair shop with hoist (entrance partially bricked up); original shed of 1897 (three pitched roofs); extension of 1908 (final pitched roof, from which stock is emerging). Given the year of this photograph and the “Road Closed” banners across the tracks, it seems very likely that the Bulleid-designed EPB was at the depot for asbestos removal. © David Glasspool Collection

17th June 1976

Another view, a little right of the previous photograph, better shows the extension of 1908, which is taller than the original building. In view is driving trailer S76331 of 4-TC unit No. 401, in the company of Class 501 driving vehicle No. DB975029. The latter was once part of a test unit that was based at Strawberry Hill. © David Glasspool Collection