The London and South Western Railway’s (LSWR) first "Wandsworth" station opened on 21st May 1838 with the company’s initial stretch of main line between Nine Elms and Woking Common; it was sited a short distance south of today’s Clapham Junction. The second station to bear this name came into use with the six-mile-long double-track line of the “Richmond Railway Company”, which joined the metals of the LSWR little over two miles southwest of Nine Elms. The first public trains along this line ran on Wednesday, 22nd July 1846:
In 1844 was projected the Richmond Railway, on 22nd day of July, 1846, it was announced to be opened, and pleasure trips on that particular day, free of expense, were allowed between this place and Nine Elms. [Richmond Notes; A Monthly Record of Local Information for Richmond and its Neighbourhood, 1868]
A series of newspapers at the time of this initial operation of trains reported that the stations upon the line — Wandsworth, Putney, Barnes, Mortlake, and the terminus at Richmond — were not quite finished, but would be ready in time for the first proper public business day on the route, Monday, 27th July 1846. On the railway’s opening, the original Wandsworth station on the main line to Woking was renamed "Clapham Common"; it was ultimately closed from 2nd March 1863 when it was replaced by the now famous Clapham Junction.
Trying to retrieve precise details of the form stations took in these very early years of railway operation is decidedly tricky. However, newspaper extracts of the period afford an insight to the infrastructure and setting at Wandsworth in the month the station and, indeed, line opened:
The South Western line is used for a distance of a little more than two miles [from Nine Elms]; the Richmond line-proper then branches off about the point where the road to the village of Battersea leaves the Wandsworth-road, and at a short distance from Battersea. It then pursues a pretty course through the villas, orchards, and nursery-gardens, which stud the locality, till it reaches Wandsworth. The river Wandle and the valley are crossed by a splendid viaduct of 22 arches, three of which are of 70-feet span; the entire length of the work being about 1000-feet. Leaving Wandsworth Station, we have for a moment a picturesque peep at the Thames…… [The Illustrated London News, 25th July 1846]
Today's station, which goes by the longer name of "Wandsworth Town", is of later origin, and does not date back to the Windsor Line's formative years. During the 1880s, the LSWR undertook a series of important widenings on both Main and Windsor lines, which involved the provision of an increased number of parallel-running tracks and the enlargement of multiple stations:
THE WIDENING OF THE LONDON AND SOUTH WESTERN RAILWAY — For some time past both the main line and the Windsor and Reading lines of the London and South-Western Railway have been in course of widening, owing to the constantly increasing suburban traffic. The widening of the main line between Clapham Junction and Surbiton is almost completed, and works are now in progress for widening the Windsor Line between Waterloo Station and Barnes. In carrying out the works, a large amount of property between Westminster Bridge Road and Vauxhall is in the course of demolition. Amongst other buildings which have been removed is the mortuary of the London Necropolis Company, whilst a portion of the Canterbury Music Hall will likewise be absorbed. Nearly the whole of the houses and several business premises running almost immediately parallel with the grounds of Lambeth Palace are likewise being removed, and the line as widened in the direction of Vauxhall will be constructed on numerous arches. Vauxhall Station is also to participate in the works going forward, the present station about to be much enlarged. In continuation beyond Vauxhall, and approaching the Battersea district, the widening is being effected by taking in a portion of the Nine Elms goods station, and beyond Battersea and Clapham Stations several new bridges are being constructed over intersecting roads. [The Surrey Advertiser and County Times, Saturday, 24th April 1886]
In 1886, a spacious layout was completed at Wandsworth. Four platforms — served by an equal number of tracks — now existed upon a viaduct, 4-miles 60-chains from the terminus at Waterloo:
The heaviest portion of the engineering and other works is in the locality of Wandsworth, where three new lines are being constructed, two on the north side and one on the south side of the existing line. The works at Wandsworth also include the construction of an entirely new and much enlarged station, for which and the new lines (which immediately pass over the side of the old station) a large area of land has been purchased adjoining the railway. The widened lines are carried over York Road by massive iron girder bridges. Between Wandsworth, Putney, and Barnes several new bridges are included in the required works, and both Putney and Barnes Stations are intended to be considerably enlarged. [The Surrey Advertiser and County Times, Saturday, 24th April 1886]
Handsome red-brick Dutch-style station buildings were erected on both sides of the running lines, that on the northern side of the viaduct being the largest and bearing the legend 1886 L&SWR to commemorate its year of completion. Attractive and copious pitched-roof canopies graced all platforms, these of which were supported upon intricately-bracketed cast-iron stanchions. Timber offices existed underneath the island platform’s canopy, and single-storey structures of the same construction were also present upon the outer platforms, on the western sides of the main brick buildings. All four platforms were linked by a subway.
Between Clapham Junction and Wandsworth Town were six parallel-running tracks; the southern-most pair of these terminated as sidings immediately east of the platforms, and a signal box was located beyond the Waterloo end of the island platform.
A couple of sources suggest that the station was known as "Wandsworth Town" from 1903 onwards. However, a Board of Trade report published in 1900, documenting accidents which occurred on railways in the United Kingdom during 1899, already refers to "Wandsworth Town" station. This was in the context of a collision which occurred between the latter and Clapham Junction on 22nd January of that year.
The first public electric trains served the station from 25th October 1915, these of which ran between Waterloo and Wimbledon via East Putney. The electric timetable gave a service frequency of every twenty minutes or less, stopping at all stations, and the official end-to-end journey distance was given as 8-miles 54-chains.
In his book Southern Electric 1909-1979, G. T. Moody remarked that the signal box at Wandsworth Town was closed on 26th May 1940; its functions were taken over by a then new power frame installed in Clapham Junction “E” box. As part of this, four-aspect colour lights were commissioned between Clapham and Point Pleasant Junctions, the latter where lines to Richmond and Wimbledon (via East Putney) diverged.
As the photograph below attests, by the early 1960s Wandsworth Town remained largely in its 1886 form. Indeed, the Southern Railway had installed barley-twist lampposts supporting electric lighting, which British Railways (BR) subsequently replaced with concrete bracket standards to which "Totems" were affixed. Within a Railway Accidents Report to the Secretary of State for the Environment, published in 1970, it was remarked that a fire broke out in the station’s ticket office. The incident occurred in the early hours and had been reported by the driver of a passing train. The report noted that the ticket office was destroyed; based on this, tickets by this stage were presumably issued from one of the timber structures at platform level.
By the 1980s, how much of the 1886 Wandsworth Town remained? By June 1986, both of the outer platforms had lost their canopies; the Dutch-style main buildings on either side of the viaduct were still standing, but by this time were out of use and had been boarded up. The island canopy, in fine fettle, was still standing, as were timber structures underneath it; by this time, the ticket office was situated on this platform. The northern-most platform — today’s No. 4 — also still sported a timber pitched-roof building, to which led the staircase from ground level. Two years later, destruction was the order of the day; the brick-built structures of 1886 on the southern side of the station were demolished, exposing the subway entrance; those on the northern side of the line were reduced to rubble at platform level, but their ground floor storey remained. As part of these works, the subway's entrance on the station's south side — now exposed by the aforementioned demolitions — was rebuilt into what your author can only describe as a modern take on a palladium frontage: an arched entrance was flanked on either side by columns, and topped off with a pitched gable.
In August 2010, Wandsworth Council approved a £1,240,000 upgrade of the station by Network Rail. The works, which commenced in January of the following year, involved abolishing the palladium-style subway frontage on the south side, dating from 1988, and replacing it with a proper single-storey ticket office. Additionally, an enlarged waiting room was planned for the island platform, and works were scheduled to be completed in summer 2011. Further modifications, scheduled for March 2013, involved the extension of all platform faces to accommodate ten-car train formations, the latter due to start serving the station from May of that year.
A westward view towards Richmond from the island platform shows lampposts in transition at this once fine-looking station. The large timber planked area of the platform, upon which the gentlemen are standing, is that part of the surface carried on the bridge across Old York Road. The Dutch-style building on the right (today's platform 4) bore the legend "1886 LSWR" on its side, just above the roof line of the canopy. The semi-circle atop this structure's near side was not replicated at the other end — perhaps this was wartime damage. The "1886 L&SWR" inscription did appear in the subway after the 1988 works, but whether or not this was the original from the building seen here, which was subsequently moved after demolition works, your author is unable to confirm. The canopy of the island platform still exists, but all other structures in this view have gone. A timber shelter, under which arrives the staircase to platform 4, still exists today, although this is obscured by the group of gentlemen on the right.
© David Glasspool Collection