Woolwich Dockyard

This station is of some architectural note. When the SER built the original North Kent Line, the company had to carve through the already built up suburb of Woolwich. The solution devised was to take the railway underneath the town centre by use of a series of cuttings and tunnels, which explains the positioning of Woolwich Dockyard's platforms below street level. This restrictive station, sandwiched in-between two tunnel portals, opened with the route on 30th July 1849. For a small site, there was a generous provision of station buildings: beginning with the "up" side, the structures were one-storey high from street level, but an additional storey was acquired with the drop down to platform level. The set-up was symmetrical: the main building, some 40 feet in length and 20 feet in width, laid parallel with the platforms and was flanked on either side by appendices, both identical to each other, these some 20 feet in length and 25 feet in width. The brickwork and the structures' design (from the general outline of the buildings, right down to the window frames) seen at the Dockyard station were also implemented by the SER at Maidstone (West), on the Medway Valley Line. Furthermore, the exact window frame design of the Dockyard station's aforementioned appendices can still be readily viewed at the contemporary Erith. On the "down" side, the land sloped, which allowed the buildings here to be provided at platform level. Thus, they were single-storey throughout, but built to the same pattern as those on the "up" side, demonstrating a main central structure, flanked by appendices. They were, however, built on a slightly smaller scale to their "up" side counterparts. Both platforms were graced with ornate canopies, demonstrating a valance design which could, until recently, be seen at Woolwich Arsenal. Initially, the two platform faces were linked by a centrally-positioned track foot crossing; the "up" side buildings incorporated a staircase to bring passengers down to platform level. A covered lattice footbridge came into use later: demonstrating the same design as the one which appeared at Gravesend Central, it appears to have been erected circa 1890.

Considering this is such a restrictive site, it comes as no surprise that there was an absence of a goods yard. Despite this, room was made available for a pair of refuge sidings. These were positioned on the "up" and "down" sides, to the east and west of the platforms respectively - that on the "up" side even boasted its own covered accommodation. Its protection from the elements probably succumbed in 1906, during the rebuilds of nearby Charlton Junction and Woolwich Arsenal stations. As customary, the station was host to a signal box to control the sidings, this being positioned at the eastern end of the "up" platform. It seems likely that this was built as a ground structure, as per the first cabin at Erith - indeed, the canopies and latterly installed footbridge had the potential to mar the view from a two-storey structure. About 360 yards to the west of the station was a second signal box, also carrying the legend "Woolwich Dockyard": two-storeys high, wholly of timber and to the SER's typical design, this controlled a single-track connection with its namesake. The branch to the dockyard trailed off the "up" line in a north eastern direction, subsequently plunging into a tunnel before reaching the naval site. The connection opened soon after the North Kent Line itself, but the aforementioned signal box was at least three decades older.

All three North Kent routes were early subjects of the Southern Railway's suburban electrification scheme. To tie in with this, the refuge sidings at Woolwich Dockyard were taken out of use and the station's signal box subsequently closed. The cabin at the junction with the dockyard branch still remained. Regular electric working began on the lines on 6th June 1926. In spite of these alterations, the Dockyard station retained all of its major SER architecture - for now; the advent of British Railways in 1948 would herald many changes. Within the first few years, the "down" side structures were mostly demolished, leaving just the eastern appendix. In June 1955, the platforms received prefabricated concrete extensions at either end to accommodate ten-vehicle EPB formations; this brought the platforms right up to the tunnel portals. In Spring 1960, the main "up" building suffered fire, but its flanking appendices remained unharmed. Although the damage sustained was repaired, the main structure and its eastern appendix appeared to last little more than a decade after, and as redevelopment of the general surrounding area took a hold, these historic buildings were razed to the ground. Of the buildings, only the western appendix of the "up" side remained; all structures on the "down" side had been demolished and its site had become a small forest of the inner suburbs. Meanwhile, the situation at platform level was less devastating: the quintessential SER canopies were still in situ and in good condition, and as per Gravesend Central, the station retained its covered lattice footbridge.

After the signing of contracts in August 1989 for the construction of the Class 465 units, the "Networker" project was in full swing. With this came significant modernisation of stations, but this was not always for the better. In 1991, the delightful platform canopies at the Dockyard station were removed, and the lattice footbridge lost its roof (a feature which is retained at Gravesend). Consequently, the dreaded bus shelters arrived in force - thankfully, the sole remaining "up" side appendix was retained. The presence of tunnels at either end of the layout prevented the extension of the platforms to accommodate twelve vehicle formations of "Networker" units. However, this problem would be overcome by the presence of automatic sliding doors on the then new type. The driver would be able to operate a selective opening system, which would see the disabling of those doors which were on vehicles still within the tunnels. Eventually, twelve vehicle formations were not given clearance to operate, therefore the platform extension predicament was no longer an issue. Finally, palisade fencing appeared at street level on the "up" side during 2005, but the outline of the now demolished buildings here can still be deciphered.


This splendid 1971 view of Woolwich Dockyard, looking Dartford-bound, shows the extent of the "up" side structures. By this time, the main ticket office had mostly been demolished, having been reduced to a single retaining wall where the footbridge was met. The lattice footbridge still had a roof and both platforms sported SER-style canopies. Note the wooden staircase underneath the canopy and the BR "Totem" on the right, affixed to the wall. © David Glasspool

30th May 2006

An eastward view shows the brick-lined cutting which the platforms and running lines are located within. The sole surviving "up" side structure (the "western appendix") can clearly be seen, admittedly in good condition. The lattice footbridge remains, albeit devoid of its roof; the bus shelters either side of it replaced a traditional SER canopy. Evidence of renewed brickwork can be seen on the upper walls, whilst the developments of the 1960s and 1970s are all too apparent in the background.© David Glasspool

25th July 2015

Over the last couple of months there has been evidence of building work on the area behind the "down" platform. Hitherto, this was a walled enclosure hosting plenty of vegetation and an electricity substation. Your author initially suspected that the strucutre taking shape would eventually become a footbridge encompassing lifts, as part of the scheme to provide step-free access at stations. However, I have since been informed that this is in fact a new electricity substation, being built as part of a power supply upgrade for the network. Class 66 No. 66107 is seen passing through, bound for Angerstein Wharf, with Brett aggregate hoppers in tow. © David Glasspool