London & Croydon Railway

This article about the London & Croydon Railway, written by J C Sadler, first appeared in the May 1989 edition of Sydenham Life.

By the mid-1830s the Croydon Canal which had opened to high hopes in October 1809 was virtually moribund, having been crippled from the outset by its staircase of 26 locks between New Cross and Honor Oak - with others elsewhere, including one immediately to the south of what is now the railway bridge in Sydenham - and numerous swing bridges at the Croydon end. Financial salvation was however at hand when on 12 June 1835 the newly-incorporated London and Croydon Railway was required by its Act to purchase the Canal as a going concern as it wished to use much of the canal bed for its own route.

The stone greyhounds which had flanked the lower gates of Sydenham lock were rescued and set up outside the 'Greyhound' coaching inn. The inn was rebuilt some years later but the greyhounds remain. (correct at time of writing)

The railway opens

The London and Croydon Railway opened on 5 June 1839 from Corbett's Lane junction on the London and Greenwich Railway and Croydon, now West Croydon, on the site of the Croydon Canal basin. There were then no settlements of any consequence between leaving London - which stretched no further than the modern Jamaica Road - and reaching the market town of Croydon (pop. 12,500). In default of villages, some stations were given the names of local inns: Dartmouth Arms (now Forest Hill); Jolly Sailor (today's Norwood Junction). As for Anerley - it was hoped people would be enticed into the local countryside to fish in the former canal reservoir, which the Company had stocked for the purpose. There was a slight problem, however, when it came to naming the station as the locality appeared to have no known name. The only house belonged to a retired Scots merchant who, when asked 'What is the name of this place?' is said to have replied 'Och, mine is the ain-er-ly hoos here!' or so the story goes.

With Sydenham, however, there was no such problem. 'On the left,' an early guide informs us, 'appears the picturesque village of Sydenham, which lies amid beautiful scenery.' All that was soon to change.

A few years after its opening the line through Sydenham was the setting for trials of a revolutionary form of propulsion - the Atmospheric System. A large iron pipe was laid between the rails from which the air was exhausted by large Gothic pumping stations at New Cross, Forrest Hill, Norwood and Croydon. Trains were attached to a piston introduced through a slot in the top of the pipe and, with a vacuum in front and the pressure of the air behind, trains shot from station to station at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour - better than all but the fastest trains through Sydenham today.

From 12 July 1841 the Croydon had shared its track with the trains of the London and Brighton company, and as the pipe could not cross other lines where that line diverged at Norwood Junction, the Croydon Company built a flyover - the first in the world. Introduced on 19 January 1846 the atmospheric system was however abandoned as from 4 May 1847. There had been numerous technical problems, not the least of which was the rats. Those entered the pipe at night in order to devour the leather flap sealing the slot; come the morning the vacuum pumps were set in motion and the asphyxiated bodies would be ejected from the pumping-house chimneys and showered over the surrounding populace. All trains would now be steam-hauled until the advent of the Southern Electric, inaugurated over the London and Croydon on 25 March 1928.

On 27 July 1846 the London and Croydon and London and Brighton Railways had merged to form the London, Brighton and South Coast Railways. On 1 January 1923 this duly became part of the Southern Railway and on 1 January 1948 of British Railways.

There is little to see of the original line. I have already mentioned the greyhounds from the Sydenham lock. The down side at Sydenham station itself retains its original outline but has been rebuilt many times, the only part of the original station remaining being the small building of unrecorded use on the bridge abutment, now in use as a Craft Shop. unlike the junketing to commemorate other 150th Anniversaries the London and Croydon seems fated to slip by unnoticed by Network Southeast.

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