Sydenham Station

A new view of the stationmaster's house

This article about Sydenham Station was written by Arthur Holness, who was the son of a former Station Foreman. Published in the Sydenham Society newsletter and the November 1997 issue of Sydenham Life, he wrote about what it was like on the railway in earlier times and to live by the station.

Please note that The Railway Public House referred to is currently called The Pavilion while the empty lot previously occupied by the stationmaster's house is now in the process of being built on. The stables behind 274 Kirkdale have been rebuilt as housing.

If you stand now outside The Railway Public house at 325 Kirkdale you can see on the other side of the road a caged wire structure just behind the telephone box, next to the Dyers and Cleaners. That wire covers what was once a gate giving access from the main road to the two cottages built for the station master of Sydenham about 1840.

From the position you can see the hair-dressers (single storey) and the Do It Yourself shop. Between them is the old cobblestoned alley, traversed for many years by the Express Dairy horses on their way to the stables behind 274 Kirkdale. They needed no whip when they arrived - they hurtled up the alleyway to get home. It was not until about 1950 that the electric trollies replaced them, and the sound of their hooves stopped.

In 1850 the London Brighton & South Coast Railway decided to build a grand new entrance to the upside platform which was immediately next to our existing gate to the cottages. A new staircase was necessary as people had to descend to the canal level and a fine new booking office was built at that entrance with more room for the 'luggage in advance' service which was now popular. Our pathway now had to be protected with railings as the new building went down 20ft to the same level as the old kitchen in the cottage. At this time a new Stationmaster's house was built as an extension to the Booking Office and the railings had to run the whole length of both properties.

(Image from sydenham.org.uk)

If the residents in the new house were in their kitchen and wished to open their casement windows, they had to glance out first or they could literally hit the back of the head of a person sitting on the platform benches. The area under the booking hall at the canal level was made into waiting rooms for the public approached from the platform. There was about 8ft of space between the new stationmaster's house and our old cottage when the work was completed.

 When the Crystal Palace was move to Sydenham from Hyde Park in 1852, it was found necessary to lay another rail track from the downside platform, making it rise slowly and eventually across the other tracks via a bridge. In order to construct this line the downside platform was moved towards London and on the other side of the road, leaving it some distance from the upside.

I was the son of the Station Foreman and as my bedroom in the old cottage faced the wall that separated our garden from the stables, I suffered a little in the early mornings as the milk crates were loaded onto the carts and the horses were led out to be backed into the shafts. It was bedlam at times and from 5am onwards, not very funny to be listening to them.

My sister's bedroom faced the railway and she experienced the sounds of the steam trains stopping and departing with huff, chuff chuffs. No point in changing bedrooms with me unless she loved horses and milk!!

(Image from Steve Grindley)

My father and mother, with my brother (who was one year old) moved into the cottage in 1914 and as the second cottage was empty, it was decided by the Company to knock the two cottages into one with portals made in the party wall. This suited them very well as they were very small units.

In those early days my father would get to bed about 1.10am having seen out the last train at 12.53am. It carried theatregoers and newsmen home. Having locked up he would dive into bed, but as his bedroom also faced the stables his repose was somewhat disturbed by the budding Derby runners on the other side of the wall. He was an old cavalryman and fond of horses - but not at 5am after 3 1/2 hours sleep!

My father had been in the Army and was on the reserve, and he had not been long moved in when he was called to the colours to serve in the 1914-18 war. He did not return until 1919, to settle again in Sydenham.

His alternate duties were no better, as in the 1920s he would have to open up the station for the 3.53am train which in those days brought the milk churns to be off loaded as the train made its way to London. There were always a number of workmen who had to be at the markets by 4.30am and they would join the merry throng on the platform before 4am, looking forward to resuming their slumbers on the train. By the 1930s the milk was bottled, placed in crates and was brought into London by lorries, so the need for the very early train died out.

My mother and father both died in 1958 and no one wanted the tenancy of the cottages. There was no bathroom, no water tank, only one cold tap and an outside 'loo'. We had managed a family of five quite well, but the standard of living was rising. Sadly the premises, including the grand entrance, together with the Stationmaster's house, were all demolished in the 1970s. The downside booking hall became the main office, and a new metal bridge connected the old downside platform to the new upside platform which was magically was no opposite its partner for the first time for many years.There is now a small workmen's shed on the railway bank on the site of Station House and Station Cottage - perhaps there should be a plaque!

So ended an era - and also this saga on living near the railway.

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