Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The Bricklayers Arms rail station opened as a central London passenger terminus in 1844. It was popular with passengers for a few brief weeks only and closed to passenger traffic in 1852. This seems like a lot of money and effort spent for little reward but in fact the building of the station was partly tactical and the South Eastern Railway not only achieved its aims but resulted in the rail company owning a large goods depot in Bermondsey that remained in operation until the 1980s.
The London and Greenwich Railway was the first rail company to build a line to terminate in central London and opened a part of the line from Greenwich into London Bridge in December 1936 having temporarily terminated trains at Spa Road Station for some months previously.
The South Eastern Railway commenced building a line that ran from Dover to London in 1938 and the route decided upon included using part of the London and Greenwich Railway line from Corbett’s Lane Junction (just north of South Bermondsey Station) into London Bridge. The London and Croydon Railway also used this this part of the L&GR railway line into London Bridge and both the SER and the L&CR paid a toll of 3d (about 1.5 pence) per passenger mile to the L&GR for the use of their line. The L&GR increased this toll by 50% in 1842 despite the Board of Trade requesting them not to.
To avoid having to pay this increased toll, the SER and the L&CR joined forces to build a new station and railway line that extended about one and three quarters miles from Corbett’s Junction with the SER paying two thirds of the cost and the L&CR paying the remaining third. Any proposals to build a new railway line had to be approved by Parliament and the reasons the railway companies gave for wishing to build the spur line was that a station giving easier access to the West End was required and there was insufficient capacity at London Bridge Station for the traffic in freight, agricultural produce and cattle.
A 26 acre plot of land bordered by the Old Kent Road, Willow Walk and Swan Street (the southern part of what is now called Page’s Walk) was purchased just east of the old coaching inn The Bricklayers Arms. The Inn was situated on the corner of Old Kent Road and Bermondsey New Road, later called Tower Bridge Road after the road improvements associated with the building of the bridge. It was well known as a great stop for all parts of Kent, where coaches “pulled up” regardless of where the journey had begun. To call the new station after the inn which was already associated with travelling was a clever move though the growth of the railways brought about the end of the coaching inn business. The claim the new station would be the “Gateway to the West End” seems to stretch credulity but the train companies claimed that by using the horse buses that would meet every train, the passenger was able to reach the West End quicker than if travelling from London Bridge.
The station was designed by Lewis Cubitt, the engineer for both the SER and the L&CR, who later designed Kings Cross Station. It had a grand entrance called The Swan Gate which Cross’s map of 1850 shows to have been at the southern end of Swan Street. Apart from a ticket office, the station had waiting rooms for first, second and third class passengers. An 18 columned colonnade was divided by a carriageway that led to the departure platform.
There was a total of six tracks: one for arrivals, one for departures and four between these two platforms with turntables for moving coaches. There was a significant area of pens for sheep and cattle with a separate exit onto Old Kent Road and a large goods depot.
The station opened to passengers on 1 May 1844. Both SER and L&CR still ran trains into London Bridge but the fares they were able to charge for journeys terminating at Bricklayers Arms Station were considerably cheaper, for example, a first class fare from Croydon to London Bridge was 2s 3d (11p) whereas only 1s 3d (6p) into Bricklayers Arms. The new spur line was popular with about six times as many passengers using Bricklayers Arms than using London Bridge by June.
The London and Greenwich Railway Company grew alarmed at the reduction of income from tolls and by the end of July 1844 had reached agreement regarding the levels of tolls with the London and Croydon Railway Company and a few months later with the SER. The Croydon company ceased running trains to and from Bricklayers Arms in March 1845, instead all trains terminated and departed from London Bridge. The SER struggled to run trains into both stations but by May 1846 ran only two trains in each direction from the Bricklayers Arms and by October of that year the service ceased entirely. Other than excursion trains that departed from the station and a few occasions when the Royal Family used it, the station gradually fell into disuse, finally closing for passenger traffic in 1852 though later used for troop trains in World War I and for summer excursion trains in the 1930s.
In keeping with a clause in the original agreement between the SER and the London & Croydon Railway, the former bought out the latter’s shares. The SER developed the land into a larger goods terminus and freight yard with the purchase of more land along Willow Walk where more sheds were erected.
By 1861 a row of cottages had been built in Page’s Walk to house some of the railway workers that are still remaining and now thoroughly gentrified. The considerable number of horses needed for the moving of the freight were stabled in a long range of stables that extended to the south of the rail track from Upper Grange Road (now Dunton Road) to Hendre Road with a further stable block on the corner of Page’s Walk and Willow Walk which still remains. Sick horses were tended at the hospital for horses which still remains as stables at the corner of St James’s Road and Caitlin Street.
The Bricklayers Arms pub was demolished in the late 1960s to make way for the roundabout and flyover and the area is still referred to as The Bricklayers Arms. The Freight Depot was closed in 1981 but remembered by many and the land developed into an industrial estate. A new road named Nelson Mandela Way was laid through the industrial estate: from what I can make out comparing different maps, where the new road runs from Old Kent Road, it cuts straight over the site of the former Bricklayers Arms Station.