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  Exploring Southwark and discovering its history

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The Building of the London Bridge to Charing Cross Railway

Under the railway bridge in Blackfriars Road, just a little bit further along from Palestra House, is an entrance to a delicatessen set into a stone facade.  On one side of the entrance chiselled into the stonework there is an inscription “CHARING CROSS RAILWAY” and on the other side is the inscription “BLACKFRIARS STATION”.  It is though unconnected with today’s Blackfriars Station and marks the entrance to an earlier station called Blackfriars on the newly built line from London Bridge to Charing Cross that opened in 1864.


London Bridge Station, the first central London rail terminus, opened in 1836 where trains from Deptford and later Greenwich terminated. In 1839 another line opened to Croydon and later to Brighton.  This brought a growing need for an extension from London Bridge Station to serve the City and the West End as road congestion made the journey time to those parts of London longer than the journey in from the suburbs or even Brighton.


In 1859 a Private Bill was presented to Parliament by the Charing Cross Railway Company to construct a railway line, about 1.6 miles long, from London Bridge to Trafalgar Square. The line would run on a viaduct along the north of Southwark and a part of North Lambeth before crossing the river and ending at the new terminus, Charing Cross, which would be built on the site of Hungerford Market.  Another line would be built from London Bridge to another new station, Cannon Street, to serve the City, and another line from Charing Cross into Cannon Street which would form a triangle of railway track that would become known as the Cannon Street triangle.  


The railway line that changed the area forever had to swing south from London Bridge Station to avoid St Saviour’s Church (now Southwark Cathedral) then on through Borough Market and other property.  The turn south from London Bridge Station necessitated building across the garden of St Thomas’ Hospital. Only a small part of hospital land was required but the Governors of St Thomas’ insisted that should the railway require this piece of land they would have to buy the whole site on the grounds that a railway so close to the hospital would impede light and fresh air to the patients, hindering their health and recovery, and could even be dangerous.  Initially the Governors of the Hospital asked for £750,000 but, on arbitration, received £296,000.



Entrance to the first Blackfriars Station in Blackfriars Road

Cannon Street Triangle

A photo taken from the Sky Garden on a hazy day but you can just make out the railway lines that form the Cannon Street Triangle

The Act of Parliament of 1756 that had created Borough Market prohibited any of the land being sold or used for any other purpose than a market but the lawyers managed to solve this problem by Borough Market granting the railway company ‘flying leases’ whereby they could build an iron viaduct through the market.  The railway had to pay for reconstruction of the market around these works and for additional areas added to the market.  A little further west, the railway company had to purchase all the land belonging to Cure’s College where almshouses were located and pay for new ones to be erected in Norwood.


After Borough Market, the viaduct veered south, crossing over Southwark Street which was being built at the same time, and then running behind the north of Union Street cutting through many courts and alleys in the process.  The freehold of a large amount of this land was owned by the Bishop of Winchester and much of this land was leased to the Pott family, who in turn sub-let.  In a statement to Parliament that accompanied the Bill, the Charing Cross Railway Company considered that, in the Parish of St Saviour’s 182 houses affecting 1159 people would be taken and in Christchurch Parish 80 houses that would affect 644 people.  Clearly the railway company wanted to minimise to Parliament the numbers being displaced and these figures should be treated with caution as they are very likely to be an under-estimate of the numbers of tenants involved.  The figures represent a very low occupancy per house when compared with what was common for the area at that time.  The company described the houses themselves as “chiefly brick built consisting of an average of six rooms and situated generally in narrow and ill ventilated streets, courts and places.” The company even presented themselves as acting in the tenants’ best interests by evicting them for, when explaining how the problem of the displaced would be remedied, they stated “no provision is made in the Bill since the removal of those that will actually be disturbed … would materially benefit them, at present [they are living in] too crowded neighbourhoods, and there is ample and improved accommodation in the vicinity for those disturbed in consequence of the gradual migration of the middle classes to more suburban residences.” Thus the railway company side-stepped any responsibility they may have for those they made homeless.


The Charing Cross Railway Company, an arm of South Eastern Railways who took over the operation of the railway upon completion, originally estimated the works would cost £1,070,000, but like the numbers of people they estimated would be made homeless as a result of the scheme, massaged the figure when presenting it to Parliament, stating they estimated costs would be £800,000.  The final bill was in the region of £3,000,000.


The line opened in 1864 and in June that year Blackfriars Station* on Blackfriars Road opened.  The station was only open for four years and closed when Waterloo Junction (now Waterloo East) opened in 1868.  Cannon Street Station opened in 1866.  


*Also not to be confused with Blackfriars Bridge Station also opened in 1864.



Parliamentary Archives:  HL/PO/PB/3/plan1859/L26


Edwin Course,  London Railways, 1962

John R Kellett, Railways and Victorian Cities, 1969

David Wragg, Commuter City: How the Railways Shaped London, 2010