From the archive: The failure of Bricklayers Arms as a passenger station


The fascinating story of the failed station, on the world’s first line to be controlled by a signal box, by Canon Reginald B. Fellows. Originally published in two parts in the July/August and September/October 1944 issues of The Railway Magazine.

“The new Bricklayers Arms terminus of the South-Eastern Railway” (Reproduced from “The Illustrated London News: of May 4, 1844)


“THE Illustrated Guide to the London and Dover Railway,” published in the summer of 1844 “ By authority of the Directors of the South Eastern Railway Company, ” gave two reasons for the construction of the Bricklayers Arms branch and station. The first was that public accommodation rendered the station necessary. A station more accessible to the West End of London than London Bridge was required. The second reason given was the limited capacity of London Bridge terminus, which had no adequate provision for dealing with the increasing traffic in goods, agricultural produce, and cattle, that had come to the company.

There was a third reason, not mentioned in the official Guide, namely, to avoid the excessive charge levied by the London & Greenwich Railway Company for the use of its 1 3/4 mile line between Corbett’s Lane junction and London Bridge Station, amounting to the maximum Parliamentary toll of 4 1/2d. a passenger. By using the new line to Bricklayers Arms neither the South Eastern Company’s trains nor those of the Croydon Company would have occasion to use the Greenwich line to get to their new terminus. The Croydon Company had a long—standing grievance against the Greenwich Company for the heavy toll charged for the use of the line to London Bridge. The Greenwich Company refused’ to give easier terms, though urged by the Board of Trade to do so in the interests of the public.

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In the Session of 1842-43 the Croydon Company joined with the South Eastern in promoting a Bill to make a line 1 3/4 miles long from a point on the Croydon Company’s line just short of its junction with that of the Greenwich Company to Swan Street near the Bricklayers Arms in the Old Kent Road and to provide a new station there. The site of the station was selected by Mr. W. Cubitt, Engineer-in-Chief of the South Eastern Railway, as being clear from buildings, and “near the Bricklayers Arms, a travellers’ resting place, long established, and made familiar from all coaches proceeding to the south eastern districts stopping there to receive passengers from the west parts of London.” Despite determined opposition by the Greenwich Company, the Bill was passed and received the Royal Assent on July 4, 1843. Clause 19 of this Act (6 & 7 Vic. Cap. 62) provided that the Croydon Company should contribute one third and the South Eastern two-thirds of the cost of construction, etc., and in same proportion for the use and management of the railway. Clause 20 empowered the South Eastern on giving six months’ notice to buy up the Croydon Company’s share, but by Clause 21, if the right was exercised, the Croydon Company and all companies whose traflic should pass over the Croydon Company’s lines should be entitled to ‘use the Bricklayers Arms line on payment of proportionate tolls.

The South Eastern exercised its right to buy the one—third share of the Croydon Company in 1845. The total cost to the South Eastern of the line, station, etc. (including the sum paid to the Croydon Company in purchase of its share) was £250,000, and before the end of 1845* the branch and station had become the property of the South Eastern Railway exclusively.

“Frame-work of the Viaduct” (Reproduced from “The Illustrated London News: of May 4, 1844)

The Bricklayers Arms branch was opened for passenger traffic on May 1, 1844. The station, the architect for which was Mr. Lewis Cubitt, is described at length in the official Guide, and an illustration of the exterior, similar to the one reproduced at the head of this article, is given. Besides adequate booking facilities and waiting rooms for first, second, and third class passengers, there was a large goods depot, and a considerable area with pens “for sheep and cattle with a separate exit to the High Kent Road (sic) for their departure to the markets of the metropolis.”
Of locomotive interest was “an engine house for spare engines which was about 60 ft. X 51 ft.; on the outside of this was an immense turntable sufficient to turn the engine and tender at once.” Attention is called to this because it was usually necessary in those days to uncouple the tender from the engine and turn each separately.

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Other features of the line worth noting were Roll’s Bridge, a timber structure built in the American manner, and a wooden viaduct about a mile long to join the Croydon line at New Cross embankment. “This viaduct—the work of Messrs. Grissel & Peto—is a wonder of its kind. With great lightness of appearance, and marvellous economy of materials, it possesses prodigious strength, at a tithe of the cost of an embankment or a brickwork arcade, and may safely vie with the most expensive arrangements, in durability and aptitude to sustain the action of a vast railway traffic.” (Official Guide). It may be added that an embankment replaced the wooden piling in the early ’fifties.

Before the opening, two advertisements appeared in The Times of April 27, 1844, one relating to the Croydon Company and the other to the London and Dover Railway.

The Croydon Railway announced that on and after May 1 trains would run every hour from the Bricklayers Arms and Croydon calling at all stations. In the morning from 5 min. past 8 till 5 min. past 12. In the afternoon from 20 min. past 1 till 20 min. past 9. Sunday trains: In the morning 5 min. past 8, 9,, and 10; in the afternoon from 20 min. past 1 till 20 min. past 9. The up trains from Croydon at the same hours. Omnibuses were advertised to run in connection with the trains to and from points in the City and West End; fare to the former 3d., to the latter 6d. from Bricklayers Arms. This service of trains was supplementary to and not in substitution of the less frequent service already operating between London Bridge and Croydon. The fares charged to Bricklayers Arms were much lower than to London Bridge, e.g. Croydon to Bricklayers Arms first class ls. 3d., second 1s., compared with London Bridge 2s. 3d. and ls. 9d., with the result that, according to a statement read by the Chairman at a special meeting of the Croydon Company on June 26, “ There have been during the month of May since the Bricklayers ‘line was opened, about six times as many passengers to and from the Bricklayers Arms Station as there have been to and from the London Bridge Station and the receipts have been about three times as great between Bricklayers Arms and Croydon as between London Bridge and Croydon.”

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The Greenwich Company became thoroughly alarmed at this loss of tolls over its line to London Bridge, and also at the prospect of the Croydon Company ceasing to run any trains to London Bridge, which would have meant a complete loss of tolls from the Croydon trains. The Greenwich Company therefore made a fresh agreement as to charges, much more favourable to the Croydon Company, which, in consideration thereof, undertook to run as many trains to and from London Bridge as were run to Bricklayers Arms, and to charge the same fare to both stations. This was settled on July 23, and effect was to be given to it at once. Bradshaw of August, 1844, shows the double service and the equalisation of fares to the two London termini ; these arrangements are believed to have come into force on July 25.

Having obtained reasonable terms for the use of the line to London Bridge, the Croydon Company in the next year gave up running trains to Bricklayers Arms and concentrated on London Bridge. The following notice was issued : “ After March 31, 1845, no Croydon trains will run to and from Bricklayers Arms. The trains to and from London Bridge will continue to run as usual.” The report of the directors stated that the Bricklayers Arms branch was unproductive, and that the running of double trains from Bricklayers Arms and London Bridge would therefore be discontinued. The connecting trains had run to and from New Cross.

The London and Dover or South Eastern Railway Company’s advertisement on the opening of the station on May 1, 1844, announced that some trains for Folkestone and Dover would start from London Bridge and others from Bricklayers Arms: From London Bridge, 8, 11.30 a.m., 1.30, 4.30, and 8.30 p.m. (Mail) ; From Bricklayers Arms, 9.30 a.m., 12.30, 2.30,-3.30, and 5.30 p.m. Also a modified Sunday Service.

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This arrangement was unsatisfactory, and the company soon issued another notice that on and after November 1 [1844] all the trains will convey passengers to and from London Bridge and Bricklayers Arms stations, but third class passengers were to use London Bridge only, and carriages and horses only Bricklayers Arms. This arrangement did not answer, and on September 1, 1845, the company reverted to the former system of separate trains from the two terminal stations at different hours. On the same date the company began “pleasure excursions” on Saturdays and Mondays to and from Bricklayers Arms by ordinary and special excursion trains.

Traffic was not attracted to the station, so a better service was provided at London Bridge, and by May, 1846, Bricklayers Arms had only two up and two down trains daily, each taking over four hours between London and Dover, conveying first, second, and third class passengers. These trains were withdrawn at the end of October of that year and ordinary passenger service in that station ceased for some years.

Arrangement of lines in the neighbourhood of Bricklayers Arms and London Bridge. North Kent West Junction was formerly called Bricklayers Arms Junction; North Kent East Junction was North Kent Junction; and Bricklayers Arms Junction (L.B. & S.C.R.) was Bricklayers Arms Branch Junction


The prediction in The Times on the opening of the line, that “this new branch will be very convenient to passengers coming from France and going to the West end of the Town” was not fulfilled. The company, however, did its best for persons wishing to leave the country. Bradshaw of January 1846, has this notice: “A courier’s carriage from Bricklayers Arms at 11 p.m. will be attached to the Goods Train at the special request of travellers desirous to reach Folkestone or Dover in time for the morning steamers. Fare 18s.” A notice in somewhat similar terms continued to appear until January, 1851, but by then it merely stated that “first class passengers can be conveyed by goods train from Bricklayers Arms at 11 aft.” As a main-line passenger station Bricklayers Arms was a complete failure.

An attempt to make use of the branch for local traffic was made in the Autumn of 1849, when the South Eastern Railway Company’s link of 60 chains from the Greenwich Viaduct near the Grand Surrey Canal to the Bricklayers Arms Branch near Corbett’s Lane was constructed. This line enabled a shuttle service to run between Bricklayers Arms and an exchange platform north of the junction of the line to Greenwich and that to North Kent (see map) so that Bricklayers Arms passengers could be transferred to Greenwich or North Kent trains. The station was an exchange one only, so no trace of it is to be found in Bradshaw. The shuttle service began on September 1, 1849. As the date of opening is sometimes placed later, I give a copy of the report read at the meeting of the South Eastern Railway held on September 20: “The North Kent and Bricklayers Arms Junction, which is 60 chains or 3/4 mile in length, was opened for traffic on September 1. Trains are run from Bricklayers Arms Station at intervals of a quarter of an hour from 7.10a.m. to 10.10p.m. to and from the Junction Station with the Greenwich and North Kent lines, thereby giving a West-end terminus for every train to the North Kent and Greenwich traffic.”

The provision of this West-end terminus did not however appeal to the passengers, so in March, 1850, the service connecting Bricklayers Arms with the Greenwich trains became half-hourly only, and at the end of September was withdrawn. Trains in connection with the North Kent line were continued till the end of 1851 and possibly till early in 1852. Trains on weekdays ran about every hour from 8.50a.m. till 7.50p.m., as shown in the official timetable, though there were fewer on Sundays. On the withdrawal of these trains Bricklayers Arms was not used again for ordinary passenger traffic.

“The Timber Viaduct from Cooper’s Bridge” (Reproduced from “The Illustrated London News” of May 4, 1844)

Though a failure as an ordinary passenger station, it was frequently used before the opening of Charing Cross in 1864 for Royal Specials, e.g. on June 23, 1849, a special train conveyed Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort to Tunbridge Wells and back, particulars of which are given in the Railway Chronicle of June 30, 1849. The special consisted of the Royal saloon carriage, two first class carriages, and a brake van. The train left Bricklayers Arms shortly after 2.30p.m. with Mr. J. Cudworth, Locomotive Superintendent, on the engine, and Mr. P. D. Finnigan, Superintendent, in charge of the train. The journey to Tunbridge (sic), 41 miles, was made in rather less than an hour. At Tunbridge Wells junction the train necessarily stopped for a few moments to exchange engines, and proceeded over the branch line to Tunbridge Wells, arriving precisely at 3.45p.m. The return special reached Bricklayers Arms, 47 1/2 miles, in 1 hr. 10 min.

Some instances may be given of the use of the station by Royal specials after ordinary passenger traffic had been finally withdrawn.

Marriage of the Princess Royal to Prince Frederick of Prussia.

January 23, 1858. A special train conveying Prince Frederick left Dover at 11.15a.m. and arrived at Bricklayers Arms at 1.15p.m., Mr. C. W. Eborall, General Manager, S.E.R., was in charge of the train.

January 26. Two special trains left Bricklayers Arms for Dover, one in the morning and one in the evening with Royal visitors returning home.

February 2. A special train consisting of eight carriages conveying Prince Frederick of Prussia and the Princess left Bricklayers Arms at 12.50p.m. and at 1.35p.m. reached Gravesend, the port of embarkation for leaving England. A special train brought the Prince Consort back from Gravesend to Bricklayers Arms in the evening.

Marriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

The final occasion on which the station was used for a Royal special was on March 7, 1863. Princess Alexandra travelled from Gravesend, leaving that station at 12.50p.m. and arriving at Bricklayers Arms at 1.40p.m. The speed of train when passing through the principal stations was reduced to about 8 m.p.h., for the benefit of sightseers. Mr. J. P. Knight, Traffic Superintendent, was on the engine. The Times report states that “the train shot quickly down from New Cross into the station at Bricklayers Arms.”

Though used on this occasion by a distinguished passenger, it is quite clear from the report given in The Times that Bricklayers Arms had become a goods station pure and simple. The report comments on the number of workmen who were employed in preparing the station and yard for the Royal visitors, and adds “everyone must know that it could be no easy matter to make a heavy goods station—in its normal state a perfect chaos of coal and lime trucks, carriers’ vans, packages, and dirt—wear a pleasing and picturesque aspect, but even this marvel was accomplished.” A well—known coloured print shows how admirably the goods station was transformed for the occasion.

It is sometimes stated that Bricklayers Arms was frequently used from 1852 for many years for excursion traffic and for special trains for hop—pickers, but careful enquiry has failed to elicit any evidence of such use. The Southern Railway from june 12, 1932, began using the station for excursion traffic, but on Sundays only, thereby preventing the dislocation of the ordinary goods traffic, and this continued until the outbreak of the present war.

Adjoining Bricklayers Arms was Willow Walk goods station, opened by the L.B. & S.C.R. in July, 1849, on land provided by the S.E.R. under an agreement which also gave the L.B. & S.C.R. free access over the Bricklayers Arms branch. The two stations were amalgamated by the Southern Railway in March, 1932, and the name Bricklayers Arms was retained for the whole station. The total cost of remodelling was approximately £100,000.

Page 11 of “Bradshaw’s Railway Guide” for July 1, 1844. It will be noticed that the fares to Bricklayers Arms are cheaper than to London Bridge, and that there is no third-class accommodation to London Bridge
The Bricklayers Arms service shown in the official timetable of the South Eastern Railway for November, 1851 (pages 40 & 41)

*See “S.E.R. General Statement of the Position and Projects of the Company” published by the Directors, December 27, 1845

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