Farnborough, on one of the main turnpike routes leading away from London, would seem to have been ideally placed to benefit from the development of the railways that started in the 1830s. 

But Farnborough has never had a railway station.  Indeed railway development came comparatively late to the surrounding area, despite its proximity to London.  As a consequence partly of geography, partly of the lack of industry, and partly due to inter-company feuding, Bromley, some four miles from Farnborough did not get a railway station until 1862. Orpington, little over one mile away, did not get its line until 1865, nearly twenty-five years after the opening of the terminus at London Bridge.

However there were no less than twelve proposals, beginning in 1845 and spanning 80 years, that would have brought a railway to or through Farnborough. They included light railways, a tramway, and even an atmospheric railway. They are described in this part of the website, see the menu to the right.

But it never happened, and as a consequence the village retains a shape and character that would still be recognisable to someone from before the railway age.

Early Main Lines

The map on the left below shows railways in Southern England by about 1840.  None of these came near Farnborough, but by contrast the corridor from London through Croydon and Redhill to the coast at Brighton was an early and successful recipient for a railway. The only line in Kent was the indirect South Eastern Railway (SER) main line from Redhill

Click on the maps to enlarge

The railways all converged at the approaches to London Bridge station as shown on the map above right. This was a legacy of an early attempt by the government to decree that there be only one railway terminus south of the Thames.  attribubuted to Chevin at English Wikipedia - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Railways shown are as follows:

London and Greenwich Railway 1838.

The line dated from 1831 and was the first in London. It would run from close to London Bridge, convenient for journeys to the City, and be some four miles long, on a viaduct of 878 brick arches, some of them skewed to avoid level crossings over the many streets which were already appearing in the south of London.  The intention had been to descend to ground level after the Grand Surrey Canal but this was opposed by Parliament.

The first Act of Parliament was obtained in 1833 for a line from Tooley Street (now London Bridge) to London Street, Greenwich.   The ultimate intention was to reach Dover and there was much talk of a London to Gravesend line from Greenwich. A scheme was presented to Parliament in 1836 but five others were competing and the bill failed on its second reading. But the line was built as far as Greenwich and proved very successful.

However it was always in a difficult financial position due to the high capital cost for building the line.  Itwas leased to the SER in 1845, who took over effective management of the line, even though the L&G company was not formally wound up until 1923

London and Croydon Railway 1839

Following the success of other early railways, promoters put forward a scheme to link Croydon, then an industrial town, with London. The Croydon Canal of 1809 was moribund, and it was proposed to purchase it and to utilise its course. It was to extend northwards from the Croydon Canal terminal at New Cross, to make a junction at Corbetts Lane (then spelt Corbets Lane), in Bermondsey with the London and Greenwich Railway (see above). Its trains were to run over that line to its London Bridge station. The line was 8 3⁄4 miles (14.1 km) long and at the southern end followed the alignment of the Croydon Canal from Anerley to a terminus at Croydon, with a locomotive depot, on the site of the canal basin. This was later to be developed to the present-day West Croydon station.

The Greenwich company intended that its proposed London Bridge terminus would accommodate trains of several other companies and had acquired land sufficient for the purpose; at this time however it had inadequate funds to carry out the actual construction, and the Croydon company was obliged to do the work itself, taking some of the Greenwich company's land on the north side for the purpose.

The line from London Bridge initially used just steam power, but congestion on the heavily used line at the London end led to the installation of a third, atmospheric, line alongside, which opened in 1844.  Despite initial favourable reports the hot summer of 1846 caused considerable difficulties through leather flaps drying out. The board lost confidence in the technology and the system was replaced by conventional motive power during 1847.

The company became part of the London Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1846.

London and Brighton Railway 1841

Many ideas and routes for building a line from London to Brighton and other towns on the South coast were considered in the 1830s and 1840s, but the final agreed route consisted of a new line from a junction with the London and Croydon Railway (then under construction) at Norwood to Brighton with additional branches to Lewes and Shoreham.

An Act for the construction of the line was passed in July 1837, with an authorised capital of £2.4 million    The London and Croydon Railway line ran from London Bridge to West Croydon and was opened in 1839. The engineer for the Brighton extension was John Urpeth Rastrick. By July 1840, 6206 men, 962 horses, five locomotives and seven stationary engines were employed. 

The new main line included substantial earthworks and five tunnels through the North Downs at Merstham, the Wealden ridge near Balcombe and at Haywards Heath, and the South Downs at Patcham and Clayton. The railway also had a 1,475 ft (449.6 m) long, 96 ft (29.3 m) high viaduct over the River Ouse near Balcombe.  

The Brighton - Shoreham branch was completed in May 1840, before the main line, as there were no significant civil engineering works on this section. Locomotives and rolling stock had to be transhipped by road for what was, in the first year, an isolated stretch of railway.   The main line was opened in two sections, since major earthworks delayed completion in one piece. The Norwood Junction – Haywards Heath section was opened on 12 July 1841 and the remainder of the line from Haywards Heath to Brighton on 21 September 1841.  

The company became part of the London Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1846.

South Eastern Railway main line via Redhill 1844

The main focus of attention was building a line from London to the coast at Dover.  The dominant company tackling this was the South Eastern Railway. They built this line during the period 1838 - 1844, but crucially they were forced to reach London via Redhill, which left the immediate area round Farnborough untouched.

  At the time of inauguration there were two potential rail pathways south from London, and the Speaker of the House of Commons had said no further pathways would be permitted.[3] The SER therefore considered routes to Dover from the proposed London and Southampton Railway line at Wimbledon, or from the existing London and Greenwich Railway (L&GR) at Greenwich. The former left London in the wrong direction and then on a roundabout route. The latter provided a useful way for a northern route via Gravesend, Rochester, and Canterbury, except that lengthening the line beyond Greenwich was blocked by opposition from the Admiralty, and this route would involve tunnelling through the North Downs.   

The engineer of the new line, William Cubitt, was also engineer of the London and Croydon Railway (L&CR), which planned to use L&GR lines as far as Corbett’s Lane in Bermondsey before turning south towards Croydon. A new connection on this line near to Norwood could provide access to a southerly route to Dover via Tonbridge, Ashford and Folkestone. This was less direct than the northerly route but passed through easier country. It involved one significant 1,387-yard (1,268 m) tunnel through the Shakespeare Cliff near Dover. This was the route first chosen by the SER at its inauguration.  

During Parliamentary discussions on the proposed route of the London and Brighton Railway (L&BR) during 1837, pressure was put on the SER to divert its proposed route so it could also share the L&BR mainline between Jolly Sailor (Norwood) and Earlswood Common, and then travel eastwards to Tonbridge. Under the scheme proposed by Parliament, the railway from Croydon to Redhill would be built by the L&BR but the SER would have the right to refund half the construction costs and own that part of the line between Merstham and Redhill.

The SER gave way to this proposal as it reduced the construction costs, although it resulted in a route 20 miles (32 km) longer than by road, running south for 14.5 miles (23 km) and then turning east. It also meant that its trains from London Bridge passed over the lines of three other companies: the L&GR to Corbett's Lane Junction, the L&CR as far as 'Jolly Sailor', and the L&BR to Merstham.

The roundabout route meant that the railway did not come anywhere near Farnbough, until yielding to competitive pressure from the London Chatham and Dover railway the South Eastern built its new line via Orpington some decades later.



Impact of the new lines on
Bromley and Farnborough

These lines clearly did not benefit Farnborough, nor further towns in Kent particularly near the North Coast.  It would be another 20 years or so before the first line from Kent was completed, and this by a new and independent company

However in the meantime many further proposals were submitted to bring a railway to the local area. These are described in this part of the website, see the menu above.

The area was the location of several large and wealthy and, although not noble, influential estates. These included the Scotts at Sundridge Park and of course the lands of the Bishop of Rochester just to the east of Bromley town centre.

In fact, nearly 80% of the parish of Bromley was owned by just eight people. However, like Farnborough, it was almost entirely agricultural and service-oriented (servants, shops, hotels, schools etc.) and there were two significant blows to further expansion. First, the retirement, and later death, of Dr James Scott whose widely-respected surgical reputation had attracted many visitors to the town for treatment. This was followed by the departure of George Murray, the 96th Bishop of Rochester from his “Palace”, after reorganisation of the bishopric (Bromley actually became part of the diocese of Canterbury for some years), which perhaps led to the town being considered less favourably.

Between 1841 and 1851, when the population of England and Wales increased by a million (12%), Bromley’s population actually fell. The Palace remained empty for a year, but in due course it was purchased by the wealthy industrialist  Mr Coles William John Child.

Although plans for a rail line south from London via the Ravensbourne valley, Farnborough and Pratts Bottom were first mooted as long ago as the 1830s, the existence of the Downs and Forest Ridges beyond on the way to Dover was not helpful. Kent did not have any major industrial centres to be obvious targets for railway entrepreneurs, although there were a number of towns, such as Maidstone, Tonbridge or Gravesend. A case could be made for these for a direct link to London or to be a branch from a main line, but none was overwhelming. There were also powerful landed interests who either, spotting a good thing, demanded exorbitant sums for travel across their land or more altruistically, or unimaginatively, did not want the view from their country houses spoiled by steam and sparks (and the passing hoi polloi).

However despite these disincentives there were still a surprising number of proposals, both before and after the routes of the main lines were finally decided. Many of these gained parliamentary approval, but succumbed because of inability to raise the necessary funds. 

These proposals are described in detail in this part of the website, see the menu above.

contact sitemap directions home home