By the 1860s there was still no through route from Kent to London, apart from the circuitous  South Eastern line via Redhill. The SER had however also built a northern line as far as Strood on the western bank of the Medway opposite Chatham.

Frustration continued to grow among businessmen in Kent. The East Kent Railway had been formed in 1850 with the intention of building more direct rail connections from the neglected towns in the northern part of the county to London, and also in the opposite direction to Dover. Progress was slow due to financial difficulties, but by 1858 they had succeeded in reaching Chatham.

They planned to continue to London via the northern line of the SER who in the same year opened a bridge over the Medway, but negotiations were not productive. Following repeated rebuffs, the East Kent changed plan and built their own bridge over the river alongside the SER one. They then continued onward as far as St. Mary Cray, with the intention of connecting to the lines already built from the London direction to Beckenham, see Beckenham and Beyond

London Chatham and Dover Railway (LC&DR)

The Mid-Kent Railway (Bromley to St Mary Cray) project was drawn up in 1856 to construct a four-mile line between Shortlands and St. Mary Cray to complete a through route. The line was completed in 1860 and despite opposition from the SER was leased to the East Kent, which had in 1859 changed its name to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway.

This short section of line was of immense strategic importance, as it completed the second and more direct route between London and the Kent coast, imposing considerable commercial pressure on the SER. It also effectively killed off any chance that a main line railway would be built through Farnborough..

A LC & DR crest is now situated on
the new Blackfriars railway bridge

The viaduct at St. Mary Cray by George Buchanan Wollaston 1881

However the LC&DR was still dependent on other companies to reach London from Beckenham, so they built a third line from Beckenham Junction toward London - today's main line via Herne Hill. This included construction of the Penge Tunnel (1 mile 381 yards) between Sydenham Hill and Penge East.

The line terminated at a newly constructed London Victoria station and opened for traffic in 1862. It was alongside the station also at Victoria opened two years earlier by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway.  The LC&DR station was shared with the Great Western Railway and had mixed gauge  tracks.. From Herne Hill construction immediately began of a further line heading toward the City of London at Blackfriars.

Through trains from Bromley using the SER route to London Bridge via Beckenham and then the mid Kent line through Catford dwindled and ceased altogether by September 1865.

These two maps are from a London Chatham and Dover book of reference for their London extension bill dated 1860-1. The first map shows the route into London from Herne Hill in the bottom right to Victoria station on the left and Blackfriars in the centre.  The map reflects the lines as built.  Interestingly it does not show the London Brighton and South Coast line from Clapham Junction to Victoria that was by then under construction. 

The second map shows the lines through the Beckenham area with the pre-existing LC&DR line to Norwood and Chrystal Palace to the bottom left and the proposed new line heading toward Victoria above it.  The line coming down from the top middle is the Mid Kent line from London Bridge, then going only to Beckenham Junction but later extended to Elmers End and Hayes.  The various alignments heading away from Beckenham to the bottom right reflect earlier proposals to build a line through Farnborough, none of which came to fruition.

By June 1864, the City Branch had reached Blackfriars Bridge railway station (on the south bank of the River Thames) via Borough Road. The first Blackfriars Railway Bridge was then built across the Thames and a terminus for trains from the south opened at Ludgate Hill on 1st June 1865.  The line was immediately extended further north to meet the Metropolitan Railway at Farringdon. This is now the Thameslink route connecting railways to the South of London to the Northern termini and beyond.

The complete route provided a more direct access to London from many parts of Kent than the lines of the SER, particularly from towns near the North coast. It therefore proved to be very successful, despite its somewhat inadequate financing. The railway was always in a difficult financial situation, and actually went bankrupt in 1867, although was able to continue to operate.

Lordship Lane station by Camille Pissarro 1871. The station was on the line from Nunhead to Crystal Palace (High Level), closed in 1954 

A second relief line to London (the Catford Loop) was later opened between Shortlands and Brixton to increase capacity. This utilised in part a pre-existing line from Nunhead that led to Crystal Palace High Level station. The new link was incorporated as the Shortlands and Nunhead Railway in 1889, and absorbed into the LC&DR upon completion.  The line from Nunhead to Crystal Palace (High Level) closed in 1954, see the painting above.

South of Shortlands the main line was quadrupled in stages as far as Swanley (1959).

The South Eastern Responds

The building of the new LC&DR line, opened in 1863,  exerted considerable commercial pressure on the SER because the LC&DR route to the coast was much shorther. The SER was also still involved in financial disputes with the Brighton company over the use of their joint line north of Redhill, which was being operated at its capacity..

The obligation for all companies south of the Thames to use a single terminus at London Bridge had long been dispensed with, and the South Eastern constructed a new line that left their existing North Kent line at Lewisham.  It then took a straight route down to Tonbridge via Orpington and Sevenoaks. This 'cut-off' line, 24 miles (39 km) long, reached Chislehurst on 1 July 1865, but took three more years to reach Orpington and Sevenoaks (2 March 1868).

The line shortened the route to the coast by 12 miles, but involved crossing the North Downs by summits and long tunnels at Knockholt and Sevenoaks, so was expensive to build. The latter was the longest tunnel in Southern England when built, at 3,451 yards (3,156 m).  See the panel to the right for a contemporary account while construction was still underway.

The wish to build the line as straight as possible led to it bypassing Farnborough, despite the company having produced an earlier proposal for a line right through the village. Many other stations on the line are situated some distance  from the town or village after which they are named.

The two images below left show the cover and first page from the authorising act of 1862 for the new cutoff line, also a further new line from Lewishem to Dartford.


The photo above right shows the new bridge constructed to cross Tubbenden Lane just south of Orpington station. At that time the land to the right of the hedge was still part of the Tubbendence Estate.

The new main line opened on 1 May 1868 after it reached Tonbridge and met the earlier one. It crossed over the Chatham line just south of Chislehurst but at that stage there was no physical connection.  In order to provide better access to central areas of London the South-Eastern also extended their line in the other direction from London Bridge past Southwark Cathedral, building both Charing Cross (opened 1864) and Cannon Street (1866) stations.

In 1866 the SER agreed with the London and North Western Railway to build a joint line from Charing Cross station to Euston, with interchange of traffic  but the scheme was abandoned as a result of the 1867 financial crisis, and thus Charing Cross remains to this day a terminus. 

The separation of the LC&DR station in Bromley from the town centre encouraged the construction by the SER of the short branch from Grove Park to Bromley North. This opened in 1878. The original timber station building was replaced in 1925 and the current building is listed at grade ll.  Direct services to London ceased in 1990.

The main line was widened to four tracks as far as Orpington in 1904, requiring the station to be rebuilt. The original line from Redhill to Tonbridge became and remains a secondary route. 

Further Information

Amalgamation -  the SE & CR

The SER had a history of acrimonious relations with other companies with which it had to deal, most notably the London Brighton and South Coast Railway.  

This also applied to the East Kent.  It is arguable that if the SER had co-operated from the outset with the desire to have a good connection to towns on the North Coast they would not have later been placed in what proved to be an unfavorable competitive position,

In the event, many difficulties were caused by the intense competition and lack of co-operation between the LC&DR and the SER. This led to much duplication of routes, and there were two un-connected stations in a number of towns including Maidstone, Canterbury, Catford and indeed Bromley.

However by 1898, following the bankruptcy of the LC&DR and consequent replacement of the entire board of directors, tensions had eased somewhat. The LC&DR and SER agreed to share the operation of the two railways.

They were worked as a single system, the South Eastern and Chatham Railway), (crest above), and receipts were pooled.  But it was not a full amalgamation - the SER and LC&DR remained separate companies with their own shareholders until both became constituents of the Southern Railway, on 1 January 1923.

After amalgamation some route rationalisation took place, notably the new and complex connections between the two main lines where they cross near Bickley



The building by the South Eastern Railway of the line between Orpington and Sevenoaks, opened in 1868 and described in the main panel, involved a considerable amount of what might be termed  heavy construction.  It is easy to overlook this when speeding through this stretch on the train today.

This is from the 'South Eastern Gazette' Tuesday 29 August 1865.

The Lewisham and Tunbridge Railway -

We have been favoured with the following interesting details respecting this line, the construction of which is progressing very satisfactorily:

The Polhill tunnel is 2,530 yards long, and upwards of 1,000 yards are already finished, with five shafts varying from 120 ft. to 240 ft. below the surface of the ground. This tunnel contains 24,000 cubic yards of brickwork, with nine millions of bricks; 189,000 cubic yards of chalk to be excavated.

No. 1 cutting, situated between the Polhill and Chelsfield tunnels, is nearly 1¼ miles in length, and contains upwards of 500,000 cubic yards, of which about 50,000 is already excavated, and carried to spoil; most of the remaining portion will be taken through Chelsfield tunnel (on completion), to be deposited in the embankment across the Orpington-road. The depth at each end of the cutting is nearly 80ft. The sub-contractor is Mr. Lansbury. There will be five bridges in this cutting when finished.

Chelsfield tunnel is 594 yards long, of which about 350 yards are completed. It contains nearly 42,000 cubic yards of chalk to be excavated, and will comprise 5,000 cubic yards of brickwork, with two millions of bricks. The average depth below the surface of the ground is about 90ft. There are two temporary shafts to this tunnel, for the convenience of carrying on the work, which, on its completion, will be re-filled, and the ground restored to its original condition. The sub-contractors are Messrs. Lansbury and Kyle.

No. 1 embankment commences near Chelsfield-lane, and continues across the Orpington-road. It is about 1¼ miles long, and will contain, on completion, 790,000 cubic yards, of which about 300,000 have already been deposited. Its greatest height at Orpington-road is 78ft. 6in. above the level of the road, the greatest width at the seat of the embankment being 270 ft. The whole of this embankment is on the curve. The gradient is 1 in 120.

No. 2 cutting commences at the north end of Chelsfield tunnel, and continues until it forms a junction with the south end of No. 1 embankment, below Chelsfield-lane. It contains 320,000 cubic yards of chalk, of which 300,000 have already been excavated, to form a portion of No. 1 embankment. The length is nearly one mile. The greatest depth is at the face of Chelsfield tunnel, at which place it is 80ft. deep. There will be two bridges in this cutting on its completion.

Orpington Road bridge is the largest on the new line. The first brick was laid by Mr. Fox, in June last, and was completed in March, with the exception of the parapet walls. The total length, including the wing walls, is 260 ft. The abutments are 170ft. long, and the height, from the road to the top of the arch, is nearly 40ft. The level of rails is 78deg. 6sec. above the road at this point. To give some idea of the immense weight the arch has to carry, it is only necessary to state that the arch, for 76ft. in the centre, is 6ft. thick of solid brickwork in Portland cement. The remainder of the arch varies from 6ft. to 3ft. at each face. This arch is 35ft. span on the square; it contains upwards of 7,000 cubic yards of brickwork, and nearly three millions of bricks; the whole of the work being carried out in a most satisfactory manner by the subcontractors, Messrs. Kyle and Bayes.

The resident engineer of the whole of the before-mentioned works is Mr. Edmon

Orpington Station Clock

This clock (numbered 514 SE) was supplied to the SER in 1868 for the opening of the station.

It spent most of its working life (as recorded) in Orpington A Signal box.but was moved to the up side ticket hall in 1962. and sold out of service in the 1970's,

The face was repainted in 1948 at the formation of British railways. The case is Walnut, and was looked after by Walkers, contractors to the Southern railway, and later BR(S) 

The clock is now in private hands.

Modern Map

The map below shows the combined network as it is today, with construction dates for each line. 

One legacy of the complicated and acrimonious  history is the considerable number of alternative routes available to modern train operating companies in times of route blockages or planned engineering works.

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