London and Greenwich Railway
The London and Greenwich Railway was opened in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 between 1836 and 1838. It was the first steam
Steam locomotive
A steam locomotive is a railway locomotive that produces its power through a steam engine. These locomotives are fueled by burning some combustible material, usually coal, wood or oil, to produce steam in a boiler, which drives the steam engine...

 railway to have a terminus
Terminal Station
Terminal Station is a 1953 film by Italian director Vittorio De Sica. It tells the story of the love affair between an Italian man and an American woman. The film was entered into the 1953 Cannes Film Festival.-Production:...

 in the capital, the first of any to be built specifically for passenger service, and the first example of an elevated railway
Elevated railway
An elevated railway is a form of rapid transit railway with the tracks built above street level on some form of viaduct or other steel or concrete structure. The railway concerned may be constructed according to the standard gauge, narrow gauge, light rail, monorail or suspension railway system...



The idea for the line came from Colonel G. T. Landmann, until 1824  a Royal Engineer, and George Walter, and the company was floated at a meeting on the 25 November 1831. An important feature was that the line would run from close to London Bridge, thus making it convenient for journeys to the City. The line would be some 3¾ miles (6km), and the plan was to build on a viaduct
A viaduct is a bridge composed of several small spans. The term viaduct is derived from the Latin via for road and ducere to lead something. However, the Ancient Romans did not use that term per se; it is a modern derivation from an analogy with aqueduct. Like the Roman aqueducts, many early...

 of 878 brick arches, some of them skew
Skew arch
A skew arch is a method of construction that enables an arch bridge to span an obstacle at some angle other than a right angle. This results in the faces of the arch not being perpendicular to its abutments and its plan view being a parallelogram, rather than the rectangle that is the plan view of...

. (see London Bridge-Greenwich Railway Viaduct. This was apparently to avoid level crossings over the many streets which were already appearing in the south of London. Colonel Landmann also planned to rent the arches out as workshops. 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 known as London Bridge) to a station in London Street Greenwich
Greenwich is a district of south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich.Greenwich is best known for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time...


The ultimate intention was to reach Dover and there was much talk of a London to Gravesend
Gravesend, Kent
Gravesend is a town in northwest Kent, England, on the south bank of the Thames, opposite Tilbury in Essex. It is the administrative town of the Borough of Gravesham and, because of its geographical position, has always had an important role to play in the history and communications of this part of...

 railway which would extend from Greenwich. A scheme was presented to Parliament in 1836 but five others were competing for acceptance, and the bill failed on its second reading.


The line ran parallel with Tooley Street crossing Blue Anchor Road, Corbetts Lane and the Grand Surrey Canal
Grand Surrey Canal
The Grand Surrey Canal was a canal constructed in south London, England during the early 19th century. It opened to the Old Kent Road in 1807, to Camberwell in 1810, and to Peckham in 1826. Its main cargo was timber. It closed progressively from the 1940s, with all but the Greenland Dock closing in...

. From there it curved towards the first station at Deptford High Street
Deptford railway station
Deptford is a suburban railway station in the UK capital city of London. It is located in Deptford, London Borough of Lewisham, on the North Kent Line, about three miles from London Bridge station...

, and thence to London Street in Greenwich.

The subsoil was a blackish peat, which gave considerable problems, and Landmann pioneered the use of concrete to reinforce the foundations. Even so, several of the piers near to Corbetts Lane moved four or five inches (100 - 125mm) out of the perpendicular and, on the 18 January 1836 two arches close to Tooley Street collapsed. Elsewhere, iron ties were used to prevent lateral spread in the brickwork. In 1840 many of the arches were improved by laying 9 inches (228.6 mm) of concrete above the arches, with a layer of asphalt.

From Deptford to Greenwich, the River Ravensbourne
River Ravensbourne
The River Ravensbourne is a tributary of the River Thames in South London, England. It flows into the River Thames on the Tideway at Deptford, where its tidal reach is known as Deptford Creek.- Geography :...

 was crossed at Deptford Creek by means of a balanced bridge to allow masted vessels to pass by. When it worked eight men were enough to operate it, but possibly because of trouble with the foundations, it was unreliable. It was replaced in 1884 and again in 1963 .

Originally the track used single parallel rails to the Stephenson gauge of , fixed to stone blocks or sleepers. By 1840 it would seem, however, that there was a mixture of bridge rails, single parallel and double parallel rails (See Rail profile). The original rails caused excessive noise, and also damage to structure and rolling stock. The bridge rails were used on the viaducts, between Deptford and Greenwich initially, laid on longitudinal timbers with cross sleepers at four foot intervals. At this time, the new double parallel rails at 78lb. to the yard were laid for a quarter of mile (400m) at Deptford, on timber sleepers, presumably as an experiment. In addition the concrete underlay was replaced with gravel ballast to 2 feet (609.6 mm) thickness.


The first section, between Spa Road in Bermondsey and Deptford, opened on 8 February 1836. However, previously to this, a number of demonstration trains had been running from mid-1835. These were suspended for a while after a derailment in November, but resumed the following year, with somewhat apocryphal rumours circulating that some trains had reached 60 miles per hour (96.6 km/h). On the Whit Monday following the official opening, the line carried around 13,000 passengers. There was a fatal accident on the 7 March, when Daniel Holmes was run over, and a train collided with some carriages.

The line reached Bermondsey Street in October, and finally to London Bridge on 14 December 1836 (Spa Road was no longer used as a stop at this time). At the other end, the line reached a temporary station at Church Row in Greenwich on 24 December 1838, having been delayed by problems with the Deptford Creek lift bridge. The present Greenwich station opened on 12 April 1840.

Rolling stock

The first locomotives were a 2-2-0
Under the Whyte notation for the classification of steam locomotives, 2-2-0 represents the wheel arrangement of two leading wheels on one axle, two powered driving wheels on one axle, and no trailing wheels...

 built by Charles Tayleur and Company and three more by William Marshall of Gravesend of which one was 2-2-2
Under the Whyte notation for the classification of steam locomotives, 2-2-2 represents the wheel arrangement of two leading wheels on one axle two powered driving wheels on one axle, and two trailing wheels on one axle. The wheel arrangement both provided more stability and enabled a larger firebox...

. All would appear to be of the Stephenson "Planet" type
Planet (locomotive)
Planet was an early steam locomotive built in 1830 by Robert Stephenson and Company for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The ninth locomotive built for the L&MR, it was Stephenson's next major design change after the Rocket. It was the first locomotive to employ inside cylinders, and...

. These were supplemented by two from Bury
Bury, Curtis, and Kennedy
Bury, Curtis and Kennedy was a steam locomotive manufacturer in Liverpool, England.Edward Bury set up his works in 1826, under the name of Edward Bury and Company. He employed James Kennedy, who had gained experience of locomotive production under Robert Stephenson and Mather, Dixon and Company,...

 but subcontracted to George Forrester and Company
George Forrester and Company
George Forrester and Company was a British locomotive manufacturer at Vauxhall Foundry in Liverpool.The company had opened in 1827 as iron founders and commenced building locomotives in 1834....

  These were groundbreaking in that for the first time horizontal cylinders were mounted at the front of the locomotive outside the frame. While extremely successful for their time, they swayed so much they were referred to as "Boxers" and a trailing axle was added. In the next four years three more locos followed, one each by R and W Hawthorn
R and W Hawthorn
R and W Hawthorn Ltd was a locomotive manufacturer in Newcastle upon Tyne, England from 1817 until 1880.-Locomotive building:Robert Hawthorne first began business at Forth Bank Works in 1817, building marine and stationary steam engines. In 1820, his brother joined him and the firm became R and W...

 and Robert Stephenson and Company
Robert Stephenson and Company
Robert Stephenson and Company was a locomotive manufacturing company founded in 1823. It was the first company set up specifically to build railway engines.- Foundation and early success :...

, with three axles, and one by Day, Summers and Company
Day, Summers and Company
Day, Summers and Company was a British steam locomotive manufacturer and shipbuilder in the Southampton area.It opened as Summers, Groves and Day at the Millbrook Foundry in 1834. Their first locomotive was "Jefferson" built built in 1837, a 2-2-0 for the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac...

. This latter one was also modified with a trailing axle soon after delivery.

First and second class coaches were provided and were unusual in that the sole bars and headstocks were below the axles. The railway line, being for much of its length built on a viaduct, this was a safety measure, since, in the event of a derailment, the coaches would drop only a few inches onto the rails.

Later history

Between 1836 and 1840 the line carried over 1¼ million passengers a year, benefiting it is thought from a developing tourist trade.

On 5 June 1839, the London and Croydon Railway
London and Croydon Railway
The London and Croydon Railway was an early railway which operated between London and Croydon in England. It was opened in 1839 and in July 1846 it merged with other railways to form a part of the London Brighton and South Coast Railway ....

 opened. It shared the line between Tooley Street as far as a junction at Corbetts Lane (close to what is now Rotherhithe Road). It built its station between the existing station and Tooley Street. It is not clear when the station became known as London Bridge.

It is believed that at Corbetts Lane there was installed first fixed signal used to control a junction.
A white disc was installed, to be operated by the pointsman. This, or at night, a red light, showed that the route was set for Croydon. If the disc was edge on, or a white light showed, the junction was set for Greenwich.

In 1840 two further acts were obtained, one for laying additional lines as far as the junction at Corbetts Lane and for improvements and extensions to the stations at London Bridge. These were watched closely by a committee formed by the Croydon line, the Brighton line and the proposed South Eastern Railway
South Eastern Railway (UK)
The South Eastern Railway was a railway company in south-eastern England from 1836 until 1922. The company was formed to construct a route from London to Dover. Branch lines were later opened to Tunbridge Wells, Hastings, Canterbury and other places in Kent...

. At this time the Greenwich and the Croydon Lines exchanged places to prevent crossing each other at Corbetts Lane. A resited station at Spa Road
Spa Road railway station
Spa Road railway station in Bermondsey, south-east London was the original terminus of the capital's first railway, the London and Greenwich Railway. It opened on 8 February 1836, with the other end of the line at Deptford. The extension to London Bridge opened on 14 December 1836. The extension...

 opened in 1842.
By 1843 annual passenger numbers had risen to over 1½ million, with an average fare per head of 6.5d. In 1844 numbers had risen to over 2 million although the average fare had dropped to 5.2d. Greenwich trains ran every 15 minutes, Croydon trains were hourly. The company was never financially successful however due to the need to repay the very high capital expenditure in building the line.

The increasing congestion of the lines approaching London Bridge, and dissatisfaction with the high tolls charged by the London & Greenwich, caused the South Eastern and the London & Croydon to build a new terminus at Bricklayers Arms which opened in 1844, transferring most of their services, and reducing their fares accordingly. This reduction in toll revenues brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy. Prior to the opening of the Bricklayers Arms terminus it had approached the South Eastern Railway
South Eastern Railway (UK)
The South Eastern Railway was a railway company in south-eastern England from 1836 until 1922. The company was formed to construct a route from London to Dover. Branch lines were later opened to Tunbridge Wells, Hastings, Canterbury and other places in Kent...

 (SER), with a suggestion that they should either buy or lease the Greenwich line. The SER took some time to respond, and in the meanwhile the company received a similar offer from the London and Brighton Railway
London and Brighton Railway
The London and Brighton Railway was a railway company in England which was incorporated in 1837 and survived until 1846. Its railway runs from a junction with the London & Croydon Railway at Norwood - which gives it access from London Bridge, just south of the River Thames in central London...

 and also negotiated reduced tolls with the London and Croydon Railway
London and Croydon Railway
The London and Croydon Railway was an early railway which operated between London and Croydon in England. It was opened in 1839 and in July 1846 it merged with other railways to form a part of the London Brighton and South Coast Railway ....

. Eventually the SER agreed to lease the London and Greenwich line from 1 January 1845, which thereafter became known as the Greenwich Line
Greenwich Line
The Greenwich Line is a short railway line in South London that follows the route of the London and Greenwich Railway, which was the first railway line in London....


The London and Greenwich Railway company continued in existence until January 1923 but its activities were restricted to receiving the annual rent from the SER and distributing it to shareholders.


Greenwich was the other terminus until 1878, when the final cut-and-cover tunnel
A tunnel is an underground passageway, completely enclosed except for openings for egress, commonly at each end.A tunnel may be for foot or vehicular road traffic, for rail traffic, or for a canal. Some tunnels are aqueducts to supply water for consumption or for hydroelectric stations or are sewers...

 section between Greenwich and Maze Hill
Maze Hill railway station
Maze Hill railway station, in the Maze Hill area of Greenwich, London, is the closest railway station to Greenwich Park, being about two minutes walk from the north-east corner of the park....

 was opened by the SER, linking it to the North Kent Line
North Kent Line
The North Kent Line is a railway line which connects central and south east London with Dartford and Medway.-Construction:The North Kent Line was the means by which the South Eastern Railway were able to connect its system to London at London Bridge...

 just west of Charlton. This ran beneath the grounds of the Queen's House
Queen's House
The Queen's House, Greenwich, is a former royal residence built between 1614-1617 in Greenwich, then a few miles downriver from London, and now a district of the city. Its architect was Inigo Jones, for whom it was a crucial early commission, for Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I of England...

 and Greenwich Hospital - where the graveyard was excavated, remains being reinterred in East Greenwich Pleasaunce
East Greenwich Pleasaunce
East Greenwich Pleasaunce is a public park in East Greenwich, in south-east London. It is situated to the north side of the railway line between Maze Hill and Westcombe Park railway stations and south of the A206 Woolwich Road....

 approximately 1 miles (1.61 km) to the east. The section between Charlton and Maze Hill opened in 1873, with Maze Hill functioning as a terminus until 1878. Westcombe Park railway station
Westcombe Park railway station
Westcombe Park station is in Greenwich, London, and is situated on the North Kent line connecting suburbs along the south side of the River Thames with central London stations .The station lies at the northern end of a conservation area , 5–10 minutes walk...

 opened in 1879.

The layout of Greenwich station still partly betrays that fact. The line from London, built on a continuous viaduct, is perfectly straight, but after Greenwich it makes a sharp turn and dips into a tunnel. There also used to be a space between the two tracks for the locomotive 'escape route' to reverse the trains, but this disappeared when the station was reorganised to accommodate the Docklands Light Railway
Docklands Light Railway
The Docklands Light Railway is an automated light metro or light rail system opened on 31 August 1987 to serve the redeveloped Docklands area of London...

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