Above: Brick arches with stone capitals lining St Thomas Street have recently been cleaned and restored as part of the reconstruction project. They probably date from some time around the 1860s to 1880s. A new entrance to London Bridge Station has opened here.
Above: One of the better preserved stone capitals showing the head of a man. Was he connected with the station when this wall was erected?
From the Victorian decorative wall on the north side of St Thomas Street to the ultra-modern new concourse linking all platforms for the very first time in its history, London Bridge Station has changed dramatically over the last 180 years. We are in for more surprises when the whole station is completed in another two year’s time. The decorative wall looks more like the side of a religious building than a railway station. It is just one of the fine pieces of the old station to be cleaned and restored to adorn one of the new station entrances.
At last, after several years of renovation and reconstruction, a large part of the new concourse at London Bridge Station was opened to the public on 29 August which was the Bank Holiday Monday. While the station is by no means completed, it now gives passengers a very good idea of how everything will look in January 2018 when the whole station will be declared open.
The project to rebuild the station started at the south side (beside St Thomas Street) where the highest numbered platforms are (platforms 10-15). Those platforms are for trains using the station as a terminus and they have been in use for about two years now. Gradually the work is moving north. Through trains essentially travel over Borough High Street and end either at Charing Cross Station (via Waterloo East) or at Cannon Street Station. A third group of trains serve Thameslink lines and they have been diverted so that they do not use London Bridge Station at all while the rebuilding takes place. On the Bank Holiday Monday trains bound for Charing Cross Station returned to the schedule of stopping at London Bridge Station. Trains bound for Cannon Street Station pass through London Bridge Station but do not stop there. We are therefore waiting for the Cannon Street trains to serve London Bridge Station once more – using new platforms. We are also waiting for the Thameslink trains to be re-routed via London Bridge Station – also using new platforms. As of 29 August platforms 10-15 continue in use for trains terminating at London Bridge Station, while platforms 7-9 serve trains bound for Charing Cross Station. That leaves platforms 1-6 to be re-aligned and completed.
Those who remember when there were only six through-platforms – numbered 1-6 – in use by all trains passing through London Bridge Station will realise that there is now a much greater capacity for Cannon Street trains. Thameslink trains had to share platforms with other trains but, when they are reinstated, they will have their own platforms which will reduce congestion on the tracks from trains having to wait outside London Bridge Station until a platform was available.
Above: Descending from two of the new platforms via the escalators and stairs which take passengers down into the new concourse.
The railway tracks for through trains at London Bridge Station are the busiest lines in the world. Everyone assumes that the rebuilding of the station is the factor that will ease train congestion at London Bridge Station. It will be great to have a modern station with an expanded concourse but that is not really the important factor. There are two other unseen additions that will actually make all the difference to the efficient operation of trains passing through this station. Firstly, more tracks for through trains were needed. Until the rebuilding, there were only four railway tracks for trains passing over Borough High Street. Due to a new bridge beside the old one, that number is increased to six – a 50% improvement. Secondly, Thameslink trains approaching London Bridge Station from the east have had to cross over other railway tracks in order to stop at its platforms. A new ingenious ‘dive-under’ is under construction so that the tracks are ‘untangled’ from the other lines and therefore they will not have to wait for trains on other lines to pass because they will have their own dedicated tracks. These two additions will make all the difference to ‘squeezing’ more trains through the ‘bottle-neck’ of London Bridge Station.
Above: A glimpse from one of the escalators of part of the new concourse. It looks rather ‘bare’ because the station shops await completion.
The very first railway terminus in London was opened on part of this site in December 1836, serving the London and Greenwich Railway. London Bridge Station then only only had two railway tracks – running on a narrow brick-built viaduct – and only two platforms. From those early days several other railway companies built their own termini next to the first one and gradually the station expanded. In 1864 new tracks were added to allow for through-trains, along with a railway bridge over Borough High Street. Essentially, from that day until a few years ago, hardly any improvements to the tracks were made. It will therefore be realised that, with the continual growth in passenger numbers, a completely new design was long overdue.
What is so remarkable about the rebuilding plan is that it has taken place while keeping most of the busy commuter trains running. Although there have been glitches from time to time, most of the trains have kept to the challenging timetable and without any major problems. The new design was carried out by Grimshaw Architects. One of their partners commented that their job is “like doing open heart surgery on someone who is jogging at the same time”. London Bridge Station handles about 52 million passengers each year and is the fourth busiest station in Britain. With numbers set to rise significantly with in few years the work is well worth the investment.
Above: Another view of the new concourse. Every platform is served by stairs, escalators and a lift.
Going into the new concourse is rather disorientating because many of us have been using the old station for many years. It will probably take some getting used to. None of the shops have been opened but, on looking round, there are obviously plenty of shop windows on premises that await new tenants. The architects have been well aware of the historic nature of the site they are redeveloping and great effort has been put into preserving what remains of the old brickwork and Victorian decoration – like the examples at the top of this article.
The through-platforms are at a higher level than those of the platforms used as a terminus. With the new concourse being at ground level for the first time in the history of the station, some of the staircases and escalators are therefore longer than others. In order to create the space for the new concourse, it was necessary to remove some of the old Victorian arches which supported the old original viaducts and platforms. Although that seems a brutal solution for the old station fabric, it is necessary to allow for ever increasing numbers of passengers. For the very first time we have been made aware that the old concourse – which is on a level with the bus terminus – is not actually ‘ground level’ at all. That ‘land’ is supported by brick arches some 30 feet above the level of Tooley Street and St Thomas Street which are the real ground level.
As well as the shops in the main new concourse we are also awaiting the shops in the area of the smaller quadripartite arches which will be the main retail area. These intriguing arches remain from the days when most of area underneath the station was used for storage of bottles of wine and cheeses. In the 1960s you could smell the aroma of the wine and the cheese as you walked down Tooley Street. When everything is completed there will be additional entrances to the station in Tooley Street and passengers can once more gain easy access to the riverside. Everyone eagerly awaits the station’s completion.
For subscription members there is a an on-line booklet of pictures of how London Bridge Station has changed over the years, including pictures of the new concourse. All members will receive a secure link by email.