Above: The tunnel over part of Bermondsey Street, formed by several short lengths of brick arches built side by side.
Part of the new concourse at London Bridge Station has just been opened to the public – as part of the redevelopment of the old station. As it happens, this year being 2016, it is coming up for exactly 180 years since the station first opened in December 1836. That station was the London terminus of the ‘London and Greenwich Railway’ which was just two railway lines built on top of a narrow brick viaduct just over three miles in length.
As the saying goes ‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow’. In 1836 there were two railway lines on a narrow viaduct. Once the terminus at London Bridge Station had opened, the London and Croydon Railway opened a terminus alongside three years later, with another two railway lines for their route to Croydon. Cutting a long story short, several railway companies also opened their London terminus at the same location and it is because of the collection of individual termini that the station evolved with platforms that do not all line up with each other even today.
Above: Google map with overlays showing the outline of today’s London Bridge Station. RED shows the original terminus of the London and Greenwich Railway and its two lines. GREEN shows the original terminus of the London and Croydon Railway and its two lines.
Nothing recognisable now remains from the original London and Greenwich Railway terminus but a walk down Bermondsey Street shows evidence of the original railway arches. Walking south along Bermondsey Street from the Tooley Street end, the pedestrian enters what appears to be a very long and dark tunnel. As you walk along and look carefully at the walls, you suddenly begin to see that the ‘long tunnel’ is not one tunnel but a series of brick arches built alongside each other creating the effect of one long tunnel.
Above: Stonework below a skew arch incised with the initials of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.
Starting from the northern end you pass under the brick arches of the original ‘London and Greenwich Railway’. You have to have a sharp eye to notice the line between one set of bricks and the next. Walking further south you pass under the arches of the old ‘London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. You are still reminded of this today because into the stonework are carved the initials LBSC in very large incised letters.
Above: View of part of a skew arch further along the ‘tunnel’.
Walking through what appears to be a long dark brick tunnel is not a scenic experience but it is certainly a brush with railway history. All the evidence for those early viaducts is to be seen there. Another point of interest is the way that the bricks are positioned. A quick look at the map reveals that the railway lines are not at 90 degrees to the line of Bermondsey Street but are at some acute angle. The brick arches were created by first building a wooden former over the road and then laying bricks and cement on top it. Once the cement had hardened, the wooden former could be removed. The first course of bricks on one side of the road is level with the horizontal pavement. As the courses rise, the angle changes until the bricks in the centre of the arch are at a strange angle with the alignment of the road. They are known as ‘skew arches’ and the brickwork, although only 20 years off being in position for 200 years, is as good as the day it was laid. Those Victorian ‘brickies’ knew a thing or two about their trade!