London orbital completed at last

The new train service between Highbury & Islington and Clapham Junction (via Whitechapel) began on 9th December and I was able to travel on it on the 13th, arguably the third ‘representative’ day. I found myself enjoying the bracing weather at Surrey Quays at about 17:40 and a Clapham train pulled in, people got on and it departed after a few seconds, all seats taken. As it progressed past Silwood Junction onto the ‘new’ line I mused that the line wasn’t actually new at all, though the last passenger service between the East London Line and Peckham Rye ceased in 1911. I checked out the passengers, who were all reading, staring into space or generally getting on with their thoughts in private, and none of them were taking the slightest interest in events outside the train as we turned onto the new route. Every one of them looked as though they’d done this journey for years, but the route hadn’t existed last week. Where had they come from?

I suspected a mass exodus at Queen’s Road Peckham as the occupants discovered they had boarded the wrong train; I would see mild panic breaking out with passengers milling around dejectedly on the platform and wondering where they were—they might even begin talking to each other. Not a bit of it! A few people got up ready to get out when the doors opened and then marched off, obviously familiar with the routine. Nobody else even looked up. About half got out at Peckham Rye and a number boarded, but after Denmark Hill, despite a few boarders and alighters, the train remained only half filled the rest of the way to the Junction, which was just as well as the journey was interestingly slow and there were no announcements (perhaps the driver was less comfortable with the new route than the passengers). The service ‘felt’ as though it had been running for years.

I studied my fellow passengers along the journey (not too closely I hasten to add) and my impression was that not very many made it all the way from Surrey Quays to Clapham Junction. What I did notice at Clapham Junction was the arrival of a train from Willesden. To say it was well loaded fails to convey the reality of what I saw—I had to flatten myself against the waiting room as this wall of passengers surged towards me when the doors opened. I was able to estimate that about three quarters of them went up the stairs to the bridge but I reckon about a quarter went past the level transition from platform 1 to platform 2 and boarded the Dalston-bound train I had just got off (thus taking up rather more than half the seats on a train where some seats had already been taken).
It was sufficiently cold not to hang about, so after having a quick look around to see whether the new platforms could take five cars when introduced (I thought they could), I headed off to Victoria, admiring the curiously massive overbridge whilst at it (this has surely got to be the longest and busiest passenger bridge in Britain, it is huge beyond description).

Whilst reflecting, it was obvious that there was something in this orbital business. I wonder, though, if Clapham Junction is the best place to break the circle, and whether Peckham Rye or Denmark Hill might be more suitable if there were a way of serving Clapham Junction as well. These thoughts are based purely on where I saw the traffic coming from and going to and in reality is impossible without a reversal of direction at Clapham, so I think we are stuck with what we have got. I should add that the Willesden service departed full (a bit more full than comfortable), and the East London Line service departed with most seats taken and some standing (again, on a journey not possible last week, or, at least, not possible since the First World War).

Despite the partially justified protests from those who have lost their direct route (as far as I can see this is largely Victoria-Clapham High Street for which the Underground is a fairly convenient alternative) the new service shows promise and I will be very interested to see how the traffic flows around this orbital route when things have settled down.

The journey between Wandsworth Road and Clapham junction is quite an interesting one. It was rather like a trip through an industrial archaeology theme park with excellent views of hitherto never seen viaducts, sidings, sheds and so on, all of which look as though they should have come out of use a few decades ago, if not earlier. The train meandered over, under and around all this historic clutter at a stately 25mph (amazingly the line limit all the way between these stations). The slow journey along this section could perhaps have been enlivened by a running commentary from the driver. “Ladies and gentlemen we are just turning off the ‘up Atlantic’ line”, for such is the romantic name given for the metals just used “and onto the ‘down Ludgate’”, where the romance disappears. “To the right we can see the historic carriage shed where the Venice-Simplon Orient Express train is kept, next to another historic shed containing a particularly interesting wheel lathe”. “On the left you will see Stewart’s Lane depot and in a minute the Battersea Reversible joins us before we plunge beneath the main lines from Victoria and Waterloo, a viaduct first opened in 1838 and widened fifteen times…” and so on. Actually it is a rather interesting section not, until now, usually seen by passengers quite so conveniently. Pity the trains don’t have fore and aft seating so the view can be admired more easily.

Finally, following the earlier blog item on the elevated electric, I was minded to check out some other London train services that ran between two London terminal stations. One early service was a London & North Western Railway service from Broad Street to Victoria, via the north and west London Lines. This appears to have run in this form from 1869 to 1872 (at which point it was diverted at Addison Road to run to the District’s station at Mansion House). Arguably, there was another service, between Ludgate Hill and Victoria via Loughborough Junction and Wandsworth Road; my early investigation suggests this wasn’t a London, Chatham and Dover service but a Great Northern one from Barnet, of all places, that began in 1868. This circuitous route ceased in 1916 but I’m not sure it counts as it really just served another terminus (Ludgate Hill) rather than began its journey there. A better example is the shuttle service between Charing Cross and Cannon Street, which began in 1866 when the latter station opened and so far as I have been able to established ceased by no later than the First World War. This was supplemented by many Charing Cross trains that also served Cannon Street and had to reverse; these, too, were cut back during that war but a few odd trains remained until the late 1950s (not always advertised, though I was unable to find any train in my 1934 Bradshaw either). On the subject of Cannon Street, an interesting service began in July 1865 from London Bridge to Euston, via Waterloo and Latchmere Junctions and Addison Road; it was diverted via Cannon Street from 1st February 1867, cut back to run from Waterloo in January 1868 and withdrawn altogether from February. Descriptions suggest this may have been (at least for a time) through carriages rather than a whole train, but even so it is hard to guess why anyone would have wanted to do this very roundabout journey.

Perhaps readers may have other examples of London terminus to London Terminus operations that meet my criteria of heading out of London and then returning to a different terminus? As things stand, the Victoria-London Bridge service via Crystal Palace seems to be the last survivor.


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About machorne

I have always lived in London and taken a great interest in its history and ongoing development. This extended into the history of its transport services, about which I have written a number of books - I have spent most of my working life working in the industry and observing changes from within, mostly to the good, but not always so. I continue to write, and have a website with half finished stuff in it so that it is at least available, if not complete. Several new books are in hand. I have many 'works in progress' and some of these can be found on my website; the we address is http://www.metadyne.co.uk
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