The South Eastern Railway initiated a through service between London Bridge and Dover, via Redhill and Tonbridge, on 7th February 1844. The route was a circuitous one, the SER being compelled by Parliament to share the lines of the London & Croydon and London & Brighton Railways between the capital and Redhill. It was decreed that only one railway should enter London from the south. Excepting the ongoing bickering between the respective companies over track access, the additional mileage of this detour did not become problematic until the advent of the ‘’East Kent Railway’’. Renamed the ‘’London Chatham & Dover Railway’’ in 1859, this company eventually forged a shorter route between Victoria and Dover via Chatham, through services commencing for the line’s entirety on 22nd July 1861. The ‘’Chatham’’ main line became an attractive alternative to the older Redhill route, thus the SER was in need of a plan to prevent losing most of its London to Dover traffic to its new rival. The solution was to shorten the London Bridge to Dover route by means of a cut-off line, avoiding Redhill and providing a more direct route between the capital and Tonbridge. Parliament authorised the line on 30th June 1862, for passage via Chislehurst, Orpington, and Sevenoaks, taking 12½ miles off the original journey length. The line was commissioned in stages: the St Johns to Chislehurst section came into use on 1st July 1865; on 3rd February 1868, the line formally opened to freight traffic for its full extent to Tonbridge, but passenger services were only extended as far as Sevenoaks on 2nd March of that year. Through running to Tonbridge for passenger traffic commenced on 1st May.

A station at Orpington came into use with the Sevenoaks section of the cut-off line on 2nd March 1868. It started life as a typical SER rural outpost, comprising two platform faces either side of a double-track. These surfaces lied directly opposite each other, unlike those at a number of stations along the route, which were staggered in nature. The main building was positioned on the ‘’up’’ side, and was a standard SER economical affair, being single-storey and clapboard in construction, complete with a slated pitched roof. It was matched on the ‘’down’’ platform by a structure of similar size and appearance, and both buildings were equipped with flat-roofed canopies. The latter were graced with the standard clover-patterned SER valance, which can still be seen in evidence today at Maidstone West. The platforms were linked by a subway (a common feature of those stations which were built upon embankments, where walkways could be excavated more easily), positioned immediately to the south of the station structures. The subway entrances were provided with brick surrounds, complete with curved roofs, identical to those which are still extant at Bexley and Northfleet stations. Both platforms were lined at their rears by wooden fencing, a practice which is still in use today at Pluckley, and gas lamps were of the typical diamond-shape design. There were no goods facilities at this station from the outset, but during the first half of the 1890s, a single northward-facing siding was incorporated. This trailed off the ‘’up’’ track at about ten degrees to the running lines, and terminated behind the ‘’up’’ station buildings.

The formation of the SE&CR on 1st January 1899 heralded significant improvements for the Tonbridge cut-off line, and indeed, the suburban railway operation on ex-SER and ex-LC&DR networks in general. In 1900, work commenced on linking the ‘’Chatham’’ main line with the ex-SER cut-off route, by means of installing connecting loops, a task which was fully complete by 19th June 1904. In the meantime, significant earthworks had begun in the effort to upgrade the St Johns to Orpington section of the Tonbridge cut-off line from double to quadruple-track operation. This involved extensive rebuilds of stations at Hither Green, Grove Park, Chislehurst and Orpington, and the provision of a new set of platforms at Elmstead Woods. Four-track running for scheduled services commenced between St Johns and Elmstead Woods on 18th June 1905, but this was preceded by the commissioning of the quadruple-track section between Elmstead Woods and Orpington on 6th June of the previous year.

All traces of the SER’s Orpington station were swept away during the improvement works. Extensive earthworks produced a wide cutting upon the existing station site to accommodate a completely new layout capable of serving an intensive four-track suburban and main line operation. The entire quadrupling scheme formed part of the SE&CR’s desire to improve its commuter operation, which included increasing service frequency and introducing new through trains between ex-SER and ex-LC&DR networks. Orpington marked the end of the London commuting zone on the Tonbridge cut-off line: four tracks converged into two beyond the southern end of the station, and provision was made to keep terminating suburban services out of the paths of those main line services continuing on into Kent. Four through platform faces were created, each some 750-feet in length, and these were flanked on either side by a northward-facing bay line for terminating commuter services. The ‘’up’’ and ‘’down’’ side bay platforms measured 495-feet and 575-feet in length respectively. This arrangement produced three main platform surfaces, one of which was a centrally-located island. W-shaped canopies appeared on all surfaces, these being supported upon iron frames and demonstrating the intricate clover-patterned valance originally introduced by the SER. The canopies appear to have been used as the design basis for those plainer W-shaped designs employed by the Southern Railway during station modernisations and rebuilds throughout the late 1920s and 1930s, on all divisions of the company’s network (see Tonbridge and Swanley). The island canopy measured 295-feet in length, whilst the presence of station structures on both side platforms saw that the respective canopies on these surfaces were longer, extending for 325-feet. The platforms were gas lit with the then customary diamond-shaped lamps, as per the former station of 1868, and all surfaces were linked by a subway.

Orpington’s main building, like that of the original station, was positioned on the ‘’up’’ side, and was served by the very same approach road as the SER clapboard structure. The replacement station had been built throughout in crème brick: the ‘’up’’ building was single-storey, complete with a slated pitched roof, and measured 110-feet in length, which included a small appendix attached to its southern elevation. It was also in the company of a smaller crème brick single-storey structure to its north; this measured 55-feet in length, but was physically detached. Finally, the main building’s approach road elevation was protected by a 42-foot long canopy, which demonstrated the same valance pattern as the main platform structures. The ‘’down’’ side was also host to a singe-storey crème brick structure; this was, in effect, a scaled-down version of the aforementioned example on the ‘’up’’ side, and like its larger counterpart, it was host to a porch canopy on its road-facing elevation.

Orpington SE&CR

Track plan of rebuilt SE&CR layout. © David Glasspool


The "down" Golden Arrow is seen approaching the station from the London direction, hauled by Britannia Pacific No. 70004 "William Shakespeare". The train had come off the Bickley Loop, 1⅓-miles distant, having set-off from London Victoria. Note the two BR Mk1 carriages, which had been a feature of the service since 1954, when it ceased to be all-Pullman. The lattice footbridge in the background carried a public footpath across the tracks and cut through the roof of what was at one time the country's largest carriage shed. On the left, straddling the track which led to the "up" bay platform and goods yard, is "A" box; this was situated on brick legs and built to the standard SER in-house design of all-timber construction with sash-style windows and hipped slated roof. © David Glasspool Collection

26th September 2004

A London-bound view shows that the original lattice footbridge had been replaced as part of the 1992 station alterations, and the carriage shed had given way to exposed sidings. © David Glasspool

26th September 2004

Platforms 7 and 8 are the newest, having been constructed as part of the 1992 station modifications; they replaced a trio of sidings. The canopy, comprising a plain timber valance, has been built in sympathy with the older structures, and is seen flanked by "Networker" Nos. 465033 and 465202. © David Glasspool

26th September 2004

Platform extensions are evident in this view which shows, on the left, Class 465 No. 465006 just about to depart for London. Parked in the bay platform is Class 466 No. 466033, which was pairing with a Class 465 (out of view) in Network SouthEast livery. The yellow stripe of No. 465006 was a vinyl coating which was part of a leftover batch from the Class 365 livery applications. © David Glasspool