Kent Rail

Hither Green Marshalling Yard


In spite of being reduced in size over the years, this remains a colossus of sidings flanking either side of the ex-SER main line between Hither Green and Grove Park. Known as the ‘’Tonbridge Cut-Off’’, the trunk route had come into use for passenger services between the St John’s area and as far as Chislehurst on 1st July 1865, Sevenoaks on 2nd March 1868, and Tonbridge on 1st May 1868. Freight had been using the through route since February 1868, and the line reduced the SER’s London to Tonbridge distance by 12½-miles, eliminating a lengthy detour via Redhill.

The Tonbridge Cut-Off was joined by the Dartford Loop Line (via Sidcup) in 1866, passenger services commencing on this route on 1st September of that year. The two lines merged at ‘’Hither Green Junction’’, this taking its name from a rural village located about 375-yards to the west. The latter was surrounded by open fields and woods, which were sparsely populated and explains why no station was provided here from the outset. Over the subsequent thirty years, however, Victorian London grew out towards once leafy environs, and the small village of Hither Green and its periphery were swallowed up into the densely-populated suburbia.

The aforementioned expansion of house building justified the opening of a station at Hither Green Junction on 1st June 1895. This was followed on 1st January 1899 by the forming of a Joint Managing Committee between erstwhile rival SER and LC&DR companies and, in the same year, the first sidings were laid of what would become an extensive freight yard at Hither Green. These were located ½-mile south of the station, where the main line was still flanked on either side by open fields. Much of the yard’s development coincided with the quadrupling of the main line between St John’s and Orpington; four track running between the latter and Elmstead Woods commenced on 6th June 1904, this being extended through to St John’s on 18th June 1905. A marshalling yard comprising nine ‘’up’’ sidings and about twenty-five ‘’down’’ sidings, running alongside the main line for about ½-mile, emerged. Direct access to the ‘’down’’ sidings from the Dartford Loop Line was made possible by the opening of the double-track ‘’Lee Loop’’ on 30th April 1905.

The main part of the yard was controlled by two signal boxes, both situated on the ‘’up’’ side of the line, situated about 770-yards apart. These were erected by signalling contractor ‘’Evans O’Donnell’’ and were attractive all-timber two-storey-high structures, sporting gabled pitched roofs. The pair had replaced an earlier ground-level cabin from the same contractor, which had been installed as a temporary affair during major construction works at the growing yard as part of main line quadrupling works. Finally, a further cabin could be found just north of the yard, on the ‘’down’’ side of the line; this controlled the junction between the Lee Loop, main line, and the ‘’down’’ yard.

The raison d’être of Hither Green Marshalling Yard was to enable the exchange of freight traffic with other railway companies, particularly coal which had originated from Yorkshire and the Midlands. This was brought down from the mines on the networks of the Great Northern and Midland Railways. Subsequent transfer south of the Thames was made possible by Snow Hill Tunnel, under Smithfield Meat Market, which had linked LC&DR and Metropolitan Railway metals since 1866. From there, Hither Green-bound trains ran across the Thames at Blackfriars, then embarked on a steeply-graded double-track spur linking the route to Herne Hill with ex-SER lines on the western approaches to London Bridge. Neighbouring LB&SCR and LSWR companies established similar marshalling yards at Norwood and Feltham respectively.

On the advent of the Southern Railway, a programme of electrifying ex-SE&CR suburban lines was soon begun, using the third rail system conceived by the LSWR. Public electric services between Charing Cross/Cannon Street and Orpington commenced on 28th February 1926. This itself presented operational difficulties, since slow freights bound for Hither Green, coming off the spur from Blackfriars, had to be accommodated amongst an accelerated electric timetable. The solution here was the re-opening of a section of the ex-LC&DR branch to Greenwich Park, which had closed to passengers between the latter and Nunhead as a World War I economy in 1917 and never re-opened. A short section, no longer than ½-mile, had been retained between Nunhead and Brockley to serve a coal depot belonging to the Great Northern Railway (LNER from 1923) – beyond, the track bed was a scene of dereliction. The original course of the branch was diverted southeast, to join ex-SER lines at Lewisham Junction. A steel lattice girder bridge, accommodating a double-track, was erected over the main line and the revived route came into use on 30th June 1929. This allowed cross-London freights, such as coal from the South Wales mines, to be diverted via the West London Line, thence to Clapham Junction and Stewarts Lane, Nunhead, Lewisham and, finally, to Hither Green. The section of line between Nunhead and Lewisham was considered to be freight-only, thus initially lacked third rail.


Hither Green Marshalling Yard: 1970s

This northward view from about 1974 shows the cripple roads, used to store defective wagons, at the southern extremity of the ''down'' yard. The sidings seen underneath the gantries formed loops and rejoined the main line some distance behind the photographer. © Roger Goodrum


Hither Green Marshalling Yard: 1970s

We have now turned just to the left of the previous photograph and are now afforded a head-on London-bound view of the ''down'' yard. As per the earlier view, the vantage point here is one of the 150-foot-high floodlight towers, the second of which is evident in the background. Note the catenary posts, installed for use by the E5000 series electrics. In the foreground can be seen point levers, whilst on the left, across the main line, can be seen the Continental Freight Depot. © Roger Goodrum


Hither Green Marshalling Yard: 1970s

The overhead wires are clearly visible in this splendid London-bound shot of two bygone features of the steam era: this is No. 2 Water Crane in ''B'' Section of Hither Green ''down'' yard, in about 1974. It is joined, in the background, by the yard's original water tower. © Roger Goodrum


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