By the 1860s there was still no through route from Kent to London, apart from the circuitous  South Eastern line via Redhill. Frustration continued to grew on behalf of merchants and businessmen.

The East Kent Railway had been formed in 1850 with the intention of building more direct rail connections from the neglected towns in the northern part of Kent to London, and also onward to Dover. Initially they planned to reach London via the northern line of the SER which by then had reached but not crossed the Medway, but following repeated rebuffs they eventually changed plan and built their own line as far as St. Mary Cray.

Meanwhile two lines had reached Beckenham from the London direction, both with the intention of extending further to the south and east.

The Mid Kent Railway, had initially intended to build their own line to the coast through Farnborough, but then changed plan and built a line from the SER at Lewisham to Beckenham - the intention being to extend this line to Croydon at a later date. The line opened January 1857 and was operated by the SER.

Meanwhile on 3 March 1858 the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway opened an extension of their line from Norwood (Crystal Palace) also to Beckenham Junction (opened as Beckenham) and Shortlands (opened as Bromley).  This was the first part of their own  planned.Farnborough Extension

London Chatham and Dover Railway (LC&DR)

The Mid-Kent Railway (Bromley to St Mary Cray) project was drawn up in 1856 to construct a four-mile line between Shortlands and St. Mary Cray to connect the above lines together to complete a through route. The line was completed in 1860 and despite opposition from the SER was leased to the East Kent, which had in 1859 changed its name to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway.

This short section of line was of immense strategic importance, as it completed the second and more direct route between London and the Kent coast, imposing considerable commercial pressure on the SER. It also effectively killed off any chance that a main line railway would be built through Farnborough..

Lordship Lane station by Camille Pissarro 1871. The station was on the line from Nunhead to Crystal Palace (High Level), closed in 1954 The viaduct at St. Mary Cray by George Buchanan Wollaston 1881

However the LC&DR was still dependant on other companies to reach London from Beckenham, so they built a third line from Beckenham Junction toward London - today's main line via Herne Hill. This included construction of the Penge Tunnel (1 mile 381 yards) between Sydenham Hill and Penge East. The line opened for traffic in 1863 and terminated at the newly constructed London Victoria station. From Herne Hill construction immediately began of a further line heading toward the City of London.

Through trains from Bromley using the SER route to London Bridge via Beckenham and then the mid Kent line through Catford dwindled and ceased altogether by September 1865.

These two maps are from a London Chatham and Dover book of reference for their London extension bill dated 1860-1. The first map shows the route into London from Herne Hill in the bottom right to Victoria station on the left and Blackfriars in the centre.  The map reflects the lines as built.  Interestingly it does not show the London Brighton and South Coast line from Clapham Junction to Victoria that was by then under construction. The LB&SCR station at Victoria actually opened in 1860, two years earlier than the LC&DR station alongside.

The second map shows the lines through the Beckenham area with the pre-existing LC&DR line to Norwood and Chrystal Palace to the bottom left and the proposed new line heading toward Victoria above it.  The line coming down from the top middle is the Mid Kent line from London Bridge, then going only to Beckenham Junction but later extended to Elmers End and Hayes.  The various alignments heading away from Beckenham to the bottom right reflect earlier proposals to build a line direct to Farnborough, none of which came to fruition.

A LC & DR crest is now situated on
the new Blackfriars railway bridge
By June 1864, the City Branch had reached Blackfriars Bridge railway station (on the south bank of the River Thames) via Borough Road. The first Blackfriars Railway Bridge was then built across the Thames and a terminus for trains from the south opened at Ludgate Hill on 1st June 1865.  The line was immediately extended further north to meet the Metropolitan Railway at Farringdon. This is now the Thameslink route connecting railways to the South of London to the Northern termini and beyond.

The complete route provided a more direct access to London from many parts of Kent than the lines of the SER, particularly from towns near the North coast. It therefore proved to be very successful, despite its somewhat inadequate financing. The railway was always in a difficult financial situation, and actually went bankrupt in 1867, although was able to continue to operate.

A second relief line to London (the Catford Loop) was later opened between Shortlands and Brixton to increase capacity. This utilised in part a pre-existing line from Nunhead that led to Crystal Palace High Level station. The new link was incorporated as the Shortlands and Nunhead Railway in 1889, and absorbed into the LC&DR upon completion.  The line from Nunhead to Crystal Palace (High Level) closed in 1954, see the painting above.

South of Shortlands the main line was quadrupled in stages as far as Swanley (1959).

The South Eastern Responds

The opening of the new LC&DR line,in 1863  exerted considerable commercial pressure on the SER because the LC&DR route to the coast was much shorther. The SER was also still involved in financial disputes with the Brighton company over the use of their joint line north of Redhill, which was being operated at its capacity..

The obligation for all companies south of the Thames to use a single terminus at London Bridge had long been dispensed with, and the South Eastern constructed a new line that left their existing North Kent line at Lewisham.  It then took a straight route down to Tonbridge via Orpington and Sevenoaks. This 'cut-off' line, 24 miles (39 km) long, reached Chislehurst on 1 July 1865, but took three more years to reach Orpington and Sevenoaks (2 March 1868).

The line shortened the route to the coast by 12 miles, but involved crossing the North Downs by summits and long tunnels at Knockholt and Sevenoaks, so was expensive to build. The latter was the longest tunnel in Southern England at 3,451 yards (3,156 m).

The wish to build the line as straight as possible led to it bypassing Farnborough, despite the company having produced an earlier proposal for a line right through the village.

The two images below left show the cover and first page from the authorising act of 1862, for the new cutoff line, also a further new line from Lewishem to Dartford.


The new main line opened on 1 May 1868 after it reached Tonbridge and met the earlier one. It crossed over the Chatham line just south of Chislehurst but at that stage there was no physical connection.  The photo above right shows the new bridge constructed to cross Tubbenden Lane just south of Orpington station. At that time the land to the right of the hedge was still part of the Tubbendence Estate.

In order to provide better access to central areas of London the South-Eastern also extended their line in the other direction from London Bridge past Southwark Cathedral, building both Charing Cross (opened 1864) and Cannon Street (1866) stations.

In 1866 the SER agreed with the London and North Western Railway to build a joint line from Charing Cross station to Euston, with interchange of traffic  but the scheme was abandoned as a result of the 1867 financial crisis, and thus Charing Cross remains to this day a terminus. 

The separation of the LC&DR station in Bromley from the town centre encouraged the construction by the SER of the short branch from Grove Park to Bromley North. This opened in 1878. The original timber station building was replaced in 1925 and the current building is listed at grade ll.  Direct services to London ceased in 1990.

The main line was widened to four tracks as far as Orpington in 1904, leading to the station there being rebuilt. The original line from Redhill to Tonbridge became and remains a secondary route. 

Further Information




Amalgamation -  the SE & CR

Many difficulties were caused by the intense competition and lack of co-operation between the LC&DR and the SER. This led to much duplication of routes, and there were two un-connected stations in a number of towns including Maidstone, Canterbury, and indeed Bromley.

However by 1898 tensions had eased somewhat, and the LC&DR and SER agreed to share the operation of the two railways.

They were worked as a single system (as the South Eastern and Chatham Railway), (crest above) and receipts were pooled.  But it was not a full amalgamation - the SER and LC&DR remained separate companies with their own shareholders until both became constituents of the Southern Railway, on 1 January 1923.

The map below shows the combined network as it is today, with construction dates for each line

The Chatham', as it was sometimes known, was often criticised for its lamentable carriage stock and poor punctuality, but in two respects it was very good: it used the highly effective Westinghouse air brakes on its passenger stock, and the Sykes 'Lock and Block' system of signalling. As a result it had an excellent safety record.

After amalgamation some route rationalisation took place, notably the new and complex connections between the two main lines where they cross near Bickley.

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