Walk 22: Chislehurst walk to Orpington

Walk 22 CHISLEHURST to ORPINGTON
1 1/2 jours

Routing note: This walks connects in Chislehurst with walk 21. It connects in Orpington with London Bridge networks walk 23 and it will also connect there with Victoria network walk 6.

The section between Petts Wood and Orpington follows the most direct route while Victoria network walk 6 will provide a scenic, much longer route for the same section.

This train line is the so-called South Eastern Main Line opened in 1868 to shorten the travel time to the Channel ports. Before this time, trains first ran through Croydon, encurring a significant detour because of restrictions imposed by Parliament on building train lines through London suburbs. A competing line later ran through Woolwich and forced the train company to seek a quicker route. The new route proved very expensive due to long tunnels such as the one in Chislehurst.

The line crosses shortly after Chislehurst an other train line coming from London Victoria and continuing towards Swanley. The train company built junctions between both lines so that trains coming from Chislehurst can continue to Swanley since 1904, but this junction is only used by long-distance trains and is therefore beyond the scope of my walks. Trains coming from London Victoria can continue to Orpington since 1902 and I will post a corresponding walk in due course.

CHISLEHURST

Chislehurst station

Chislehurst station

A temporary station opened 600 yards further under the cumbersome name “Chislehurst and Bickley Park” in 1865. When the train line between London, Orpington and Tonbridge became fully operational in 1868, the station was moved to its present location and the name was shortened to plain “Chislehurst”. The station was inconvenient in early years, being 1/2 mile from the village, but the train company had decided to build the line as straight as possible in order to enable higher speed.

The station building is an extremely imposing affair with rows of arched windows, cornices and three colours of bricks on the façade. It does not look very Victorian to me, but the core of the building is indeed original. The station catered to several estates and a number of affluent merchants lived in the area so that a dignified appearance was necessary to attract such choosy travellers. Chislehurst remains to this day a very upmarket suburb.

Take along the train tracks
Goshill Road
Ahead footpath along a brook, later turns R towards the train line
Continue along the tracks several hundred yards to the footbridge

Pastures near Hawkwood Farm

Pastures near Hawkwood Farm

The pastures you are crossing correspond to the headwaters of Kyd Brook, a small stream flowing towards Lee and Lewisham. The land is farmed by a tenant but belongs to the National Trust. Originally, the Trust was given a forest that concerned citizens had bought in order to avoid suburban development. Following the gift in 1927, the owners of nearby Hawkwood Farm became increasingly inclined to save the green spaces and the last private owner gave the farm to the Trust in 1975 under the proviso that it would continue to be farmed. It is one of the largest land holdings of the National Trust within London.

Footpath across Petts Wood

Footpath across Petts Wood

Cross the train tracks
Ahead Footpath along gardens

You can easily realise the living in this area must be very pleasant. Houses look large and have equally large gardens with lots of mature trees and fine lawns. The area between your location and Petts Wood station was developed in the 1920s by a speculator who intended to attract reasonably wealthy middle class buyers. This suburb turned very popular with people working in the Inns of Court or the Fleet Street newspapers as it had a fast train connection until very late hours (as it was the main line to the Channel ports).

Houses in Little Thrift

Houses in Little Thrift

The main street is amusingly called “Little Thrift” as if residents were supposed to be very thrifty to afford such houses. One celebrity living in Petts Wood was French General Charles de Gaulle while he was commanding the armed forces of Free France during World War II. The area was bombed regularly but it was not his fault, rather that of the train junctions.

Ahead Footbridge over second set of train tracks

Petts Wood junction

Petts Wood junction

You have a rather impressive view of the train junction from this bridge. My picture is stunning for Western Europeans as they cannot imagine a main line train junction without overhead power supply. I needed several months before understanding that these lines are indeed electrified but fed by a third rail. As the electrified third rail is life-threatening for trespassers and easily disrupted by bad weather or leaf fall, it is avoided in most of Europe. I know it is used on some Paris Metro lines but these run underground.

There is one very British reason for using third rail supply: you can build much lower bridges as you don’t need clearance over the power lines and this saves costs. Predictably frequent delays in bad weather are inconvenient for passengers, but did not bother the train companies as much as high costs when they built the new lines.

Trains crossing Petts Wood junction

Trains crossing Petts Wood junction

As far as I am aware, there is one single place in London where trains switch from third rail to overhead (Drayton Park on the Moorgate to Finsbury Park line). When Eurostar services were being planned, engineers faced the same tricky challenge as the French high speed line has overhead supply. The first Eurostar trains therefore ran on diesel power between London and the Channel Tunnel and then switched to overhead supply at the entrance of the tunnel.

Dirty roof of diesel-powered Eurostar in 2006

Dirty roof of diesel-powered Eurostar in 2006

This does not happen any more now that the high speed line has been extended all the way to central London including overhead supply – but it does explain why Eurostar services do not run directly from the Continent to places like Manchester, Bristol or York as most English main lines are not electrified. By the way, the first of the two footbridges you crossed was an excellent spot to take pictures of Eurostar on its old route. These pictures were very intriguing for Europeans missing the overhead power supply.

L footpath within the wood but parallel to the tracks
The footpath exits on Tent Peg Lane
L Crest View Drive
Ahead Queensway passing

PETTS WOOD

Petts Wood station

Petts Wood station

The station opened in 1926 as part of a development plan for this suburb. It actually is one of the most typical examples of a suburb being planned specifically around a new station. The train company took advantage of the situation by having the developer give the ground for free and pay most of the building costs.

The station building looks strange. It has a large rectangular clapboard building in the background and a strangely protruding brick structure in the foreground. Only the higher level of the clapboard building is now used as an actual station and you climb there via an outside staircase so that I suppose the brick structure is a later addition.

The clapboard structure is indeed the original building despite being very different from what you would expect in the 1930s, a time when architects were fascinated by the use of concrete, by clean, geometric shapes and by symbolic ornaments. The excellent website of Mr David Glasspool confirms this. As he says, the reason is probably that the station was first built in 1928 at the real estate developer’s cost as little more than a platform without a real building. The ticket hall was added a few years later possibly using the reliable design of signal boxes.

Queensway shopping parade

Queensway shopping parade

The train line and the station mark a stark physical contrast between the genteel, solidly middle class part of Petts Wood (east of the train line) and the more modest and commercial part west of the train line (where you arrive on this walk). According to most sources, this is due to the developer being very demanding for the “better” part of town and financing this by selling the rest to run-of-the-mill speculators.

Green space along Crofton Lane

Green space along Crofton Lane

Ahead Queensway
Ahead Towncourt Lane
L Crofton Lane
Do not cross the train line, instead
R Footpath along the tracks all the way to

ORPINGTON

Orpington station

Orpington station

The station opened in 1868 on the new train line. It became an important junction and terminal in 1904 when the train company opened a junction enabling trains to go from Orpington either to London Bridge (via Chislehurst) or to Victoria station (via Bromley).

The station building dates back to 1905. It is a rather plain, long building in pale yellow brick with no decoration, no upper storey and an ugly metal awning. It seems this particular train company was not interested in impressive station buildings. There are actually two station buildings of very similar appearance, one smaller on the eastern side towards the town and one longer on the western side with the main road access.

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1 Response to Walk 22: Chislehurst walk to Orpington

  1. Mike says:

    Just to let you know – there are two other lines where trains change power between third rail and overhead. Firstly, on the Thameslink route at Farringdon station (It’s planned to move this to City Thameslink as part of the current improvement programme, where a “cripple siding” is available should the changeover fail). Secondly, on a number of locations on the North London Line between Stratford and Willesden Junction.

    3rd rail choice was more about not raising bridges (or lowering the tracks) for electrification, since every line, except HS1, was built when coal-generated steam was the only available power source !!! In the early 20th century, there were some 6.7KV AC overhead lines run by the LBSCR in South London before “grouping” formed the Southern Railway in 1923, but they then standardised on 650V DC 3rd rail.

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