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Epsom and the railways

1998/5 pp5–6


Epsom and the railways


When I read history I never fail to be astonished by the enterprise and energy of the Victorians. The first successful important passenger railway service in this country ran from Liverpool to Manchester in 1830. Within 20 years there was an extensive and growing rail network all over the country. Numerous entrepreneurs were busy setting up companies and raising money from shareholders. The countryside swarmed with engineers surveying suitable routes and negotiating deals with landowners. Each scheme involved the drafting of a new Act of Parliament. In the south east there was a network of lines radiating from London, including the London & Brighton Railway company line to Brighton which opened as early as 1841. The route was London Bridge, New Cross, Croydon, Redhill, Horley, Three Bridges, Haywards Heath and Brighton.


The London & Croydon Railway Company had plans to extend its lines from Croydon to Epsom, and these were well advanced by 27 July 1846 when it was amalgamated with the London & Brighton Railway Company to form the London, Brighton & South Coast (LBSC) Railway. The Epsom line was opened on 10 May 1847. It was to have been operated as an atmospheric railway. This was a system on which the train had no locomotive; instead it was propelled by a piston travelling in a continuous iron tube 15 inches in diameter laid between the tracks. The piston was sucked along the tube as the air in this was pumped out by stationary engines installed in pumping houses situated at intervals along the track. Early trials had indicated that the system was successful, but experience showed that there were insuperable practical difficulties attached to its widespread use, and work on the Epsom atmospheric railway was halted in December 1846. The line was completed as a conventional steam railway.


The Croydon-Epsom line terminated in an engine shed at the beginning of what is now the Upper High Street, Epsom, with the station nearby. The station building is still there, largely hidden by present day shops. A map of 1852 shows the road going only to the station and named Station Road: the Upper High Street as we know it came later.


Two independent companies wished to construct lines, one from Wimbledon to Epsom, the other from Epsom to Leatherhead. They agreed on the joint use of a station that was built near the Epsom Town Centre, where the present station is. The line to Leatherhead opened on 1 February 1859 and that to Wimbledon on 4 April 1859. In 1860 the Epsom–Leatherhead line was transferred to London & South Western (LSW) Railway and LBSC Railway jointly, while in 1863 the Wimbledon–Epsom line was transferred to the LSW Railway. The London terminus for the line from Wimbledon was originally at Nine Elms: Waterloo Station opened in 1848. The LBSC Railway negotiated joint use of the tracks beyond Epsom and a short line was built crossing East Street by a bridge to link the two systems. (However, the station in the Upper High Street continued in use until 1929, by which time both companies were part of the Southern Railway.) The line was extended from Leatherhead to Dorking and on to Horsham in 1867.


In the early days, the London terminus for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway was London Bridge. Victoria Station was not opened until 1860, after the building of the Grosvenor Bridge to take the railway over the river. At various times the bridge had to be widened to take additional tracks and now there are 10. The original route to Epsom was via Croydon and Waddon. A more direct route became available in 1868 when a new line was opened from Peckham Rye to Sutton, passing through Mitcham Junction, Hackbridge and Carshalton.


The arrival of the railway in 1847 had a considerable impact on Epsom. The 1851 census shows 16 railway workers, including the station master, engine drivers, guards, engineers, stokers and porters. Most of them lived in the East Street area. It is interesting that few of them had been born in Epsom: they came from all parts of the country, some as remote as Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire. The census count for Epsom increased from 3348 in 1841 to 4890 in 1861. By 1861 the number of railway workers had increased to about 50.


The Epsom Downs station on the branch line from Sutton through Belmont and Banstead opened in 1865 with nine platforms to cater for the race crowds. The Belmont station was originally called California, after a hostelry on the nearby Brighton turnpike road (a local landowner had a connection with the 1849 gold rush). The present Epsom Downs station has only one platform. It was rebuilt farther back down the line than the original station, making room for houses.


Tattenham Corner station on the South Eastern and Chatham Railway opened in 1901. Originally, the service normally terminated at Tadworth, and Tattenham Corner was used only on race days.


Further reading:

Marshall, C.F. Dendy, and R.W. Kidner, History of the Southern Railway (London: Ian Allen, 1963)

McCann, P.D., Epsom, the races and the railways, NAS Newsletter 1991/3 pp3–4.

Oppitz, Leslie, Surrey Railways Remembered (Countryside Books, Newbury, 1988).

Turner, John Howard The London Brighton and South Coast Railway (London: Batsford, 1977–9).

Williams, R. A., The London and South Western Railway (Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1968–73).


Charles Abdy

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