Barking - Gospel Oak Rail User Group
History
 
   
A Short History Of The Line

The line was originally two separate schemes: the Tottenham & Hampstead Junction Railway (authorised 1862) and the Tottenham & Forest Gate Railway (sanctioned 1890). The T&HJR was planned to run from Tottenham Hale to Gospel Oak, and opened in July 1868 from Tottenham Hale to Highgate Road, just short of Gospel Oak. Most trains ran to & from Fenchurch Street - a very roundabout route! Not surprisingly the service was not a success and was withdrawn in 1870. By now the T&HJR was in financial difficulty and the final section to Gospel Oak was still not finished. After much argy-bargy with neighbouring railway companies, it was agreed that the new line could extend to Gospel Oak but not join the North London Line there. Instead a spur was built down to Kentish Town, and later in 1870 a passenger service commenced from Moorgate via Kentish Town to Crouch Hill, extending to South Tottenham in 1872. The same year, new stations opened at Hornsey Road and Junction Road (both now closed). Green Lanes opened in 1880 and St Ann's Road (also now closed) in 1882.

Towards the end of the 19th Century Sir Courtenay Warner, developer of much of the land around Walthamstow (the Warner Estate) wanted a railway line to serve his new developments. He was a prime mover behind the Tottenham and Forest Gate Railway, which opened in 1894. Much of the area it passed through had already been built over, which is why much of the route is on viaduct (386 arches!) crossing innumerable streets (the cut-off ends of the terraces nearest the viaduct show clearly where demolition had to take place to put the railway line through). This must have been as big an upheaval locally as the building of the M11 Link Road decades later. At opening, the intermediate stations were Black Horse Road, Walthamstow, Leyton, Leytonstone and Wanstead Park. Woodgrange Park was added subsequently, as was a curve to East Ham which some passenger trains used until 1958. You can still see the bay platform they used there, behind the eastbound District Line platform.

Various other services came & went over the years: Moorgate-East Ham, St Pancras-Southend, St Pancras-Tilbury boat trains, Gospel Oak-Southend, St Pancras-Norwich, Gospel Oak-Chingford were a few examples. The Palace Gates-North Woolwich service interchanged with our line at South Tottenham but that service ended in 1963. Eventually the basic service settled down as Kentish Town-Barking, with odd trains running to/from St Pancras. Meanwhile the line developed as a key freight route, and a number of the stations had goods yards, now long gone. That at Leytonstone High Road was an oddity, because the restricted space meant wagons had to be lowered from the goods line (behind the eastbound platform) to ground level by means of an hydraulic hoist.

Not all the stations survived the passage of time: Highgate Road High Level closed in 1915, Low Level following in 1918. St Ann's Road closed in 1942, and both Hornsey Road and Junction Road followed suit in 1943. For years we and Islington Council have been keen to see Junction Road reopened, as it would give a useful Tube interchange with Tufnell Park as well as serving its local area. The road alongside is still called Station Road - one day it may once again be true!

The 1960s saw the line proposed for closure to passengers, which saw the predecessor of this User Group formed to fight the threat. (That must make us one of the longest-lived passenger groups in the country). The line went into a kind of decaying limbo: trains were formed of hand-me-down stock with varying degrees of reliability, one by one the crumbling station canopies and buildings were demolished and replaced with basic structures (and then progressively destaffed). The next major change came in 1981: the planned electrification from St Pancras to Bedford meant our chugging diesel units could no longer be accommodated at Kentish Town, and from Jan 5th they were diverted to Gospel Oak, which hadn't seen a regular service to Barking for many years.

The line continued to trundle along in limbo, and privatisation brought no improvement. Indeed, by the late 90s it had the oldest diesel units on the network and reliability was appalling (nobody present will forget Transport Minister Steve Norris's visit to the line, which saw him shivering on the platform at Harringay while distraught railway officials tried to find out why the service had collapsed yet again and when a train might be expected to materialise). Recent years have seen significant improvements, with newer trains, refurbished (though still basic) stations, and improvements to services. The User Group has played a major part in securing these.

A major step-change in the line's fortunes took place in November 2007, when Transport for London (TfL) took it over as part of the newly-created London Overground. From Day One, stations were restaffed for the first time in years - in itself a major improvement. The line appeared on the Tube map, and Oyster Pay-As-You-Go became valid. In December 2007 the timetable was enhanced with later evening services and an earlier start on Sundays (though still not early enough!). Subsequently new trains were introduced (though regrettably still only two-car, not the three-car units we had urged from the outset), and frequencies were doubled to four trains an hour. A major programme of long-overdue infrastructure improvements also began, including bridge and track renewals and signalling upgrades.

The net result of all these very welcome enhancements was a major boost to the line's public profile, resulting in a big increase in usage. Its most pressing problem became chronic overcrowding in the rush hours, with no immediate prospect of significant relief. Hand in hand with this, the case for electrifying this isolated diesel-only section of route became more and more obvious (from both passenger and freight viewpoints), but after years of neglect it was not initially on the industry’s or government’s radar as a route of any significance. The Group built a carefully-researched and well-argued case and pressed it at every opportunity to anyone who would listen (and those who were reluctant to do so!), from the railway press to politicians (local and national), the Department for Transport and the London Assembly. Disappointed but undeterred by its subsequent omission from the Chancellor’s spending plans, the Group redoubled its efforts and stepped up its lobbying, which were eventually rewarded by the announcement in Summer 2013 that the line would at last be electrified.

But the battle does not end there. Electric trains (which will be longer!) are not scheduled to start running until 2017, and we simply cannot wait that long for the overcrowding to be eased. We have proposed various solutions, including taking out some seats to create more standing room (not ideal but better than not being able to get on the trains at all), and squeezing a few more trains into the timetable, including “short-haul” runs between Barking and Blackhorse Road – the most overcrowded section. We also want to see further improvements to stations, and there are good cases for new or reopened stations at Junction Road (Tufnell Park), Leyton (Bakers Arms) and Cann Hall. After decades as the “Cinderella Railway”, the line is now experiencing its most successful period for decades, if not in its whole history - but we're not there yet, and our work is far from done

Station To Station - Opening Dates, Closure Dates (where applicable) and odd bits of ephemera
Much of the information in this section is taken from "The Tottenham Joint Lines" by J E Connor (Connor & Butler, 1993 - £5 95) - this contains many fascinating photos of the line and its stations as they used to be and is highly recommended. In case of difficulty ordering via a bookshop, you can order it from the publishers at 25 Colchester Business Centre, 1 George Williams Way, Colchester C01 2JS (please add £1 to cover postage & packing).

Gospel Oak
Branch station partially built 1868, but abandoned before completion due to financial problems and demolished 1870. New branch platform opened 4th June 1888. Closed 6th Sept 1926, but used on summer bank holidays till 7th Aug 1939. Present platform opened 5th Jan 1981 when trains were diverted there from Kentish Town.

Highgate Road High Level
Opened 21st July 1868. Temporarily closed from 31st Jan 1870 to 1st October 1870. Closed for good on 1st October 1915. Remains are still visible (rear platform walls either side of the bridge over Highgate Road, plus some platform railings). Highgate Road Low Level was directly below it on the spur down towards Kentish Town; this opened 17th Dec 1900 and closed 1st March 1918.

Junction Road for Tufnell Park
Opened 1st Jan 1872. Closed 3rd May 1943. Demolished in the 50s; no remains but the road alongside is still called Station Road. The nearby signal box rejoiced in the name Junction Road Junction. Reopening the station is a longtime aim of both ourselves and Islington Council.

Between here and Upper Holloway was the extensive Tufnell Park Goods Depot, opened on 15th Feb 1886 largely to serve the Metropolitan Cattle Market. Cattle were unloaded here and driven on foot (!) along Tufnell Park Road to the market at Caledonian Road. The depot closed on 6th May 1968.

Upper Holloway
Opened 21st July 1868, temporarily closed between 31st Jan 1870 and 1st Oct 1870. Distinctive curved corrugated-iron platform canopies demolished around the late 60s. Old booking office survives by westbound entrance. Goods depot opened circa 1870 and closed on 6th May 1968.

Hornsey Road
Opened 1st Jan 1872, closed 3rd May 1943. Situated on the west side of the road bridge. Little remains except some lengths of iron railings marking the course of the platform access ramps down the sides of the cutting.

Crouch Hill
Opened 21st July 1868. Temporarily closed between 31st Jan 1870 and 1st Oct 1870. Had similar platform canopies to Upper Holloway, which were demolished in the late 60s. The old booking office and station house survive at street level.

Harringay Green Lanes
Opened 1st June 1880 as plain "Green Lanes". Renamed a number of times:

Harringay Park, Green Lanes (1883)
Harringay Park 18th June 1951
Harringay Stadium 27th Oct 1958
Harringay East 12th May 1990
Harringay Green Lanes 8th July 1991
The wooden platform buildings were replaced by brick & concrete structures in the 50s, though the booking office at street level survived and in recent times was used as a café. This is now closed and we are urging TfL to take the building over and bring it back into railway use for the station staff. To cope with the stadium traffic, very long platforms were provided, but these were shortened in late 2003 as they were subsiding. Just west of the station was the goods yard; this closed on 3rd Feb 1964 and is now a nature reserve.

St Ann's Road
Opened 2nd October 1882, closed 9th Aug 1942. The wooden platforms and buildings are long gone, but the street-level booking office survives as a shop. So does a lone decapitated lamp-post, partway up the old access pathway on the westbound side, which you can only see in winter when the surrounding trees have lost their leaves.

South Tottenham
Opened 1st May 1871 as South Tottenham & Stamford Hill, with wooden platforms and wooden buildings on the westbound side, brick-built buildings on the eastbound. Lost its Stamford Hill suffix in 1949. The Palace Gates-Seven Sisters-Stratford-North Woolwich service also called here until 7th Jan 1963, providing a useful interchange. Hopefully one day a Stratford-Enfield line service will restore some of those links again. Both platforms suffered from subsidence; in the 90s the westbound one was shortened at the eastern end and extended at the western end to compensate, while the eastbound had to be completely demolished and rebuilt. Short-sightedly, this was only done to 2-car length, which is now a headache as longer trains are badly needed to cope with rush-hour overcrowding. Originally the station entrance was on the other side of the bridge; the old booking office survives as a fast-food outlet. Goods depot closed 4th July 1966.

Black Horse Road
Opened 9th July 1894, the original station was on the opposite side of the road to the present one, and had a neat brick booking office on the bridge and long covered ramps leading down to the platforms. These, like all the stations from here to Wanstead Park inclusive, were covered by generous long saw-tooth-pattern wooden canopies, which in later years gave them a decaying grandeur until they were progressively demolished from 1970 onwards. Black Horse Road (it was usually spelt as three words, not two) closed altogether on 14th Dec 1981 and was replaced by the present platforms entered via the 1968 Tube station. A side effect of this was the adoption of the two-word spelling of the name. The goods depot here closed on 7th Dec 1964 and was roughly where the platforms are now.

Walthamstow Queens Road
Opened as plain "Walthamstow" on 9th July 1894, it was renamed "Walthamstow Queens Road" on 6th May 1968 - presumably to avoid confusion with Walthamstow Central, which had been called Hoe Street until the Victoria Line was opened. Its buildings included a handsome covered and glazed footbridge. The choice of Queens Road as a new name is both a puzzle and highly misleading, as Queens Road itself is a good hike away. Maybe it took the name from the nearby goods & coal depot, which closed the day the station was renamed! The depot site is now a housing estate. We and others would like to see a more accurate name, such as Walthamstow Town or (if we ever get a direct subway/footpath under the Chingford branch) Walthamstow Market. For now, the most direct walking route to the heart of the Market is straight ahead down Exmouth Road, then turn right at the end. Plans are in hand to build a long-needed direct footpath link between Queens Road and Central stations.

Leyton Midland Road
Opened 9th July 1894 as plain Leyton, renamed Midland Road on 1st May 1949. Like Leytonstone High Road and Wanstead Park, the booking office here was built into the viaduct arch, but by the 80s all the old buildings had gone - although the Greater London Council built a nice new booking office on Midland Road itself. A few years later that was closed, as like other stations it became unstaffed, and it too was demolished. The goods yard was just beyond the station, and closed on 6th May 1968.

Leytonstone High Road
Opened 9th July 1894 as plain Leytonstone and renamed High Road on 1st May 1949. Its wooden buildings were badly damaged by fire in the late 50s and it was rebuilt in the modern style of the day with long flat canopies. These too were badly damaged by fire and vandalism in the 80s; there was controversy when an initial denial that the damaged buildings constituted an asbestos hazard was found to be inaccurate. Here the goods yard was directly behind the eastbound platform, but was down at street level; wagons had to be moved up and down by means of a hoist. For many years passengers waiting on the westbound platform on Saturday afternoons could take in the action at Leytonstone FC's ground next door; Leytonstone eventually became one of the four clubs which merged to form Dagenham & Redbridge and the ground is now a housing estate.

Wanstead Park
Opened 9th July 1894, this was the first on the line to have its wooden awnings demolished (in 1970). The booking office in the archway was replaced by a Portakabin, but after a fire in the late 80s the station became unstaffed. Originally the wide covered staircases were towards the Barking end of the station, but in the late 90s new stairs were built at the other end, leading directly out onto the main road. The station's name is rather misleading as Wanstead Park is a fair old hike away across Wanstead Flats - either that or Forest Gate North would be more accurate.

Woodgrange Park
Opened 9th July 1894, this was a London Tilbury & Southend Railway construction and was of a different design with long flat awnings. The platform buildings were demolished in the 70s but their back wall survives on the eastbound side. A new booking office was built at the westbound entrance, but after destaffing and a period of dereliction this was demolished in the 90s. To the east of the station was a goods yard; this opened in late 1894, closed on 7th Dec 1964, and is now a housing estate.

Barking
Opened on 13th April 1854, as a basic small 2-platform station at East Street level crossing. At this time Barking was just a small fishing village. The station was enlarged slightly over the years, but by 1902 the District line had reached it, the area was fast becoming built up, and the little station could no longer cope. (You can see a picture of it in the bar of the Spotted Dog pub nearby). The level crossing was replaced by a bridge in 1906, with an entrance building of brick and wood spanning the tracks. Down below it had four island platforms giving eight platforms in total. It was rebuilt again in the 50s when the Tilbury & Southend line was electrified, including the present booking hall which - some feel incredibly - is now a listed building. In late 2004 further improvements were carried out on the footbridge including the provision of toilets.