Tottenham and Forest Gate Railway - 1894 - 2017

Tuesday 25 April 2017

by local historians, Peter Williams and Mark Gorman

We have covered aspects of the Barking Gospel Oak line (sometimes popularly known as the Goblin, or Chimney Pot line) on this website before (see here, in particular) but never in a comprehensive way. 

In 2016/17 local residents suffered a six-month closure, from August to February, whilst there was a multi million pound investment in track, signalling, trains and stations. 

New electric trains are due in 2018 once current difficulties with the design of the electrification are overcome. Full details of the problems can be found here.

The Victoria County History summarises the history of the line as follows - In 1894 the Tottenham and Forest Gate Railway, together with a short spur between Woodgrange Park and East Ham, provided a new, but circuitous, route from Barking and East Ham to St. Pancras and so to the City at Moorgate (see here).

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 and from Fenchurch Street - a very roundabout route! 

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). See here for an article on the imaginative use that has been made of some of these arches in Forest Gate, recently.

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 (see here).

Whitelegg 4-4-2 "Tilbury Tank" named "East
 Ham" after the station on the Tottenham &
 Forest Gate Railway. The Tilbury Tanks were 
never used on the T&FG railway. They served
on the LT&SR from Fenchurch St to Southend

An early map of the route. Note
 branch to East Ham (source here)

East Ham Station was rebuilt and enlarged, 1902-04. In 1894, the Tottenham & Forest Gate Junction Railway (later absorbed into the Midland Railway) constructed a short spur running from Woodgrange Park to East Ham, terminating in a bay platform on the north side of the station, for trains to and from Kentish Town. This line ran behind the gardens of Shakespeare Crescent and Sibley Grove in Manor Park. 

The Metropolitan District Railway served East Ham from 1902 (originally in steam, until electrification in 1905). Sidings were provided as these trains terminated here, until the service was extended to Barking. This increased traffic,brought about the widening of the line from two tracks to four, and the whole station was reconstructed with five platforms.

A footbridge was provided about half way along the platforms (now disused) for passengers to cross from the Kentish Town line to continue their journeys on the London-bound lines.

Services to Kentish Town were withdrawn in September, 1958. British Railways ceased calling at East Ham in June 1962, from which time the station was solely served by the Underground. A new running depot was built in the 50's east of the station to accommodate electric multiple units for the BR Fenchurch Street to Southend line, in preparation for the withdrawal of steam, and the closure of Plaistow depot (see here).

Woodgrange Park Station

Opened 9 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 70's 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 1990's. To the east of the station was a goods yard; this opened in late 1894, closed on 7 Dec 1964, and is now a housing estate.

Wanstead Park Station

Opened 9 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 1980s the station became unstaffed.

Originally, the wide covered staircases were towards the Barking end of the station, but in the late 1990's 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 (source here).

Street-level photo taken from Woodgrange Road in May 1967, before the station was rationalized and the booking hall replaced. The wooden structures were painted BR green and cream. It is now an unstaffed station, with a set of steel stairs to platform level. None of the original structures exist.

Source here 

Many houses were demolished to make way and there was considerable local opposition to the railway (see here).

There was also an impact on the housing market not surprisingly. West Ham; a study in social and industrial problems says about Forest Gate ward:

Source here
There is clear evidence today of how this new railway had a massive impact on local dwellings. In places the track passes within a few feet.

Junction Sebert and Balmoral Roads looking
 east. Note ghost sign on the flank wall
 of the property.

Sebert Road looking west

Lorne road looking east – indications
 are this house was added later after
 the construction of the railway.
Avenue Road looking east – this house is
 dated in the 1870s from its plaque so
 predates the railway by 20 years

Avenue Road looking west, north
 of the line. Right opposite the house above,
 this has been cut off, though it is not clear
 if the other half was demolished by the
 railway company. Note the wider viaduct
 for the station platforms at Wanstead Park.

Avenue Road looking west, south of the line.
 Note the wider viaduct for the station platforms
Cranmer Road looking east, north of the line.
 This pair is also dated and predate the railway.
Cranmer Road looking east, south of the line.
 This house has been cut off during the
 building of the line, as the chimney of the
demolished property is exposed and visible today.
Latimer Road looking east. This is a post war infill,
 presumably after bomb damage. This house was
 the site of a fatal house fire some years ago
 where an elderly gentleman died.
We know that the railway company ended up with surplus dwellings in their ownership as they sold some off as shown here.
Source: Essex
Record Office
And we have this specific example:

234 Sebert Road October 2016
The line was not not just used for travel to work, but for leisure outings as well. One reason why the platforms at Wanstead Park and Woodgrange Park, in common with other stations on the Barking and Gospel Oak, are longer than expected for a suburban line, is that these stations were heavily used by holiday makers, heading for the Essex coast.

As soon as the line opened, in the summer of 1894, the Midland railway was advertising it as a "new and shorter" route from St Pancras to Southend. On Bank Holidays, the platforms would be packed with passengers hoping to get on longer excursion trains.

From the outset, the T&FG attracted some local opposition, all along the proposed route. In the parliamentary debate on the second reading, James Theobald, Conservative MP for Romford, listed some of the line's opponents:
...The East Ham Local Board and the Walthamstow Local Board (of Guardians), the Walthamstow School Board, the West Ham Corporation, the Leyton Local Board, the Vestry of Wanstead, the inhabitants of Leyton, the Trustees of the Bishop of St Alban's Fund, the Rev Henry Barber, the Commissioners of Sewers for the levels of Havering, Dagenham and numerous individuals.
He and George Banes, MP for West Ham South, argued that the proposed line would slice through a desirable residential district, and that the building of a brick viaduct, rather than a structure of iron girders would cut off many houses from their view of Wanstead Flats, and "prevent the free access of air to Wanstead and West Ham".

Neither MP objected to the railway itself, but wanted it to be at ground level, or in a cutting. Despite this and protest meetings, the line got the go-ahead.

Some welcomed it; a petition in 1893, requesting an extra station at Lea Bridge attracted much support. Although some property values fell, in other areas it attracted additional house building, particularly in Leytonstone, where its "proximity to the most charming parts of the Forest" was widely advertised by estate agents marketing building plots.

Another objector to the new line was the Great Eastern Railway, which had hitherto enjoyed a monopoly in the new north-eastern suburbs. Courtney Warner was later to claim at a parliamentary enquiry that the GER objected to the link which the building of the T&FG forged between the Midland Railway's lines to the north, from St Pancras, and the London, Tilbury and Southend line, from Fenchurch Street.

He also claimed that the GER was not providing adequate services for the growing population of Forest Gate, Leyton, Leytonstone and Walthamstow. On weekdays, he said "There was a regular fight to get into the workmen's trains in the morning (sound familiar?).

In reality, the line was never a successful commuter service. The T&FG was reluctant to provide adequate numbers of cheap workmen's trains from Woodgrange Park and Forest Gate, probably because of the fear that to do so would encourage too many working class residents in areas along the line.

Also, its circuitous route round north London made it a very slow way into work. The chairman of the Leyton Urban District Council, declared the T&FG practically useless for commuting to the City, as it took 50 minutes for a journey of 4 miles, as the crow flies. He preferred to expand Leyton's municipal tramway system. (for details of the development of trams serving Forest Gate - see here).

Press cuttings have some details, below.

Leytonstone Local Board 

Chelmsford Chronicle,
6 Jun 1890
There was industrial unrest during construction.

Chelmsford Chronicle, 21 Aug 1891

Selling materials from the demolition of houses.
Bury Free Press Suffolk, 26 Nov 1892

Local protestors: 
Chelmsford Chronicle,24 Mar 1893
Naploeon Cattaneo was Swiss confectioner in Woodgrange Road according to 1891 census

Died Jun 1932  - Bethnal Green

Essex Newsman, 10 Jun 1893
Chelmsford Chronicle, 29 June 1894
West Ham Hall  Sebert Road 

In about 1890 it was acquired by the Tottenham & Forest Gate Junction Railway, which was then building its line from Wanstead Park to Woodgrange Park. The company put it up for sale together with other surplus land and the house was acquired by West Ham School Board. 

The Board later demolished the house, some time after 1893. In 1966 the site was a depot belonging to Newham Council. It was then used to build the Woodgrange Primary school in 1986. 

Source here 

1900 this is Forest Gate station
 not GOBLIN but nice!

A four year retrospective

Tuesday 18 April 2017

We've reached the fourth anniversary of this website/blog, so a retrospective account seems in order.

This is the 169th post in that time. The site now averages over 400 page hits per day, and has attracted almost 350,000 since its inception. The "average" of 2,000 hits per article is pretty meaningless, however, as it disguises a very wide range of activity, from the tens of thousands for popular items, to barely 100 for the more esoteric. There is a brief account of the "greatest hits" below.

The site has a fairly successful Twitter presence (@E7_NowAndThen), considering its relatively local self-defining geographic interest. It has approximately 1,450 followers, and the feed has generated 3,800 tweets since its inception - with a regular modest flow of retweets and "likes" for most of them.

We try to retweet other messages that seem relevant to our website self-description. So, any reasonably local history items of note and, since we have stopped running a regular events' column (see below) we are happy to retweet notices of events happening within the Forest Gate area.

We continually try to learn and develop, thus over the last couple of years have published much more from two excellent local historians, Mark Gorman (Twitter: @Flatshistorian) and Peter Williams. Peter has provided the popular "Street where you live" feature, along with articles on his interests in fire history and transport. Mark's knowledge of Wanstead Flats is without equal and he has shared aspects of it generously on the site.

Decent indexing and cross-referencing on the site gets more critical the more material it embraces, so we have overhauled this recently. We hope, that as a result, the search engine on the home page and the tabs at the top of it have become far more useful for visitors to navigate. If in doubt - try them out!

We have started to tweet about notable local anniversaries, via the popular hash tag #OTD, and provide hyper-links to the appropriate articles.  This has been popular and successful in boosting the hit rate of the site.

We have greatly amended (no - let's be honest - effectively dropped) the "Events" panel on the home page, largely because there is SO much happening locally and it became difficult to manage effectively. Instead, we will gladly retweet any event in the area, when requested to do so.

We have dipped our toe into Facebook ( a medium to which we are largely adverse), to let local people know what we are up to, via the popular Forest Gate Life forum. So, a big thanks to them for letting us play cuckoo.

We know what is popular (in terms of hits) and what is not; but don't let that dominate the site's content. If it did, we would produce far more regular local good food and drink guides, and less on the history of Godwin school, for example. But we are not hits driven, so won't reduce posting about the less popular items within the site's overall scope.

If anybody is offering to write regular food and drink updates, for a hungry and thirsty audience, we would be happy to publish (subject to legal and decency provisos and a bit of sympathetic in-house editing). Just get in touch!

The site attracts considerable interest from topic-specific and family historians from outside Forest Gate, seeking help with their quests.  We average a couple of queries per week, and we are always glad to help, where we can.

Greatest Hits

The longer an article has been on the site, the more opportunities there are for people to visit it, unsurprisingly, therefore, many of the most popular articles are those that have been accessible for longest here.

The items on the lists below are hyper-linked - hit them to gain direct access to the article, or page in question.

The all time 5 most popular pieces

1. Fire Guts Famous Gym (April 2013)

5. Forest Pub Guide 2014 (August 2014)

All time most visited tabs

Five most popular hits from year 1 (April 2013 - April 2014)

1. Fire Guts Famous Gym (April 2013)

Five most popular hits from year 2 (April 2014 - April 2015) 

2. Forest Pub Guide 2014 (August 2014)

5. Crossrail and Forest Gate (January 2015)

Five most popular hits from year 3 (April 2015 - April 2016)

Five most popular hits from year 4 (April 2016 - April 2017)

In summary, there is a top five post on food and drink, on contemporary regeneration and a feature on a significant popular music venue in three of the four years of publication; and a feature on an aspect of Wanstead Flats' past in two of the four years.

And finally - thanks for visiting!  We are always interested to get feedback on pieces we have published and are open to suggestions and contributions for future articles.