Wanstead Park Station celebrates its 130th birthday

Tuesday 9 July 2024

9 July is the 130th anniversary of the opening to passengers of Wanstead Park station and the line it serves. The Barking Riverside to Gospel Oak line, known to many as the “GOBLIN”, and recently christened the “Suffragette line” by TfL, began life in the 1860s, when the western section from Gospel Oak to South Tottenham opened. In 1890 parliament passed an act authoring a new section of line to Barking. This was at the prompting of Sir Courtney Warner, whose family had significant landholdings in Walthamstow. Warner was planning to develop new housing estates there, and the railway would he hoped encourage London’s better-off working-class families to move out to Walthamstow.

A company to build and operate the new line was formed in 1891, with Warner as chairman. Shares were offered to the public, but the Midland Railway Co. and the London Tilbury and Southend Railway had large shareholdings. These two companies connected with the new line at either end. So it was possible to get a train from Wanstead Park, the new station in Forest Gate, directly to East Ham station and connect to Fenchurch Street (Shakespeare Crescent in East Ham was later built over this spur line). Or connections to Kings Cross and St Pancras were possible via South Tottenham.

The Tottenham and Forest Gate Railway bridge over Woodgrange Road 1900s

North-east London had by the 1890s already undergone rapid development, and the railway cut a swathe through existing streets of housing.   The solution was to build the line on a long brick viaduct (hence a popular nick-name - the Chimney Pot line). Many houses were demolished to make way and there was considerable local opposition to the railway, as this article from the Stratford Express shows.

The line officially opened on 1 July 1894 with a passenger service starting a week later on 9 July. While mainly a commuter service, it was also possible to get excursion trains to Southend (hence the very long platform at Wanstead Park). These excursions ran until relatively recent times, and older Forest Gate residents remember the excitement of getting crowded trains from Wanstead Park for a day at the seaside.

The new railway was popular from the start, with a local newspaper reporting that Wanstead Park station was besieged by passengers all day long in the first week of service. The station was named Wanstead Park despite being nowhere near the actual park possibly because it sounded grander than (say) Forest Gate North. Oddly titled stations seem to have been a feature of the line – Walthamstow Queen’s Road is actually in Edinburgh Road, several streets away from Queen’s Road itself. Similarly, Woodgrange Park station is not near any park called Woodgrange.

Advert for the new line July 1894

The early success of the Tottenham and Forest Gate was not sustained. The line does not go directly to any central London terminus (though strangely in the 1940s it ran an all-night service as well as through trains to St Pancras on Sundays and in the middle of the night!) Also, unlike the Shenfield route through Forest Gate station, the line was not electrified in the 1940s. 

For many years it remained a Cinderella service, kept going partly because it was a useful route for the substantial amount of freight coming from the industries and docks of south Essex. In 1963 the line was earmarked for closure under the Beeching plans, but as most of Beeching's proposals for London were not implemented, it remained open. 

Station looking the worse for wear, 1967

Nevertheless it was allowed to fall into a poor state of repair and reliability; by 1980 there was only one train an hour, running between the old terminus of Kentish Town and Barking. The station canopies were gradually demolished, ticket offices were phased out and stations were left unstaffed. In 1981 Gospel Oak became the terminus, but the line continued to be neglected, even after being franchised to Silverlink (a train operating company owned by National Express) in 1997.

Wanstead Park station before the station canopy and platform gas lights were removed in the 1980s

Finally a corner was turned in 2007 when London Overground took over the line.

Since then there has been a marked improvement in services; electrification in 2018 and the introduction of new, longer trains in 2019 has greatly increased the popularity of the line. Proof that if a railway offers what passengers (sorry, customers) want, they will use it.

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