16th March 2021 · The North London Railway

Presenter: Murray Lewis – RCTS Member, Thames Valley Branch

The branch welcomed “one of its own” to present via Zoom a talk on “The North London Railway”. Murray by way of introduction to his talk explained that he was a young train spotter when in 1967 he purchased a copy of his first railway magazine which had an article on the history of the North London Railway and as they say the rest is history as Murray was hooked on the subject. Murray’s talk was beautifully illustrated with copies from historical records to modern photographs.

The North London Railway company comprised a line from Broad Street to Bow in Poplar, the Hampstead Junction Railway and the North and South West Junction Railway. The major benefit for the North London is that it had a dock. The intention was to use the route to the East and West India Docks as a cargo handling terminal, remember at this time cargo was more important than passengers. Then with the Royal Commission reporting on the London Railway Termini resulting in Euston and initially Fenchurch Street together with Haydon Square as a goods station. Consideration was also given to converting the Regents Canal to a railway, obviously an idea that did not prosper. Murray then went on to describe various points of architecture and other features that could have been seen in the day, and, in fact in some cases can still be seen today. Examples were Camden Town station still in use today (Camden Road), Shoreditch Station now a pub, Highbury and Islington Station and Bow Station now gone. Devon’s Road shed was the only shed on the North London line and rather interestingly became the first all diesel shed on the rail network. It closed in 1964 as the roof proved too low to lift components for maintenance. It eventually fell down and is now an industrial estate. Bow works continued until in the 1970’s high rise flats were built on the site. Then in 1865 to 1875 Broad Street came into being, ten years before Liverpool Street Station.

Locomotives in use on the North London line were mainly built by Stephenson and Beyer Peacock and all were tank engines. The Northumberland and Durham Coal Company in 1859 gave the line its only tender engine. William Adams was the superintendent responsible for Bow Works before moving to the Great Eastern in1873 and subsequently the London and South Western Railway in 1878. The North London operated steam from Willesden Junction to Mansion House before the underground was built. Indeed, the North London Railway company was listed on the London Stock Exchange.

In 1908 an agreement between The North London and L & NWR companies was made, and Herbert Walker, District Superintendent, was said to drive the agreement forward. That takes the presentation onwards to the Beeching Report in 1963. The recommendations of which showed the closure of the North London Line, Kentish Town to Barking and the line to Richmond, although this did not actually happen after a Save the Line campaign.

Today the North London line is busy with freight traffic as it joins every line coming into London. Largely thanks to the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, the London Overground is thriving. Together with the Docklands Light Railway London has a railway system that provides Londoners with a very efficient rail system together with the Underground all under the auspices TFL.

Many thanks to Murray for a well-illustrated and informative talk that kept the audience of 90 members and guests entertained for the two hours of the meeting.