diamond geezer

 Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Walking Overground South

I'm walking the London Overground extension from Surrey Quays towards Clapham Junction - today along the two mile stretch where there are no stations. Full route here, 29 photos here.

Denmark Hill
Conveniently situated for Kings College Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital, which are on the doorstep. Not quite so conveniently located for the centre of Camberwell, which is half a mile away. One day someone'll build a station in Camberwell. Until then, this'll have to do.

» Across the main road is Ruskin Park, named after the Victorian art critic who once lived nearby, but moved out when the arrival of the railway destroyed his peace. It's a marvellous feature-packed park, with a frogpond, a restored bandstand and some semi-formal gardens to explore. Not at its most welcoming in December, obviously, but the small chalet cafe by the paddling pool is open, and the park is is probably the nicest stretch of the entire eight mile walk. Even the bridge beneath the railway on Cambria Road is a little special, with mosaics of fantastical marine creatures embedded in the brickwork.

Loughborough Junction
Opened: October 1864
Here we go with the first station along this stretch where the Overground doesn't stop. Which is strange, because Loughborough is a proper Junction with criss-crossing railway lines, but entirely lacks a passenger interchange. There used to be platforms on the linking spurs but they closed more than eighty years ago, and now only the north-south services stop. Locals can catch a direct train to Luton, but they'll never get to Peckham no matter how long they wait. The crucial point where Thameslink crosses the South London line is a bit too far away from the existing station, so there's little chance of investment being found to replace a recycling centre and jerk chicken grill with a useful commuter link. And so the Overground rolls on.

East Brixton
Opened: 13 August 1866 (as Loughborough Park)
Closed: 5 January 1976

There wasn't always a two mile gap on the South London line between Denmark Hill and Clapham High Street. There used to be a station approximately halfway inbetween, a little to the west of Loughborough Junction, a little to the east of Brixton town centre. East Brixton station was located by the bridge across Barrington Road, with wooden platforms supported on pillars alongside the viaduct, a bit like a seaside pier. All was well until the 1970s when the Victoria line sucked its passenger traffic away, and a decision was taken to close the station in 1976. Sounds short-sighted now, but who'd have guessed bright orange trains would be rolling through four decades later and people might actually want to catch them? All that's left today is a single arch of ornate brickwork, alongside a house whose owner must be sorely hoping nobody ever attempts a rebuild. And so the Overground rolls on.

» For a while the railway shadows Coldharbour Lane, one of Brixton's oldest streets. And yet it was almost destroyed to make way for an urban motorway, that's Ringway 1, the inner London orbital proposed in the 1960s. GLC planners decided that their new dual carriageway should precisely follow the railway, which would have meant the South Cross Route running in parallel with the South London Line all the way from Peckham to Battersea. A heck of a lot of demolition work would have been required, peaking with the complete redevelopment of Brixton town centre to make way for a concrete highway six storeys off the ground. Public opinion disagreed, thank God, and this act of community desecration never quite transpired. But Southwyck House (opposite East Brixton station) was built when the project was still very much alive, which is why this austere block of flats doubles up as a soundproof barrier.

Opened: 1862
Brixton's a most peculiar station, and not just because it boasts three bronze passengers. Three separate Victorian viaducts thread through the town centre, two from Loughborough Junction and one from Herne Hill. But only trains on the latter line have platforms. Everything else sails either straight through or right over the top, even though this is a major centre of population. Adding new platforms to the highest line would cost many tens of millions and cause major disruption to the market below, so is extremely unlikely to happen. And that's a shame, because for Brixton residents the Overground extension is an entirely wasted opportunity. They'll get four trains an hour that won't stop, with both of the adjacent stations a mile distant. One of the rail bridges even crosses Brixton Road just three shops along from the Victoria line terminus, but you can forget interchanging here because joined-up thinking is too expensive. And so the Overground rolls on.

» Ferndale Road starts inauspiciously, ducking off the main drag and veering underneath the railway. But blimey it improves. A 1929 council estate makes way for some City of London almshouses arranged round the perimeter of an expansive lawn. And then the Victorian terraces start, in brick and terracotta, each with a sculpted face at the centre of the arch above the porch. You can feel Brixton slowly ebbing away as the influence of Clapham takes hold, more the realm of bubbly young professionals than market shoppers. It's a lengthy street, with a single footbridge over the railway halfway along, and ending up with a gloriously ornate nameplate courtesy of builder Joseph George Jennings.

Clapham High Street
Opened: 25 August 1862
Finally, after two miles of rolling on, trains on the Overground extension will actually stop. Clapham High Street is another listed station, although it was closed last weekend so I only got to watch workmen sprucing up the outside which wasn't very pretty at all. Good news, there is a proper interchange here, with Clapham North on the Northern line just a couple of minutes walk away. Clapham's an Overground winner, in the same way that Brixton's an Overground loser. Did I mention there's a two mile gap between stations? It's a damned long walk.

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