London's First Railway

October 22, 2021
London's First Railway
London's London Bridge - Greenwich line was the first steam railway in London. It was also the first to be built specifically for passengers. It's an early C19th engineering marvel, an entirely elevated railway and can still be experienced today. Spa Road was the first London terminus but where was it? Spa Road station, Bermondsey, opened in 1836. Built during an era when station design was still in its infancy, the original terminal was very basic indeed, consisting of two narrow timber platforms connected to the street below by a rickety wooden staircase. The ticket office was at street level and, as the image illustrates, passengers were often required to queue on the stairs whilst awaiting their train. The Spa Road Station forecourt you can see was built in c.1904. Although the station was called Spa Road and Bermondsey, the prominent sign about the entrance to the booking office only shows Spa Road. The original Spa Road had only narrow timber platforms. The third station seen here had wider platforms with brick and canopies. The former entrance in the arches below the viaduct survives on the southside Priter Road, the arches are in light industrial use. The wording 'SE & CR' and 'Booking Office' is still visible in embossed concrete above two of the entrance doorways. Sadly the booking office has been largely stripped but one set of steps up to the platform has been retained and maintained for rail maintenance and emergency egress from the line above. Some sections of both island platforms still survive. In 1867 the station was re-sited further along the viaduct, about 200 yards to the east. The entrance was accessed via what is now Priter Road. In October 1877, the station was renamed Spa Road & Bermondsey even though it was still advertised as 'Spa Road Station'. When the South Eastern and Chatham Railway was formed in 1899 from the South Eastern Railway and its bitter competitor, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, the station was given yet another makeover. The current appearance of the station frontage dates from 1900. The station was provided with two island platforms on the north side of the viaduct. Each platform had a brick building and a canopy. You can still see fragments of these if you go past on a train. A signal box was added at the northern end of the down platform. Spa Road station was closed on 15 March 1915, part of a WW1 cost saving measure. You can find out more about Spa Road Station and London's first railway on episode 68 of our London History podcast.

Whitechapel: Poverty Breeds Crime

October 11, 2021

The Whitechapel murders by Jack the Ripper took place in 1888 in one of the most poverty-stricken places in London. Whitechapel was an area with massive overcrowding caused by multiple reasons:

From the 1840’s farming started to become mechanised people fled to London looking for work. The Irish Potato Famine from1845 meant one million Irish people left their homes in search of a new life abroad. Some came to London, some of those later went on to America. From the mid 1800’s Jews fled fro...

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London's Blackout During World War II

October 8, 2021

Explore with Hazel London's blackout experienced during World War II. 
She answers questions such as:

What was pre-war London like in 1939?
What was the blackout?
When did the blackout begin and why?
What did Londoners think of blackout restrictions?
How did London's commuters cope with blackout?

Books about London during World War II. 
The blackout was one part of a much bigger story. Hear about the books Hazel recommends for reading about London during World War II.

Links to book recommendations:


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Sir William Gull: Ripper Suspect

September 24, 2021

Most of the candidates for Jack the Ripper have fatal flaws. For example, the queen’s doctor Sir William Gull. In 1887, Sir William Gull suffered the first of several strokes at his Scottish home, Urrard House, Killiecrankie. The attack of hemiplegia and aphasia was caused by a cerebral haemorrhage. He recovered after a few weeks and returned to London, but was under no illusions about the danger to his health, remarking "One arrow had missed its mark, but there are more in the quiver".


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A Green Gem by the Gherkin

September 20, 2021

Hidden away in Bury Street, by the Gherkin, in the north east of the City is Holland House, one of Europe’s most important buildings. It may well be the first on the Continent to be constructed on a steel frame.

It was built in 1914-16 by the Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage for the Kroller-Mullers shipping company. Berlage had been deeply influenced by a visit to the US in 1911, especially by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The surface is decorated with green tiles, giving a highly distinctive app...

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Bigger Than Shakespeare?

September 13, 2021

Lancelot Andrewes is hardly a household name, but he arguably had as much influence on the English language as William Shakespeare. Andrewes would have walked the same London streets as Shakespeare. He was born in the shadows of the Tower of London in 1555 and has a handsome tomb in what is now Southwark Cathedral, close to Shakespeare’s Globe. He was one of the most respected theologians and translators of his day and rose to become the Bishop of Winchester. He was the last Bishop of Winch...

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