London’s lost railway line which had a very unique way of crossing the Thames before it disappeared


In 1847 an isolated station opened north of the Thames opposite Woolwich.

It was designed to serve ferries that would carry passengers across the river to Woolwich Dockyards.

The company that operated and owned the station and ferry was called East Counties Railway (ECR).

It is now one of London’s most fascinating lost railways.

READ MORE: The lost North London station that disappeared from the network 30 years ago

The Lost Line gave access to the Arsenal south of the river and linked the north to Stratford and Shoreditch.

It was popular from the start and an hourly service ran from Shoreditch to North Woolwich. The line was even extended later to Victoria Park.

Two steam ferries carried passengers up the river, which must have been quite a sight.

With the opening of Victoria Dock in 1855, the area prospered with the installation of new factories and warehouses.

The railway line had to be rerouted around the north of the docks to make way for it, but the original line was retained as a tram serving the docks – the Silvertown Tramway.

In 1854 North Woolwich station was rebuilt with a new building replacing what was just a primitive timber structure.

The new station was located next to a freight yard, so it would have been designed to carry both freight and passengers.

There was even a small turntable where trains could turn around.

In 1908, however, the rail ferries were withdrawn as they could not compete with the private Woolwich ferry which had been opened nearby.

The good times were not to last.

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The station was badly damaged by German bombs in an air raid in 1940.

Platform canopies were destroyed and a station engine exploded.

There were several direct hits on the line and passenger services were phased out.

After the war, the number of passengers unfortunately decreased as people seemed more inclined to take buses or trolleybuses.

In the 1960s, the station declined and the freight station was used less and less.

Seems odd considering it was a time when docks were thriving, but they were still in a sticky position.

In 1969, the station was reduced to a single platform and a single track.

Then in 1970 there was a brief reprieve when the GLC reorganized the North Woolwich line and extended it north to Dalston Junction.

All stations along the route have been redeveloped, including North Woolwich.

A new entrance building was constructed south of the line and the former Grade II listed 1854 station was closed.

The new station entrance used in the 1970s (Wiki Commons)

But like much of England’s rail network, the old station was saved by volunteers.

The station was bought by the Passmore Edwards Trust and completely refurbished and reopened as the Old Station Museum in 1984.

But the future of the lines was not certain. With the establishment of the Docklands Light Railway largely replacing the need.

The line to Stratford Low Level was closed in 2006 and the section between Stratford and Canning Town was converted into part of the Docklands Light Railway.

Part of the line has also been incorporated into the Crossrail project.

The old museum contained all sorts of railway memorabilia, including a locomotive and signaling equipment.

The museum unfortunately closed in 2008, apparently due to financial difficulties.

The collections have been dispersed to various institutions, but the building remains under the management of a charity, successor to the Passmore Edwards Trust.

Unfortunately, today, the beautiful old building remains abandoned. Doors and windows are boarded up, skinny buddleias cling to the balcony and paint is peeling from the rear canopy.

It’s a shame as it’s a lovely old building but hopefully a way can be found to save it for the future.

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