Goods Trains Serving The Epsom and Ewell Area, July 1926


Unloading At Epsom
'Unloading At Epsom', Number 23 in a series of 48 Cigarette Cards
depicting Racing Scenes made by Gallaher.
Thanks to Celia Smith

If you ask someone to describe the railways in our area, most people will tell you of an endless succession of commuter services to and from London. There are the occasional infrastructure trains to break the monotony, but goods trains had largely been withdrawn by the 1960s. Staffing levels are minimal.

In this article we shall travel back to July 1926, a completely different era when goods trains were a common sight and before road transport became the preferred method of transportation. Stations had their own parcels offices and staff typically consisted of a Station Master, Signal Men, Shunters and Platform Staff. Many were housed in dwellings built for them by the railway companies, with the Station Master living in buildings on the station itself. With many freight services running overnight due to conveying perishable goods or simply because the lines were too congested during the day, some locations were surprisingly a 24-hour operation - Ewell West, for example. Specifically, this date has been chosen as it is within a very brief time period when the maximum number of goods yards and private sidings in our area were in operation.

(For an otherwise general history of the local railways written by the Epsom Civic Society, please see 'Epsom Heritage - Part 7 - The Railway Comes To Epsom')

A typical mixed goods train of the area
A typical mixed goods train of the area,
this one being hauled by a C3 Class locomotive
which were largely based at Horsham. This is No. 303.
Photo by O.J.Morris courtesy of Capital Transport Publishing

Part One: Goods Trains & Services

At the time, the railways were 'common carriers' and within reason would transport anything anywhere, whether they were specific commodities or miscellaneous goods. Agricultural traffic, previously one of the more common consignments, was in slow decline whilst the amount of coal and building materials conveyed was on the increase. Much of this traffic was seasonal; coal deliveries would increase in late summer, as merchants would build up their stocks in time for winter. Fertilizers were mainly conveyed during the winter and early spring. Market Garden traffic would build up during spring itself with cabbages and cauliflowers being moved, followed by soft fruits such as strawberries in early summer then the tree fruit traffic. During the autumn, approximately 30,000 sheep from Kent (particularly Romney Marsh) would be brought to Surrey and Sussex for grazing, returning in Spring.

Manhandling milk churns
Picture of his Grandfather Frank manhandling milk churns
on the Railway in the late 1920s
Image courtesy of John Ball

Milk churns were conveyed in vans attached to specific passenger services, as were horseboxes, which also contained a compartment for the groom. On Epsom race days, entire trains of horseboxes would be provided, mainly to Tattenham Corner and Epsom. Mail was carried by passenger services in the guard's compartment. Otherwise, a variety of rolling stock was used, from open 5-plank wagons for conveying coal to ventilated vans for cattle; these had to be properly loaded so as not to be so tight to cause discomfort, but enough for them to lean against each other so they didn't fall and injure themselves. Conveying livestock was unpopular with the train crews as the animals had to be fed and watered at specific intervals; this meant unloading and reloading unwilling animals into a cattle dock en-route. Both Epsom stations were provided with this facility. A vet would have to be called should there be an injury or distress before they would be allowed to continue. Then there was the issue of clearing their waste...

What were officially termed 'Road Box Vans' would be attached to some local services to convey small consignments, which could be made from a station platform; these vans often stayed with the train throughout its journey whilst the others may be detached en-route.

A brake van, ideally located at the rear as far as shunting requirements would allow, was always included as the trains were not equipped with continuous brakes - nowadays if the couplings fail and the train inadvertently divides, the whole train will automatically come to a stop. They also assisted with keeping couplings taut, so if the locomotive jerked - which steam locomotives were prone to do - the couplings were less likely to snap.

Goods to be conveyed started with a local train collecting deliveries in wagons. This could be a single load such as a complete train of coal from a mine, or a variety of wagons from multiple locations in a local area. The wagons would be taken to a major goods marshalling yard where they would be arranged into trunk services for other major yards across the country. London had a ring of inter-connected major yards as well as its own depots, from where another local train would deliver the wagons to their intended destination.
Heavier goods train on the line through Ewell East
Heavier goods trains on the line through Ewell East were
often worked by K Class locomotives; this is No. 347 heading for New Cross.
Photo from the JRW Kirkby Collection courtesy of Capital Transport Publishing

All stations had their own signal box to control their local area including movements in and out of the goods yards, although points accessing sidings in remote locations were hand-operated from a ground-frame and needed to be unlocked by a key (often known as an 'Annett's Key' after its inventor Mr J.E. Annett, a former London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Employee) held at the nearest signal box, the removal of which would also lock the preceding signal at 'Danger'.

The couplings between wagons were simple hook and chain affairs. It was the Shunters job to run alongside and use poles to attach/detach/brake on the move; this meant these operations could be carried out a lot quicker (and more dangerously!) than nowadays, but the absence of continuous brakes meant that running speeds were a lot less - typically 25 mph compared to the more usual 60 - 75 mph today.

Brent Sidings, Cricklewood
Brent Sidings, Cricklewood. The most frequently conveyed commodity
was coal; much of this came from the Nottingham Coalfields and
assembled into train loads at Toton Yard and delivered to Brent Sidings;
wagons for the Southern Railway's South Western section were then
conveyed to Feltham Yard, from where those for the suburban area were sent
to Wimbledon West Yard. A local train would then complete the delivery.
Image © National Railway Museum/SSPL


The Local Area

In general, little goods traffic originated from our area; we mainly received deliveries from elsewhere (especially coal from the Midlands) and sent the empty wagons back. In terms of organisation, the local lines had recently become part of the Southern Railway (no relation to the company that now bears that name) following the decision a few years earlier to combine the many individual railway companies into four large groups. For operational purpose, the Southern was sub-divided into three sections: South Western, Central and South Eastern; the Epsom area fell between two of these and was therefore served by two yards - Wimbledon West Yard for the South Western Section line through Ewell West and Norwood Junction Yard for the Central Section line through Ewell East.

As a legacy of the pre-grouping era, Epsom inherited two stations, one of which was to shut once the inevitable rationalisation took place. Stoneleigh, the Chessington South Branch and the Wimbledon to Sutton line had yet to be built. The Ewell West line had been electrified a year earlier, but all other trains - both passenger and freight - were still hauled by steam locomotives.

A total of eighteen goods trains ran in this area on Mondays to Saturdays. The following map shows the local area at the time, complete with goods yards and private sidings:
Freight in the area was delivered by local trains from Wimbledon West Yard and Norwood Junction Yard
Freight in the area was delivered by local trains from Wimbledon West Yard and Norwood Junction Yard
Click on map to enlarge, opens in separate window.


South Western Section

Wimbledon West Yard looking south with the main lines on the right
Wimbledon West Yard looking south with the main lines on the right.
Class 0395 No. 441 shunts on 12 May 1927.
Photo by HC Casserley, courtesy of Richard Casserley

The former London & South Western Railway (LSWR) secondary route through Ewell West was served by five trains to or from Wimbledon West Yard, located south of the station, which received traffic from the rest of the UK via the recently opened semi-automated Feltham Marshalling Yard and from its London depot at Nine Elms. Trains were limited to 35 wagons.

Feltham Marshalling Yard
Feltham Marshalling Yard, from where Wimbledon received most of its traffic.
Image from The New Zealand Railways Magazine Feb 25, 1927 and
used by permission of Kiwi Rail and New Zealand Railways Corporation


Central Section

Norwood Junction Yard
Norwood Junction Yard served the Southern Railway's Central
Section lines through Ewell East and Epsom Downs. The site is
now occupied by Selhurst Depot.
© Copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Norwood Junction Yard received London traffic mainly from Willow Walk Depot, as well as from smaller depots at New Cross Gate and Battersea. It also received deliveries from the rest of the UK via the other railway companies' yards around London. Five trains served stations on the route through Ewell East, with another four running through non-stop. This was the former London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBSCR) route and was regarded as a main line, capable of dealing with goods trains of up to 42 and 65 wagons depending on the power of the locomotive and the weight of the train; this could be up to 500 tons. Norwood Junction also served the Epsom Downs branch, whilst the Tattenham Corner branch was served directly by Bricklayer's Arms Depot, situated adjacent to Willow Walk. Both these branches received one return journey each.

Willow Walk in Bermondsey
Willow Walk in Bermondsey was the main London depot of the Southern
Railway's Central Section. A Class D1 Locomotive can be seen.
Copyright © Charles Brown Collection, Royal Air Force Museum

Bricklayers Arms Depot
Bricklayers Arms Depot served the Tattenham Corner branch and
was adjacent to Willow Walk; they were soon to amalgamate.
Image courtesy of Fosney via the Bermondseyboy Forum,
photographer unknown

Optional Technical Section

After a hard day on the job, it'll be home to Mum for tea.
After a hard day on the job, it'll be home to Mum for tea.
Image source unknown, from the author's personal collection.

At some point an article like this is going to have to get technical. I have a moral dilemma with this as it has to be included somewhere otherwise the anoraks will start an argument and I have to be able to justify what I'm saying. On the other hand I don't want to put anyone off. So if this sort of thing leaves you cold, please just go on to the next section whilst I explain the arrangements and procedures that apply to goods facilities in general....

With a goods siding it was common practice for trains to reverse to gain access. This was seen as a safer option than approaching direct with the risk of taking the points or running into a dead end at too great a speed, or in the case of approaching from the opposite line, the potential for a head-on collision with a train that had overrun a signal set at danger.

If arriving on the opposite line and direction to a yard, the typical procedure would be to detach the locomotive on arrival. Then, by using the two crossovers connecting the main lines at either end of the station (as indicated on the maps accompanying each location in parts two and three) the locomotive would run round its train and re-attach at the back. This would allow it to haul the wagons across to the opposite line until clear of the points accessing the yard, before propelling the train in as before. The procedure would be reversed on completion. Some locations were not provided with two crossovers and alternative procedures were required; see the entries for Stone's Siding and Ewell East below for examples of this.

The goods yard itself would contain a reception siding or loop line, which was long enough to hold an entire train and enable shunting/attaching/detaching to take place without causing an obstruction to the main line. Most featured a siding for coal and a goods shed would be provided where deliveries needed to be made under cover. A few locations were also provided with a dock for cattle or horses with a ramp down to ground level for ease of loading.

In the case of a private siding, this could only be accessed from the reception siding; this was a safety precaution to ensure private sidings did not have direct access to a main line in case of an overrun. A locked gate would also be provided.

Finally, it was imperative that when assembling the train the wagons for each destination were grouped together and arranged in the correct station order.

Ok, you can look again.

Links to Part 2 and Part 3.



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