June Sampson: Kingston station's 150th anniversary - and the myths around it - should not go unmentioned (From Surrey Comet)
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June Sampson: Kingston station's 150th anniversary - and the myths around it - should not go unmentioned
It was an event of crucial importance to Kingston's economic and social progress.
So what a pity that the 150th birthday of Kingston Station was seemingly forgotten by everyone, including me.
However, believing late greetings to be better than no greetings at all, I'm marking the anniversary now - albeit 61 days behind time!
Kingston has always been derided for saying no to the great new concept of railways in 1834 - the year Parliament passed the bill for the London to Southampton line.
It was also the year when Kingston allegedly refused to allow the line through its midst, and so threw away the benefits of a main line station in the centre of the town.
Is this true? Certainly Kingston was against the original route by the London and Southampton Railway Company.
But that route did not pass through the town centre, and the station that Kingston repudiated would have been close to the Waggon & Horses on Surbiton Hill, not far from the spot where the station of "New Kingston" eventually opened.
Initial post-railway development would therefore have been centred on Surbiton, and the effects on Kingston's trade and industry would have been the same.
These facts emerged during a four-day hearing before a House of Commons Committee in 1860, when Kingston and Hampton Wick were each battling to have the terminus of the proposed branch line from Twickenham.
It also emerged that the railway company had made no great effort to negotiate with Kingston in 1834.
Indeed, it was the opposition of Lord Cottenham, rather than of Kingston, that probably induced it to divert the route.
The original promoters intended that after Wimbledon the line would keep to the level ground at the foot of Wimbledon Hill and Coombe Hill, skirting Kingston and going through Molesey and Walton to Weybridge.
But Lord Cottenham was loath to have his estate at Wimbledon disturbed, and joined Kingston in resistance.
The company wasted no time parleying, and in a booklet on "the advantages and profits of the London and Southampton Railway", revealed their policy of avoiding land whose owners put up opposition.
Therefore, said the pamphlet, "the line was carried through a barren and desolate country, where the soil was so valueless that landowners were glad to get rid of it at any price", adding that landowners in Hampshire, who possessed the barren land, were all in favour of the line.
Those in Surrey were not so keen.
Cutting through Surbiton Hill, which meant shifting 500,000 cubic yards of clay, was costly, but deemed more economic than treating with intransigent landowners like Lord Cottenham.
Thus the first Kingston Station, so called, was placed deep in a cutting, west of the present Ewell Road bridge, and was little better than a shed.
As the company explained, "there has been no unnecessary expenses in architectural designs, the object aimed at having been utility and durability at the smallest possible cost."
Two decades after the railway reached Surbiton,. Kingston was still without a town station of its own and, but for William Bull, it is doubtful if London and South Western Railway (the new name adopted by the former London and Southampton Railway in 1839) would ever have provided one.
In October, 1858 the Surrey Comet published a letter from Mr Bull in which he detailed his plan for a railway "to connect with the existing system of railways north and south of the Thames Valley by a line through Kingston, making Kingston the central station."
His 8.5 mile route would run from Isleworth to Malden, via Richmond, Hampton Wick, Kingston and Norbiton at a fare of a penny per mile.
There would also be a junction line between the stations at Kingston and Surbiton, running along the west side of the Fairfield in Kingston.
The LSWR, scenting serious competition, moved fast. By July 1859 it had applied to Parliament for a bill to form "a short branch line from Twickenham to Kingston."
In fact, the line was to terminate near the Hampton Wick side of Kingston Bridge, which was then still subject to tolls.
Kingston felt that the LSWR was a safer option than William Bull, but was outraged by the prospect of having to pay a halfpenny toll to reach the station.
The hapless Mr Bull became a pawn, Kingston threatening to throw in its lot with him unless the LSWR agreed to site its terminus in Kingston instead of Hampton Wick.
Predictably, Hampton Wick was incensed that, instead of its promised terminus, it would have to suffer the greater loss of land, property and peace involved in running a railway right through the village and over the river.
It appealed to Parliament, but after a four-day hearing Kingston won, and Mr Bull had the dubious honour of seeing much of his scheme brought to fruition by his LSWR rivals.
He had intended to bring a line to Kingston via a bridge over the Thames.
This is what the LSWR did. He had planned to site Kingston's first town station in Fitt's Market Garden. The LSWR did exactly that. It also managed to oust Mr Bull for a modest outlay.
As its traffic manager told the Parliamentary committee, trains could be moved from Twickenham to Kingston at very little expense. Instead of blowing off their steam at Twickenham, they could travel on a mere 3.5 miles to Kingston, and do it there instead.
Kingston was not as desperate for a station as is commonly thought. Many people wanted the terminus to remain on the Middlesex bank, and thousands petitioned against the line being brought over the Thames to Kingston.
"The opposition the LSWR have uniformly met with at the hands of the majority of the townsfolk may render the directors inattentive to the real requirements of the district," warned a Comet leader column in November, 1859.
Prominent among the protestors were John Guy, a wealthy solicitor living at the fine old mansion, Norbiton Hall; the three Misses Fisher of Canbury Lodge (later to become the site of Kingston bus garage) and the eminent Dr Sudlow Roots of Canbury House (later replaced by the Kingston Empire).
They feared that once the line reached Kingston, it would soon be extended to Norbiton and Malden, and their peaceful estates would be permanently despoiled.
LSWR ridiculed such prophecies. "There is no probability of a line being carried on to Malden by the LSWR or any other company," it told the inquiry.
To read about the growth of the station see tomorrow's Surrey Comet.
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