From horse-drawn carriage to engines

History of Southwark, with Peter Frost, Peckham Society chairman

We go from the horse-drawn transport which continued just beyond the 1940s and overlapped the internal combustion engine and diesel from the early 20th century up to the present day. Now electric vehicles and driverless ones are also to be considered.

Water-borne transport goes back to antiquity, east and west along the Thames. The Grand Surrey Canal was used from the 1820s up until the late 1960s. This can be thought of as an extension of Surrey Docks and dealt primarily with wood. There was a network of horse-drawn buses which existed in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Thomas Tilling was the entrepreneur who bought up the individual companies to modernise and increase the safety of the omnibus. We also had a steam bus garage here in Peckham along Nunhead Lane. A facsimile of the clock that adorned the garage is present where the garage used to be. The routes out from the Thames are primarily radial. But there are parallel ones as well.

In the fight by the early train companies to have a London Terminus meant that they had stations on the South Bank, London Bridge and Waterloo. Some ventured across the Thames, Cannon Street, Blackfriars and Charing Cross. Blackfriars in the 19th century had a terminus by Southwark Jubilee line station, later moving to its present position.

Thomas Tilling Buses at the garage in Nunhead Lane

One station that missed out in this battle for creating a major terminus was The Bricklayers Arms. Its early facade looked grand but it ended up in dealing as a terminus for freight rail traffic and was decommissioned in the 1960s. Land for houses outweighed commercial uses in the way of costs. As an aside the first railway in London was the Spa Road to Greenwich line in 1836, this was later extended to London Bridge and Spa Road station which was closed down in 1925. To bridge the river Ravensbourne the track was put on a viaduct. Hence the rail network in London is similarly on viaducts.

The underground was pioneered in our city in 1863, firstly on the Metropolitan line with steam locomotives. The initial track was on the surface but on extension it was taken below ground by cut and cover tunnelling.

South-east London has a system which doesn’t go beyond the Elephant and Castle. The most recent news is that the Bakerloo line is extending along the Old Kent Road and not Camberwell and Peckham. It is all about investment and creating wealth for the developers.

The opportunities for developing brownfield sites on this route are enormous with increased housing and selective industries.

We don’t have the space in Camberwell and Peckham for such sites. Here we do have the increased footfall from King’s College and Maudsley Hospitals and the transport hub at Peckham Rye but the powers that be thought that in economic terms the Old Kent Road route was best.

The buses compensate for the lack of other types of transport but eventually Southwark could become gridlocked.


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