Railway to nowhere

Railway to nowhere

by Simon Fowler

It’s not hyperbole to say that the railway transformed Richmond and Twickenham. The railway from London arrived in Richmond in 1846, crossing the Thames two years later towards Twickenham and points west.

A decade earlier, in 1836 there was much discussion about the construction of a City and Richmond Railway. The grand idea was to unite all the railways then being built into London into one terminus south of the Thames near Southwark Bridge. The new station would have been within easy walking distance of the City.

It was intended that the construction of the line would have been funded by revenues from an initial branch line to Richmond. In the company prospectus investors were promised eye-watering dividends of up to 30 per cent per annum. In fact, not a penny was paid out nor a brick laid, the company eventually collapsing amidst an acrimonious legal dispute over unauthorised expenditure by the secretary, which had bankrupted the railway.

The prospectus suggested that just over a million people a year would pay a shilling each to travel from Southwark to Richmond and another 700,00 passengers nine pence each to travel the slightly shorter distance from Richmond. These figures were clearly conjured out of thin air. As railways were still very new nobody had any idea how popular they would be. A shilling was getting on for a day’s wage for labourer, so the directors were looking towards a more affluent clientele.

The line would have been constructed across the built-up parts of London on nearly two thousand arches. An advertorial in The Times described the arches striding through the Borough traversing “Blackfriars Road by a splendid arch” and ending near Vauxhall Bridge where the railway would divide into various branches to Southampton, Brighton and Richmond. The company even published a lithograph showing the railway cutting through Lambeth and Battersea. Copies can be found online.

From the map which came with the prospectus the line of the railway to Richmond would have been almost identical to the one that was constructed in the mid-1840s, using the flat terrain along the Thames with stops in Putney, Mortlake and Richmond.

The directors suggested that “passengers would have been conveyed to the city in 25 minutes” – comparable to the journey time today. When the line was eventually built, it actually took 40 minutes to get to Waterloo, still considerably faster than the two hours it previously took. And in more comfort too.

Like so many railway companies of the period, the City and Richmond never raised enough capital. It was a preposterous idea, as each of the companies which they hoped to link preferred to build their own terminuses. Something which passengers still rue today.

This article was originally published in the Twickenham and Richmond Tribune, 19 November 2021