Much is being added to London’s Tube map at the moment. Recently we saw the addition of The Overground Network, in it’s distinctive ex-East London Line Orange, sprawling over the capital like a spider web. In the not to distant future we shall see The Overground’s continued expansion as Suburban routes, such as the Liverpool Street – Chingford Line, start to fall under TfL’s control. Further on still, and many graphic artists and TfL alike are currently beginning to speculate how Crossrail might appear on Harry Beck’s famous map.
So, The Tube Map – always adding, never shrinking?
Over the coming months I intend to look at three examples of lines/routes that have disappeared from The Tube Map over time, despite all currently having a passenger service. I’ll look at why these lines have disappeared, and what of them now.
Part 1: The Epping-Ongar Railway
The most basic reason for a line being erased from the Tube Map is quite simple, it closed. Aldwych, Shoreditch, King William Street – all perfect examples of this. For years this was also the case for the former stretch of The Central Line to Ongar, but in 2012 it re-opened.
In 1865 the newly formed Great Eastern Railway extended the branch of the former Eastern Counties Railway Route from London Liverpool Street-Loughton to Ongar. It included intermediate stations at Chigwell Lane (now Debden), Theydon Bois, Epping, North Weald and Blake Hall. Aspirations to reach destinations like Chelmsford never materialised for the GER or it’s predecessors, but despite the sparsely populated area it served, the line was a popular means of transporting agricultural goods to the city. By 1892 the route had been double tracked as far as Epping to cope with ever increasing traffic. A total of 20 trains departed Epping each day for London, 13 of which had originated in Ongar.
By the time the GER was amalgamated into the London and North Eastern Railway in the 1930’s, the line had become a popular commuter route and was therefore earmarked for improvements in the London Railways New Works Program. This scheme would see electrification of the line towards London as far as Leyton where it would diverge and meet London Underground’s Central Line. The onset of World War II halted these plans but electrification as far as Epping was eventually completed in 1949.
It was not until 1957 that the remaining LNER steam shuttle service between Epping and Ongar was finally replaced by Tube trains. However, to save on electrical sub-station costs only one 8-car Tube train (or two 4-car units) could operate between Epping and Ongar at any one time.
Steam serviced freight continued on the line well into the 60’s, and by this time British Rail occasionally operated morning DMU services to Liverpool Street. This practice ceased when the junction at Leyton was removed in 1971, passing complete control of the line to London Transport.
Despite the suburbanisation of the area, usage between Epping and Ongar was dwindling, helped no doubt by the limitations of track layout and electrical supply which enabled only 3 trains to run every hour. With BR’s operations out the way, London Transport proposed the line’s closure in 1970. Essex County Council blocked this by subsidising the route, although by the 80’s they could no longer afford to do so. The little used Blake Hall station was the first to close in 1981, often only mustering 4 passengers a day.
Services to North Weald and Ongar continued to hobble along during Monday-Friday peak hours until 1989 where it was attempted to revive the lines fortunes by offering an all week service. This attempt failed and the line was finally closed in 1994.
In 2000 the Epping Ongar Railway Volunteer Society was formed with their intention of restoring a service on the line. 14 years later, much work has been carried out to restore the line to it’s former steam-running glory. This August I paid a visit to see what the line was like nearly 20 years after it’s original closure…
Our journey starts at the end of the modern-day Central Line, Epping. The track bed continues out of site under Bower Hill bridge towards Ongar. For operational reasons – discrepancies in signalling systems, safety requirements and timetabling arrangements, the Epping Ongar Railway cannot run trains into the platforms here at Epping. I am told that the track work is still intact all the way through to Coopersale, where the EOR now terminates. It is EOR’s intention to one day build their own platform here to complete the route, but for now we must journey on by bus.
A therefore fantastic opportunity for EOR to show off some of it’s non-railway stock! A fleet of wonderfully preserved vintage buses ferry visitors by road to North Weald.
Out of shot to the left of the bus is the site of the former goods yard which served the nearby market town. It’s now the largest station car park on the Underground Network, but once also contained a modest locomotive depot housing the ex-GER 2-4-2 tank’s that normally operated the line. This closed in 1957 with the electrification of the line to Ongar.
Arriving in the village of North Weald, it’s hard to imagine this station, now restored in it’s former 1940’s LNER colours, once had tube trains rattling through it.
At the time of closure the passing loop and sidings here had long been removed. These have now been relaid by the EOR in a similar arrangement, allowing for maintenance sheds, and stock storage for the re-opened line.
Incidentally, the 2nd platform on the left of the picture was not built until 1949, but this too, and original signal box (complete with 1888 lever frame), has been restored to allow two trains to use the station at one time.
The footbridge seen above is currently just a frame and although not the original, will eventually be fully rebuilt. To cross platforms you therefore have to use the once only level crossing on the Underground Network.
The EOR opperate a range of rolling stock on the line, including this Class 205 DMU in Network SouthEast livery. Despite being out of service just over 10 or so years, and although never actually ran on the line, these prove popular with enthusiasts. Perhaps an illustration of what would have happened in the 1980’s had the line not been taken over by LT?
More images from North Weald:
Coopersale is a small village situated in Epping Forest between Epping and North Weald of which the line runs through. Although there isn’t, nor ever was, a station here, EOR shuttle trains through the village to give you a taster of the run towards Epping. There are ambitions to open a new station here, but this is likely to be a lesser priority than the restored link to Epping.
The 205 heads back towards North Weald and then to Ongar. We pass the former Blake Hall station. Named after a nearby country estate, the station served a small cluster of houses and local farms. Despite it’s remote location, it was equipped with 2 sidings for loading milk churns and the like, and it’s listed building is similar in design to North Weald.
The station is now a private residence and is where the owner of the EOR now lives! The platform here is being rebuilt, along with it’s two sidings albeit in a slightly different alignment. I asked whether the rebuild was being carried out to enable passenger services to resume, but the shop Clark at Ongar informed me it was for the benefit of the owner only! He’s been known to flag trains down, and I suppose who’s to stop him, he is the owner after all. That certainly is the dream – owning your own private country station! It’s all rather fitting – Blake Hall was built as part of a deal where the then land owner of the country estate it gains its name from, granted construction rights through his land providing he could have his own station.
Arriving in Ongar you immediately pass the signal cabin. The original was demolished in the 60’s after freight services on the line had finished in 1966. The one you now see was originally sited at Spellbrook in Hertfordshire and was purchased and renovated by the EOR.
The station itself is a single platform affair with a run-around loop. This used to feature a turntable at the far end of the track but this was removed in 1917. Volunteers have restored the track plan to mimic the original Great Eastern Railways layout, with an additional siding and corrugated hut running parallel to the run-around loop.
The station building has also been renovated to it’s pre-grouping GER days. It now houses a small shop .
Much like Epping, Ongar originally featured a sizeable yard, with goods shed & wagon loading facility, cattle dock and a single engine shed. The land lay derelict for the rest of the century and was eventually sold off by the EOR to a housing developer to help fund the restoration of the railway. This is great for the development of this heritage railway, but I do find it somewhat of an oxymoron… Making a community deemed too small for it’s Tube station bigger by using land formerly owned by said Tube station… Still, if it wasn’t for the new housing estate perhaps there would be no line, heritage or otherwise, at all.
I took a walk round the idilic countryside of the town. It’s so far divorced from the bustle and hubbub at the centre of Harry Beck’s map to ever envisage this once being an outpost of the Tube. Curiously all distances on the Underground network are still measured from Ongar as, at the time of adoption in 1972, it was the furthest point away from Central London.
More images of Ongar…
The success of the EOR is a testament to the volunteers who have no doubt put countless hours of hard labour into what you’ve seen so far. It’s fantastic to see Steam running on this line, and to get a feel for what it would have been like at various points throughout it’s history.
The EOR certainly have a lot of ambition and I think the line will have a bright future ahead of it.
If you’d like to pay a visit, it’s open most Weekends throughout the year as well as Wednesdays in summer. More details here.
Next time I’ll visit another tube line to disappear from the map, but until then, check out the full video bellow of my trip to the EOR.
– Andy Carter