North London Railway

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North London Railway
Locale London, United Kingdom
Dates of operation 1850–1922
Successor London, Midland and Scottish Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Headquarters Bow, London

The North London Railway (NLR) company had lines connecting the north of London to the East and West India Docks in the east of the city. The main east to west route is now part of London Overground's North London Line. Other NLR lines fell into disuse but were later revived as part of the Docklands Light Railway, and the Overground's East London Line. The company was originally called the East & West India Docks & Birmingham Junction Railway from its inception in 1850, until 1853. It ceased operations in 1922.


Railway map of London, 1899, from The Pocket Atlas and Guide to London

The NLR's headquarters and locomotive works were initially located in Bow. At first, it ran trains from Camden Town[1] to Poplar, and from there via the London and Blackwall Railway to Blackwall and the East India Docks; a connection at Bow allowed trains to run to Fenchurch Street. This arrangement lasted until 1865, when an extension from Dalston Junction to Broad Street was opened; Broad Street became the main terminus, and the Poplar line became a branch.

In the meantime, the line had been extended westwards to Hampstead Road[2] in 1851 to join the London and North Western Railway (LNWR). In 1858 the line was extended along the North and South Western Junction Railway (a joint enterprise by the LNWR, Midland Railway and the NLR) from Willesden Junction to a London and South Western Railway branch to Richmond. A bypass line from Camden to Willesden Junction via Gospel Oak and West Hampstead opened in 1860. Meanwhile, at the eastern end, a spur line connecting the NLR to Stratford from Victoria Park opened in 1854 but was not used by passenger services.

The LNWR took over the working of the railway on 1 February 1909.[3] The company remained in existence until 1922, with its own board of directors and shareholders, when it was absorbed by the LNWR under The Railways Act, 1921 (the Grouping act). The last board meeting and last shareholders meeting were both held on 23 November 1922, the latter giving the shareholders' approval to the absorption. The board minutes were signed by A Holland-Hibbert, the chairman, who added "Goodbye!". Beneath this was typed, "This was the last Board Meeting of the North London Railway Company, the Undertaking being absorbed under “The London and North Western Railway (North London Railway and Dearne Valley Railway) Preliminary Absorption Scheme 1922” by the London and North Western Railway Company as from 1 January 1922."[4]

The LNWR, which half-owned Broad Street station, was responsible for fourth-rail electrification of the Broad Street to Richmond and Kew Bridge services in 1916. The latter was cut as a wartime economy measure in 1940 and not resumed.

The line from Dalston Junction to Poplar was heavily damaged during the Blitz of World War II. Passenger services from Broad Street to Poplar via Victoria Park and Bow were not reinstated at the end of the war (its official closure was 14 May 1944). Broad Street to Dalston Junction closed on 30 June 1986.

Present day[edit]

In 1979 the line between Richmond and Dalston via Gospel Oak and the extension to Stratford was joined with the former Eastern Counties and Thames Junction Railway to form the North London Line. The line between Willesden Junction and Camden via Primrose Hill is now primarily used (in 2014) for empty coaching stock movements between the North London Line and Willesden Depot, freight trains and, during engineering work, diverted passenger services to and from the Watford DC Line. Primrose Hill station has been closed.

The Docklands Light Railway follows the path of the long-disused North London Railway from Bow Church to Poplar, and the northern section of the East Cross Route (A12) built in the late 1960s used the route between Old Ford and Victoria Park stations, demolished for the road's construction.

The East London Line Extension took over the abandoned stretch between Dalston and Shoreditch.


Among the first locomotives bought by the railway from outside contractors were five 0-4-2ST saddle tanks. After that, all were constructed at Bow, London.


Bow railway works was built in 1853 and had a sizeable wagon repair shop. When the railway was merged into the LMS it was the smallest of 15 workshops. It repaired NLR locomotives and from 1927 those from the former London, Tilbury and Southend Railway (LTSR).

In the 1930s the works developed and manufactured the Hudd automatic control system for the LTSR, which led to a British Rail (BR) team from the national headquarters setting up in Bow to develop BR's standard Automatic Warning System. The workshop was badly damaged during the blitz and the wagon workshop destroyed.

In 1956 the workshop repaired diesel-electric locomotives for the motive power depot at Devons Road (the first to become all-diesel). After a while it was receiving locos in the morning and turning them round by the evening, which initially confused the statistical returns since locos were entering and leaving the works on the same day. The works closed in 1960.


Richmond to Willesden Junction (joined NLR 1856):

Willesden Junction to Camden via Primrose Hill (opened 1851-2, passenger services withdrawn 1992):

Willesden Junction to Camden via West Hampstead & Gospel Oak (opened 1860):

Camden Road to Dalston (opened 1850):

Dalston to Broad Street (opened 1865, closed 1986, mostly re-opened 2010):

Dalston to Poplar (opened 1850, closed to passengers 1944, Dalston- Stratford reopened 1980):

At Poplar, the line connected to Millwall Junction, allowing goods trains to run to Blackwall and the East India Docks), or along the Millwall Extension Railway, which served the West India Docks.


  1. ^ Camden Town was renamed Camden Road on 25 September 1950
  2. ^ Hampstead Road station was renamed Chalk Farm on 1 December 1862, Primrose Hill on 25 September 1950
  3. ^ The National Archives RAIL 529/32 NLR Board Minute No 6940 of 14 January 1909
  4. ^ The National Archives RAIL 529/34 NLR Board Meeting 22 November 1922

External links[edit]