Bricklayers' Arms

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Bricklayers' Arms roundabout and flyover.
A 1908 Railway Clearing House map of lines around the approaches to London Bridge, including the Bricklayer's Arms and Willow Walk goods yards and associated approach lines.

Bricklayers' Arms is a busy road intersection between the A2 and the London Inner Ring Road in south London, England. It is the junction of Tower Bridge Road, Old Kent Road, New Kent Road and Great Dover Street; Old Kent Road and New Kent Road are connected eastbound only by a flyover.

The area is named after a local coaching inn that was situated at the junction. It is close to the former site of a large railway facility sharing the same name.

Coaching inn[edit]

There have been inns situated at this site for more than six hundred years, and excavations during the rebuilding of the inn in the 1890s came across several previous foundations and a hidden hoard of ancient coins.[1] It was the point at which coaches travelling along the Old Kent Road to or from the City of London set down or picked up passengers travelling to or from the West End.[2] The inn was situated on land owned by the City of London Corporation, and its sign was the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers.


A flyover was built in the 1970s between New Kent Road (A201) and Old Kent Road (A2) to handle increased traffic in the area. Initially, it consisted of two lanes, one into and one out of London. However, the London-bound lane was later closed after a number of head-on collisions on the flyover, which was then reduced to an eastbound-only route.

In the 1970s there was a plan by the Greater London Council for a road to go between the Bricklayers' Arms roundabout and the northern entrance of the Blackwall Tunnel, crossing the Thames in two tunnels (one adjacent to Tower Bridge) and providing a link to London Docklands.[3]

The rather over-generous proportions of the roundabout, which included pedestrian underpasses from the adjacent roads onto it, were a result of London Underground safeguarding a route for a possible future extension of the Bakerloo line[citation needed] from its terminus at Elephant & Castle tube station. This was to run along and under the main road and hence, underneath the trackways of the old mainline station, to join surface services at South Bermondsey station. The roundabout would have been the site of a station, similar in layout to Old Street station. The route is still safeguarded but has no prominence in current proposals. The pedestrian underpasses were not attractive and involved quite circuitous walks via the island, surfacing and descending again to the various entrances. In 2009, these were supplemented by pelican crossings at the junctions with New Kent and Old Kent Roads, introduced because pedestrians preferring to cross there were causing more accidents. In 2013 the underpasses were filled in and levelled, becoming wider pavements.

Railway facilities[edit]

Derelict Bricklayers' Arms branch line on the South Eastern Railway.

Adjacent to Bricklayers' Arms was a 26-acre (110,000 m2) site, connected to the main line between London Bridge and Croydon, which was formerly of considerable importance to the history of railways in south London.

Bricklayers' Arms branch[edit]

The line was one mile and 56 chains (2.7 km) in length and was constructed in 1843–4 as a result of concerns by the South Eastern (SER) and London and Croydon (L&CR) Railways about the charges being imposed by the London and Greenwich Railway (L&GR) for the use of their terminus at London Bridge station and its approaches. The two railways constructed a new passenger terminus and goods station on the site, thereby removing the need for them to use the L&GR facilities.[4] According to Charles Vignoles, "the making of Bricklayers' Arms station was a matter of compulsion in driving the Greenwich people to reasonable terms".[5] It had the desired effect, and the L&GR agreed to more reasonable terms; as a result the L&CR ceased using the station in March 1845.[6]

Plans to extend the line from Bricklayers' Arms to a new SER terminus at Hungerford Bridge, closer to the centre of London, were never implemented.[7] The railway introduced a proposal to extend the line to Waterloo Road in 1846, which was rejected by a committee of Parliament.[8] In 1845 the SER leased the L&GR line, and the following year the L&CR became part of the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR); future passenger developments were at London Bridge.

Under a series of agreements of 1848 and 1849, the LB&SCR sold its inherited share of the facilities to the SER in 1849, whilst retaining the right to use the branch and to construct its own 15-acre (61,000 m2) goods depot on the site for an annual rent of one shilling (£0.05).[6][9]

In the early 1890s the SER again proposed building an extension of the branch, but this time to Charing Cross and thence to Cannon Street; this plan was deferred circa 1894, and was not later proceeded with by the South Eastern and Chatham Railway Management Committee.[10]

The line is historically significant because it was the first in the world to be controlled by a signal box.[11] The signals and points were installed by Charles Hutton Gregory, and were the first to contain some elements of interlocking.[12] A boiler explosion by a SER locomotive on 11 December 1844 caused a bridge collapse and killed two staff.[13]

Passenger terminus[edit]

Cubitt's facade at Bricklayers' Arms Station c.1845

The terminus building was designed by Lewis Cubitt with an imposing facade resembling his later design of King's Cross railway station,[2] and costing £89,000.[6] From 1844 the SER transferred all of its services to this new terminus, whilst the L&CR operated services from both termini. As mentioned above, the L&CR ceased using the station in 1845 although its successor (the LB&SCR) retained running powers over the branch.

The station was never commercially viable as a passenger terminus due to its location in a poor working-class neighbourhood on the Old Kent Road and its distance from the centre of London. Also its raison d'etre largely disappeared after the South Eastern Railway took over the operation of the London and Greenwich Railway in 1845. A shunting accident during August 1850 caused the collapse of a large part of the station roof, killing a porter.[14] The SER therefore closed the Bricklayers' Arms terminus for passenger traffic in 1852 and transferred all of its services back to London Bridge. Thereafter it was occasionally used for special trains, such as a Royal train carrying Queen Alexandra on 3 March 1863. It was also used for passenger excursions trains from 1932 until circa 1940, and occasional enthusiasts' specials until closure of the line in 1981.

Bricklayers' Arms Goods Depot[edit]

Bricklayers' Arms Goods Depot interior in 1959

After closure of the passenger facilities the original goods station and the surrounding site proved to be ideal for the development of the main SER goods depot in London. New sidings were laid and the former passenger station was converted into a goods station.

Willow Walk Goods Depot[edit]

The LB&SCR inherited the L&CR running powers over the branch line and established their own independent goods facilities on the contiguous site at Willow Walk in July 1849.[15][16] These replaced the former L&CR facilities at New Cross.[17]

The LB&SCR facilities were enlarged in 1854 after the Brighton company entered into an agreement with the SER's rival, the London Chatham and Dover Railway to handle their goods traffic at the depot.[18] Further extensions were built in 1865 and 1902.[19] The Willow Walk depot was officially merged with the Bricklayers' Arms depot by the Southern Railway in March 1932.[20]

Motive Power depot and repair shop[edit]

The main engine shed in 1959

The South Eastern Railway also opened a motive power depot at the site on 1 May 1844, with a turntable large enough to turn the engine and its tender together.[2] This rapidly grew over several buildings and became its principal locomotive depot. It was responsible for an allocation of over 100 locomotives. It operated for nearly 120 years, supplying locomotives and crews for goods and suburban passenger services, as well as the more prestigious express trains from London to the South Coast.[21] It closed on 17 June 1962.[22]

The other important role was to provide refuelling facilities for visiting trains that had worked services into London. Once uncoupled from their coaches, locomotives from Charing Cross, Cannon Street and London Bridge stations usually ran tender-first down to the Bricklayers Arms' shed to be turned round on the large turntable, rewatered and recoaled. Once this was completed, they again ran tender-first back to the terminus to rejoin their train for the return journey out of London. Access to and from the Bricklayers Arms' complex on the SER side was via a branch line down a long slope which dropped below the viaducts to either side of it.

The original two-road (two tracks) engine shed lasted from 1844 until 1869. It was supplemented by a nearby four-road shed in 1847, which in turn was enlarged by an adjoining four-road shed in 1865. After 1869 these two sheds became known as the Old Shed and survived until closure. A fourth shed with six roads was opened in 1869, which was known as the New Shed. This was badly damaged during bombing in the Second World War when it lost its roof, and was never repaired. A fifth engine shed with four roads was converted from a carriage shed in 1902 and was known as St Patrick's Shed. This lasted until closure.[22]

This sign in Mandela Way stands directly over the site of the main locomotive shed [23]

Following the grouping of Britain's railways in 1923, the Southern Railway modernised the depot and in 1934 built a locomotive repair shop.[24] However the facility was badly damaged by enemy action during the Second World War and was never fully repaired afterwards. When British Rail converted from steam to diesel traction in the 1960s the shed became surplus to requirements and closed down, but the goods sidings continued in use until 1981, when the whole complex was sold to developers.

The wheel drop from the repair shop and the turntable from the shed were rescued for the Watercress Line, in Hampshire.[25] The former has been installed at Ropley shed and the latter has been exchanged (summer 2010) for a tank engine.

Current use of the site[edit]

The area occupied by the goods sidings is now covered in houses, whilst the site of the old shed has become an industrial estate, crossed by Mandela Way.


  1. ^ Arnold (1898) p. 283.
  2. ^ a b c Nock (1961), p.26.
  3. ^ "(reprint of 1970s article)". SE1 Community Newsletter. London: London SE1 Website. June 1979. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Turner (1977) pp. 192-204.
  5. ^ Dendy Marshall (1963) p. 32.
  6. ^ a b c Gray (1977), p.31.
  7. ^ 'The Board of Trade and the Kentish railway schemes', (London, 1845)
  8. ^ 'Statement of the projects of the South-Eastern Railway Company before Parliament', session 1847, (South Eastern Railway, 1847).
  9. ^ Sekon (1895) p. 13.
  10. ^ Sekon (1895) p. 36.
  11. ^ Turner (1977) pp.196-8.
  12. ^ Dendy Marshall (1963) p.42.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (25 August 1850).
  15. ^ Turner (1978) p. 22.
  16. ^ The School-Board Map of London, c. 1872
  17. ^ Gray (1977), p.37.
  18. ^ Turner (1978) pp. 121 and 232.
  19. ^ Turner (1978) p. 241 & Turner (1979) p. 154.
  20. ^ Bonavia (1987) p.105.
  21. ^ "Bricklayers Arms". Kent Rail. Retrieved 2009-08-22. 
  22. ^ a b Griffiths and Smith (1999) p.96.
  23. ^ Meridian Air Maps Ltd: Bricklayers Arms - Sheet 1 (July 1956)
  24. ^ Hawkins and Reeve (1979) p. 16.
  25. ^ "Guide". Mid-Hants Railway (The Watercress Line). Archived from the original on 2008-02-24. Retrieved 2009-04-03. 


  • Arnold, Lester (29 January 1898). "Where rare coins come from". The Boy's Own Paper (994): 283. 
  • Bonavia, Michael R. (1967). The history of the Southern Railway. London: Unwin Hyman. ISBN 0-04-385107-X. 
  • Dendy Marshall, C.F. (1963). A history of the Southern Railway vol.1 revised by R. W. Kidner. London: Ian Allan. 
  • Gray, Adrian (1977). The London and Brighton line 1841-1977. Oakwood Press. 
  • Griffiths, Roger and Smith, Paul (1999). The directory of British engine sheds: 1 Southern England, the Midlands, East Anglia and Wales. Oxford Publishing Co. 
  • Hawkins, Chris and Reeve, George (1979). An historical survey of Southern sheds. Oxford Publishing Co. 
  • Jackman, Michael (1976). Thirty years at Bricklayers' Arms. David and Charles. ISBN 978-0715371862. 
  • Jackman, Michael (1980). The Bricklayers' Arms Branch & Loco Shed (Locomotion Paper #125). The Oakwood Press. 
  • Nock, O.S. (1961). The South Eastern and Chatham Railway. London: Ian Allan. 
  • Sekon, G.A. (1895). History of the South Eastern Railway. London: Economic Printing and Publishing Co. 
  • Turner, J.T. Howard (1977). London Brighton and South Coast Railway 1. Origins and formation. London: Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-0275-X. 
  • Turner, J.T. Howard (1978). London Brighton and South Coast Railway 2. Establishment and Growth. London: Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-1198-8. 
  • Turner, J.T. Howard (1979). London Brighton and South Coast Railway 3. Completion and Maturity. London: Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-1389-1. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°29′40″N 0°05′13″W / 51.49433°N 0.08697°W / 51.49433; -0.08697