St Johns, London
St John's is noted for its late 19th-century housing, constructed as Deptford New Town, and protected as the Brookmill Road and St John's Conservation Areas since 1972 and 1976 respectively. It was also the site in 1957 of one of Britain's worst railway disasters.
The district is named after the dedication of the parish church of St John, Deptford that was established in 1855. The church lies at the top of the hill, almost adjacent to the railway station which borrowed its name. The area encompasses streets between Brookmill Road and Lewisham Way, bound by Friendly Street in the west and railway embankments in the south-east. Parts of northern Brockley may be included in the designation, which includes Brockley's Farmers' Market.
Deptford New Town was conceived by the Lucas family as an affordable and spacious alternative for the working classes of mid to late 19th century Deptford. Originally from Cumbria, the family made their wealth in South Carolina, where they built and managed water-powered rice mills.
There are a few older buildings - the most notable being the late 18th-century Italianate mansion known as the Stone House. St John's Church was built in 1855, designed by PC Hardwicke
St John's station opened in 1871, at a time when housing construction was still in full swing.
The Brookmill Road Conservation Area was designated in 1972, and is bordered by Friendly Street, Brookmill Road, the southern and eastern boundaries of the properties on Albyn Road, and the railway line. The St John's Conservation Area, created four years later, covers the area between this and the Lewisham Way.
Brookmill Road Conservation Area is subject to an Article 4 Direction, preserving the character of the area by prohibiting many kinds of external alterations.
The population of the area is mixed, largely reflecting the huge rise in property prices in recent years. A few houses are council owned, some are let, and most are owner-occupied. In the five years surrounding the arrival of the Docklands Light Railway at Deptford Bridge, house prices in the area quadrupled. This resulted in an unusual mix of wealthy city folk commuting to Canary Wharf and less well-off people who had lived in the area for some time. The recent establishment and expansion of Brockley Farmers' Market, nearest station to which is St. John's, is evidence of on-going gentrification.
1957 railway crash
At 6:20pm on Wednesday, 4 December 1957, in dense fog, St John's station was rocked by one of Britain's worst railway disasters, killing 90 people and injuring 176 more.
Due to the adverse weather, trains were late and crowded. The 5.18pm electric train from Charing Cross to Hayes, with 1500 passengers on board, was stationary beneath the railway bridge carrying the line to Victoria, to the east of St John's station. The 4.56pm steam express train from Cannon Street to Ramsgate, carrying 700 people, ploughed into the rear of the standing train at 30 mph. The last three carriages of the steam train came to rest before they had even passed out of the station.
The 10-coach electric train in front suffered catastrophic damage as coach 8 was run through and completely destroyed by the coach immediately behind it. The leading coach of the steam train concertinaed into the steam engine in front, throwing both off the tracks to the left and dislodging a column which supported the bridge overhead. The bridge immediately collapsed, completing the destruction of the leading coach, and crushing the second and half of the third.
Further disaster was narrowly averted two minutes later when the driver of the 5.22pm from Holborn Viaduct to Nunhead, travelling on the elevated section, noticed that the bridge was at an angle and stopped his train. Had he not done so, the front coach or perhaps two coaches would have tumbled onto the wreckage below.
The official report into the incident, published in June 1958, provides exquisite detail, including diagrams of where each carriage came to rest, and images of the collapsed bridge as viewed from the Hither Green side. The report holds Driver W. J. Trew of the steam express solely responsible for the accident.
The report also remarks on the misfortune of the bridge supports being knocked out. This was a particular problem because the bridge crossed at an acute angle, necessitating a much longer unsupported span than for a perpendicular crossing. The report states "I know of no other case in which a bridge has collapsed in this way, but in view of the serious consequences of this accident the problem will be considered in future bridge design." Indeed, overhead photography of the current bridge shows exactly how this was achieved, in a design which has become commonplace for acute-angle crossings.
The area is compact, well-delineated, and protected from excessive development. However it is surrounded by very varied areas.
Greenwich lies to the north, and is rapidly spreading south to fill the under-utilised space along Greenwich High Road, as expensive housing developments are constructed. Greenwich is a tourist hotspot and a centre for entertainment and dining. To the east, but not immediately accessible due to the River Ravensbourne, is Blackheath, a genteel, pretty, and even more sought-after suburb. To the south lies Lewisham, with a shopping centre dissected by major roads, and a hub for public transportation in the form of light rail, heavy rail and bus services. To the north lies Deptford, an old-fashioned yet vibrant area including, according to BBC News Online, London's best shopping street.
St Johns station is in London Travel Zone 2 and serves the area with services to London Cannon Street and London Charing Cross via London Bridge and services in the other direction towards various destinations in South East London and Kent. St Johns is served by many Transport for London bus services connecting it with areas in South and Central London including Lewisham, Greenwich, New Cross, Peckham, Woolwich, Thamesmead, Catford, Eltham, Sidcup, Canada Water, London Bridge and London Victoria.
- Mills, A.D. (2001), Dictionary of London Place Names, Oxford, ISBN 0-19-280106-6
- Great Britain Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Deptford St John. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
- "St John's, Deptford New Town Case Study". www.ideal-homes.org.uk. Archived from the original on 8 July 2008. Retrieved 2009-12-19.
- "'Best shopping street' in London". BBC News. 23 February 2005. Retrieved 24 May 2010.