Angerstein Wharf and Railway – John Smith

Extract from John Smith, A History of Charlton Vol. 2.

In October 1852, the South Eastern Co. were leased Mr John Angerstein’s one-mile long branch line that had been tentatively started some three years earlier, and finally completed in May 1851. The private railway joined the North Kent line near Charlton to Angersteins wharf on the Thames at Bugsby’s Reach. As it was built almost entirely on Angerstein’s own land and with his own money, it did not require the usual Parliamentary powers, although he did find it necessary to go to Parliament for authority to build the bridge across the Greenwich and Woolwich Turnpike – now the Woolwich Road. Much of the earth to construct the embankment leading up to the bridge and across the marshlands came from the Blackheath Tunnel excavation. The line cut Coomb Farm in two and Mr K.R. Roberts a descendant of the family who farmed there for almost a century wrote in the Greenwith and  Lewisham. Ant. Soc. Trans.  No. 4 p. 186’…that the farm buildings were in Westcoombe Hill facing the flight of steps over the Angerstein siding. The steps were erected by the railway company for the benefit of the farm workers to save having to go round under the bridge in Woolwich Road. They were very useful for another purpose as one could climb to the top of them with a telescope and see what all the farmworkers were doing …’ The South Eastern Co. had ambitious plans for an extension of the line to Blackwall Point where it would run to a floating pier extending 120 ft. into the river. The aim was to establish a ferry across the river so as to form a communication with the newly opened North London Railway. The Admiralty objected on the grounds ‘that such protrusion into the Thames would deflect the current and also inconvenience craft navigating the river’. They did however suggest that a dock or recess in the land cut out to receive the floating jetty would equally serve the purpose. Presumably the S.E.R. had second thoughts, possibly financial, for they rapidly dropped the river project. Just before the turn of the century (October 1898) the company purchased the railway and wharf with its 755 ft. frontage from the Angerstein Trustees, following the death of William Angerstein grand- son of John Julius the builder of the Angerstein empire. A series of short branches – or long sidings – were subsequently added to serve local manufacturing companies – United Glass Bottles Co, G.A. Harvey Co., Christies Ltd, and the L.C.C. Tramways Central Repair Depot, while the line itself was extended by the South Eastern Gas Co. to their oil and coal wharf near Blackwall Point. In 1912, William Christie & Co. Ltd (later Christie & Veney Ltd) large timber importers and creosoters purchased the 16 acre siding site from the S.E. and C. Railway. They improved the wharfage front to accommodate vessels of 5000 tons, and for fifty years 150-200,000 tons of iron, steel timber, coke, sand, slates, tiles, fullers earth etc was discharged annually.

Today, the line is still thriving, although not on such a scale as previously. Most of the sidings have been removed but Thames Metals still have rail served premises and Murphy Aggregates employ 100- ton hopper wagons to carry sea-dredged aggregates to their London depots. As part of the Southern Railway’s electrification project, Angerstein’s Wharf Branch was electrified in 1959, largely on the overhead system. The line was never designed for passenger traffic, although on rare occasions special trains for railway enthusiasts have been run.

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