SiR 5) Hallowfield Way to Mitcham Jct

Having crossed Church Road into Hallowfield Way, the railway’s alignment heads towards a vehicle pound right at the bottom of the road. However there is no through route to Mitcham. This is attained by a side passage back up on the left of Hallowfield Way.

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Car pound at the bottom of Hallowfield Way on the SiR’s route. Ability to impound abandoned SiR wagons perhaps?

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Public footpath leading off Hallowfield Way. At the far end turn right into Church Path, which leads to Barons Walk.

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Baron’s Walk en route to Mitcham.

Instead of Baron’s Walk one can alternatively use the London Road Playing Fields on the east side. This is a large open space and gives just as convient access to Mitcham as does Baron’s Walk. The north entrance to the fields is at Church path whilst the southern entry/exit is near where Baron’s Walk crosses the Tramlink lines.

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Baron’s Walk meets the Croydon Tramlink route at Mitcham.

The SiR’s alignment meets the Tramlink (formerly the Southern’s Wimbledon – West Croydon line) just before Mitcham bridge. The standard gauge railway was opened in 1855 and follows the SiR’s route to the site of Waddon Marsh halt. There is no trace of the SiR’s route at this point so the exact point at which the two lines met must be conjectured. From maps it appears the location could have been just before Mitcham Bridge, however it does appear the SiR approached Mitcham at a slightly different angle to that of the Wimbledon-Croydon line, hence the actual road crossing may have been slightly north of the actual present bridge.

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Looking back towards Baron’s Walk and the point where the SiR merged with the Wimbledon-West Croydon route.

Tramlink has an unusual situation at Mitcham because it employs interlaced track rather than a true single track through the narrow cutting. Clearly this serves better than a very short section of single track operated by points. However its not the only instance, there is another example at Reeves Corner (or more appropriately for the Surrey Iron Railway connoiseur – Pitlake.)

The site of Mitcham station was where several buildings served by sidings were located. In iron railway days the roadway was at a lower level and the SiR’s route at a higher level, so all that was needed was a level crossing. The cutting under Mitcham bridge was dug to enable the Wimbledon-West Croydon line to pass through the narrow profile unhindered and this had the effect of leaving part of the old SiR route isolated. This is now the bit of ‘Tramway Path’ further towards Mitcham Junction.

Look out for the old station building by London Road. Its of a very unusual design for a station. Whats more is it wasnt actually on the railway itself but to the north a short distance from the bridge.

More information about Mitcham station can be found at Nick Catford’s excellent site.

Mitcham’s Surrey Iron Railway relics

The Wandle Museum just a short distance up the London Road (open Wednesday 1 to 4 and Sunday afternoons 2 to 5) has a few items of the SiR. These include a wheel and a section of cast iron plate rail with two stone sleepers. A section of rail from the Croydon, Merstham & Godstone railway is also on display.

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Model of Surrey Iron Railway made by Mr John French, a local school teacher & presented to the museum.

The wheel shown below was one of the batch that were found in the Wandle nearby. A complete wheel from this set can be seen in the Castle Museum at Guildford.

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SiR wagon wheel and a section of cast iron plate rail on two stone sleepers.

The museum is at The Vestry Hall Annexe, London Road, Mitcham, CR4 3UD. The nearest rail transport is Mitcham Tramlink halt. Web: www.wandle.org

Lavender (and a bit about Raleigh)

Mitcham was once famed for its calico printing industry. It was in part due to the popularity of this that the SiR was built. Certainly the idea of a railway was to serve all the mills and industries that thrived on the banks of the Wandle.

Apparently the soil in the area was good. We are told that “250 acres are occupied by the physic gardeners, who cultivate lavender, wormwood, camomile, aniseed, rhubarb, liquorice, and many other medicinal plants, in great abundance; but principally peppermint, of which there are above 100 acres.” (British History Online) Clearly the SiR would have benefited these people too. One Mitcham firm, Potter & Moore, was strongly associated with lavender.

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Left: Mitcham smelling salts from 1920s. Right: Mitcham compact powder tin

One other of Mitcham’s claims to fame is Sir Walter Raleigh. In the 1590’s he had an affair with Queen Elizabeth’s maid, Elizabeth Throckmorton. They eventually married and lived what became known as Raleigh House. This house was probably inherited from Throckmorton’s succession from the family known as the Carews of Beddington. In 1618 Raleigh was executed for offences of treason. It has been claimed that since, the ghost of Raleigh has resided in Beddington churchyard. Raleigh was in fact buried at St Margaret’s Church in Parliament Square. However Lady Elizabeth Raleigh wished him buried at Beddington, and at some point the body is rumoured to have been exhumed and moved to Beddington. This is just one of a number of myths that surround the mysterious fate of his headless body.

Raleigh House was sold in 1616, and must have been pulled down by the start of the 18th Century. The Eagle House in London Road was built in 1705 on the Raleigh site. It was later leased by James Dolliffe, a director of the South Sea Company whose South Sea Bubble of 1720 caused panic in Britain’s market and forcing her economic fortunes to flounder. Since 1821 Eagle House, said to be one of the country’s finest surviving Queen Anne houses, has been a school and currently accomodates children with autism.

Much of the Wimbledon-West Croydon line served huge industry and the route was well equipped with many sidings and freight facilities. The stations towards the western end of the were however more straighforward stops and Mitcham was one of these. Several industries grew up where the SiR’s alignment once met the railway and by the 1900’s new railway lines had been built onto the former alignment of the SiR to serve a number of works to the north, near the the present Hallowfield Way. Nowadays there appears to be no trace of any of Mitcham’s railways and Tramlink has the only rails through the locale.

The Wandle river nearby had many mills and the SiR proved a boon for these utilities. It appears, quite un-evidenced of course, that there was a two way collaboration between the railway and the mills. In return for carriage of goods, the railway’s wagons were maintained and repaired in out buildings owned by the Crown Mill. One puzzle however is it does not seem the SiR wagons were ever used on ordinary roads, despite claims they were suited for that purpose. The question then is how did the wagons make it from the SiR down to the mills? It can only have been by road unless a branch had been built. So far, no proof of this. Again this is based on deductions made because a large number of SiR wheels indeed were found in the river by the mills.


Mitcham Tramlink Halt. The SiR had a fairly substantial layout here, with sidings that extended into a warehouse.

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Tramway Path sign in Mitcham Park at the rear of the tramlink stop.

One can either descend to Mitcham Tramlink halt and then ascend back up to the old SiR route, or take tramway path to the far end and cross Tramlink there. There is a passageway just south of the Tramlink Halt and this leads to Mitcham Park and The Close. Follow this and a public path is eveident to the left side at the junction with Bramcote Avenue. This is the original Surrey Iron Railway alignment. The Wimbledon-West Croydon line took a slightly different route leaving around a third of a mile of the SiR’s route isolated on the north side as ‘Tramway Path’.

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Tramway Path at the far end of The Close, by Bramcote Ave, where it is signed as a footpath to Willow Lane.

Tramway Path runs behind the backs of houses and across Caesars Walk. Just beyond here can be discerned an alignment heading back towards the Tramlink route. This indicates the old SiR route as it rejoined the Wimbledon-West Croydon line, and by the time one reaches Willow Lane bridge both routes are once again fully merged.

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Willow Lane bridge with the SiR’s Hackbridge branch in the distance. This is now a footpath (again ‘Tramway Path’.)

One must cross the Willow Lane bridge and then immediately descend the far side via some steps. This leads down onto a further section of Tramway Path and in fact is the formation of the old SiR’s branch to Hackbridge. This is walked for a short distance before another path comes in from the left. Take this path round into Aspen Gardens and up the slope to Carshalton Road and thence into the environs of Mitcham Junction station.

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The SiR’s Hackbridge branch – aka Tramway Path – as it leads towards Aspen Gdns to give access to Mitcham Junction station.

The Hackbridge branch was a mile and a half in length and it served a number of mills on the Wandle. According to the SiR’s information the branch’s terminus was in ‘Carshalton’ even though it ended just to the north of Hack Bridge itself. Perhaps the most interesting of the mills in the area was Mr Shepley’s. it had its own private iron railway that ran from the SiR’s Hackbridge terminus to where the Felnex Trading Estate is, just north of the Victoria-Sutton railway line.

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The tramlink and Victoria-Sutton lines meet just before the Carshalton Road bridge at Mitcham junction.

The station at Mitcham Junction is on the SiR route, whilst that belonging to Tramlink is on an entirely new alignment.

From Mitcham to Croydon was practically open countryside in SiR days. The SiR’s depot at Mitcham was likely the last one before the Pitlake terminus. A branch was built to Hackbridge where the SiR could tap into more traffic opportunities.

The Blue Houses mystery

It is said there used to be stables and staff accomodation for the iron railroad at the Blue House Inn a short distance to the north of the current Mitcham Junction station, and it is quite possible these stables, if they did exist, focussed on the possibly more busy sections of SiR to Wandsworth as well as the nearby Hackbridge branch.

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The Blue Houses & Ravensbury Arms in the 1860s, perhaps just 18 years after the SiR had closed.

Originally it was said there were nine of these known as the Blue Houses, sited near the Blue House roundabout (junction of Carshalton A237 and Croydon A236 roads) next to the Ravensbury Arms. This pub may have been built as early as 1797, and known as the Blue House Inn, although there are records of a building as far back as 1738. The Inn itself and its five or nine (depends which sources are used) houses were weather boarded buildings. Apparently there was also a beer house on the site called The Conqueror. The Ravensbury Inn was rebuilt in 1906. At the other end of Mitcham Common was the Red House Inn, aka The Jolly Gardners, demolished around 2003. The first of the Blue Houses had been demolished by 1904 and the last in the early 1960’s.

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The Ravensbury Arms, Mitcham. The Blue Houses were sited in what is now the pub’s garden area.

It does seem more likely that the Blue Houses predated the SiR by a few years. One problem in confirming these buildings as the SiR’s stables is they are nearly half a mile away to the north, when they could be much nearer. Merton Libraries & Heritage Services do not say much about the plausible links to the SiR other than perhaps there was an association with the railway in the 1840’s and the houses were painted blue because some of the SiR’s wagons carried a distinctive blue livery, or that the railway’s own stables (where ever they were) being painted blue. Seems the link between the Blue Houses and the SiR is just a common assumption and ultimately it may be just like that ascribed to the SiR stables claimed to exist a couple of miles back up the line at Church Lane.

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Mitcham Junction. The SiR & the old Wimbledon-West Croydon line went straight ahead. Tramlink crosses by way of the bridge

Beyond Mitcham the railway practically abandoned the Wandle River valley and headed straight across Mitcham Common and Waddon Marsh, which in those days were wide expanses of countryside with little of commercial interest. It does seem an odd choice for a railway route, but perhaps this was a somewhat factor in the railway’s decision to build a branch to Hackbridge.

The SiR, long having extolled as one of the reasons for construction being the advantages in serving the Wandle valley, has given us the mystery of a route which over the next two and half miles appears to have ignored all such opportunity for any trade with the river. No reason is given for the route thus taken. Clearly after the CMG was built (with its connection to the Croydon Canal) the section from Mitcham southwards must have been the least used on the SiR, and the maintenance of such a lengthy stretch must have dented the railway’s fortunes. There is practically nothing of note related to the railway’s existence or its work in the long section between Mitcham Junction and Croydon’s Pitlake.

Next: Waddon Marsh via the Tramlink route

Surrey Iron Railway pages:

McMurrays Canal / Surrey Iron Railway / Through Wandsworth / Wandsworth to Earlsfield / Summerstown to New Wimbledon / Colliers Wood to Church Lane / Hallowfield Way to Mitcham Jct / Mitcham to Wandle Park / Cornwall Road to Croydon

 

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