This week saw the return of an old friend – the stonework from the original 1886 station at London Blackfriars which describes all the destinations you can get to. And very glamorous they are too – Venice, Baden-Baden and St Petersburg (and Bromley and Beckenham too).
The station opened as St Pauls in May 1886, crossing the Thames on new iron bridge built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel‘s son Henry Marc and Tower Bridge designer John Wolfe Barry. While the destinations on the stones were all technically reachable by the London Chatham and Dover Railway and connecting boat, it was the lucrative traffic to Gravesend the station was really aiming to capture, in direct competition to the existing London Tilbury and Southend Railway‘s route that involved crossing the Thames by ferry.
One of the first groups to use the station were a part of visiting Indians who were taken by special train to Canterbury where they were given a banquet by the mayor, and a rousing speech by the archbishop of Canterbury telling them of the benefits of British civilization at a time when other nations were in decline. You wouldn’t have got that in Baden Baden!
Sadly the first six months of operation saw three accidents on the stretch of railway going over the river, including two fatalities. One involved a plate layer called Thomas Leaman who had been sent to put some rivets in the bridge and was struck by the 4.02 from Ludgate Hill. Poor Leaman got blamed for the incident as he was looking the wrong way.
While its fair to say that most of the passengers at the station in the 1880s were coming from the South London suburbs rather than the company’s fast new cross channel steamship Victoria, by the time the station was rebuilt in 1977 (by this time known as Blackfriars), the destination stones looked even more out of place. I remember walking through the dreary block and thinking how remote Darnstadt and Brindisi seemed to a daily commuter, especially since connecting boat trains at Dover Docks were no more. However that was before St Pancras International. Perhaps the destination stones make more sense now. A quick check on my European rail app says it is only three changes of train from Blackfriars to Baden Baden, leave at 06:12 and you could be at your health spa by 14:22. Even St Petersburg is a simple change at St Pancras, Brussels and Berlin, although it will take you two days. Perhaps catch a plane from Gatwick just down the line instead.
If I had the time, Id love to visit all the places on the stones, I bet some lucky person will plan to do it soon. In the meantime you can join us for a much shorter but no less exiting journey to Blackfriars this Saturday when we will be following the River Fleet from its source in Hampstead to the Thames right next to Blackfriars railway station