Norwood celebrates railway project that linked communities

Croydon’s controversially partisan Tory mayor, Eddy Arram, will be doing the honours tomorrow when he unveils two plaques marking the centenary of the opening of the pedestrian subway under Norwood Junction station.

The tunnel links South Norwood town centre with Clifford Road south of the railway station. The plaques will be at either end of the tunnel with the first unveiling at 3pm on the southern side of the railway line.

Although much spruced up by work done for the council by Liane Lang in a pictorial art piece reflecting local life called The Long Way Home, some may ask why such a pedestrian piece of functional community provision is worthy of a centenary celebration.

The sometimes unfriendly small bore tunnel (just 9ft 3in at its widest) has often in its life been so neglected that pedestrians have avoided the place. In more recent years the council has made efforts to improve lighting and decoration to make it less off-putting. The change of the station into an East London Line overground station – linking south London to the Olympic East End – is also taking passenger numbers to record levels.

The tunnel’s presence highlights how the area has always been regarded as at least two communities. The station’s name was at one time: “Norwood Junction and South Norwood for Woodside”. The station was named Norwood Junction in 1955.

The Norwood Junction subway, with its original tiling, and before recent art works were added

The tunnel dates back to 1912 and was a very early example of reinforced concrete rather than expensive cast-iron rings being used to build tunnels. A previous tunnel had become the subject of much criticism in the previous 20 years for being unable to cope with flows of commuters but being far too accommodating to flows of sewerage water.

An early example of the terrors of private provision of public transport came when the railway closed their new subway to commuters, dividing the communities north and south of the railway. The original public provision of access to the subway dated back to a bridge over the Croydon Canal that was removed by the railway companies.

At a time when councillors believed in the need for state intervention, the Edwardian era’s Streets Improvement Committee recommended to Croydon County Borough Council an outlay of £6,000 for a tunnel to be constructed.

According to “People for Portland Road”, the residents’ group that is doing much to improve the local area, including paying for the plaques, “George Fearnley Carter (c1879-1962), the Borough Engineer, and Councillor W Robarts began to seek suitable contractors. They learned that the construction firm Messrs McAlpine & Sons were building a water conduit in a ‘peculiar method’ using reinforced concrete. Carter conceived it might be possible to construct a subway using this new technology and so designed the subway using this approach.”

A century ago, it appears that the council checked before the work began that it could use the land either side of the railway tracks for this linking tunnel – unlike their 2012 counterparts, and colleagues of Mayor Arram. The 1912 scheme came in 22 per cent under budget, being built in just five months, and remains a model for modern day construction work with a strong hand played by the borough engineer.

Arram will be taking time out from his “day job” as a state-funded assistant to Conservative MP Gavin Barwell when he attends tomorrow’s ceremony. It is not really clear that the current mayor, with his sceptical views on the role of the council in achieving community improvements, is really the right choice to undertake an unveiling that celebrates municipal activism.

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2 Responses to Norwood celebrates railway project that linked communities

  1. Very good article and nice to read technical information about one of the town’s historic projects. (They built things to last in those days too.)

  2. A great turn out yesterday and the newly formed South Norwood Tourist Board has some good photos on its website. A rousing chorus of Happy Birthday To You was sung to the tunnel!

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