Crystal Palace High Level

The Prototype

Crystal Palace High Level Station was opened in 1865 by the Crystal Palace & South Junction Railway, a subsidiary of the London Chatham & Dover Railway. It was built to compete with the Low Level Station constructed by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway which had opened a number of years earlier and to tap the lucrative traffic to the major south London attraction.

The line branched off from Nunhead station going up hill to Honor Oak station, then via Lordship Lane Station and Upper Sydenham Station, finally terminating at Crystal Palace High Level, with its vast Italianate double vaulted train shed designed by Edward Middleton Barry.

Staff photograph the day before the station closed during WW1. Note the bomb damaged Brighton Bell set in the background.

Staff photograph the day before the station closed during WW2.
Note the bomb damaged Brighton Belle set in the background.

The branch was electrified in 1925, one of the earliest new schemes carried out by the Southern Railway, however it was closed during both world wars as an economy measure. Re-opened in 1945, the line was little used due mainly to the fact that the Crystal Palace had itself burnt down in 1936 and it was observed that the rats scurrying under the platforms outnumbered the passengers! The last train ran on 19th September 1954 and the station was demolished in 1961. All that remain today are Paxton Tunnel, the arched retaining wall, the bridge at Farquhar Road and the vaulted 1st class passenger’s subway under Crystal Palace Parade.

The Model

Crystal Palace North End Building

Crystal Palace North End Building

For those who have not seen this layout before, its construction began in 1986, although the original mark 1 base boards were scrapped after 5 years due to severe warping of the chipboard tops after the Southwark Model Railway Club made its first clubroom move from a cold damp environment to a dry one. The opportunity was then taken to build new plywood baseboards and convert the track from code 100 to code 75 Finescale, the only original items retained being the buildings. The ongoing history of the layout has however mirrored that of the club, with numerous changes of clubroom, some with minimal storage and limited working space making progress very difficult and a including period of 18 months when the club was effectively homeless with everything stored in two cold and damp garages far from ideal and detrimental to our layouts.

Crystal Palace South End Building

Crystal Palace South End Building

However the layout has survived and fortunately just over a year ago we were lucky in finding a nice new clubroom with a reasonable amount of storage space and good working space and have now been able to get stuck into progressing work on the layout. Although the main station buildings still require considerable work, most of the other features of the site have been completed including the extensive track work including the conductor rail for the Southern Electric Multiple Units and the sidings for empty carriage stock and coal wagons. The substantial coal merchant’s staithes and stock piles have been modelled and await the addition of the merchant’s huts and conveniences, not to mention the coal itself. There is also the horse dock on the main head shunt which was mainly used by circus’s performing in the palace grounds and the diminutive turntable which allowed tank engines and small tender locomotives to run around their trains. On the front corner of the layout a group of houses on Farquhar Road are under construction and at the back of the layout we are also featuring the parade of single storey shops and the public conveniences, which recently appeared in George Clarke’s ‘Amazing Spaces’ on Channel 4. Finally at the tunnel end of the layout we shall also model the ‘Knoll’, a large multi-roomed mansion house which was a major landmark, third only to the station and the Palace itself.

4 SUB entering the station

4 SUB entering the station

Artwork is being prepared to provide etched brass windows for the station building, signal box and houses and this method will also be used to produce the substantial girder work for the twin overall roofs of the train shed. The pavements on Farquhar Road will be weathered to resemble stone slabs and the gutters renewed and fitted with rain water gulleys with the road itself resurfaced and fitted with manhole covers. Then eventually we will install working street lighting. The extensive cobble stoned areas in the goods yard area will be mottled with various shades of grey to create the granite effect and grouted to show the dust and dirt between them.

C Class on the turntable

C Class on the turntable

As you will note most of the layout has been painted into base colours and the next stage will be the weathering of the fixed structures and development of the scenics, applying layers of greenery, bushes and trees to ground areas and embankments and coal to the coal staithes. There are numerous small details to be added including point rodding and conductor rail cabling and the provision of the small number of working signals on the site.  1920’s and 30’s vehicles including horse-drawn carts for the coal merchants and many figures in cameos, though not in the station, as passengers were apparently few and far between, the main reason for the early demise of the station.

Paxton Tunnel

Paxton Tunnel

Crystal Palace High Level is still most definitely a ‘Work in Progress’, but there is now light at the end of the tunnel.

N.B. With special thanks to Ayjay Models for the loan of Southern EMU resin kits.

Photos by Brian Roper and Paul Jupp.


4 Responses to Crystal Palace High Level

  1. Nigel Cromey says:

    I remember as a child being held over the wall to see where the turntable was and also going in the old station when I was around about 12 yrs old with some school mates we entered through the tunnel with torches from I think it was called Dulwich wood avenue a long path with trees each side when through the tunnel we came across a subway very decorative I think it was built by Italians for exhibition, made our way to the main station glass everywhere the roof had gone but it was quite a day living the fear of getting caught and imagination running through our minds.

  2. Roger Lamb says:

    I was taken, aged 10, on what I remember as the last trip along the line, although latterly I am unable to say it was the last official trip or the special the day after closing. I thought the one I was on was in blood and custard carriages with a Standard 4 tank on the front, whereas the special seems to have been powered by a C-Class.

    I remember playing in the paddling pool in Horniman Gardens while the trains went past, some still in olive green livery.

    Roger Lamb, Beckenham.

  3. Jason Bright says:

    Fantastic model, we all used to dare ourselves to walk through Paxton Tunnel, ‘s’ shaped so very dark in the middle.
    Jason Bright, Anerley

  4. Richard says:

    Brilliant post I first saw this part layout displayed at the 1986 London Bridge Anniversary event.
    Really glad to see it is still a work in progress
    as the line is of interest to me as I also used to play in the tunnel at Crescent Wood Road. LOL I remember getting part way through when some other kid who were hiding in the side portals jumped out on us.
    Me and my mate legged it all the way to Hornimans before we stopped due to the fright.
    Thanks for reminding me of such happy days

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