It seems barely anyone’s blogged (or vlogged) about the new Woolwich station, due to open in December 2018. The other central core stations from Paddington-Abbey Wood get plenty enough coverage. It’s amazing especially when Woolwich’s happens to be the second ever, and biggest underground station so far to be built in London east of the Thames Barrier!
Woolwich (Crossrail) station on first look seems to be somewhat away from the town centre but it’s actually very central. The Dial Arch (western) entrance is in sight of the famous 1828 gatehouse in Beresford Square where the nearby DLR station is located.
Aerial view of Woolwich station box. Royal Arsenal Gatehouse can be seen bottom left. Source: Crossrail
The Crossrail station is sited within the famous Royal Arsenal between the Main and Plumstead Gates. The actual site has been utilised for various military purposes since buildings were first constructed here in 1777. The site eventually became Officers’ quarters, a rifle pattern office and a wood store. The consolidation of the Arsenal from the 1950s onwards and its eventual closure between the 1970s and 1990s meant the location in question was gradually flattened. By the time plans for the station box and oversite development were agreed it had become mostly a car parking lot.
Royal Arsenal Gatehouse, main gates (far left) & Crossrail station shell just visible by Verbruggen’s house
Being the second such to be built, as well as the largest underground station, in South East London one would think completely prime land had to be found for the station’s site. The big surprise here is that Woolwich station is not even a new location for a railway. There have been railways at this location for perhaps a century or more. The Royal Arsenal Railways were said to be one of the biggest systems of its kind in the world.
Okay so that was a huge industrial railway. Still means Crossrail is the relative newcomer? Not necessarily! The corner of Dial Arch Square/Street No. 2 (now Major Draper Street) and adjacent to the western Crossrail entrance, was once the town’s passenger terminus for the intensive 18 inch narrow gauge lines. Passenger trains trundled around the entire Royal Arsenal system taking people to and from their respective workplaces across the estate. Crossrail’s simply followed tradition by bringing passenger trains back to the Royal Arsenal.
Dial Arch Square with its cannon, the new oversite development and Crossrail station behind the fencing
Woolwich station wasn’t planned like any of the entire Abbey Wood branch. Crossrail was originally planned to go straight from Paddington to Pudding Mill Lane and Stratford, no south eastern branches were envisaged. In fact its only because Canary Wharf wanted in on the new railway that the ‘branch’ to Abbey Wood came into being.
Woolwich’s station was thus mooted even later than the one at Canary Wharf. The new residential development at the Woolwich site was originally given the go-ahead in 2004, long before the branch to Abbey Wood was mooted. Yes a new station was planned in conjunction with the Berkeley Homes development, it however would be the Dockland Railway’s Woolwich Arsenal station. 2006 was the year plans were finally agreed for a Crossrail station at Woolwich.
The Dial Arch and its clock, one of the many historic buildings around the Crossrail station
When the branch (now arguably Crossrail’s core main line) was pencilled into the scheme, no station was planned for Woolwich much to the consternation of the locals. The station was finally proposed by way of a special amendment to the Crossrail Bill during 2006.
The excuse for not building a station at Woolwich was the line had to be considerably deep at this point, having just passed underneath the River Thames. It was said a station would incur huge financial costs because additional groundwork and alterations to the line’s alignment would be necessary to allow the shallower approaches necessary for a station.
The Crossrail site (looking west) when it was still a car parking lot. Source: Google Streets 2009
The issue was hotly debated in Parliament with some deriding the fact the Government didn’t want a station at Woolwich – in 2006 prices were costed at £186 million. MPs derided the fact the Government wanted to save considerably less than one percent of the total cost of the entire line. Here’s the full Parliament debate if anyone wants a read.
The pre-Crossrail site (view east) by Royal Arsenal gatehouse/main entrance. Source: Google Streets 2009
When it was finally agreed to build the facility it was just the station box that was constructed. No-one had yet agreed on the actual development of the station. The agreements were made at the very last minute in 2011, just before all the contracts for the building of Crossrail were let out. Berkeley Homes built the station box as part of the work which had long been been underway to redevelop this particular part of the town.
General view of the Crossrail station site with the oversite development present as tall blocks of flats
The station box was completed in 2013 thence the oversite construction began. However last minute agreements written up in July 2013 ensured the empty shell would be constructed as a station. The first homes at the eastern end of the station oversite were completed in 2015.
However it still it did look as if Woolwich would not get its station and trains would simply run through, because the funding was not there to complete the station. Further negotiations were necessary and eventually a way was found to procure the finance necessary to allow the actual station to be built. In 2014 Balfour Beatty were awarded the contract.
Woolwich station was designed by Weston Williamson, who also designed the station at the other end of the central London section, Paddington. The station was originally going to be called Royal Arsenal Woolwich to reflect the location it stood in, however it was ultimately decided to simply call it Woolwich to completely distinct it from the two nearby Woolwich Arsenal stations.
Cropped image to show as best as can the rifle barrel grooves used on the station fascia. Source: Crossrail
The designs for the new station were gained from historical elements of the Royal Arsenal itself. The brickwork inside the station is said to emulate the nearby historic arsenal buildings, whilst the facade on the entrance at Dial Arch Square is actually from a rifle profile made at the old pattern room that once stood on the site (this pattern is from the interior of the rifle barrel which causes the bullets to spin as they are fired.)
The other notable aspect is that the engravings on the large sized first world war memorial medallion (or dead man’s penny – countless numbers of these were made at the arsenal) have been used to design the screens on the north side of the station facing Armourer’s Court.
Medallion pressed at Woolwich in the early 20th century
How the station shall look with its glass fronted panelling depicting the medallion. Source: Crossrail
View looking across the Armourer’s open space to Crossrail’s station. Compare with previous picture.
The station platforms will have special reference to the area’s military history, especially the Royal Engineers, once based in Woolwich. The corps’ insigna is depicted on the platform columns.
Illustration of the platforms and column insignia at Woolwich. Source: Crossrail
The site is rather unusual again because of the way the Crossrail advertising is spread out. At other places this is almost totally confined to the station areas. The difference here is Berkeley Homes are in charge of most developments across the Royal Arsenal site, so the Crossrail hoarding can be found at various other sites which are quite unrelated to the station.
Crossrail advertising at development near what is now the main Royal Arsenal museum
Nearer to the Woolwich free ferry is this new development, with Crossrail adverts at both ground level and the top of the buildings! This area is known as Maribor Park.
Nearer to home! Hoarding in Crossrail Walk directly above the station site
Despite the many references to Crossrail, there’s little said of the Elizabeth Line save for some hoardings in Dial Arch Square. There’s just one picture off site (presumably this is the newest bit of the entire development) that refers to the line’s new identity even though its not actually mentioned by name.
Its a rarity to find actual streets or thoroughfares named after Crossrail. As far as I know, its just Canary Wharf with several and Woolwich with its one Crossrail Walk. This leads past the new Cannon Square to Station Way and Armoury Court.
Crossrail Walk passes within the oversite development. Will it be renamed Elizabeth Walk?
At first glance it seems the Woolwich station has two exits. However the eastern buildings in Arsenal Way, are intended to be an emergency access point and ventilation shaft facility only.
The unfinished eastern station buildings in Arsenal Way
Woolwich Arsenal DLR station is just 190metres from Crossrail’s (barely visible thro the arch)
Despite the close proximity of the Woolwich stations it’s difficult to see one from the other. From the main entrances (DLR 2/Southeastern) there’s a slender line of sight but depends on the buildings. From the other DLR entrance (DLR 1), the nearest and also at a higher elevation, Crossrail’s can just about be discerned through the narrow arches of the gatehouse. I wonder if the station totems could be positioned and additional signs provided so as to ensure any interchanges made here are more convivial.
I have made a map to show the area and how the different stations/entrances are related to each other. The historic Royal Arsenal Gatehouse is roughly in the centre of the map:
Link to the Woolwich section of the interactive Crossrail map. Ignore the blue ‘Get Started’ panel. Just click on the map itself and that panel will disappear. One can zoom in or out, and explore the other sections too, it works similar to Google’s.