William Cory’s Train Set
Sidings near Belvedere
by John Hinson
In the course of some research carried out into Crabtree Crossing box, an interesting report from the Board of Trade came to light, regarding developments during World War One. The connections with the main line, near Belvedere are nothing outstanding, but the sidings that they served were exquisitely laid out.
The sidings were, in fact, a War Office project – provided for Messrs Cory to stack coal destined for the ordnance factories at Woolwich Arsenal. The coal came in by rail, and was stockpiled prior to loading into barges bound for Woolwich.
Rumour has it that many children have based their Triang train set layout on this intriguing prototype layout!
On a more serious note, some interesting correspondence exists on the Inspecting Officer’s file regarding the positioning of the connections with the main line at Crabtree Crossing box, which also identify the purpose of the unusual layout. The Board of Trade requirements then required all siding connections to be located more than 100 yards from any level crossing to prevent the crossing to be fouled during shunting operations. (In fact this requirement still exists, despite the inappropriateness of the 100 yard distance and that shunting of trains is, these days, rare). This circular layout allowed trains to run arrive and depart without any such shunting movement.
Roger Hornsby wrote in December 1999 with some interesting information about this location:
Within the last few years there have been considerable road ‘improvements’ in this area, between the SER line and the Thames. The major road built has been a spine road, running from Erith to cut Crabtree Manor Way some 300m north of what was the Crabtree level crossing and continue to join the earlier dual carriageway that runs across the open marshland to Woolwich.
The triangle of land trapped between the railway and this new spine road, Bronze Age Way the A2036, is being developed as a road haulage yard. The Land Registry shows the site as two plots, one corresponding to the area annotated as “Messrs Cory’s Sidings”. The land take of the old SER steps in towards the tracks by the link with the main line. The gate across the link still exists as does a short section of track from just the Railtrack side of the gate to the majority of a turnout. The three sidings occupied a low embankment that was twice the width needed but that had been fenced to enclose the three sidings only.
An apocryphal story is that the North Downs Railway, not the most fortunate of preservation societies, had negotiated with the owners of the site to lift this bullhead rail but were beaten to it by ‘others’ – the implication being that the NDR had exposed the track by clearing the undergrowth only to make the theft easier.
Interestingly a report by a Consultant, mainly an office based map study to assess possible contamination of the ground, contained a number of part maps that implied the site had been rough pasture until the 1930’s, with the sidings not being shown until a 1933 edition. Chairs found on site were non railway castings dated 1923.
It is not surprising that these sidings could be omitted from maps as a ‘state secret’ – one only has to look at M.O.D. installations that, until recently, did not appear on O.S. maps.