A couple of weeks ago, the front of Peckham Rye station was uncovered for the first time in over a year, as a major restoration of the Victorian station nears its completion.
The work that’s been carried out is the latest in a number of steps to restore the station to its original Victorian glamour, and to prepare it for a planned major change internally to massively increase capacity at this overcrowded station.
The project has been driven by the local heritage architects, Benedict O’Looney Architects, and for them, the restoration work that’s nearing completion is the sixth project they’ve led on the site.
Peckham Rye station opened in 1865/66 and was designed by Charles Henry Driver, the architect of many marvellous buildings, including the Abbey Mills and Crossness pumping stations, and also Denmark Hill and Battersea Park stations. It was built with five separate platforms, but over the years, it lost two of them and then saw a lot of rather ugly introductions into the building as its use reduced, and to add to the ignominy, the large open space in front of the station was built over with a shopping arcade, which can be politely said to have seen better days.
Fortunately, a lot of work is going on to restore the station to its glory days.
In effect there are actually four separate projects happening, each stands on its own, but when all four come together, the end result should look glorious.
- The restoration of the existing Victorian fabric of the station
- The expansion of the rear of the station to reduce overcrowding
- The clearing away of the shopping arcade in front of the station
- The restoration of a 1930s building opposite the station entrance.
When complete, the restored Victorian station will face a large open square and at the far end of the square will be the restored 1930s building, giving the area an impressive heritage square.
The project that’s nearing completion though has been the work on the exterior of the station, to clean up the brickwork, repair the roof and prepare the station to open up the long-disused huge waiting room space to the public.
Led by Benedict O’Looney, this is the sixth of his jobs on the station, having previously worked on unbricking windows, the new internal heritage stairs to the waiting room and hidden but worth finding some marvellous 1930s toilets.
Over the past year then, the station has been covered in scaffolding while the facade was given a very deep clean to remove decades of grime. A few weeks ago, the front was uncovered to reveal the cleaned-up brickwork and in places, replacements for the damaged Victorian stone carving
Away from the front of the station, around the back, a lot more work that’s currently hidden from view has been carried out.
The biggest job has been to retile the roof. Originally, it was assumed that the roof tiles were a conventional Victorian railway red, but they found paint samples that showed they were actually shades of tan, and after some experimenting, came up with a mix of three shades that give the new roof a pleasantly semi-weathered look and a much lighter replacement for the old dark grey/brown tiles that were there before.
Fresh leading caped the effect.
Something that is hard to see from the ground at the moment, but will glisten in the sun when the shopping arcade is removed, is the replacement of the old iron cresting at the very top of the station.
A strip of red cresting that has been capped with real gold leaf gilding.
Restoring the cresting at the top was planned all along, and it was cast by FSE Foundry in Braintree, who created the mix of flat and three-dimensional finials as well.
Ordering the cresting proved an unexpected challenge, as the roof wasn’t accessible at the time they needed to measure everything to order the replacement cresting, so a combination of a laser scan of the interior and a drone camera on the outside were matched in a computer to create a full digital model of the roof. And it delivered the correct measurements.
As it happens, there wasn’t funding for the gilding work, but the architects were able to secure a £5k grant from the Heritage of London Trust for it to be added.
That work was carried out by south London based KSR Gilding, working in his back garden at times to get the work done in time and the gilded cresting was delivered while the gold leaf was still curing. That mean the builders assembling the structure high up on the roof had to be exceptionally careful not to touch the gold to avoid damaging it, and the same for us when visiting shortly afterwards.
It’s sometimes easy to overlook these details right at the top of the station where it may be presumed no one will really notice them, but Peckham deserves to have a good station restoration, and the newly gold clad roof cresting will gleam for decades to come, and people waiting for a train on the platforms will be able to enjoy the gold glistening in the sunshine.
To see the cresting from the front of the station though is very difficult at the moment as you need to stand back from the station building to see it, and there’s that old shopping arcade getting in the way.
There’s been a long term plan to demolish it, and although it’s taken a few years to find suitable alternative homes for the retailers left in there, they are all now expected to move out by the end of this year.
If all goes to plan, next year will see the old arcade demolished. To a degree, it’s a heritage asset, but one that’s in such a poor state now, and not one with a huge amount of aesthetic appeal that many people will mourn its passing considering the open expanse its removal will create.
There was, understandably, some concern about pricing out the existing tenants and gentrification, which is why it took a sensibly long time to find suitable alternative locations for the tenants and put in place the necessary protections for the retailers.
The change caused by its removal will be dramatic though, as the station is hemmed in on all sides, and there’s a busy narrow pavement outside the shopping arcade, so replacing all that with a wide open public square is going to be transformational.
Adding to the effect will be the restoration of a 1930s shop/office block on the opposite side of the road from the shopping arcade. At the moment, Stonewest, who cleaned the brickwork on the station is doing the same to that building to restore the decaying frontage.
The intention is that once the shopping arcade is cleared away, maybe by early 2025, the 1860s station and 1930s shop will face each other across the newly created open square.
These three projects – the restoration of the station, the restoration of the 1930s building and the clearing of the shopping arcade are underway or about to be soon.
There’s a fourth project — a substantial rebuild of the inside of the station to increase capacity. That has to be delivered in phases, but the intention is to enlarge the station at the rear and create a brand new entrance there.
They will then clear away some of the interior of the existing station entrance to connect the two sides and create space for many more ticket barriers. And there will be step-free access to all platforms.
At the moment, the station upgrade is not funded, and Network Rail is applying for funding from the Department for Transport. There is some pressure on securing the funding, as Southwark Council has granted planning permission for the works, but as with all planning approvals, there’s an expiry date.
Work has to start by September 2025, but as there’s at least a year’s worth of detailed preparation to get underway, realistically, a funding decision needs to be made by the end of this year if they are to meet the planning deadline.
However, ahead of all that work, there will be a chance to go inside the station and see the newly restored heritage staircase and the remarkable unrestored waiting room.
That’s because the waiting room will be filled with an artwork sculpture this summer and will be free to visit, with access up to the waiting room through the historic staircase.
But there’s more!
In the front of the station, a new restaurant, the Coal Rooms has opened, but if you pop in, ask nicely if you can take a look at the toilets. They were added in the 1930s, and an earlier restoration project bought them back to their glory. They’re a marvellous hidden gem to discover.