The Next Station is Billericay

The coming of the railway

By David Bremner

With the coming of the railway, historic and picturesque Billericay has grown into a commuter town.

After the granting of a market charter in 1253 to Burstead, Billericay developed as a market town, although the name of Billericay was not specifically mentioned in official documents until 1291 when it was spelt as Byllyrica.

So how did the railway come to Billericay?

Photo:A goods train near Billericay in the early 1950s

A goods train near Billericay in the early 1950s

Charles Phillips

Today people take for granted the fact that they can step onto a train and go nearly anywhere they want to. But the building of the railway tracks in Victorian Britain was an engineering feat as great if not greater than, the building of the pyramids or the construction of the Great Wall of China. Our railway system covers the whole of the United Kingdom.

However, in the beginning, getting permission from parliament to lay the necessary railway track was a significant challenge. The next major challenge was getting the powerful landowners to sell the land needed on which to build the railway system. It was the start of the “not-in-my-backyard” syndrome. There were also serious medical concerns raised by doctors who feared that people moving at speed would be severely affected by the motion, due to a lack of air to breathe.

Following the successful trials to prove the viability of a practical and efficient steam locomotive, the first railway system: the Stockton to Darlington was opened in 1825.

The received wisdom from historians has been that people did not move around very far from their place of origin until modern times. However a recent study of the 1901 census by the Billericay Historical & Archaeological Society has indicated that 22% of the 1,115 people living in Billericay in 1901 came from outside of Essex and 1% from outside of the UK, so clearly people did move around. This is further supported by the fact that Billericay had three stagecoaches a day taking passengers to London and to Southend until the railway arrived.

Billericay has to thank the Rev. J. H. Harris for persuading the Great Eastern Railway Company to route the railway through Billericay on its way to Southend. This route, Shenfield to Southend-Victoria was to become known as Southend’s “other railway line”.

Achieving this route was no mean feat for the planning and construction engineers. Billericay’s High Street is 315 feet above sea level and railways work best over flat land. To achieve an acceptable gradient for the train between Shenfield & Billericay a very deep cutting had to be dug through Billericay’s hillside. This 54 foot deep cutting was mainly dug by hand although later steam shovels were used to help the navvies. To align the track coming from Shenfield with the track coming from Wickford, on the other side of Billericay’s hill, a mariner’s compass and sighting posts were used to guide the diggers. 1884 saw the start of the laying of the metal track between Shenfield & Billericay.

The Railway Tavern in Billericay is dated from 1885.

Photo:Newspaper cutting reporting the opening of the line for goods traffic

Newspaper cutting reporting the opening of the line for goods traffic

Charles Phillips

On the 19 November 1888 the double track section from Shenfield to Wickford was opened for goods traffic.

 The first train carrying passengers stopped at Billericay on 1st January 1889.

The original station at Billericay had public goods sidings. These have now gone, but  a photograph showing these and the third platform is shown below.

Photo:The sidings can be seen on the right in the distance with the goods shed. The third platform is in the foreground.

The sidings can be seen on the right in the distance with the goods shed. The third platform is in the foreground.

Charles Phillips

Billericay is unique as being the only station on the Southend Line in a cutting. Restaurant cars were introduced to the Liverpool Street – Southend Line in May 1911.

Great Eastern Railway ran excursions to Billericay to view the Zeppelin that had crashed at Snail Farm, South Green after being shot down on the night of 23 / 24th September 1916.

On 1st January 1923 under the Railway Act of 1921 the Great Eastern Railway became part of the London & North Eastern Railway, the LNER. These initials became used jocularly as the: late-never-early-railway. Colour light automatic signalling lights were introduced to the Billericay section of the line in May 1938.

On 1st January 1948 the LNER became part of British Railway, Eastern Region.

During the severe storms of January 1953 the Liverpool Street Line was not affected, but the Fenchurch Street line was damaged over 3 miles of its track.

Electrification of the “Billericay line” came in 1954. The Tilbury to Southend Line was not electrified until 1961.

Photo:Electrification work at Billericay Station

Electrification work at Billericay Station

Charles Phillips

***

This page was added by Jim Devlin on 28/10/2013.
Comments about this page (Add a comment about this page)

A few comments. The photographs were taken by the late David Collins, who granted me the right to use them. I was not born until 1953 and as a baby and a toddler I wasn't very good at taking photographs! I took quite a few in the 1980s. The newspaper extract is from the Essex Chronicle. The story about the Rev J H Harris is one of several stories about the building of the railway. I've been through the surviving records of the Great Eastern Railway and there is no mention of him there. I've never heard about the mariner's compass and sighting posts being used to guide the diggers. I'd be interested to know where the story came from. Someone told me recently that apparently when the cutting was being dug and before the bridge was built people who wanted to cross it had to descend on ladders into the cutting, cross it and then ascend up again on ladders. I can't believe this as on the evidence of what was happening in other places where the railway was being built temporary bridges were built. The line was electrified between 1955 and 1956. The first electric trains running in December of 1956. In the very early 1920s Pullman cars were run in some of the trains.

By Charles Phillips
On 07/11/2013

I recall the late Mary Needham telling me that she had given to The Cater Museum an obscure Victorian novel which gave details of the construction of the railway and the cutting at Billericay in the narrative. Regret cannot recall the title or author but recall the volume to be quite thick.

By Dave Twitchett
On 21/11/2013

Electrification was later than 1954, still steam trains in 1956, I think it was 1958.

By Wyn Grant
On 14/01/2014

The electrification of the Shenfield to Southend line through Billericay was originally done at 1500 Volts DC in 1956. In the early 1960's a decision was made to change to AC so the line was initially converted to 6250volts at 50HZ AC as instead of the recomended 25000 volts as there were many low bridges and structures along the line from Southend to London. Finally in 1979 the Voltage was ramped up to the full 25000 volts once some of the bridges had been rebuilt and research had proved it was OK to reduce some of the permissable clearances. The photo of Billericay station with temporary steps going down the embankment was taken at the time of the conversion to 6250 Volts certain changes were made at the station regarding the height of footbridge and the track level. The steps from up from platform were changed from wood to concrete along with changes to the booking hall. the huts/cabins standing at the top of the temporary steps were a temporary booking office etc . This was only there for a few weeks.

By Trevor Savage
On 24/05/2014

In the early days of electric traction the pantograph on the trains would be low down especially close to Billericay station. 

By Graham
On 29/11/2014