Fenchurch Street Station is an anomaly among London rail termini, tucked away down a back street from Fenchurch Street itself , serving only local lines as far out as Southend and Shoeburyness, and lacking any direct link to the Underground.
Its charming façade, designed by George Berkeley (1853-54), looks out on to a modest urban square and the entrance leads by lifts and escalators to four platforms at the level of the viaduct that carries the tracks.
It has a number of historic claims: it stands on a site rich in archaeology of the Roman period; when it opened in 1841 it boasted the first railway station bookstall, pioneered by William Marshall who supplied newspapers wholesale to the Great Western Railway; it’s associated with the first on-train railway murder in July 1864, when Mr Thomas Briggs, aged 70, was robbed and killed on a train from Fenchurch Street to Hackney by Franz Muller, who fled to New York where he was arrested and returned to Britain, found guilty and suffered one of the last public hangings outside Newgate Prison in November 1864.
Fenchurch Street was the first railway terminus to reach within the City of London boundary, followed by Cannon Street (1863-6) serving the area south of the Thames, and Liverpool Street (1874) which became the major terminus for train services to East Anglia and beyond.
Originally built for the 3½-mile-long London & Blackwall Railway, much of which, as far as the West India Docks, was built on a brick viaduct, this isolated line was built to the unusual gauge of 5ft 0½in and neither of its termini admitted steam locomotives: cable-hauled trains ran in by their own momentum and out again aided by a shove from the station staff.
This couldn’t last. When other railways brought their services to Fenchurch Street the intensity of traffic necessitated steam locomotives, and the London & Blackwall was converted to the standard 4ft 8½in gauge in 1849.
After successive amalgamations the lines out of Fenchurch Street were operated by two companies, the Great Eastern Railway and the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway, which was taken over by the Midland Railway in 1912.
It’s always been a busy station, though the lines it served provided uncomfortable services because of overcrowding. Electric trains took over from steam in 1961, but the increasing weight of traffic made the old LT&SR route notorious as the “misery line”.
A major refurbishment, which entirely closed the station for seven weeks in 1994, replaced track, signals and power supply, and a further upgrade took place in 2013.
1970s plans to bring the proposed Fleet Line through Fenchurch Street came to nothing, and the scheme later opened as the Jubilee Line, eventually reaching Stratford in 1999.
Tower Hill Underground Station is a matter of minutes away, as is the Docklands Light Railway Tower Hill Station.
Discussions have taken place to expand Fenchurch Street to six platforms by taking over the site of the DLR Tower Gateway station, running DLR services into an expanded Tower Hill Underground station.
Fenchurch Street was handling around 16 million passengers a day before the pandemic, slightly less than Cannon Street. It remains to be seen how many of those passengers return in the next few years.