Epping to Ongar railway line, Essex
Report by urban75 editor, April 2005
In 1856, The Eastern Counties Railway (later Great Eastern Railway) opened a double track railway between Stratford and Loughton with a single-track extension between Loughton and Ongar being added in 1865.
The popularity of the line led to the doubling of the track between Loughton and Epping. The line was well served with 50 trains operating between London and Loughton each day, with a further 22 continuing to Epping and 14 more to Ongar.
Ambitious plans to extend the line beyond Ongar to Dunmow or back to the GER mainline at Chelmsford never saw the light of day.
Established in 1933, the London Passenger Transport Board (later London Transport) teamed up with the mainline railway companies to implement the New Works Programme with the aim of electrifying the main line tracks, reducing costs and providing an improved service.
Under the scheme, the Central would be extended to the East via new tube lines from Liverpool Street to emerge onto LNER tracks just south of Leyton.
The Central Line would then take over the running of services onward to Loughton, with a new section of tube line to be built from Leytonstone to Newbury Park (including three new intermediate stations at Wanstead Park, Redbridge and Gants Hill).
This would provide the Central with a continuous loop around to Woodford via Fairlop and Hainault.
The Second World War (1939-45) delayed the work with the Central line extension reaching Leytonstone in 1946, progressing to Woodford the following year and finally reaching Loughton in 1948.
Loughton to Epping went live from September the 25th 1949, leaving the single track line from Epping to Ongar as the last steam worked section.
After much faffing, the last section to Ongar went live on November the 18th, 1957.
Due to falling passenger numbers Blake Hall station was closed on Sundays with a reduced weekday timetable implemented along the line from 17th October 1966.
Continued decline in passenger numbers led to the complete closure of Blake Hall station on 31st October 1981 and a further reduced service operating on the rest of the branch line.
London Transport finally closed the loss-making section on 30th September 1994.
Happily, volunteers have endeavoured to bring the line back to life, with the Epping Ongar Railway introducing a tourist railway service.
Oxford Circus, Central Line platform, 1980
One of the odd things about travelling to Ongar was that my journey started from one of the busiest stations on the Underground system, with noisy tunnels eventually giving way to country views on the way to Epping.
Epping tube station, Essex
Central Line trains terminated at Epping with passengers wishing to continue to Ongar having to cross the footbridge to pick up the branch shuttle.
Epping station, looking east
A view looking east towards Blake Hall and Ongar. The branch line trains ran from the opposite platform.
Footbridge, Epping station
This attractive Victorian footbridge took passengers over the tracks to the Ongar platform.
Old lady on the train to Ongar
Whenever I travelled to Ongar, the carriage rarely had more than one other passenger on board.
Blake Hall station, Essex, 1980
Halfway between Epping and Ongar lies this substantial stone built station surrounded by fields.
Romantically named Blake Hall, the station was always deserted even though the old wooden booking hall was still staffed by a time-rich station master.
The remote station earned a small amount of notoriety during the red hot summer of 1976, when the Evening Standard reported that a tube driver,
operating the train with the side door open, was attacked by a mad rabbit, which entered the cab at Blake Hall.
It station was also featured in a Sunday Observer colour supplement when an Aprils Fools story reported that the then poet laureate (John Betjeman) would take residence in the recently abandoned station building.
Blake Hall views
Looking along the tracks near Blake Hall in the Epping to Ongar railway line, Essex.
Platform view, Blake Hall station
Waiting on a deserted platform at Blake Hall. During the last few months of the station's life, the booking clerk was only selling six tickets a day!
Although the station building is now preserved as a private residence, the platform has been ripped up.
Looking east, Blake Hall station
Looking towards the terminus at Ongar.
Another track level view, looking towards Epping.
North Weald Station, Essex, 1980
North Weald Station was located two miles from Ongar and featured two platforms and a passing loop (long abandoned by 1980).
A view of the substantial terminus building at Ongar station.
Ongar station sign
Station sign on the single terminus platform.
Ongar signal box
Looking along the platform towards Epping, you can see the closed signal box to the left. The goods yard used to branch out behind the box, to the left.
Ongar signal box, water tower and engine shed
Similar view, taken on a sunny June day in 1938.
(Photo © H. Casserley)
Ongar station building
Outside view - note the handy phone box by the entrance.
Detail, Ongar station building
Enrance to the station building at Ongar.
Changing at Epping
Heading home! Passengers from the Ongar branch cross the footbridge to pick up the London bound train.
Update: 11th April 2012
The Epping to Ongar line is reopening from May 25th 2012!