The Story of Biggin Hill: a plotlands development and post-war exurb in Greater London


Biggin Hillís major drawback has always been its poor transport links: one road in and one road out. Set on the top of the North Downs it was never going to be a candidate for a main line railway. It was this remoteness that resulted in the low land prices that enabled Frederick Dougal to offer his plots so cheaply. Even so, he realised that Biggin Hill would benefit greatly from a railway and supported the plans for the Tatsfield Light Railway which were developed in 1898.

By this date most of the accessible parts of the country were within easy reach of a railway, but some areas, especially in hilly regions, were prohibitively expensive to serve. The Light Railways Act of 1896 changed this, allowing lower cost railways to be built in return for lower maximum running speeds. The Tatsfield Light was to run from Orpington station via Green Street Green, Cudham and Biggin Hill to Tatsfield. Following a public enquiry it gained approval to proceed but the company was unable to raise the £70 000 required and the idea was quietly dropped.

This, however, was not the end of the story. In 1925 a grander scheme was proposed, supported by the Southern Railway. A similar route was planned from Orpington to Tatsfield but it was then to be extended to form a loop, joining the Oxted line at Sanderstead. Instead of being steam hauled, the trains would be electric but there would still only be one track. The engineer was to have been Colonel Holman Stephens, the famous builder of many light railways, who had been involved with the earlier project too. The cost was estimated at £634 000.

As with the Tatsfield Light, in 1929 the scheme was approved and the route even appeared on Southern Railway maps. But the death of the enthusiastic Colonel Stephens in 1931 meant raising the money became difficult and despite a final attempt to revive the scheme after the Second World War, this railway too, never got beyond the planning stage.

Recently the building of the Croydon Tramlink to New Addington has encouraged talk of an extension to Biggin Hill. But for now, the inaccessibility that spawned the town remains one of its most distinctive features.