Join me at one of the ends of Thameslink and Southeastern Railway services in London’s southeast corner on the edge of Kent and discover what Orpington reveals.
The station opened in 1868 with four platforms. Following line widening in 1904, the railway company rebuilt the station with six platforms adding a further two platforms (7 & 8) in the 1990s on the former site of sidings. As part of the railway’s accessibility strategy, step-free access was introduced in 2008, but the station has managed to keep its Edwardian character. Steep steps lead down to the inter-platform underpass, marked with Covid restriction one-way directions. But, of course, these are ignored by everyone now.
As I arrive, the station is busy with Southeastern services to and from Kent with London-bound trains terminating at Victoria, Charing Cross and Cannon Street stations. Southeastern has a varied fleet of trains, but I believe these are two British Rail Class 465’s passing through. One was en route to London, and the other headed south to Ashford. I am, however, happy to be corrected by any rail enthusiasts out there if I’ve misclassified the trains.
There are occasional peak-time Thameslink trains to Blackfriars and Kentish Town, so I’ll need to add these to my list of stations to visit. But, first, I need to research the Kentish Town terminus as there’s some evidence it may be West Hamspead instead.
I chatted with a couple of station staff about their day and asked about the floral tribute and plaque to Neil Wilds on platforms 2 and 3. One remembered Neil fondly as a perfect gentleman and a nice man. R.I.P Neil.
There’s an entrance on either side of the station, opening onto Crofton Road and Station Approach. Unfortunately, however, this commentator got a little confused in determining which was which, and it took me quite a few minutes to get my bearings before moving on.
I head towards the town, which is less than a kilometre away and pass what has to be an almost permanent fixture at every railway station – a bridge and a minicab office. This striking black and white building is home to ACX Express, a minicab company established in Orpington for over 40 years.
The station is only 13 miles from Charing Cross, and the journey only takes about 25 minutes, so this helps to make Orpington an ideal commuting town, depending on how close to the station you live. But there are good bus links too.
The town’s High Street is typical of today’s shopping experience, with a mix of local and low-budget chain stores along its tree-lined avenue. Most buildings have a 60s feel, with shops on the ground floor and one or two-storey accommodation above.
The Walnuts Shopping Centre is on the eastern side of the High Street; built in the 1970s, it is architecturally typical of its era. It’s partly enclosed and partly uncovered with avenues of shops leading into Market Square, where you’ll find the Leisure Centre and a high-rise campus that’s part of Bromley College.
In 2020, the Enchanted Children’s Festival created a Learning Trail around the High Street. The Trail was aimed, in part, at children of primary school age, promoting personal, social and emotional development (PSED), and many of the trail’s murals are still visible. Here are a few examples.
I found very few buildings of architectural interest or character. However, the Old General Post Office stood out from the crowd. There are no guesses about what this fashionable pub and restaurant used to be. The sorting office still operates behind here, and the Town’s new Post Office is across the road.
The town has its fair share of closed shops and restaurants, and it seems the former Reku Zen Asian restaurant didn’t survive Covid. Its buffet approach to serving food made it difficult to trade during the lockdown restrictions. Redecorating is now the order of the day, so who knows if life will return to this once popular eatery? The drawing inside the front door’s whitewashed glazing made me smile.
Orpington is, by and large, a white, English, middle-class Christian population of around 20,000. So my intention in travelling to Orpington in the week that marked the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee was to showcase how the town was showing its royal allegiances and celebrating the event. And it’s from this collection of photos I drew my ‘Picture of the day’ – see below. But here are a few more to help set the scene.
By the War Memorial at the southern end of the High Street, there’s a pyramid of red, white and blue bunting. And as you enter Walnuts Shopping Centre from the High Street, look up at its bunting canopy. Even the residents of Elm Cottages at the top of the High Street wanted to get in on the celebrations.
The Priory and its gardens
At the northern end of the High Street, The Priory, a 14th-century Grade II listed building, is now part of the V22 collection of studios devoted to providing artists with affordable space to work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t access or view the building properly; it is surrounded by high fencing and locked gates. Local communities considered its lease from the council an unpopular move, but V22 will work closely with them to ensure it remains a draw to bring visitors to Orpington.
The expansive gardens and grounds, also Grade II listed, are open to all. They are full of wildflowers that bloom in tandem with those in the ornate formal Italianate garden next to the Priory. And the natural ponds that spawn the River Cray are where you’ll find a variety of wildfowl enjoying the calming waters and their muddy banks.
Egyptian Geese are the dominant species. Some take respite under the leafy shade from the pond-side trees, and others strut their stuff in the open parkland next to the children’s playground. Other species include Mallards, and one Coot family caught my attention as mum ferried and fed two very young chicks as they hurried by the pond’s edge.
The gardens are a delightful sanctuary and a great place for everyone to enjoy, and it was an excellent way to round off my visit to Orpington.
Picture of the Day – Jubilee Planters
Although the town wasn’t awash with flags and bunting, there was enough to mark the occasion. In addition to the bunting at the War Memorial and Walnuts Shopping Centre, Union Jack flags were all along the High Street. Maybe spaced out every ten shops and flew above the shops at first-floor level.
Similarly, the town had splashed out on many tall red, white and blue planters adorning the main shopping area. These planters were probably about four feet high and full of red Geraniums, blue Lobelia and red, white and mauve Petunia.
This slightly filtered shot, which aims to enhance the colours, captures the flag and floral tribute against the mock Tudor backdrop. Well done, Orpington, and congratulations, your Majesty.
- Location: High Street, Orpington
- Date/Time: Wednesday 1st June 2022, 12:33 pm
- Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture -f/6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/400; Focal Length – 125mm; Film Speed – ISO200