Passenger trains have been operating to and from Wimbledon for exactly 174 years this week.

What was called Wimbledon and Merton Station opened a few yards south of the present site on 21 May 1838 when the London and South Western Railway ran its first steam train – an engine with just a few coaches – through on a 30 mph journey from Nine Elms, Battersea, to Woking.

It marked the start of train services between London and Southampton every two to three hours.

The railway line had to be built on flat ground south of Wimbledon Village. The first trains ran through open fields but a high embankment had to be created to keep the gradient level and bridges and tunnels had to be built in order to preserve old rights of way.

In 1845 about 100 passengers a day were using the new station. The train services made travel into London much easier, raised land values and rapidly brought development of the area around the station.

Wimbledon’s open space attracted wealthy families eager to buy new houses large enough to accommodate themselves and their domestic staffs.

In turn this meant demand for trade and so shops and suppliers arrived too. From the early 1850s the building boom was really under way and Wimbledon would become a London suburb during the next few decades.

Wimbledon Station gradually became part of a much wider network with the line to West Croydon via Mitcham opening in 1855 and a different company opening the line to Tooting in 1868.

The development brought the occasional unwelcome side.

In January 1861 an express train from Waterloo plunged down a steep embankment near the location of today’s Raynes Park Station. There were several injuries and one fatality, Queen Victoria’s doctor, William Baly.

His demise robbed the Queen and Prince Albert of their most trusted physician and may have contributed towards Albert’s own death from typhoid later in the year.

Connection with the London Underground came on June 3, 1889, when the Metropolitan District Railway operated its first service on a line extension from Putney Bridge.

That was when Wimbledon Station was rebuilt on its current site. The line itself was owned by the South Western railway and had been built through Wimbledon Park and Southfields in order to avoid the Common after a campaign to protect that.

The District Line’s arrival brought massive development of the former Wimbledon Park estate with the new streets of The Grid. Trains were now running that way into London every half hour and the first electric services began on 27 August 1905.

In the late 1920s, the Southern Railway rebuilt Wimbledon Station with its current Portland stone entrance while constructing a new line which opened on 7 July 1929 to South Merton and on to Sutton on 5 January 1930.

Agreement on use of separate lines was reached with another company which established the area’s second link to the London Underground by extending the Northern Line through South Wimbledon to Morden.

By the 1960s diesel engines had replaced steam and another historic milestone was reached on 2 June 1997 when the line to West Croydon dating back to 1855 was closed by Railtrack. It was converted into a tram line and has been used by Tramlink since May 2000.

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