Peckham Rye station to be restored to Victorian splendour as long-lost waiting room is reopened

Francesca Gillett
Waiting room: Work is being done to repair the 23 windows and doors, repairing the floor and restoring the staircase: Benedict O'Looney architects

Peckham Rye station is to be restored to its Victorian grandeur as architects prepare to open up a hidden room which was lost to the public for 50 years.

The local team of architects have spent 10 years on a string of extensive restoration projects to return the busy south London station to how it looked in its striking 19th and 20th century heyday.

Work has already begun on the team’s most recent effort to open up a secret and abandoned Old Waiting Room on the upper floor of the station, which was bricked up in the 1960s and left to decay.

The beautiful hall was once considered one of London’s grandest waiting rooms and used as a popular south London billiard hall in the 1920s.

Heyday: The long-lost waiting hall is set to be restored and opened for the community to use. (Benedict O'Looney architects)

It was left unseen for 50 years after being closed off in 1961 but is now set to be opened up for the community to use.

Benedict O’Looney, who leads the team at his Peckham-based architects, told the Standard the latest stage of the project is to renovate the original iron staircase linking the Grade II-listed station with the upper floor waiting room so people can access it.

He said: “Peckham Rye Station was built in 1866, however in 1962 at the time of the ‘Beeching Cuts’ much of this Victorian station was bricked up and left to decay leaving only the ticket hall and platforms in use.”

Restoration work: The cast iron staircase which is to be restored to its original style. (Benedict O'Looney architects)

He said when work started to unbrick the windows they discovered “all these remarkable rooms and features”.

The architect practice has raised money thanks to the local community council, the Railway Heritage Trust and landlord Network Rail to carry out the gradual work to open up more and more of the station.

“We have done about four or five projects at the station these last 10 years, slowly transforming a building which had a lot of abandoned rooms in it,” Mr O’Looney said.

Decay: Inside the upstairs waiting hall. (Benedict O'Looney architects)

“Although we are a small Peckham practice, we have done it in a lot of small stages,” he said.

“We haven’t made money doing it but it’s great fun. It’s also fun to be part of the local community here, we are local community architects.

“We started by unbricking the windows so people could see into these space, we began to illuminate the interiors, and now we are building a stair to access the Old Waiting Room which we hope to open up to the local community later this year.”

Built in 1866: Peckham Rye station as seen from the platform. (Benedict O'Looney architects)

The next stage will be to restore the roof and bring back the original iron cresting which lines the top of the station roof – meaning the impressive Victorian station splendour will be seen by all travellers who use it.

The work coincides with Southwark Council’s approved plan to develop the narrow and dimly-lit passageways outside the station into a public square.

Malcolm Wood of the Railway Heritage Trust, which gives grants for work on historic buildings, said the work which has been done so far at Peckham Rye is “particularly good”.

Work has begun to restore the staircase and waiting room. (Benedict O'Looney architects)

“It’s important to get use out of historic buildings,” he told the Standard. “They can be given something to earn their keep.

“We have supported work in Peckham Rye, we gave funding to help restore its heritage and opening it up to get use of the building”.

The station was designed by Charles Henry Driver, the architect also behind several of London’s sewerage system pumping stations and many other British stations.

A spokesman for Network Rail said they were supporting Benedict O’Looney’s project and were happy for the work to go ahead.

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