Underneath the arches: 800 new homes planned for Bermondsey as London's network of 10,000 neglected railway arches start to be transformed

After decades of neglect, the capital's old railway arches and viaducts are being revived. With a new quarter set to get 800-plus homes and a £300 million project on south London's horizon, old Victorian arches and passageways are delivering historic heritage to new homes and inner-city spaces. 

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The extensive network of railway viaducts and arches in the capital is a great legacy of the Victorian era.

Now, after decades of neglect and decay, these splendid structures are being restored and integrated into new housing schemes, weaving their historic heritage into our redesigned inner-city spaces to the benefit of community and buyers alike.

Many individual arches have already turned around their image as leaky, back-street lock-ups by being transformed into chic offices for start-ups, boutiques and bistros but, as developers scramble for land, projects are happening on a much larger scale. 

Planners and Network Rail are collaborating to bring rows of railway arches back into use and to make their beautiful, bare-brick fabric an architectural showpiece.


Arch hotspots: new homes in a new quarter

Network Rail owns 10,000 arches in London and has an active programme of renovating rows of them rather than individual units, arguing that this “encourages better place-making and more community benefits”. 

The Grosvenor Estate, the Duke of Westminster’s property company, is looking beyond its heartland of Mayfair and Belgravia to create a new quarter in a gritty Bermondsey backwater. Its 11-acre site butts up against the world’s oldest railway viaduct — the London to Greenwich, built in the 1830s — which also has the longest run of arches in the UK.

The Peek Freans biscuit factory once stood on the site but for years the land has been a no-go zone, closed to the public. Grosvenor’s master plan is for 800-plus new homes, a school and park. 

Offices and studio space will open up the area by creating new pedestrian links through listed arches and  passageways to Bermondsey’s Jubilee line station.

From £765,000: Snowsfields Yard, just off Bermondsey Street and close to the Shard, features 28 apartments


South-east London: arches and railway viaducts

Railway viaducts radiating out of  London Bridge and Waterloo mainline stations crisscross this swathe of the capital, and it’s here that the most ambitious projects are to be found. 

The best way to get to grips with what’s happening is to put on your hiking boots and follow the rail tracks, stopping for refreshment at somewhere like Ropewalk food market near Shad Thames. A campaign by Bermondsey Village Action Group saved rare polychromatic brick arches alongside London Bridge station from the bulldozer, which have been listed by English Heritage.

Snowsfields Yard, tucked away behind the viaduct, is a scheme of 28 flats priced from £765,000. Call Crest Nicholson on 020 3002 5453.

The Borough market area is set to move up another notch in status with a game- changing £300 million project, opening up magnificent vaulted Victorian railway arches which housed the Vinopolis wine centre.

Redevelopment of the three-acre complex will create space for up to 50 new shops, an art house cinema and private members club.

Check out Great Suffolk Street, which runs all the way to Trinity Church Square, the latter a traffic-free Georgian conservation area. 

For many years, this patch was deemed the wrong side of the tracks, but architects and design companies are moving into refurbished arches, while small plots are being redeveloped into flats.

A scheme in Rushworth Street has nine flats priced from £710,000. Call 020 7758 8424.

Looming over a railway viaduct at Union Street is The Music Box, a funky scheme of 55 flats above new premises for London Centre of Contemporary Music. Prices from £737,500. Call 020 3772 7725.

Property company Development Securities is working up a scheme of homes and offices that will wrap around Southwark tube station and dovetail with a hub of popular bars and restaurants in adjacent railway arches.

From £737,500: The Music Box in Union Street, Southwark, has one-, two- and three-bedroom flats


Arty appeal: boutiques and trendy cafés

Leake Street used to be a dark and dangerous alley running below the disused Eurostar terminal at Waterloo. Made famous by graffiti artist Banksy, who organised the first of the Cans Festivals of street art there in 2008, Lambeth council has now given approval for it to be turned into an avenue of coffee shops and quirky food outlets.

Most of all it will increase the allure of the neighbourhood around Lower Marsh, a 160-year-old street market that had suffered property blight following the Eurostar terminal closure, but is now gentrifying.

From here, viaducts run parallel with Albert Embankment and pass through fast-changing Nine Elms to the Wandsworth hinterland. The railway line used to act as a buffer, blocking access to the river, but arches are being punched through.

Damien Hirst’s vast Newport Street Gallery has opened alongside the rumbling Vauxhall viaduct. Next door, developer St James is renovating arches as part of a wedge of elite new riverside housing. A new public space will unite the arches with 433 luxury apartments in three separate schemes called The Corniche, The Dumont and Merano Residences. Prices start at £3.35 million. Call 020 8246 4190.


South-west London: new homes in railway arches

Battersea Exchange, between  Battersea Park and Queenstown Road stations, similarly makes a virtue out of listed railway arches. 

Taylor Wimpey, the developer, is creating a new car-free street lined with shops and cafés facing 10 buildings with 290 homes. Prices from £790,000. Call 020 3053 0745.

Meanwhile, architects are turning their attention to a new challenge — that of creating homes within railway arches. An amazing prototype home and studio for a photographer has been resourcefully squeezed into an arch in Southwark. 

Designed by Undercurrent Architects and clad in rusty Corten steel with a highly insulated inner skin, the 1,600sq ft space is acoustically protected from the noise of the trains that go rattling past during the day.

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