The station was opened by the original London & Croydon Railway (L&CR) on 5 June 1839, as Dartmouth Arms (unsurprisingly, after the name of the local inn). The line was also used by the London and Brighton Railway from 1841 and the South Eastern Railway (SER) from 1842. In 1844, the station was chosen by the L&CR as the northern terminus for Phase 1 of an experimental Atmospheric railway to West Croydon operated by the railway. A pumping station was also constructed at the station. The L&CR and the L&BR merged to form the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) in July 1846, the following year 'Atmospheric' working was abandoned, and the station became Forest Hill for Lordship Lane. The LB&SCR moved the 'Down' platform during the early 1850s when the line was quadrupled, and extended the island platform around 1864. The LB&SCR station buildings, were destroyed by bombing during World War II and have now been replaced by a more modern system-built structure. The short narrow island platform serving the fast lines was closed and demolished in the early 1960s.
Like much of London, Forest Hill was only sparsely populated until the mid-19th century. The name Forest Hill, originally simply "The Forest", referred to the woodland which once covered the area and which was a relict part of the Great North Wood. A canal, the Croydon Canal, was constructed through the area in 1769 but the large number of locks (28) meant it was not a commercial success, and it was bought by the London & Croydon Railway Company who constructed their railway along the same route, opening it in 1839. The ponds in the Dacres Wood Nature Reserve (Dacres Road) and the retaining wall of the footpath opposite the station outside the pub are about the only physical evidence of the canal which still exist. When the Crystal Palace was moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham, large homes were built on the western end of Forest Hill. In 1884, what would become London's oldest swimming pool was constructed on Dartmouth Road. The tea merchant Frederick Horniman built a museum to house his impressive collection of natural history artifacts. He donated the building and its gardens to the public in 1901 and this became the Horniman Museum. The station is in Travelcard Zone 3 and has wi-fi, help points, lifts, photo booths, payphones, cash machines, boarding ramps, a car park, a bridge and waiting room but no toilets.
Connections: National Rail. London Buses routes 122, 176, 185, 197 and 356 serve the station.