East Kent Light Railway
As has been explained elsewhere our view of the East Kent Light Railway is somewhat 'upside down'. Never intended as a railway from Shepherdswell to somewhere else it was planned by Stephens and his backers as an outlet for coal from several collieries to a sea outlet at Sandwich Haven, now more usually called Richborough Port. Indeed early pre-statutory and land negotiations hinged on the intention that the railway should be constructed using materials imported by sea to the Haven.
Sandwich Haven was the great entry port to England in Roman times with Dover a relatively unimportant port squeezed into a gap in the cliffs. However, progressive silting up by the action of the Great Stour River, and the huge river loops and marshland it created, had rendered the port virtually useless by the industrial era. Still people dreamed of its resurrection and the creation of a port on the river closer to the sea than Sandwich town.
At the turn of the century Sir Weetman Dickinson Pearson, head of the contracting firm S Pearson & Son Limited, latched onto the area to extract gravel to build the Admiralty's formidable outer harbour at Dover. The bulk of the work was to be achieved by casting massive concrete blocks at Dover.The sand and gravel for these blocks was to be extracted from land leased from Lord Greville who owned most of the land within the great loop of the Stour called Stonar Marshes. Smaller concrete blocks for the initial works were cast at Stonar, using cement shipped in from the Wouldham Cement Works near Thurrock in Essex, and then shipped by sea to Dover. To expedite this a wharf was developed on the Stour adjacent to the gravel workings. This small wharf formed the southward end of the developments that would come to be called Richborough Port. To bring in other materials for this work a railway, that came to be known as Pearson's Tramway, was constructed across the marshes from a point on the SE&CR's Dover–Ramsgate line near Richborough castle. This activity continued for some years as the great outer breakwaters at Dover slowly came to completion in 1910.
Such work and the creation of the small wharf seem to have stimulated interest by Sandwich businessmen seeking to compete with Dover which, with Folkestone, had been growing as a ferry port since before the railway age. These personalities, led by a local estate agent named G C (Christopher) Solley, encouraged a lot of speculation in the Edwardian era. Solley was instrumental in the formation of land syndicates to buy up marshes in the wider area of the Haven. In particular he and his partners set up a company in 1907 going by the rather strange title of St Augustine's Links. This was an allusion to the reputed point where St Augustine landed to convert England to Christianity and to the rising fashion of golfing, and also apparently to cover its real purpose. The company was used to buy all the land necessary for a decent wharf at the mouth of the River Stour at Pegwell Bay, though speculation as to underlying coal measures was a secondary consideration. Meanwhile inland interest in coal measures, led by the speculator (and charlatan) Arthur Burr, became the driving force behind the nascent East Kent Light Railway which Solley probably hoped to hold to ransom. There were a lot of inflated egos here however and when Christopher Solley was giving evidence against the later compulsory purchase of the Syndicate's lands by the government, he stated that the EKLR was his own conception and that the idea was "first explained by him to the late Mr Arthur Burr on 24 December 1908."
The conflicting interests of Lord Greville with his now disused wharf and the Solley group with their grander plans further downriver became a major stumbling block to the development of the port. Indeed the East Kent, as authorised, was forced to terminate at a remote point in the marshes pointing vaguely north to the intended upriver development, whilst also able to turn east to Pearson's old wharf along the existing tramway. Shortly afterwards the EKLR sought powers to connect with, and run, Pearson's tramway and agreed a lease on the wharf with Lord Greville. However, the uncertainties of the port site may have caused further thought and, probably in an attempt to secure control of its own port facilities, the Burr organisation set up a development company for the bay between Reculver and Birchington ( A most unsuitable site - the author's family lived near there) with a connecting EKLR line. The start of the collapse of the Burr empire in summer 1914, and the coming of World War 1 in August, put a temporary end to all these plans without any evidence of dock or East Kent railway works in the area. Solley stated to a later government hearing that "...by the Spring of 1914 the EKLR had been constructed as far as the Sandwich -Woodnesborough road, and the track laid, and partially constructed, as far as the Goss Hall Stream [ just beyond the later Sandwich Road station - ed]..."
There matters stood until the need for improved transport of materials to the static front lines in France brought rapid developments. The Directorate of Inland Waterways and Docks, War Office (IWD), who were responsible for the equipment and working of such operations overseas, initiated in the early months of the war the inspired idea of loading French and Belgian barges in the UK and taking them direct to France. The first recruits of the IWD received their training at Longmoor, Hants, and despatched their first craft from Dover. Overcrowded Dover and the initial store depot at Ashford proved unsuitable so, after a search for a suitable port from which craft could proceed to France, they settled around the wharf built by Pearson. The operations proved very successful and by June 1916 they began to develop storage areas which marked the beginnings of a huge military operation to build an even more flexible port that would relieve the overburdened established channel ports. By September 1917 the new port was shipping nearly 15,000 tons a week.
By this time the large new port had involved reclamation, straightening, widening and deepening of the Stour, and the construction of a wharf and jetty nearly a mile in length. The work had been rapidly pushed forward, the workers at one time numbering 20,000; and eventually a self-contained town encampment arose, with store-sheds, and the laying of some 50 miles of railway sidings served by up to 50 locomotives. Indeed these works eventually stretched from upriver of the old Pearson's wharf to the river mouth at Pegwell Bay. This encompassed the requisitioned land of both Lord Greville and the Solley syndicates. Further docks also developed nearer to Sandwich town for the building and repair of barges and one of the officers overseeing this work, which included pioneering welding techniques, was one O V S Bullied, who later pioneered the technique for use in locomotives, carriages and wagons.
With the massive materials drive initiated by the creation of the Ministry of Munitions, and with the speed of transport of material becoming extremely urgent, it was decided to establish a pioneering train-ferry service. This came into operation at the end of 1917. A lifting bridge was constructed at the extreme seaward end of the new wharf and three train ferries shuttled to Dunkirk, Calais and Dieppe.
For a year after the Armistice in 1918, Richborough continued to deal with vast quantities of material returned from the western front but the cessation of the war made much of the development a white elephant. It was initially very useful in bringing war materials and equipment back from the Continent, but the logistics of handling the vast piles of stores that accumulated proved a problem for the Government which proved sensitive to resultant press criticism. It was full of potentially valuable equipment, for there were still barges and ships on the stocks of the shipyard, and large numbers of motor vehicles in store or awaiting repair in the workshops. As a ﬁrst step the operation of the railway facilities was handed over to the SE&CR. It was then decided to advertise the port for sale as a going concern, the purchaser having to undertake to operate it as a commercial operation for at least five years. The interests of the East Kent Light Railway were largely trampled over, no doubt because the failures or the Burr empire and the effects of the war had left it impoverished. It had a half built railway which had never reached the port to enable it to share in wartime activity. The Government sold the whole area (1,500 acres) under special terms for £1,447,000 in 1921 to the Queenborough Development Co. The company proposed to work Richborough as a barge and train-ferry port, ancillary to Queenborough Port, on the Isle of Sheppey. The sale included all its remaining equipment, including locomotives (reportedly anything between three and 15) and a large number of barges and tugs. They seem to have thought that the accumulations of machinery and the shipping ﬂeet could be sold quickly to finance the deal. The Company made an initial deposit of £250,000 in Government securities (purchased for the purpose at a discount) funded by loans from Lord Queenborough and the Westminster Bank. Within a year the whole deal collapsed.
The Company had hoped it could develop coal ports in the light of the many proposals to develop the Kent coal reserves. It started well, even proposing to spend money to build the EKLR's un-built harbour connections. Plans were initiated to establish a train ferry service to the Continent, but although the ferry continued to bring back material for the Government, a regular commercial service failed to be established. With the supine SE&CR unwilling to operate a service, a bid by the more progressive LB&SCR management to establish a Newhaven-Dieppe service with the equipment was defeated by its soon-to-be partners in the Southern Railway. The ferries and associated equipment were eventually sold to Anglo-Belgian companies that were effectively part of the LNER group, for a Harwich-Zeebrugge service. The Queenborough's wider operations were soon in trouble. The agent delegated to sell the marine craft was only able to dispose of part of the ﬂeet, and while initial sales of plant, including locomotives, seemed promising, it was soon found that the market was glutted. Sales could only be made at low prices, and the agents went bust.
The position was not helped by the coal miners' strike in 1921, shortly after the company had taken over the port, and by March 1922 it was obvious that they had made a poor bargain. In an effort to walk away from its contract the company asked for its rescindment on the grounds that, since the ordnance survey map used to delineate the land to be taken over was out of date (a new cut being made to the river channel in establishing the port during the war), it would be impossible to fulfil the contract. The Government disputed this, but eventually decided that it would not be possible to obtain more funds from the company, which had been placed into receivership in 1922, and took back the assets in July 1923.
Meanwhile Colonel Stephens had slowly resurrected the EKLR from its near grave. Powers to join Pearson's tramway were granted in 1920. The Queenborough Company were at this stage very supportive, seeking approval from Government to construct a large portion of the un-built railway across their controlled land including the bridges over the SE&CR and the River Stour. The Queenborough interest of course stood to greatly benefit if coal exports could be encouraged by this access. It is not known whether any of this promised support was actually forthcoming, though it might have been. Whatever the position the erstwhile EKLR main line was creeping across the fields and marshes as funds permitted, including temporary bridges over the railway and river authorised many years before. The ofﬁcial announcement of the Richborough sale (see below) said that the Port had "availability for connection with the EKLR..." which could be seen to suggest that the Light Railway was already over the River Stour, but this is unlikely. By August 1924 it had reached within 600 yards of a junction with the former Pearson's Tramway and by 1925 had established a passenger service of sorts to Sandwich Road.
Negotiations on the use of a wharf and a junction point had been continuous since the end of the War and negotiations had continued with the Queenborough Liquidators and the Government Disposals Board but nothing could be settled.The latter's reprehensive Colonel Cobb, shifted, in late 1924, to work for the estate agents Cluttons, and then arranged a sale to Cluttons clients, the specially created and later well-known company, Pearson Dorman Long (PDL). Now PDL were deadly enemies of the Burr Colliery interests and the new owners of Tilmanstone Colliery, the only viable colliery served by the EKLR. PDL owned the other advanced or working Kent Collieries (except Chislet), shutting out the EKLR in particular from Betteshanger by building its own line to the SR rather than the authorised EKLR line. PDL completed purchase from the Official Receiver in 1925 with the immediate object of using the extensive workshop facilities for the repair and servicing of their heavy mining machinery.
Surprisingly however this apparently unfavourable sale broke the log jam. PDL suddenly, for little understood reasons, softened its attitude to the Light Railway to the extent of talking about acquiring an interest. Cobb in particular seems to have got on well with Stephens and the line crept over both the SR line and the river on what were obviously temporary (but ultimately 'permanent') bridges during the year. 1926 brought permanent peace as the Southern Railway acquired the controlling interest in the EKLR and PDL secured Government funds to develop the Port for coal shipment. The light railway crept forward to a junction with Pearson's Tramway and their former wharf and this was opened for occasional traffic in 1928 complete with a, never to be used, passenger platform. Plans continued to be made and PDL raised visions of a massive iron and steel works at the Port. However the 'Great Crash' of 1929 and accompanying world recession loomed and plans were permanently shelved. Neither EKLR nor the port was destined ever to realise the industrial dreams of a generation.
Richborough Port, Robert Butler, Sandwich, 1993
The Industrial Locomotive, No 147, 2013
National Archives files: BT 31/20100/116543, BT 31/18278/95736, BT 31/32092/114846, BT 297/767, MT 10/1499, MT 39/296, HO 45/11085/431719
J 13/10242A, J 107/10, MUN 4/6043, MUN 4/5079-81, MUN 4/6296
Brian Janes provides some glimpses into construction of Light Railways through a rare, surviving workman's notebook.
When we think of railways we usually start with rolling stock, then, if we have specialist interest signals and track, but very few of us think about the creation of the basic formation which is the line of the railway itself. Even less do we think of those workers who created that formation – the navvies. Light railways such as Holman Stephens' were built as cheaply as possible and without benefit of any significant amount of construction equipment. They were perhaps some of the last examples of Victorian – even pre-Victorian – construction methods. But we seldom think about these, or even less the forgotten generation of those workmen that built them.
Lawson Finch in his epic compilation of material for his long gestated history of the East Kent Light Railway did not forget these creators of the dreams of others. In material recently donated to the Colonel Stephens Museum by his widow, there was found a dog-eared black notebook possibly compiled by the man in direct charge of part of the work. John Brenchley was originally the overall boss of the northern part of the construction of the railway under Stephens, but the notebook is more likely that of the foreman, Jack Houghton or possibly his ganger boss, Ernest Northcote. It provides a fascinating glimpse of a lost world. The notebook records the efforts of a team building part of the East Kent in periods of 1913 and 1914, mostly on cuttings and embankments (some now not readily identifiable) just north of what became Eastry station. And what efforts they were too.
Half of the book records the daily hours worked by each man. The norm was working an 11 hour day (6½ on Saturdays). However many days were short, either due to men being redeployed, shortage of money, bad weather or a combination of all three. A few of the regular surnames that appear are Messrs Bates, Belsey, Bicker, Chapman, Collins, Cox Fagg, Hogben, Hastings, Lawrance, Pilcher, Pritchard, Shexted, Shrabsole and Warner. There are many others but often they appear a few times and then disappear and gang numbers vary between 10 and 20 each day. These men may have been re-deployed on other gangs or simply drifted away from the work, perhaps even to the Army.
A few glimpses will show how these men dug out and shifted 'muck' (earth) and other heavy material at an impressive rate. On the starting day of the entries, 25th September 1913, they unloaded 5 'trucks' (wagons) of muck and five of chalk, and spent 6 hours levelling ashes. The next day they 'cut' 3 trucks of muck, 5 trucks of chalk and spent 4 hours 'casting' muck (presumably for covering the cutting sides) in Prince of Wales cutting.
On Monday 29th September a gang of 20 men unloaded 5 trucks of chalk, spent 2½ hours levelling, unloaded 1 truck of bricks at Wells Farm bridge (Eastry Station), 2 trucks of chalk at 'chalk hole', 19 trucks of chalk at Brook Farm, and 5 trucks of muck 'near Friham'. Next day they dealt with 15 trucks of chalk at Brook Farm, unloaded ashes at Thornton Hosts, then unloaded 10 trucks of chalk, 1 truck of bolts, 2 trucks of brick, a truck of coal and re-railed some trucks off the road.
There is then a break in the notes till 1st December when laying rails and moving muck in Prince of Wales cutting, loading muck and offloading on Ringlet Mere bank cutting, chalk in Plum Trees cutting and laying about ten yards of track each working day. Next week they were continuously unloading muck and levelling Poulton Road, relieved only by unloading 'baulks' (presumably sleepers) from a train that arrived at 9.20am on the Wednesday; and this monotonous hard and, in December cold, work continued till Christmas Eve.
Work resumed on Monday 29th December and to see the New Year in on 1st January the gang prodigiously unloaded 9 trucks of muck and loaded and unloaded 24! Through January they worked consistently hard, loading up to 32 trucks of muck a day, and might have handled more but on several occasions spent some time waiting for an engine to move the trucks. By this time, they were often laying and slewing 'road' (track) and by mid-month even laying ballast. Precise locations were not often mentioned at this period but they occasionally lifted rails from the 'Ammel' (Hammill, sometimes called Woodnesborough) colliery branch which had by this time been effectively abandoned. By mid-March they were building Wells Farm Bridge but the notebook breaks again on 1st April.
On April 20th entries resume, moving muck from Drainless Drove cutting to Poulton Bank near Poulton siding, where in World War 2 a second siding was installed for a mobile coastal defence gun with its accompanying Dean Goods locomotive. Between Ash and Staple more detailed work continued through May at Drove Cutting, unloading at several locations including Sandwich Bank by the 8th and appropriately unloading ashes for Ash station platform. The men were by then beginning to move to Wingham Marshes and Wells Farm platform (Eastry station) construction, but work continued on Drainless Drove till entries on 13th June ended with a triumphant 'finished Cutting'. During May they undertook what was obviously widening works at Tilmanstone Colliery.
After the interminable Drainless Drove, work finally moved on to Wingham cutting clearly using narrow gauge lines ('Skip road') and 'running' skips (measured as 'Setts of Muck') and there is an undated note from this time of setting out the survey pegs 'from Wingham stream through cutting'.
Under the complex arrangements to build the East Kent Railway, an East Kent Construction and Finance Company was contracted to build the railway but the actual construction work had been subcontracted. Shepherdswell to Eastry was built by William Rigby, but the railway from Eastry onwards was let to Holman Stephens with a further sub-contract to John Brenchley, and it was on this section that virtually all the work outlined in the notebook was done. Stephens suffered badly from underpayment for the contract and the men often went unpaid and this surely reflects in the fluctuating and fluid manpower recorded. The cash shortage became acute during the approach to the Great War which finally broke out on the 4th August. Work had clearly been winding down and the last work entry was on the 5th with the author saying 'Finished up' on 19th August 1914. The work then seems to have stood in abeyance for many a month.
Later Stephens resurrected the East Kent project as finance trickled in and was to report in May 1915 that temporary lines were in place to Dambridge Road on the Wingham line, and Gosshall Sluice on the Sandwich line, which is pretty much where the work in the notebook left us. The line was described as permanent from Shepherdswell to Eastry, on the portion where Rigby had been the main sub-contractor. By 1st June 1916 Stephens reported that no progress had been made for a year, which perhaps understates the truth on the section north of Eastry. From Eythorne to Eastry work was in hand, and ballasting and widening was completed to Woodnesborough on the Eastry to Wingham line. Wingham Colliery junction to Dambridge road was being worked on and Eastry to Ash nearly finished. No work was being done beyond Dambridge Road. Interestingly the embankments on this section were, according to our notebook, being built with good material but were clearly subsequently completed with colliery waste which was to give much trouble later with spontaneous combustion in the embankments. The section from Tilmanstone to Wingham (by Dambridge Farm), also known as Wingham Colliery Halt, on which our notebook dwells so much, was finally opened to the public on 16th October 1916.
Articles on Aspects of His Railways - East Kent Light Railway
'The editors intend that this section will have regular articles on individual Colonel Stephens Railways, how they came about and how they were run. The Museum is in being to promote interest and research into his railways. Should you wish to contribute original, suitable and well researched material we will be happy to consider it, just E-mail us.'
The list of Topics Articles is below.
20th November 2013
The Lost Hope of the East Kent Light Railway.
7th March 2011
Brian Janes provides some glimpses into construction of Light Railways through a rare, surviving workman's notebook.
6th February 2008
The photographs in this photo feature show the dismantling of the EKR mainline and were a series taken by David F B Kevan in 1958 which have been deposited in the Colonel Stephens Railway Archive. They evoke a way of doing things as far removed from today as building the original railway.
1st June 2004
This is the text of an article by Brian Janes that was published in the Tenterden Terrier, house journal of the Kent & East Sussex Railway in its Spring 2004 edition.
30th November 2002
Brian Janes looks at the attempts made by Colonel Stephens to get the East Kent Railway access to Canterbury.
Dismantling The East Kent
The Following photographs of the dismantling of the EKR mainline were a series taken by David F B Kevan in 1958 and have been deposited in the Colonel Stephens Railway Archive. They evoke a way of doing things as far removed from today as building the original railway.
Dismantling seems to have carried out by a Messrs George Cohen's ‘600 Group’ with the help of a road mounted crane. Presumably on hire to Cohen’s, the he O1No.31258 of Dover shed was an EKR regular and was the last but one O1, being withdrawn in 1961.
The flat bottomed rail, which was probably the original from the 1920s or earlier, seems to have been levered off with crowbars, and if there were any stubborn ones left, the crane lifted complete lengths of track from the ground for the remaining sleepers to be whacked off with a sledgehammer.
In the absence of a suitable flat wagon the rails were dragged forward by crane and hooked by one end to the buffer of the wagon. The complete train then ran to the dumping point dragging unloaded the single rail, dumped it and returned to the crane. The Inscription “By Thunder” chalked on the wagon buffer refers, we think, to a horse which had won or was being tipped to win a big race at about that time.
Finally Sleepers were bundled up and lifted by the crane loaded into the open wagon.
In these photographs, the crane was about halfway between Knowlton & Elvington halts and the dumping point at the place where the Tilmanstone Colliery sidings almost rejoined the colliery line by New Purchase Farm, map ref 266912.
‘Things do not always work out as planned'
Click on the images to see the larger pictures
This could have been the motto of the East Kent Railways on which Stephens spent so much time to so little effect in terms of operating railways. Not only did many of the 40 projected railways and spurs fail to get built but also, when they did, they did not do so in the way originally planned.
Shepherdswell station, sidings and shed always had an unfinished rambling appearance that belied its status as the operational centre of a rural light railway with fairly busy colliery traffic. It was not planned that way and was indeed never intended to be in that precise location at all. Neither was a major tunnel planned - this was not the Stephens way of building a light railway
When the railway was planned the operational hub of the railway was to be at Eythorne, where the branches from Tilmanstone, Guilford and Deal would have met the mainline from Shepherdswell to Sandwich Haven. Here were to be placed the sorting sidings together with associated facilities like an engine shed, workshops etc. Sandwich was to be the main shipping point and Shepherdswell was probably thought of as a secondary outlet. The line to it was to have climbed at 1 in 40 over the ridge from Eythorne then down at 1in 50 through a triangular junction in a cutting well to the north of Shepherdswell (SECR) station.
This is where the trouble started. The landowner here, a Mr Dixon, had laid out speculative roads for a housing estate that would have been severed by the new railway. He held out for purchase of the whole estate at great cost. What we might today call a ransom strip.
Tilmanstone colliery production was imminent, and construction traffic hauled by traction engines was destroying the rural roads, so a railway was urgent. Fortunately the coal interests promoting the EKR had in 1908 taken a lease on land belonging to a widow, Mrs Susan May, on land between the proposed junction and the SE&CR station. In May 1911 they reached agreement with Mrs May that, on condition that the land was quickly restored to its original state, a sharply curved temporary railway could be built through a shallow cutting. The railway could then pass over other land, including a brickworks, that belonged to a director of the company, H R H Rice. The necessary agreement for a temporary junction with the mainline was secured in an agreement signed on 7th September. The line was then quickly made through the cutting and turned sharply south along a temporary embankment that was visible for many years near the end of the later EKR platform. Although they did not yet know it, the temporary cutting, and Mrs May's land through which the line passed, was destined to be the site of Shepherdswell HQ and the cutting the permanent junction to the mainline.
The temporary railway then crossed the Eythorne road before swinging back towards Tilmanstone. This sinuous course was to avoid Dixon's land by staying on Rice’s. The sale deeds for the land concerned survives. They show that the route followed closely the south side of the Eythorne road up to the summit were it veered south, crossed the Waldershare road at a crossroads, and passed on to other land. It probably then came gently back alongside the Eythorne road, rejoining the permanent formation from the south some way short of the later Eythorne station. A temporary track was laid as a surface line on this land and on to Tilmanstone colliery and was reportedly in operation by the end of October 1911.
The intended permanent route lay on the north side of the Eythorne road going up and over the ridge where a shallow 16 ft cutting was planned before crossing the road on the level and falling to Eythorne junction and sidings. However, at the hearings into the light railway order, things and not gone well. The hearings were almost solely devoted to two problems at Shepherdswell. As a consequence the permanent route was changed forever
First Mr Dixon’s speculative building site on the bleak fields adjacent to the Barfreston road seemed to pose an insuperable problem. Although the speculation had proved a failure and only one house had been built the railway would ensure none ever could be. Except at great expense this land could not be acquired
Further towards Eythorne things were nearly as bad. Near the summit cutting the railway was to carve its way through a complex of roads. In particular it was to cut a bridle path on the line of a roman road at Shepherdswell Firs near a spot long called Golgotha. At the hearing into the order in 1911, the Light Railway Commissioners decided that a bridge should be built here. This made necessary a reduction of the gradient from 1 in 40 to 1 in 50, and the commission decided the railway would gain sufficient advantage in reduced operating costs to offset the extra cost of cutting and bridge construction.
Stephens left the hearings with his tail between his legs and clearly thought deeply. To avoid severing Dixon’s land meant bringing the line further south by about 50 yards. This forced the south Dover-facing spur of the Junction with the SECR to make too sharp a turn. A plan then seems to have been devised to use Mrs May’s land to create a south curve. This may well have been on the site subsequently adopted for the EKR station, for this was always an odd island platform style construction in a seemingly unnecessary cutting. However this connection could not be built as the SECR somewhat understandably objected strongly to it, as it would have to have been driven right through the existing station and yard. The Dover connection was abandoned.
With the main line forced south by the need to avoid Dixon's land, the alignment for the line to the enforced shallow summit cutting and bridge was not ideal. A cutting and tunnel south of the Eythorne road, passing under the complex of roads that had caused trouble at the enquiry, came under consideration. Dixon seems to have been amenable to selling a small portion of his estate and Rice sold the land for the Tunnel and its approach in September 1912 The original alignment was to be regained after the originally planned crossing of the Eythorne road. The additional cost of all this extra work would be justified by the first class alignment as the Collieries came on stream and the cost of haulage was reduced. The Tunnel was now built quickly probably commencing well before the land sales were complete. Tilmanstone commenced coal production in May 1913 and all coal traffic passed over the temporary line, The permanent line including Golgotha Tunnel was completed in the first week of October 1913 and the coal traffic was transferred to that. The temporary line over the hill was then pulled up and the rails and sleepers utilised elsewhere for sidings etc. The land reverted to agriculture but was later put to other uses. The railway built three staff bungalows on one spot and other areas close to the village went under houses in the 1960s. Indeed the author lived in one of these when it was first built and would have been much intrigued if he had known at the time that the ‘ railroad had run through the middle of the house’.
The formation of the revised line was now permanently connected by a further line from end of the tunnel cutting and the Eythorne road level crossing joining the ‘temporary’ cutting through Mrs May’s land. It passed through the brickworks site which was used for the original ramshackle, and obviously temporary, engine shed and the small fan of sidings that became so familiar.
The original proposed line from the crossing on an embankment to the cutting to the northern junction (railway number 10) formation was constructed after the First World War However, its alignment was such that a Dover facing spur could never be built. The embankment was widened sufficiently to take a fan of seven sidings and a full double junction agreed with the, now, Southern Railway. A signal box was also built for the mainline. However the failure of Guilford Colliery and the construction of a ropeway from Tilmanstone to Dover Harbour made further expenditure pointless. One line was only ever laid on it for a siding and the author remembers the embankment solely as a great place for butterflies
Sources and Acknowledgements
Colonel Stephens Railway Archives
Network Rail National Deeds Centre
This is the text of an article by Brian Janes that was published in the Tenterden Terrier, house journal of the Kent & East Sussex Railway in its Spring 2004 edition.
Brian Janes looks at the attempts made by Colonel Stephens to get the East Kent Railway access to Canterbury
As a consulting engineer H F Stephens spent as much, if not more, of his time surveying, planning and promoting light railways than he did building and running them. Providing the bills were paid this was a profitable part of his business.
The East Kent Railways started in 1910/11 in a very extravagant way seeking to monopolise access to the numerous, and in the end largely abortive, collieries planned for the area of east Kent bounded by Sandwich, Dover and Canterbury. In the end some forty railways were planned. The first proposal for the East Kent Mineral (Light) Railways, as they were initially called, was effectively for two lines. The first was from Richborough to Shepherdswell, via the then incomplete Tilmanstone colliery, with a branch to Guilford colliery; the other from Canterbury to Eastry on the first railway via the planned Wingham and Hammil Collieries. These lines were always envisaged as colliery railways with rural goods traffic as a bonus and wisely, given the nature of the countryside, a reluctant acceptance of passenger traffic.
However, Canterbury was a clear traffic objective for both rural goods and passenger traffic. Further, collieries at Stodmarsh, Wingham and Hammil were in prospect requiring direct connection to the South Eastern & Chatham Railway in the neighbourhood of Canterbury, rather than a circuitous route to Shepherdswell. Also a great number of men would be employed during the sinking of the pits and there was no housing accommodation for these workers locally. As it was understood that housing accommodation could be found at Canterbury without much difficulty the railway, which was promoted by the colliery interests, deemed it more economical to build the line than to spend large sums of money in erecting houses in the neighbourhood of collieries
Before the hearings on the original order in 1911, opposition had forced abandonment of about half of the Canterbury line and it was only authorised from the Wingham parish boundary to Eastry. An objection of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to any crossing of their land west of Wingham was based purely on antipathy between themselves and Arthur Burr the controlling power of the EKR and associated coalfield. Further objections had been made by the all powerful War Office who had just bought land near Canterbury for a soon to be redundant cavalry training ground
For the next 20 years the railway fought for a line into a Canterbury but it was not to be. Support for completion of the railway could not be easily had and the general failure of the coalfield to develop hit the traffic potential of the railway and its financing hard. This resulted in the farce of a terminus at Wingham (Canterbury Road) station with its single platform, without a passing loop on the wrong side of an unnecessary level crossing.
And levels crossings were a further problem at the heart of the failure to reach Canterbury. The original plans were for a station near Canterbury (SER later West) station with a line which then paralleled the SECR line to Ramsgate for some distance. Once clear of Canterbury’s existing built up area the EKR planned to veered off across the Great Stour river and its flood plain towards the slightly rising ground on which Ickham, Wickhambreaux and Wingham villages stood. In crossing the valley it also crossed the road between Sturry and Canterbury (the present A28). This was, and is, an important road used by a greater number of vehicles (1000 motors a day even in 1910) than the Dover road. Indeed at that time the road was the principal connection to all of Thanet and places east of Canterbury, before the Thanet Way (the later A299) was built along the North Coast to relieve it in the 1920s
Canterbury City Council and the Chamber of Commerce supported the Railway in principle as the city then looked to the coalfield for a considerable extension of its existing trade. Both bodies were however adamant that there should be no level crossing over the Sturry Road.
After its initial failure the EKR made an attempt to overcome land-owning opposition by bypassing the problem lands. The Railway obtained an extension order in 1911 for a line from Wingham going north as far as a proposed colliery at Stodmarsh. In 1913 a further extension to Canterbury was then proposed from that line skirting the Ecclesiastical Commissioners lands. In so doing his rather absurd line boxed the compass in the process, nearly touching the SECR line that it was proposed to join 3 miles further on in Canterbury. To maintain independent access to Canterbury the EKR had to stay on the south of the valley and then cross the Sturry Road on the level.
During the hearings in 1913 virtually all the substantive discussion centred on this road crossing. Stephens tried to convince the authorities that the Railway had to have a level crossing but might, if forced into a corner, accept a road over the railway. As the land was flat this was the cheapest option as road traffic could take short 1 in 20 gradient approach embankments. A railway taking heavy coal trains required a 1 in 80 gradient and far more expensive and lengthy embanked approaches. The unpopular suggestion was made that the Council might pay for this if they could not accept an overbridge.
Other crossings were proposed in the area, two within a few yards of each other at Fordwich, one on Broad Oak Road and St Stephens Road in Canterbury itself. To eliminate these and the Sturry Road crossing the Council suggested joining the SECR East of Sturry station. Stephens rightly pointed out that any such move would simply increase road congestion further up the Sturry Road in Sturry itself (still a very troublesome crossing today). His principal objection was however to the loss of a terminal station. This was a key point in Stephens’ worldview as use of other railways stations deprived light railways of terminal charges and therefore revenue: he always built separate stations when he could. Stephens did however readily agree to reposition his station east of St Stephens Road to eradicate one level crossing. The EKR station would then be situated at the corner of Broad Oak and St Stephens Roads a good walk from the city centre or any interchange with the SER (later West) station. It would have been a nice vanity if it had been called Canterbury St Stephens.
The inability of the railway to resolve the financial and engineering issues of the Canterbury approach, combined with the continuing problems getting collieries in production and finally the start of the Great War, caused the loss of the 1913 proposal. The EKR came back to it in 1917 and after years of struggle in 1920 finally got the Canterbury powers they craved. The City Council had however prevailed and the Railway was forced to rise over the road. Moreover, in the interim, Wingham, Hammil and Stodmarsh collieries had failed. Costs had of course risen and finance was clearly not available. Nothing happened.
Stephens was never stopped though and in 1927 further light railway proposals were made to finish the job. The Burr /EC dispute having been resolved by Burr’s death in 1919, powers were sought to straighten the railway back to the course proposed in 1910. Regrettably this proposal was too late. Although proposals for the development of the coalfield did not die for another 20 years the envisaged rural and passenger traffic was probably no longer there. Indeed perhaps the railway saw this for itself as one of the clauses sought powers to run buses.
At this point the Southern Railway, who had effectively taken control of the EKR, clearly influenced events. After two further drafts the order was passed in 1931. But there were no bus powers (the Southern already had extensive bus interests) and the Canterbury branch had no independent station. Canterbury had by this time lost interest in a connection with its villages, which were anyway served by excellent bus connections. Even the beloved Canterbury and Whitstable had lost its passenger service at the end of 1930. With Stephens death there was no will to go on and Wingham's peculiar Canterbury Road station remained to fascinate a further generation before even this vestige of faded hopes finally disappeared from the face of the earth.
Colonel Stephens Railway Archive