The London and Greenwich Railway (LGR), together with the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway (CWR) in East Kent were the earliest railways to serve the then county of Kent: eventually both became parts of the South Eastern Railway (SER). At Bermondsey there was a junction for the London & Croydon Railway opened in 1839.
London & Greenwich Railway
The LGR opened its first section between Spa Road (Bermondsey) and Deptford on February 8 1836, the line being extended westwards to London Bridge from December 14 1836; and to a temporary station at Greenwich on December 14 1838. The present station there was opened two years later: until the line to Maze Hill was opened in 1878, Greenwich was the terminus. The layout of the station still betrays that fact. The line from London, built on a continuous viaduct, is perfectly straight, and at Greenwich there is the space between the two tracks for the locomotive 'escape route' to reverse the trains; but after Greenwich it makes a sharp turn and dips into a tunnel.
Canterbury & Whitstable Railway
The CWR opened on May 3 1830 between Canterbury and Whitstable Harbour. In its early days it employed a variety of means of traction: on the inclines at Tyler Hill and Clowes Wood winding engines were used, with horses in the section between; and the locomotive Invicta - built by Robert Stephenson, unsuccesful and becoming disused by 1839 - being employed at the Whitstable end. Invicta, in spite of its short life, has been preserved.
The line closed for passenger traffic on January 1 1931, and entirely in 1953.
The Main Line
The original main line was given sanction by Act of Parliament in 1836, running from London Bridge via Oxted, Tonbridge, Maidstone and Ashford to Folkestone and Dover. This circuitous route was the result of insistence on the part of Parliament that only one southerly route out of the capital was necessary; since the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway had already built the line through Redhill, the SER perforce had to follow it. This completely ignored the fact that the main London - Dover road had, since ancient times, followed a much more direct route; and it ignored the fact that the other great railway building projects did take direct routes whenever feasible. A passenger to Dover had a 20-mile longer journey than by the coaching route!
The main line reached Ashford on December 1 1842; the outskirts of Folkestone by June 28 1843; and Dover by February 7 1844.
The SER system spread out opening branch lines to connect with major towns along its route.
Dates of opening
- September 25 1844 Paddock Wood - Maidstone
- September 20 1845 Tunbridge (as it then was) - outskirts of Tunbridge Wells
- November 25 1846 extended to Tunbridge Wells
- December 1 1846 Ashford - Margate
- July 7 1847 Minster - Deal
- September 1 1851 Tunbridge Wells - Robertsbridge
- January 1 1852 Robertsbridge - Battle
- February 1 1852 Battle to Bopeep Junction, St Leonards This marked the completion of the branch to Hastings
- February 13 1852 Ashford - Hastings
- June 18 1856 Strood - Maidstone
- September 1 1866 the "Dartford Loop" line from Hither Green via Sidcup
- October 9 1874 the Sandling branch (closed 1951)
- March 1882 The Hundred of Hoo Railway
- September 4 1893 the Hawkhurst branch (closed 1961)
- May 1 1895 Blackheath - Dartford via Bexleyheath
The SER and other railways
The SER and the LCDR
By 1853 the SER had almost completed a network of lines encompassing mid-Kent. There was still the North Kent coast not served by rail, and in 1853 a company named the East Kent Railway was incorporated. By various amalgamations and using "running powers" the new railway was to gain access to the new Victoria station; other extensions brought the railway to Dover and Ramsgate. The London, Chatham and Dover Railway was granted its title in 1859.
This new railway company had a much more direct access to London than the SER; and it was imperative that this situation was improved. The direct line via Sevenoaks to Tonbridge was therefore constructed by the SER and was built. It involved huge earthworks: crossing the North Downs by means of summits and then long tunnels at both Knockholt and Sevenoaks. the latter was the longest in southern England at one mile, 1691 yards in length. This "cut-off" line, 24 miles in length, reached Chislehurst on Jul 1 1865, but took three more years to reach Sevenoaks (opening date March 2 1868) and Tonbridge (May 1 1868).
Many of the LCDR's lines served towns already possessing a station built by the SER. Rochester and Chatham; Maidstone; Canterbury; and Dover were all in this position.The first two have now lost their second station, as has Dover. The LCDR was always in financial difficulties, and for years the amalgamation of the two Kent routes was mooted. On January 1 1899 this was put to rest when the two companies joined for working under a Management Committee. On August 5 1899 an Act of Parliament was passed entitled "South Eastern and London, Chatham and Dover Railway Companies Act" which resulted in the formation of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway.
The SER and the LBSCR
With the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway relationships were often bitter - almost an all-out war. The main sites of that war were in London, Redhill and Hastings: three locations where the two railway companies came closest together.
In London, at both London Bridge and Victoria the rivalry between the two companies came to such a head that both stations, even today, show the existence of two separate areas at each site, with a wall between them. At Redhill the two companies' stations were placed at an inconvenient distance for passenger exchange; and when a new station was built, the SER gave preference to its own trains through the station. This led the LBSCR to build what is known as the "Quarry Line" so as to avoid Redhill altogether. At Hastings, where they came together for the final section through St Leonards, the troubles were even more direct. In their desire to secure the business, the SER were determined to keep the LBSCR out. The latter had opened their line from Brighton on February 13 1851, connecting with the SER at Bo-peep Junction. After preventing some Brighton trains from passing the junction, the SER blocked in at Hastings those that had; removed track at the junction; and even put barriers up to stop the LBSCR coach link from operating. An LBSCR injunction eventually put matters to rights, but until the 1923 amalgamations relations were still to be bitter.
- The South Eastern and Chatham Railway (O.S. Nock, Ian Allen Ltd 1961)
- The Railway Year Book for 1912 (The Railway Publishing Company Ltd, 1912)
- Railways of the Southern Region (Geoffrey Body, Patrick Stephens Ltd, 1984)
- The Rural Landscape of Kent (S.G.McRae & C.P. Burnham, et al, Wye College, 1973)
- One history of the SER (http://www.trackbed.com/companies/s/company_ser.htm)
- The London & Croydon Railway (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RAcroydon.htm)
- The London & Greenwich Railway (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RAgreenwich.htm)