OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The South Eastern & Chatham

Pages: <1> 2 3 4

The South Eastern & Chatham claims the county of Kent for its own, and extends for a short distance into Sussex and all through Surrey into Berkshire. Beginning as the Dover Railway to afford a route between London and the Continent, it is the chief road that way still, and of its 654 miles of track the 76 to Dover are those to which it gives its best attention. From Dover go the Calais and Ostend boats; and it has two other mail-ports, Queenborough for Flushing, and Folkestone for Boulogne.

All down the south side of the Thames from London Bridge to Port Victoria every town and village is served by The South Eastern & Chatham; and so it is all the way round from Sheerness to Hastings. Quite a number of seaside places besides those mentioned are in its territory - Whitstable, Herne Bay, Birchington, Westgate, Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate, Sandwich, Deal, Walmer, Sand- gate, Hythe, Littlestone, Rye, and St. Leonards. From Hastings to Tonbridge and from Redhill to London is its western boundary, with the spurs to Bexhill, to Reading, and to Tattenham Corner. And northward of the Thames it extends into Cannon Street, St. Paul's, Holborn Viaduct, Charing Cross, and Victoria.

If the age of a railway be that of its oldest branch, the South Eastern is older than the North Western - as usually understood - for the Liverpool & Manchester was opened four months after the Canterbury & Whitstable, the story of which is not uninteresting and has quite a character of its own.

In the early days of the last century Canterbury wanted a port, the old cathedral city seeming to be doomed to no other means of communication with the rest of the world than coach and wagon, and prices were rising alarmingly. Its old port of Fordwich had become silted up, though not so much so as to-day when it remains as a pleasant little village with a church sporting the Cinque Port ship as a weather-vane - to show it is a "member" of Sandwich - and a quaint little town hall and accessories that claim a paragraph in every guide-book.

Thus it came about that in 1822 the citizens resolved on improving the river Stour and making it navigable from Sandwich, as it used to be; and, after much talk and a little surveying, they introduced a Bill into Parliament in the 1824 session which was opposed by the Commissioners of Sewers on the ground of inadequate surveys and evident under-estimates, and promptly rejected. Nothing daunted, the Canterbury people increased the proposed capital, and brought in a Bill next year which met with a better reception and duly passed.

The way seemed clear for the Stour improvement; but while the discussion was in progress in 1823, there happened to be in Canterbury no less a person than William James, the promoter of "engine railroads" as he called them, the friend and partner for a time of George Stephenson, whose department so far as the partnership was concerned was "to give his best assistance for the using and employing the locomotive engines" on railways south of an imaginary line drawn from Hull to Liverpool.

James, according to Robert Stephenson, was the original projector of the Liverpool & Manchester. There may be some doubt about this; there is none about his promotion of the Canterbury & Whitstable. He did his best for the partnership. He wrote and spoke and agitated generally to such effect that he got together a rail party in the city to oppose the river party, which obtained so much support that in 1824 he was sufficiently advanced to apply to George Stephenson for him to send down a surveyor; and Stephenson sent him John Dixon of Chat Moss fame.

Dixon was a practical engineer who knew what he was about, and had very soon been over the half-dozen miles or so of the way to Whitstable and chosen an easy, suitable route through Blean. The Canterbury committee were called together to discuss his plans. And then a hitch occurred. "What! No tunnel?" asked one of these intelligent men. "No, sir," said Dixon, "I am pleased to say no tunnelling is necessary, and the line is practically level." "Oh," said some of the others, "no tunnel! We must have a tunnel."

The thing is almost incredible, but it is the fact. The Canterbury people insisted on having a tunnel; Dixon's plans were rejected, and Stephenson was asked to journey to Canterbury in person and plan out a route with a nice tunnel in it. Needless to say there was no difficulty; the site for a tunnel was found at Tyler Hill, and to reach it and get through to Whitstable the road lay through a strip of country undulating enough and picturesque enough to please any one who did not mind paying for it, and it contained everything no complete railroad should be without.

It started from North Lane at a gradient of 1 in 41, and went at 1 in 56 for over 3000 yards to Tyler Hill, necessitating a pair of 25 horse-power stationary engines on the summit to haul the trains up by an endless rope; and there was the tunnel in four different dimensions, the big end towards the city, whose people were so proud of it that they shut it up at night by gates, the riders for which can still be seen at the entrance; then there was a gentle gradient of 1 in 750 to Clowes Wood, where were two more stationary engines at the top of gradients of 1 in 28 and 1 in 31 to Bogshole, then came a mile of level, and then another down-grade where another stationary engine was soon put, and then a dapper little bridge, still standing, over Church Street, and then a level run to get up speed on in the finish to the harbour. There was everything the committee asked for, and if anything else was required it could be supplied, but the additions would be extra. What Stephenson and James thought of it all is not recorded, but the deposit money was forthcoming, the Bill was lodged, and it was discussed and passed in the same year as the river Act; and Canterbury had to choose which it-would go ahead with, the rail or the river? The rail won; and Fordwich was left to sleep.

The line was made by navvies sent down from the north - Joseph Locke being for a time resident engineer - and on the 3rd of May 1830 it was opened with much ringing of bells and waving of flags. Twenty carriages - that is, open trucks - in two divisions, worked by the Invicta, the company's only engine, started for the oyster town to brave at the beginning the terrors of the first tunnel ever entered by train. But really we must rely on the local newspaper - "The entrance into the Tunnel was very impressive, the total darkness, the accelerated speed, the rumbling of the cars, the loud cheering of the whole party echoing through the vault, combined to form a situation almost terrific, certainly novel and striking."

There was never a dividend. The line was always worked at a loss, but it never stopped working until it was relaid on being leased by the South Eastern in 1844. Some time after it opened it was leased to contractors who worked it with horses and tried to sell its only engine; but, there being no other rails for it to run on nearer than Greenwich, there were no buyers, and it was left to be taken over with the rest of the plant by the South Eastern people, who took up the old 15 ft. Birkinshaw rails, 28 lb. to the yard, with their oak sleepers a yard apart, and the sheaves a fathom apart on which the ropes ran. The old signals were also taken away - the drums that were hoisted on the engine-house chimneys, and the shutters hung by the middle, that meant danger when vertical and safety when horizontal.

The Invicta was at Ashford for years; now she is in the Dane John gardens at Canterbury, but not in her original state. As built by the Stephensons - and she was their twentieth engine, the Rocket being their nineteenth - she had 4-coupled wheels, 4 ft. across, driven by two outside cylinders at the forward end, the first instance of that arrangement on record. These were 10 in. with an 18-in. stroke, and the boiler had twenty-five 3-in. tubes - not a 10-in. flue as now - her total heating surface being 192 sq. ft., her working pressure 40 lb., and her weight 6 tons. She is not the only relic of the old times, for there still exists the Duke of Wellington's carriage of 1838 which he used while at Walmer, his route to London being by road to Canterbury, by rail to Whitstable, and thence by boat. A photograph of this old first and second composite (S.E.R. No. 211) is at South Kensington. There is a popular notion, helped by certain apocryphal stories, that the Duke was an opponent of railways, whereas he was one of the first of leading men to appreciate their importance.

The 50 shares of the old company were at ten shillings before the news got about that the South Eastern were going to take over the line, and then they went up to 30, but the South Eastern did not buy the line until 1853; from 1844 until then they only leased it. The famous tunnel there was so much fuss about was rather small at the Whit-stable end, and it was not enlarged, so the antiquity of the present carriages must be excused. They are only little ones.

The next link of the South Eastern chain was the Greenwich line, the first of London's railways. It was the first overhead railway, and its engineer was George Thomas Landmann, once a colonel of Royal Engineers, who after many adventures had taken to railway work. It ran from Joiner Street, Southwark, 1144 yards from the Royal Exchange, to Greenwich, 3¾ miles, the turnpike road being 5½ miles; and it was on brick arches all the way, 878 of them, except for an iron bridge over Bermondsey Street and a lifting bridge over Ravensbourne Creek. The arches were adopted because much of the route lay below Thames high-water mark; and it was hoped that a large revenue might be derived from letting them as houses and shops, and some were so let, it being so convenient to have a really weather-proof dwelling with an intermittent rumble on the roof. From Spa Road to Deptford there was a footpath in front of the arches, for the use of which a toll of a penny was levied, which it was expected would bring in an appreciable amount as the path was a short-cut from the existing road.

The contractor was Hugh M'Intosh, and his undertaking was not so profitable as he anticipated owing to his having in places to go down 24 ft. to get a firm foundation for the arches; but he did his work well, as can be seen in the monotonous viaduct which is still as level as when he made it. The rails, a double line of them, were fastened into the chairs by malleable iron wedges, the chairs being fixed to rough blocks of granite, or Bramley Fall stone, of about four cubic feet each, but between the chair and the stone Landmann put a thin piece of elm plank, thus beginning the return to the old wooden sleeper.

The site of the terminus is included within the present London Bridge Station. It was approached by a sloping carriage road and a paved footpath, and entered through handsome iron gates. As originally laid out, it was 60 ft. wide by 400 ft. long, with four lines of rails converging to two at 130 yards from the entrance, but the first building seems to have been a shed. The line was opened to Deptford on the 14th of December 1836, and in the first year there were 1,462,591 passengers who paid - notice the delicate insinuation - the train tickets being copper checks. In December 1838 it was opened to Greenwich. To attract passengers, and make things holiday-like, there were bands of music just as the steamboats had; and most bitter opponents were the steamboat people and all the river fraternity, who foresaw that the railway meant hard times for them, as indeed it did, for steamboats and wherries cannot struggle successfully against railways and tramways plying between the same places, as the London County Council have in recent years found to their sorrow. The London & Greenwich was a great work, and much was thought of it at the time, but it is not the only line on arches belonging to The South Eastern & Chatham, for the Metropolitan Extension runs on arches, 742 of them, and 94 girder bridges, and it is two miles longer.

We must now go back a little. In 1825 a railway was being talked about from Manchester to Liverpool, why should there not be one from London to Dover? And what better route could there be than from London along the Thames valley to Gravesend and then on; or even from Gravesend to Dover, thus avoiding the voyage round the Forelands? So a line was projected - and it met with such opposition from every vested interest on the road that nothing could be done. Seven years afterwards the project came to the front again, and again had to be postponed. Next year, however, 1833, the London & Greenwich obtained its Act, and this put heart into another group of projectors who proposed a line through Maidstone without success; and in 1835, when the London & Croydon Act passed, there was quite a lively contest between the Maidstone scheme and the Gravesend scheme that prevented either making way.

Next year, while the numerous companies anxious to go to Brighton were in full endeavour, a third scheme was introduced - to start a line from Redhill to Dover through the level country of the Weald, taking Tonbridge, Ashford, and Folkestone on the way. The Act for this was obtained, but next year came the report of the Parliamentary referee on the Brighton projects, and the passage of the Brighton Company's Act with the curious restrictions on the approach to London inserted in the interest of the London & Croydon and the London & Greenwich. For a time the South Eastern doubted if it were worth while to go on, particularly as they had the offer of another and better route.

This was the Central Kent, one of the lines projected by Sir John Rennie. The Central Kent was to run from London Bridge to Sandwich by way of Lewisham, Eltham, the Grays, the Darent, Gravesend, crossing the Medway a mile above Rochester, thence within a mile of Maidstone to Eastwell, where it sent off a branch to Ashford, Folkestone, and Dover, while the main line went on through Canterbury to Sandwich. Up the valley of the Darent there was to be a branch to Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, and thus nearly every important town in Kent was provided for; and the route to Dover was fourteen miles shorter than that for which the Act had been obtained, and its steepest gradient was 1 in 264. This would undoubtedly have been the best line, and the South Eastern people would have substituted it for theirs had it not been for the opposition of Lord Winchelsea and the people of Maidstone, who would not hear of any railway coming near their town, which they considered to be amply provided for by the barges on the Medway. And so the project fell through.

>>> Next page >>>
Pages: <1> 2 3 4

Pictures for The South Eastern & Chatham

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About