© Railway Wonders of the World 2012-23  |  Contents  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  | Cookie Policy

The South Eastern & Chatham Railway





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, Sandgate, 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.

Charing Cross station, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


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”.

Loco No. 273 at Cannon Street, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


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.

Buffet Car of the Continental Express, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


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 6¼ 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 Whitstable 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.

Drawing-room car of the Hastings Express, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


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 Crays, 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.

Pullman Car Corunna, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


Thus it came about that under the Act of 1837 the Brighton Company made the line from Redstone Hill (Redhill) to Jolly Sailor (Norwood Junction) on the London & Croydon, the South Eastern paying £340,000, half the cost with interest of the twelve-mile stretch, and becoming the owners of the southern half up to Coulsdon; and when the line opened their trains ran on their own metals from Redhill to Coulsdon, on Brighton metals from Coulsdon to Norwood Junction, on Croydon metals from there to Corbett’s Lane, and on Greenwich metals from there to London Bridge. Thus were the Brighton and South Eastern in their infancy nurtured by Parliament in unpunctuality, for on such a road it was absolutely impossible to work even a moderate traffic and keep time. To complete the story it should be said that a station was placed at Paddock Wood, then called Maidstone Road, which was twelve miles from Maidstone, and soon after it was opened the people of Maidstone, who had wrecked the Central Kent and stopped the best road to Dover, came to the directors of the South Eastern with a petition humbly beseeching them to provide a branch, which branch was opened in 1844.

The engineer of the South Eastern was Sir William Cubitt, who invented the treadmill and did many other things besides making canals, harbours, and railways. In his evidence before the Gauge Commission he said, “With a perfect railway I do not know any speed that could be dangerous to the public safety in a straight line”; and he laid out the South Eastern for speed with a perfectly straight run of forty-eight miles from just round Redhill to Ashford, and he made it practically level throughout that distance. Beyond Ashford he had more scope for his engineering powers. He crossed Folkestone gap by the viaduct over the river Foord of 19 arches over 100 ft. high, and beyond Folkestone he made the splendid stretch through the chalk and along the shore with its four tunnels, Martello 530 yards long, Abbot’s Cliff 1933 yards long, and the two through Shakspeare’s Cliff 1392 yards long; while between the tunnels, although the sea occasionally breaks over it in the winter, he laid the line 20 ft. above high-water mark, and beyond the Shakspeare ran it over the open timber bridge under which the sea washes at very high tides.

These tunnels through the chalk were made by driving in horizontal galleries from the sea-face instead of making vertical shafts from the top in the usual way, but the most famous piece of work was the blowing away of the face of Round Down Cliff, on the 26th of January 1843, with 18,000 lb. of gunpowder fired by electricity. The story of this successful introduction of electrical firing as it appeared in Our Iron Roads is too well told to be spoilt by paraphrasing, and here it is:-

Foord Viaduct, Folkestone, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


“At the time appointed for the blasting, a number of distinguished visitors reached the Downs, and joined the directors and the scientific corps at a commodious pavilion erected near the edge of the cliff, at a distance of about a quarter of a mile from the point of explosion. When the arrangements were completed and the spectators assembled, curiosity was at its height, and the most strange and fearful speculations were entertained by the people assembled as to the possible contingencies which might arise. ‘What’, said Professor Sedgwick - ‘what if there should be a concealed fissure - a blinded chasm - in the cliff behind us? A smart vibration might throw it open’. ‘What then?’ inquired a ghastly querist. ‘We shall be swallowed up!’ muttered one in response; while another sighed, ‘We shall be swallowed down!’ Still the fascination was irresistible, and though many were uneasy, and wished to be gone, no one withdrew. After a long suspense of half an hour the discharge of half a dozen blasts on the face of Abbot’s Cliff occasioned a great sensation. When two o’clock arrived, the time appointed for the explosion, the interest which pervaded the multitude became most intense. The choughs and crows that winged the midway air were distinctly heard amid the profound calm that prevailed. The signal which announced it to be fifteen minutes before firing having been given, all the other flags were hoisted. The air was still, the sea was calm, and the murmuring surges gently laved the cliff’s huge base. A quarter of an hour now passed and a shell with a lighted fuse was thrown over the cliff, from which it bounded to the beach, where it burst with an astounding report, followed by echoes from the hills, which had the effect of sharp fusilades of musketry. The flags were then hauled down and at length the one minute before firing arrived. The excitement of the people was now painfully intense, while their courage was put to the severest test. ‘Now! Now!’ shouted the eager multitude, and a dull, muffled, booming sound was heard, accompanied for a moment by a heavy jolting movement of the earth, which caused the knees to smite. The wires had been fired. In an instant the bottom of the cliff appeared to dissolve, and to form by its melting elements a hurried sea-borne stream The superincumbent mass, to the extent of about five hundred feet, was then observed to separate from the, mainland, and as the dissolution of its base was accomplished it gradually sank to the, beach. In two minutes its dispersion was complete. The huge volleys of ejected chalk, as they swelled the lava-like stream, appeared to roll inwards upon themselves, crushing their integral blocks, and then to return to the surface in smaller and coalescing forms. The mass seemed to ferment under the influence of an unseen, but uncontrollable power. There was no roaring explosion, no bursting out of fire, and, what is very remarkable, not a single wreath of smoke; for the mighty agent had done its work under an amount of pressure which almost matched its energies: the pent-up fires were restrained in their intensity till all smoke was consumed. A million tons of weight and a million tons of cohesion held them in check. When the turf at the top of the cliff was launched to the level of the beach, the stream of debris extended a distance of 1200 ft, and covered a space of more than fifteen acres! The moment the headlong course of the chalk had ceased, and the hopes of the spectators were realised, a simultaneous cry arose of ‘Three cheers for the engineer!’ and William Cubitt was honoured with a hearty huzza from the lips of a grateful people. An era in the history of engineering had passed.”

Tank engine for suburban traffic, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


The best-known tunnel on the line is, however, not in the chalk, but in the Weald Clay at Bletchingley, through a spur of Tilburstow Hill. Here the resident engineer was F. W. Simms, who carefully recorded in detail every step in its construction and took it as the example for his book on tunnelling, which is the standard work on the subject known to every engineer. It is the whole story of a tunnel from its survey to its completion. Bletchingley cost £72 per yard, and it measures 1324 yards; Saltwood, near Sandling Junction, to which Simms moved on as resident when he had finished it, and treated much in the same way, measures 954 yards, and cost £118 per yard, it being a much more difficult job. Here the men had to be worked in four shifts, and at one time the water was running at a thousand gallons an hour, bringing the sand along with it in dangerous quantities, until the happy idea occurred to him of packing straw behind the poling which kept the sand back and let the filtered water through. All along the engineering work was thoughtful and sound, and, as Cubitt pointed out, the line was made with a wider base than usual, for it was 36 ft. wide, to secure greater safety and better drainage than had up to then been attained. “A railroad”, says Robert Hunt, “has three parts, substructure, superstructure, and rolling stock”. The substructure is the bed, the superstructure is the permanent way; and with regard to these the South Eastern was the best line of its time.

New drawing-roomm car, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


The Bletchingley tunnel was opened in May 1841. In May next year the first train ran through from London to Tonbridge, then called Tunbridge, where the branch to Tunbridge Wells, opened two years afterwards, had been begun. In August Headcorn was reached, and in December the trains began to run through to Ashford. In 1843 the line was opened to Folkestone, and the year following it reached Dover.

That year, 1844, was an important one for the company, for not only did they get to Dover, but they opened their first London branch, that to their new “West End Station” - which was Bricklayers Arms! Railway companies are occasionally somewhat bold in their advertisement, but it may be doubted if any of them in these days would venture so to describe Bricklayers Arms, which is in the Old Kent Road. Passenger trains were worked into it as a terminus until the end of January 1852, and then it began its career in the goods business only, broken by one bright interval for which it is not likely to be forgotten. When H.R.H. Princess Alexandra of Denmark arrived at Gravesend on the 3rd of March 1863, the special train was run into Bricklayers Arms Station. There London received the future Queen of England on the way to the wedding at Windsor; and after this blaze of glory it settled down to its position as the chief goods depot of the line.

Bricklayers Arms is notable in railway story for the step forward there taken in signalling. When it was opened, Charles Gregory, who introduced the semaphore into railway practice by placing the first at New Cross, gathered the chains from all the signals into a stirrup frame, and fixed to the frame a sort of parallel motion that ran between the stirrups in such a way that the depression of any one stirrup pushed the parallel bars into a position to act as a block on the others. Thus two conflicting signals could not be given at the same time. This was not quite interlocking, as there was no mechanical connection between the signals and the points, but it was the first move in that direction.

South Eastern & Chatham Railway coat of arms


In 1856, when the signalling arrangements were enlarged and improved, John Saxby of Saxby & Farmer worked from the signal cabin eight semaphores and six pairs of points, all so governed and locked that it was impossible to move any signal which was contrary to the position of the points, and equally impossible to give any signal that was in conflict with another. The principle was the simultaneous movement of points and signals contrived in such a way that the signals were dominated by the points.

Saxby was the first to put in a row together the levers for working the points as well as those for working the signals. At first he used rocking shafts, but in 1860 he replaced these by sliding bars, the principal levers being vertical and the locking levers horizontal. In 1867 he introduced locking by the spring catch, so that before the lever was moved the mere intention of moving it effected the locking, and a wrong signal could not be given by negligence or any strain or slackness of the apparatus; but in this device he ran a sort of dead heat with Easterbrook, who was three days in front of him with one patent and three days behind him with the next, so that for a short time no levers could be moved owing to Saxby having secured one end of them while Easterbrook had hold of the other.

American Car Train near Orpington South Eastern & Chatham Railway


There was another patent for interlocking of which some mention must be made. In October 1859 Kentish Town Station was ready for opening on the North London when Colonel Yolland, the Government Inspector, refused to pass it as he wanted some means of preventing the signalman from making a mistake. Stevens, the contractor for the signalling work, undertook to put this right, and the opening was postponed for him to do so. In November Colonel Yolland came again to examine the new contrivance, in which the signals were so arranged that the putting down of one stirrup disengaged the other. The colonel put his foot into both stirrups, and so lowered both the up main and the up branch; and he, refused to pass the line. He was asked to suggest some way out of the difficulty. “Oh”, said he, “it is not my province to suggest but to approve”. But having understood what the colonel had in his mind, Austin Chambers tackled the problem, and in a month was ready for the colonel with an arrangement that was satisfactory, and the line was opened in December. The same day the General Manager gave Chambers a cheque for fifty pounds to patent the invention, and this was done; and it was immediately, adopted all over the North Western.

Neither of these interlocking systems can be understood without an examination, of the mechanism or working a model. They have been compared to a church organ, but as has been well said of them, a performer on the organ can touch any keys he pleases in any order or in any number; he can discourse most eloquent music, or he can rend the ears of his audience by abominable discord. Not so the signalman. Concord he can produce at will, but discord is utterly beyond his powers. He cannot open the points to one line and at the same time give a safety signal to a line which crosses it; and the points must be properly set or the signal for a train to pass cannot possibly be given. Moreover, while a train is actually travelling through the points, not even the signalman can change their position or disturb them until the last vehicle has passed in safety. When he gives a clear signal for a main line, he cannot open a point crossing to it; and when he gives a clear signal for a crossing he must show danger for all the lines which it crosses. He can send a train on to any one line, but he has to do so in a systematic manner, and if he brings about an accident it is not by one pull of a lever but by the pull of perhaps half a dozen, all in due order and strictly according to rule; and often in these days he is stopped from doing this by the man in another box, with which his signals are also connected.

The Post Office Sorting Van South Eastern & Chatham Railway


The simplification of signalling is progressing apace and soon it will be almost entirely automatic, and it is interesting to note that the Chatham & Dover did much to help along the reform by its early introduction of Sykes’s electric block system alluded to above. The telegraph block, however, goes back much earlier, for it was introduced on the Yarmouth & Norwich in the very year that Bricklayers Arms was opened with Gregory’s stirrups; while signalling by electrical contacts began in a small way on the Lancaster & Preston in 1849.

The block system on which our trains are now worked is not difficult to understand. The line is divided into sections by signal-boxes in electrical communication with each other, and only one train is allowed to be between any two boxes on one line at a time. The signalman receives a warning that a train is coming and answers it that the line is clear if that be the case. He then receives the notification “Train on line”, and as soon as he does so sends on the “Be ready” signal to the next box, where it is answered and sent on in the same way, so that the signals are always a section in advance of the train. In some places there is a “permissive block” by which two trains may be on the same section, but the second train is always under control.

Meanwhile confusion was increasing with increase of business at “the Bridge” with four companies running into it. As a remedy they ceased to work independently after the 1st of March 1844, when a joint committee was formed. Next year matters were simplified by the South Eastern taking over the London & Greenwich on a 999 years’ lease at a rental of £45,000. In the following January the committee was dissolved, and in July the London & Brighton absorbed the London & Croydon and became the London, Brighton, & South Coast. This left two companies in the place of four, both using the same metals from Redhill and both running in on to the arches at Corbett’s Lane for the last 3036 yards into London Bridge; and though the South Eastern soon began to find other outlets from the Greenwich line, that arrangement lasted until the Brighton opened their new line from Purley to Earlswood fifty-four years afterwards.

Wickham & Hayes Branch railmotor South Eastern & Chatham Railway


The same year, 1846, the South Eastern continued its line north-east from Ashford to Ramsgate and Margate, taking Canterbury on the way and linking up with the Whitstable, which soon lost its importance, for Ramsgate became the cathedral city’s long-desired port for all purposes that a special port could be of use with a railway to so many ports at the end of Castle Street. Sandwich, Rennie’s eastern terminus, was not to be left long out in the cold, but instead of being approached in the Central Kent manner direct from Canterbury, it obtained access to London by the line opened in 1847 between Minster and Deal, in which the Iron Duke, still at Walmer, took so much interest that out of compliment to him the company adopted Wellington brown as the colour of their carriages.

In 1843, Morris, who had left Rennie to become one of the contractors for making the South Eastern, bought Telford’s old harbour at Folkestone for £10,000, to sell it again to the company for a considerable consideration, and thither the branch from Folkestone was opened in 1849 so as to give the company another route to France. In time the railway company bought the boats that were working the passage; but they would not buy the Dover boats when they were offered to them, and thereby came trouble.

Charing Cross station South Eastern & Chatham Railway


The railways are said by some people to have been welcomed owing to the exorbitant charges and high profits of the canal companies. There were, however, some canals that made no profits, and of such was the Thames & Medway projected in 1804. This went from Gravesend to Strood, and was a little over seven miles long, thus giving the barges a much shorter route to Chatham than round by Sea Reach, if they would only have used it, which they did not. When practically insolvent it was taken over by a railway company who, converting only the part from Higham, opened a line from Gravesend to Strood in 1847. Here was a line in the wilderness that was not long to remain so, for two years afterwards came the North Kent from the Greenwich, through New Cross and Black-heath to Gravesend, which of course meant the purchase of the lonely railway and brought the South Eastern to Rochester Bridge on the way to Maidstone, which it reached from the north in 1856.

In 1849 the line through Surrey was opened to Reading. No one acquainted with the ways of our railways will be surprised at the South Eastern going west or even northwest; but this particular branch is due to amalgamation. The route is of strategic importance, and, among the many schemes promoted in 1845, Parliament dealt with those for filling the gap between Redhill and Reading in such a way that the Reading, Guildford, & Reigate, and the Staines, Wokingham, & Woking, were authorised to construct and use the line which is now this part of the South Eastern, there being certain interchanges of running powers between the South Eastern and South Western. In 1851 and 1852 Ashford and Tonbridge were looped up by the lines to Hastings, the next move being the business extension from Charlton to Angerstein’s Wharf, the company’s river port.

The Continental Express preparing to start from Charing Cross, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


The Chatham & Dover was now beginning to take shape, and for some seven years the South Eastern lay quiet preparing for the great effort by which its rival was not to be crushed. This was its coming over the Thames to its big stations in the Strand and Cannon Street. It meant two bridges across the river and the purchase of property at extortionate prices; and its cost was about £1000 a yard for a little over 2½ miles. At Cannon Street an entirely new bridge had to be built; at Charing Cross the Hungerford suspension bridge had to be bought with the obligation of retaining the footway, and though the old piers came in useful for some of the columns of the new bridge, foundations for the others were not so easily found.

The station was built by an independent company and taken over by the South Eastern in 1864; it is not as it was, for owing to the failure of a tie-rod some of the original roof fell in 1905, and the remainder was taken down for the present roof to be substituted. The roof of Cannon Street Station is somewhat similar to the old one of Charing Cross, but is of better appearance and different in construction. There are many who think that one of these stations would have been enough, but opinions are about equally divided as to which it should be; of one thing, however, there is no doubt, and that is that the working of the trains in and out of Cannon Street, with its crossing of the lines to Charing Cross, is almost as fatal to punctuality as the old arrangement between Croydon and Redhill.

Cannon street station South Eastern & Chatham Railway


At the eastern end of the main platform at Waterloo there is a single line leading out, which is occasionally used for passing troop trains through. It belongs to the South Eastern, and was put there to give through communication between north and south when the Charing Cross line was opened and there was no Waterloo Junction but a station at Blackfriars Road. In July 1865 a service of trains was put on from Euston through Kensington and Vauxhall that went over this line to London Bridge, and next year these trains ran into Cannon Street, further complicating the working and being little patronised. The South Western complained that the South Eastern Company were deliberately discouraging the service, as they were, and at last gave that company notice to complete their engagements and build Waterloo Junction. This, much against their will, they were compelled to do, for they had hoped to save the expense; but as some relief they asked that the through service should be taken off, and this was done on New Year’s Day 1867. Meanwhile the competition of the Chatham & Dover had forced the South Eastern to find a shorter main road, and in 1868 there was opened the new route to Tonbridge through Sevenoaks, an extension of the line from St. John’s to Chislehurst completed four years before.

The story of the London, Chatham, & Dover can be more briefly summarised. It began with a building estate at Herne Bay belonging to George Burge who, under Telford, was the contractor for the St. Katharine’s Docks and the pier at Herne Bay along which the cars were driven by sails. Burge had bought the property in the hope that some day a railway would come along to increase its value, and when the Central Kent was being surveyed he made the acquaintance of John Rennie’s two assistants: Morris, who did so well afterwards in purchasing Folkestone Harbour, and Thomas Russell Crampton, a railway engineer of importance.

Crampton, a Broadstairs man born in 1816, was a fellow-apprentice of Frederick Bramwell’s at John Hague’s in Cable Street, and when his time was up was an assistant to Sir Marc Brunel until he entered the Great Western service under Daniel Gooch, for whom he made the drawings for the Firefly. Leaving Gooch he went to Samuda’s, where he had a hand in the machinery of the Gipsy Queen, which was on a new principle, but, apparently being uncertain as to its safety, he obtained a berth under the Rennies on the 8th of November 1844 - and four days afterwards came the trial trip of that ill-fated vessel when her boiler blew up and killed Jacob Samuda and four men. Before he left the Great Western he had begun to improve the locomotive, and in 1843 had sufficiently advanced to take out his first patent. Leaving the Rennies in 1848, he started in practice on his own account, and began to develop his patent engines with the driving wheels behind the firebox, the first of which, the Namur, had been built to his design by Tulk & Ley the year before for the Namur & Liege Railway. The Namur had been tried on the North Western, and had done so well that that company had given him an order for the London, followed by one for the famous Liverpool.

London express passing the Warren, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


So many of Crampton’s engines came to be used on the South Eastern and Chatham & Dover, that, though she belonged to another line, some particulars may be given here of this much-talked-about engine which attained a speed at times of 79 miles an hour. She had eight wheels, six carriers of 48-in. and a pair of 96-in. drivers; she had outside cylinders 18-in. by 24-in; her boiler was 12½ ft. long and contained 300 tubes, and her heating surface was 2290 sq. ft., the grate area being 21½ ft; over buffers her length was 27 ft, and she weighed 35 tons, that is 56 tons with the tender. In one case this engine took along forty carriages and kept time, thus exceeding the combined power of three engines of the ordinary kind, but, as Bowen Cooke says, she played havoc with the inferior permanent way then in use, and was withdrawn in 1852.

The Compagnie du Nord of France, agreeing in the advantages of her low centre of gravity, accessible working parts, and liberal bearing surfaces, ordered several like her. In fact they worked their line with Cramptons from 1849 to 1876, and of one of their engines there is a working model at South Kensington which is most popular amongst the boys who like to see the wheels go round. Crampton did something else besides designing locomotives; he it was who in 1851, taking over the enterprise in the time of difficulty, laid the first practicable submarine cable between Dover and Calais.

Ashford Junction South Eastern & Chatham Railway


Burge wanted a line from London that would reach Herne Bay; Morris and Crampton thought there was an opening for a shorter road to Dover, and soon the three went into partnership and began seeking about for capital and support in the usual way to make one of the links in the projected route, that to Canterbury through Faversham from the North Kent at Rochester Bridge, with a branch from Faversham to Herne Bay to be made by the Kent Coast Company. “Morris, Crampton, and Burge”, says Sir John Rennie, “commenced the London, Chatham, & Dover Railway with comparatively very little support for an undertaking of the kind, and experienced very great uphill work; so much so, that Burge got alarmed, and Morris and Crampton bought him out. Morris and Crampton still struggled on with it, and then Morris went out, and Crampton remained alone. At last he got Peto and Betts to join him, and then the concern went ahead. Lord Sondes, a large landed proprietor in Norfolk and in Kent, also joined them, and they completed the original line”. And he might have added did something more, for with it in 1860 there was finished the line from Sittingbourne to Sheerness, which afterwards went to Queenborough, while the Kent Coast had got as far as Whitstable; and in addition to these the Bromley to Bickley line, which had been opened in 1858, was carried on to Rochester Bridge. In 1861 the London, Chatham, & Dover, as it had become, reached Dover, and was ready to work with the boats that had been bought when the South Eastern refused them; and in another two years the Kent Coast was extended to Ramsgate, to become the property of the Chatham in 1871.

Meanwhile it had been growing at the other end. The year it reached Dover it was at Penge; the year it reached Ramsgate it was at Herne Hill, where it joined up with the section already made to the Elephant. And thus it grew by small instalments until it arrived at Victoria and Ludgate Hill, and then the Viaduct and St. Paul’s, and could run on its own metals all the way. How it was all done was a mystery on which some light was thrown when, in 1861, nearly every one connected with it went into bankruptcy, and Lord Salisbury and Lord Cairns began their three years’ work as arbitrators, which ended in the Arbitration Act of 1869 with its drastic revision of the capital account.

A road made by joining up short lengths in this way was not likely to be an easy one, and the Chatham & Dover track is the worst for speed running out of London. For fifty of the miles between London and Dover the gradients range from 1 in 100 to 1 in 132, and only eighteen of the miles are easier than 1 in 200. For twenty-seven miles it undulates up to Sole Street, where it is 300 ft. above sea-level; it then continues up and down, mostly down, to Canterbury, to rise for nine miles to Shepherd’s Well, where it is 290 ft. above the sea and there is a tunnel 2385 yards long, from which it drops for seven miles to the coast. Add to this the many junctions and much suburban traffic, with almost every London company’s goods and passenger trains on it, and the difficulty of managing it satisfactorily is evident.

Driver’s Cab of No. 315 South Eastern & Chatham Railway


The old South Eastern by way of Redhill was easy enough, from Forest Hill onwards, as far as gradients and curves were concerned, but the present main line is quite another sort of road. As soon as it passes St. John’s it begins to go up at 1 in 140, 1 in 120, 1 in 146, 1 in 310, 1 in 120, and 1 in 170 to Halstead; then down at 1 in 143, 1 in 204, and 1 in 150; and up from Dunton Green at 1 in 160 into Sevenoaks tunnel, 3451 yards in length, and down at 1 in 144 and 1 in 122 to Tonbridge, where it joins the old Cubitt line and runs nearly level to Headcorn, whence it rises from 100 ft. to 280 ft. at Saltwood tunnel, and by a falling gradient averaging 1 in 260 for the twelve miles reaches Dover.

The long pull up out of London, to say nothing of the hindrances north of Hither Green, is responsible for a great deal of the South Eastern’s reputation for slowness, but considering the weight of the trains it is by no means bad going, and could not be so well done if it were not for the really good engines that work its best trains. The engines are good enough, the permanent way is of the best, the rails, 91 lb. to the yard, are heavy enough; and yet, for the reasons mentioned, no company gives you so much of its time for the money.

Ashford Station, that site of many changes, has been quite transformed from what it used to be. As rebuilt it is one of the largest and most convenient junction stations that any company possesses, and there are rumours of much improvement in the services of the lines beyond. It has had a long history, for it was opened in 1842, five years before the locomotive works were ready to begin business. Prior to that they were at New Cross, in the shed now used by the Brighton Company for its London Bridge engines.

Sandling Junction, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


The first engines for the line were supplied by Sharp, Roberts, & Co., and soon went into the general stock of the old Joint Committee. When the Committee was dissolved the engines were shared among the companies, the South Eastern taking most of those originally belonging to it and a few more that had belonged to the London & Croydon. Then came batches of twos, threes, fours, and sixes from builders like Nasmyth, Bury, Tulk & Ley, Jones & Potts, and Forester up till 1851, when ten new Cramptons from the Stephensons were put on the line to wake it up a bit. One of these, No. 136, the Folkestone, was in the 1851 Exhibition along with the company’s “London and Europe Carriage”, an eight-wheeler jointed in the middle to allow it to take the curves easily. This engine ran from Redhill to Tonbridge, 19½ miles, at an average rate of sixty miles an hour, and at times attained seventy-five; and from Tonbridge to Ashford, 26½ miles, at the average rate of seventy-eight, the whole forty-six miles taking forty minutes, which will show what the rear-drivers could do though we may not think much of them now. She was a six-wheeler 4-2-0 with 42-in. carrying wheels and a pair of 6 ft. drivers, her cylinders being 15 by 22, and her weight 26¼ tons.

In 1853, James Janson Cudworth built the first engine at Ashford - a 4-coupled passenger with 5 ft. 6-in. wheels, 15-in. by 20-in. cylinders, a heating surface of 1123, and a weight of 26 tons. This was one of the eleven known for years as Hastings engines, all of which had “Cudworth’s compensating spring gear for coupled wheels”, recognisable at once by the bar above the splashers. Three years afterwards Cudworth began to build his 6 ft. singles, which had cylinders 15-in. by 22-in, a heating surface of 1191, and a weight of 27½ tons; and next year, 1857, he introduced his coal-burners.

It was in October and November of that year that he made his experiments with No. 142. This was fitted with a long, sloping firebox 7 ft. 6-in. in length, the grate being 7 ft, the box being divided into halves by a longitudinal mid-feather forming two furnaces with separate doors, the furnaces uniting in front of the tube-plate. The furnaces were fired alternately, the coal being put just within the doors and shaken down along the sloping floor by the movement of the engine so as to separate the smoke from the fresh coal and consume it by the incandescent mass at the lower end as it was passing into the tubes.

During 1857 Cudworth put on the line the first of his large class of goods engines, two of which, built in 1863, had Mansell wooden wheels. In 1861 came the first of his 7 ft. singles, 2-2-2, with 4 ft. 9-in. leading wheels and 4 ft. trailers. These also had two grates; their heating surface was 1137 and their weight 33½ tons, their working pressure being 130. Most of them had 17 by 22 cylinders; some had cylinders an inch less in diameter, and it wvas one of these, No. 81, painted blue and named the Flying Dutchman, that worked the royal trains. Owing to the directors ignoring him in ordering the 259 class of Ramsbottoms, Cudworth resigned, and his place was taken by Alfred Watkin, on whose resignation Ashford was managed by R. C. Mansell until the coming of James Stirling, the very man that was wanted.

South Eastern & Chatham Railway Composite Carriage, No. 3804


He made havoc of what was irreverently known as the museum, and left the line with a new stock of engines, nearly all of which were designed by himself. The requirements of the traffic when he took over were on a far larger scale than they had been, and his engines had to be of much more power and weight. One of his engines, No. 240, was prominent at the Paris Exhibition of 1889 - it was awarded a gold medal, as the Folkestone was in 1851, though there is not much in that except that the 1851 medals were the only ones worth having - and fully deserved the notice it obtained. It weighed 42½ tons, while its tender weighed 30½ tons, that is 73 tons altogether. This was a great advance; a 4-4-0, the bogie wheels 3 ft. 9-in, the trailers and drivers 7 ft, the cylinders being 19 by 26, more like what would have been expected. This engine, like all its class and all the other classes, was fitted with his reversing gear, often mistaken for a Westinghouse brake-pump, though it is farther along and on the right-hand side instead of the left, the visible sign being two vertical cylinders at the side of the boiler barrel, one over the other, with a piston rod through both communicating with the levers below. There is steam in one cylinder and oil or water in the other, and to work the gear two handles are used, one to give the direction to the motion and the other to control the steam supply to the upper cylinder and so regulate the passage of the fluid from one side of the piston to the other in the lower cylinder. The steam places the piston in any required position for forward or back gear or expansive working, and the fluid keeps the piston in that position. The advantages of this contrivance are that it not only acts quickly but requires practically no manual exertion.

Mr. Stirling was succeeded by Mr. H. S. Wainwright, whose fine engine No. 516 was conspicuous as the only British locomotive at the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908. This belongs to the class known as E, which began with No. 273 and were the first of the line to be fitted with Belpaire fireboxes. She is a 4-4-0, her driving wheels being 6 ft. 6-in. and her bogie wheels 3 ft. 6-in; her cylinders are 19¼-in. by 26-in; the heating surface of her tubes is 1396 sq. ft, and that of her firebox 136 sq. ft, making 1532 in all, and her grate area is 21·15 sq. ft; and the working pressure is 180. She weighs 52 tons 5 cwt, and her tender weighs 39 tons 2 cwt, has six 4-ft. wheels, and carries 4 tons of coal and 3450 gallons of water; thus engine and tender weigh 91 tons 7 cwt, and over buffers they measure 55 ft. 1⅝-in.

The Chatham & Dover locomotive works were at Longhedge in Battersea, now used as a branch for repairs, all the new work being done at Ashford. The later engines by Mr. Kirtley, particularly those for the Continental trains and the tanks for Metropolitan work, were much better than they got credit for, except amongst engineers, but they came during the intermediate period when there was little of general interest in the experimental way, and further building was put an end to by the amalgamation in 1899. The carriage works are also at Ashford, and the newer coaches are excellent specimens of workmanship, there having been a great improvement in the general rolling stock. American cars - Gilberts, not Pullmans - were introduced in March 1892, and the car trains have always been up to the average of those of other lines, in fact it is not true that the carriages on the Continental route are worse on this side of the Channel than they are on the other.

Arrival of the boat train at Dover, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


Of course the South Eastern must be in the fashion and have its motor trains, and on some of its branches nothing more is required. It has a good many branches and crossroads with a future before them after a sleepy past, many of them made in the old competition days for competitive purposes only - “suckers” one of the chairmen used to call them - which are now in course of development.

Ashford is not the only station which has been greatly improved. Victoria has been taken in hand with remarkable success and become quite a handsome, roomy terminus. The new building bears on its front the name of the Great Western as well as that of the South Eastern, to mark its joint ownership dating from the days when its rails were both broad and narrow gauge. In fact the London termini, Victoria, Charing Cross, Holborn Viaduct, St. Paul’s, and Cannon Street, are all good; and Ludgate Hill, which was once a terminus as Blackfriars used to be, has been rebuilt as an intermediate station to great advantage, though, to spoil the view of the cathedral from Fleet Street, the signals remain on the redecorated bridge which gives bold display to the company’s arms, the special bearings of the old South Eastern with the “Onward” that used to be so inappropriate, and the four shields, Kent, London, Dover, and Rochester (with the old English r on the cross) that distinguishes the London, Chatham, & Dover.

There is no company better provided with London stations. Of the 667 miles of railway in Greater London it owns 124, and of the 609 stations within that area it owns 98, 6 of them being north of the Thames. Its own metals run in from Herne Hill to Snow Hill Junction in the direction of Moorgate Street - the intervening line belonging to the Metropolitan - and by Brixton to Victoria. From Greenwich round to Brixton it spreads its net over the south-east and south; and with its inner loop of the extension it taps the south-west. At Victoria it is in footway communication with the District; at Charing Cross it is served by the District, the Baker Street & Waterloo, and the Hampstead; at Cannon Street it again has the District; at London Bridge, as at Moorgate, it has the South London; and at Moorgate it has the Metropolitan, the Midland, and the Great Northern. At London Bridge it has the Brighton; at Victoria it has the Brighton and the Great Western; and at Waterloo Junction it has the South Western, as it has at Clapham Junction.

Dover Harbour South Eastern & Chatham Railway


That it has a large local traffic is shown by its season tickets, from which it obtains a greater revenue than any other line except the Great Eastern. But the Great Eastern amount includes over £71,000 for workmen’s tickets, which on the South Eastern reach only £38,000. As the Great Eastern total is £410,489, and the South Eastern’s £392,118, the difference, £33,000, would put the South Eastern at the head of the season-ticket list in the usual meaning of the term. So important is its season-ticket business that to have some check on the vagaries of its passengers it initiated in 1869 the system of travelling examiners boarding trains in motion, their first day’s work realising over £8. Out of its 63 millions of passengers of all kinds the South Eastern makes a revenue of £3,400,000, its total traffic revenue being £5,000,000; and to earn this it uses 15,000 vehicles drawn by some 750 engines for 15,000,000 miles.

The South Eastern carries the Continental and Indian and Australian mails. From Queenborough go the Dutch boats to Flushing; from Folkestone goes the quickest route to Paris; from Dover go the Belgian boats to Ostend and the British and French boats to Calais with the mails on their way to Marseilles, Naples, and Brindisi, and practically everywhere in Europe and Asia; and the mail starting with its hundreds of sacks, or being shipped at Dover, is a sight to see. Queenborough is a pier and nothing more, Folkestone is an ordinary harbour, but Dover in the present day is a wonder. The Admiralty pier, begun in 1847, has been extended from 1550 ft. to 3550 ft. to form the south-western arm of the harbour of refuge. The eastern arm runs out for 3120 ft. towards the south-eastern entrance; and the southern breakwater, with a length of 4200 ft, completes an artificial harbour which, including the commercial portion within the Prince of Wales pier, covers an area of over a square mile. Simple as it looks, it cost more than 3½ millions of money, most of it put under water.

To say nothing about naval matters and ocean liners, there is no doubt about the increase in the trade, and the railway people very naturally do their best to foster it. At the new Marine Station close to the “Lord Warden”, erected by arrangement between the Dover Harbour Board and the railway company, the cross-channel traffic is for the future to be dealt with and passengers will be able to make a comfortable departure or arrival. The company have a fleet of eighteen vessels of their own either here or at Folkestone, most of them here, and of these eight are cargo steamers. The others are fast passenger boats, five of them turbines, travelling at over 20 knots, two of them doing 22½, all of them over 320 ft. in length and 42 ft. in beam, the Empress, Victoria, and Invicta being stationed at Dover, the Onward and Queen at Folkestone. Very different this to the old days of the boats that were not good enough for the company to buy when there were two expresses to France in a day, one from each port, there being now five, three to Calais and two to Boulogne.

The Onward, South Eastern & Chatham Railway


You can read more on “The Dover Pullman Boat Express”, “The Kent Coast Express” and “The Story of the Southern” on this website.