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28 October 2014

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You are in: Kent > History > Local History > The lost railway

Whitstable Harbour, 21st April 1951

Whitstable Harbour, 21st April 1951

The lost railway

The following is an edited extract from Leslie Oppitz's latest book 'Lost Railways of Kent'

Leslie Oppitz

Leslie Oppitz

The Canterbury & Whitstable Railway may have been the first passenger railway in the world. The last passanger train ran on the line in January 1931, over a century after the first journeys were made.

Construction of the 6 mile line took several years of arduous digging and preparation. Work excavating the 828 yard Tyler Hill Tunnel proved difficult and lengthy.

By the autumn of 1826, after 15 months, only 400 yards had been completed. Work was delayed by a fall of earth but at last in May 1827 contact between the north and south ends was effected. Bearing in mind that almost 2,500 feet of track was involved, amazingly the final calculation was correct to within an inch.

The tunnel aroused much comment and criticism. Many suggested it had been built because it had been proclaimed that 'every good railway must have a tunnel'. The tunnel in fact made its presence felt as recently as 1974 when a subsidence damaged some of the college buildings.

The original route

The original route

Sections of the line were so steeply graded so that stationery engines were required to haul trains by cable up the steep ascents. From Canterbury the first was at Tyler's Hill with a further stationery engine at Clowes Wood to deal with trains between Tyler's Hill and Bogshole Brook. The expected speed up a gradient was estimated at 9 mph. For the last two miles to Whitstable the locomotive Invicta was at first used.

There were great celebrations for the opening on 3rd May 1830. In Canterbury, the cathedral bells were rung and guns were fired in salute. There were two trains, consisting altogether of twenty carriages and twelve wagons. The whole length was bedecked with flags and leading carriages carried the directors, aldermen and other members of the Corporation.

The third carried their ladies and the fourth, a band. A local newspaper described entering the tunnel as very impressive. It reported: 'The cheering of the whole party echoing through the vault combined to form a situation, certainly novel and striking'.

But not all the passengers enjoyed the experience. According to a letter in the local press, one traveller wrote: 'When we had proceeded halfway through, a feeling of suffocation became perceptible increasing so fearfully, that had the tunnel been twice the length, I feel confident I should have hardly have got through alive'. The writer walked back to Canterbury.

As the first train reached a summit, the cable that had hauled it up the incline was transferred to some loaded wagons which, by running down again, allowed the cable to be attached to the second train. When both sections of the train had reached the final summit, the locomotive Invicta - delivered by sea from Newcastle - took the train to Whitstable.

At Whitstable another grand ceremony followed when directors entered the harbour in a specially chartered steamer to military band accompaniment.

The tunnel.

The tunnel. The tunnel.

Some years after regular services had begun in 1830 the original owners, the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway Company, made numerous attempts to lease the line to another operator. It was not until September 1844 that the South Eastern Railway took on working the line eventually absorbing the CWR by an Act of August 1853.

During the life of the line, passenger services were infrequent and slow and the coaches were old and not at all comfortable. And because the tunnel had a limited bore coaches were limited by size. After the First World War, bus competition began to cause problems and the line to Whitstable finally closed to passengers on 1st January 1931. Goods traffic continued for a number of years but final closure came on 1st December 1952 after which time the track was removed.

When the last passenger train ran on 1st January 1931, it comprised locomotive No. 31010 hauling two brake vans to Whitstable with passengers, including press and radio representatives. Whitstable Harbour station had been decorated for the occasion and the train was met by a crowd of about 100 people.

On the return journey the train stopped at the Canterbury end of the Tyler Hill Tunnel where a wreath was presented. What a proud ending for a railway that had survived just over 100 years for passengers and had become known affectionately by some as the 'Crab and Winkle' line.

last updated: 27/05/2008 at 16:55
created: 27/05/2008

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