History of the Canterbury & Whitstable (aka Crab & Winkle) Line at the Harbour: Page 2

... continued from Page 1

After the First World War

The grouping of the railway companies into the "Big Four" in 1923 meant that the Southern Railway assumed control of the Canterbury & Whitstable. One of the first major changes was the construction and opening of a new goods shed on the South Quay in 1927. Following the withdrawal of the passenger service, freight remained significant. Grain traffic had been important through much of the line's history. For many years it had been imported in bags and sent on to the mills of Pledge & Sons at Ashford. This labour-intensive method of operation was replaced in the 1930s by using specially adapted wagons for the carriage of bulk grain which was to be loaded and unloaded by conveyor. In the case of the loading, this was to be either from the barge or the granary at Whitstable Harbour. The cost of re-equipping the harbour, Pledge's Mill and the wagons was split between the Southern Railway and Pledge & Son.

The photo below was kindly supplied by John & Anne Harman and shows the view across Whitstable Harbour from the East to the South quay.

View of Whitstable Harbour and Rail Tracks on the South Quay

Whitstable Harbour with Rail Tracks and Wagons on the South Quay in 1949.
The photo was kindly supplied by John & Anne Harman. Sadly, John passed away shortly after publication of this article. He was a true native who contributed massively to the Simply Whitstable web site and is sadly missed by all who had the privilege to know him.

The railway wagons are those used to convey grain from Whitstable to Pledge's Mill at Ashford. They may be loaded wagons awaiting forwarding by the next available train to Canterbury or alternatively empties awaiting shunting by horse prior to reloading by conveyor from a barge or the granary. John Harman's second photo (below) shows the north and west quay.

Photo Whitstable harbour in 1949 with railway features labelled

Railway features at Whitstable Harbour in 1949
Photo was kindly supplied by John & Anne Harman

Grain wagons stand on the north quay either awaiting loading or prior to movement by horse to the South Quay for forwarding to Ashford. The building on the West Quay may be the original tranship shed. However, the Southern Railway opened a new goods shed in 1927 adjacent to the 1846 station. Note the crane used for unloading barges on the north quay; the granary is just out of the picture to the right hand side.

The growth of motor traffic was causing an increase in demand for road making and surfacing materials and, in the 1930s, Robert Brett & Sons, through their subsidiary, Kent Tarmacadam Company, decided to expand their business at Whitstable Harbour. This resulted in the opening of the 'Tarmac' plant in 1937. This plant produced a more durable form of tarmacadam, made from granite and blast furnace slag. These raw materials could be moved cheaply by sea to Whitstable. The processing could then take place adjacent to where the material was landed and the finished product then distributed. How much traffic this brought to the railway is not entirely clear; some works including the installation of new wagon turntables and improved sidings were undertaken but the output would have been delivered by road using two 5-ton tipper lorries owned by Kent Tarmacadam at the time. The Thanet Way (or Kent Coastal Road as it was officially called) was by now open, the only major new road built in Kent in the period under review. This not only facilitated distribution but, by stimulating demand for housing and roads in Thanet, created a suitable market for the Kent Tarmacadam Company. Some of the raw materials, however, came in by rail including daily consignments of granite.

Following withdrawal of the passenger services, there were three goods trains each way daily but, by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, there were two trips only, a sign that the internal combustion engine was making its mark. The signalling in the area was also reduced and simplified but these were economies associated with the withdrawal of the passenger service rather than a loss of traffic. The signalbox at Whitstable Harbour was abolished and the working of the level crossing gates was again undertaken manually. The Second World War caused a surge in traffic similar in nature to the First World War, although again of an unwelcome kind. One effect of the war, however, was to give the railway a stay of execution.

The Final Years

Once the wartime traffic ceased, the Whitstable Harbour branch went into a decline that was to become terminal. In the post war period, there was just one daily train in each direction with a second afternoon working running on 'as required' basis. Road transport offered 'door to door' service and was, by now, both reliable and cheap for short distances. Long distance goods transport by rail was still viable, particularly as the building of the motorway network was still sometime into the future. However, the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway was primarily of local importance. Materials and consumer goods were also in short supply and so, in some aspects, there was reduced demand for transport. However, it appears that some of the sidings in the harbour were renewed after the war, although, of these, some were never brought back into use.

Coal for Whitstable was handled at the harbour throughout the history of the railway but by the end of the line's life it was travelling northbound, arriving by rail instead of sea as hitherto. The coal storage facilities were mainly on the Harbour Street side of the South Quay. In the early days of British Railways, which had been formed on 1st January 1948 to succeed the Southern Railway, attempts were made to establish the parts of the network that were no longer required. It was by now evident that the original function of the railway to carry seaborne goods onwards to Canterbury had almost completely disappeared. Little was left other than the coal and grain traffic. The former traffic could be diverted to Whitstable & Tankerton station and, on its own, Pledge's grain traffic was not worth saving as the revenue from it was less than the costs of operating and maintaining the branch.

Coal facilities were expanded in the goods yard served by the main London-Thanet railway which had remained on the site of the Oxford Street station after the new premises were opened for passengers in 1915. The grain traffic was transferred to road vehicles and the railway thus closed to all traffic. The closure was expected to to take place on 1st December 1952 with the last freight train running on Saturday November 29th. On that day, the last train was hauled by Class R1 0-6-0T tank locomotive number 31010 as the photo below shows.

The final train at the harbour in 1952

The "final train" at the harbour in 1952 -  Class R1 0-6-0T tank locomotive number 31010
Photo by Capt. Pearce

This picture was kindly supplied to my father, Mr B.G. Phillips, by a Capt. Pearce. A brake van carrying railway enthusiasts is seen immediately behind the locomotive. The onlookers behind are standing on the platform of the 1846 station and the Southern Railway goods shed of 1927 can be seen in the background.
Having crossed Harbour Street, the same train is seen in Capt. Pearce's photo below - at the platform of the passenger station opened in 1895.

The run round loop is to the right of the train. The weather on this occasion was somewhat dismal.

The final train at the '1846 railway station' in 1952

The Final Train at the '1895 harbour station' in 1952
Photo by Capt. Pearce

The line re-opened temporarily to serve Whitstable for approximately three weeks (between the 5th and 28th February 1953) during the period of the East Coast floods . Coal appears to have been the only traffic carried, being distributed by lorry not only in Whitstable but Herne Bay as well.

British Railways had no interest in the harbour and sold it to Whitstable Urban District Council for £12,500 in 1957. Subsequent to that, various plans appeared from time to time aimed at converting the route of the railway to a road as far as the Thanet Way bridge so as to give easier access to the harbour for lorries. Doubtless the insufficient width of the single track railway prevented this scheme from getting off the drawing board.

Vanishing Evidence

Some evidence of the old line survived on the harbour lands for many years after the railway closed but little remains in modern times. The paragraphs below explain some elements of the transition.

The 1846 Whitstable Harbour Station

The 1846 station building (the second of the harbour stations) remained for some years and these two pictures (below) show the building in decay after the track was lifted. The site of the level crossing can be seen in the background.

The 1846 Harbour Station circa 1960s

The decaying 1846 station photographed by Wally Darby circa the 1960s
Picture kindly made available by Wally's daughter, Margarett Emery

The photos were taken by Wallace "Wally" Darby and kindly made available to Simply Whitstable by his daughter Margarett Emery.

The building was eventually demolished and the land redeveloped for the current day harbour offices and a public toilet block as shown in Peter Dalrymple's aerial shot below.

Aerial photo of Whitstable harbour with the site oif the 1846 station marked

The site of the 1846 station seen from the air
Photo with thanks to Peter Dalrymple © P Dalrymple

The 1895 Station Building

The 1895 station building (the third harbour station) closed to the public when passenger services ceased in 1930. It became the headquarters of the 2nd Whitstable Sea Scouts a few years before the line closed in 1952 (see photo below) and served this function until approximately 1958 when the unit relocated to its present day home at Long Beach.

1895 Harbour Station - used as the  HQ of the 2nd Whitstable Sea Scouts

The 1895 Harbour Station serving as the HQ of the 2nd Whitstable Sea Scouts of the 1950s
Photo kindly supplied by Jock Harnett

The building was later demolished but some evidence of the station remained for years thereafter. The photo below was taken on 30 August 1970 from just south of the site of the level crossing in Harbour Street.

Site of the 1895 Harbour Station in August 1970

Site of the 1895 Harbour Station in 1970
Photo by Terry Phillips © T G Phillips

The platform can be seen in the background with the trackbed on the left curving round towards the right and the start of the climb out of Whitstable. The site of the station building is in the foreground. The presence of the concrete pipes is almost certainly in connection with the conversion of the backwater behind the harbour to a concrete 'tank' as part of the Gorrell drainage scheme.

The station site and surrounding land have since been redeveloped as Harbour Street Health Centre, Whitstable Youth & Sailing Centre and The Oysters sheltered accommodation. This is shown in Peter Dalrymple's aerial photo below.

Aerial photo showing the site of the 1895 station in modern times

Site of the 1895 Harbour Station seen from the air in 2007
Photo with thanks to Peter Dalrymple © P Dalrymple

The Backwater

For many years, the backwater behind the harbour remained a familiar site to Whitstable residents. It was an integral part of the town's drainage system and, by the 1960s, this was urgently in need of improvement. One of the most obvious changes was the completion of the Gorrell Tank on the site of the backwater. This picture, taken on 30th August 1970, shows the work in progress.

The old Whitstable 'backwater' being reconstrcuted as the Gorell Tank

The old Whitstable Backwater being reconstructed as the Gorrell Tank in 1970

The project effectively covered the "unsightly" backwater with a flat "roof" and this expanse of concrete became the Gorrell Tank car park of modern times.

An aerial view of the Gorrell Tank of modern times

Aerial view of the modern day Gorrell Tank taken in 2007
Photo with thanks to Peter Dalrymple © P Dalrymple

The 1927 Goods Shed

The 1927 goods shed also survived until relatively recently. The old picture below was taken by Wallace "Wally" Darby looking east possibly during the 1950s/1960s. Once again it has been made available to Simply Whitstable by Margarett Emery.

The old Goods Shed on the South Quay

The 1927 Goods Shed photographed by Wally Darby circa the 1960s
Photo kindly made available by Margarett Emery

The ramp in the foreground was added after the shed ceased to be used for railway purposes. Previously, a rail siding ran into the building, the doors at that time extending to ground level. The doors themselves appear as if they may be the original ones, suitably shortened to accommodate the ramp. Inside the shed, on the right, was a platform onto which small consignments of goods would have been unloaded from rail wagons and then reloaded to carts drawn by horses for final delivery in Whitstable and the surrounding area. The canopy over what would have been known as the cart front can just be seen, as can the gates allowing access to Harbour Street. Goods received by road for onwards dispatch by rail would have been similarly handled. Construction of the goods shed caused part of the platform of the 1846 station (at the far end of the shed from this viewpoint) to be demolished.

The Goods shed base pictured in July 2009

The Goods Shed base pictured in July 2009
Photo by Colin Scott-Morton © Colin Scott-Morton

Following demolition of the asbestos-built shed, the concrete base remains to platform height and can be seen beyond the pair of gates in the above photo taken on 17 July 2009. Although the shed was not built until 1927, the gates feature the initials of the South Eastern & Chatham Railway which ceased to exist from 1923. Possibly there was an entrance to the harbour here which predated the goods shed. Note the piece of rail protruding from the cart front. Railway companies frequently used surplus rails for all manner of ancillary purposes and this piece appears to prevent damage to carts if pushed over-enthusiastically against the platform. The above photograph was taken on 17th July 2009.

The picture below, also taken on 17th July 2009, shows in close up the cast initials of the South Eastern & Chatham Railway.

Cast Initials  of the SE&CR 17 July 2009

The cast initals on the South Eastern and Chatham Railway
Photo by Colin Scott-Morton © Colin Scott-Morton

The final photo (below) shows the view west along Harbour Street, again taken on 17th July 2009. What was for many years the "Steam Packet Inn" can be seen in the distance. The line of trees appear to be on the site of what, in railway days, was the Harbour Master's house and office. The fencing along the back of the pavement appears also to date from railway days although it may well have been renewed since closure of the line, now some 56 years ago. Note the fence posts, once again made of surplus rail. The gates to the goods shed can be seen nearest the camera.

View Along Harbour Street 17 July 2009

View along Harbour Street in July 2009
Photo by Colin Scott-Morton © Colin Scott-Morton

The Weighbridge

My photo below shows the grooved rail, flush with a roadway and a weighbridge table as late as 30th August 1970. 

Remains of the Weighbridge in 1970

The remains of the Weighbridge Table in August 1970
© T G Phillips

The rails were at this time still visible beyond the gate to the left. The weighbridge, no doubt, remained in use for road vehicles after 1952.

The Stables

The stable building survived and is perhaps the most significant piece of tangible evidence of the old line at the harbour. It was located by the western entrance although some references suggest that, originally, it may have been sited further north on the inner West Quay.

The Old Stable building - now a boat showroom

The Old Stable building in 2002 - redeployed as the showroom of Whitstable Marine

Today, the building serves as a boat showroom.... and generates nostalgic memories for those children of the 1940s and 1950s who visited, watched and befriended the working horses.

Final Words

The Canterbury & Whitstable had a long life and this early railway enterprise prevented Canterbury from economic decline and did much to develop Whitstable's marine interests through the development of the harbour. Much improved and extended, the harbour continues to be an asset to the town and remains the biggest single remaining piece of infrastructure associated with this pioneering railway line.

Aerial photo of the harbour in 2007

Aerial view of the harbour in 2007
Photo with thanks to Peter Dalrymple © P Dalrymple


A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain, Volume 2, Southern England by H. P. White, 1961, Phoenix House Ltd.
Bradshaw's April 1910 Railway Guide, reprinted 1968, David Charles (Publishers) Ltd
Bradshaw's July 1922 Railway Guide, reprinted 1985, David & Charles (Publishers)Ltd.
Branch Lines around Canterbury, Vic Mitchell Keith Smith, 1995, Middleton Press,
The Canterbury & Whitstable Railway by Brian Hart, 1991, Wild Swan Publications Ltd.
The Canterbury Whitstable Railway by I. Maxted, 1970, Oakwood Press.
The Directory of Railway Stations by R. V. J. Butt, 1995, Patrick Stephens Ltd.
The South Eastern Chatham Railway by O.S. Nock, 1961, Ian Allan Ltd.
Whitstable Harbour Memories by Paul Tritton, 1997, Robert Brett Sons

My thanks to....

I would like to extend my thanks to Anne Harman, Margarett Emery, Peter Dalrymple, Jock Harnett and Colin Scott-Morton for allowing their photos to be used on Simply Whitstable'..... and to Dave Taylor for the production of maps and graphics.


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