Anyone from London wishing to visit the 1800 residents of 'Whitstable' around 1800 had a choice of three modes of transport: by horse, either in the saddle or carriage, by sea or, like Dick Wittington, one could walk. All rather time consuming. There was no thought of daily excursions to the beach although one could possibly do the journey in the comfort of their carriage in 12 to 15 hours with two stops to change horses. Daily excursions 'to the beach' were just not possible. With little to attract people into a more lengthy stay the population had grown very slowly.
The Industrial Revolution, erupting like an earthquake on life in the industrial cities, caused barely a tremor in maritime Whitstable and its rural hinterland. That is until later in the 1800s, when two singular events 30 years apart spawned by the Industrial Revolution dramatically changed Whitstable, the population numbers and the life they lived - 'The Railways came to Town'.
The Railway comes to Town
Spring of 1830 saw the opening of the Canterbury & Whitstable railway built to service a new harbour which opened in 1832. (See my article, Canterbury & Whitstable Railway Overview). Although that pioneering railway has attracted little recognition in the history books it proved to be the most dramatic addition to the area by mankind far surpassing the 1730 Turnpike Road to Canterbury. But it did nothing to improve the direct links to the capital city - London. One was still left with the same choice of transport - horse, sea or walk.
In 1846 transport links to London improved slightly – sort of. Now, one could journey by train from Whitstable to Canterbury then via Ashford on to London. A tedious and no doubt unattractive journey. Ten years later one could journey to Faversham by horse or foot and catch a train to Strood on the new Dover to London railway. A change of train would then take one into London. The journey would take a few hours but one could now theoretically travel to the Metropolis and perhaps return in one day.
Now of course that also meant people could more readily travel from London to Faversham and Canterbury. Perhaps even a train from Canterbury to Whitstable. Perhaps a more leisurely journey by horse from Faversham to Whitstable. Daily excursions to the seaside may not have allowed much time to actually enjoy the beach but it was possible to at least see it - briefly.
Then, in 1860, a railway line from Faversham arrived in Town. Finally, Whitstable had an almost direct railway link with London but of course it didn’t just happen overnight.
The ‘North Kent Railway'
Moves to build a railway from Faversham to Whitstable started a lot earlier than 1860. In 1844 efforts were made to start a railway company to extend the ‘Greenwich Railway’ to Margate and Deal but nothing came of that. Nothing further came forth until the next effort in 1856 for ‘a coast railway to Thanet’. A Herne Bay meeting held late September considered forming a railway company for ‘a railway between Herne Bay and Whitstable on to Faversham for connection to a direct line to London’ – whatever line that may have been. They would be known as the Herne Bay & Faversham Railway Company. No mention of Whitstable!
At the time the East Kent Railway Company was constructing a line from Strood though Chatham, Sittingbourne, Faversham and Canterbury to Dover. Meetings supporting the Herne Bay & Faversham Railway Company in Faversham and Whitstable resulted in a Bill being presented to Parliament and passed for Royal assent in June 1857.
The first section of the East Kent Railway Company line from Chatham to Faversham opened on January 25th 1858 a month before the first Annual General Meeting of the Herne Bay & Faversham Railway Company announced their Bill had passed into Law. The East Kent Railway Company had protested vigorously but unsuccessfully against the Bill. The Herne Bay & Faversham railway would either connect to East Kent’s Chatham to Faversham railway at Faversham or their passengers change trains.
On August 31st 1858 the contract was let to construct the line from Faversham to Whitstable then on to Herne Bay. In November an application was made to Parliament to extend the line to Margate. A February 1859 meeting announced work was under way and an agreement reached for the East Kent Railway Company to operate the line. Following approval to continue on to Margate, The Herne Bay & Faversham Railway Company changed its name to ‘The Herne Bay & Margate Railway Company’. No credits for Whitstable!
The Company meeting on August 30th 1859 recorded that track had been laid over the first 3 miles from Faversham towards Whitstable. Bridges were nearly completed for the next 2 miles and earthworks for the following 1½ miles to the Turnpike at Whitstable were ‘well advanced’. That was remarkable progress! In just under 3 years from the first 1856 meeting proposing the railway to such progress. Very remarkable considering the proposal had to be formally prepared, presented and processed through Parliament. Even more so considering the lack of mechanised earthmoving equipment and as noted: However ‘There had been a great scarcity of labour over the past 6 weeks but as the Harvest was nearly over workers would return and it was anticipated the line could be open to Whitstable by October next year. Yes, you can have a railway but the harvest comes first!
Despite the harvest and an accident holding up work on the embankment adjacent to Swan Field, soil was carried from Church Hill at a suitable rate allowing the first train to arrive in Whitstable from Faversham the first week in August 1860. The momentous occasion had arrived - one could now travel from Whitstable to London and vice versa by steam train.
But it was to a temporary platform short of the Turnpike road. The temporary platform was in Kitchingham Place now known as Clifton Road. The station was about where today Clifton Road turns into Portway. In reality the journey to or from London meant a change of train at Strood, the London- Strood line owned by another company.
The next stage of ‘The Margate Line’ – Whitstable to Herne Bay was held up by a dispute between the Engineers of the Herne Bay & Margate Railway Company and the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway – the line of the former passing under the railway line of the latter alongside the Church Road bridge. The dispute about various temporary bridging arrangements eventually went before the Board of Trade for settlement.
When the following year on July 16th 1861 the 4 miles from Whitstable to Herne Bay was opened, there was already a Bill before Parliament to extend the line to Ramsgate. In this year the line was extended into London with a new Station being opened at Victoria Street. One could now truly travel direct from London to Whitstable.
By this time the East Kent Railway Company had become the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company – the LCDR. The Faversham to Margate railway, ‘Margate Line’, had become generally known as the ‘Kent Coast Railway’.
The ‘North Kent Railway’ at Whitstable
Whether the railway was known as the ‘Kent Coast Railway’, ‘Coast Railway’, ‘Herne Bay & Faversham’, ‘Margate Line’, LC&DR branch, ‘Thanet line’, ‘London-Thanet’, ‘North Kent railway’ or just as ‘The Main Line’ the railway would eventually have a profound effect on Whitstable’s development - eventually.
The Whitstable railway station off Oxford Street would be a little unorthodox. But first we look a little deeper into where, or perhaps I should say upon what, the station would reside.
There would be a bridge across Oxford Street. Nothing unusual about that. Whitstable already had a pioneering thirty year old railway bridge over Church Road. The bridge would require the building of a considerable embankment but not just within the vicinity of Oxford Street and Canterbury Road. The embankment would almost be a continuation of the raised rail bed across the Seasalter marshes although the higher ground below Lollipop Wood was taken advantage of. The embankment would reach maximum height above ground for the bridge gradually reducing in elevation to pass under the Canterbury & Whitstable railway then through a cutting and on towards Herne Bay. Delays in constructing the embankment were said to be the cause of delay necessitating the use of a temporary platform.
Map 1: The line of London-Thanet railway - following the old Whitstable shore
We are not privy to the precise reasons why a bridge was chosen instead of a much cheaper level crossing but let us credit the planners with some foresight. The density of modern motor traffic through Whitstable has become a considerable problem. We may criticise the bridge for restricting the road but a level crossing would have long been an intolerable burden.
There is however another factor – potential flooding. As we have seen in
History of Whitstable - The Shorline since 1287, the old
shoreline once traced along the line of High Street, Oxford Street, and
Church Rd (in part now Belmont Rd.) as shown in Map 1. The blue line
on Map 1 shows the line of the railway crossing the once flooded Gorrell
Delta well demonstrated in the Flood of '53 feature
section. Early road names are shown.
Those who experienced the floods of 1953 may well recall the sea tried to reclaim that old 1287 shoreline thus emphasising the benefit of raising the railway on an embankment and bridging across Oxford Street. We can be sure the residents of 1953’s Belmont, Old Bridge and neighbouring roads were quite appreciative of the railway embankment.
Map 2: Whitstable's urban development prior to the arrival of the London-Thanet Railway
So, by about 1860 a barrier was built across Whitstable effectively fencing off the established town on the North side from its embryo offspring to the South and South East with very few ‘gateways’ between the two. Map 2 illustrates, in broad detail, how the area shown in Map 1 had developed prior to the railway work commencing.
For 130 years the road to Canterbury had been a Turnpike road with the Whitstable Tollgate nearby the planned railway bridge site. There were gates across both the Turnpike and Mill roads. (Mill Road, was part of Church Rd renamed, but today named Belmont Rd.) Buildings had become established.
The introduction of the embankment was more than a barrier dividing the developing town. By the late 1850s there had been insufficient residential development east and west of the proposed bridge area for any embankment work to create a problem. However 3 units of Hertsfield Terrace in Oxford Street were demolished to make way for the railway. The ‘Tollgate’ was removed and a new ‘Tollgate’ cottage established below Borstal Hill – a modern day landmark. We will see how that railway would eventually divide the old 1700s ‘Whystapel’ area of Church Street, St. Anne’s and ‘Tangreton’, creating difficulties for the future motor traffic of the 20th century.
The loop of Mill Road around Swan Field was ‘straightened’ inadvertently making room for the later establishment of ‘The Railway Inn’ conveniently close to the new station.
Map 3: New features added when the London-Thanet railway arrived in Whitstable
The operators of the Feakin’s Windmill complained that the embankment deflected wind rendering the mill’s sails less effective. They obviously took this matter serious enough to warrant installing a steam mill, the windmill gradually becoming redundant.
Map 3 shows the new features, the dotted blue/black line shows the railway, other blue lines show additional roads and re-alignments to Map 2.
There was one unfortunate aspect of the railway embankment which prevails today. The main access route to Whitstable has for centuries been from the direction of Canterbury. Should one wish to drive from the south side of the railway to the north side, into the town proper, there are only two viable links provided. One is along Canterbury Road under the railway bridge into Oxford Street or the other, a detour eastwards to Church Street to cross the railway. A journey from the West, the direction of London, presents no alternative.
The Real Station - A Bird’s Eye View
The permanent railway station replacing the temporary structure would be built on the embankment high above and on the east side of the main thoroughfare. But the ‘UP’ platform would be quite novel. As shown in the title illustration the timber ‘UP’ platform extended along the outside of the wooden bridge over the main roadway. Travellers had a bird’s eye view of Canterbury Road/Oxford Street proceedings to amuse themselves while awaiting their train - subject to the alternative attractiveness of the close by Railway Inn of course.
The booking office was built at ground level into the eastern bridge abutment ‘under the arch’ and below the railway, considered by many as a rather quaint although dark and dismal arrangement. Waiting rooms for either platform were elevated at platform level with both exit stairways to ground level on the outside. A goods yard and sidings were built on the south side of the main line with access to the ‘UP’ platform. The following sketch shows the relative position of features discussed above.
Map 4: Sketch of Whitstable's Oxford St station on the London-Thanet Railway Line
Changing Times –‘Another Beach’
No doubt the 1860 introduction of a reasonably direct rail link to London had some effect on the development of Whitstable. We will see below how fares were too high to encourage a great exodus of day trippers to London or vice versa. But farmers did benefit. Thanks to the railway, London markets were now open to them thus enlarging a previously limited scope for sales outside their immediate territory. Also of course the inevitable oyster could be transported quicker to London markets. Within two years of the railway opening it is recorded that 60,000 oysters were shipped to London - by rail. One wonders what disastrous effect that had on the 70 or more smacks previously transporting oysters to London.
However despite Whitstable being considered the closest ‘seaside’ to London the early railway did little to stimulate Whitstable as a seaside residential resort. In truth, with few amenities and lack of lodging accommodation, Whitstable did not have the facilities to take advantage of the railway. There were more ship owners in Whitstable than accommodation houses!
The ‘London’ railway appeared to have little early impact on Whitstable. Reports are few most concentrating on individual incidents with occasional reference to the ‘efficacious’ benefits of seaside Whitstable to the health of sun and fresh air deprived Londoners. Originally there were six ‘UP’ services each day. Travel time for each was about 3 hours. Is it much different 60 years later?
But times changed. The latter part of the 1800s under the South Eastern Railway Company and the early part of the South Eastern & Canterbury Railway‘s reign saw a massive rise in popularity of visits to the seaside giving local railways a much needed boost. Perhaps that was helped by the rise in popularity of the postcard advertising the seaside’s health benefits – 'Whitstable Works Wonders'. Locals remaining to suffer those cruel North East gales of winter may have wondered cynically at 'The Spot Where Health Blows In'.
Whitstable attracted some notable new residents in the 1890 to pre Great War period. The railway enabled people to live within easy reach of London for business or work yet escape the hustle and bustle, the noise and grime of the Metropolis for the peace and fresh air of Whitstable. The commuter age was coming for all!
The few years before the Great War have been described as the ‘headiest’ years for the local railway company. Under a single administration for over a decade the SE&CR was in its ‘Golden Era’. Both local railways were at their peak in terms of available services and patronage. Wages had improved. Special reduced fares for the duration of the summer seasons applied across the whole SE&CR system allowing Whitstable residents to enjoy inexpensive pleasure trips to destinations never before thought possible, if indeed even thought of at all.
Travel on the ‘North Kent’ to Margate and Ramsgate was simplicity itself. Cheap day trips to enjoy the sights of London or visit the interesting towns between became quite common for Whitstable people. A trip to Canterbury could now open up several new possibilities. Perhaps a short trip to Folkestone through the beautiful Elham Valley, or further afield to Ramsgate or Deal. Alternatively in the opposite direction a short trip to Ashford offered the prospects of Rye, Dungeness, Hastings, Sandgate or Hythe.
Lower rail fares with the increasing wages saw trains packed with day trippers taking advantage of those few years of idyllic balmy summer weather before the trauma of the Great War. For so many a day trip away from their home town was now possible – Whitstable could go for a day trip to the beach - Someone else’s beach!
Development - Whitstable Grows
It is quite likely that Whitstable would not have seen the development of Tankerton and Chestfield until well into the 20th century without the ‘London Thanet’ being well established by the time those prosperous years of the late Victorian era, the end of the 19th century, arrived.
The break up of the combined pre medieval ‘Whitstable’ and Tankerton manors saw a considerable acreage of Tankerton land sold. Also about this time, the 1890s, Tankerton Towers was sold to a London solicitor. The Tankerton Estate Co Ltd was formed to develop the Tankerton area and sell the land as residential plots. Speculators could see scope for a new ‘Brighton-on-Sea’ or something similar. Without a railway to bring prospective buyers down from London even the simplest scheme to subdivide and develop the area for housing had little prospect of success at that time. However the London-Thanet railway was available, the developers devising ‘suitable incentives’ to encourage a sufficient number of prospective purchasers to view the development at ‘Tankerton-on-Sea.’
No doubt this activity encouraged interest in other parts of the Town as in 1891 both Duncan Down and Grimshill estates were sub divided and sold as building sites. Up at Millstrood the Bellevue estate, lands of Downs Farm, was laid out in 1905. Sites on each most often sold to people brought to town from London by the railway. Whitstable station was in reasonably convenient reach of those three estates for those purchasers looking to commute to the City.
Herne Bay Persists
Those familiar with the history of the pioneering Canterbury & Whitstable railway will remember that there were several attempts by Herne Bay to develop a competing railway or light rail from there to Canterbury (see my article, Canterbury & Whitstable Railway Overview). The people of Herne Bay wanted direct access to Canterbury. A company was formed but plans ‘came to nothing’ for various reasons. The advent of the ‘North Kent line’ gave them the opportunity for yet another proposal to connect them to Canterbury by rail. But it would not be until 1898 that ‘something’ started to happen.
From the 1860s various proposals were discussed to link the ‘North Kent
line’ with the Canterbury & Whitstable railway. Finally in 1898/9, with the
C&W railway now under The South Eastern Railway banner, firm plans were
formulated and the necessary Parliamentary Bill eventually passed to connect
the two railways via a loop.
The loop was South Eastern Railway’s response to increased demands by the people of Herne Bay for rail access to Canterbury. Land was purchased to build a loop from the Canterbury side of the Church Street bridge swinging west towards the 1860 built Whitstable ‘North Kent line’ station. The loop would ‘feed in’ about the location of the Gorrell Stream then pass through the goods or marshalling yards to the station.
The plan would see all C&W railway passenger traffic diverted to the 1860 (LC&DR) Whitstable station, a move highly unsuited for seaside excursionists from Canterbury, the bulk of Summer trade. The proposed loop also faced away from Herne Bay once again denying that town direct access to Canterbury, supposedly one of the prime reasons for the loop. Loop trains would use the ‘Goods’ side of the ‘UP’ platform shown in the earlier plan view sketch of the station. The following sketch shows the proposed loop.
Map 5: The proposed Whitstable loop that, if implemented, would have linked the Canterbury and Whitstable line with the London-Thanet railway
The 1899 amalgamation of South Eastern and the London Chatham & Dover railways into the South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR) put the proposed loop conveniently under the one administration.
By November 1901 work on the loop had commenced. A signal cabin was built on the Church Street incline to service the loop off the C&W line ready for ballast and track laying. About the end of February 1902 the Board of Trade stopped all work on the loop. The Board would not sanction opening the loop unless the C&W line, was upgraded to cope with what they saw as increased traffic. Although the recommendation of a public inquiry in April to the Board of Trade was favourable the loop project was abandoned and no further work done on it.
The sole benefit of the Loop project was the use of the now unwanted signal cabin at the Church Street incline to improve circumstances for road users at the Harbour East Gate level crossing.
Herne Bay residents never did get their ‘direct’ railway access to Canterbury.
A New Station
Much of the new local development was around Tankerton eastwards of the
station. Whitstable Town had itself grown eastwards along the northern side
of the railway embankment. Residents of the new suburb of Tankerton and even
the old Church Street area complained about the inconveniently located town
In the Winter of 1911/12 discussions commenced on the thought of building a new Town station. The 70 year old station was by now considered outdated, cramped and dismal.
A new site was proposed east of the original station at Oxford Street. The new site was adjacent to the Church Road bridge carrying the Canterbury & Whitstable railway. Not only was this site suitably closer to Church Street and Tankerton but it was still convenient to the developing Duncan, Grimshill and Bellevue estates south of the railway.
A suggestion that this site would suit a new Halt on the Canterbury line
to interconnect between the two railways drew additional support for the
scheme. Herne Bay would still not get their direct line to Canterbury but at
least travel between the two would be improved with but a short stairway
between the Halt and station.
By 1914 construction of the new station was under way. The adjacent new halt – Tankerton Halt on the Canterbury line was also under construction. In fact Tankerton Halt opened first on July 1st 1914. In August the ‘Great War’ was declared on the 4th starting a great drain on manpower available to the railways either for running them or any works in progress. Finally the new ‘Whitstable Town’ station would open 6 months later on New Year’s Day 1915.
War and the Railway
The earliest recorded association local railways had with any ‘war’ issue turned out to be quite an embarrassment for the newly formed Whitstable Urban District Council. The old wooden Oxford Street bridge and railway station became the stage upon which the December 1900 scene of their embarrassment was set. A Grand welcome, Parade, Presentation and Church Service had been arranged to welcome Trooper Butcher home from the Boer War. In their eagerness to recognise their first local hero the Council missed the fact that Trooper Butcher had not played a part in any military action having been in a somewhat sedentary role far removed from the scene of any potentially heroic deeds!
If, as we read earlier, the first 12 or so years of the 20th century were the ‘headiest’ years for local railways, if both were at their peak in terms of public services and patronage the Great War soon changed that. Every effort was made to ensure the maximum capacity of Britain’s railways was available to support the war effort. ‘Specials’ were banned to ensure availability of trains for the military and industry. Special Sunday services ‘to the beach’ were a thing of the past. Trains were no longer for fun and enjoyment.
Both local lines were kept very busy ferrying war material to export ports. Their return journey could find them transporting damaged equipment, weapons and vehicles from the ports to wherever they would be repaired or broken down as desperately needed scrap. Or perhaps they made either journey ferrying servicemen and women to or from the war zones. The two local railways were an essential part of the war effort and for the duration they were busy with little regard to profit or loss.
But, once the war was over things were very different to those ‘first 12 or so years of the 1900s’.
The 1920s – The First ‘Post War’
Post war things certainly were different for the two local railways. The
aftermath of such a massive war effort saw countless people out of work. The
loss of many locals killed in action etc deprived more than their families.
The high demands of wartime were no longer. Businesses suffered fourfold
through loss of custom, many workers killed or simply because ‘the boss had
gone’. Considerable shipping had been lost reducing the need for the
railways to distribute freight.
Few, therefore, could afford a day trip to the seaside.
Another threat to the railways’ viability emerged. The infant motor transport of pre war years was maturing and now posed a considerable threat. The railway to Canterbury from Whitstable harbour suffered most in the loss of passengers to the motor omnibus. More suited to the short Whitstable - Canterbury route the omnibus was not an immediate competitor on the London - North Kent route.
The ‘Charabanc’ eventually developed and being more suited to group
outings than the railway a new form of day excursion developed. No doubt
such outings induced more people from the industrial Thames and Medway towns
to visit the seaside but it is doubtful if they had much impact upon the
railways not so suited to the group fun and revelry of a compact and more
private charabanc. The heyday of the railway attracting many group
excursions to the seaside were over.
Gradually through the 1920s there was some improvement of Whitstable’s seaside residential amenities – mainly at Tankerton although both Seasalter and Swalecliffe were attracting more ‘camping’ visitors, especially by motor car.
In 1921 the area immediately north of and alongside the now 6 year old Whitstable station saw the introduction to the World of ‘Council Houses’. Very convenient for railway workers and those ’ordinary’ workers commuting ‘up the line’. What may be considered as the last of the ‘old town’ area – between the railway embankment and the sea, the former Gorrell River delta, was finally just about full – thanks largely to the railways.
In 1928 Chestfield got its own main line station when Chestfield Halt was opened. Advertising for the Halt promoted ‘Country houses and sites in this lovely old village’ and of course Chestfield Golf course. A few Chestfield premises did have some very old associations but it was in fact a new village of Tudor style houses – the dream of local builder George Reeves.
‘Down from London’
With the exception of the War years the first three decades of the 20th century saw many new people come to reside permanently in the Whitstable area. The ever rising late 1800s popularity of Whitstable as a seaside or retirement resort with the people ‘up the line’, the residents of London and Greater London, since the railway was built had naturally created an awareness of the area. We saw earlier how those employed in London, businessmen or otherwise, realised they could live within easy reach of London amid the peace and fresh air of Whitstable. The stringent conditions of Post War Britain were felt no more severely than in the large industrial cities further attracting people ‘down from London’ to ‘the peace and fresh air of Whitstable.’ Conversely as the country settled down and recovered many locals found employment ‘up the line’.
Many a young man working in London brought his new bride back to live in Whitstable. Of course it goes without saying that many a young local woman attracted a young man down from London via the railway of course.
So Whitstable’s population grew until a depression and another War interrupted the peace.
With Old Whitstable’s well known penchant for nicknames ‘new’ residents from ‘up the line’ were soon tagged as ‘DFLs’ from ‘Down From London’. Who knows when that was first applied but one can be reassured it was with tongue in cheek, a mischievous glint in the eye, perhaps some affection and absolutely no malice. The nickname was most popularised in the post WW1 period, the 1920s and 1930s.
Sadly we would see, in the bitter acrimony of the post WW2 period, that nickname applied in quite derogatory terms.
That should not be so. It is part of Whitstable’s history. But then history shows us that Whitstable has long turned in upon itself, biting its own tail for there is barely a local family that cannot claim to have a family member Down From London. No doubt thanks to the North Kent Railway of course.
The railways felt the impact of World War 2 before war was declared on September 3rd 1939. Under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939 passenger train services were cut back severely freight having priority. Over the next few months timetables were much slower although many services did return to a reasonably normal state. Black out conditions and lack of maintenance took their toll on timetables and services in general.
Once again Whitstable would lose its annual migration of Londoners and Thamesiders to the seaside through another World War. However the Government of the day had a delightful scheme to balance the numbers – by evacuating children from the dangers of enemy activity against London to the peaceful harmony and ‘safety’ of North Kent towns. Evacuation trains started about the time war was declared. Fortunately many families did not accept the offer of a holiday by the seaside below a bomber route to London in ‘Hellfire Corner’! Sanity prevailed, authority changed its mind but most of those children evacuated had already voluntarily returned home anyway.
As in the Great War both local lines were kept very busy ferrying servicemen and women, war equipment, weapons and vehicles to and from Kent ports. The original station now without its platform over Oxford Street was brought back into action. Most reports state that the old station was never again used for passenger traffic after the new station was built. However wartime does tend to introduce extraordinary circumstance. I distinctly recall alighting from a London train there with my mother at some time during the War years. Perhaps a rare occasion due to unusual circumstance.
Certainly the old street level ticket office under the bridge served a useful purpose as an air raid shelter. It wasn’t very popular as railway goods yards and bridges were well known to be a target for bombers. I recall one shopping expedition being interrupted when we ducked in there during an air raid.
Occasionally the ‘Main Line’ carried some obvious indication that there was a war on. Tanks, guns and lorries carried to coastal ports and occasionally a damaged aeroplane could be seen on its way up the line. What we Whitstable residents didn’t know was that those tanks guns and lorries heading, as we thought, to coastal ports were part of a decoy invasion build-up. A decoy to distract enemy reconnaissance, and no doubt intelligence services, away from the genuine build up on the South coast.
From time to time an armoured train would arrive from ‘up the line’ stopping in the vicinity of Sherrin’s Alley. Almost the whole of Whitstable could hear the gun crews enjoying a practice session firing at temporary targets out to sea.
Fortunately neither line suffered any serious local devastation from enemy action.
The 1940s – The Second ‘Post War’
Post war the situation was again different to pre-war for the two local railways. The aftermath of such a massive war effort was different this time. Certainly with the drop in armaments manufacture countless people were out of work. Again there would be many servicemen returning to find their old workplace didn’t exist anymore. But this time there would be a far greater need to rebuild countless homes, schools & factories etc due to the massive enemy bombing which had taken place. No doubt this assisted the railways in many areas but it would take some time before the leisure side was restored as once again few could afford the costs or time for a day trip or holiday to the seaside.
Rationing of foods, general goods and building supplies also restricted people’s freedom to buy as they chose further limiting freight business for the railways. But fuel rationing provided some compensation for that. Transporting of goods by road was restricted, the recreational use of the motor car became almost impractical. The build up of pre-war motor coach services, restricted by the depression years would eventually gain momentum. Meanwhile, those that could afford a trip or holiday to the seaside would do so by train.
Those various factors and the Nationalisation of the railways in 1948 would eventually see many small lines closed down. How this affected the ‘London Thanet’, the ‘North Kent line’, is unclear. Closure of small branch lines meant that people and business would have to find an alternative means of travel and freight carting. The easing of petrol rationing and steel manufacture paved the way for an answer to that problem. People could use their cars more and more lorries could be built to carry the freight.
For many people a trip or holiday to the seaside need not be by train. Earlier in the 1890s the re-development of Tankerton showed The Commuter Age was coming for all thanks to the availability of the London Thanet railway. For a few it did come. But for many it wouldn’t happen until they were working ‘up the line’ in the wartime armaments factories from Faversham into London. WW2 especially set the pattern which would eventually see many very crowded, so called commuter trains, ply the London-Thanet. But that is beyond THE FIRST 85 YEARS.