The Railways of Dover

The town of Dover on the southern tip of Kent is famous for its white chalk cliffs which have been a sign of returning home for many people as they use the ferries arriving from the continent. The cliffs gave Britain one of its many names of Albion. Its first wide spread use was in the medieval period stemming from the works of the Greek/Egyptian historian Ptolemy. The name Dover stemming from the Latin Dubris. There you go R.o.B is nothing if not informative! The town is the closest point in Britain from the French port town of Calais only 21 miles between the two. The first real use of the settlement as a port was around AD 50 under the Romans from which time it has grown to its present 18 million people a year passing through. Prior to the Napoleonic wars of 1793 to 1815 the port handled thirty ships working to the continent. It also had a busy shipbuilding industry both despite the harbour becoming regularly blocked. The importance of Dover as a military port was paramount with the war seeing the construction of stone quays and piers to stop the blockage and improve facilities between 1793 and 1836 a further dock was constructed when the original continued to have problems. By the mid 19th century the town was becoming a popular seaside resort seeing a pier built along with recreational sites and hotels. The South Eastern Railway (SER) arrived here on 7th February 1844 from London Charring Cross via Redhill and Folkestone a distance of 76 1/2 miles. The arrival of the railway created the second phase stimulus for the population’s growth by 600 per cent. The arrival of the SER required much work in clearing space at the bottom of the cliffs for the lines entrance from the west the company operating its own cross channel ferries from Folkestone. In 1861 the London Chatham & Dover Railway (LCDR) arrived via its 78 mile route from London via Canterbury bringing its own shipping line to the town. Between 1894 and 1914 a new harbour was constructed seeing the construction of the Prince of Wales pier which had a railway running along it. By this time the two railway companies had formed a working union to form the South Eastern & Chatham Railway, trans-Atlantic shipping commencing from 1904. The town was not only a port and resort but it also had a large industrial base developed from the ability to send produce inland by rail or to other parts of the country by sea. Breweries were the largest source of non port traffic by 1850 having developed from the mid 17th century. Another large source of employment and produce was coal from under the English Channel. This was found in 1890 seeing an increase in traffic on the railways to the town once the first colliery opened at Shakespeare Cliff in 1896. A further eight collieries were opened over the next twenty years but the coal seam did not reach the surface until sixteen years later making it much easier to recover. Despite this the coal was difficult to excavate with flooding from the sea other problems caused four of the collieries to close by 1920, the last colliery in Kent closing in 1989.

As the population expanded new housing was built though much of it began to be some distance from the town centre. An important part of expanding a town is a good transport system. At the time Dover was only served by a horse-drawn bus system and an improved form of transport was needed. In 1895 the Dover Borough Council decided that the best way to serve the travelling public and ease the transport problems in Dover was to construct a 3 foot 6 inch gauge electric tramway system to take over from the horse-drawn buses that had served Dover so well but were now not enough for the growing town. The first section to open was the main line of the Dover Corporation Tramways to open ran from the Admiralty Pier to Buckland. A branch line ran from Worthington Street, along Folkestone Road and onto Maxton. Two depots were constructed to serve the system at Buckland and one at Maxton. The one at Buckland is now a motor showroom. This depot had four tracks and could hold up to 20 tram cars. The Maxton depot was smaller having only two tracks only able to hold six cars but it carried out all the maintenance work for the whole of the system. Ten tram cars were initially purchased all open top double deckers able to accommodate 44 passengers with of a top speed of 8 miles per hour, power collected from overhead wires. The livery was emerald green and ivory with guilt lining. The mainline opened on 6th September 1897 the Mayor of Dover driving the first tram from the Town Hall to Buckland Depot and back. The Maxton branch opened in the December of that year. The tramway was the first electric tramway to be built in the South-East of England and was only the second in Britain. The initial cost of the tramway system was a total of 27,000 pounds and it proved very popular with the population of Dover and visitors. By the end of the first year a total of 1,794,905 passengers had been carried on the system this rising to 2,710,420 in the year 1900-1901. The 1901 Census gave Dover’s population as 41,794, which meant that on average every man woman and child in the Borough of Dover had made 65 journeys a year. During 1898 a further four new trams were delivered thus allowing a five minute service on the main line and a 10 minute service to Maxton. At the same time the main line was shortened.

The section from Admiralty Pier to Strond Street abandoned due to the long delays caused by trams having to wait at the Croswell railway level crossing. In 1902 a modern design of tram was delivered and in May 1904 the Corporation acquired the Dover Electricity Company meaning they no longer had to pay a private company for the power used by the tramway system. The tramway was further extended in 1905 when the Buckland to River section was opened and a further four trams were purchased to run this service. Then in 1911 the Dover Corporation Tramways introduced a Sunday service a further three trams purchased in 1912. During the First World War the tramway system experienced a lot of difficulties owing to the shortage of spare parts and materials, a lot of machinery and metals being needed in the war effort. Manpower shortages due to men going off to war meant women were employed for the first time but at first only as conductors. Towards the end of the war Dover Corporation Tramways had three women drivers on the staff. On 19th august 1917 the worst event in the history of the Dover Tramways occurred when tram No.20, on its way to River, went out of control at the top of Crabble Road. The tram ran away down the steep gradient and overturned at the bottom killing 11 people and injuring 60. The enquiry into the accident found that as the tram only had seating for 22 on its lower deck and 26 on its upper deck the tram was seriously overloaded. Apart from being overcrowded the tram was being driven by an inexperienced driver who had difficulty working the complicated emergency braking system fitted to the tram, resulting in the tram racing downhill at full power instead of on the emergency brake.

Another three new trams were delivered in July 1920 but by the early 1920’s it was becoming obvious that the system was uneconomically rundown after its 20 years of continuous use. This was hampered by the lack of materials during the First World War the tramway requiring a lot of attention to bring it back to good running order. The Council while looking for alternatives in major investment accepted a demonstration of an early type of trolley bus in April 1922. The demonstration aroused no enthusiasm and shortly afterwards the commencement of repairs on some of the most badly worn sections of track was approved. During the 1920s the tracks and cars were patched up and repaired and, when the original 1897 cars were found to be beyond repair, second-hand vehicles were purchased in 1926. These cars coming from the Darlington Corporation light Railway in County Durham and used on the Maxton route when they arrived at Dover. The East Kent Road Car Company Ltd offered to provide bus services in the Borough in 1934. Initially the Corporation who had toyed with the idea of providing their own bus service rejected the offer. By the end of the year the Council had entered into talks with the Company. It was agreed that East Kent would replace the tram services with buses and that the Corporation would receive three-quarters of the profits from these services. The Dover Corporation Tramways finally ceased to operate on the night of the 31st of December 1936 many of the tramway employees re-employed by the East Kent Company. The last tram was driven by the Mayor, arriving at Maxton depot at 11.30pm where an East Kent bus was waiting to take the Mayor and other dignitaries back to the Town Hall. The bus services started at 5:28am the next morning from Buckland. The old trams were scrapped and the tracks were either taken up or just metalled (tarmaced) over.

Returning to the railways of Dover the SER wanted to tap in to the potential traffic from the continent to London the only way to do the journey before the arrival of the railway was by a slow coach journey along rough roads almost dirt tracks to London. The railway terminus consisted of one main platform and a bay, known as Dover and located near the centre of the town with the Lord Warden Hotel built by the company next door, a glass foot bridge connecting the two for many years. The station though convenient for the town centre meant that passengers from the cross channel shipping had to make their way from the docking point to the station. Construction of the Admiralty Pier had started in 1848 to provide the navy with a ‘harbour of refuge’ more from the sea than as a military exercise. From 1851 cross channel shipping used the pier though passengers had to walk along the 800 foot long pier to gain land, from 1854 work taking place to extend it to 1000 feet. This work completed 10 years later. By 1860 the SER were interested in building a connection from their Dover Town terminus to the pier to allow direct interchange with shipping seeing a double track line laid with two side platforms provided. The station, known as Dover Admiralty Pier opened for traffic on 1st November 1861. The problem with having the station on the pier was that in rough weather waves would break on its sides and splash over waiting passengers. The former SER terminus saw a name change in 1863 to Dover Town, when the LCDR changed their Dover Town station to Dover Priory which took its name from the nearby St Martins Priory. The station had an overall roof and consisted of goods, carriage and engine sheds. The station had been opened as a temporary measure on 22nd July 1861 when it arrived in the town the 685 yard long tunnel under the western cliffs not completed at the time. This work finished in the November of that year with the LCDR new station of Dover Harbour opening to traffic seeing Dover Town become a through station. The station at Harbour like that at Priory had an overall roof and was of a similar design though one of the platforms from 1918 was on rollers to allow it to be swung away from the connecting spur through the station to the Prince of Wales and Promenade Piers.

The Promenade Railway was authorised in 1918 by the admiralty to connect the east and west sides of the harbour to aid movement of supplies for the admiralty dockyard. This is now the location of the eastern dock. The single track line with passing loops ran from the Prince of Wales Pier to the eastern breakwater. To gain access to the line from the LCDR Harbour station via the spur the trains had to run on to the Prince of Wales pier itself before crossing a swing bridge in to Wellington Dock along the roadway, a member of staff with a red flag having to walk in front of the train. By the beginning of the 1920’s the admiralty had vacated the eastern dock though other businesses used the eastern dock. The Southern Railway had a coal hopper on the dock for loading of coal supplies for the ships engines. This meant coal trains passing along the prom with great complaint from the public and hotel owners. In an effort to minimise disruption train movements of 50,000 tons per year or less were restricted to the line from 1932. With the onset of World War 2 the admiralty once again took over the line to supply ammunition and supplies to boats located at Camber but after the war the line returned to civilian use though by this time most shipping was using diesel oil, the line continuing to serve two oil depots. With the influx of diesel locomotives the line became operated by diesel locomotives in the 1950’s but with the growing number of cars on the roads it became difficult for trains to negotiate the line as well as ships using different methods of unloading seeing its closure in the 1960’s. A similar situation taking place in Weymouth though that tramway remained in use for many years in to the 1980’s.

Though the SER and the LCDR were fierce opponents the arrival of the latter in to Dover saw the two companies open a joint line from Dover to Deal (The Dover & Deal Joint Line) south east of Dover. The SER already had a terminus for its line from Margate at this town and wanted to be able to link its lines together. This saw the construction of a connecting spur from the SER at Archcliffe Junction to the LCDR at Hawkesbury Street Junction where SER trains would run over LCDR metals to Buckland Junction where a north to east curve was laid to Kearnsey Loop Junction, the double track line opening in June 1881. The LCDR were able to access the joint line directly from their main line from the north by way of the facing Deal Junction. Seeing the potential for using the Admiralty Pier and gaining further traffic the LCDR came to a further agreement with the SER for the construction of a connection to that companies Admiralty Pier branch seeing both companies serving the pier from 30th August 1864 the LCDR using a single track formation from Harbour station to the Pier. It was not long before it became apparent that the pier was becoming too small for the traffic using it with a further 300 foot extension built from 1871 and completed in 1875. As a military defence measure a Turret with two 6 inch breech loading guns next to it was erected the turret used as an ammunition dump. By 1900 further work was underway extending the pier by another 2000 feet to form the Admiralty Harbour which was later known as the eastern dock. With completion of these works the pier had reached an overall length of 4140 feet. As the railway facilities were becoming increasingly unable to handle the traffic over the pier branch thought was turned to building a new station on 11 3/4 acres of reclaimed land on the eastern side near the start of the pier. The aim was for a station that would be larger than Charring Cross in London, work starting in 1909. The station building itself covered three acres and consisted of two large island platforms. Both were 700 feet long and 63 feet wide, the overall roof measuring 800 feet in length. The station opened on 2nd February 1915 as Dover Admiralty Pier for use as an ambulance station as well as for soldiers going to and from ships to the continent. The station was not open for revenue earning passengers as cross channel passenger traffic had ceased in the August of 1914 seeing the closure of the station on the Admiralty Pier. During this time the station was still in an incomplete condition with only part of the roof constructed, this completed after the war. To control traffic to and from the station from the tight triangular junction Dover Marine signal box was opened. The box was of a typical SER style introduced in 1900 two storeys high but long in length using a 120 lever frame though an extra lever was later added. The end of the war saw the station finally opened to passengers on 18th January 1919 the station having been renamed Dover Marine in 1918.

As the SER line to Deal by-passed Dover Town station and it was not served by the double track line to the LCDR Harbour station the SER decided in 1914 to focus its passenger traffic on its Priory and Dover Marine Stations seeing the closure of Dover Town. During the war the station was essential in military use for movement of soldiers to the waiting ships. In 1928 the SR focused all its locomotive traffic at new engine sheds near the former station were opened to replace the older smaller sheds at Dover Town and Dover Priory. The station buildings remained on the site of the station until the December of 1963 when they were finally demolished. The move by the SR to focus passenger traffic at Dover Priory also saw the closure of Harbour Station on 10th July 1927 the platforms and roof demolished in 1929. The station buildings are still standing however. With the increase in traffic at Dover Priory the SR refurbished it in 1932 along with many of its other stations throughout its operating area. As Dover Marine was considered an important connection to the cross channel ferries it was retained under the 1920’s station rationalisation the station seeing the introduction of the Golden Arrow service serving the station from 1929. The 1920’s had seen a rise in holiday traffic to the continent for the middle and upper classes seeing the introduction of special trains to Dover Marine such as the famous Golden Arrow formed of ten Pullman coaches. Introduced on 15th May 1929 this service would leave London Victoria each day at 11 am passengers boarding a purpose built ferry to take them to Calais where they would join the French Railways Fleche d’Or. The French service had started in 1926 as an all Pullman service from Calais to Paris Gare du Nord reaching there at 5.35pm. Due to the introduction of air services between Britain and France the service started to see a drop in passengers resulting in the introduction of normal 1st and 2nd class accommodation on the service in 1931. With the on set of WW2 and the cessation of ferry services to the continent the service was suspended from the September of 1939 not starting again until 15th April 1946. With its re-introduction the service became popular in the post war years the train hauled by Light Pacifics from Stewarts Lane depot, Battersea. After 1951 two Brittania Pacifics were allocated the duty either No 70004 William Shakespeare or No70014 Iron Duke, the stock consisting of the pre WW2 stock which had been stored for this reason. From 1951 the service was run to Folkestone with a set of new Pullman coaches. As the larger locomotives could not use the Folkestone harbour branch three tank engines would haul the train up the 1 in 30 gradient to Folkestone Junction where a Bullied pacific or Brittania would take over for the journey to London. With air traffic becoming more common and taking less time than the rail service it started to lose its passengers the service finally ceasing on 30th September 1972. By that time the service was operated by one of the Southern Regions 2500hp Bo Bo electric locomotives introduced with the Kent coast electrification in 1961.

Another service to serve Dover was the Night Ferry which used continental stock from Paris through to London Victoria. This involved the train shunted on to a purpose built ferry at Calais and shipped over the channel to a new train ferry terminal at Dover. Work on the train ferry terminal started in 1933 in the form of a lock so that the ship could be retained at the same height as the land dock so the carriages could be shunted on to land. This involved a large steel gate closing across the mouth of the dock when the ship had arrived and then the excess water pumped out to level off the ship with the dockside. Three ships were purpose built for the traffic and though they were used primarily for goods traffic they also carried the aforementioned Night Ferry train which was formed of Orient Express sleeping stock. Each ship able to carry 12 coaches at any one time shunted on to four tracks where they were chained to the track. The ships were named after towns and villages on the River Thames, Hampton Ferry, Twickenham Ferry and Shepperton Ferry. The first of these to use the new dock was the Hampton ferry as it collected a goods train for the continent. The first train left London Victoria at 10 pm on the night of 14th October 1936 carrying its load of passengers and carriages over to Dunkirk reaching Paris Gare du Nord at 8.55am the next day. From then on the service ran in either direction until the service was suspended as with the Golden Arrow for WW2 the last Night Ferry train running on the night of 3rd to the 4th September 1939. During the war the 12 coaches were captured by the Germans having been used as a hospital train the ferries also seeing use during the period. With the end of the war only seven of the coaches returned to use with several more constructed to supplement these for services starting from 14th December 1947. In the 1950’s the service also ran on to Brussels the ferries carrying a load of 800 tons by the 1960’s when the trains were formed of a nineteen coach formation including kitchen and restaurant cars as well as carriages for those that did not have sleeping berths. As the original ferries were becoming inadequate for their role new ones were built in the early 1970’s the Night Ferry continuing to run until 31st October 1980.

During WW2 both of the remaining stations were bombed. Dover priory was important in WW2 as it saw troop movements once again, troop trains arriving from all around the country. It was also the station from which evacuated children were sent to, boarding trains to take them to the safety of towns and villages around Britain that were anticipated to be safe from bombing. A bomb hit the station on 11th September 1940 destroying the station footbridge, becoming the first location in the town to be hit by a bomb. Dover Marine was also important but also receiving a lot of bomb damage as the station was also used for troop movements and played an important role in getting soldiers away from Dover after the evacuation from Dunkirk. After the war both stations were returned to normal traffic though both suffered from increasing car ownership from the 1960’s as the car ferries became a more popular way of getting to the continent. By this time the station was also known as Dover Western Dock and continued for use as a railway station until 25th September 1994 when it was closed to passengers though unadvertised services to Faversham did run until 19th November of that year when it was closed completely. The station upon closure remained in use for some years for stock storage before the rail connection was severed in 1996. The station building still remains as after closure it was converted in to a cruise liner terminal. Dover Priory is now the sole station for the town and shipping a double track line arriving in the town from the west and exiting via the Harbour tunnel to the east. The area now houses many local businesses and headquarters; mostly acting as a Digital hub for the city. One of the more recent companies to move in is; a website dedicated to providing consumers with kitchen appliance reviews. The area around the dock that once had a network of connecting lines in a large triangle is now just open ground with the former Dover Marine station at the beginning of the pier.

Today Dover is still a very busy port for passenger traffic but mostly for road traffic to the continent, the port competing with the nearby Channel Tunnel. In 2006 Dover Priory was announced as going to form part of a high speed service for Kent using the Channel Tunnel Rail Link or High Speed 1 (HS1) as it is now known. This will see new class 395 EMU’s providing a direct link to London on an hourly frequency from December 2009. The journey time will be about 1 hour to reach London St Pancras International. To allow the trains through Shakespeare tunnel at Dover Network Rail is to undertake widening works with works already taking place at Dover Priory with additional port interchange facilities also added. The first of the 140 mph units, which have undergone vigorous testing by their builder Hitachi in Japan, arrived in Britain at Southampton dock on 23rd August 2007 after a 10700 mile long journey from Japan taking 6 weeks. Each unit is formed of 6 cars and will be based in a new depot at Ashford, Kent which opens on 2nd October 2007. The sets will undergo more static testing before commissioning trials on the Kent lines of the South Eastern franchise and later on HS1. For the British line testing the train has been fitted with standard third rail collection gear though it will use overhead wire collection in service. The testing will start in the October of 2007 and is expected to last about 1 year mostly at night when the lines will be relatively clear. Delivery of the remaining stock will see 3 more arrive by the end of 2007 with one a week from January 2009. Upon arrival the first set No.395001 was in all over blue with Hitachi branding though when they are to go in to service they will have South Eastern branding as the services will come under that franchise.