Notes: In June 1929 a Ministry of Transport railway order was obtained by the Southern Railway (SR) and construction began in August 1931. The branch line to Allhallows was 1¾ miles long, joining the existing line between Middle Stoke and Grain Crossing halts. Like the line to Port Victoria, the connection with Allhallows would also consist of a single track.
An article published in April 1932 in Southern Railway Magazine indicated the SR's aspirations for the line: ‘near the small village of Allhallows, amid fields where cattle graze and the ploughman walks his furrow, workmen are busy constructing roads and laying the main drains and conduits for the gas, water, telephone and electric light services to houses of which not a brick has yet been laid. In contrast to the urban development of an earlier day, the prospective house-purchaser (and season-ticket holder) at Allhallows will approach his future home from a modern reinforced concrete carriageway, instead of stumbling through the ruts of an unmade road.’
The Allhallows-on-Sea Estate Company was incorporated with the intention of transforming the flat, featureless, windswept marshland in the area into a new holiday resort. The SR had a financial interest in the new company and worked closely with it in the construction of the line. The new company donated land for use for the railway and contributed £20,000 towards the construction of the line.
The ceremonial opening of the extension took place on Whit Saturday 14 May 1932 when 700 day-trippers made the journey to Allhallows on SECR R1 class 0-4-4T No.380, a special train laid on from London. The first passenger trains ran on the following Bank Holiday Monday, 16 May, with local trains starting from, and returning to, Gravesend Central. Cheap day return tickets from Charing Cross were offered at 5s 3d - the cheapest ticket to a Kentish seaside resort. To coincide with the opening of the new connection, other parts of the line were upgraded.
The station at Allhallows was sited 400yd from the beach and comprised a single concrete platform. The rectangular single-storey building at the north end and parallel to the platform was also concrete with a hipped asbestos roof. At the south end of the building there was a short narrower extension with a slightly lower hipped roof. An upward sloping canopy, favoured by the SR at this time, with a plain valance supported by timber columns stretched the width of the platform in front of the building. The entrance to the booking office was at the north end of the building.
A small timber signal box built by the Southern Railway in the style of a nineteenth century Saxby & Farmer box was sited on the platform at the north end of the station building; this controlled the platform line, run-round loop and a single siding running behind the platform.
Two daily express services from Allhallows to Charing Cross were laid on at 7.36am and 8.28am, returning in the early evenings on weekdays and at midday on Saturdays, as if to demonstrate the village's potential as a commuter hub. The services were hardly used, the envisaged commuter town not having yet been constructed, and the SR ran them until September, planning to reintroduce them permanently when the town was ready.
The line became increasingly popular for day trips: on Sundays during July, August and September 1934 alone, 72,557 passengers used the line, compared with 62,120 for the same period in 1933. On Bank Holiday Sunday 5 August 1934, over 9,500 passengers made the journey to and from Allhallows. It became necessary to double the line between Allhallows and Stoke Junction with the station being enlarged to cater for the expected increase in traffic.
The platform was extended to the south and converted into an island with a second platform line being brought into use on the site of the former siding. A metal pillar water tower with a pitched roof was provided on the platform at the south end. The canopy was also lengthened by adding a completely new ‘W’ section canopy at the south end of the station building. In order to accommodate this canopy, the signal box had to be modified. It lost its pitched roof, its sides were extended up to the underside of the canopy and it was extended closer to the station building. The track layout controlled by the box was further altered by the provision of a run-round loop on both platform lines and two goods sidings on the east side of the platform, passing either side of a short goods dock with a surface constructed from old sleepers. A turntable was provided at the south end of the station on the east side. A large through goods shed clad in asbestos, with an awning on the east side, was also built at this time. It seems unnecessarily large and confirmed the Southern Railways anticipation of substantial growth which never materialised. Brian Hart commented in his bookThe Hundred of Hoo Railway, 'quite possibly the Allhallows goods shed ranked as the ugliest ever built'. The yard also had a 1 ton 10 cwt capacity crane. A tea room was built in front of the station between the booking office and Avery Way.
Despite early hopes for goods traffic the goods yard saw little use, and although it remained open until closure of the line, the goods shed was eventually taken out of use and the entrance bricked up. It was still standing in 1956 but was probably demolished shortly after.
After closure to all traffic in 1961 the station remained largely intact until the late 1960s. The tea room in front of the station building was used as a night club and the station building itself was used as a bakery. Much of the platform was demolished in the early 1970s and the station buildings were cleared away after 1975 to make way for new prefabricated housing (Kingsmead Park) which now stands on the truncated north end of the platform. The water tank on the end of the platform was retained within the estate and is now a listed structure. It has been restored and is well maintained.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HUNDRED OF
In 1865 the North Kent Extension Railway was granted authority to build a line from the SER track at Gravesend across the marshes to a pier on the west bank of the Medway opposite Sheerness. However since neither of the rival companies, the LCDR nor the SER, liked the idea, it failed to materialise.
Origins of the railway on the peninsula go back indirectly to the Continental Trade Agreement whereby the LCDR and SER agreed to share all receipts from Kent Coast and Continental traffic in various proportions. In 1876 the LCDR violated the terms by opening a railway pier at Queenborough which angered the SER who immediately revived the scheme for a line from Gravesend to the Medway; to achieve this end the SER instigated a supposedly independent company called the Hundred of Hoo Railway Company. As the route from Charing Cross to Port Victoria (as it was to be called) was 40 miles compared to the LCDR's 52-mile route to Queenborough, the SER was convinced that the route would be successful.
Parliamentary Acts were granted by 1880 and construction work started shortly afterwards. A further Act in 1881 passed the line over to the SER. On 1 April 1882 the first section from Hoo Junction to Sharnal Street was opened, with the remaining section to Port Victoria opening on 11 September 1882, by which time a wooden pier and the modest weather-boarded Port Victoria Hotel had been provided. It was soon clear that the new route was not as popular as predicted due to the opening of the new docks at Tilbury in 1886. The line was, however, used by the Royal Family.
Initially the Port Victoria branch had only two intermediate stations at Cliffe and Sharnal Street, but in 1906 halts were added to serve settlements near the line at High Halstow, Beluncle, Middle Stoke and Grain Crossing. Between Cliffe and the junction with the Gravesend to Higham line, a halt was provided near the British Uralite works that had opened in 1901 and was used mainly by workmen's traffic. Three further halts were also provided on the main line at Milton Road, Denton and Milton Range. The halts were all of timber construction but were later rebuilt in prefabricated concrete. Milton Road was short-lived and closed during WW1 as an economy measure. It had never been popular owing to its proximity to Gravesend Central and it never reopened. By 1916 the pier at Port Victoria was declared unsafe and the seaward portion was barricaded off.
Passenger traffic continued to dwindle after the First World War, but at the same time freight traffic was developing with the opening of the Medway Oil and Storage (later Power Petroleum Company) Company's new depot at Grain in 1928. The pier continued to deteriorate and by 1931 no trains were allowed onto it and a temporary wooden platform was built at the landward end while a basic concrete platform was completed on safer ground.
With the failure of Port Victoria to become the successful European seaport that had been expected, alternative means of increasing the revenue from the line were sought. Such an opportunity seemed to present itself in the early 1920s with the popularity of seaside resorts as holiday destinations for middle and working-class families with the financial means to take an annual holiday or weekend breaks. Resorts such as Brighton, Torquay and Blackpool had long been popular with holidaymakers since the mid 19th century, but it was only with the arrival of the railway that factory workers in London could enjoy the privileges previously reserved for the richer classes and use their free weekends to escape from their urban environment.
The Southern Railway, which had taken over the SECR's activities in 1923 following the Grouping ordered by the Railways Act 1921, sought to profit from this new market by offering a seaside destination within easy reach of London to rival the London, Midland & Scottish Railway's line to Southend-on-Sea. The small village of Allhallows, population 261 in the 1880s, was identified as the only feasible location for a new seaside resort in North Kent - Herne Bay being judged too far from London, and Leysdown-on-Sea on the Isle of Sheppey not having a direct rail service.
With the opening of the branch to Allhallows, passenger traffic to Port Victoria dwindled to almost nothing with only two trains a day, principally for the benefit of the workers at the petrol depot.
Second platforms were added at Cliffe and Sharnal Street, and the branch to Allhallows was doubled in 1935. The popularity of Allhallows was increasing by the late 1930s and the Southern Railway considered doubling the whole line. Allhallows' popularity continued until the outbreak of the Second World War, with 12 trains making the journey to and from Gravesend during weekdays while extra services were laid on for Sundays - 14 down and 11 up. At this time the SR considered electrification of the entire Hundred of Hoo line but ultimately decided against it. Looking back now, there is little doubt that, had this been done, Allhallows would finally have developed into the resort and/or commuter town that had been expected.
During the war the line was well used with the oil terminal being adapted as the base for PLUTO (Pipeline under the Ocean) supplying the allied forces in Europe.
After the war the long-term future of freight traffic seemed assured with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (the successor to Power Petroleum) building their largest refinery in Britain at Grain in 1948. Extensive rail facilities were provided, and from 19 June 1951 Port Victoria (which was within the new refinery) and Grain Crossing Halt were closed while a new Grain station was constructed 700yd east of Grain Crossing. The new station had a long single island platform and a large brick signal box and was intended primarily for the use of workmen at the oil terminal.
In the frugal years that followed the end of the war, Allhallows, like Leysdown-on-Sea, began to experience lean times as passenger numbers fell. Allhallows with its single Charringtons pub, concrete road, two small refreshment stands (closed in winter) and block of four small shops (which never saw any real use and were eventually bricked up) was no match for Brighton, the attractions of which could be enjoyed by rail for an extra 1s 9d when compared to the price of an Allhallows ticket (then 5s 9d). In an attempt to stem losses, the new operator, British Railways (Southern Region), misguidedly tried out an ACV lightweight diesel railcar in late 1953; its noise and general lack of comfort probably served to drive away more passengers.
Due to the increase of freight traffic there were rumours that the whole line was to be electrified, but the post-war popularity of the motor car led to a continued decline in passenger numbers. The resort of Allhallows did not continue to develop and, despite all efforts, attempts to sell housing plots remained unsuccessful, and before long the railway authorities accepted defeat and reverted to a limited local service. As the traffic continued to deteriorate the line went back to single track in 1957.
In the February 1954 edition of Trains Illustrated, T.J. Norris noted that many of the trains from Allhallows carried a score-or-so of passengers, most of whom went only as far as Cliffe. Whilst summer and bank holidays saw some patronage of the line - an excursion train from London ran three days each week, with extra trains on Sundays and bank holidays - winter presented a different picture with trains continuing almost empty beyond Sharnal Street. Nevertheless, BR still tried to promote the area for holiday-makers and potential residents.
By 1955 there were 11 trains ran each way on weekdays, with 12 down and 13 up on Saturdays and 13 up and down on Sundays. In 1957 the line between Stoke Junction and Allhallows was reduced to a single track, and in 1959 the Hundred of Hoo line was excluded from the Kent Coast electrification programme which saw the North Kent Line electrified.
Closure was first considered in 1959-60 when a study revealed that only 321 passengers per day were using the Allhallows branch to travel to and from Gravesend, and that a saving of £25,500 per year would be made were the line closed; however the South Eastern Area Transport Users’ Consultative Committee (TUCC) was not in favour of withdrawing the passenger service as it considered that replacement bus services would be inadequate. A new proposal was made by BR a few months later, which it backed up with new figures showing that passenger numbers had further declined. Objections were made against the closure, notably from the Kent County Council and Strood Rural District Council which challenged BR's method of calculating passenger numbers and losses. It was also stated that the four replacement bus services would cause hardship to the local community owing to poor timings.
At a meeting on 15 December 1960 BR outlined its case for closure, giving three main reasons:
(i) electrification of the Hundred of Hoo line, with the exception of the Allhallows branch, would leave this latter part as an isolated pocket of diesel activity which would be difficult to service and maintain;
(ii) replacement bus services would provide a reasonable alternative to trains; and
(iii) the Allhallows branch did not merit investment with capital from the Modernisation Programme owing to the minimal numbers of passengers using the line and the siting of stations away from residential areas.
BR accepted that substituting the existing units with diesel railbuses would cut losses on the line, but argued that losses would not be completely eradicated and that railbuses would be unable to deal with summer Sunday traffic. Kent County Council continued to strongly resist the proposed closure reminding BR that planning permission for the construction of 1,200 houses on the Isle of Grain had been granted, possibly contributing an extra 4,000 potential users of the line.
In September 1960 the South Eastern Area TUCC approved the closure proposal on the basis of new financial information provided to them by BR. Objectors had no access to the figures used by BR to arrive at its conclusions, and there were suspicions that the TUCC was not acting as impartially as it should have done and was simply trying to find ways around the objections raised in order to facilitate BR's plans for the line. Peter Kirk, the Conservative MP for Gravesend, criticised the TUCC's handling of the matter and tried to discuss it with Ernest Marples. The Minister refused to meet with him, and an announcement was made that passenger services on the line would cease as from Monday 4 December 1961; the last weekend of operation would be 2-3 December. The final passenger train, hauled by C class 0-6-0 No.31689 and formed of seven coaches, left Allhallows at 8.38pm on Sunday 3 December; the last goods train had run the previous day.
In 1974 a campaign was begun by Stoke Parish Council to reopen the line to passenger traffic. This proposal was opposed by BR on the grounds that, as the line was single track only, a passenger service would interfere with freight operations. There were also signalling complications.
Tickets from Michael Stewart & Brian Halford (except 0109 David Pearson). Bradshaw from Nick Catford. Route map drawn by Alan Young. Southern Railway poster from Brian Hart.
Click here to see a three minute film of a journey between Gravesend and Allhallows c 1961.
Further reading: Hart, B - The Hundred of Hoo Railway - 1989 Wild Swan
To see the other
stations on the Hundred of Hoo Railway Line click on the station
name: Milton Road
Halt, Denton Halt,
Milton Range Halt,
High Halstow Halt,
Middle Stoke Halt,
Junction Halt, Grain
Crossing Halt, Grain
& Port Victoria