Notes: On Saturday 24 June 1843 the first train ran into a temporary terminus at Folkestone on the west side of the Foord valley. The train carrying SER chairman and directors and invited guests left London Bridge just after 6am and took 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete the 82 mile journey stopping at four intermediate stations. Benjamin Cubbitt, the elder brother of the SER's Chief Engineer William Cubitt, was at the controls.
On Wednesday 28 June 1843 the temporary station was opened for general traffic. The opening of the station coincided with the Bayle Fair and the sixth anniversary of Queen Victoria’s coronation so the town was already in festive mood.
Throughout the day many local people made their way to the station to see the trains. The first train from London Bridge arrived at 10.30 am to be welcomed by much cheering from the enthusiastic local gathering. Coaches were waiting at the station to convey passengers on to Dover where many if them boarded steam packets bound for the continent.
Once the temporary station had been opened work on completing the Foord Viaduct progressed rapidly with the permanent station at Folkestone expected to be open by the late autumn. This was, however, delayed fallowing a serious landslip on the massive embankment between the station and the viaduct. The viaduct was finally completed on 20 November 1843 with the first locomotive running over it the following day and a series of trials taking place three weeks later. On 14 December a special train once again carried the SER's board of directors, this time over the viaduct and into the new Folkestone station.
On Monday 18 September the temporary station closed with trains being extended into the new terminus. The temporary station was quickly demolished.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FOLKESTONE - DOVER LINE
The first proposal for a railway between Dover and London was made in May 1834. On 21 June 1836, Parliament passed an Act incorporating the South Eastern & Dover Railway, which shortly afterwards became the South Eastern Railway. The new company was formed to construct the line from London to Dover.
The engineer of the Dover line was William Cubitt who was also engineer of the London & Croydon Railway. The chosen route, which passed over the lines of three other companies, would start at London Bridge, from where it would use London & Greenwich metals as far as Southwark and then turn south towards Croydon. From a junction with the London & Croydon at Norwood the Dover line would then share the London & Brighton main line to Redhill where it would turn east towards Tonbridge, Ashford and Folkestone. Construction began in 1838 at several places simultaneously. The L&BR line to Redhill opened on 12 July 1841. The line between Redhill and Ashford was almost straight with few engineering difficulties. The SER line from Redhill to Tonbridge opened on 26 May 1842, when SER train services began. The line reached Ashford on 1 December 1842 and the outskirts of Folkestone by 28 June 1843.
The route between Folkestone and Dover took the line between the cliff and the sea and a number of major engineering difficulties had to be overcome. It was for this reason that the company bought Folkestone Harbour and turned it into their port of choice for cross-channel ferries. One of the major natural obstacles was the Round Down cliff; the SER's solution was to blow it up! Four tunnels were also required: these were Martello Tunnel (530 yd) at the western end, then Abbotscliffe Tunnel (1 mile 182yd), Shakespeare’s Cliff Tunnel (1392 yd) and finally Archcliffe Tunnel (50 yards - opened out in 1927) at the eastern end near Dover. The Martello tunnel was driven through Gault Clay and Greensand and was more difficult to construct than the other three. Martello and Abbotscliffe are both double-track tunnels. Because of the instability of the Chalk, Shakespeare’s Cliff Tunnel comprised two single-track bores of unusual design. They are very tall, the crown being 28ft above track level, and have Gothic cross-section. Both Shakespeare’s Cliff and Abbotscliffe tunnels are close to the cliff face, so were constructed using horizontal access shafts, as well as the more normal vertical ones. Rubble was taken through the horizontal shafts to be transferred to boats for disposal. Archcliffe Tunnel comprised two short, single bores, passing below Archcliffe Fort on the outskirts of Dover.
The line eventually reached Dover on 27 January 1844. Following the official opening on 6 February the passenger service between London and Dover Town began the following day. Six trains per day were provided in each direction.
Initially the SER showed interest in attracting tourists to Dover by offering excursion fares. They also introduced ships from Dover to Ostend; but the company’s major interest was the promotion of Folkestone Harbour.
One of the problems that SER constantly faced was that from Folkestone to Dover the tracks were – and still are – so close to the cliffs and sea. The area is known to have been liable to extensive landslips, the first recorded slip having taken place in 1765. On 14 November 1875 there was a severe storm that wrecked groynes and severely damaged the Town station roof, and the track was flooded. Two years later the line was closed for two months due to a 60,000 ton landslide, and it was mooted that SER would not reopen it. Sir Edward Watkin, SER chairman, blamed the rumour on his adversaries at LCDR. He visited the scene of devastation and later arranged for an official reopening after three months’ closure. On Sunday 20 March 1881 the line was again buried under about 20ft of chalk, just west of Abbotscliffe. Eight landslips were recorded before the turn of the twentieth century.
On 19 December 1915, a landslide resulted in the entire undercliff supporting the main line moving towards the sea causing approximately 1.9 million cubic yards of chalk to slip or fall completely; the incident blocked a mile of track between the Martello and Abbotscliffe tunnels. The movement occurred over the whole length of the Warren and several cliffs collapsed resulting in the chalk fluidising and burying the rail lines with up to 65ft of debris and creating a flow 230ft out to sea. The maximum displacement was about 165ft near the centre of the disturbance.
Soldiers stationed in the signal box managed to slow the 6.10pm Ashford to Dover service at the mouth of the Martello Tunnel and, although the train came to a halt partly on the landslide derailing some of the coaches, the passengers and crew were able to walk back to Folkestone Junction along the beach and no one was injured. This was one of the largest landslides in Kent.
After consultation with the Board of Trade the SECR decided that the blockage could not be removed during the War. Thus, passengers who wished to travel from Folkestone to Dover were faced with a long, arduous journey as Dover was under military rule and they could not enter the town except by rail. Thus they had to leave Folkestone on the Elham Valley Line to Canterbury then head back to Dover on the old LCDR line. For the remainder of the War the Admiralty used the tunnels to store mines and shells for locally based warships. During the four-year closure, drainage adits were bored from beach level up through the complex in an attempt to halt further coastal erosion, but small landslips continued to occur periodically.
The reopening of the railway between Dover and Folkestone took place on 11 August 1919, the line having been reconstructed during the spring and early summer. SECR became part of Southern Railway that came into operation on 1 January 1923.
Tickets from Michael Stewart. Route map drawn by Alan Young.
Click here to see a film of a train journey between Folkestone Junction and Dover Priory in the 1920s including a view of Folkestone Warren Halt.
Click here to see the article ‘Coast Erosion Works in Folkestone Warren’ reproduced from Railway Magazine - September 1954 . A works depot with
See also:Folkestone East, Folkestone Harbour, Folkestone Warren Halt, Shakespeare Cliff Halt, Archcliffe Junction Staff Halt, Dover Town, Dover Admiralty Pier, Dover Prince of Wales Pier, Dover Marine/Western Docks
& Dover Harbour
Detailed history of Shakespeare Colliery with many photos.
Detailed history of the first Channel Tunnel attempt in 1880