Before 1911, Richborough Port was known as 'Sandwich Haven'. There was a gravel pit (now a lake) and a quay on the Long Reach of the River Stour, used during the construction of the Admiralty Harbour at Dover by S. Pearson & Sons Co Co. This firm built a tramway, nicknamed "Pearson's Railway", from a junction with the SECR at Richborough Castle to the pit and to "Pierson's Quay" (also known as 'Old Quay' or 'Stonor Quay').
It is not known why the first coalfield promoters chose this place for a coal port instead of the more obvious Dover. However, before WW1 Dover was intended to be the harbour of refuge for the Royal Navy's Channel Fleet, and so it was apparently feared that there would be little room left for coal ships. Unfortunately, Krupps in Germany were already making steel cannon which could fire across the Channel by 1905, which ruled out any Royal Navy presence at Dover and made Richborough Port commercially rather pointless from the beginning.
The EKLR was authorised in 1911 to build to a wharf on the later site of the War Office's "New Quay". This was to have been built by 'St Augustine's Links Ltd', which initially planned a golf course but then diversified into planning a coal port and (via its subsidiary "Ebbsfleet Coal Syndicate") a coalmine. A boring in 1911 proved the coal seams to be too thin , and the First World War stalled the port project. (The golf course was built, and is still there.)
The War Office took the port site over for an enormous transhipment camp during World War One, starting in 1916. The Royal Engineers abandoned the Pierson's Railway and built a new line, with miles of siding trackage, from 'Weatherlees Junction' on the SECR. The line ran along the north side of the derelict power station (pace recent publications, this line was not the same as the power station spur), crossed the Thanet to Sandwich road just north of the filling stations and arrived at the New Quay behind Pfizer's sports ground. It then ran down the east side of the road, crossed the Stonar Cut and split in two at the Red Lion pub, about where the entrance to the recycling plant now is. One branch crossed the road, and both ran along the road verges to army camps where Pfizer's now is. The eastern branch also served Pierson's Quay.
Some anonymous army official coined the name 'Richborough Port'.
After the war, the SECR took over as temporary managers in 1919, until the port was sold to Pearson & Dorman Long (as the founding company had become) in 1925. It was in this period that the EKLR arrived, but the date is not known. Maps of 1918 do not show it. The War Office signed an agreement with the EKLR allowing junctions in June 1920, and an Army map in the Guildhall, Sandwich (discovered 1995) shows the EKLR in place. Hence it arrived between 1920 and 1922.
However, Lawson-Finch's book gives documentary evidence showing construction on the line and bridges continuing until the first official goods traffic to Richborough Port in 1929. It may be that the EKLR laid its sidings at Richborough Port in isolation before anything could cross the bridge, in order to establish its presence. The mystery remains as to when the first actual train ran to Richborough Port.
After crossing its river bridge, the EKLR followed roughly the course of the Sandwich Bypass. Here were the goods sidings, with a track either side of the line. Just before the roundabout on the old Thanet road it picked up the course of the former Pierson's railway and turned east to its passenger station. Then it crossed, in immediate succession, the western line to the camps, the road, the eastern line and a siding before a junction with the port's wharfside line at Pierson's Wharf. A spur ran north before the station for about 20yds to a junction with the port lines. This was the access route to New Quay, as well as to the SECR at Weatherlees (although there is no evidence that the EKLR ever exchanged traffic over this connection).
Some modern maps show the junction spur extending as far as the Red Lion crossing. This is probably erroneous, but needs to be researched. The error may arise from the War Office having built the final stretch of line to New Quay that was authorised for the EKLR in 1911.
Pierson & Dorman Long wanted to build a steelworks at Richborough Port, with new towns to house the workers at Woodnesborough and Ash and using coal from its colliery at Betteshanger. It regarded the EKLR as a nuisance, and never encouraged it. However, the EKLR did ship coal for export from Snowdown from 1929 to the mid thirties, and pit props in the other direction. All plans were abandoned at the Depression. A main line link for coal traffic was actually authorised for Dover Eastern Harbour via a tunnel under the castle in 1933, just about the time when it was finally realized that the Kent coalfield was a commercial failure.
Before the Second World War, only certain buildings were being used for colliery machine maintenance and the port railway network had been, in effect, abandoned before being inherited by the National Coal Board in 1948. The EKLR river bridge had become unsafe before then, on an unknown date, and had had its rails removed.
Monday, 22-May-2017 12:01:27 BST
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