Notes: Sandgate station was sited on the side of a hill overlooking the east end of Seabrook, a mile to the west of Sandgate. Prior to building the station, it was necessary to undertake substantial earthworks to create an embankment on the approach with a more substantial area required for the station and goods yard.
The principal reason for building the line was not to serve either Hythe or Sandgate; its objective was to provide a better route to Folkestone Harbour. If the extension had been built, Sandgate would have been given a new station closer to the town. It was also expected that the siting of the station would be the impetus for local development.
The station had two facing platforms fronted with timber and partly staggered, with a central road between to allow the locomotive to run round its coaches. The main station building on the up platform was of a standard SER design; it was single-storey and built of Kentish clapboard beneath a hipped slate roof. There was a wide canopy of curved cross section with an attractive, deep valance and four timber supporting columns. A smaller canopy was provided above the entrance door from the forecourt to protect passengers arriving by carriage from the weather.
As planned, the building comprised from west to east: porters' room, ticket office, booking hall, ladies’ waiting room and toilet, with the gents' toilet on the east end of the building. As built, the porters' room and gents' toilet were reversed to match the building at Hythe. In about 1905 the gents' toilet was relocated further east along the platform, away from the main building, and a small canopy was added to the west end of the building.
A water tower and water crane were at the eastern end of the platform, and beyond that was a single-road engine shed also built of Kentish clapboard. If the extension to Folkestone Harbour had ever been built, the line would have extended east from this point requiring the removal of the engine shed.
As passenger receipts were never expected to be good the South Eastern Railway decided to concentrate on goods traffic, with passenger trains running in and out of the up platform. This required an alteration to the signalling and a new crossover on the approach to the station. Once this had been completed the down platform was used as a goods dock and rarely saw normal passenger trains, although it was used for troop trains. A small timber goods shed was provided on the platform opposite the station building.
Access to the station was along an inclined approach road coming in from the east. In October 1884 a new entrance onto the west end of the station forecourt was provided to avoid a long walk for the residents of Seabrook; this took the form of a flight of steps up from Seabrook Road.
The goods yard initially comprised the down platform road and one siding, but a second siding was added in July 1890. One of these sidings, to the west of the down platform, served the coal yard, with a stable block at the end of the siding. At a later date, a 4-ton capacity crane was provided between this siding and the down platform road. There were two short sidings on the up side running up to the west side of the forecourt. One of these was later extended down the approach road joining up with the Hythe & Sandgate Tramway which ran along Seabrook Road.
Although passenger receipts at Sandgate were poor from the outset, the station handled regular military traffic owing to the proximity of Shorncliffe Camp. The first military unit to use the station were the Coldstream Guards who departed from the station one morning in 1876. Later that same day the 1st Battalion Scots Fusilier Guards arrived to begin their posting to the camp.
The station was to take on a major role during the second Boer War. On 23 April 1900 a troop ship returning from southern Africa docked at Southampton from where wounded and invalided soldiers boarded a train bound for Sandgate. As word reached the town that the returning men would arrive by teatime a heroes’ welcome was hurriedly arranged with the town and the station taking on a carnival atmosphere. Local children were given time off school so that they could ‘witness this stirring event’. By mid afternoon local people were arriving at the station from all directions using all available means of transport. There was a constant flow of charabancs shuttling between Hythe, Folkestone and the station. Civic and military officials waited on the platform for the arrival of the train and 80 stretcher-bearers arrived at the station from the camp. The train arrived at about 4pm. The more seriously injured arrived in carriages daubed with bright red crosses ensuring that they would receive treatment first. 115 wounded men disembarked that day, making their way to the goods yard from where horse-buses transported them to the Beach Rocks Convalescent Home in Sandgate.
After the momentous event it was clear that there were some operational difficulties that needed to be rectified. Trains arriving at the down platform either had to be reversed towards Hythe from where they could be shunted into the up platform or, on departure; they would have to run 'wrong line' to Hythe where they could cross over onto the up line. To remedy this in July 1900 a second crossover was laid at the west end of Sandgate station. This required the addition of a 13-lever ground frame near the water tower at the east end of the up platform to augment the existing 17-lever signal box at the west end of the down platform.
In 1921 Sandgate station came under the jurisdiction of Hythe station following the retirement of stationmaster George Wood. On 31 December 1921 the engine shed closed; however it remained standing for another ten years and was eventually cleared away shortly before all the buildings were demolished after closure of the station in 1931.
After closure to passengers the signal box remained open for a short time as there was to be one more goods train to collect the station furniture, fittings and anything else that was considered re-usable. Following this the demolition train arrived. The box finally closed on 19 May 1931.
Demolition of the remaining station buildings followed quickly leaving only the water tower, and the gents' toilets which was retained for the use of bus crews for the new East Kent Road Car Co. depot which was quickly built on the west end of the station site. Although out of use for many years the gents' toilet was still standing in a dilapidated state in 1975, but a few years later it had gone. The bus depot closed on 6 September 1980 following the introduction of service charges arising from the Shepway MAP scheme. The land was later sold for redevelopment, with housing appearing on the station site in the late 1980s.
To the west of the station, Horn Street bridge is extant with houses now standing on the embankment above. Further west the overbridge which carries Cliff Road over the railway is also extant with two bright red British Railways Board signs on either side of the bridge warning that the axle load should not exceed 11 tons. The Sandgate down distant signal stood to the east of the bridge.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SANDGATE BRANCH
Hythe is a small coastal market town on the edge of Romney Marsh. The name Hythe or Hithe is Saxon in origin meaning haven, harbour or landing place. As an important Cinque Port, Hythe once possessed a bustling harbour which, over the past three hundred years, has now disappeared owing to silting. Hythe’s status gradually dwindled with the receding sea, and by the middle of the nineteenth century it was described as 'the filthiest and most immoral town in Kent'. All that was to change with the coming of the railway.
The South Eastern Railway reached Folkestone on 28 June 1843 when a temporary station was opened on the west side of the Foord valley. The SER promised an intermediate station between Folkestone and Ashford which would serve Hythe. Westenhanger & Hythe station opened on 7 February 1844 but at over 3½miles from the town, and most of that uphill, the people of Hythe were understandably not happy with their new station.
Initially, complaints to the SER fell on deaf ears as the company was busy with drainage and construction work at Folkestone Harbour, which it had recently purchased. With the opening of the branch line to the harbour on 1 January 1849, the SER was prepared to listen to proposals to build a line to Hythe.
On 25 November 1851 a local paper reported, ‘Great efforts are being made to procure a branch railway to the town. ... the South Eastern Company has offered to make the line, if the land be presented to them free of cost.' The SER was well aware of local feelings and, keen not to alienate the public, offered to consider any serious proposals. One proposed route was surveyed by the chief engineer but he came to the conclusion that a carriage road was the best option.
Further proposals came and went including a new line between Folkestone and Shorncliffe military camp which could then be extended west to Hythe, but by this time the SER was involved with more profitable ventures elsewhere, and it was soon clear that they had no intention of building a branch line.
There was however a glimmer of hope when a proposal was submitted to the SER board bringing to their attention ‘the advantages of constructing a branch from Westenhanger to Folkestone providing a new and more convenience route to the continent as an alternative to the present steeply-graded harbour branch which is inconvenient to passengers as it requires a change of engines and a reversal’.
A number of different routes were proposed and, in 1861, the SER introduced a Bill into Parliament for a branch line from a junction at Cheriton running to the east of Sandgate and on to Folkestone Harbour. The Bill sailed through the Commons but, despite enthusiastic local support, it was stopped in its tracks in the Lords owing to opposition from influential landowners. In an attempt to placate the people of Sandgate the SER opened a new station on the west side of Folkestone on 1 November 1863. The diminutive station with minimal facilities was called Shorncliffe & Sandgate although it was a mile from either place. At the same time Westenhanger station was rebuilt.
The SER was still keen to pursue the construction of a branch to Sandgate and in February 1864, Francis Brady, their newly-appointed chief engineer, visited Sandgate where he outlined the latest scheme. It would make a junction with the main line at Sandling, running along the back of Hythe where there would be a station, then on to Shorncliffe Camp where a station would be provided to serve Sandgate. The board postponed a decision on the line until they had seen passenger figures for the stations at Westenhanger and Shorncliffe.
With the Sandgate branch on hold, the Elham Valley Railway Company published a prospectus in 1865 with received wide support. The proposal was for a line running from Hythe to Canterbury where it would make a junction with the London, Chatham & Dover Railway, and junctions at both ends with the SER. This prompted the SER to revive its scheme, fearful that the Elham Valley might be bought out by its hated rival the LCDR. The SER galvanised itself into action by ordering its surveyors and engineers to prepare the Sandgate branch surveys and drawings ‘without delay’.
It was stated that the proposed line would provide a new direct route into London, with heavy traffic expected between the capital and the south coast. The promoters also claimed that their line would be of strategic national importance during the expected French invasion, providing a direct link between Shorncliffe Camp, the military base at Hythe and the Woolwich Arsenal. A Bill was put before Parliament in the winter of 1866, but this was opposed by both the LCDR and the SER. Although it was sanctioned by Parliament, the company was unable to raise sufficient capital.
On 25 January 1870 the Hythe & Sandgate Railway Company was registered. The line would run for almost a mile along the sea front which would be ideal for a new seaside development. The Seabrook Estate Company was formed to build the new resort, the directors of which were almost all involved with the railway. The SER was confident that once the railway reached Sandgate there would be little difficulty in securing authority to extend the line to Folkestone harbour, which was still their goal. Indeed, it appears that the very existence of the branch was pinned entirely on this one hope.
There were still, however, many hurdles to cross, particularly from the War Office who owned much of the land and were demanding an exorbitant price. Although negotiations over the purchase of this and other land along the route were not completed at this time, it looked as if Sandgate and Hythe would get their long awaited railway. Powers to construct a 3-mile double-track railway from Sandling on the main line to Folkestone and Dover via Hythe to Sandgate were included in South Eastern Railway Act of 1872. The contract for the construction of the line was awarded to Philip Stiff, the cheapest of 11 tenders submitted.
Prince Arthur of Connaught, a grandson of Queen Victoria, performed the ceremony of the cutting of the first sod on 11 April 1872 after which a local newspaper reported, ‘The work of the line will be pushed forward with all possible despatch. There will be no tunnelling but some rather deep cuttings. It is expected that the branch will be opened for traffic by May l873’.
By 15 June 1872 work was underway at Saltwood while negotiations for the purchase of land elsewhere on the route were still taking place. The War Office was still holding out and eventually the SER had no option other than to agree to their inflated asking price.
The line presented no major engineering difficulties and excavation of the 94yd tunnel under Hayne Wood and the deep approach cuttings were quickly underway. The onset of winter brought heavy rain which slowed progress, and it was soon clear that the expected completion date could not be met.
With the earthworks nearing completion, the station layouts at Hythe and Seabrook were mapped out for approval by the Board. Neither station was particularly well sited; at Hythe there was a long walk uphill, and at Sandgate the station was a mile to the west of the town. It was built to serve Shorncliffe Camp to the north and the new holiday development at Seabrook to the south. A more convenient station for Sandgate would be provided on the Folkestone extension.
Further delays in construction were encountered and the opening if the line was further pushed back, first to May Day 1874 then, following a landslip in the Hayne tunnel, to late June. It was soon clear that the SER made a bad decision to go with the cheapest contractor and eventually the SER was forced to take over construction of the line. Philip Stiff agreed to a pay-off of £6,500 which included the handing over of all tools, machinery, sheds, materials etc, to allow the SER to finish the job; these would be returned to him on completion.
With SER labourers now at work, construction progressed rapidly and on 29 August the line was inspected for the Board of Trade by Lieut. Col. C. S. Hutchinson R.E. The colonel refused to sanction the opening until a number of changes, mainly relating to signalling, had been made. Once these had been completed and approved, the official opening was announced for 9 October 1874.
Before this, the SER approached Folkestone Corporation asking them to contribute towards the cost of the harbour extension; this was turned down. They also approached Lord Radnor, a major landowner along the route, suggesting that the required land might be donated to the company. Not surprisingly he declined, implying that while he was not opposed to the railway in principle he did expect to receive the full value of the land. SER chairman Sir Edward Watkin was not prepared to commit the financial outlay at that time; perhaps that was the ultimate error of judgement as Lord Radnor's views were to change and the extension would never be built!
On the opening day, the departure of the first public train at 10am from Sandgate was somewhat muted with few local residents boarding the train; not even the chairman or members of the local board had bothered to put in an appearance. It was a different story at Hythe where the train was met by an enthusiastic crowd at the lavishly decorated station. Having travelled on to Ashford the train, by now packed, made the return journey to Hythe in time to see the arrival of the Royal Train which brought members of the SER board, SER chairman Sir Edward Watkin (who was elected MP for Hythe on 4 February that year) and the Duke of Teck who had agreed to perform the opening ceremony.
The initial service comprised eleven up and nine down trains on weekdays with just two trains in each direction on Sundays. As there was no junction station branch trains ran along the main line to terminate at Westenhanger. There was no goods service until 1 January 1875. The line quickly proved popular with local people and the company was satisfied with passenger receipts.
An engine shed was provided at Sandgate (a sub-shed of Ashford). This was used to stable one engine to work the first and last train of the day.
Hythe was the busier of the two stations but passenger numbers at Sandgate were boosted as more and more troops were conveyed over the branch as the station was nearer to Shorncliffe camp than Shorncliffe Camp station on the main line.
After ten years, the train service remained much the same with ten weekday trains in both directions, although Sundays saw an improvement with four trains. As each year passed so the feasibility of the Folkestone Harbour extension receded as property prices increased and land was used up for new buildings.
In 1886 the SER proposed building a station at the junction between the Sandgate branch and the main line. At this time there was little habitation around the junction, only scattered farmsteads, and even today the area is sparsely populated. The new station would have interchange facilities although it was planned that the boat trains (which never came) would run directly through Sandgate to the harbour. Sandling Junction opened 1 January 1888. From that date branch services that had started from Westenhanger now ran from Sandling Junction.
By the last decade of the nineteenth century, passenger excursions were becoming very popular despite the need to change trains at Sandling Junction and Shorncliffe. Monday-only excursions proved to be particularly in demand, especially during the Christmas and New Year holidays when the London pantomimes enchanted young and old alike.
As the stations at both Sandgate and Hythe were poorly sited for the towns they served the SER opened a horse-drawn tramway in 1891 to link the stations with the two towns. It ran along the streets in the towns but had its own dedicated track along the seashore between Sandgate station and the Imperial Hotel at Hythe which was built by the SER in 1880.
Old rivalries finally came to an end on 1 January 1899, when the SER and LC&DR formed a 'management committee' comprising the directors of both companies. This merged the two companies' operations as the South Eastern & Chatham Railway.
Numerous improvements to the Sandgate branch would soon be introduced, many of which had already been planned and approved by the SER. There were only marginal changes to the timetable with a couple of extra daily trains in the summer. The Sunday service was improved with a dozen trains in each direction confirming the popularity of the locality with holidaymakers and day-trippers.
As well as the increase in tourist traffic the line earned a regular income with ordinary local passenger and goods traffic. There was extra revenue too from military traffic with supplies, horses and soldiers frequently passing over the branch.
As the line reached its 30th anniversary it became clear that the railway would never be extended beyond Sandgate. Unrelenting opposition from powerful quarters, rising land values and ever-increasing costs of construction all played their part in ensuring that Sir Edward Watkins’ dream would never be fulfilled.
Through the first decade of the new century, excursions continued to add to the revenue-earning ability of the branch; some were laid on by the SE&CR while others were organised by private entrepreneurs. In 1902 the SE&CR laid on special trains from all over its network for the coronation of King Edward VII; two of these ran from Sandgate at 4am and 5am. Efforts to stimulate more passenger business for the branch came in 1905 when, for the first time, Hythe enjoyed the prestige of having through trains to the north of England. Co-operation between the SE&CR and the Midland Railway meant they were able to organise a weekdays-only service departing from Hythe at 11.09 to reach Manchester at 6.10pm and Bradford at 7.28pm.
With the failure to build the Folkestone extension, the development of the Seabrook Estate as a new resort also failed to materialise as this was linked to the harbour extension. In a last effort to justify the existence of the Sandgate branch, the SE&CR provided finance for a new road which would,
hopefully, encourage development around Hythe station but, alas, it was too little and too late.
In July 1907 steam rail-motors were tried on the branch. These ran from Dover, eliminating the need to change trains at Sandling Junction. The frequent service proved popular with the public but their standard of comfort did not as the units vibrated badly, especially when the engine was at the rear. Also, the speed of the small locomotive and its combined carriage was limited when heavily loaded or on the steep gradients of the Sandgate branch.
In 1908 Improvements to the rail-motors followed, and they continued to augment the summer services which were sometimes so well patronised that a second trailer car was added - which hindered their speed even more! There were six railcar journeys on weekdays, except Thursday, and five on Sunday. The rail-motors were short lived on the branch and they were withdrawn at the end of the 1910 summer season.
With the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 everything on the railway was to change as the Sandgate branch had a vital role in the war effort. Nationally, all railways came under the control of the government; on a local level this meant that the horses stabled at Hythe by the SE&CR were soon requisitioned for the war effort, as were the horses on the Hythe & Sandgate Tramway which was suspended on 7 August 1914. By October the scene at Sandling junction was one of furious activity as a military camp was built, with special trains laid on for workmen employed on the construction.
Troop trains to Sandgate arrived in quick succession as thousands of young men de-trained to form columns of four for the march to Folkestone harbour. The amount of rail traffic increased further, forcing the SE&CR to withdraw all discounted excursions and other cheap tickets. In December 1915 there was a major landslide at Folkestone Warren which effectively severed all rail traffic between the two channel ports for the duration of the war. This meant that Sandgate and Folkestone were put under greater pressure to handle the large numbers of troops, horses, supplies, ammunition and stores which arrived from all parts of the country.
With the railway now handling so much military traffic local people deserted the trains for the buses. When the British Automobile Traction Co Ltd began a service between Hythe and Ashford in early 1916, it proved popular, with four journeys each way, even though their ‘bone-shakers’ took an uncomfortable hour to complete the 11-mile journey.
The Sunday service was withdrawn from 1 January 1917 and at the same time there was a 50% fare increase and a reduction of the weekday service to ten trains in each direction to lessen the burden on the railways, as well as ensuring that the important military traffic was not hindered. In an attempt to cope with the severe staff shortages owing to military call up, a number of young lads were recruited to man the stations at Hythe and Sandgate as porters, goods handlers and clerks.
Peace came on 11 November 1918, but services did not return to normal until 1921 when the new summer timetable had 17 up trains and 16 down replacing the previous emergency schedule. A Sunday service of two trains each way was reinstated, but this was later increased to eight trains each way in 1923 although still only during the summer season. The Hythe & Sandgate Tramway resumed operations after the war during the summer season, but it was to be short lived with the tramway closing at the end of the summer in 1921.
The timetable may have returned to normal, but in changing economic conditions the railway was now in decline as it was unable to compete with the convenience of the motor bus. On 1 January 1923 the line came under the control of the Southern Railway under the 1923 Grouping, and change was already on the horizon.
In an attempt to attract more holiday traffic to Hythe, posters were prominently displayed at London termini and other important stations in the south-east. 1923 was a good year with hot weather bringing an influx of holidaymakers and day-trippers. At the start of 1924, Hythe Chamber of Commerce organised a competition to write a memorable slogan to promote the town. The winning catchphrase was 'The Pride of Kent' and this appeared on Southern Railway posters during the inter-war years.
On 16 July 1927 the 13½-mile 15in gauge Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway opened, running from Hythe via Dymchurch, St. Mary's Bay, New Romney and Romney Sands to Dungeness. As well as being a tourist attraction, the railway also provided a public service between the small towns and villages along the route. In 1928 there was a proposal to extend the line to the Southern Railway station at Hythe, but this was never built.
Through the 1920s, the Southern Railway actively encouraged passengers to switch from rail to road transport, which is perhaps not surprising as the Southern Railway owned 49% of the shares in the East Kent Road Car Co. It was clear that the SR intended to run down the rail service. By the end of the decade, most excursions had stopped running apart from those serving special events; the line had become little more than a rural branch. Easter 1929 brought an upsurge in passenger numbers with extra trains laid on for people who wanted a break by the seaside.
In 1930 the Southern Railway announced plans to electrify the Folkestone line. The people of Hythe and Sandgate were optimistic that electrification would also eventually come to their neck of the woods. Little did they realise that the Southern Railway had already planned a completely different scenario for the branch!
In October 1930 the SR announced that they intended to close Sandgate station, with no period of public consultation being offered. Fearful that Hythe might also be closed at a later date Sandgate and Hythe Council decided on a joint campaign to prevent the closure. A deputation put their case to the SR board in mid January 1931 but were told that a final decision had already been made, accelerated by the East Kent Road Car Co offer to buy the station site to build a new bus garage. With this offer on the table, the SR quickly prepared figures to justify the closure. As well as closing Sandgate the SR also intended to downgrade the remaining line from Hythe to Sandgate to single track.
Closure followed quickly on Tuesday 31 March 1931 after nearly 57 years of use. A half-hearted attempt was made to ease the inconvenience caused to Seabrook residents by the introduction of a bus service between Hythe station and the former Sandgate station, but this was not well used and was withdrawn in 1933.
Following the retirement of Hythe stationmaster WE Harris on 2 May 1931 Hythe came under the jurisdiction of Sandling Junction fuelling rumours the closure of Hythe would follow shortly. This was quickly denied by the General Manager of the Southern Railway who stated ‘the SR has no present intention of closing Hythe Station’. Single-line operation between Sandling and Hythe came into force from 6 July 1931 following the closure of No.2 box at Sandling Junction, with the branch now operating under 'one engine in steam'.
Demolition of Sandgate station was underway towards the end of 1931 with only the gents' toilet on the former up platform being retained for use by bus crews. The track was initially retained as a siding from Hythe but by early 1932 it had been lifted.
In 1933 rumours of closure were once again heard following the announcement that Sandling Junction was to be renamed 'Sandling for Hythe'; this prompted the Town Clerk to write to the Southern Railway stating that ‘a seaside town without a railway service was a very serious matter. Hythe is an important town and deserves an important train service!’. The SR once again denied that there were any plans to close the station and the summer timetable for 1934 had an enhanced service with nine additional trains (four up and five down) although the Sunday service remained as before with four in each direction. This level of service was maintained through the latter half of the 1930s with a renewed poster campaign promoting Hythe as the 'Pride of Kent'. By the end of the decade there were 12 trains to Hythe with 11 in the opposite direction. On Saturday this increased to 15 down and 14 up, whilst on Sunday 12 trains ran in each direction.
All this was to change with the declaration of war in 1939. 'Operation Pied Piper', the evacuation of major cities, began on 1 September 1939. At this time many London children were sent to the comparative safety of Kent. Hythe was expected to take its quota of children who would be set down at Sandling Junction, as heavy main line engines were unable to reach Hythe due to restrictions on axle weight. Their stay on the south coast was, however, short-lived with evacuees being moved in June 1940, when a seaborne invasion was expected.
To counter this invasion, new defences were established along the south coast and, with the need to use the branch for the movement and storage of rail-mounted guns, the passenger service was suspended. In September 1940, a detachment of the Royal Engineers attached to the 4th Super Heavy Battery R.A. established a base at Hythe. This unit comprised two 9.2in rail-mounted guns, two War Department locomotives, some French ferry vans for sleeping purposes and all the necessary ammunition, stores and supplies. One gun was soon stabled on the down line at the far eastern end of Hythe station, whilst the other went to sidings at Folkestone Junction.
The war department did not take complete control of this line, as with the Elham Valley route. The Southern Railway continued to operate its daily goods service, although this was re-timed an hour later in the evening to leave the line clear for military movements during the day.
The battery was relocated to the Kent & East Sussex Railway on 10 February 1941, and in 1942 a passenger service was reinstated with nine trains in each direction on Monday-to-Friday and ten on Saturday. This service was, however, short-lived and was withdrawn from 3 May 1943 for the duration of the war when the branch was once again required for military use. The WD was anxious to stable a 13.5in gun at Hythe and possibly an 18in howitzer in the 94yd Hayne tunnel. The guns never came and, as the threat of invasion receded, the military relinquished all further use of the Hythe branch as part of their operations.
The Southern Railway reinstated the passenger service on 1 October 1945 in response to public pressure but it comprised only two up trains, one at 7.50am and the other at 6.12pm. There was only one down train arriving at Hythe at 5.10pm. The Saturday service was slightly better with three trains in each direction but there was no Sunday service. A post-war report on the resumption of the electrification programme included a proposal to use diesel traction on the Hythe branch.
The bus companies were quick to take advantage of such a poor service and soon relieved the railway of many of its few remaining passengers. East Kent buses continued to provide a regular service between Hythe and Folkestone and local operator Newmans' introduced a service between Hythe and Sandling in direct competition, with buses timed to meet the London arrivals.
Following Nationalisation in 1948, a deputation from Hythe met representatives of the newly-formed Southern Region of British Railways in an attempt to secure a better service for their town. In response, BR assured the group of their ‘intention to restore the railway service to Hythe up to its pre-war standard at the earliest possible moment, but that coal and carriages were the limiting factor’. They could not, however, give any guarantees that Hythe would remain open for goods traffic as it was now policy to concentrate merchandise from small stations at larger railheads. A request for more trains to stop at Sandling Junction was rejected, but BR did promise to consider the re-introduction of Sunday trains before the start of the 1949 summer season.
Despite a hot summer, Sunday trains were never reinstated, and it was soon clear that the branch was on borrowed time. In December 1949 the East Kent Road Car Co launched a new service between Hythe, Sandgate and Folkestone. In 1949 there were 33 railway season ticket holders; two years later there were only six!
In July 1950 a traffic census was carried out, and a report of goods receipts was prepared which led to a proposal to withdraw the passenger service with the goods yard remaining open; but in 1951 the Civil Engineering Department stated that repairs to the line costing around £8,000 would soon be due. This expense could not be justified as most merchandise to and from Hythe now went by road. The only substantial inbound traffic was household coal and stores for Mackeson’s Brewery. Outbound freight comprised mainly returned empties from the brewery as well as some small parcels traffic.
It was felt that there would be little hardship caused to the few passengers carried by the line as extra buses would be provided to take them to Sandling Junction or Folkestone Central. British Railways decided they could no longer justify keeping the line open for either goods or passenger traffic and closure was announced for 3 December 1951 with the last train running on Saturday 1 December. On the last day a large number of railway enthusiasts descended on the branch to ensure that it went out in style.
The track was probably lifted back to Sandling Junction goods yard in the summer of 1954. Photographs from October 1954 show disturbed ballast indicating recent track lifting. The goods yard closed 4 February 1973 but two refuge sidings were retained with a short length of the branch line acting as a head shunt for these sidings. The last vestige of branch track was removed c1990. Today the route from Sandling to Hayne Tunnel is a public footpath (Elham Valley Way). Hayne Tunnel is still in good order but is flooded up to several feet deep because part of the cutting to the south of the tunnel has been partially infilled with refuse. At the site of Hythe station and around Seabrook there are many houses built on the old railway embankment. Between Hythe and Sandgate short sections of infrastructure are still visible including some bridges in situ; but at Sandgate the bus garage came and went and the station site has now been redeveloped for housing.
Route map drawn by Alan Young, Timetables from Brian Hart. Tickets from Michael Stewart, Proof reading Alan Young.
Special thanks to Brian Hart for photographs and information and for answering my numerous questions about the Sandgate branch.
To see other stations on the Sandgate branch click on
the station name:
Sandling Junction & Hythe
See also the Hythe and Sandgate Tramway and
the Sandgate Hill Lift