In 1886 the SER began planning a new junction station for the Sandgate branch. The station, at Sandling Park, would be primarily for interchange between the branch and the main line as there was little habitation at the junction, other than scattered farms. Even today the area is sparsely populated.
Plans for the as yet unnamed station were submitted and approved, but the cost of £4000 was considered high and efforts were made to reduce it. Construction of the new station was quickly underway with four platform faces being provided, two on the main line, and two tightly curving faces on the branch which required the installation of guide rails. The up main line face and the down branch face were combined to form a single large triangular platform.
There were three similar main buildings, one on the up branch platform and the other two on the main line platforms. The buildings were of an unusual design not typical of the SER. All three were single-storey in Domestic Revival style, resembling traditional local houses. The buildings had applied half-timbering and dark rustic brick infill, steep and high red-tiled hipped roofs with overhanging eaves and large brick chimneystacks. The gabled entrance porch, with half-timbered decoration, was supported by large wooden brackets. Sandling’s buildings were almost identical to that at Nutfield, on the SER's original main line from Redhill to Tonbridge, which had opened four years earlier in 1883. The buildings were provided with plain pitched roof canopies with a triangular cross-section; Biddle (1973) notes that ‘the use of awning valancing was eschewed rather than spoil the comfortable simplicity of the design’. Open fires ensured a warm wait in all three waiting rooms, the trains were however often very cold, so a foot-warmer shed was built at the east end of the up main line building. Approach roads were provided to the down main line and up branch platforms.
The down branch platform had no building and, initially, no weather protection, but very quickly a simple canopy was provided supported on two lines of cast iron columns and a timber wall at the south end. The canopy turned through 90deg at its north end to make a covered walkway to the up main line platform.
As the station neared completion, the name ‘Westenhanger for Saltwood’ was selected. Confusion with ‘Westenhanger for Hythe’ a little under a mile to the west, was not considered a problem as it was proposed to close this to passenger traffic when the new station opened. Two months later, the decision to close the station was reversed and a new name for the junction station had to be chosen. This time the SER settled on the obvious name, Sandling Junction.
Although the branch line was provided with two platforms the SER felt that it might be more convenient for passengers if the Sandgate trains could both arrive and depart from the down branch platform. Changes were quickly made to the signalling and pointwork to accommodate this. As originally planned all four platforms would be spanned by a lattice footbridge, but with the up platform only seeing occasional trains an 80ft bridge was provided only across the main line platforms, with passengers reaching the up platform by using the barrow crossings provided at each end. The Board of Trade's inspector Major General Charles Hutchinson did not approve of this change, considering the wooden boarded crossing 'most dangerous'. He recommended that a footbridge or subway should be provided within six months of the station opening. His recommendation was ignored.
A two-storey house with a large garden was provided for the first stationmaster, Mr Lord, to the west of the up branch platform. Shortly before the station opened on New Year’s Day 1888 Colonel Herbert Deedes of Sandling Park wrote to the SER board reminding them that he had agreed to the building of only a single-storey house for the stationmaster claiming that the ‘amenities of estate here are injuriously affected by the bui1ding’. However he offered to withdraw his objection if the SER provided him with free travel between Sandling Junction and London for a period of 8 years. The SER declined but the house remained.
The station was controlled by two SER-designed timber signal boxes (similar to those at Hythe and Sandgate). No.1 box controlled the junction with the main line and was positioned on the up side, to the west of the station. No.2 box was at the south end of the up branch platform and controlled access to the goods yard and the platform lines from the Hythe direction. The yard initially comprised two sidings, one on the down side between the down branch platform and the up mainline platform, and the other on the up side serving a large cattle dock. A parallel siding was later added, probably by the Southern Railway, to serve an enlarged cattle dock. Although the station handled a full range of goods traffic there was insufficient to warrant the construction of a goods shed. Instead the SER provided a timber lock-up roader shed at the rear of the down platform.
In the periods between trains, and duties permitting, the staff were able to tend the flowerbeds and shrubs which were proudly cultivated here. In common with many stations around the UK, the station name was laid out in the main flowerbed with stones or rocks; at Sandling lumps of local chalk were used.
Almost two years after Sandling Junction station was opened, £1000 was spent improving the weather protection by lengthening the platform canopies and putting a corrugated-iron roof on the footbridge.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, two fatal accidents took place at Sandling Junction. The first happened on Midsummer’s Day 1899 when a traction engine crashed over the parapet of the bridge to the west of the station. Driver Henry Abbott jumped clear but his steersman, George Bingham, went over the bridge with the engine and was killed. At the inquest it was revealed that the driver and his steersman had stopped a couple of miles further back at New Inn Green for a pint of beer and some bread and cheese, but the cause was blamed on the slippery condition of the road with a verdict of accidental death being recorded. On 2 April 1900, Sandling Junction’s stationmaster, Edward Hilder, was run down by an up express. A verdict of accidental death was recorded, whilst it was stressed that the engine crew were entirely blameless and had done everything that could have possibly been expected of them.
In July 1900 an additional crossover was sanctioned for Sandling Junction which would allow through trains from Sandgate to also depart from the down branch platform. This removed the need for Sandgate branch passengers having to use the barrow crossing when changing to the London express services. The main line platforms at Sandling Junction were lengthened and raised during the summer of 1913 to accommodate longer trains. The SE&CR also had plans to finish off the footbridge as originally planned by extending it across to the up branch platform. It is unclear why this was proposed as the platform was rarely used, but the work was never carried out.
There was another accident, this time not fatal, on 10 June 1916 when the engine and first wagon of the 4.30am goods train from Ashford separated from the remaining 39 wagons at Westenhanger bank. The driver stopped his train at Sandling Junction and, on looking round, saw what had happened. Before he could take avoiding action the remaining wagons came hurtling down the gradient and crashed into the engine.
On 1 April 1931 the Hythe to Sandgate section of the branch line was closed completely, and the remaining stretch between the former and Sandling Junction was singled. At the Junction station the up branch line platform was taken out of use, its track lifted, and No.2 signal box was closed and quickly demolished. The station building on the up platform, however, remained in use as a ticket office.
The Hythe branch had only a brief period as part of the Southern Region of British Railways. In 1949 BR proposed changing the station name to Hythe Junction but this was quickly rejected. Two years later the line closed to all traffic from 3 December 1951. From 5 June 1952 the branch was used for stabling cripple wagons: a cripple is a goods wagon which, although safe to run on the railway, is not fit for use and requires a repair before it can be used in service. The last of these was removed on 12 November 1952 and the track was lifted back to the Sandling goods yard circa summer 1954.
After closure of the remaining branch platform to passenger traffic, the station was renamed ‘Sandling for Hythe’ from 3 December 1951. In 1960, the station was allocated two camping coaches converted from two Pullman cars, which were fitted with a full kitchen, two sleeping compartments and a room with two single beds. The station remained open for goods traffic until 4 February 1963. After closure of the goods yard, the up sidings were lifted but the platform road was retained as a refuge siding which could be used for temporary accommodation of a train to allow another one to pass. Usually a slow goods train waited while a fast passenger train passed. The remaining short section of the Sandgate branch also became a headshunt for the down siding where the camping coaches were still in use. In 1967 the coaches were removed as overseas holidays were becoming popular. The down siding was lifted leaving just the down platform road which was finally lifted c1990.
As part of BR's new Corporate Identity streamlining the 'for Hythe' suffix was dropped in the early 1970s. The up branch ticket office was also closed around this time and by the mid 1970s the building and the platform had been demolished and incorporated into the station car park. Today all trains serving Sandling station are operated by Southeastern. The ticket office is manned for only part of the day; at other times a PERTIS 'permit to travel' machine, located outside the station building on the up side, suffices.
The off-peak service currently comprises two trains per hour to London Charing Cross and one train per hour to Dover Priory and one to Ramsgate via Dover.
The down branch platform is extant. At the south end it is overgrown and the platform edging has been removed, but the north end of the platform is still used for access from the station car park. A walkway runs along the trackbed to the end of the platform, where passengers walk up the ramp and along the platform to reach the up main line building and the footbridge. The car park is on the site of the goods yard. To the south of the station the trackbed is now a public footpath as far as the north portal of Hayne Wood tunnel.
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. Totem from Richard Furness. Proof reading Alan Young.
Click here to see a shirt film of Sandling for Hythe station in the 1860s.
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:
Hythe & Sandgate
See also the Hythe and Sandgate Tramway and
the Sandgate Hill Lift