South Eastern Railway (UK): Wikis


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The South Eastern Railway's crest
The South Eastern Railway's former headquarters in Tooley Street, London, near London Bridge station.
Railways in the South East of England in 1840
Railway lines in Kent, SER lines can be seen alongside LCDR, LBSCR, etc lines

The South Eastern Railway was formed in 1836 to construct a route from London to Dover. Various other routes were opened over the years, during which time the SER absorbed several other railways, some of which were older; these included the Canterbury & Whitstable, which was purchased in 1853. They also took over the working of some other railways (including the London & Greenwich) without actually absorbing them. Most of the company's routes were in Kent and eastern Sussex, with some in Surrey and a long route curving round to reach Reading, Berkshire.

In 1899 the SER entered into a working agreement with the London, Chatham and Dover Railway to share operation of the two railways, work them as a single system and pool receipts: but it was not a full amalgamation. Both the SER and LCDR remained separate companies until becoming constituents of the Southern Railway on 1 January 1923.




London & Greenwich Railway

The LGR opened its first section, between Spa Road (Bermondsey) and Deptford, on 8 February 1836, the line being extended westwards to London Bridge on 14 December 1836, and eastwards to a temporary station at Greenwich on 14 December 1838. The present Greenwich station opened in 1840. This was the terminus until 1878, when the final cut-and-cover tunnel section between Greenwich and Maze Hill (beneath the grounds of the Queen's House and Greenwich Hospital - where the graveyard was excavated, remains being reinterred in East Greenwich Pleasaunce approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) to the east) was opened, linking it to the North Kent Line just west of Charlton. The section between Charlton and Maze Hill opened in 1873, with Maze Hill functioning as a terminus until 1878. Westcombe Park railway station opened in 1879.[1]

The layout of Greenwich station still partly betrays that fact. The line from London, built on a continuous viaduct, is perfectly straight, but after Greenwich it makes a sharp turn and dips into a tunnel. There also used to be a space between the two tracks for the locomotive 'escape route' to reverse the trains, but this disappeared when the station was reorganised to accommodate the Docklands Light Railway.

Canterbury & Whitstable Railway

The CWR (known locally as the Crab and Winkle Line, from its initials and fact that Whitstable was a fishing port) opened on 3 May 1830 between Canterbury and Whitstable Harbour, a distance of 6 miles (9.7 km). It was the first regular passenger steam railway in the world. It was built as part of a plan to improve the access of the city of Canterbury to the sea,and involved much work improving Whitstable harbour, engineered by Thomas Telford, which opened in 1832 and is still essentially intact. In its early days it employed a variety of means of traction: on the inclines at Tyler Hill and Clowes Wood winding engines were used, with horses on the section in between; and the locomotive Invicta - built by Robert Stephenson, unsuccessful and disused by 1839 - being employed at the Whitstable end. In spite of its short life, Invicta has been preserved.

The line included the world's first passenger train tunnel, the 800-yard (731.5 m) Tyler Hill Tunnel, and both its portals are still visible. One entrance is behind the University of Kent, and the other in the grounds of the Archbishop's School. Until the 1970s it was possible to walk through it, but it became unsafe and collapsed shortly after, causing structural damage to the university buildings above.

Normal steam engines were introduced on this line in 1846 halving the journey time to 20 minutes. The engines had to be specially cut down in size in order to get through the tunnel, and the carriages were lower than normal.

The line closed to passenger traffic on 1 January 1931, and entirely in 1953. The site of the first Canterbury station was immediately to the east of Canterbury West station and for many years was used as a coal yard and goods station. Trains ran into a bay platform at the West station when that opened in 1846.

The Main Line

The SER original main line was given sanction by Act of Parliament in 1836, running from London Bridge via Redhill, Tonbridge, Maidstone and Ashford to Folkestone and Dover. This circuitous route was the result of insistence on the part of Parliament that only one southerly route out of the capital was necessary; since the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway already had a line through Redhill, the SER perforce had to follow it. This ignored the fact that the main London - Dover road had, since ancient times, followed a much more direct route, and the fact that the other great railway building projects took direct routes whenever feasible. A train passenger to Dover had a journey 20 miles (32 km) longer than by stagecoach.

The main line reached Ashford on 1 December 1842; the outskirts of Folkestone by 28 June 1843; and Dover by 7 February 1844. Their locomotive works was built in 1845, moving from New Cross in London.

As a result of competition with the LCDR (who had constructed the more direct Chatham Main Line and Maidstone East Line (to Sevenoaks, Canterbury, Dover, Ramsgate, Ashford and Maidstone), the SER built a very expensive cut-off line through the North Downs via Sevenoaks and Orpington (see below). Some services continued to use the Redhill to Tonbridge Line to access the Brighton Main Line.

Branch lines

The SER system spread out, opening branch lines to connect with major towns along its route.

Dates of opening

Locomotive Superintendents/Chief Mechanical Engineers

The SER and other railways

The SER and the LCDR

By 1853 the SER had almost completed a network of lines encompassing mid-Kent, though much of the North Kent coast was still not served by rail.

In 1853 the East Kent Railway was incorporated. By various amalgamations and using running powers it gained access to the new Victoria station. Other extensions brought the railway to Dover and Ramsgate and it changed its name to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) in 1859.

The LCDR had a much more direct access to London than the SER, and it was imperative to the SER that this competition was challenged. The SER therefore constructed the direct line via Sevenoaks to Tonbridge. It involved huge earthworks, crossing the North Downs by means of summits and long tunnels at both Knockholt and Sevenoaks. The latter was the longest tunnel in southern England at 3,451 yards (3,156 m). This cut-off line, 24 miles (39 km) long, reached Chislehurst on 1 July 1865, but took three more years to reach Orpington and Sevenoaks (2 March 1868) and Tonbridge (1 May 1868).

Many of the LCDR's lines served towns already served by the SER. Ashford, Chatham, Dover, Gravesend, Margate, Ramsgate, Rochester, Sevenoaks and Whitstable's second stations have subsequently been eliminated but Bromley, Canterbury and Maidstone still have more than one station.

The LCDR was always in financial difficulties, and for years the amalgamation of the two Kent companies was mooted. On 1 January 1899 this was achieved when the two companies joined for working under a Management Committee. On 5 August 1899 the South Eastern and London, Chatham and Dover Railway Companies Act was passed, which resulted in the formation of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway.

The SER and the LBSCR

The relationship with the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) was often bitter - sometimes almost all-out war. The main sites of that war were in London, Redhill and Hastings, the three locations where the two railway companies met.

In London, at both London Bridge and Victoria the rivalry between the two companies came to such a head that both stations even today show the existence of two separate stations at each location, with a wall between them. At Redhill the two companies' stations were placed at an inconvenient distance for passenger exchange; when a new station was built, the SER gave preference to its own trains through the station. This led the LBSCR to build the Quarry Line, avoiding Redhill altogether. At Hastings, where they joined for the final section through the town, the troubles were even more direct. In their desire to secure the business, the SER was determined to keep the LBSCR out. The latter had opened its line from Brighton on 13 February 1851, connecting with the SER at Bo-peep Junction. After preventing some Brighton trains from passing the junction, the SER blocked in at Hastings those that had and removed track at the junction, putting up barriers to stop the LBSCR coach link from operating. An LBSCR injunction eventually put matters to rights, but until the 1923 amalgamation relations were still bitter.


One of the most notable accidents occurred on June 9 1865, when the boat train from Folkestone ran onto a partly dismantled bridge near Staplehurst. The locomotive and tender ran across the timber baulks to reach the far side, but the carriages were derailed and fell into the river Beult. The Staplehurst rail crash killed ten passengers and Charles Dickens narrowly avoided severe injury, or even death. He was travelling with Nelly Ternan and her mother at the front of the train in a first-class carriage, which escaped complete derailment when the locomotive and tender left the track as a result of repairs to the line. Timber baulks under the track were being replaced but the foreman mis-read the timetable, and two lengths of rail were missing on the viaduct. As the lead vehicles left the line, the impact on the remaining beams caused the cast iron girders below to fracture, and most of the following vehicles left the viaduct and ended up in the river Beult some 15 feet (4.57 m) below. The foreman was indicted and convicted of manslaughter, and served 6 months hard labour for his crime.


The South Eastern Railway operated a number of ships from Folkestone and Dover to Boulogne, France and Ostend, Belgium. In 1854 the SER took over the South Eastern & Continental Steam Packet Company.[2]

Ship Launched Tonnage (GRT) Notes
Albert Edward 1862[2] 365[2] Wrecked in 1893 at Cap Gris Nez.[2]
Albert Victor 1880[2] 814[2] Scrapped 1899.[2]
Alexandra 1864[2] 203[2] Sold in 1899 to Scott, Calcutta, India.[2]
Boulogne 1878[2] 407[2] Sold in 1903 to British Central Africa Co Ltd.[2]
Duchess of Edinburgh 1880[2] 812[2] Sold in 1882 to Barrow Steam Navigation Co Ltd, renamed Manx Queen.[2]
Duchess of York 1895[2] 996[2] Scrapped in 1904[2]
Eugenie 1862[2] 426[2] Sold in 1863, became Confederate blockade runner Cornubia.[2]
Folkestone 1878[2] 398[2] Scrapped in 1903.[2]
Lord Warden 1847[2] 308[2] Acquired in 1854, scrapped in 1881.[2]
Louise Dagmar 1880[2] 818[2] Scrapped in 1899.[2]
Mary Beatrice 1882[2] 803[2] Scrapped in 1900[2]
Napoleon III 1865[2] 345[2] Scrapped in 1890.[2]
Prince Ernest 1846[2] 248[2] Acquired in 1854, scrapped in 1886[2]
Princess Clementine 1846[2] 288[2] Acquired in 1854, scrapped in 1884.[2]
Princess Helena 1847[2] 302[2] Acquired in 1854, scrapped in 1881.[2]
Princess Mary 1844[2] 192[2] Sold in 1874 to Wilhelms, London.[2]
Princess Maud 1844[2] 187[2] Acquired in 1854, scrapped in 1886.[2]
Princess of Wales 1898[2] 1,009[2] Sold in 1910 to Argentina, renamed Rio Uruguay.[2]
Queen of the Belgians 1844[2] 206[2] Acquired in 1854, scrapped in 1881.[2]
Queen of the French 1845[2] 215[2] Sold in 1863 to a Belgian owner, renamed Saphir.[2]
Victoria 1861[2] 359[2] Scrapped in 1895.[2]

See also



  • The Railway Year Book for 1912. The Railway Publishing Company Ltd. 1912. 
  • Nock, O.S. (1961). The South Eastern and Chatham Railway. Ian Allan Ltd. 
  • S.G.McRae, C.P. Burnham et al. (1973). The Rural Landscape of Kent. Wye College. 
  • Body, Geoffrey (1984). Railways of the Southern Region. Patrick Stephens Ltd. 
  • Gray, Adrian (1985). The London, Chatham & Dover Railway. Meresborough Books. 
  • Gray, Adrian (1990). The South Eastern Railway. Middleton Press. 
  • Gray, Adrian (1995). The South Eastern & Chatham Railways. Middleton Press. 

External links


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