The South Eastern & Chatham Railway Society (SECSOC)

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When Two Become One - The Tale of Two Railways

A Potted history of the

South Eastern & Chatham Railway

On the 1st January 1899 the South Eastern and Chatham Companies’ Managing Committee (better known as the SE&CR) was formed by the union of the South Eastern Railway (SER) and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR). To understand why this union came about, why a large number of towns in Kent to this day still have two stations and why you can travel from London to Dover by a dozen routes, it’s necessary to look into the history of these constituent companies.

The first steam-hauled, public railway in Southern England was opened between Canterbury and Whitstable in 1830, followed six years later by the London and Greenwich Railway. That same year the South Eastern Railway came into being when a line was sanctioned by Act of Parliament between London Bridge and Dover. By the late 1850s the company had lines open to Canterbury, Ramsgate, Folkestone, Tunbridge Wells and Hastings, but until 1868 the main Dover and Folkestone line still had to approach London via tracks shared with the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) at Redhill. This roundabout route left East Kent without a railway or at best one with circuitous connections and thus opened the door to rival routes instigated by the East Kent Railway.

The East Kent Railway opened its first line between Strood and Faversham in 1857. The railway, always short of capital was then forced, by SER obstruction to extend first to Dover (1861) and then to London Victoria in 1862; the railway’s name being changed to the London Chatham and Dover Railway in 1859. However the rapid expansion of the railway and its precarious finances brought bankruptcy in 1866 .

By the end of the decade the LCDR had began to fight back under the chairmanship of James Staats Forbes and the scene was now set for more than 30 years of intense, and at times, cut-throat competition, with many towns in Kent boasting both a LCDR and SER station, e.g. Maidstone, Chatham, Sevenoaks, Margate and Ashford. Despite this it was still impossible to travel directly between major centres such as Faversham and Tonbridge, or Chatham and Folkestone. This competition has often been blamed on the individual personalities of the Chairmen. The SER was led by Sir Edward Watkin, a domineering character, who held grand visions of linking the North with Paris via the SER and a Channel Tunnel. On the LC&DR, Forbes refused to bow to SER pressure and intimidation and fought to survive by further expansion. The two Railways’ reputation for feuding was only preceded by their reputation for poor service, The Times recalling them… .

The little overlapping companies were always good for a laugh, sometimes ribald, every now and then sardonic. The London, Chatham and Dover became the Undone, Smash’em and Turn’em Over. The South Eastern & Chatham main line was the scene of the fictitious tragedy in which a would-be suicide laid his neck on the line and died of starvation

The ruinous competition eventually subsided when Watkin retired in 1894. The Boards of both railways saw the sense in co-operation and in 1899 the two companies were united within a single management committee. The two railways operated as one on issues relating to traffic and engineering, but remain financially independent. This enabled rationalisation of some routes, inter-running and sharing of locomotives and stock. The Railway Times of 1898 stated that the net saving was calculated at £100.000 per annum.

The former head of the Carriage and Wagon Department of the SER, Harry Wainwright and the Chief Draftsman of the LCDR, Robert Surtees then joined forces to design an outstanding stud of locomotives which gave more than 50 years excellent service. These were finished in a bright, new livery of ornately lined Brunswick Green, which probably gave the SE&CR the most eye-catching engines in the country. Coaches acquired a rich, purple- lake livery formerly used by the SER, whilst the wagons were finished in a lead grey colour slightly darker than the LCDR shade.

All these changes began a reverse in the fortunes of railways in the South East, and the its public reputation improved, helped still further when Richard Maunsell took over as CME in 1913.

The Great War of 1914 – 18 stretched the SE&CR to its limit, it being the closest railway to the Continent. Austerity measures came into force, the obvious one being simplification, then abandonment of the Wainwright livery for an unlined lead grey for locomotives and brown for coaches. Stations were closed, never to re-open and intensive services and borrowed locomotives were used to maintain the flow of men and materials to the Front. Maunsell continued to strive to modernise the railway with the introduction of the ‘N’ Class moguls and he re-built and modernised versions of the Wainwright classes.

By the end of the war the South Eastern and Chatham Railway, which had had carried more than its fair share of the war effort, was in a good position for further development and reconstruction. The Grouping of 1923 saw the Railway amalgamated with the LBSCR and LSWR. In the new company many of the leading positions were taken up by SE&CR men under Sir Hubert Walker and thus the traditions of Ashford and Longhedge continued for many years into the Southern Railway.

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