Northfleet

 

This modest station has had an interesting and varied history. It was opened by the SER with the whole North Kent Line between London and Strood on 30th July 1849, comprising a standard layout of two staggered platforms and a single-road goods shed. Like its counterparts at Dartford and Greenhithe, the station was graced with an imposing two-storey high brick-built main building, this of which was located on the ''down'' side, although the structures at all three locations were very much different in design. Northfleet's main building could fairly accurately be described as a small version of that still in existence at Greenwich, even though it predates the latter by some twenty-nine years. The SER was still constructing solid buildings at the time, most of the stations along the original North Kent Line via Blackheath and Woolwich being beneficiaries, although Strood is notable as being clapboard from the outset (the company's own through station opening in 1856). It would seem that later on in the same century, Northfleet was to join the league of the timber stations when, in 1891, its main building was demolished and replaced by a standard SER economical wooden affair on the opposite (eastern) side of the subway entrance. The reasons for the company doing away with the original building so soon are not obvious, but there are perhaps a couple of clues. It would seem that on post-1891 maps, an additional siding spurs off from the goods shed (located on the ''down'' side, just beyond the station building) that at least passes over part of the site of the original 1849-opened structure. However, demolition of a large building to accommodate a single siding would seem extreme, thus it is likely that there are other factors at play here. The clapboard structure appears to be in a prime position where two roads culminate, these leading straight to its entrance (still according to period maps), compounded by the fact that the timber building's façade is not facing directly towards the frontages of the houses opposite - the pre-1891 building would have done. In conclusion, later developments may have indicated that a repositioning of the main building was more convenient and desirable - both to the railway company and local residents - therefore demolishing the whole lot and installing a clapboard structure was the cheapest way of doing it. Worthy of note is the fact that the SER's later wooden building at Northfleet was assembled by means of a tongue-and-groove system, rather than the earlier trademark clapboard arrangement (the latter of which had overlapping, sloping wooden planks).

 

A signal box and an ''up'' side waiting shelter both appeared around the time of the station rebuilding, the pair again of timber construction. The signal box controlled the goods sidings at the site, in addition to the section of line through the station up until its eastern and western limits, where the boxes at Gravesend and Greenhithe took over respectively. Although the station did not perhaps have the grandeur image since its rebuilding, there were, however, benefits for those passengers waiting on the ''up'' platform, the clapboard shelter providing far more protection from the elements than its smaller predecessor ever did. Large canopies emanated from both the main building and waiting shelter, which had semi-circular shaped cross sections, nicely finished off with the quintessential SER patterned valances.

 

The first electrics arrived on the scene on 6th July 1930 with the extension of third rail from Dartford to Gravesend, and for this the station received concrete platform lengthening. Trains beyond Gravesend remained steam hauled, until electrification reached both Maidstone West and Gillingham on 2nd July 1939. Nevertheless, goods traffic at Northfleet was still steam-hauled and throughout ensuing Summers, beyond Nationalisation and into the late 1950s, Kent Coast excursions would steam through with holidaymakers. The classic spectacle of such steam-hauled traffic on the route was virtually killed off with the electrification of the ''Chatham'' route on 15th June 1959, but ex-SE&CR freight engine types continued to handle the local goods traffic until the Type 3 diesels (Class 33) began arriving at Hither Green in considerable numbers, from 1960 onwards. General modernisation to the timber buildings themselves came in the mid-1960s, with the removal of the ornate SER-style canopies in favour of much simpler, plainer types (the valances of which were identical to those installed at Gravesend the previous decade). Layout rationalisation began on 9th September 1968 with the closure of goods facilities, followed in 1971 by the signal box on 14th March of that year - all signal boxes along the route were being superseded by the then new ''Dartford Panel'' (although Greenhithe's had disappeared some six years earlier).

 

Despite the closures, there were new arrivals. The 14th December 1970 marked the official opening of a then new cement sidings complex for the Portland Cement Company (trading name ''Blue Circle''). Gypsum would be delivered here by rail, usually from Mountfield or Theale, for the cement making process. Rather than an additional rail venture for Portland Cement, it was basically a transfer of its rail operations from nearby Greenhithe, all completed cement being despatched by rail from Northfleet instead. The new sidings were located adjacent to the station's ''up'' platform, although by the time this area was reached, the lines had already descended steadily below the rail level of the North Kent Line (as the pictures on the following page will show). The main line embankment beyond the east end of the platforms was dug out and a bridge installed; this allowed a second, lower track bed to be created. Therefore, aggregate / coal trains could descend the slope on the ''up'' side (although facing east) and when low enough, pass back under the North Kent Line. Now on the ''down'' side, the lines fanned out into three distinct loops: 1) Aggregate unloading; 2) Coal unloading; 3) Cement loading. By October 1987 these trains were still handled almost exclusively by Class 33s, now under the guise of the TrainLoad Construction Business Sector. This operation continued until 1993, when cement deliveries were transferred to the road, the last such train running on 19th March of that year.

 

Now returning to the station itself. The substantial ''up'' side waiting shelter disappeared in 1970 as a result of the aforementioned cement sidings opening up - the building was situated on land that was being dug up. Therefore, it probably spent a maximum of half a decade wearing its renewed canopy valances. Despite this, the main ''down'' side building was left standing, but even this would see rationalisation, with chimney stacks being removed and a few windows being boarded up by the turn of the 1990s. Since privatisation, all windows have been boarded up and this important piece of SER architecture looks a little forlorn - it raises questions concerning how long it will remain until the bulldozers move in. Hopefully it has a long future ahead of it.

 


 

Northfleet

The station looks of vintage character, but the oldest structure in this 10th May 2004 view is actually

the subway entrance, with its distinct curved roof over the stairwell. The original brick building of 1849

stood the opposite side of the subway entrance. David Glasspool

 


 

Northfleet

A few windows had been boarded up since the mid-1980s, this remaining the situation for many

years, but in recent times every window has since been covered, both in light of the building's limited

opening hours and frequent vandalism. It is seen on 10th May 2004. David Glasspool

 


 

An eastward view on 31st May 2006 reveals the new coats of paint received by the platform

lamp posts and subway roof. The cosmetic work, undertaken in 2005, also included the provision

of new station name boards and a waiting shelter on the ''up'' platform. David Glasspool

 


 

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