Swanscombe

 

This was one of a number of later wooden platform halts opened by the SE&CR after 1900. ''Swanscombe Halt'' came into use concurrent with nearby ''Stone Crossing Halt'' on 2nd November 1908. They both generally served those communities built up around the paper mills and extensive Portland Cement works, which occupied the south bank of the Thames from Stone through to Northfleet. Existing services along the line generally did not stop at these halts; instead, a ''railmotor'' service was inaugurated, this being a steam locomotive and single carriage sharing a common underframe. These services were run in competition with the expanding tram networks - that tramway from Woolwich ran right through to Dartford, terminating at Horns Cross (Stone). The Gravesend tram network was reached by an eastward trek for approximately a mile, no physical connection between the respective rails ever being made. The halt remained until 1930, when the Southern Railway built a new station from prefabricated concrete (which the company manufactured itself) 840 yards to the east of the original, opening on 6th July of that year. This coincided with the extension of third rail from Dartford and the commencement of electric services to Gravesend. The arrangement at the halt was interesting: rather than the provision of an independent footbridge to link the two platforms, the initiative was instead taken to utilise the adjacent road bridge as a walkway. Flights of steps were carved into the hillsides and as the pictures will reveal, it seems almost like a footbridge was sawn in half and each side used on either platform to complete the descent down from the street. The concept of utilising the high street bridge would naturally be more economical, the company not having to install an additional footbridge. Waiting accommodation here was also generous, a substantial timber shelter being provided on each platform, complete with canopy - these were unlike the SER's clapboard structures, the wooden planks on the former laying flush on the frame, whilst those on the latter overlapped (hence ''clapboard'' or ''weatherboard'').

 

For many years this station remained largely unchanged and unlike its predecessor, it was never built with a refuge siding spurring off the ''down'' line; this was in light of its, comparatively speaking, remoteness from the cement works. It became just plain ''Swanscombe'' in May 1969 and was served only by slow trains stopping at all stations - the aforementioned railmotor service had disappeared decades ago, back in the days of the SE&CR. Whereas those shelters at nearby Stone Crossing became concrete, those at Swanscombe remained wooden and over the years fell into a state of disrepair, not helped by vandalism. These 1930-built structures were replaced circa 1995, sadly by much more inferior accommodation - the dreaded bus shelters.

 

The aforementioned halt is without doubt the least important aspect of Swanscombe's railway history. The first rails came in 1825 when one James Frost opened the country's first cement manufacturing plant in Swanscombe, producing the logically-named ''British Cement''. Here, a 3ft 5½ inch gauge system appeared, which linked the works adjacent to London Road with the quarries and Thames jetties. For the early years of this railway's existence, horses were used to haul wagons, these of which had a rather unique feature: outside wheel flanges. Interestingly, this system originated from the use of the aforementioned animal haulage, a gap on the outer sides of the rail posing no risk to the hooves of a horse negotiating the track. On new years day 1837, the cement works came under the auspices of John Blazey White & Sons, whom began modernisation of the domestic railway system. This would include the procurement of new motive power in the form of narrow gauge steam locomotives, again with outside wheel flanges for compatibility with the existing track work. The operation was then taken over by the Portland Cement Company in 1900, whom had established a similar factory at Greenhithe in the previous year - by this time, J. B. White & Sons works were producing Keene’s Plaster, Frost’s Cement and Roman Cement. The Swanscombe cement operation became the most extensive in the North Kent area and in 1928, four 0-4-0 saddle tank locomotives were delivered from Hawthorne Leslie, followed by a fifth the next year, then a sixth in 1935. These deliveries coincided with the conversion from narrow to Standard Gauge, this being completed in its entirety by 1929.

 

The saddle tanks were reliable and powerful engines, such their success that a sixth of the type arrived in 1948, although its builder was instead the now amalgamated ''Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns''. Their existence initially came under threat in the early 1960s when a diesel locomotive was experimented on site in view of replacing steam, but it was discovered that it was not suitable for the heavy loads involved, nor for negotiating the appalling track work of the chalk pits. The dawn of the diesels was thus put-off - only for the time being, however. The saddle tanks finally had their swansong in 1971, when diesels assumed command of the pits, but at least four of the engines were saved for preservation. Rail operation in the pits continued until chalk excavation was exhausted in 1982 - a single-line connection with the North Kent Line had been in place since conversion to Standard Gauge in 1929.

 


 

Swanscombe

Class 465 No. 465173 is seen taking the curve to the east of the station on a Charing Cross service

on 14th February 2005, wearing ''anti-surf'' buffer beam covers. It was forming part of an eight-car

train, with No. 465030 attached to the rear. David Glasspool

 


 

Swanscombe

Sunnier weather on 10th June 2004 as the entrance to the ''down'' platform is viewed from

the ''up'' side. No footbridge or track crossing is provided here, the road bridge instead being

used to link the two platforms. David Glasspool

 


 

Swanscombe

Milepost 21¼ from the capital is in evidence here as we take a look at the arrangement, looking

in the Dartford direction. The road bridge (or, rather, viaduct) seen at the end of the platforms

is the only means of conveyance between them - no subway, footbridge or level crossing is

provided here. This is the scene on 14th February 2005. David Glasspool

 


 

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