St Mary Cray

 

The station opened with the through route to Victoria on 3rd December 1860 and whilst it incorporated some typical LC&DR features, its layout did differ from its counterparts further east along the line. Beginning with the familiars first, the main building here replicated that which appeared at Farningham Road, but on this occasion was positioned on the ‘’down’’ side, the latter station demonstrating the reverse of this. Interestingly, whereas Farningham Road’s structure, among many others, was given an all-over white paint scheme, St Mary Cray’s building instead retained the less common untreated brick surface. The ‘’up’’ side was host to the customary timber waiting shelter, this being of the exact same design as those examples still in existence at both Sole Street and Adisham. The platform arrangement here was, however, unusual for a LC&DR station, it instead harking back to the SER’s preferred formation of staggered faces. These were linked at their ends by a track foot crossing, a footbridge not arriving for nearly three and a half decades later. Two signal boxes were provided here, at either end of the layout and to the LC&DR’s own in-house design. That at the London end of the layout was situated on the ‘’up’’ side and positioned about 400 foot from the end of the corresponding platform, whilst the ‘’country’’ end cabin was located alongside the entrance tracks of the goods yard. Goods provision here was more than adequate for a small intermediate station in near isolation, surrounded by greenery: the yard was situated on the ‘’down’’ side, to the west of the station building and was actually built on land lower than the running lines which, from the platforms, gave the single-track goods shed a ‘’stumpy’’ appearance. Nevertheless, it was built to the same pitched-roof design and dimensions as those examples seen at the likes of Sole Street and Adisham. The opening of Swanley was delayed for a number of weeks, thus branch trains from the Bat & Ball line made their main line connections at St Mary Cray.

Under Southern Railway ownership there were some big changes ahead for this station, and its LC&DR charm was to disappear as it became subject to comprehensive modernisation. The original company had provided a covered lattice footbridge in 1894, but comparatively speaking, its existence was to be short lived. In 1935, the SR initiated a rebuilding programme, which resulted in the demolition of all original structures excepting the goods shed. By this time, St Mary Cray as an area was seeing considerable housing development and expansion, no doubt instigated by the electrification, which allowed commuters to live further out from London as a result of reduced journey times. A new ‘’high level’’ station entrance was established on the ‘’up’’ side, fed by one of the then recently completed residential roads, situated on former woodland. The design of this entrance was typical of SR architecture of the era and its general shape can best be likened to the ‘’glasshouse’’ signal box which still exists at Deal – of course, the latter is somewhat smaller. Access to the station was still possible from the ‘’down’’ side, although a more modest, single-storey flat-roofed brick structure was provided. A replacement footbridge arrived, of riveted steel construction and replicating the example which is still in existence at Swanley. The platforms also received brick-built waiting facilities and new canopies: these were upward sloping, virtually the same as those still present at Albany Park. The SR’s architecture could perhaps be considered clinical at this stage – it certainly did not reflect the grandeur the company had demonstrated in the 1920s at both Margate and Ramsgate stations. Although much bygone charm and character at St Mary Cray was lost, the station did at least see a welcome modernisation in the form of illumination: gas lighting was replaced by electric lamps. Rebuilding was completed in 1936.

It has already been mentioned that the goods shed was the only structure to survive the rebuilding; even the signal boxes did not last. Cabin ‘’B’’ was rebuilt, but cabin ‘‘A’’ had closed permanently in October 1926. The existing goods sidings were marginally rearranged and on the ‘’up’’ side, some additional and decidedly lengthy sidings were installed. This was done at great expense and used considerable amounts of manpower, for it required the mass accumulation of earth to build up the southern embankment to accommodate the extra tracks. The then recent housing development had resulted in a boom in the local demand for coal, hence the sudden siding provision.

Swanley had acquired a wholly new station in 1939 in conjunction with the Gillingham electrification; it had been built on an alternate site, therefore not even the platforms were reused. A similar situation would occur at St Mary Cray under British Railways auspices, but at least the same site would be retained. As part of the Kent Coast Electrification (Phase 1), the decision was taken to extend the quadruple track from Bickley, through to Swanley. The latter station was readily adaptable to this arrangement; it had originally been built with four platform faces, two of which served loops, therefore no major works were required here. However, St Mary Cray was still principally a small, two-platform station, despite the 1936 modernisation. It is worth mentioning the nature of the terrain at this point: the ‘’up’’ platform was located within a cutting, but the land contours here changed dramatically when the ‘’down’’ platform was reached, which gave the interesting spectacle of the goods yard and sidings being in an elevated position. The new layout planned here was not too dissimilar to that which was at Swanley, two concrete-built islands being a feature, these hosting brick-built waiting facilities. The canopies had a distinct ‘’V’’ shape, but their design was not unique to this station, examples being destined to appear at Chatham during the same period. A significant feature of the then new St Mary Cray layout was the entrance: this followed the favoured LC&DR practice of suspending the main building across the tracks. No road bridge actually existed across the tracks at this time, thus a dedicated walkway was instead erected and a square-plan elevated station structure built immediately adjacent to it. Building work began in late 1957, which included the widening of the cutting to accept four tracks and the additional platform faces. The nine-arch St Mary Cray Viaduct, east of the station, also required extending, which involved the excavation of 500,000 tons of soil. The northern of the island platforms was commissioned to accept ''down'' stopping workings on 17th August 1958, whilst the southern island served ''up'' services from 31st of the same month. Interestingly, the original LC&DR goods shed survived this second rebuilding and continued in use until such facilities were withdrawn in October 1968. The tracks were lifted, but the shed building was left standing – it subsequently went into private use and still stands today.

Since rebuilding there have been the obvious and customary changes to features such as name boards and lampposts, but there has been one structural alteration. The walkway which flanks either side of the station building was built as an enclosed passage. However, in the mid-1990s the roofing, glazing and brickwork were removed, thus leaving the station’s walkway approaches exposed to the elements.
 


 

A westward view on 19th April 2006 reveals the 1959 station building straddling the tracks and

in front of it, the walkway linking the structure with either side of the cutting. The walkway was

formerly enclosed. David Glasspool

 


 

An earlier view from 27th February 2004 reveals the canopies and platform structures, all of which

now look somewhat forlorn and in desperate need of sprucing up. David Glasspool

 


 

The station has a distinctive appearance, especially when viewed looking eastwards, as in this

scene from 19th April 2006. The platforms are spacious and four reversible faces are provided,

even though most trains do not stop here. David Glasspool

 


 

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