Located in-between Canterbury East and Dover Priory, 8-miles 37-chains northwest of the latter, there is little to inspire the railway historian at Aylesham. One of the much later openings on the "Chatham" main line between London and the Kent Coast, today’s station is a legacy from the early British Rail "modern era", where low-cost prefabricated station buildings were the order of the day. Indeed, today’s structures themselves did not replace anything of architectural beauty at Aylesham, and the standardised system of construction used — CLASP (Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme) — has a firm place in British railway history, in spite of aesthetics.
The earliest reference your author can find to a proposed station at Aylesham is in the 22nd October 1926 edition of The Dover Express and East Kent News. In this publication it was remarked that the Southern Railway (SR) was considering the closure of Snowdown Halt and Adisham stations, and replacing them with a new set of platforms in-between the two at Aylesham. At the latter, construction of 600 houses for colliery workers from the Kent coalfields had begun in the September (ref: The Dover Express and East Kent News, 1st October 1926). Concerns were raised that colliery workers living in Dover, bound for the pits at Snowdown, would have a mile to walk to and from a station at Aylesham.
In early 1928, construction of a railway halt at Aylesham commenced:
RAILWAY SIDING. As reported last week, preparations for a Halt for the Aylesham inhabitants, are being made by the Southern Railway. Some 500 tons of chalk have been deposited on either side of the rails at this point during the past week. It is probable that the Halt will be of the same style as Snowdown Halt. We understand that tenders will shortly be invited for the main sewerage scheme. [The Dover Express and East Kent News, 2nd March 1928]
The chalk mentioned in the above extract came from the demolition of Archcliffe Fort, Dover, which was completed in September 1928 after nearly two years’ work (ref: The Dover Express and East Kent News, 21st September 1928). This formed part of the SR’s modernisation of the Dover area, involving a rebuilt Priory station, closure of the platforms at Harbour, and a new engine shed. Prefabricated concrete components were used for the construction of two platforms; one of these was nearly complete by June 1928, and a set of wooden steps leading to the "up" platform had been laid by that time (ref: The Dover Express and East Kent News, 15th June 1928).
On Sunday, 1st July 1928, Aylesham Halt was opened for passenger, parcels, and cloak room traffic. The first train that served the halt was scheduled to depart Dover Priory at 5:30 AM, and the last service returning there left Aylesham at 9.48 PM on weekdays, with a special service on Saturdays. On Sundays, departures from Dover were at 8:23 AM, 2:15 PM, 7:28 PM and 9:02 PM for Aylesham (ref: Kentish Express and Ashford News, 7th July 1928). In May of the following year, it was announced that Messrs. Smith & Son were opening a book stall at Aylesham Halt, which was to be worked under the management of their Dover Priory branch (ref: The Dover Express and East Kent News, 24th May 1929).
In the October 1958 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was remarked that each platform had a hut at its entrance (at the southern end of the layout; these structures were akin to timber waiting shelters with wraparound sides) serving as a booking office, and a brick-built waiting shelter. The latter were substantial structures for this site; period photographs show them to be the size of a small house with a pitched roof. The same publication noted that there were no sidings in evidence at the site; Ordnance Survey editions from the late 1930s show a trio of sidings on the western side of the halt, but evidently these had gone by 1958. The platforms were linked by a road bridge beyond the southern ends of the platforms.
Aylesham Halt was reported to be a busy station. In addition to colliery traffic, a small clothing factory existed on the "down" side, which brought passenger traffic to the site. Saturdays at the station were noted as being particularly busy, when miners and their families took the train to do their weekend shopping and enjoy Canterbury and Dover (ref: The Railway Magazine, October 1958)
In 1958, the platforms were lengthened at both ends using prefabricated concrete components as part of Phase I of the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme. These extensions were equipped with concrete bracket lampposts supporting electric lighting, complete with hexagonal lampshades. The full accelerated electric timetable between London and the Kent Coast via Chatham commenced on 15th June 1959.
As of the start of British Rail’s (BR) summer timetable on 5th May 1969, the "halt" suffix was dropped from station names nationwide (ref: RCTS’ The Railway Observer, June 1969); consequently, Aylesham Halt became plain "Aylesham". Around this time the existing buildings upon the platforms were flattened and, in their place, prefabricated single-storey CLASP structures were erected. The ticket office was situated on the "up" side and the opportunity was taken at the time of the rebuilding to link the platforms with a simple concrete footbridge with metal railings.
In about 1989, the "down" side CLASP waiting shelter at Aylesham was demolished and replaced by a bus shelter-style glazed structure. On 27th August 1996, a scheme to smarten up the station commenced, which involved painting the buildings and cutting back vegetation, with help from a volunteer group associated with Kent County Council and Aylesham Community Centre (ref: The Railway Magazine, November 1996).
The London end of the “up” platform can be seen in this southward view, which depicts Class 47 No. 47477 heading an InterCity CrossCountry service that had originated from Dover Western Docks and was likely bound for Liverpool Lime Street.
© David Glasspool Collection
12th February 2005
A northward view is dominated by the simple concrete footbridge that was erected at the time of the station’s rebuilding into the CLASP modular system. The “down” CLASP waiting shelter was no more, having been replaced by the glazed structure just visible on the right, behind the footbridge.
© David Glasspool