The "East Kent Railway" was formed on 4th August 1853 to link Faversham with London, with a later extension to Dover also on the cards. The independent concern's first railway line opened on 25th January 1858, between Faversham and Chatham, via Sittingbourne. At the time the SER was far from concerned about this potential threat to its traffic: the company was waiting for the East Kent Railway to go bankrupt. The East Kent's original plans were to join with the SER's North Kent Line at Strood, but the latter made the case that its line was already running at full capacity. As a result, the East Kent railway received Parliamentary approval to follow a new route to the capital, thus continued to expand both westwards and eastwards, reaching Bromley in the west in 1860, and the historic City of Canterbury in the east in the same year.
The SER was the first on the scene in Canterbury, having opened its Canterbury (SER) station on 6th February 1846 on an extension from its main Dover trunk line at Ashford; this was extended to Margate on 1st December 1846. The SER established an impressive station area comprising of two platforms, separated by four tracks (as at Tonbridge and Paddock Wood), with an imposing columned station building, augmented with two separate overall roofs (pitched-roof design) covering the platforms and their associated tracks. The East Kent Railway, which by 1860 had become the London Chatham & Dover Railway, had a much smaller affair. On 9th July 1860 the company opened its own Canterbury (LCDR) station to the south of the city which, although originally a terminus, was provided with just two platform faces, presumably in anticipation of through running. Services to Dover subsequently commenced on 22nd July of the following year. The main station building here was positioned on the Dover-bound platform and would appear to represent an early example of LC&DR architecture. Today, its style is unique, but when through running had begun in 1861, it was less of a novelty. The pre-quadrupling Bromley (LCDR) had a structure based on the same style, as did the pre-SR Dover Priory. In-between these stations the smaller, standardised designs still seen at the likes of Sole Street and Adisham, were pursued. Despite being one of the LC&DR’s earlier efforts, Canterbury East’s structure does demonstrate some features readily comparable with the company’s later products. First and foremost are the large, orange-brick arched windows which, at Canterbury, only appear on the ground floor of the building’s approach road elevation. This perfectly semi-circular design was subsequently implemented at the Chatham, Bickley, Bromley, and Faversham rebuilds, whilst slight variations were made on those window frames along the Maidstone East and Bat & Ball routes. A prominent feature installed at the LC&DR’s Canterbury from the outset was a pitched-roof trainshed. This was a common characteristic on both LC&DR and SER networks, but such structures tended to create the problem of smoke-clogged platforms. The designs employed were also quite basic and plain, a far cry from those trainsheds found gracing the London terminals.
The goods facilities established here eventually grew to quite an impressive size. On the "down" side, to the east of the station building, was situated the main yard, comprising of four eastward-facing sidings. The most northern one of these served an individual "dock" platform, wholly separate from the station, whilst another served the goods shed. The shed here was approximately twice the length of the examples found at other intermediate stations on the same route, but it should be noted that no line actually ran into it; instead, a canopy was extended out over the adjacent track, on the structure’s southern elevation. Goods facilities were augmented by the provision of further sidings on the "up" side: about half a dozen lines were accommodated, half of which passed behind the platform – one track served an adjacent warehouse. A single-track engine shed also used to be a feature of the "up" side, complete with turntable, at the western end of the layout, which most probably dated from when the station was originally a terminus. It is likely that this building was dispensed with around the turn of the century, with its feeding line being absorbed into the goods accommodation. The closure of the shed still saw the retention of a water column at the eastern end of the "down" platform, allowing Dover-bound services to "top-up" before continuing onto the coast (this facility was also provided at Chatham).
With the formation of the SE&CR in 1899, the LC&DR and SER stations became "Canterbury East" and "Canterbury West" respectively. This was despite the fact that the pair were actually located north and south of the city, rather than west and east. The suffixes, however, became harmonious with Canterbury South station, which had opened with the Elham Valley Line on 1st July 1889. About a decade after the SE&CR’s creation, the "East" station acquired a decidedly imposing feature at the eastern end of its "down" platform. This was a 28-lever timber-built signal box elevated on steel stilts, which probably replaced a small ground frame. Its height was greater than that of the main station building, this being necessary for the signalman to afford a clear view of the layout, over the trainshed roof.
As part of the Kent Coast Electrification works, the station's platforms were lengthened at their Faversham ends with prefabricated concrete in 1958, and at the same time the overall roof was taken down. The latter was replaced by standard upward-slanting platform canopies, comprising austere corrugated metal valances, which had been recovered from Lullingstone, between Swanley and Eynsford. Station construction at Lullingstone had started in 1937, in response to proposals for London's main airport to be based there, in addition to new housing development. However, the intervention of World War II and the subsequent decision to convert the existing Royal Air Force base at Heathrow to handle civilian aviation saw the scheme go no further, and demolition of the incomplete station at Lullingstone commenced in 1955.
Additional electrification works included remodelling of the goods yard site on the "down" side to incorporate a passing loop in-between the sidings and running lines. This would allow slow trains to be moved out of the way of non-stop Dover boat services. Goods traffic at the "East" station remained in a large form until 1965, its withdrawal coming on 15th June of that year when freight handling was transferred to Canterbury West. The yard’s sidings were not formally decommissioned, however, until 15th April 1969. Except one siding to the east of the "up" platform, all tracks on this side were taken out of use on 17th July 1972, and despite the electrification of 1959, the Faversham to Dover section of the "Chatham" line remained controlled by semaphore signals.
On 3rd May 1971, the former goods shed became a parcels depot, but after the removal of its adjacent sidings in 1969, the track bed between this building and the platforms had been in-filled to the height of the latter. This required parcels conveyed by rail to be unloaded on the main running platforms and then taken over to the shed. At least this secured the future of the building. During a station refurbishment, which commenced in 1988, the corrugated metal canopy valances from Lullingstone were replaced with much more pleasing intricate types, akin to Victorian design. This aside, the station today more or less remains in its 1969 form.
The signal is showing "clear", and L1 Class No. 31757 is ready for the off, Dover-bound. In the background can just be seen the outlines of wagons in the goods yard. Note the simple signal gantry, which was later replaced by a larger structure, as seen in subsequent photographs. As of September 1955, No. 31757 was allocated to the shed at Ashford and was still there in 1959.
© David Glasspool Collection
The signal box was built to such a height to allow the signalman to see the whole station layout, beyond the overall roof. Note the still extant "down" side loop, access to which was controlled by the semaphore arm on the left. This had originally been a dead-end siding of the goods yard, with a trailing connection with the "down" line, but was converted into a loop at the time of electrification.
© David Glasspool Collection