Lullingstone

This is the station that never was. In 1935, the Southern Railway (SR) identified Lullingstone, two miles south of Swanley, as a potential site for a civil aviation airport to serve the capital. The project had been given momentum on 6th January of that year by the commencement of scheduled electric trains to Sevenoaks, which were capable of providing fast services for airline passengers to and from London. The cost of the undertaking was considered by the SR’s Board as being too great for the organisation to bear itself and, being a railway company, they felt it was not for them to develop an airport. However, in February 1936 it was revealed that the Government had taken an interest in the scheme:

Lullingstone Airport

Government Interested

The Government’s interest in the proposed civil airport at Lullingstone, Eynsford, was revealed in answers to questions asked in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

“It is clear that the future air traffic of the Metropolis will necessitate the provision of another land airport and accordingly negotiations are now in train for the purchase of an area of sufficient size at Lullingstone, Kent,” the Under Secretary for Air (Captain Balfour) told the House after outlining the proposed activities at Heston, Croydon, and Fairlop.

An airport for London at Lullingstone was visualised a year ago by the board of the Southern Railway, which, however, eventually decided the cost of such an enterprise should be borne by the Government. A railway station will be built at Lullingstone and will be connected with London by a fast service of electric trains.

About 400 acres of land is involved, it is understood. [Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 3rd February 1936]

At that time, the country’s primary airport for international travel was Croydon, which had become increasingly congested through the growth of air travel. This was to the extent that, in 1938, British Airways had announced a possible relocation of its headquarters to Heston Aerodrome, Middlesex, in the future. Heston had opened as a private aerodrome in 1929, but its purchase by the Air Ministry was completed in November 1937 for it to be developed into another international airport alongside incumbent Croydon, Lullingstone, and Fairlop. The latter was an airfield located in Essex, near Ilford, owned by the Crown and subsequently purchased by the Corporation of London on 5th April 1938. Fairlop and Heston were planned by the Government as being "super-standard" airports, the largest serving London, whilst those at Croydon and Lullingstone were termed "standard". By summer 1936, surveys of the proposed airport site at Lullingstone had already been made:

New Airport Project

A new civil airport for London is in prospect. Surveys have been carried out on the proposed site on the borders of the capital at Lullingstone, between Swanley Junction and Eynsford, Kent, and plans have been prepared. The district is one of Kent’s beauty spots. The land originally belonged to Sir Oliver Hart Dyke, who in 1833 sold over 5,000 acres of his estate, retaining Lullingstone Castle and 200 acres surrounding it. The site for the proposed airport has been selected because it is near the junction of the Southern Railway’s East Kent line and the Sevenoaks branch and will thus have two frequent services, one of them electric, to London. Another reason is that the site is only eight miles away from the Dartford end of what will be the Purfleet-Dartford Road tunnel, under the Thames, work upon which is to start soon. [The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, Wednesday, 19th August 1936]

The prospect of an airport at Lullingstone became even more likely with the 1937 announcement by "Imperial Airways" (British Overseas Airways Corporation's [BOAC] predecessor) that they had plans to move their operations to there from Croydon:

Imperial Airways

Probable Move From Croydon

Imperial Airways are likely to move from Croydon to a new airport at Lullingstone, Kent.

This was stated yesterday by Mr. Woods Humphery, managing director of Imperial Airways, before a House of Commons Select Committee.

Mr. Woods Humphery said that Lullingstone would be served by rail, and special trains would probably be run from the private platform attached to the proposed new building.

The aerodrome is now under construction between Swanley Junction and Eynsford, and has the backing of the Southern Railway.

The railway communication makes it ideal for both Continental and inland air services, being only 30 minutes distant from Charing Cross by fast train.

Mr. Woods-Humphery thought that the site of the new South Coast aerodrome would be Langstone Harbour, Portsmouth. [Yorkshire Observer, Thursday, 18th March 1937]

Whilst the above article remarks that the construction of the aerodrome at Lullingstone had commenced, this was presumably referring to the railway station; your author is not aware of any works having ever occurred on the airfield itself. The SR's station site was between Swanley and Eynsford, at milepost 19½ from Victoria, intended to serve both the proposed Lullingstone Airport and a housing estate which had been promoted in conjunction with it. To the north of the site was the 825-yard-long Eynsford Tunnel; to the south, on the "up" side of the running lines, was a concrete substation built for the Sevenoaks electrification. The proposed airport site was that of the fields on the western side of the railway.

The SR built two platforms of prefabricated concrete construction – components of which were supplied by the company's works at Exmouth Junction, Devon – either side of the double-track. Single-storey brown-brick offices were evident on either platform, these of which were protected by upward-sloping canopies of a standard SR design, and a footbridge linked both surfaces. As alluded to in the Imperial Airways article above, the station was ultimately planned to have additional platforms dedicated to airport traffic, but these were never built. The opening of the station was proposed for 30th April 1939, but newspapers of the time reported that this was not to be:

The Southern Railway announces that the opening of Lullingstone Station (between Swanley and Eynsford) to serve the Lullingstone Airport, announced for April 30, is “unavoidably postponed.” [Daily News, London, Wednesday, 26th April 1939]

The annoucement came four months before the outbreak of World War II, and work on the airport and residential development had not got beyond the survey stage.

In the closing stages of World War II, an airport at Lullingstone was still being considered, but now as part of a larger scheme for creating ten, rather than the initial four, commercial airfields to serve the capital. The original four proposed airports were still in the running, but the former RAF base at Heathrow had now been selecred as the capital's primary civil aviation base, and Gatwick had also been brought into the fold:

Post-War Civil Flying

Heathrow Trans-Ocean Airport Proposal

In the report prepared by Professor Abercrombie, on behalf of the Standing Conference of London Regional Planning, a ring of 10 airports round London is envisaged — a large trans-ocean airport at Heathrow, and the others at Heston, Bovingdon, Hatfield, Matching, Fairlop, Lullingstone, West Malling, Gatwick and Croydon. [The Middlesex Chronicle, Saturday, 13th January 1945]

Heathrow Airport was scheduled to open on 1st July 1946 at a cost of £25,000,000, but it came into use a month earlier, on 31st May, with a single runway and tents for passenger accommodation. The Lullingstone proposals, bar the railway station, had still not left the drawing board and, by the end of the decade, it was clear that the scheme had been completely dropped:

Wanted, For Up-To-Date Station: Trains That Stop And People To Board Them

More than 100 trains a day roar into the station at Lullingstone, Kent, on the Victoria-Sevenoaks line. But they roar straight out again, without stopping. For Lullingstone is the station that went ahead too fast.

It was built in 1939 to serve what was to be a great new housing estate on the fringe of London Airport. The airport was given to Heathrow, and the housing scheme fell through.

But there the station was – concrete building, two booking-offices, parquet-floored waiting-rooms, and all. It was the pride of Southern Railway’s heart.

Weeds nearly shoulder-high grow along the sweeping station road that has never seen a passenger. On the other side of the line, the station approach leads into rolling fields.

Rust is thick on the levers in the signal box. They are pulled only by children who break into the station to smash glass and wrench doors open.

A teapot without a lid stands beside the fireplace in one booking-office.

British Railways say: “There are no plans for the future of Lullingstone station. It seems likely that trains will never stop there.”

The children came to that conclusion years ago. On the boards that were to have carried the name of the station they have chalked “GHOSTLAND.” [Daily Mirror, Monday, 10th January 1949]

The derelict station stood until 1955, when demolition works began. All structures bar the concrete platform surfaces were removed; the framework of the canopies was stored and subsequently reused at Canterbury East in late 1958, replacing that station's overall roof.


14th December 2006

This northward view reveals that both prefabricated concrete platform surfaces remain intact, although some of the edging has since disappeared. A signal post now occupies part of what would have been the ''up'' platform. Eynsford Tunnel is in the distance, and the field which was to accommodate the area's version of Heathrow Airport is beyond the vegetation on the left. © David Glasspool


14th December 2006

A southward view reveals the ends of the platforms and, in the distance, Eynsford substation, the latter of which is virtually identical to that still in evidence at Chelsfield. The absence of platform edging is evident here. © David Glasspool


14th December 2006

A feature which can also still be seen is the former entrance to the footbridge. It is located on the ''down'' side of the line, above the platforms - the station is in a cutting by this point. In the background is the field which was earmarked for the international airport. The distances of Heathrow and the proposed Lullingstone Airport from Central London are similar: 14 miles and 17 miles out respectively as the crow flies. © David Glasspool