Martin Mill

Fierce rivals for two decades, co-operation in the form of the "Dover & Deal Joint Railway" was a sign of things to come for South Eastern (SER) and London Chatham & Dover Railway (LC&DR) companies. A Joint Committee was set up by an Act of Parliament dated 30th June 1874 to lay an 8½-mile-long line between the SER’s terminus at Deal and the LC&DR’s Dover Priory station. The first sod of the line was turned by the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Earl Granville, in May 1878, but the double-track route did not open to traffic until 15th June 1881. At its southern end, it joined the LC&DR's main line 73-chains north of Priory station, at Buckland Junction. The works also included laying a double-track spur at Dover Harbour, linking the SER's line from Ashford with that of the LC&DR's, so the trains of the former had direct access to the Deal route; this connection became known as the "Hawkesbury Street Curve".

Two intermediate stations came into use on the route, Walmer and Martin Mill, and it is the latter which will be dealt with here. Indeed, for the purpose of this section, it will be assumed that the "up" side (London-bound) is in terms of the SER line via Minster and Ashford. Martin Mill resided 95-miles 5-chains from Charing Cross, via Ashford and Canterbury (West), and was a fusion of the architectural efforts of both SER and LC&DR companies. The main building, situated on the "down" side of the running lines, was an attractive single-storey affair, 80-feet in length. It featured orange-arched window openings – distinctively LC&DR in style and hinting at that company's later station rebuilds at Faversham and Chatham – set within yellow brickwork, and had a slated hipped roof. Both platforms were hosts to canopies with semi-circular cross-sections, sporting the trademark SER clover-patterned valance. Each extended for little over 100-feet, and canopies of identical design can still be seen at Paddock Wood. The "up" side canopy was supported at its rear by a retaining wall of yellow brick construction, within which could be found a good-sized waiting room. Like the "down" side building this, too, had a hipped slated roof. The subway entrances were also typically SER, comprising stairwells walled on three sides, protected by a curved roof supported upon ten stanchions. Notable surviving examples of the latter include those at Northfleet and Bexley.

A goods yard was in evidence here from the outset, positioned east of the running lines, at the Dover end of the "down" platform. A single trailing connection was made with the "down" line, and the yard originally split into three sidings. The yard’s arrangement is better illustrated in the below diagram, although it is worth noting that a goods shed was present. The latter accommodated a single track, which passed straight through, and both were situated at about thirty degrees to the running lines. Immediately adjacent to the goods yard was "Martin Windmill", the station’s namesake, which generated corn traffic for the railway. Another outward traffic here was cattle from neighbouring fields, and for this a series of pens were in use in the goods yard. The layout was controlled from a cabin built by signalling contractor "Stevens & Sons"; this all-timber structure came into use beyond the Dover end of the "up" platform, and the same contractor also provided a similar signal box at nearby Walmer.

Near the turn of the century, the British Admiralty proposed a new Naval Harbour at Dover. "S. Pearson & Son", founded in 1856, was eager to be awarded the contract and began preparing its bid even before the government invited tenders. W. D. Pearson, who became a partner in the firm in 1879 and, by December 1894, was the sole partner, was also a Member of Parliament. This conflict of interests prevented the firm from carrying out government contracts, thus on the Admiralty’s advice, it was converted into a Limited Company in October 1897. The Dover Harbour building contract was subsequently awarded to S. Pearson & Son on 5th April of the following year and construction was expected to take ten years. So, what has this to do with Martin Mill? To deliver the required ballast to the site, the company laid a four-mile-long single-track standard-gauge line to the top of East Cliff, Dover, making a connection with the SER/LC&DR line at Martin Mill. Much of this ballast was used to fill up that part of the harbour eventually used for the SE&CR’s Dover Marine station, and this land reclamation formed a second contract which the company was also awarded in 1909. The harbour was formally completed in November 1909, but the entire contractor’s line remained in situ until World War I. In 1917, work commenced on lifting the southern-most part of the line, but the track at Martin Mill was retained. This was finally removed for scrap in 1937, a decision reversed three years later when the line was re-laid for military purposes during World War II. From 1940 onwards, rail-mounted guns traversed the former industrial line, and a series of goods sidings were laid beside the branch's junction with the SR line, on the southern side of the running lines. Ordnance Survey maps dated 1958 show the branch railway as dismantled.

Under the Southern Railway, signalling economies were enacted at numerous pre-Grouping stations where traffic was deemed to be comparatively light. In the main, these included closing signal boxes and, in their place, installing lever frames upon platforms, which would be operated by the station porter/ticket clerk. Martin Mill’s signal box went out of use in October 1934, its functions being transferred to the main "down" side station building. Here, a lever frame was installed within the booking office, and a bay window added to the platform-facing elevation of the building, affording the ticket clerk a limited view of the layout. More severe economies were left to British Railways; in September 1961, goods traffic at the station ceased, but prior to this, by at least 1958, the goods shed had already been demolished. Some of the sidings here found a new use as storage for Pullman Camping Coaches; two of these vehicles arrived in 1954, and a third was brought to the site in 1960. By 1977, the goods yard site had completely disappeared underneath residential development.

As part of "Phase 2" of the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme, the platforms were lengthened at their Dover ends by 150-feet using prefabricated concrete components. Scheduled electric working over ex-SER lines to the Kent Coast commenced on 12th June 1961, although the full-accelerated timetable did not come into use until 18th June of the following year. Thereafter, Martin Mill led a peaceful existence upon an electrified secondary route between two main lines. Change, however, was to occur in the 1980s, when the SER-designed canopies were demolished. The "up" side canopy was completely lost, as was the large brick-built waiting room on this platform – only a cut-down section of wall was retained. On the "down" side, the canopy was shortened to 45-feet and now used just four of the eight original stanchions of 1881. In spite of partial retention of "down" side cover, the SER canopy was eliminated and, in its place, a corrugated metal valance installed. Finally, the distinctive curved roofs of the subway entrances were replaced by plain downward-sloping types.

In February 1998, a general re-signalling of the lines around Dover Priory commenced, stretching to Folkestone (East) in the west, Shepherds Well to the north, and Deal to the east. Part of this scheme involved abolition of semaphore signals at Martin Mill and Walmer, with decommissioning of the lever frame at the former and the installation of colour aspect lights. On 12th April 1998, Martin Mill’s lever frame ceased to be used, control being assumed by the SR "glasshouse" signal box at Deal.

Click the above for a larger version © David Glasspool

23rd March 2011

A Minster-bound view shows the surviving main station building of the "down" side, sporting a rationalised, truncated platform canopy and a series of windows behind metal security grills. That aside, the brickwork and slate hipped roof looked in good order. Note the ornate iron railings lining the rears of each platform, which date back to the route's earliest years. The wall on the left, just beyond the railings, is the remains of the "up" side platform buildings, whilst in front of this was a then recently installed waiting shelter. © David Glasspool

23rd March 2011

The main building was mostly inspired by existing SER architecture, but the orange arches around the windows do have a LC&DR flavour, not unlike the rebuilds that company undertook at Faversham, Chatham, and Bromley (South) stations. Note the postbox inset to the wall; the station building once hosted a Post Office, which required additional window bars on a proportion of the structure for security. © David Glasspool