Canterbury 'A' and 'B' Junctions

Now in the distant past, these junctions once provided access to a ½-mile-long stretch of line, located on Canterbury’s western outskirts, which opened and closed no less than three times during its existence. Formerly linking two main lines to the Kent Coast that were built by erstwhile rival companies, on all occasions the spur’s opening was an emergency measure. In its final incarnation, the spur's purpose was to permit trains to run between Faversham and Thanet via Canterbury West.

In February 1918, huge dock facilities and several miles of railway sidings were brought into use at what became known as "Richborough Port", on the northern outskirts of Sandwich at the estuary of the River Stour. In the Locomotive Railway Carriage and Wagon Review (1919), it was reported that train ferries commenced between Richborough and Calais and Dunkirk, and between Southampton and Dieppe, on 4th February 1918 (other sources suggest 10th February). Richborough Port had been commissioned solely for the war effort, being fed by a branch line connecting with the South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR) between Minster and Sandwich.

To enable goods and military trains running via Faversham to reach Richborough Port without having to take a circuitous trip by means of the Kearsney Loop in Dover, a link was commissioned between the two main lines serving Canterbury, near the point where they crossed each other on the city’s western periphery. An inclined embankment was formed roughly parallel with the Ashford to Canterbury West route, on the northern side of the running lines. Upon it was laid a double-track, linking the tracks of Canterbury East and West routes, and this formally opened to traffic on 5th May 1918 (ref: The Railway Magazine, May and June 1946).

Canterbury "A" Junction was where the spur joined the Faversham to Dover main line, whilst "B" Junction was where a connection was made with the Ashford to Ramsgate line. The connection initially had a short operational existence: in the May and June 1946 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was reported that the line was taken out of use in November 1920, at which time the signalling apparatus was removed from the signal boxes. In 1924, the signals were taken up and, in 1935, the track lifted. The same source remarks that, in 1940, the War Department requested the loop’s reinstatement, and a single-track was brought into use on the site of the previous connection on 2nd March of the following year. The line was only to be used for military purposes — in this case, moving rail-mounted super-heavy batteries between sites in East Kent — and was funded and owned by the Government.

In autumn 1951, the spur‘s connections with the main lines at either end were dismantled; however, reinstatement was not far off. On the night of 31st January 1953, a combination of strong winds and high tides caused severe flooding along the East Coast of England, which resulted in extensive damage to Eastern and Southern Regions of British Railways. The line between Faversham and Birchington-on-Sea was breached in multiple places — damage was particularly extensive in-between the latter and Herne Bay. Trains running from London to Ramsgate via Whitstable were diverted at Faversham by means of a circuitous route over the Kearsney Loop and through Deal. This journey was shortened considerably when, on 23rd February 1953, the spur between Canterbury "A" and "B" Junctions was reopened for emergency use, the main lines from Ashford to Ramsgate and Faversham to Dover being linked once again. The spur was this time laid and signalled as a double-track, with working over the usual route via Whitstable scheduled to resume on 1st June 1953 (ref: The Railway Magazine, May 1953).

In the November 1955 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was remarked that the spur between Canterbury "A" and "B" Junctions — in addition to their associated signal boxes — was still in existence. The facing crossover on the Ashford to Ramsgate line at "B" Junction, dating back to when the spur was originally single track, was locked and out of use at that time. When the signal box at "B" Junction was closed for periods, the "up" home signal on the Ramsgate to Ashford line was controlled from Canterbury West.

In the June 1969 edition of the Railway Correspondence & Travel Society's The Railway Observer magazine, it was stated that the track of the connecting spur between Canterbury "A" and "B" Junctions was lifted during electrification works and a substation built on part of the formation. Additionally, the same publication notes that the signal box at "A" Junction was in the process of being demolished in April 1969.

Canterbury "A" and "B" Junctions: 1953

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

19th April 1953

Schools Class 4-4-0 No. 30922 "Marlborough" is seen ascending the connecting spur between Canterbury "A" and "B" Junctions with the 2:02 PM Birchington-on-Sea to Victoria service, during the period of diversions necessitated as a result of flood damage to the permanent way in the Whitstable area. Canterbury "B" Junction is beyond the rear of the train, Canterbury West is under half a mile further still, and the double-track in the foreground is the main line between Ashford and Ramsgate. The signal boxes at both junctions were based on the design that can still be seen in evidence at Aylesford. © David Glasspool Collection