Dover Harbour

Despite having closed to passengers as long ago as 1927, this is a site which has fared the test of time surprisingly well, particularly given much later rationalisation schemes which were enacted on the area. Any Dover commuter, perhaps with not even a passing interest in railways, surely cannot help but notice the elongated masonry structure situated just over ½-mile south of Priory station. Separated from the latter by the 684-yard-long Harbour Tunnel, in recent years various artifacts have adorned the building, making its past railway connections all the more conspicuous. Still demonstrating distinctive railway architecture of a bygone era, the structure forms the remains of the erstwhile Dover Harbour station.

Naturally, given its strategic position on the English Channel, Dover quickly developed a complex array of railways after the opening of the first line from London via Redhill, Tonbridge, and Ashford, in 1844. Indeed, the port town possessed a fine maze of lines, serving a healthy domestic and continental traffic, far beyond the heyday of steam, these of which were only pruned to the bare bones on the advent of the Channel Tunnel. Dover's comprehensive railway network has a history associated with the opening and closing, at various times, of multiple stations within a mile radius. Today, just one of these remains open to passenger traffic, that of Dover Priory, but - as already hinted - remnants of some economic casualties are easy to come by.

The South Eastern Railway (SER) began through running between London Bridge and Dover via Reigate Junction (Redhill) and Tonbridge on 7th February 1844. The line covered 89 route miles and, at the Dover end, terminated at a large station comprising six covered tracks. The terminus was located along the seafront, upon a site immediately adjacent to the "Lord Warden Hotel" (still extant today), and was served by a double-track line which approached from the west. The line's course was at the foot of the famous White Cliffs, exposed to the ravages of the sea, and between Folkestone and Dover passed through three substantial tunnels: Martello (636-yards); Abbotscliff (1937-yards); and Shakespeare (1393-yards) [Source: Bradshaw's illustrated Guide to Switzerland and the Tyrol, 1857]. On the throat of the SER's terminus, there was a much smaller fourth tunnel, about 60-yards long, which took the railway underneath Archcliffe Fort (more of later).

An agreement between the Admiralty and SER allowed the latter to extend beyond its Dover terminus onto "Admiralty Pier" in 1861. The extension was single track, connected to the rails already laid by the Admiralty, and brought trains right alongside steamer services to the continent. The SER's monopoly of Dover railway traffic was, however, on the cusp of ending.

The East Kent Railway opened its first section of line between Faversham and Chatham to public traffic on 25th January 1858. Three and a half years later, after being renamed the "London, Chatham & Dover Railway", the company had a fully operational main line between London (Victoria) and Dover. The line terminated at Dover Town station, which had opened to public traffic with the extension from Canterbury on 22nd July 1861. The station was renamed "Dover Priory" in July 1863, the suffix deriving from the ruins of nearby St Martin's Priory, which today forms the grounds of Dover College. Dover Priory was nowhere near the water's edge, but the boring of a tunnel through the chalk of the North Downs allowed the LC&DR to bring its line in sight of the sea. The aforementioned "Harbour Tunnel", 684-yards in length and south of Priory station, was brought into use with a short extension to a new station by the name of "Dover Harbour", commissioned on 1st November 1861. There is an entry in Clinker's Register of Closed Passenger Station and Goods Depots (1980) that suggests the first Dover Harbour was a temporary station, which disappeared from timetables in June 1863 and was replaced by the site described in this section of the website.

The SER's terminus which, confusingly, gained the suffix "Town" in December 1861, was no architectural masterpiece. Designed by Lewis Cubitt, who had earlier created the facade of the company's Bricklayers Arms station, it was a somewhat plain neighbour of the immediately adjacent Lord Warden Hotel, which opened in 1851. The hotel was designed by Samuel Beazley, who was already known for his work on the SER, notably the station buildings along the 1849-opened North Kent Line. As a result, bar the hotel, the LC&DR did not have a difficult act to follow. The company's engineer, Joseph Cubitt, assisted by architect John Taylor of Parliament Street, London, designed an elaborate station, a worthy southern terminus of a main line from the capital. Two platforms came into use, these being separated by three tracks covered by a pitched roof trainshed of 230-foot length and 50-foot width. Trainsheds of this design were similarly erected by the LC&DR at nearby Dover Priory, Canterbury, and Sittingbourne stations. The trainsheds were not works of art in their own right, comprising a simple light iron framework. The Station Master was provided with a house, standard at the time, which was described as being at "the Up end of the Down platform" (Board of Trade Railway Department Incident Report. 10th November 1877). The main building at Dover Harbour was constructed on the western side of the station, and it was described in the Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Volume Twenty-Fifth, 1862 as follows:

The general effect is that of great breadth and solidity; the Patent Facing Blocks being 14-inches by 6-inches, of a white brick or terra-cotta material, forming what may not inaptly be termed brick masonry. Colour is introduced by horizontal yellow bands and moulded brown stoneware drip bands, producing a novel and quaint effect, and affording..... a most important protection.

The light-coloured masonry was decorated with arched window frames lined with orange brick, which became a design trait of the LC&DR. At the southern end of the main building emerged a sizable tower of the same construction, hosting four clock faces, the design of which was not unlike those chimneys which came into use at contemporary sewage works (e.g. the Victorian plant beside the approaches to London Victoria). Mr T. R. Crampton was the building contractor and was also involved in the construction of the company's line from Strood to Dover via Faversham, from the latter to Herne Bay, and the line from Swanley to Sevenoaks.

As mentioned previously, the SER started running trains onto Admiralty Pier in 1861. Although the LC&DR opened Dover Harbour station in the same year, it was not until 30th August 1864 that the company extended services onto the pier after the commissioning of a short single-track spur. The single line which headed south from Dover Harbour was a continuation of the track which served the station's "down" platform, the end of which was trimmed to accommodate the curvature of the rails. Until this stage, the southern wall of the station had comprised three sets of large double wooden doors, roughly lined up with the three tracks. Presumably, the double doors behind the "down" platform line were taken out to permit the Admiralty Pier extension. Points at the southern end of the station, within the train shed, ensured that the line to Admiralty Pier was accessible from all three tracks sandwiched in-between the platforms.

All trains first stopped at Dover Harbour station before proceeding onto the pier - there was no non-stop running between the latter and Dover Priory. The connection to the pier passed over two level crossings: those of Hawkesbury Street and Crosswall. The former was immediately south of the station; the latter another 40-yards on. A condition of allowing the LC&DR to extend down to Admiralty Pier was that the company had to fund an alternative route for road traffic of all descriptions - at a cost of up to £50,000 - allowing vehicles to avoid Crosswall Level Crossing when it was closed for the passage of trains.

The Railway Magazine, Volume II: January to June 1898:

It so happens, however, that when Parliament allowed the Chatham Company to extend their main line over this crossing to the Admiralty Pier in 1864, the Company, at a cost between £40,000 and £50,000, were called upon to provide an alternative road which should enable conveyances of all descriptions to avoid the level crossing during the time it had to be closed for the passage of trains. This alternative road was made, and is still in existence; but, as the level crossing offers a shorter and slightly easier route, the former is comparatively little used.

The station's first signal box was located at the northern end of the "up" platform. As was common practice at the time, pointsmen were employed at the site to manually change points by levers situated immediately adjacent to them. In a report by the Board of Trade Railway Department dated 10th November 1877, it was noted how antiquated the signalling at the Harbour station was, even for such an early year:

There is, however, no interlocking of points and signals, and the only down signal for the protection of this station is a distant signal in the tunnel between the Priory and Harbour stations. The traffic is worked on the block system, but the instruments used are only bells; and the signalmen have nothing to help them, except the register books, to remember if they have or have not a train on the line.

The LC&DR wasted little time heeding the Board of Trade's notes, for in an issue of The Railway Times dated 28th September 1878, it was reported that signalling upgrades were being made at both Sittingbourne and Dover Harbour, including the provision of a new 60-lever signal box at the latter:

London Chatham and Dover - We learn that this company are now having the Sittingbourne station provided with interlocking points and signals. The apparatus is being fixed.

Interlocking apparatus has recently been fitted at the Farningham-road and Adisham stations. This system is also about to be adopted at Dover Harbour station, which has been supplied with a box containing sixty levers.

Freight facilities at the site included a "Goods Department" office located upon the northern end of the "down" platform. In-between the station and Harbour Tunnel, on the "up" side of the line, existed a single siding, which connected to the "up" line by a set of trailing points. This was known as "Lion Siding" and was used to store wagons. A large goods shed did later come into use beside the extension of 1864 to Admiralty Pier, and was situated in-between the latter and Crosswall Level Crossing.

Briefly turning the clock back; in 1862 the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway (Deal Extension) Act was passed. This granted the LC&DR the powers to construct a railway from the Parish of River in Dover, to Deal, the latter where the line would join the SER's branch from Minster. £200,000 of capital was authorised; £150,000 in shares, the rest in loans. The scheme was taken no further, only to re-emerge in 1874 as a joint project with the rival SER. A new Act of Parliament was passed on 30th June of that year, but it was not until 1878 that the South Eastern and London, Chatham, and Dover (Dover and Deal) Joint Committee put out tenders for construction. The tender for building the line, double-track and 8½-miles in length, was published in The Railway Times, where it was noted that submissions from interested parties were to be received no later than Tuesday 21st May 1878.

As part of the Dover & Deal Joint Railway scheme, a double-track curve was authorised to link SER and LC&DR main lines at Dover Harbour. Just 350-yards long, this left the SER line in-between Archcliffe Fort Tunnel and Dover Town station, and joined LC&DR metals immediately south of that company's Harbour station. At the latter, it formed a junction with the line to Admiralty Pier. The then new link line became known as the "Hawkesbury Street Curve" and the connections with SER and LC&DR lines were called "Archcliffe Junction" and "Hawkesbury Street Junction" respectively. Since the curve bypassed the SER's Town station, a set of platforms were commissioned upon it to compensate.

The Hawkesbury Street Curve came into use with the Dover & Deal Joint Line on 15th June 1881. It passed through a dense residential area, of which properties had to be acquired for demolition, and gave rise to another series of level crossings and two footbridges. At the southern end of Dover Harbour station, the retaining was was completely abolished and all tracks were brought out beyond the trainshed. At Hawkesbury Street Junction, where a level crossing was retained across the tracks, a timber signal box was commissioned by independent signalling contractors "Stevens & Sons". Positioned south of the trainshed, in-between the terminating "up" platform line and the continuation of the centre track to the Hawkesbury Street Curve, the signal box was essentially a much larger version of the cabin which can still be seen today at Grain Crossing.

In an edition of The Railway Magazine from 1898, as part of an interview with the Secretary of the LC&DR, it was noted that infrastructure improvements were to get underway at the Port of Dover. The French had enlarged the Port of Calais, after pressure from the LC&DR, to accept the larger steam ships which passengers desired. As a result, the Dover Harbour Board, backed by the LC&DR, was authorised by Parliament to make similar improvements on the British side of the Channel. As part of these works, the closure of Dover Harbour station was proposed, as was the removal of Crosswall Level Crossing. Instead, LC&DR continental trains would run non-stop through Priory and, with the trains of the SER, serve a new set of covered platforms upon piers on the eastern side of Admiralty Pier.

The Railway Magazine, Volume II: January to June 1898:

As soon as the new Commercial Harbour has been made ready for the use of vessels trading to the port, the steamers which daily run to Calais and to Ostend will no longer embark their passengers at Admiralty Pier, but alongside piers which are to be carried out from the "apron" at present forming a stone protection to the foreshore on the easterly side of the Admiralty Pier. These new piers will provide sufficient quayage to enable four of the largest Channel steamers to lie alongside at the same moment.

The boat trains of the Chatham, as well as those of the South Eastern Company, will run straight on to the piers, and passengers will embark and disembark under shelter, so that no discomfort will be experienced during wet weather. Dover Harbour Station will then be abolished, and, if Parliament grant the powers which the Company are seeking in the Bill introduced this session, the boat trains of the Chatham Company will thenceforth run through Dover without stopping until they stand at the new pier platforms immediately opposite which the steamers will arrive and depart with their passengers.

The existing Crosswall level crossing near Dover Harbour Station will be permanently closed, and the running of the Chatham boat expresses in and out of Dover will thus be appreciably benefited.

The part where it is noted that "passengers will embark and disembark under shelter" was referring to what eventually became Dover Marine station. Construction of this terminus, which was palatial by comparison to its predecessors, did not start until 1913. In the interim years, until Dover Marine station was built, a proposal by the Harbour Board was made to link the SE&CR's rails with the "Prince of Wales Pier". With reference to the latter, this was to facilitate berthing of ocean liners in the harbour, and construction commenced in 1892. The pier's design was the work of Messrs. Coode, Son, & Matthews, and construction was subcontracted to Sir John Jackson Limited. On 20th July 1893, a memorial stone was laid at the pier's construction site by the Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VII in January 1901.

The Prince of Wales Pier took a decade to build and cost £600,000. The structure's extent was 973-yards and comprised an iron viaduct, which allowed tidal waters to pass through. On Friday 1st July 1904, the pier was used for the first time to moor one of the Hamburg-American ocean liners, and in readiness for boat traffic, a single track line was commissioned from Dover Harbour station.

Concrete and Constructional Engineering, Volume 8, 1913:

In 1904 the first passenger train traversed the Prince of Wales Pier and its approach railway on January 27th, and in the same year the landing stage upon the eastern side of the Prince of Wales Pier was subsequently used...

This was a standard gauge line, no more than ¼-mile long from the SE&CR's metals to the start of the pier, and ran onto the latter for its full length. The line had a connection with the central track running through the Harbour station, accessible only to trains running in a northward direction. Noteworthy was the fact that the line to the pier passed through the "down" platform of the station, which required a section of the surface to be placed upon wheels. When a train needed to enter or exit the pier branch, this platform section was wheeled out of the way. Between Harbour station and the pier, the single-track passed over an electrically-powered swing bridge which crossed a lock separating Wellington Dock and Tidal Basin.

A notable closure during the war years was the SER's Dover Town station, enacted as an economy measure. It saw its last trains on 14th October 1914 and, although the closure was initially intended to be temporary, the station never reopened. Construction of Dover Marine station was completed in November 1918, the war years having delayed the works. Since January 1915, the incomplete Marine station site had been used by the military. In spite of the fall of Dover Town and the advent of Dover Marine, the Harbour station seemingly refused to die, in spite of the closure proposals at the end of the previous century. The Grouping of 1923 arrived before the Joint Managing Committee of the SE&CR could bring the Harbour station's demise, and so it was left to the Southern Railway (SR) to complete modernisation of the port's lines.

In 1924, the War Office sold a section of the obsolete "Archcliffe Fort" to the SR, which crossed the line on the approaches to the former Town station. The SR demolished this part of the fort to widen the approaches to the Marine station from the Folkestone direction. This also provided the necessary space for a marshalling yard and six-track engine shed, located partially on the site of the closed Town station. The engine shed replaced the existing motive power depot at Priory, the station of which was rebuilt at the same time with an Art Deco main building and standard canopies. The "down" platform of the closed Town station was retained and, at its western end, a signal box was built to control Archcliffe Junction. This cabin was built to the SR's own design, although clearly leaned on those earlier Saxby & Farmer builds, and similar examples came into use at Priory and Ramsgate.

The end for Dover Harbour station came on 10th July 1927, when it saw its last passengers. Afterwards, the trainshed roof was quickly taken down, the clock tower reduced in height and, on part of the former site of the "down" platform, a new signal box commissioned to control Hawkesbury Street Junction, replacing that opened in 1881. Both the main buildings of the closed Town and Harbour stations lingered on, the former eventually becoming a warehouse.

Site Layout: 1955

After closure, the tracks at the southern end of the station were curved on a new alignment away from the former platform edge. Goods sidings, one of which dated from the station's earliest years, were retained to the west of the running lines and main building. A hole was made in the former station's retaining wall on the eastern side of the tracks to accommodate Hawkesbury Junction signal box.


This northward view, which includes an "N" Class trailing a freight on those tracks that lead to the train ferry dock and the Marine station, shows Hawkesbury Street Junction in the foreground. The imposing buildings of the former LC&DR Dover Harbour station are on the left and are little changed in appearance today. Behind the semaphore signal gantry, to the right, is Hawkesbury Street Junction signal box, which was commissioned by the Southern Railway in May 1934. It was a larger version of the signal box which had earlier opened at Priory station in 1930. The single-track line to the Prince of Wales Pier, which eventually extended all the way to Eastern Docks, can just be seen veering to the right from the centre track, in line with the signal box. This line officially closed on 31st December 1964 and those rails which ran along the promenade to Eastern Docks swiftly disappeared. Conductor rails are in evidence; a full electric passenger timetable from Victoria via Chatham came into use on 15th June 1959, the route via Ashford following on 18th June 1962. Note in the foreground, on the left, the pole carrying overhead wires, which were used to power the E5000 electric locomotives when operating in sidings. The three large structures on top of the cliff, on the right, were part of the disused "St Martin's Battery". The huge building at the foot of the cliff, in the background, was originally an oil cake factory. © David Glasspool Collection


This southward view from about 1975, taken from a train rounding Hawkesbury Street Curve, shows those sidings used for marshalling wagons connected with the train ferry. A Class 09 shunter is in evidence, possibly No. 09013. The double-track lines on the right led to the Marine station, these passing over a level crossing adjacent to "Southern House" (formerly the "Lord Warden Hotel") before reaching the platforms. The lengthy enclosed footbridge in the background, with an upper white half and lower turquoise half, linked Marine station with a Car Clearance Shed, and was erected as part of Phase 1 of the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme. © David Glasspool Collection

1st May 1976

The former station building is viewed from "Hastings" DEMU No. 1034, which was operating the "Sunny South Express" rail tour. This tour started and ended at Charing Cross via the North Kent Line, Canterbury East, Dover, Eastbourne, Chichester, and London Victoria. The three unelectrified tracks on the right led to the train ferry dock. © David Glasspool Collection

12th September 1991

At the time of this photograph, every window on the road-facing elevation of the main building had either been fully or partially bricked up. The five cranes in the background were sandwiched in-between Strond Street and Granville Dock; they were sold for scrap in the late 1990s after the lines to Dover Western Docks closed, to make way for a lorry park. © David Glasspool Collection

17th May 2020

A southward view from the clifftop shows two Class 375 units forming the 13:40 Charing Cross to Deal service, as they pass the remains of the former Dover Harbour station. The main booking office was located within that part of the building which has the highest pitched roof section, a red lorry being parked in front of it. At the far end of the structure, adjacent to the former clock tower, is that part of the building which once housed the Station Master's office. To the right of the first carriage of the train is the former site of part of the original station building which was demolished after closure, this housing a second booking office and a waiting room for First Class ticket holders. On the opposite side of the tracks, a large section of the original retaining wall, which used to be connected to the main building by the trainshed, still exists - that part comprising red brick are the remains of the rear retaining wall of Hawkesbury Street Junction signal box, which closed on 12th April 1998 after the Folkestone Panel took control of the area. The former main station building has multiple uses now, including housing a shipping company, a gym, and being a concert venue. Note that, compared to the view from 1991, that part of the former station building nearest the camera, which lacks a roof, has seen a replacement wall built, in sympathy with the original masonry. © David Glasspool