Dover Shed


This was once a sizeable, well laid-out engine shed, situated near to the water’s edge. It formed part of the Southern Railway’s modernisation of the lines within Dover, of which the South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR) had set the ball rolling by the opening of Marine station. The SR’s plans included rebuilding Priory station, closing that of Dover Harbour, and reclaiming more land around Western Docks.

On Thursday 18th October 1923, SR officials met Dover Town Council members to discuss the company’s plans for the area’s railways. The meeting was heavily focused on the rebuilding of Priory station, on which the SR was to spend around £135,000. At this time, Priory was home to a four-track locomotive depot which dated from when the London Chatham & Dover Railway (LC&DR) first arrived in the town, in addition to a carriage shed covering an equal number of tracks. As part of the reconstruction, all of this was to go, although it had yet to be decided where the locomotives would be rehoused:

The goods station [at Priory Station], as it has been generally understood, will be transferred to where the locomotive shed is at the back of St. John’s Rd., the goods shed being on the further side, with four lines of rails in front with cart roads in between. There will also be a goods station at the Pier district on the area recently handed over to the Railway Company.

A new home for the locomotive shed that is being removed from the Priory Station will be found also at the Pier district, but the arrangements as to the exact site of this are not finally settled, and will depend on the negotiations in progress as to the land there. [The Dover Express and East Kent News, 19th October 1923]

The Pier district mentioned above referred to that area which today is associated with Western Docks, including the land sandwiched in-between the sea and the remains of Archcliffe Fort. The rebuilding of Priory station could not commence until after the completion of the new engine shed, and in December 1924 the SR submitted plans to Dover Town Council detailing their proposals:

RAILWAY COMPANY AND WESTERN BEACH ROAD. At the meeting of the Town Council on Tuesday the Surveyor reported on plans he had received from the Southern Railway Company for the new roadway which they propose to construct along Western beach. This road is to take the place of the public footpath, the site of which will be taken in by the new engine sheds that the Company intend to build there. The road will start at the level crossing opposite the Lord Warden Hotel and will continue along the beach at the high water level for 1,400ft west of Admiralty Pier. [Whitstable Times and Tankerton Press, Saturday 3rd January 1925]

At this time, the approaches to the town from the Ashford direction were constrained by the presence of Archcliffe Fort, which forced the railway down to a double-track through a 60-yard-long tunnel and only allowed a single-track connection with the Marine station. The SR decided to acquire that part of the fort which crossed the railway, in order to widen the approaches and vacate much-needed space for the proposed locomotive depot. In The Dover Express and East Kent News on Friday, 18th January 1924, the SR’s plans to purchase part of the fort were reported:

The Town Clerk said that in regard to the piece of land at the Pier proposed to be sold to the Southern Railway he was informed by the estate agents of the Company that they had heard from the Crown Surveyor confirming the terms arranged the previous day, and had written to the General Manager to the effect that arrangements had been made for part of Archcliffe Fort to be acquired by the Southern Railway Company.

In October 1925, the SR confirmed that arrangements had been completed with the military for the demolition of Archcliffe Fort, and work began a year later. It had previously been reported in the Whitstable Times and Tankerton Press on Saturday 16th May of the same year that the proposed engine shed, which would partially be built on the defunct fort’s site and that of the former Town station, would cost £190,000 (£10,920,000 at 2019 prices), and be able to house about thirty locomotives.

Removal of Archcliffe Fort was completed in mid-September 1928. Of the 75,000 tons of chalk excavated, much of this went towards filling in the viaduct which ran along the seafront to Shakespeare Tunnel. Additionally, a proportion went to Ashford for creating a yard, some to Minster for the new railway junction, and a further amount to Aylesham to construct the halt, the latter of which had opened to passenger traffic on 1st July 1928.

Track Plan: 1955

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

In 1928, construction of Dover’s then new engine shed got underway, and the work was expected to take no more than a year. In The Dover Express and East Kent News on Friday 21st September 1928, full details on the depot were reported:

IMMENSE LOCO SHED NOW BUILDING. The huge engine shed that the Southern Railway Company has planned for the site of the old Town Station at the Pier is now in progress of erection. The contract was let to Messrs. G. E. Wallis and Sons, Ltd., of Broadmead Works, Maidstone, a short time ago and last week, on the arrival of the steel work for reinforcing the concrete, the erection commenced, and excellent progress has already been made. The contract period for the erection is fifteen months, but it is expected that the work will be completed in about twelve months. This locomotive and engine cleaning shed is of very large size. It is 360ft. long by 100ft. wide, and has a height of 25ft. The building is to be entirely of ferro-concrete, including the roof, which is broken up in the form of a succession of angles with north light glazing. The site is towards the end of the old station and parallel with Archcliffe Fort. There will be five roads some 300ft. long inside the shed with ordinary pits where engines will be cleaned in the usual way. On the sea side there is another road with a large pit, where engines can be entirely dismantled and the wheels removed. Adjoining this is the boilermakers’ and fitters’ workshop, and then a series of large offices for use by enginemen and stokers, shed staff foremen and running foreman, cleaners, etc. There is sand drying apparatus and all the apparatus of an up-to-date loco shed. These shops and offices continue from the wheel dropping pit on the south side around to the eastern side. As stated, work actively started on the ferro-concrete work last week, when the first consignment of the mild steel rods and wire was delivered, but the progress made since has been very great. The wall on the southern side is being erected first in order to provide shelter from the strong south-westerly winds to enable the men to work during the winter. This wall is being made of great strength to resist the big wind pressure that often occurs at this point during southerly gales. Already several of the main columns of the wall have been erected. The shuttering in which the columns are cast is not of wood, as has been the case with ferro-concrete works in this district in the past, but is built up of iron plates which are jointed together with pins and wedges very much after the style of a boy’s meccano set. It saves a great deal of wood, and it is possible to remove the shutters from the columns only cast 24 hours before and to use them again for other columns. The works at Dover are in charge of Mr. D. Fisken for Messrs, G. E. Wallis and Son, Ltd., and Mr Bellamy, of the Southern Railway Co., who has had charge of the construction works at Dover since 1912, is looking after the interests of the Railway Company.

In addition to the loco sheds two other works are to be carried out in this area by the Company themselves, under the direction of Mr. Bellamy. These are a large turntable and a coaling station. The turntable is to be made at the eastern end of the yard in line with the locomotive shed and not far from the Lord Warden Hotel. The coaling station is already in hand, and that is being erected between the site of the turntable and the loco shed on a line that runs to the south of the loco shed. It will be a large concrete tower.

In the same newspaper on Friday 1st November 1929, it was reported that the SR’s redevelopment of the Pier district was almost complete and that the locomotive shed was scheduled to be commissioned Saturday week. The shed was formally brought into use on 9th November 1929 and, from the outset, an earlier depot at Folkestone Junction became sub to it. At the time, it was mentioned that the installation of a softener for the water stored in the engine shed was taking place. The Harbour station had been closed over two years previously, although its site had not yet been properly absorbed into the new layout, but opening of the engine shed meant that the rebuilding of Priory station could begin.

2nd July 1947

The twilight of the Southern Railway era: Maunsell "N" Class No. 1819 - with "sunshine" lettering on the tender - is depicted in front of the elevated coal stage displaying a headcode for Victoria via Chatham. Note that the track of the coal stage was upon a concrete viaduct, rather than the more common earth embankment. No. 1819 was quarter of a century old by this stage, having emerged new from Ashford Works in the final year of existence of the SE&CR Joint Managing Committee. In the background, on the right, can be seen the outline of Shakespeare Cliff. © David Glasspool Collection

Much of the shed’s early locomotive allocation comprised ex-SE&CR types which had been transferred from Priory, such as the "H" and "P" Class tank engines, the latter of which were typically deployed on the branch to the Prince of Wales Pier and Eastern Docks. Ex-SER "R1" Class tank engines were allocated for the banking duties on the Folkestone Harbour branch, but were kept at the sub-shed at Folkestone Junction. Tender locomotive types varied, belonging to L1 and D1 Classes (types associated with the Kent Coast lines right up to the end of steam), in addition to "O1" and "C" Class engines. The "C" Class in particular was used over the years to shunt stock on and off the train ferry.

Two notable locomotive classes which received Dover allocation from new were those of "Schools" (V) and "King Arthur" (N15). In March 1925, the Southern Railway put out a series of advertisements in the national press promoting the introduction of the 4-6-0 "King Arthur" engines:

91 New Engines this Summer. Twenty locomotives similar to the one above [referencing a picture of a "King Arthur" engine] are already in service on the Southern Railway. 46 more are being delivered – making 66 engines of this class in all. Ten will be allocated to the Dover and Folkestone Boat Trains – the remainder will work the fast expresses between London and Salisbury (non-stop), Exeter (one stop), Southampton (non-stop), Portsmouth (non-stop), and Bournemouth (one stop).

Construction of the 4-4-0 tender "Schools" locomotives had been authorized in 1928, primarily for use on the steeply-graded line between London and Hastings, but also to deal with the heavier carriages being introduced on the Kent Coast routes. They were procured for those routes where the "King Arthur" locomotives were deemed too large, whilst offering nearly as much power as the latter. Ten were originally ordered, but the success of the class prompted the SR to construct a second batch of twenty locomotives, followed by a third order for another ten. Of the second order, one of these locomotives was named after Dover College and, to mark the occasion, the engine was put on display at Priory station on Tuesday 28th February and Wednesday 1st March 1933.

During the war years, the Dover coastline was exposed to shelling from France and, as a result, the activity at the locomotive shed was vastly reduced, most operations transferring to Ashford. There was a skeleton staff anyway, as railway workers had been called up to the forces, and any remaining personnel often took shelter in caves near Harbour Tunnel. Ramsgate was also considered at risk to attack, which resulted in the SR moving valuable heavy repair machinery from there to other locations, some of it going as far west as Exeter.

Wartime also saw new locomotive types introduced. In February 1941, the first member of the SR’s "Merchant Navy" class – engineered by Oliver Bulleid – was completed at Eastleigh Works. The type had been developed to maintain an average speed of 60 MPH on heavy boat trains between Victoria and Dover, and eventually thirty were produced. They were followed from May 1945 onwards by the Bulleid Light Pacifics, which were essentially slightly smaller versions of the Merchant Navy class, capable of traversing those secondary routes where the latter were deemed to heavy. Although the Bulleid Pacifics were serviced at Dover Shed when coming off boat trains, none were officially allocated there from the outset. Rather, their Eastern Section allocation was split between Stewarts Lane and Ramsgate.

Under British Railways, Dover was coded "74C", officially coming under the larger depot at Ashford. By September 1955, five Bulleid Light Pacifics had received Dover allocation, these being Nos. 34070 to 34074. During the same period, two ex-LSWR "B4" Class Tank Engines, synonymous with Southampton Docks, were allocated to the shed: Nos. 30084 and 30086. The latter worked alongside the incumbent "P" Class on the promenade branch line to Eastern Docks until both types started to be phased out in the area from 1957 onwards by Class 04 diesel shunters. More motive power variation occurred in January 1959 when six Western Region Pannier Tanks received Dover allocation, followed by a sixth of the type in April 1960. These engines were drafted in to replace the elderly "R1" Tanks on Folkestone Harbour banking duties, but as a result of the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme, all had been reallocated elsewhere by the end of September 1961.

In October 1958, Dover was recoded "73H". At this time, Ashford ceased to be an "A" shed and all remaining Eastern Section motive power depots received a "73" prefix, coming under Stewarts Lane. This was the beginning of the end, for works in connection with Phase 1 of the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme were well advanced. The full electric timetable between London and Dover via Chatham came into force on 15th June 1959; that via Tonbridge and Ashford did not commence until 18th June 1962, although electric services to steam timings had begun on 12th June of the previous year. Dover shed formally closed to steam traction in 1961 and, after demolition of the structure, the former depot’s tracks were absorbed into the mass of sidings which went by the name of "Dover Town Yard".

Circa 1948 to 1950

This northward view, with the sea behind the camera, depicts ex-SE&CR "D1" Class No. 31492 on the turntable, which was situated at the eastern extremity of the engine shed site. The engine’s tender still displayed "Southern" in upper case "sunshine" lettering; even its then new BR-assigned number was painted on in the same style, which dates the picture to some time between 1948 and 1950. A section of the main building of the former Dover Town station, which closed to passengers in October 1914, is evident in the right background. © David Glasspool Collection

17th November 1957

This view of "O1" Class 0-6-0 No. 31434 shows, in the background, wagons upon the elevated coal stage. No. 31434 was displaying the shed's "74C" code plate; the engine was still allocated to the shed in 1959, by which time it had been re-coded 73H. On the right is a "C" Class, a type used to shunt wagons on and off the train ferry, whilst on the left is the bunker of either a Fairburn or Stanier 2-6-4 Tank. © David Glasspool Collection


Two filthy "N" Class Moguls - a staple of Dover's allocation - are seen alongside an equally dirty "C" Class No. 31693, the latter of which was a Hither Green engine. Part of the shed's ridge-and-furrow roof, which had lost most of its glazing, is in view, and to the right of it is a hoist which spanned the entrance to the repair shed and a short siding. The buildings seen behind No. 31693, upon the chalk ridge, are those of Archcliffe Fort. The fresh chalk face indicates where 75,000 tons of limestone was removed to widen the course of the railway. The buildings on the very top of the hill were army barracks. © David Glasspool Collection