In 1964 there were four stations within two miles of each other which carried the "Folkestone" name. Since then, this number has halved, the town being left with two rather degraded sites along a half-mile stretch of line. Nevertheless, Folkestone has a rich railway history and, in spite of the economies made to long-standing infrastructure since the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme, the opening of the Channel Tunnel terminal at Cheriton in 1994 hailed a new railway chapter for the town.
Passenger services between London Bridge and Tonbridge via Reigate Junction (Redhill) were initiated by the South Eastern Railway (SER) on 26th May 1842. This was followed by an eastward extension to Headcorn on 31st August 1842, and scheduled passenger services to Ashford commenced on 1st December of the same year. A push towards the Channel ports saw the opening of the line through to Folkestone on 28th June 1843, albeit the route initially terminating at a temporary station. The proposed site for a permanent station lied about ¾-mile to the east, but in order for the railway to reach it, a nineteen-arch viaduct, towering up to 100-feet, had to be constructed as part of the extension to Dover.
ENGINEER'S REPORT [The Railway Times, Saturday 18th November 1843]
The railway having been opened to the temporary station at Folkestone since the 28th of June last, and all contracts and accounts relative to the entire line up to the great viaduct at Folkestone having been adjusted and closed, it only remains to report on the state and progress of that portion of the line and works from the temporary station at Folkestone to Dover.
The viaduct at Folkestone was completed last Monday, and the rails are now laid over it.
The permanent station at Folkestone is also completed, and will be opened to the public in the course of a few days from this time depending on the making up a slip in the embankment between the viaduct and the station, and which slip, although it has been in existence for more than two years, could not be made up till the Martello tunnel was completed; as the material with which it has to be made good is of necessity taken from the Warren cutting, which is beyond or on the Dover side of that tunnel.
The slip is however very nearly made up, and as before stated (with fine weather) a very few days will see it completed, and the trains running from and to the new station which being on the level of the ground, the platforms covered in, and the station buildings, pay offices, etc fitted up with every convenience for the comfort of travellers, will be found a great contrast to the very imperfect accommodations to which the public have been (although unavoidably) so long obliged to submit at the temporary station.
The permanent Folkestone station came into use to scheduled public services on 18th December 1843, and the extension to Dover followed shortly, on 7th February 1844, giving an end-to-end distance of 87-route-miles. Parliamentary Sessions and publications of the period vary with reference to the station’s name; some refer to it as “Folkstone” (note the missing “e”), whilst others use the more familiar “Folkestone”. In Mogg's South Eastern or London & Dover Railway Guide, July 1843, the station was described as "a principal one, distant from London 81½ miles, from Dover 5½ miles, from Canterbury 17¼ miles, from Boulogne 30 miles".
The layout of the site was typical of that used by the SER at many stations, most notably comprising two staggered platform faces situated either side of the double-track main line. The arrangement included a track foot crossing over the rails; to the southwest of this was situated the London-bound platform; to the northeast, the coast-bound. A layout of this form meant that when passengers crossed the rails on the level, they always passed behind a train parked beside a platform, as opposed to passing in front, the latter of which increased the risk of being struck.
The station structures were unassuming: each platform was host to a single-storey building of red brick construction, with elements of timber paneling, comprising a hipped slated roof and sash-style windows. The canopies erected on each platform were of generous proportions, extending beyond the main part of the station buildings to which they were attached. The canopies were not built to the intricate clover-patterned design which was later associated with the SER (such as those which still exist at Maidstone West, for example); rather, they were somewhat plain pitched-roof structures, arguably smaller versions of the trainshed roofs which were built by the same company at Canterbury, albeit only covering the extent of the platform surface and not the adjacent track. Effort, however, was made to provide some style, and a spiked valance frescoed that side of each canopy which ran parallel with the platform edges.
The evolution of the track plan at the site is complicated and it would be impossible for your author to describe the multitude of changes, particularly since the advent of the nearby Harbour branch. The basic layout from the outset comprised the two running lines and, on the northern side of these, west of the coast-bound station structures, the goods yard. The yard was host to about four sidings, in addition to a very sturdy brick-built goods shed that was similar in size – albeit plainer – to that which survives today at Wateringbury. Another common feature of stations in the earliest years was a track which crossed the main running lines at right-angles, within the gap in-between the staggered platforms. This fed small rolling stock turntables on either side of the main line. The turntable on the northern side of the running lines served four short sidings; that to the south fed a double-track carriage shed, perpendicular to the main station structures, which probably dated from when Folkestone was a terminus. At the Dover end of the layout, on the southern side of the running lines, existed a single-track brick-built engine shed, which was also likely to be of 1843 origin and is better dealt with in the section here.
The Folkestone Harbour branch came into use for passenger traffic on 1st January 1849. The line was double-track throughout its 1,325-yard-length, with a ruling gradient of 1 in 30, and from the outset only ever had an indirect connection with the main line. With reference to the latter, this was made through a trio of exchange sidings located northeast of the station site, on the "up" side of the running lines, beside the approach to Martello Tunnel. To acknowledge the presence of the branch line, the station was renamed from “Folkestone” to “Folkestone Junction” in 1852, and coal sidings – flanking a line of coke ovens – were laid in the fork between diverging main and Harbour lines.
Ordnance Survey maps cannot always be relied upon for pin-point accurate representations of station layouts for a given year, but they at least provide an approximate indicator to show when things changed. By the 1898 Edition, a factory had been constructed on land immediately south of the Harbour branch exchange sidings, which had previously formed a pleasure area by the name of “Tivoli Gardens”. This was referred to as a “canning manufactory”, a depot where cooked food was sealed into jars and cans, and the operation was afforded a single-track connection with the SER stemming from the aforementioned Harbour branch sidings. By that year, the coke ovens in the fork of the junction had disappeared, the coal sidings realigned, and the carriage shed on the “up” side, perpendicular to the running lines, abolished. However, the diminutive rolling stock turntables either side of the running lines remained, as did the track which linked them.
Track Plan: 1961
Click the above for a larger version
© Drawn by David Glasspool
Rebuilt Battle of Britain Class No. 34089 "602 Squadron" is seen arriving beside the "down" platform with an express from Victoria via Orpington, Tonbridge, and Ashford. To the left is ex-GWR Pannier Tank No. 4626, which had been allocated to the South Eastern Division in January 1959 with five (later six) classmates to take over Folkestone Harbour branch banking duties from ex-SER "R1" Class engines. Perhaps No. 34089 was heading to the exchange sidings with the Harbour line, with No. 4626 waiting to couple to the end of the train to take it down the branch. The rather unlovely luggage bridge had a short working life of just five years. Behind the Pannier Tank can be seen the earlier lattice footbridge which linked the platforms at the site of the track foot crossing, whilst behind this, to the left, can just be seen the triangular canopy of the "up" side.
© David Glasspool Collection
A filthy BR Standard 2-6-4 Tank is seen arriving bunker-first from the Ashford direction in a scene showing the station's transition from the steam to electric era, conductor rails already being in place. The prefabricated concrete extension of the "down" platform is evident on the right, complete with concrete bracket posts supporting electric lighting, but still awaiting a name board. On the left, it is evident that concrete bracket posts had also been erected on the "up" platform, but these had yet to receive fittings and were standing in tandem with the Southern Railway's Swan Neck gas lamps. Also evident on this platform were structures of clapboard and tongue-and-groove timber construction, with the SER's trademark sash-style windows. The sign showing "2" and "4" indicated that trains comprising this number of vehicles were to stop at that point along the platform; beyond can just be seen a "6" and "8" sign and finally, for the longest train formations, a "10" and "12" sign was attached to the very end lamppost in the background.
© David Glasspool Collection
An Ashford-bound view from the "down" platform includes the concrete extension of the "up" platform and, behind this, the large goods yard, complete with loading gauge and vans. The outline of the main "down" side building can also be glimpsed behind the luggage bridge, and Swan Neck gas lamps with "Target" name signs were still apparent on this surface. The points linked the running lines with the Harbour branch exchange sidings.
© David Glasspool Collection