Situated under 200-yards west of today’s Westenhanger station, this was a large, spacious site, catering exclusively for racecourse traffic. The immediate environs have changed so much since the advent of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (High Speed 1) that it is hard to believe that two lengthy island platforms serving four tracks actually existed here. Indeed, sections of these islands are still clearly visible when standing at the adjacent station; alas, the special services which once called at them are in the very distant past — even their raison d'être, Folkestone Racecourse, has closed and is planned to disappear under housing.
Racecourse traffic was an important source of revenue for railway companies in those early years. For example, dedicated platforms for spectators were provided at Gatwick (1891) by the London Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR), Newbury (1905) by the Great Western Railway, and Westenhanger by the South Eastern Railway (SER). Of the latter, it was announced in the local press in 1897 that a company had been formed for the purpose of creating a racecourse near Folkestone:
THE FOLKESTONE RACECOURSE COMPANY (LIMITED). PROSPECTUS.
This company has been formed to establish a racecourse and racing club in the vicinity of Folkestone.
Folkestone is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and picturesque seaside resorts in the United Kingdom, and a racecourse such as it is proposed to establish has been a long felt want in the neighbourhood and throughout the county of Kent, there being no racecourse, with the exception of Wye, in the whole county. [The Sporting Life, 4th January 1897]
It was remarked that the proposed racecourse complex would encompass 205 acres of freehold land and 320 acres of land on long-term lease (with an option to purchase). Of the latter, only a small portion would be needed for the course itself; most would be utilised for training quarters, let to existing tenants who were willing to remain, or for animals grazing. The course to be laid down was an oval of one mile three furlongs in length, and the company’s capital was £50,000 (£6,036,000 at 2021 prices). It was proposed to convert an existing Medieval manor house on the site to a club house.
Now onto the railway facilities. It was reported that the SER had agreed to convey trainers and horses along their line for free (ref: The Daily Telegraph, 1st March 1898). The horses would be de-trained in a siding at Westenhanger station, which was within 200-yards of the paddock, where an unloading dock was available. As for spectators, the SER also went to the trouble of building a dedicated set of racecourse platforms on the London side of the existing Westenhanger station:
That the South-Eastern Railway Company take a practical interest in the new Folkestone Racecourse is proved by the fact that they are making a new siding and platform — a new station, in fact — for the accommodation of first class passengers to the course. The present station at Westenhanger will be used for third class passengers. The new works are progressing with unabated rapidity, and, it is confidently expected, will be finished in time for the inaugural meeting. [The Sporting Life, 2nd March 1898]
As mentioned above, Third Class passengers were still required to use the SER’s existing Westenhanger station. The quickest journey time by train to the racecourse from London was 1½-hours, and the SER agreed to levy the same fares as those charged by the LB&SCR to Gatwick (ref: The Westminster Gazette, 4th January 1897). For racecourse days, special trains were to be run.
The first racecourse meeting at Folkestone was held over 30th/31st March 1898; therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the adjacent station came into use at this time. Two partially staggered island platforms were available for racecourse passengers, and the loops' connections with the running lines are depicted in the diagram on this page. A signal box, situated at the western end of the “up” platform, was brought into use, and the cabin at Westenhanger station retained. A footbridge linked both platforms near their eastern ends with a path on the southern side of the railway, leading to the racecourse. This footbridge aside, both platforms were devoid of structures, and the SER reportedly spent thousands of pounds on both the new station and a series of sidings. In the September 1898 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was reported that the SER’s Carriage and Wagon Superintendent, Harry S. Wainwright, had designed a six-wheeled horse box specially for race traffic at the then newly-opened Folkestone Racecourse.
Folkestone Racecourse was taken over by the Government during the First World War, their control of the site lasting from 11th October 1914 to 29th January 1919. Occupation of the grand stand lasted a little longer, until 6th June of that year, for it continued to be used as a store for barbed wire and other materials used in the defence against invasion. The racecourse took legal action against the Government for damage and loss of earnings as a result of not being able to hold race meetings (ref: The Estates Gazette Digest of Land and Property Cases, 1921). As part of the legal proceedings, mention was made to the reinstatement of the Lympne Railway. Lympne is a village immediately south of the racecourse site, which developed during the war around a then new airfield. Hangars and houses sprung up, and a branch from the main line at Westenhanger was laid:
Light Railway Proposal
Interest has been revived in a suggestion regarding a series of short railways skirting the Coast and linked up with existing lines. The Hythe Town Council is to give all the support it can to the Marsh Authorities scheme for a line from New Romney to Hythe. Lympne, which has a line of railway from Westenhanger, is I believe, to have a double line in the near future, if the work is not already in hand.
On our coast line there are some gaps, so far as means of transit are concerned which ought to be filed up, and I am glad the proposal to connect Hythe and New
Romney is being pressed forward. I understand Dymchurch people are fervently hoping the scheme may come to fruition. [Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate, and Cheriton Herald, 1st February 1919]
The single-track branch to Lympne presumably crossed land owned by the racecourse, since it appeared in their legal proceedings against the Government. As history has shown, the proposals mentioned in the above excerpt — such as that of retaining and upgrading the branch to Lympne — were not taken forward.
Post-World War II views of Folkestone Racecourse station show the platforms to have been rebuilt with prefabricated concrete edging and a replacement footbridge of the same material upon the same site as its predecessor. This suggests a rebuild of the site by the Southern Railway, using components produced at the company’s Exmouth Junction concrete works in Devon, although your author cannot track down an exact date when the alterations were made.
When did the racecourse station see its last passengers? Your author has found it difficult to track down a year. As of 1940, during the war years (when the adjacent racecourse was used as a munitions store), the station was wholly complete: a full complement of loops and sidings, in addition to the signal box, remained. By 1960, the “up” platform loop had been lifted, as had the horse box siding which terminated in the dock at Westenhanger station. The racecourse station’s signal box had also gone, and the “down” loop’s western connection with the main line had been lifted; the latter became an eastward-facing refuge siding. The adjacent Westenhanger station had not been listed for closure in the 1962 report titled The Reshaping of British Railways; however, in 1968, British Rail (BR) announced proposals to withdraw passenger services, through the claim that the station was uneconomic to run. BR stated that “if they closed the station they would "open" it for the convenience of racegoers at the 17 race meetings held annually at the course” (ref: Kentish Express, 12th July 1968). This suggests that the dedicated racecourse station was no longer handling passengers by that stage, all such traffic being managed at Westenhanger. However, the January 1969 edition of The Railway Magazine instead states that in the event of Westenhanger's closure, trains on race days would continue to serve the "special platforms", suggesting that the racecourse station was still operational.
Albeit overgrown, the island platforms remained in existence for the rest of the 20th Century, as did the footbridge which linked them. The footbridge was eventually taken down in the year 2000, and the northern part of the former “down” island platform demolished, as part of the works to build "Section 2" of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Fawkham Junction to Cheriton). Nevertheless, today, those edges of both former Racecourse station platforms which faced the main line are still in evidence today.
Track Plan: 1940
The Racecourse station comprised long, spacious island platforms, similar to those at Gatwick. Click the above for a larger version.
© David Glasspool
5th October 1974
A westward view from the road bridge that links the platforms of Westenhanger shows, in the background, the prefabricated concrete footbridge of the former Racecourse station. Also visible are the edges of both island platforms, in addition to a trailing crossover between the running lines, alongside which is a “whistle” board. The footbridge continues to the left behind the vegetation and eventually reaches a staircase that once took passengers down to the path leading to the racecourse. The dock siding for horse boxes was situated behind that section of Westenhanger’s “up” platform seen on the left.
© David Glasspool Glasspool