Folkestone Warren Staff Halt

There could not have been many places on the former British Rail network which laid claim to two stations, just a mile apart, which were dedicated to staff only and not for use by the general public. In Folkestone, the closure of two sites to passengers – Folkestone Warren Halt and Folkestone Junction – a quarter of a century apart, gave rise to a pair of "staff halts", one of which is still used today.

Through running between London and a temporary station in Folkestone commenced on 28th June 1843. A permanent station, another ¾-mile east, opened on 18th December 1843, and passengers could reach Dover by train from 7th February of the following year. The 5½-miles between Folkestone and Dover were treacherous, the double-track being sandwiched in-between the foot of the White Cliffs and the crashing waves of the English Channel. Similar to the famous stretch of sea wall railway in South Devon, this section of route has been the victim of a series of landslips and rock falls throughout its history, making it one of the most expensive parts of the railway network to maintain. The Warren was described in The Gentleman's Magazine, April 1844, shortly after the line to Dover opened:

We next arrive at the Martello Tunnel. This is succeeded by the Warren cutting, which is the heaviest cutting in the whole line. In some portions it is 120 feet deep, and so exceedingly undulating, that in the extent of 100 yards you emerge from a cutting of 120-feet deep to an embankment of 45-feet in height.

Four tunnels were bored between Folkestone and Dover, the first – the 636-yard-long Martello – of which has already been mentioned. Over 1½-miles east was Abbotscliffe Tunnel (in some early publications, referred to as "Abbott's Cliff"), at 1-mile 135-yards in length, followed by arguably the most well-known, Shakespeare:

The two parallel tunnels excavated through the centre of Shakespeare's Cliff, are each 30 feet high and 12 wide, of a Gothic form, and securely arched with brickwork, except where the extreme hardness of the chalk does not require such support. Seven shafts are sunk from the surface to the tunnels, and the same number of outlets to the face of the cliff, through which the excavated chalk was, during the progress of the works, carried to the sea. [The Official Illustrated Guide to the South Eastern Railway, June 1858]

On the approach to Dover was the fourth tunnel, a short bore of about 60-yards in length, which passed under Archcliffe Fort. Accommodating a double-track, this tunnel and the surrounding mound was later removed by the Southern Railway (SR), after the company purchased a section of Archcliffe Fort to widen the track bed.

In the 1867 Handbook of the Stations, Sidings &c Upon the United Kingdom (Railway Clearing House, London, 1867), an entry by the name of "Folkestone Warren or Pelter Siding" is included. Maps of the period confirm the existence of a single trailing siding, 1020-yards east of Martello Tunnel, leaving the “up” line and curving towards the sea. However, your author suspects this reference was applicable only to the goods siding and not indicative of an area for passengers to alight. By the 1873 Edition of the same handbook, the Pelter’s Siding part had been completely dropped and the entry read as plain Folkestone Warren. To distinguish stations from goods facilities, the publication’s 1868 and 1873 Editions suffixed "Siding" to names, so it is possible that the later reference was to a station in the Warren (public or otherwise). However, this would have lacked any structures - even platforms - although a footpath had crossed the tracks on the level since the earliest years, 790-yards east of Martello Tunnel.

Heavy rainfall in January 1877 caused a couple of major landslips in the Warren in the following month, closing the railway between Folkestone Junction and Dover until the spring:

In February, 1877, some serious slips occurred here. The first was at the east end of the Martello Tunnel, where an area of about 100 acres slipped along and over the railway. The cutting, 100 feet deep, was filled with fallen chalk for a length of about 200 yards.

Two days afterwards another serious slip occurred at the east end of the Warren, where the line was again blocked. These slips followed heavy rains in January, the rainfall being about double the average. [Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 7th April 1893]

The opening of a "proper" passenger stop in the area, by the name of "Warren Halt", occurred in June 1886. In the Folkestone Express, Sandgate, Shorncliffe & Hythe Advertiser on Saturday 12th June 1886, the following was reported:

Councillor Willis seconded. He asked if anyone could tell them how the Warren station was proceeding. Councillor Spurgen said he believed it was to be opened that day. Councillor Penfold said it was mentioned in the company's timetables.

The Warren Station is now open for traffic, and several trains stop there daily to take up and set down passengers.

Based on newspaper articles of the time, Warren Halt's opening was only for the summer seasons. In the Folkestone Express, Sandgate, Shorncliffe & Hythe Advertiser, on Saturday 11th August 1888, the following was reported:

The Warren Station is now open. The trains which stop there leave Shorncliff at 8.15, 8.56, 10.19, 11.59, 12.56, 2.20, and the Return trains from the Warren are 11.45, 1.20, 4.5, 5.35, 8.5.

In the same newspaper, this time on Saturday, 22nd June 1889, the re-opening of the station was again reported:

Councillor Logan, reverting to the subject of the new morning trains, asked that application should be made to the Railway Company to grant half-guinea tickets by it, and also that the Warren Station should be opened, there being many visitors who wished to go.

The Mayor said that the Warren Station would be opened on the 1st July.

Evidently, Warren Halt was sparsely furnished, for the station became a subject in the Local Gossip section of the Dover Express on Friday, 23rd August 1889:

They say that it would be possible for the South-Eastern Railway Company to make little more use of their Warren Station if there were greater facilities for alighting there.

They say that a party from Dover went to the South-Eastern Station last week and, on asking if the train could stop for them in the Warren, they were told that the notice ought to have been given on the previous day, but, after the party had been to the expense of going out in a brake, they found that the train which they would have gone by did stop for another party.

By the 1898 Ordnance Survey Edition, the earlier-mentioned Pelter's Siding had been lifted and, 230-yards to the west of this, the footpath over the running lines was now carried on an iron footbridge. Warren Halt, however, is marked on the map as Station (Disused). This status is endorsed by the Folkestone Express, Sandgate, Shorncliffe & Hythe Advertiser when, on Saturday, 23rd May 1891, it was stated that "The Warren Station had been closed for traffic some time past". It was not until 1905 that the subject of re-opening Warren Halt to passenger traffic for the high season was raised. An excerpt from the Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald, Saturday, 1st April 1905, outlines the public's desire for the station to be re-opened, and why it closed in the first place:

Railway Company To Be Approached. At the meeting of the Folkestone Chamber of Commerce, at the Town Hall, on Tuesday, Councillor R. G. Wood presiding, there was on the agenda the following notice: - "The Warren. - To discuss, and if thought fit, to approach the S.E. and C. Railway Company, with reference to running motor trains to the Warren during the summer months."

Mr. Cross, referring to the matter, said that he had no particular proposition to put before the Chamber, but it had occurred to him that since the Railway Company had ceased to run trains to the Warren, as they did some years ago, the advent of single self-contained motor carriages had altered the complexion of things, and if approached in the proper manner the Company might consider something of the kind. Visitors always talked of the Warren. They saw it on postcards and in pictures, but they went away from the town because they could not get at it. The difficulty as to signal boxes and all that could be got over by running the carriages between the ordinary traffic from Shorncliffe to Dover.

Mr Gorely remarked that the only reason why the Board of Trade refused to allow the Railway Company to use the Warren Station was that the company refused to keep permanent staff there, and to make it a stopping place for other trains.

Mr Cross said he thought that under the Light Railway Act the carriages would be able to stop at the Warren as he had suggested. The S. E. and C.R. Company had the carriages on the Sheppey line, and the South-Western Company were also having them. His idea was that the Chamber should offer a suggestion, which should be referred to the Railway Committee.

The Chairman approved the idea. He believed that the Company could make a handsome revenue from one or two carriages running to and from Shorncliffe and Dover.

However, the South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR) did not take the idea any further and Warren Station was not re-opened for the 1905 summer season. A commercial advert in the Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald, Saturday, 15th June 1907, suggests that the station had been re-opened by that year:

The Cliffs Estate, Folkestone (Overlooking the Warren Station). Ripe for the erection of Villas, etc.

The post-1907 station retained the iron footbridge installed when the site originally opened. Two platforms were situated either side of the double-track, that on the "down" side being of all-timber construction; the "up" platform was faced with timber, but photographs suggest the rest was of chalk composition. Two timber huts, akin to small garden sheds, appeared on the "up" side; over the footbridge, above the line, a tea room was opened.

On the night of 19th December 1915, nature caused more devastation through yet another landslip. The timing was very unfortunate, given it was the height of wartime and blocked a major transport route between the capital and Dover. The landslip pushed the stricken railway over fifty yards towards the sea, 300-yards of the route being affected. The main road atop the cliff, linking Folkestone and Dover, was also damaged in the same incident, large cracks appearing on the surface. A temporary road diversion was set-up, but this was not ready until early February 1916. In the same month, in the Folkestone Express, Sandgate, Shorncliff & Hythe Advertiser, the SE&CR reported delays in restoring the route due to difficulties in finding a contractor to undertake the work. Eventually, the company told the Board of Trade that they could not bring the line back into use during wartime. There had even been mention in the local press of the railway never being re-opened, with the possibility of a new, inland course being pursued by boring yet more tunnels through the North Downs. Finally, in the Dover Express and East Kent News, Friday, 13th June 1919, it was reported that remedial works were underway:

The restoration of the railway between Dover and Folkestone which was destroyed at the Warren by the great landslide in December, 1915, is now being rapidly carried out by the contractors Messrs. Rigby and Son. The damage to the railway was caused by the ground between the Martello Tunnel and a point some distance on the Dover side of the Warren Station, being bodily pushed out towards the sea for some distance, the railway line being undulated in an extraordinary manner. This portion of the railway has been reformed, but the railway metals are not yet relaid. Ballast is, however, being put down again, preparatory to laying them. The work is being carried out with pick and shovel and tip trams, no steam navvies being employed. It does not appear that it will be re-opened by the end of July, as was stated some time ago, but before the end of August railway connection between Dover and Folkestone ought to be restored. There will be curves and gradients which did not exist in 1915, but the line ought to be really safer than before.

The railway through the Warren re-opened on Monday 11th August 1919, although at the time, there was no mention of reinstatement of the station there; this did not occur until after the Grouping.

Station Re-Opening

In the Dover Express on Friday, 20th July 1923, the re-opening of Folkestone Warren Halt was recorded:

RE-OPENING OF FOLKESTONE WARREN HALT. We are glad to be able to announce that, as a result of representations by the local authorities, the Southern Railway Company are arranging to re-open the Halt in the Folkestone Warren for the convenience of passengers wishing to visit this charming spot during the summer months, and a regular service of trains will be provided to and from the Warren on and from Monday, July 30th, until the end of September. As probably will be remembered, before the war the Warren Halt was largely used by visitors from Folkestone and Dover, and it is hoped that the improvements recently made by the Folkestone Corporation, including the provision of a large tea house, will induce even more people to take advantage of the facilities provided. The beauties of the Warren are too well-known to need explanation, and it is sufficient to say that no visitor to Folkestone or Dover should miss the opportunity of spending a day in "Little Switzerland", the ideal rendezvous for a picnic party. Full particulars as to train service, etc., can be obtained at the railway station.

Folkestone Warren Halt was re-opened on Monday 30th July 1923 and, as per the original station, was for use during the summer season only. The Southern Railway’s station comprised a pair of timber platforms, located upon the same site as the previous SE&CR halt. The "up" platform was wholly of wooden construction; that on the "down" side had timber sides and edges, but the bulk of the surface comprised aggregate. In addition to the tea room mentioned above, a replacement public footbridge was provided. In the Dover Express and East Kent News, Friday, 17th August 1923, mention of tickets to the Warren was made:

Now that the Warren Station is open, cheap return fares are being issued by the Railway Company by all trains stopping there between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The cost of the return ticket is 9d [£2.18 at 2019 prices]. Specially convenient trains are the 1.40 p.m. from the Priory Station and the 1.45 and 3.45 from the Harbour.

Folkestone Warren Halt closed to the public for the last time on 25th September 1939, at the end of the summer season and three weeks after the declaration of war. History repeated itself and, on 28th November of that year, 30,000 tons for chalk fell in the Warren and blocked the line, traffic not resuming until January 1940. At that time, two trailing sidings appeared on the "up" side of the line, beyond the Dover end of the closed halt's platforms.

In 1948, major works commenced on coastal defences at the Warren. Known as toe-waiting, this involved importing rocks from Meldon Quarry and dumping them in the water at the foot of the cliff slope. Upon these rocks were unloaded tens of thousands of tons of chalk, and the whole area was encased in concrete. This created a huge platform in the sea, forming a buffer between the waves and land’s edge, and further extensions were made over the subsequent five years. In connection with the works, a third siding came into use at the site; this terminated behind the halt’s “up” platform and required reversal into the existing sidings to access. At the time, the "up" platform was cut back by half its length at its Ashford end. The footbridge linking the platforms and path was retained, but this eventually disappeared in about 1959 during electrification works.

The three sidings at Warren Halt were marked as disused by 1958; it was likely they ceased operation after the coastal defence works were completed in 1953. By 1966, two of the sidings had been lifted; one remained for engineers’ trains. Warren Halt and the siding were still marked on maps as late as 1994.

Track Plan: 1940

15th April 1961

Nearing journey's end from Victoria, Rebuilt West Country Class No. 34101 "Hartland" is seen heading a mixture of Bulleid and BR Mk 1 stock through the Warren. Conductor rails are in evidence for the impending start of electric services, and a new wire fence had recently gone up on the left. In the left foreground is the engineers' siding that made a trailing connection with the "up" line adjacent to the Staff Halt, the latter of which is hidden beyond the curve in the background. © David Glasspool Collection

April 1974

A 4 VEP is seen heading Dover-bound in this eastward view, which includes the large concrete apron - built in stages between 1948 and 1953 - extending into the sea. Warren Halt is in the distance, just before the kink in the track. To the right of the 4 VEP is a signal box-like structure; your author speculates that this could be the remains of "Folkestone Junction B" cabin, which was situated east of Martello Tunnel until closing in 1930. Perhaps it was used as a store after decommissioning? © David Glasspool Collection

30th May 1983

A 4 CEP/4 VEP formation is seen approaching the truncated "up" platform, heading London-bound, in this southward view. To the left of the train are the rusty rails of the engineers' siding, which had been extended over the years to bring it to within 300-yards of Abbotscliffe Tunnel. The Halt was at milepost 72 from Charing Cross via Orpington and Tonbridge. © David Glasspool Collection