Gillingham Shed


When the East Kent Railway opened a double-track line between Faversham and Chatham on 25th January 1858, the area that is today known as Gillingham went by the name of "New Brompton" and was considered an eastern suburb of its better-known neighbour. A "New Brompton" station opened with the line, being situated outside of the residential area amongst flowing fields, but no motive power depot was evident from the outset. This is unsurprising, given that the line went no further than Faversham in the east and Chatham in the west, and engine sheds were established at both termini.

In the East Kent Gazette newspaper on Saturday, 19th September 1885, a robbery which took place at New Brompton station was reported. In the article, mention was made of a witness who was an "engine-cleaner at New Brompton engine-shed", indicating that a locomotive depot at the site had opened by then. It seems highly likely that New Brompton was commissioned as a direct replacement for the engine shed at Chatham, the closure and demolition of which allowed the 1881-announced rebuilding of the station there to get underway. Indeed, the mid-1880s appears to have been a busy time for the London Chatham & Dover Railway (LC&DR) in Medway, and in addition to the aforementioned station reconstruction, the company commissioned a spacious goods yard in Rochester at this time. The goods department at Chatham was transferred to Rochester during station rebuilding at the former:

RAILWAY ACCOMMODATION AT CHATHAM. — The London, Chatham, and Dover Railway are, it is said, about at once to supply the increased accommodation which has so long been required at their Chatham station. Their plans include not only an increased number of lines and platforms, but also the erection of a totally new station premises, in which a hotel will be included. The goods department will be transferred from Chatham to the station now in course of erection by the riverside at Bath-hard, Rochester. It is stated that £25,000 will be expended on the work. [The Kentish Mercury, 12th November 1881]

Like its Chatham predecessor, the shed at New Brompton comprised three dead-end tracks. The depot was situated east of the station, on the southern side of the running lines, having been built on a previously undeveloped field. It was a sturdy brick-built structure, sporting a slated pitched roof and individual brick arches over each track (not unlike the SER’s original shed building at Redhill). A prominent brick tower carrying a water tank was situated on the shed’s northern elevation, as were a series of single-storey offices and stores. Sandwiched in-between the shed and running lines were three lengthy London-facing sidings, a fourth immediately south of the building, and about 160-yards to the west was positioned a turntable.

Little over twenty-five years since opening, New Brompton had evolved from a modest LC&DR outer suburban (perhaps even "countryside") station — comprising two platforms and an equal number of sidings — into a junction and an important base for that company’s locomotive fleet. With reference to the former, a single-track branch line to Chatham Dockyard had formally opened to traffic on 16th February 1877, this of which made a trailing connection with the "down" running line 420-yards east of the station.

By 1899, when the South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR) Joint Managing Committee was formed, the station had largely been absorbed into the urban sprawl. Green fields had succumbed to terrace housing; indeed, ten years later, the station site was more or less surrounded by high-density residential development, save for the exit of the Chatham Dockyard branch. By this time, the LC&DR had established seven engine sheds across its network, as remarked by the SE&CR’s Locomotive Superintendent, Harry Wainwright, in an interview with The Railway Magazine in September 1901:

[In addition to Battersea] We have engine sheds at...... New Brompton, Faversham, Bickey, Maidstone East, Dover Priory, and Margate West, on the Chatham section.

Bickley was nearing closure at the time; it was replaced by a larger shed at Orpington in 1904, when a station rebuild at the latter was completed. Battersea is better known under its later name, "Stewarts Lane", which eventually became the principal locomotive depot of the Southern Railway’s (SR) Eastern Section.

New Brompton station became plain "Gillingham" in October 1912 — having carried the latter name as a bracketed suffix on timetables since May 1886 — and in the following year enlargement works commenced. This included conversion of the "up" platform into an island, the provision of two new signal boxes, and to reflect the growth in the area’s population, a coal yard. Your author suspects that it was as part of these works that two of the engine shed’s tracks were extended east through the rear of the building.

Under the SR, ex-LC&DR engine sheds were decimated through a combination of electrification and modernisation. Of the "Chatham" depots previously mentioned, Stewarts Lane, Gillingham, and Faversham were the only ones to survive the Grouping. Margate succumbed as part of the rationalisation of Thanet’s lines in the mid-1920s; Maidstone East went in 1933, six years prior to third rail reaching the town; and the original engine shed at Dover Priory was replaced in 1929 by a then modern depot at Western Docks. The full suburban electric timetable to Gillingham and Maidstone came into force on 2nd July 1939; this resulted in the closure of the ex-SER engine shed at Strood, but that at Gillingham survived, albeit with a much-reduced locomotive allocation.

What of the locomotive allocation under the SR, prior to electrification in 1939? In his 1977 book Railways to Sevenoaks, Charles M. Deveroux remarked that a few of the ex-LC&DR B1 and B2 0-6-0 goods engines remained at the shed, a large proportion of these classes disappearing soon after the 1923 Grouping. Period photographs from the 1930s also show C, D, E, H, O1, and R classes in the shed’s yard.

British Railways (BR) coded the shed "73D" and the depot came under the group headed by Stewarts Lane (73A), along with Bricklayers Arms (73B), Hither Green (73C), and Faversham (73E). The Ian Allan ABC Locoshed book, as of 13th June 1955, shows twenty-three locomotives allocated to Gillingham, of classes C (12), H (6), L1 (3), and N (2); as of the Summer 1959 ABC edition (effective from 1st May that year), the overall number remained unchanged, although not wholly comprised of the same engines as those listed in 1955. The full accelerated electric timetable between London and the Kent Coast via Chatham came into force on 15th June 1959, but in the Winter 1959/1960 edition of the Ian Allan ABC locomotive book, Gillingham is still listed as a shed under code 73D. By the Summer 1961 edition, the shed had lost its own code and was listed as sub to Ashford; the original owner of the book your author possesses has crossed a line through Gillingham’s entry, suggesting it never survived as a depot beyond this time.

As one of the photographs below attests, the shed building was still standing in early 1964, complete with track. It was demolished shortly afterwards and the majority of its former site sold for industrial use. The site was redeveloped again on the turn of the century and, in 2002, residential property completed upon it.

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

September 1958

"C" Class 0-6-0 No. 31495 is seen upon the complicated series of tracks in-between the engine shed and turntable, as depicted in the diagram above. "Ian Allan ABC Locoshed" books, applicable to June 1955 and May 1959, both have this locomotive as being allocated to Gillingham. On the left is an 0-4-4 "H" Class Tank Engine, behind either an "N" or "U" Class 2-6-0, whilst in the background, to the left, can be seen the station's goods shed. © David Glasspool Collection


An eastward view from the station's "down" platform shows plenty of steam activity. The engine shed can just be seen in the background, alongside which is the prominent water tower. The contraption straddling the engines just right of centre is a coal gantry, installed by British Railways about three years prior to this photograph. "Q" and "N" Class locomotives are in evidence, and the prefabricated concrete extension of the island platform has yet to be in-filled. © Roger Goodrum Collection

February 1964

The western façade and all is now quiet. The steam era is over and the site was soon to be cleared. Indeed, at this late stage, the former engine shed was still standing in complete and remarkably good condition, with rails in place. The tank had been removed from the water tower by this time. Note the house-like bay window on the left-hand side of the building, forming part of the single-storey offices along the structure's northern elevation; this was a design feature shared with the shed at Faversham. The pitched roof in the distance was that of the electric car shed, which dated from the 1939 electrification scheme. © Terry Tracey