Grove Ferry and Upstreet

Today, not a brick remains of this once delightful countryside station, situated about 6½-route miles north east of Canterbury in the midst of the Stour Valley. It was very much a picture postcard affair, a handsome station building sitting harmonious with traditional level crossing gates and an adjacent chain ferry (hence the name); the latter crossed a 60-foot-wide stretch of river. The ferry has long since succumbed to a road bridge, and the railway infrastructure — save for an automatic level crossing — now assumes a rather nondescript air. However, the surrounding countryside still holds a pleasant serenity, and the locality remains as a popular walking spot and mooring place for pleasure craft.

The South Eastern Railway (SER) started running scheduled public services along their double-track line between Ashford and Canterbury on 6th February 1846. An extension to Ramsgate opened on 13th April of the same year, but a station at Grove Ferry was not in use from the outset. Intermediate stops at both Wye and Grove Ferry were opened to passenger traffic on 1st July 1846 and, according to the local press of the time, this was to much celebration:

The 1st July. — On Wednesday last the Wye and Grove Ferry stations, on the Ramsgate, Canterbury, and Ashford Branch of the South Eastern Railway, were opened for the accommodation of third class passengers. A numerous party of the inhabitants of the old town of Wye, made a trip to Canterbury, to celebrate the event, and partook of a cold collation at the Queen's Head Inn, and then departed for Ramsgate. On their return in the after part of the day they kept up the rejoicings amongst the neighbours at Wye to a late hour. Large parties visited Grove Ferry, and this delightful retreat will be an attractive spot for the holiday folks, not only of the ancient city but the surrounding coast towns. [Kentish Gazette, Tuesday, 7th July 1846]

The Ramsgate extension, like that between Ashford and Canterbury, was also double-track. At Grove Ferry, two platforms were evident from the outset, built in the staggered arrangement which became somewhat of an SER tradition. A track foot crossing connected both platforms, and the former was also host to a track running perpendicular to the running lines, linking a pair of wagon turntables. The platforms were arranged in a fashion that ensured passengers using the track foot crossing walked behind a train stopped at the station.

The main station building was positioned at the western end of the "up" platform and much expense was spared for such a sparsely-populated area. The structures at both Grove Ferry and Wye must surely have been the work of the same architect, for there are distinct parallels in the designs of each. Two storeys-high and red brick in construction, both buildings demonstrated prominent pitched gables, stoned-lined door and window frames, and neat slated pitched roofs; there was indeed an air of Gothic about their appearances. Commodious as Grove Ferry's main building was, no platform canopy was evident, and a timber waiting shelter with a backward-sloping roof sufficed for the "down" platform.

Immediately west of the "up" platform was situated a gated level crossing. Structural provision for this was somewhat lavish in the context of the small population of the area, for the crossing keeper was provided with a substantial house. This was built largely in sympathy with the station building; it boasted a similarly overhanging gabled roof, was two-storeys-high (albeit noticeably shorter than the station structure), and had a hint of Gothic. Indeed, the stone linining around door and window frames was more prominent than that of the station building and, like the main structure at Wye, each corner was also decorated with stone. The crossing keeper's house was situated on the "up" side of the running lines, on the opposite side of the road to the station, immediately adjacent to the gates protecting the tracks.

Sidings existed east and west of "up" and "down" platforms respectively. These fed off the aforementioned wagon turntables situated in-between the platforms, but also had trailing connections with the adjacent running lines. Pre-1900 maps show a building immediately adjacent to the sidings east of the "up" platform, which your author suspects was the goods shed; however, this building seems to have been comparatively short-lived, for it does not appear on Ordnance Surveys post-1906.

The station's first "proper" signal box came into use in about 1893, being situated on the "down" side of the line, directly opposite the "up" platform. It was built by contractor Saxby & Farmer, with a brick base, timber upper half, and attractive overhanging pitched roof. The same contractor provided virtually identical cabins at nearby Sturry and Wye, both of which still stand today.

In The Whitstable Times & Tankerton Press newspaper on Saturday, 17th February 1912, it was reported that coal boring experiments were to commence at Chislet, about 1⅔-mile southwest of Grove Ferry, under the auspices of the Anglo-Westphalian Company. On Saturday, 9th May 1914, the same newspaper reported that considerable progress was being made with connecting the proposed colliery site with the South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR), and that boring of the mine shafts was ongoing. In a later edition of the publication, it was stated that materials for what became known as Chislet Colliery had arrived at Grove Ferry station:

Chislet Colliery. Work at this Colliery was in full swing down to Saturday, and considerable progress has been made. Several trucks filled with material which had arrived at Grove Ferry Station were unloaded last week. Operations were suspended on Monday on account of the holiday, and on that day the Germans who have been employed at the Colliery left by train from Grove Ferry and Sturry on their way to Folkestone, where they proceeded to the Continent, en route to their own country for the war. [The Whitstable Times & Tankerton Press, Saturday, 8th August 1914]

Sturry and Grove Ferry were the nearest stations to the colliery, residing roughly equidistant to the west and east of the site respectively. Both were used by colliery workers until a dedicated station was brought into use:

For the present the men working at the Colliery will have to walk from Grove Ferry station to the mine, but a station is to be constructed at Chislet, and trains will be run straight to the pit mouth. It is expected in the near future that a new village will spring up at Chislet. [The Thanet Advertiser & Echo, Saturday, 12th October 1918]

By World War II, Grove Ferry station's wagon turntables had disappeared; the sidings on the "down" side of the running lines had been lifted and those on "up" side slightly revised. An additional timber shelter had also been installed at the western end of the "down" platform, and the signal box now sported a single-storey timber extension protruding from the eastern elevation of its brick base.

Clinker’s Register (1980) shows that the station was known as Grove Ferry and Upstreet from 20th September 1954. Upstreet was a small village in the parish of Chislet (or Chislett in period texts), located a mere 700 yards west of the station, on the northern fringes of the Stour. Next, public goods traffic at the station was withdrawn from 30th April 1960. It was around this time, as part of Phase II of the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme, that a prefabricated concrete footbridge — a product of Exmouth Junction Works — was erected across the site of the track foot crossing to link both platforms. Electric passenger services running to existing steam timings via Canterbury West to Ramsgate started on 9th October 1961; the full accelerated electric timetable came into force on 18th June of the following year. The route between Ashford and Ramsgate was not converted to colour lights at this time and semaphore signals controlled from manual cabins persisted.

In the East Kent Times on Friday, 9th October 1964, it was reported that BR planned to close Grove Ferry and Upstreet station early in 1965. The newspaper stated that, as part of the closure, it was intended to replace the manual level crossing gates "with automatic barriers like those on the continent". The closure was set to be effective from Monday, 1st February 1965, but objections received by the Transport Users’ Consultative Committee delayed this. In the Thanet Times on Tuesday, 9th February 1965, it was reported that the Committee was due to meet at 11:15 a.m. the following morning at the Grove Ferry Hotel, where the fate of the station would likely be decided. A handful of sources suggest that the signal box had already closed in March of the previous year. Grove Ferry and Upstreet was not listed for closure as part of the March 1963-published report The Reshaping of British Railways, nor was it identified at that time as being a station already under consideration for closure prior to Dr Beeching.

As it transpired, closure was the order of the day. In the East Kent Times on Friday, 17th September 1965, it was reported that Grove Ferry and Upstreet station would remain open until the following January, to leave sufficient time for automatic barriers to be installed at the level crossing. Work on the barriers was scheduled to begin in November 1965 and be completed by mid-December. The end finally came in January 1966; in the Thanet Times (4/01/1966), it was reported that the last train to call at the station was the 8.49 P.M. from Victoria to Margate on the 3rd of that month, coinciding with the automatic barriers at the level crossing coming into use. In the run-up to closure, it had been reported in the press that the station had a staff of three, primarily to manage the level crossing.

After closure, the station site and crossing keeper’s house were completely levelled — virtually no evidence remains to reflect that platforms once existed here. What of the chain ferry during the closure saga? In the East Kent Times & Broadstairs Mail on Wednesday, 25th May 1960, it was reported that Kent County Council had approved a revised estimate of £24,000 for the construction of a bridge over the Stour at Grove Ferry. The structure, of reinforced concrete construction, was opened to traffic on Tuesday, 27th March 1962, which brought to fruition a project which had been in the making since at least 1839. On 21st September 1839, the Canterbury Journal reported a meeting between gentry and landowners of Grove Ferry about erecting a bridge over the Stour, to replace the ferry; the latter therefore had an existence of over 120 years.

19th September 1959

Fairburn 2-6-4 Tank No. 42098, showing a "74A" Ashford shed plate, is seen in this eastward view, approaching with a service from Margate to Ashford, formed of Bulleid carriage stock. By this time, Ashford had ceased to be an "A" shed and was coded "73F". Behind the train, in the distance, can be seen wagons parked in the "up" siding, its connection with the running line of which the locomotive was about to pass over. The trailing crossover between the running lines can just been seen beneath the second carriage. The "down" side timber waiting shelter, seen on the left, was of generous proportions, and was by this time complemented by a second shelter behind the cameraman. The Victorian lamp standards were a feature until the end. Electrification materials are in evidence to the right of the tracks. © David Glasspool Collection

19th September 1959

A fleet of sixteen "Sulzer" Type 2 diesels were loaned from the London Midland Region to the Southern between 1959 and 1962, being allocated to Hither Green. Fitted with boilers, the type could be used to heat steam-hauled carriage stock. On a Saturday, No. D5007 is seen in this westward view heading in the "down" direction with what your author surmises is a weekend special to Margate, possibly an inter-regional working via Kensington Olympia. Behind the locomotive is a BR Mk 1 General Utility Van (GUV), followed by BR Mk 1 passenger stock and, furthest from the camera, what appears to be a Maunsell vehicle. On the left is the attractive main station building, situated behind the "up" platform, demonstrating its prominent gables. Sadly now long-gone, a variation of this architecture still survives today at Wye. Beyond the end of the platform can be seen the edge of the crossing keeper's house; the same design also came into use at Chilham Mill Crossing, about 220 yards south of Chilham station, but sadly both examples were destroyed. The open space beyond the fence on the right was once host to the "down" siding, and the signal box is just out of view to the right. © David Glasspool Collection