High Halstow Halt

This was one of a series of minor stations that came into use in the early 20th Century as part of a scheme pursued by multiple railway companies to develop local, short-distance traffic. Whilst High Halstow is as rural a location as one can imagine, many of these halts were opened in towns’ suburbs to combat the electrified tramway networks that were steadily eating into the market traditionally catered for by the railway. By their nature, a traditional locomotive and rake of carriages were expensive to run and, therefore, often uneconomical catering for frequent stop-start service patterns at numerous lightly-used stops. As a result, the “rail motor” concept was born.

A steam rail motor quite literally comprised a single chassis, upon which the space was shared by a carriage body and a very compact locomotive. Also known as “steam motor carriages” and “steam tramcars”, they were intended — in combination with small “halt” type stops — to provide a cost-effective way of serving smaller communities that were not situated within town centres.

The first rail motor service in the South of England was that on the now long-gone branch line between Fratton and Southsea. The line was a mere 1-mile 3-furlongs in length and had opened on 1st July 1885 as a joint project between London & South Western (LSWR) and London, Brighton & South Coast Railways (LB&SCR). A steam rail motor was tested on the branch in June 1903 and pushed into service the following August; the intention was for this to serve two “road side” stops along the line, in addition to the stations at Fratton and Southsea. Satisfactory performance saw the LB&SCR adopt the rail motor practice between Brighton and Worthing, the former and Kemp Town, and between Eastbourne and St Leonard’s. The South Eastern & Chatham Railway’s (SE&CR) Managing Committee, buoyed by these developments, placed an order with Messrs. Kitson and Co. Limited, of Airedale Foundry, Leeds, in September 1904, for the construction of two steam “motor coaches” for use on the Sheppey Light Railway. These would permit a more frequent and economical service to operate on that line, and they had been procured after an electrically-powered motor car had been considered.

The SE&CR also deployed rail motors on the short branch line from Strood to Chatham Central in 1905, and so impressed were they that further vehicles were ordered. These were envisaged to operate on Westerham and Hayes branch lines, Otford to Sevenoaks, Gravesend to Port Victoria, and Appledore to Dungeness and New Romney.

The earliest copy of a Gravesend Central to Port Victoria rail motor timetable your author can find is in an issue of The Gravesend Reporter newspaper from 7th July 1906. The date of publication provides an indication of when rail motors commenced operation across the Hoo Peninsula and when High Halstow Halt, in addition to numerous other stops between Gravesend Central and Port Victoria, came into use. Of the other platforms which were opened in July 1906, these were Milton Road Halt, Denton Halt, Milton Range Halt, Uralite Halt, Beluncle Halt, Middle Stoke Halt, and Grain Crossing Halt. The timetable shows five departures from High Halstow Halt in either direction Monday to Friday, and six departures in either direction on Saturdays; there were three departures in either direction on Sunday, but the timetable noted that "The Steam Rail Car will not be run in the Sunday service".

High Halstow Halt, as per all of those stops which opened in 1906 on the route linking Gravesend with the Hoo Peninsula, was a short, single platform of timber construction. The platform was positioned on the north side of the single track from Hoo Junction, which had originally opened to Sharnal Street on 1st April 1882, and to Port Victoria the following September. Immediately to the west of the halt was a level crossing (still extant today), and period Ordnance Survey maps from 1906 — over a decade before the halt opened — show an adjacent signal box. The latter was a single-storey affair, mostly of timber construction, but with a brick base, comprised sash-style windows and a hipped slated roof. The cabin was built to the SER’s own in-house design and was essentially a smaller version of the cabins at Cliffe and Sharnal Street. Little beyond the level crossing, heading west, was the private “Wybornes Siding”. The siding is evident on the 1895 Ordnance Survey edition, thus predates the halt by several years. The siding appears to take its name from a farm — presumably which owned it — on the opposite side of the road. The diagram below will hopefully clarify the positions of the features described.

By August 1951, the original timber platform of High Halstow Halt had been replaced by a prefabricated concrete structure. Your author suspects that this occurred in 1934, when platforms of the same material came into use at Cliffe and Sharnal Street. The halt also gained a concrete rectangular waiting shelter (it is possible that this was of later origin than the rebuilt platform), and all components were manufactured by the well-known concrete works at Exmouth Junction.

We now come to the inevitable end of the story for this station: that of closure. In April 1960, British Railway’s Southern Region informed the South Eastern Transport Users’ Consultative Committee that it wished to withdraw passenger services between Gravesend and Allhallows-on-Sea/Grain — an annual saving of about £25,500 (£624,700 at 2021 prices) was estimated (ref: Kent Messenger, 8th April 1960). It was stated at the time that the line across the Hoo Peninsula would remain open for freight traffic and that no goods sidings — except for those at Allhallows-on-Sea — would close. Withdrawal of passenger services was effective from Monday, 4th December 1961.

What of the earlier-mentioned "Wybornes Siding"? It is still evident in photographs from 1960; indeed, there exists an entry in Clinker’s Register (1980) for a “Wybourne Siding” under the SE&CR, which must surely be one of the same thing. The fact that the road which crosses the line at this point goes by the name “Wybournes Lane” confirms this. The closure of this siding is given as 20th August 1962. This must also have been when the signal box went out of use, for it was named "Wyborne Siding Signals".

20th November 1961

A view towards Stoke Junction and Grain shows the prefabricated concrete platform of High Halstow Halt the month before closure. The halt’s construction was the same as those additional platforms which came into use at Cliffe and Sharnal Street stations in 1934, which is possibly when the original timber construction was replaced. The waiting shelter is perhaps of a later origin, but everything seen here was in place by August 1951. © David Glasspool Collection

20th November 1961

Concrete troughing, used to encase communication and power cables, is seen in the foreground of this Hoo Junction-bound view. The manual crossing gates in the background mark the position of Wybournes (formerly "Wybornes") Lane. The delightful signal box seen immediately beyond the crossing was built to the South Eastern Railway's own in-house design, with sash-style windows, hipped slated roof, and timber sides, all situated upon a brick base. The cabin was called "Wyborne Siding Signals" and its name board at the time was still to the SE&CR style of dark letters on a light background. The signal box presumably closed when its namesake formally went out of use, effective 20th August 1962. © David Glasspool Collection