Lydd Town

The independent Brighton Lewes & Hastings Railway, authorised by an Act of 29th July 1844, had received Parliamentary permission in 1845 to construct a single-track line between Lewes and Ashford, via Hastings. The SER tried to counter this by proposing an alternative route to Hastings from Tonbridge, via Tunbridge Wells, but Parliament favoured the earlier scheme: its coastal path was of strategic importance. However, all was not lost for the SER and Parliament decreed that whilst the London & Brighton Railway would construct the Lewes to Hastings section, the SER would build the line thereafter, to Ashford. The LB&SCR, as it later became, completed its half of the line on 27th June 1846, but the SER’s task was riddled with difficulty. Whilst the Romney Marsh was as flat as a pancake, either side of the vast expanse were steep gradients, severe to the extent that the line through Appledore was not opened to traffic until 13th February 1851, four and a half years after the Lewes to Hastings section.

Now onto the branch to Dungeness. In 1873 the Rye and Dungeness Railway and Pier Company was formed with the intention of establishing a ferry port out on Europe’s largest shingle foreland, complete with a railway connection with the Appledore line. Despite Parliamentary approval being acquired, the optimistic scheme fell by the wayside and, subsequently, did not come to fruition. However, in 1875 the SER acquired the given Parliamentary powers for this project, and again the concept of a significant boat terminal at Dungeness came to light. History repeated itself and once again, the terminal proposals were left without implementation. Another independent concern, the "Lydd Railway Company", revived the concept of providing a railway to Dungeness when, in 1881, it received Parliamentary approval to proceed with a single-track branch, departing the SER line at the delightfully named Appledore. The reasons behind the line were partly speculative, for it was suggested that should a port be developed at Dungeness, a direct rail link with London would be available. This was in addition to providing Lydd residents with a viable transport link to the coast, where many worked as fishermen or boat pilots. Indeed, the Lydd & Hythe Army Camp was nearby (more of later), and the shingle foreland at Dungeness would later give rise to some valuable freight traffic, such that the latter became more important than the passenger services.

29th December 1993

Class 33 No. 33116 formed a rail tour down the Dungeness branch in 1993, pairing with 4TC unit Nos. 410 and 417. The return leg to Ashford is seen above, at a time when the run-a-round loop was still in evidence. © Wayne Walsh

The branch was opened to traffic on 7th December 1881: passengers went as far as Lydd, whilst freight was permitted to traverse the whole stretch to Dungeness. It was not until 1st April 1883 that passenger services were extended to the coast. Despite being instigated by an independent concern, Lydd station provided sufficient evidence to show that the SER was used as the contractor for the line. Despite the line being single-track, there were two platforms in evidence at this station: a loop had been installed at this point to allow trains to pass. The main building here was positioned on the "up" side and was constituted of the same red brick used in the construction of the fine structure at Appledore. Lydd’s main building was single-storey and demonstrated a distinctive high pitched roof: it appears to have been based on those earlier examples opened on the Sandgate branch in 1874, such architecture also appearing at Radnor Park (Folkestone Central) after its 1890 rebuild. This architecture was again used on the three-mile long New Romney branch (more of later). Attached to both western and eastern elevations of Lydd’s main structure were ornate canopies of a right-angled triangular cross section, demonstrating a less common type of valance seen on SER lines. A timber shelter was in evidence on the "down" side: whilst this lacked a canopy valance, the dimensions of the structure were greater than most shelter examples found on the SER. Its size would have been welcomed on the exposed marshes. No footbridge was ever provided, a track foot crossing instead being utilised at the northern ends of the platforms, but the Station Master was given the luxury of a large house isolated from the station, being positioned to the east of the site. Locomotives also had the convenience of watering facilities here, a tank being established just to the north of the "up" platform.

Goods facilities here could certainly be considered extensive, reflecting the importance freight traffic once had along the route. Four southward-facing sidings trailed off the "up" side, their connections to the running line being made south of the platform surface. A pitched-roof goods shed was in evidence here, but this sat adjacent to a siding, rather than being intercepted by a track. The shingle of the Dungeness foreland provided the main source of freight traffic: flint was extracted for use during pottery manufacture, it being applied as "glaze" before the ceramics were baked in the kiln. Secondly, the SER was able to make good use of the shingle to ballast its tracks. Whilst the railway company had once again ignited the concept of a ferry terminal out on Dungeness, only the shingle operation materialised, complete with large pits. Cattle was another traffic carried along this bleak branch line and consequently, pens were incorporated within the goods yard at Lydd.

18th June 2006

A general overview of the site looking south reveals the main station building and platform. The level crossing and keeper's brick hut of 1961 are in the seen in the foreground, whilst the goods shed can just be seen emerging through the trees. © David Glasspool

There were two notable developments within a short space of time, the first occurring in 1883. This saw the ''Lydd Military Railway'' come into use, which connected the nearby Army Camp with the branch, via the goods yard. As this connection was southward-facing, as per the goods sidings, a reversal manoeuvre was required to proceed from the Army Camp, to Appledore. The Army Camp did provide an interesting traffic of regiment horses in box vans, these quite often being handled at Lydd station itself. Following shortly after the military branch was an appendix of the Dungeness branch, to New Romney & Littlestone-on-Sea. The same Lydd Railway Company had received Parliamentary approval for this in 1882, which resulted in the construction of the three-mile single-track stretch from what became "Romney Junction", just south of Lydd. Opening on 19th June 1884, New Romney & Littlestone-on-Sea station had been built to virtually the same style as that at Lydd, and an SER-designed signal box had appeared at Romney Junction. Finally, the SER absorbed the independent Lydd Railway Company in 1895.

The New Romney branch was never a busy one; in fact, traffic along it was so light that in 1911 it was decided to close the signal box at Romney Junction and, for economical reasons, replace it with a ground frame. The signal box would probably have been made redundant some twenty-six years later anyway, had this not occurred. 1927 marked the advent of the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway and by 1929, the narrow gauge line had reached Dungeness. The Southern Railway saw the holidaymakers line as a threat so significant, that it decided to re-align the course of the New Romney branch. In all fairness, however, the decision had also been partly instigated by housing development along the seafront. A more coastal route was assumed, which resulted in Romney Junction being re-sited further south, a short distance from Dungeness. The rearrangements came into effect on 4th July 1937. The original stretch of line southwards to Dungeness was closed to passengers, but remained open for freight traffic. Meanwhile, two additional halts had been opened on the New Romney branch: Greatstone-on-Sea and Lydd-on-Sea. The creation of the latter saw the first Lydd station to acquire a "Town" suffix to aid differentiation between the two. The Lydd Military Railway had been totally lifted over a decade earlier.

18th June 2006

The crossing gates are still in regular use, with the weekly passage of a nuclear flask working from the power station, but the keeper's hut has seen better days. © David Glasspool

Under British Railways, there were numerous changes. The building of Dungeness Nuclear Power Station began in 1961, the materials coming in by road. The bridge to the immediate north of Lydd Town posed problems to the large lorry loads, it being too small, thus the decision was taken to create a level crossing between it and the platforms. This had the advantage of posing no size or weight restrictions, and alongside it, a brick-built hut was constructed to control the gates. The short stretch between Romney Junction and Dungeness had since closed completely to all traffic in May 1953. From 26th February 1962 onwards, the branch was worked by Hampshire / Berkshire DEMUs, the Appledore line having escaped electrification – in fact, the route had been included in Dr Beeching’s closure report of 1963. Subsequent protests by residents along the line secured its immediate future, coupled by the fact that the Traffic Commissioners would not approve replacement bus services. However, as far as passenger traffic was concerned, the Lydd branch would not be so lucky. On 6th March 1967, the last service along the Lydd Town and New Romney branches ran, all stations along the lines closing. Two years earlier, Dungeness "A" Nuclear Power station had begun operation, which had generated a new form of freight traffic for the Dungeness branch: nuclear waste. A gravel operation was also still in existence at this time. Indeed, we still see the nuclear traffic traversing the route today, top and tailed by a pair of diesels. It is quite common to think of a green gooey radioactive liquid occupying the flask, but usually it is filled with nothing more than grass clippings. Mention should also be made of the lighthouses at Dungeness. The first was brought into use in 1904 and had a fifty-seven year career. It had to be replaced by a new build, which came into use on 20th November I961 - the nuclear reactors of the power station blocked the light path of the original.

Lydd Town’s goods facilities closed later than the station, not going out of use until 4th October 1971. Thereafter, considerable degrading of the layout ensued. Every goods yard siding was lifted, but the passing loop and level crossing were retained. All "down" side structures – waiting shelter, signal box and platform – were demolished. The "up" side was luckier: the main building, complete with canopies, was retained, as was the goods shed. A significant structure which was lost on this side, however, was the water tower. Despite suffering a bout of fire damage, Lydd Town’s main station building has survived remarkably well. In May 2006, the British Rail Board (Residual) put the site on the market for redevelopment which, regrettably, may see the historic buildings finally succumb.