Kent Rail

Rochester Freight Depot & Chatham Sidings


In March 1858, the LC&DR extended its route from Chatham to connect with the SER’s Strood station, which brought Rochester its first rails, but at this time, not a station. Unusually, the LC&DR established goods facilities at Rochester before putting any platforms in place, probably because the company thought its December 1860-opened ‘’Rochester’’ station, which was actually in Strood, was adequate enough. In the early 1880s, the company initiated construction of a spacious northward-facing low-level goods yard on the southern bank of the River Medway, beside its elevated main line. This interesting complex, which initially consisted of eight sidings, had the distinction of requiring a reversal manoeuvre down a gradient to access it, in addition to having one of the largest goods sheds to appear on the LC&DR network. With reference to the latter, this was constituted of the company’s familiar crème brickwork, complete with orange lining, and measured nearly 35 yards across by 53 yards long. Despite this large area, the building accommodated just two northward-facing tracks, each passing through the building at its western and eastern extremities respectively. A further two northward-facing sidings flanked the goods shed’s western elevation, and a third siding was in evidence on the Medway side of the building. These features are readily illustrated in the following pictures. The goods yard had been completed by the mid-1880s, but this was not the end of railway development on the site: it was now the SER’s turn. Unable to acquire running rights over LC&DR metals to Chatham, the SER attempted to forge its own route to the Naval town. This included the construction of a lattice-girder double-track bridge over the Medway, parallel with the existing span of its rival, and the erection of a lengthy and snaking brick viaduct. The latter was sandwiched in-between the ‘’Chatham’’ main line and the bank of the Medway, and the SER’s branch initially terminated north of the goods depot, at ‘’Rochester Common’’ station, which opened to traffic on 20th July 1891. A subsequent southward extension of the viaduct took the line over the goods depot’s approaches to terminate at yet another station within Rochester, this laughably being referred to as ‘’Chatham Central’’. The opening of this extension coincided with the commissioning of the LC&DR’s own station, which became ‘’Rochester’’ proper on 1st March 1892.

The amalgamation of SER and LC&DR Management committees on 1st January 1899 sought to make some sensible economizing measures on what became the SE&CR network. Simplifying the multitude of duplicate lines in areas such as Thanet was left to the Southern Railway, but the SE&CR endeavoured to close the erstwhile SER’s Chatham Central branch. The decommissioning of this line on 1st October 1911 allowed for a number of improvements to the surrounding infrastructure, not least the expansion of the ex-LC&DR station from a two-platform arrangement to a four-platform affair. The demolition of the SER viaduct and redevelopment of the Rochester Common station site permitted the goods depot to be expanded from eight to fifteen sidings. Furthermore, a 215-foot long lattice public footbridge was erected over the approach tracks to the goods shed. However, not all signs of the SER’s efforts on constructing the Chatham Central branch have disappeared, and the lattice girder bridge, which today carries the ‘’Chatham’’ main line over the Medway between Strood and Rochester, is the original SER structure of 1891.


Late 1960s


Rochester Goods Depot: 1960s

In view is the vehicle loading dock at Rochester Yard (or, as it used to be known in the trade, ''Chatham Sidings''), with an Army Warflat wagon. The latter was waiting to be loaded with a staff car from one of the local barracks. This dock was often used for Army vehicles, probably as the yard here was the main railhead for the area and was situated midway between the barracks at Chatham and Chattenden (Hoo Peninsula). Naval vehicles went direct into Chatham Dockyard and were dealt with by the Navy. © Roger Goodrum

Late 1960s


Rochester Yard: 1960s

Now up on the footbridge, we can see the vehicle loading dock on the left-hand side. On the right are lines of unfitted 16-ton mineral wagons, which at this time were being loaded with coal by the local merchant.  © Roger Goodrum

Late 1960s


Rochester Yard: Late 1960s

Now looking in the opposite direction, the main line runs along the embankment at the back. Piles of coal are in evidence; the rake of vans were full of sacks of potatoes. © Roger Goodrum


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