A later addition to the "Chatham" main line, this station still retained a plethora of structural features from a bygone era to the end. Ornate cast iron railings, a copious platform canopy, and a substantial main building survived as historic artefacts reminding us of an earlier time. Indeed, its elevated windswept platforms, overlooking the Medway, could be inhospitable on cold winter nights, but it was nevertheless sad to see the closure of this traditional site.
The "East Kent Railway" (EKR) opened the double-track line through Rochester on 29th March 1859. This was a 1½-mile-long extension of the company’s 1858-commissioned Faversham to Chatham route, which linked the latter with the SER’s North Kent Line at Strood. The EKR wanted to run its trains over the North Kent Line in order to reach the metals of the "West End of London & Crystal Palace Railway", these providing access to the site of a new West End terminus (latterly Victoria), but the SER had other ideas. The SER’s claim that the North Kent Line was already at capacity urged the EKR to develop an independent route to the capital, and to reflect this endeavour, the company was renamed the "London Chatham & Dover Railway" from 1st August 1859.
Progress was swift; on 3rd December 1860, through running between the then new terminus at Victoria and Canterbury, via Bromley and Faversham, commenced. On the same day, a station named "Strood" came into use on the northern bank of the River Medway, just beyond the junction with the North Kent Line connecting spur. The LC&DR renamed this site "Rochester Bridge" on 1st March 1861, to differentiate it from the existing SER "Strood" station. On 1st November of the same year, the name was altered once again, this time to "Rochester & Strood", emphasising that the station served both of these places. In the meantime, trains from Victoria started running all the way to Dover by the LC&DR route from 22nd July 1861.
The first "proper" Rochester station, one which actually resided within the boundaries of the Cathedral City on the south side of the Medway, was not provided by the LC&DR, but instead by the rival SER. The SER proposed running its own services to Chatham over LC&DR metals from Strood. The LC&DR blocked these proposals, no doubt remembering the SER’s lack of cooperation in those fledgling days of the EKR, when the latter tried to secure running rights over the North Kent Line. Just as the EKR had done back in 1859, the SER decided to forge a route independent of its rival’s, extending the North Kent Line south of the Medway. Parliamentary powers for this alternative line to Chatham were granted in 1881, and as part of this very costly route, the SER constructed a 650-foot-long lattice girder bridge over the river, parallel with the existing LC&DR bridge. Thereafter, the double-track line was carried upon a substantial viaduct, taking it over the rails of a goods yard belonging to the LC&DR, and onto a terminus station.
The SER’s "Chatham Extension", as it was known, opened in two stages. The first section, ½-mile-long between the SER’s Strood and a new station south of the Medway in Rochester, came into use on 20th July 1891. The new site was called "Rochester Common", this being a two-platform station perched upon the viaduct, and it initially served as a terminus. Indeed, it is this site which can claim to be Rochester's first "proper" station, located on the northern periphery of the city. During construction of the remaining ½-mile-long stretch to the branch's terminus, the SER was engaged in a race with the LC&DR. The latter was also in the process of bringing into use a new station in Rochester, situated on their main line upon an embankment about ½-mile south of the Medway, and the rivalry was reported in the press at the time:
New Railway Stations - Both the London, Chatham, and Dover and South Eastern Railway Companies are building stations under St. Margaret's-bank, Rochester, and there is the keenest of competition as to which shall open first. Both have named the 1st February as the day on which passengers will be accommodated at the new "depots", but neither is yet sufficiently advanced to invite a visit from the Board of Trade Inspector. The Thanet Advertiser; Saturday, 23rd January 1892
Both companies brought their stations into use on the same day, a month later than proposed, on 1st March 1892; the LC&DR's site was called plain "Rochester", whilst the terminus of the SER, just 200-yards away, was laughably named "Chatham Central". So, in just over seven months, Rochester had acquired three separate stations.
The LC&DR site comprised a pair of 480-foot-long timber-built platforms upon an embankment; attractive timber canopies, 120-feet-long and built to a design still evident today at Ravensbourne, graced both surfaces. At the southern end of the "down" platform could be found the signal box, and the main station building was at ground level, on the "up" side of the running lines. The latter was a tidy two-storey structure constructed from crème brick, with a slated pitched roof and sash-style windows. The station's upcoming opening was briefly mentioned in the The Dover Express on Friday, 26th February 1892:
Rochester New Station. - The London, Chatham, and Dover Railway Company's new station at Rochester will be opened for passenger traffic on Tuesday next, March 1st. A new service of express trains to London has been organized, and no doubt the saving of time thus affected will be much appreciated by the travelling public. The new station is situated in Rochester High-street, and its construction combines every convenience that modern improvement can suggest.
11th April 1973
Rochester signal box is in the background of this view, which depicts diesel shunter No. D3671 (latterly Class 09 No. 09007) waiting to take a local trip freight to Gillingham Yard. Walking beside the locomotive is the late George Turner, who at that time was the head shunter at Rochester.
© Roger Goodrum
Viewed from the 1959 ''power box'', 4 VEP No. 7888 is seen forming the front portion of an 8-vehicle train, as it approaches the station with a Victoria to Ramsgate service. The double-slip in the foreground gave access to the low-level goods yard.
© David Glasspool Collection
At the same location as the previous photograph, we now see grubby Class 33 No. 33065 hauling a rake of equally dirty tankers. On the far right, in front of the railway personnel, is milepost 33½ from Victoria.
© David Glasspool Collection
A 4 VEP is seen calling at the ''down'' platform in this northward view, taken from atop Fort Pitt Hill around 1983. Of particular note is the lengthy lattice footbridge in the background, on the right, which indicates the position of the goods yard. Just below the footbridge can be seen the wall of the huge LC&DR goods shed, now devoid of a roof. Behind the footbridge is the ''power box'' of 1959 origin, whilst on the far left, nearer the camera, is the main station building.