Sharnal Street

This was one of a series of now long-gone stations situated upon the rather desolate single-track line across the Hoo Peninsula. Passenger services along the route did not even survive long enough to be considered for closure in the infamous The Reshaping of British Railways report published in March 1963, and structural remains of any former station are very hard to come by. A water tower amongst the caravans at Allhallows-on-Sea is the most prominent remain of any station which was served by the branch line from Hoo Junction; perhaps if you’re lucky, it might be possible to glimpse the wooden foundations of Port Victoria’s former railway pier at low tide. Not even the prefabricated concrete platform of Grain station — a very late addition to the line in 1951, having been opened for oil refinery workers — exists; the structure was flattened in the mid-1990s. Similarly at Sharnal Street, the original terminus of the line, not a brick nor timber of the station remains today. Part of the site is now occupied by an electricity substation and, at its south eastern end, is crossed by a realigned Ratcliffe Highway road.

The “Hundred of Hoo Railway” was incorporated by an Act of 21st July 1879 to build a single-track line, 9-miles, 4-chains, and 16-yards in length, from the South Eastern Railway (SER) at Shorne, to Stoke. The connection with the SER at Shorne — 3¼-miles east of Gravesend — is today known as “Hoo Junction”, and a condition of the Act was that work had to be completed within five years. Authorised capital was £80,000 (£8,654,000 at 2021 prices) in the form of £10 shares, and loans up to £26,000. A second Act, dated 2nd August 1880, authorised an extension of about 3½-mile length from Stoke to the Parish of St James, Isle of Grain, which permitted a new overall capital of £200,000 (£21,630,000 at 2021 prices) with additional borrowing powers of up to £65,000. Finally, an Act dated 11th August 1881 vested the independent “Hundred of Hoo Railway” into the SER (ref: Bradshaw’s Railway Manual, 1894).

The first 5½-miles of single-track between Hoo Juncton and Sharnal Street was opened on Friday, 31st March 1882. The only intermediate station was at Cliffe, and at this time it was reported that nearly three miles of line beyond the temporary terminus at Sharnal Street had been laid down and steady progress was being made towards Port Victoria. On the day of opening a lunch was held at Sharnal Street by invited guests who had travelled from Gravesend at 11:07 AM on a train decorated with bunting. Sir Edward Watkin, Mr John Shaw, and Mr Myles Fenton — of the SER — were due to be in attendance, but they were held up in London as a result of Parliamentary matters; as a result, they were represented by Mr Howard Russel, the solicitor for the "Hundred of Hoo Railway". There were six trains in either direction on weekdays, with an additional late night London and Gravesend to Sharnal Street train on Saturdays (ref: The Bromley Journal and West Kent Herald, 6th April 1882).

An informal opening of the 6½-mile-long single-track from Sharnal Street to Port Victoria took place on Saturday, 9th September 1882, when the SER ran a special train with a large number of invited guests. The line across the Hoo Peninsula was the work of the SER’s engineer, Francis Brady, and the first service trains ran the following Monday. Whilst Cliffe and Sharnal Street stations were seen as useful for local traffic, the route’s main purpose was to open up another route to the continent, by connecting with steam ships from Northern Europe at Port Victoria.


Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

Sharnal Street was a typical rural SER intermediate station of the late 19th Century. One timber-faced platform was provided on the south side of a runaround loop, and upon this surface was erected a single-storey main building of clapboard construction. The latter was set upon a shallow brick base, had chimneystacks of the same material, and a hipped slated roof. A generous platform canopy demonstrating a semi-circular cross-section — as per those at Paddock Wood, albeit lacking that station’s decorative valance — was provided, and a virtually identical station was built at neighbouring Cliffe. Three goods sidings were laid on the Gravesend side of the station, south of the running lines, and the layout was controlled by an SER-designed two-storey-high signal box. Of the latter, this was of clapboard construction, just like the main station building, featured sash-style windows and a hipped slated roof, and was located on the opposite side of the runaround loop to the sidings.

Sharnal Street’s first Station Master was one Thomas Day, who had been employed by the SER as a ticket collector at Ashford. From ticket collector to Station Master must have been quite a promotion:

A purse of twenty five sovereigns has this week been presented to Mr. Thomas Day, ticket collector at the Ashford station for the past six years, who was recently promoted to be Station Master at Sharnal Street, on the new Hundred of Hoo line. The money was subscribed by pretty well 150 persons of all ranks in and around Ashford, and a kind and friendly address accompanied the testimonial. [Kent and Sussex Times, Saturday 20 May 1882]

It appears that Thomas Day was replaced as Station Master at Sharnal Street about 2½-years later by a Mr W. Baker:

Mr. W. Baker, who for over sixteen years has been goods clerk at the Dorking South-Eastern station, has been appointed Station Master at Sharnal Street station, a few miles from Gravesend. [The Surrey Mirror and General County Advertiser, Saturday 29 November 1884]

In spite of being in such a sparsely-populated location, the Station Master was afforded a substantial two-storey-high brick-built house. This was located on the south side of the line and was built into the edge of the cutting through which the station’s entrance road passed. An identical structure was provided at Cliffe.

24th September 1960

The arched canopy of the main building is in evidence on the left of this Hoo Junction-bound view, which shows "The North Kent Rail Tour", organised by the "Railway Enthusiasts' Club", during a brief stop. The tour had started at Gravesend Central and was scheduled to visit Allhallows-on-Sea, Grain, Tovil, Chatham Dockyard, and Sheerness-on-Sea branches, before returning to its point of origin. Push-pull set No. 610 — formed by a pair of Maunsell carriages — and an ex-SE&CR compartment carriage make-up the train, which at this stage was being propelled by "H" Class No. 31512. The ramp on the right is that of the prefabricated concrete platform erected by the Southern Railway. Below the ramp can be seen the cables from the signal box, whilst in the foreground is one of two track foot crossings — the second can just be seen in the distance. © David Glasspool Collection

In 1901, a connection via a series of exchange sidings — owned by the Admiralty (ref: The Railway Magazine, March 1933) — was made between the SER’s line at Sharnal Street and the “Chattenden Naval Railway”. The latter is a subject in its own right and could fill a book; a detailed look at it would be too much of a digression for this section, which concerns the SER’s station. However, it is worth noting that the proposals for this two-mile-long standard gauge line, running between Lodge Hill and Sharnal Street, came to the fore in January 1901:

Major J. Wallace Pringle, RE., has held an enquiry at Chattenden Barracks, near Chatham, into the proposed Chattenden naval tramway which the Admiralty propose to construct in order to place the new naval ordnance magazines in direct communication with Woolwich Arsenal. [The Electrical Engineer, 18th January 1901]

Lodge Hill was located on the southern edge of the Hoo Peninsula, about 2¾-miles north of Chatham. It was adjacent to Chattenden, the latter of which was home to barracks that had originally been built for the Royal Engineers, a unit of the British Army. At both Lodge Hill and Chattenden, “magazines” — which were storerooms for explosives — were built for the Naval Ordnance Department based at Chatham. Construction of then new magazines for the Admiralty at Chattenden Barracks were reported as being well underway in 1899, and their remoteness from the Royal Dockyard at Chatham was seen as an advantage in terms of safety, given the danger of explosion (ref: The Sketch, 16th August 1899). The magazines’ direct communication with Woolwich Arsenal, mentioned above, was by means of the North Kent Line via Dartford and Gravesend. The two-mile Chattenden Naval Tramway between Sharnal Street and Lodge Hill was formally approved by a Light Railway Act dated 24th July 1901.

22nd May 1961

A train comprised wholly of SE&CR-designed stock: “H” Class 0-4-4 No. 31305 is seen hauling carriages packed with families out of the “down” loop, bound for Allhallows-on-Sea, on Whit Monday Bank Holiday. On the right can be seen the single-track leading through the open gate to the exchange sidings with the Chattenden Naval Tramway. © David Glasspool Collection

The 1909 Ordnance Survey edition shows a track bed heading south east from the aforementioned exchange sidings at Sharnal Street, which is marked as Railway in course or construction. Eventually, this track bed extended for 1¾-miles and terminated at the northern bank of the Medway at Kingsnorth; the track subsequently laid upon it became operational in 1915 to serve a Royal Navy Air Service station. Of the latter, this comprised an airship factory and a munitions store and, like the Chattenden Naval Railway, is a subject which could take up an entire book in its own right.

Before we can return to the specifics of the railway station, mention should also be made of the "Kingsnorth Light Railway", at least for the sake of completeness. In 1926, powers were obtained by Messrs Holm and Company Limited (of 181 Queen Victoria Street, London) to reconstruct the existing standard gauge railway of 1915 from Sharnal Street to Kingsnorth Pier and operate it as a Light Railway for passenger and goods traffic. It was reported at the time that Messrs Holm and Company possessed a large site at Kingsnorth, upon which they had a factory manufacturing pulp wood (ref: Pulp and Paper Magazine, 9th December 1926). Powers to operate the line remained with the Admiralty until formally being transferred to the Kingsnorth Light Railway Company by an Act dated 25th July 1929. The advantages of Light Railway legislation included less stringent standards of construction compared to main lines; however, as a result, it also imposed severe speed restrictions.

30th September 1961

A view towards the Isle of Grain shows, on the left, "H" Class 0-4-4 No. 31518 propelling a push-pull set on a Gravesend Central to Allhallows-on-Sea service; on the right is "C" Class 0-6-0 No. 31716 on a return working. This photograph affords a fine view of the main station structures: on the right is the single-storey clapboard main building with arched canopy (under which can be seen a sign for the Gentlemen's toilets), a creation so typical of the SER; on the left is the signal box, the design of which was also the product of the SER. Note that the platform ramp in front of the signal box is formed of timber planks, rather than being of concrete construction. © David Glasspool Collection

The Southern Railway (SR) opened a 1¾-mile-long single-track branch line to Allhallows-on-Sea, which left the original “Hundred of Hoo” line just under 4-miles east of Sharnal Street at “Stoke Junction”, on 14th May 1932. The SR was optimistic that Allhallows-on-Sea could develop into a genuine holiday resort: as a result, the spur between there and Stoke Junction was doubled in time for the 1935 summer timetable. A period article suggests that by late February 1935, the upgrading of the branch had already been completed; presumably, works started in 1934:

Improvements and alterations are being undertaken at several large stations, among which is Tonbridge, where a vast amount has been done and will be done. The branch line to Allhallows, on the North Kent coast, has been improved to deal with increased passenger traffic during the summer months. [The Kentish Express, 22nd February 1935]

Coinciding with the Allhallows-on-Sea branch upgrade, the SR brought new platforms into use at both Sharnal Street and Cliffe stations. The additional platforms sat on the opposite side of passing loops at these sites to the original structures, and were of prefabricated concrete construction. The components for the platforms were precast at the SR’s concrete works at Exmouth Junction in Devon.

In his 1946 book titled Mineral Railways [The Light Railway Handbooks], R. W. Kidner states that the rails of the Kingsnorth Light Railway Company were taken up by the military in 1940, but the proprietors still had the intention of reopening the line. This seems to be accurate, because aerial photographs from 1940 do indeed show an absence of track east of Sharnal Street exchange sidings. As history has shown, reopening of the Kingsnorth Light Railway never happened.

We now come to station closure. In November 1961, British Railways’ Southern Region announced in local newspapers the withdrawal of passenger services between Gravesend Central, Allhallows-on-Sea, and Grain. Allhallows-on-Sea would close completely, but it was stated that existing goods facilities and sidings at other stations would remain available for use. Additional bus services in the area were to be provided for business and school use. The last passenger services ran on Sunday, 3rd December 1961, closure being effective from the following day. It was reported in the Kentish Express on 8th December 1961 that Sharnal Street station had been decorated in purple crepe for the last day and that protest notices against the closure were prominently displayed. Withdrawal of public goods traffic from Sharnal Street was effective from 20th August 1962.

2nd December 1961

In this Hoo Junction-bound view, “H” Class 4-4-0 No. 31530 is seen propelling push-pull coach set No. 616 into the platform loop that was laid in preparation for the start of the summer 1935 timetable. Part of the trio of “up” sidings situated west of the station are in evidence, which includes a loading gauge where all three converge. Note the shunt signal in line with the post of the loading gauge. © David Glasspool Collection

2nd December 1961

Looking in the Grain direction, No. 31350 is seen departing Sharnal Street on its return passenger working to Gravesend Central. On the left, in-between the tracks, can be seen a ground-level shunt signal; next is the all-timber SER-designed signal box; the dock platform on the right appears to be occupied by a cattle wagon; finally, in the far right background is the whitewashed Station Master’s house. © David Glasspool Collection