Strood Shed

Having closed to steam traction as long ago as 1939, the former site of this engine shed is now buried under residential development, the structure having survived for three decades as a goods depot. Strood was an early motive power depot casualty, succumbing to the Southern Railway’s pre-war electrification of ex-South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR) suburban lines, which expanded the use of the erstwhile London & South Western Railway’s 660-volts D.C. third rail system.

The section of railway between Denton, on Gravesend’s Marshes, and Strood is the oldest part of what eventually became the North Kent Line, opening to traffic as a single-track route on 10th February 1845. The South Eastern Railway (SER) took over the original company - the Gravesend & Rochester Railway (G&RR) - in May 1846, closed the line in the following December, and then reopened it as a double-track route in August 1847. The railway became part of the North Kent Line proper after the opening of the latter from the Grand Surrey Canal in South East London through to Denton on 30th July 1849.

North Kent Line trains initially used the original Strood station of the G&RR; a single platform terminus comprising a twin-span trainshed covering three tracks, near the water’s edge. On the commissioning of the extension to Maidstone in 1856, a replacement through station was opened on a new alignment west of the previous terminus, passenger traffic starting on 18th June of that year.

The precise origins of Strood’s engine shed are unclear, but it is unlikely that such a substantial structure was erected by the fledgling G&RR, which originally ran a single track through Higham and Strood Tunnels, partially supported upon a tow path and wooden stilts. The shed was situated immediately south of the portal of Strood Tunnel, upon a compact site sandwiched in-between the “up” running line and edge of a cutting. The structure was distant from the G&RR’s terminus, instead following the curvature of the realigned route of 1856, suggesting it came into use with the Maidstone line. There, however, still remains scope for the shed to have opened with the North Kent Line in 1849 given that, at the time of opening, Strood was the route’s eastern terminus and the next SER locomotive depot in the London direction was Bricklayers Arms. Indeed, the SER had inherited a shed from the London & Greenwich Railway at Deptford, but this was situated on a dead-end branch line which, as far as operating practices were concerned, was a self-contained part of the network.

The floor plan of Strood shed was a reversed L-shape, the main part of which measured 30-foot wide by 170-foot long. It comprised a slated pitched roof and was constructed from the same yellow brickwork which the SER had used for stations along the line, such as those at Dartford and Gravesend. From the outset, just a single, dead-end track entered this part of the shed from the south. The smaller part of the building - the bottom of the "L" - was also 30-foot wide, but just 60-foot long; it comprised offices, but was never host to a track, and inset to it was a water tank. A turntable was situated immediately east of the shed’s offices and a characteristic of the depot from the earliest years was that it could only be accessed by locomotives reversing into a head shunt to the south.

The 1895 Ordnance Survey Edition still shows a single line entering the engine shed; the 1896 Edition includes a second track within the building. Typically, the map surveys were conducted some years before publication, so the shed’s second track was possibly laid in conjunction with the completion of the SER’s Chatham Central branch in 1892. At this time, a new turntable was installed on a site just south of the previous one, partially nestled within the right angle of the shed’s reversed “L” shape, and a single siding was laid next to the building’s western elevation.

In his book titled The North Kent Line (1977), R. W. Kidner provides insight to the motive power used on the North Kent Line during the SER years and the engine classes allocated to Strood:

[In the earliest years] Some Forrester or Sharp singles may have been used on the through trains to Strood, but for the Woolwich service smaller engines such as the Bury 0-4-0s would have sufficed, and things would not have improved much until after 1860 when the Ashford Works was in production.

On the arrival of Stirling at Ashford in 1878, plans were made for four new classes of engines, the A class 4-4-0 for the hilly Hastings line, the F class 4-4-0 for expresses, the O class 0-6-0 for fast goods trains, and the Q class 0-4-4T for semi-fast suburban trains. All except the A class would see long service on the North Kent; the Q class, which began to come out in 1881, was still working at electrification in 1926; in fact when the Slades Green locomotive shed was opened at the turn of the century almost all the Q class engines at Bricklayers Arms were moved down there, and there were several allocated to Strood.

From 1904 onwards, North Kent Line motive power was bolstered by Harry Wainwright’s “H” Class 0-4-4 tank engines. These locomotives were built at Ashford Works to haul passenger trains on the SE&CR’s suburban routes and rural branch lines, and allocations of the type were received by Strood, the LC&DR shed at nearby New Brompton (Gillingham), and down the Medway Valley at Maidstone West.

The start of the decline was marked by electrification of the North Kent routes through to Dartford in 1926, resulting in the closure of Slades Green shed to steam traction. Gravesend was reached by third rail in 1930 and, finally, this was extended to Maidstone West and Gillingham; electric traction replaced steam locomotives on suburban passenger services on North Kent and “Chatham” routes from 2nd July 1939. Sheds at both Maidstone West and Strood were closed, whilst Gillingham was retained - albeit with reduced allocation - in conjunction with the ex-LC&DR depot at Faversham.

After closure, Strood’s former locomotive shed was used as a goods depot. The turntable was removed, but the siding which served it retained, and the track layout rationalised so that just one line - the original - entered the shed building. The siding which was situated west of the structure also disappeared. The building remained largely complete, minus water tank, until being demolished in 1970. The former site of the shed was finally redeveloped in the late 1990s into residential property.

3rd June 1964

This northward view offers a rare close-up of the former engine shed, which by this time was over a century old and had been closed to steam traction for 25 years. The track which can be seen entering the building follows the original alignment from when the shed first opened and it is evident that this entrance still retained wooden doors. It is obvious that the opening through which the second track - laid in the 1890s - passed has been bricked up. The brickwork looks too recent to have been constructed immediately after closure in 1939, so it is likely post-war in origin. The siding to the right of the building formerly led to the turntable and coal stage. The overgrown area on the left was once occupied by a siding which was laid in the 1890s, but lifted after the shed closed in 1939. The office section - described in the main text as “the bottom of the L” - shared the same roof profile as the main shed shown here; it was, however, only about a third of the length of the latter. The banner repeater on the right was for the signals at the portal of Strood Tunnel, which would have been obscured as a result of the sharp curve from the station and the presence of the signal box. © Terry Tracey

18th July 1967

A southward view from atop the chalk ridge shows the tracks to Strood Dock (the former canal basin) diverging to the left, and the running lines to the station (where a BR (S) Green 2-HAP can be seen) curving sharply to the right. The reverse “L” shape of the former engine shed, on the right, is evident; the structure was minus its water tank by this stage, but the base which once supported this is clearly evident, complete with glazed arched window. Note that the pitched roof of the offices lacked the centrally-located vent of the engine shed. The former shed building was demolished in 1970; the signal box in front, which dated from 1939, closed the following year. The coal yard, to the left of the station, was packed with wagons, and eagle-eyed viewers may just be able to pick out the closed Rochester Bridge station on the distant horizon, to the far right. © Terry Tracey