All Steamed up in Chislehurst

Read a write-up by Jed Bailey of Jeremy Clarkes’ recent talk ‘Railway Rivalry in Kent’, presented at the Old Chapel in October.

Back in the eighties a local estate agent was renowned for telling potential clients “ Only being able to hear the trains truly defines homes in the real Chislehurst”. The tangled web of train lines snaking out from London and eventually reaching Chislehurst was the subject of Jeremy Clarke’s fascinating latest history series talk – Railway Rivalry in Kent. In the mid 1800’s the combination of engineering genius, geography defying building feats and commercial rivalry, bordering on skulduggery, heralded a fascinating race to reach Dover as steam railway entrepreneurs saw huge potential profits in bringing railway travel to the burgeoning London population and winning the ultimate prize of fastest travel for wealthy continental travellers.

A line to the east via Redhill was an early attempt, but several companies could see that overcoming natural hazards such as hills and the river Medway, could be more direct and quicker. Company mergers, sharp practice and several legal challenges could not slow the pace as lines spread to Maidstone, Strood, Canterbury and on to Dover. Significantly in 1859 the parochial East Kent Railway, then completing its line west to the capital and east to Dover much to the concern of the rival South Eastern Railway,renamed itself the London Chatham and Dover Railway. Bickley station opened on this line as Southborough Road on 5th July 1858. ( it was named Bickley two years later)

While branch lines connected Beckenham and Crystal Palace, Chislehurst was a late comer, the first station opening 1st Judy 1865 as Chislehurst and Bickley Park. It was situated north of the brick bridge over Chislehurst Road and became a goods yard on extension onward to Sevenoaks on 2nd March 1868 when the present station opened as plain Chislehurst. It was to be another three months before the Dover line was reached at Tonbridge and continental traffic began to pass this route through our locality.

Elmstead opened on 1st July 1904 and was renamed Elmstead Woods 1st October 1908 when four line working arrived. Apart from electrification and improvements to Chislehurst junction the layout is much the same today.

Soon after quadrupling the spurs joining the SER and the Chatham lines at Chislehurst Junction were completed (much changed incidentally for Kent Coast Electrification in 1959/62). Electrification through Chislehurst was part of the major suburban installation out of Charing Cross/Cannon Street completed in July 1926. Bickley got the third rail a year earlier as part of the Victoria/Holborn Viaduct-Orpington scheme.