John Speller's Web Pages Elham Valley Railway

John Speller's Web Pages - SE&CR
Elham Valley Railway Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled
The Elham Valley Railway was incorporated on 6 August 1866 to build a light railway from Canterbury to Hythe with branches to Chatham and Dover amounting to a total of 19 miles. There was an authorized capital of 800,000 in 10 shares with additional power to borrow an 100,000. The company was unable to raise sufficient capital and was abandoned in 1873. In the meantime the London, Chatham & Dover Railway proposed a line from Canterbury to Dover and Folkestone via the Elham Valley, and this caused considerable alarm in South Eastern Railway quarters. In the end the South Eastern gained the upper hand and obtained an Act on 18 July 1881 to build a railway 16 miles long from Canterbury to Cheriton, just short of Folkestone on the South Eastern main line. The Directors included William Alexander Mackinnon, Jr., a local Member of Parliament who together with his father had been one of the projectors of the original Elham Valley Railway of 1866, and Alfred Mellor Watkin, C.E., son of the Chairman of the South Eastern Railway, Sir Edward Watkin, who had also briefly been Locomotive Superintendent of the South Eastern Railway in 1876. Unlike the earlier proposal for a light railway, the South Eastern Elham line was built as a double track railway to main line standards. The line was opened from Cheriton to Barham on 3 July 1887 and throughout to Canterbury West on 1 July 1889.

Traffic was always disappointingly light and in an attempts to cut costs a steam railmotor service was introduced in 1913.These were not terribly successful as it was generally touch or go whether the railmotor would get up the hill through Etchinghill Tunnel between Cheriton and Lyminge. In World War I the Elham Valley line was taken over by the military who used one line for transportation and the other for storage. For some time after a landslip at Folkestone it became a major route for transporting materiel between Deal and Canterbury. After World War I passenger and goods service was restored, but in order to save money the line was singled and all the signal boxes were taken out of use, the line thereafter being worked on the "one engine in steam" principle. In World War II the line was again taken over by the military and was noteworthy for having an 18-inch Howitzer known as the Boche-Buster stationed on it at Bishopsbourne.

Civilian goods traffic was reinstated towards the end of the War on 19 February 1945 and passenger service was reintroduced between Folkestone and Lyminge on 7 October 1946, though passenger service between Lyminge and Canterbury, which had been suspended when the army took over the line in 1940, was never reintroduced. Even for the goods and truncated passenger service, however, the writing was on the wall, and the Elham Valley Railway did not survive even to Nationalization on 1 January 1948, all services being withdrawn by the Southern Railway on 1 October 1947. While this made a certain sense, there might have been something to be said for retaining just the Lyminge Folkestone service, since Lyminge is a prosperous community of more than 20,000 people that now has no rail link.
Map of the Elham Valley Railway and connections
18-inch Howitzer stationed in Bourne Park Tunnel, Bishopsbourne, during World War II. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Barham signal box, now preserved on the East Kent Railway. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Postcard view of Elham in around 1920 showing the station in the foreground
Site Contents Untitled