Rochester’s lost railway stations

Right. This one is for 10 points. Where were the other two railway stations in Rochester? Give up?  They were called Rochester Common and Rochester Bridge station (which was in Strood).

The two other stations were the by-product of an incredible rivalry between railway companies in the second half of the 19th century which also led to two bridges across the Medway, side by side, each carrying the trains in the same direction.

The tale is told in Leslie Oppitz’s excellent book, Lost Railways of Kent. The rivalry, Mr Oppitz writes, started in 1891-92 when the South Eastern Railway duplicated a service run by the London, Chatham & Dover Railway in an effort to capture the traffic from the growing Chatham population.

The new SER branch line cost so much to build and was so little used that it became a white elephant almost as soon as it was finished. New stations — Rochester Common and Chatham Central — were built only yards away from the other halts.

The Chatham line was fated. It could hardly compete with the LCDR, which connected to London. Its carriages were also considered uncomfortable, rather smoky and often covered in ash.

The old SER loop was shut in 1911 and eventually connected to the main line to London now in use today. Other relics of this odd era also exist. The SER’s rather grand railway bridge across the Medway is still used. The LCDR version was strengthened in the Second World War in case it was needed. It was eventually demolished and the foundations used for today’s second road bridge — opened by Princess Margaret in 1970.

Chatham Central station was on the Chatham side of the bridge at St Margaret’s Banks

Chatham Central, Rochester Bridge station and Rochester Common are all gone. Rochester Bridge station was on the Strood side of the river, where Passmores now stands and the booking office was where the widened road now is. Rochester Common was on Cory’s Road, just off Gas House Road.

Chatham Central station was the Chatham side of the bridge in Rochester High Street and the last part of the station, the master’s house, was removed when a car park was built. You can see where from the map reproduced above.

The only known photograph of Chatham central station, which shut on 1 October, 1911

Reader Richard Green wrote to point out that the station could be reached by William Street and was within sight of Chatham Goods depot, which stood alongside Blue Boar Lane.

Retired schoolmaster John Austin provided me with this picture of Chatham Central station. It was taken in 1982 and was then in a sorry state.

Some years ago, Mr Austin wrote and privately published A Sketchbook of the River Medway and began to research the relationship between the river and the railways.

He writes: “The stations were built by the South Eastern Railway in its endeavour to capture some of the passengers (not the hideous modern term of customers) from the London, Chatham & Dover Railway. In fact, Chatham Central was more than half a mile from Chatham station, run by LCDR.

The site of Chatham Central station in 1982

“Its site was just west of the former Doust’s slipway, known in the 19th century as Medway Slipway Yard, owned by WG Gill & Sons, which is in Rochester. Admittedly, it’s in an area once called Chatham Intra — a kind of no-man’s-land between the boundaries.

“Apparently, in those days, the dwellers in Chatham Intra had the right to be buried either in Chatham or Rochester. Charles Dickens, in his story Seven Poor Travellers, mentions the area as ‘into Rochester or Chatham  … because if anybody knows to a nicety where Rochester ends and Chatham begins, it is more than I do’.”

This whole area has now been built over — to provide apartments for students at the Kent Institute of Art and Design. Mr Austin adds: “Until about 20 years ago, evidence of the station was still clearly seen in the way of the boundary wall between the slipway area and the High Street opposite the end of St Margaret’s Banks.

“The wall with its bricked-up windows was all that remained of the booking hall and the stationmaster’s house. Between the wall and the old Pickfords store, once part of the Naval Victualling Stores, were some huge beams entrenched in the ground. These were, I was told, part of the station.

“Almost opposite was a pub called the Victualling Office Inn. The pub, originally the King’s Arms, became the Central Hotel when the station was built. Adjoining the wharf was a small cul-de-sac called William Street, later called Railway Place.”

Mr Austin also has some information on Rochester Common station and says its last remains were removed not too long ago.

“The arches beneath the old station were once the home of Rochester police traffic division. In building the Rochester railway bridge — the one still used — the old town quay was demolished. A plaque can still be seen on the side of the bridge proclaiming this.” I must search this out, Mr Austin. I can remember seeing a plaque nearby during a Math School lunch hour in the 1960s but last time I tried, a fence prevented me.

The railway was not an altogether positive innovation, however. It had a bad effect on one traditional trade, Mr Austin says: “This whole part of Rochester, the subject now of so many developments and plans, was once a thriving community of hard-working people, many connected with the river industries.

“The coming of the LCDR cut that part of Rochester off from the rest, physically — as it does today.”

One last relic exists. In 1910, P class 0-6-0 locomotives were used on the loop line. One of these was no 323, which is now Bluebell on the preserved railway line in Sussex border.


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5 thoughts on “Rochester’s lost railway stations”

  1. Regarding Chatham Central station, I think the Pickfords warehouse is still there. It has been converted to residential accommodation and is surrounded by a modern estate in retro style.

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