On 25th November 1837 the South Eastern Railway had begun the construction of its main Dover trunk line, which followed a route through the Weald of Kent. By July 1849 the company had also completed its North Kent Line via Dartford as far as Strood, but rather than continue thereafter to towns on the other side of the Medway, the SER instead decided to extend the commuter line southwards to Maidstone (West), such being completed on 18th June 1856. Concern was raised by the inhabitants of the Medway towns and the general North East Kent area, outlining that their locations had been bypassed by an important railway connection to the capital. At the centre of the railway debate was Faversham and subsequently in 1853, the ''East Kent Railway'' was established to rectify the situation and connect the town with London. The company had been granted an Act of Parliament to link Canterbury with Strood, the latter at which trains would veer onto the SER North Kent Line, eventually giving access to London.
On 25th January 1858, Sittingbourne was placed on the railway map when the East Kent Railway initiated its first train service on newly-laid lines between Faversham and Chatham. Its connection to the capital was not yet physical, but a horse and cart service operated between Chatham and Strood stations, where passengers were transferred onto SER services. The layout at Sittingbourne consisted of two platforms either side of a double-track, the ''up'' side incidentally playing host to a two-storey brick-built station building. The main building is of particular architectural interest: a larger structure, but of similar design, had appeared at Faversham in the same year. However, at the intermediate stations of Gillingham and Rainham, the smaller station designs now seen at Sole Street and Farningham Road were to be found. Even at the end of the line, Chatham, was only a typical building akin to the aforementioned locations provided, which makes the much larger building at Sittingbourne - also just an intermediate station - an anomaly. The station's importance increased when it became the interchange point for branch services to Queenborough and Sheerness-on-Sea, these of which commenced on 19th July 1860, but the later arrival of these trains does not help to answer the question surrounding the seemingly large size of the station building. The Sheerness shuttles did see a third platform face come into use, however, which made the ''down'' side an island. From the outset, a single-track goods shed and associated sidings had been present on the ''up'' side, to the east of the station building.
Through running between Canterbury (LCDR) and Victoria commenced on 3rd December 1860, and an overall roof appeared at Sittingbourne some three years later. It is probable that only a small timber waiting shelter was on the island before this and indeed, the station building would very likely have had just a small canopy valance protecting the platform entrance. The overall triangular pitched roof became a fairly common feature on both SER and LC&DR lines - examples being extant at Canterbury West and Dover Priory to name but two - and unlike trainsheds of most terminals, where the supporting pillars were affixed to the platforms, it was usually the case for the columns to be located at track level, quite often in-between parallel lines. This was certainly the case at Sittingbourne, the arrangement being necessitated to provide full cover for the third platform line of Sheerness trains. After 1899 a few significant changes at the station occurred, one of which was the building of a footbridge to complement the existing subway. The footbridge shared the same fundamental design as that which can also still be seen at Chatham, but the latter appeared just before the formation of the SE&CR. At Sittingbourne, the turntable on the ''up'' side was also removed and its truncated siding left in place, whilst the island platform received lengthening at its western end and the side platform at its eastern end (during the SE&CR period, platform extensions were still undertaken using brick).
The Southern Railway took over in 1923, but the station had been ''Sittingbourne and Milton Regis'' since the formation of the SE&CR. On the larger station name boards the additional suffix ''change here for Queenborough and Sheerness'' was present. The station became just plain ''Sittingbourne'' 1970. Under Southern Railway ownership, Goods sidings appeared on the site adjacent to the Sheerness platform, but the station remained little changed. It was not until British Railways days that serious alterations began occurring. The first was the removal of the overall roof in 1952 and the installation of standard platform canopies - eventually all intermediate stations of the SER and LC&DR which had the trainshed, subsequently lost it during the modernisation pioneered during the 1950s. In 1958, work began at the station in connection with the Kent Coast Electrification, which involved lengthening both platforms with concrete at their eastern ends to accept EMUs twelve vehicles long. With these platforms came concrete bracket lamp posts and on the ''up'' side, to the east of the platforms, a then new ''power box'' was installed, replacing both ''A'' and ''B'' boxes of 1890s lineage. The power box came into use on 24th May 1959, but full electric working on the ''Chatham'' main line to the Kent Coast did not begin until 15th of the following month. Colour lights replaced semaphores, but goods facilities remained active at the station until as late as 1976, possibly due to traffic still generated by the nearby paper mills. Since 1974, the ''down'' side goods loops had been used by chemical trains bound for Sheerness Steel.
In the standard ''Connex'' white and yellow livery, No. 3448 is seen departing Sittingbourne with a
stopping service to Faversham on 11th March 2004. Only half of the front end required a warning
panel after the fitting of high-intensity headlights, although full warning panels on the fleet were
still retained until the final days of Network SouthEast. This particular unit had to be rescued by
Class 73 No. 73108 after failing between Maidstone and Bearsted on 30th December 1999 - a
thick layer of ice had settled on the conductor rail, preventing the conductor shoes receiving power.
An eastward view on 25th February 2006 shows the covered footbridge, which was erected by the
LC&DR to supersede the existing subway arrangement. In this depiction, it is framing No. 375703.
A bay line formerly used the platform face which is now sectioned off with the blue palisade fencing,
on the right. A turntable was also installed just beyond here, on the right and out of the scope of the
camera. This required an additional manoeuvre into a siding parallel with the bay line, to access.
Looking west, the general station layout is seen on 25th February 2006. The canopies are of 1952
origin, having replaced the overall roof. The Class 508 is forming the shuttle service to Sheerness-
on-Sea. David Glasspool
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