Gravesend West

 

Goods facilities here were spacious and indeed, much freight traffic was diverted from the cramped yard at the SER’s station to the LC&DR terminus for handling. Six sidings, generously spaced out, were positioned to the immediate south of the platforms. One of these lines passed through a single-track goods shed (with decidedly smaller dimensions than that which the SER had to offer), whilst another siding terminated alongside cattle pens. The spacious goods facilities were also complemented by a more than adequate array of rolling stock storage sidings. Whilst the LC&DR may have had the upper hand in the freight department, the SER still had a firm grip on the lucrative Gravesend passenger market. What perhaps made the Gravesend West site even more interesting, in terms of freight, was the maze of 3 foot 6 inch narrow gauge lines which sat in the chalk excavation below the elevated approach to the terminus, used by an adjacent Lime Works.

 

On 1st January 1889, the frenetic competition between the SER and LC&DR ended when the two companies officially amalgamated to form the South East & Chatham Railway. As a result, the Gravesend terminus became ''Gravesend West Street'', whilst the longer-established Gravesend through station became ''Gravesend Central''. The resources of the SE&CR were at full stretch during World War I as the company was responsible for duties ranging from providing hospital trains, to conveying military machinery. Passenger traffic on the Gravesend West branch was virtually halved during this period and after the war it struggled to recover, as bus travel was beginning to take a hold on the transport scene. Reviving fortunes for the branch lasted for a period between June 1922 and September 1939, after which World War II broke out. After the conflict, passenger traffic continued to decline, and on 26th September 1949 the suffix ‘’Street’’ was dropped from the name. Passenger traffic ceased completely on 3rd August 1953, but this presented the interesting situation whereby freight traffic was perpetuated, thus the station became an enlarged goods yard (it is worth noting that the goods shed at Central station was still open at this time). General decline of the branch continued further, with the advent of singling in 1959, followed by dieselisation in 1961, the latter seeing the removal of the turntable. Whilst there were promotional attempts during late 1962 to re-open the line to passenger traffic, outlining the branch's electrification, these never materialised and the line was officially closed to all traffic on 24th March 1968. By this time, the ‘’up’’ (southern) canopy was immediately demolished, but all other major structures remained, including the canopy of the ‘’pier’’ platform

 

For several years the station remained largely complete, but neglected, and the track bed was readily traceable. Indeed, a short stretch of the line from Fawkham Junction to Southfleet remained in use until 1976: a bunker at the latter received rail-delivered loads of coal. In addition to the station, the large-scale Lime Works and Paper Mill narrow gauge complex had also gone out of use and the whole chalk excavation – including the terminus – was, by the mid-1980s, planned for redevelopment. In retrospect, this is indeed a shame, because the station in general was of some architectural note. By this time it was in its 1953 guise, lacking just the one canopy and of course, being devoid of track. Unfortunately, the bulldozers began to move in during 1987 and subsequently, the whole station was razed to the ground. Thankfully, the North Downs Railway Society had moved in shortly before the demolition and rescued the remaining canopy components. After prolonged storage at various of their bases, including Stone in Dartford, the canopy sections began to re-emerge during March 2004, at the new Groombridge station on the Spa Valley Railway. Meanwhile, the former site of the narrow gauge industrial lines was transformed into a retail park and indeed, the former standard gauge tunnel of the Gravesend branch was re-used for an access road to this. Considerable lowering of the original track bed was undertaken at this point, to allow a steady road descent down to the retail park (remembering that originally, the railway would have followed an elevated course). Meanwhile, what had survived was the pier extension jutting out into the Thames, and the elevated brick track bed, the latter still maintaining a length of bare metal framework which formerly hosted timber cladding. Everything else upon it had been flattened and since then, the structure has led an unglamorous life of being used to store old vessels, in addition to supporting a portacabin. A brick merchant used the southern end of the elevated track bed (which by this time was now 1¼ centuries old) until September 2006, but nothing permanent was ever erected on top.

 


Early 1970s

 

The goods shed was still very much intact when photographed by Tom Burnham in the early 1970s, the branch having been subject to complete closure in March 1968. The corrugated pitched-roof building retained its wooden double-doors and a rail connection. The track work was, too, virtually complete. © Tom Burnham

 


1970s

 

Gravesend West circa 1975

An eastward view in about 1975 shows the track to have been lifted, but major structures remain in place. The goods yard retained its shed and loading gauge. Note the distinctive kink in the platform face. © Roger Goodrum

 


1970s

 

Gravesend West circa 1975

This is the southern elevation of the main station building, again in about 1975, showing the brickwork and slated roof to be in fine fettle. The sloping roof in the background, to the right, was once part of a brewery - the building still exists, but has been converted into flats.  © Roger Goodrum

 


1970s

 

Gravesend West circa 1975

Also presenting a neatly slated roof was the weighbridge office, situated on the eastern perimeter of the goods yard, beside Stuart Road. The Victorian terraced houses in the background are still evident today. © Roger Goodrum

 


 

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