Elham Valley Railway

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Elham Valley Railway
Ashford to Ramsgate line towards Ramsgate
Canterbury West
Closed spur
Chatham Main Line
Harbledown Junction
Ashford to Ramsgate line
Great Stour river
Canterbury South
Bourne Park Tunnel
Etchinghill Tunnel (97 yards)
Cheriton Junction
Cheriton Halt - Shorncliffe (now Folkestone West)
South Eastern Main Line

The Elham Valley Railway is a disused railway line that runs through the Elham Valley connecting Folkestone and Canterbury in East Kent. It was operational from 1887 to 1947.


The first concept of a line connecting Canterbury to Folkestone occurred in 1830 when a group of landowners and priests began to discuss the possibility of the line; however this was not a concerted effort and each group had their own interest. They started the Elham Valley Light Railway company and a single track line with stations at Elham, Barham, Canterbury West and Shorncliffe railway was authorised on 18 June 1861. However despite initial success they failed to convince either of the big two railway companies in the south east to support them - South Eastern Railway (SER) and London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) and the matter was quietly dropped. However the scheme re-emerged when the LCDR planned to link Canterbury East to Folkestone through the Alkham Valley. This alarmed the SER and their chairman Sir Edward Watkin and for a period of time both railways argued that their scheme was superior. Eventually the SER came out on top. However if it was built as a light railway, it could not be considered an integral part of the SER network, and so was built to the same standard as the main line.[1]


The Elham Valley line can be seen in context with other railway lines in Kent

The railway taken over by South Eastern Railway by an Act of Parliament of 28 July 1884.[2] A double track line was built and work began in 1884 and the first stage, from Shorncliffe (now Folkestone West) to Barham opened on 4 July 1887.[2] The stretch from Barham to Canterbury was more difficult as rich landowners objected to trains passing through their land. The most stubborn was Matthew Bell who refused to see trains pass by the back of his mansion, and reluctantly the SER agreed to build Bourne Park tunnel instead of two bridges. In Canterbury, the South Eastern Railway wanted a station close to Wincheap but planning permission was refused, so the South Eastern had to site its Canterbury South station much further south. Canterbury was reached in 1890 where it joined the Ashford - Ramsgate line at Harbledown Junction.

When the two railway companies SER and LCDR merged in 1899 to form the South Eastern and Chatham Railway (SECR), there were livery changes at the stations. Railmotors were introduced in 1913 although these struggled to cope with the steep climb up from Cheriton junction through Etchinghill tunnel and onto Lyminge.[1]

During World War I the line was taken over by the army, with much of the track used for storage, so single line working was introduced. Following a landslip at Folkestone Warren closing the main line between Folkestone and Dover in 1915, the Elham Valley line become a diversionary route for movement between the two ports via Deal, Minster and Canterbury.[1]

Grouping, decline and closure[edit]

Boche Buster seen from within Bourne Park Tunnel, at Bishopsbourne in Kent, 21 March 1941

When the Grouping Act of 1923 came into force, the Elham valley railway was absorbed by Southern Railway (SR or just "Southern"). Competition from parallel bus services was reducing patronage and accordingly to save money they immediately announced they would single the line and undertake staff reductions. In 1931 the line was singled between Harbledown Junction and Lyminge, the section from Lyminge to Cheriton remaining double tracked.

During the World War II the line was closed to passengers in 1940 and again taken over by the military. It was home to a huge Railway gun called the Boche Buster which could fire shells of 1.4 tons over a range of 12 miles, and was kept in Bourne Park tunnel. The Elham Valley railway had some important visitors including Mrs Roosevelt, Mrs Churchill and Winston Churchill.

After World War II the line was returned to its normal purpose. The section between Cheriton Jn and Lyminge was reopened to passenger traffic on 7 October 1946 and a daily goods train served the remained of the route. With passengers now using the bus service and trains running with few passengers the Southern Railway withdrew regular services over the whole Elham Valley line on the 16 June 1947 although a limited freight service ran until 1 October 1947.[3] Lifting of the line occurred in 1950-54.[1]

The route[edit]

The railway ran from Canterbury West (Harbledown Jn) and finished at Cheriton Jn. The line had intermediate stops at Canterbury South, Bridge, Kent, Bishopsbourne, Barham, Elham and Lyminge. The line stretched for 16 miles and is generally regarded as one of the most attractive English branch lines.[citation needed]

The railway today[edit]

Barham Signal Box, preserved on the East Kent Railway

Both tunnels survive, as does some of the trackbed albeit largely covered by vegetation. Three stations still exist, Lyminge as a public library and those at Bishopsbourne and Bridge as private residences. Between Canterbury West to South only a short section of embankment survives curving away from the junction at Harbledown. Little remains of the route between Barham and Lyminge. The section between Peene and Cheriton Junction has been built over by the Channel Tunnel terminal building. Canterbury South and Barham stations have been lost to housing developments. At Elham the station platform now forms the garden boundary wall[3] of a house in a road called "The Sidings".

There is a museum at Peene, near the Channel Tunnel terminal, which contains many artifacts of railway history and a working model railway of what the line would have been like in SER days.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d Oppitz, Leslie (2003). Lost Railways of Kent. 
  2. ^ a b Awdry, Christopher (1990). Encyclopaedia of British Railway Companies. Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-8526-0049-7. OCLC 19514063.  Page 185.
  3. ^ a b Catford, Nick (10 March 2012). "Elham". Disused Stations. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  4. ^ "Elham Valley Line Trust". Retrieved 11 December 2008. 

Further reading[edit]

Elham Valley Line by Brian Hart, published by Wild Swan Publications Ltd, Dec 1984

External links[edit]