Bowaters Paper Railway

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Bowaters Paper Railway
Locale England
Dates of operation 1906–1969
Track gauge 2 ft 6 in (762 mm)
Length 10 miles (16.1 km)
Headquarters Sittingbourne
Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway
/ Bowaters Paper Railway
Ridham Dock
Kemsley Down
Burley's Wharf
Milton Regis Halt
Milton Regis Viaduct
Sittingbourne Viaduct
Sittingbourne Paper Mill

The Bowaters Paper Railway was a 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow gauge industrial railway. It had the distinction of being the last steam-operated industrial narrow gauge railway in Britain when it closed in 1969.


C1910 map

The manufacture of paper at Sittingbourne dates back to the seventeenth century. The paper mill was originally supplied with raw materials by barges that sailed to wharves at the head of Milton Creek. A short horse-hauled tramway moved pulp to the mill. Two steam locomotives were introduced in 1908.

In 1913, as Milton Creek began to silt up, the paper making company began work on the construction of Ridham Dock, a deepwater facility on the Swale estuary, where seagoing ships could unload raw materials and load finished paper products. At the start of the First World War the railway and the dock was taken over by the Admiralty and the railway was extended to connect the dock. After the end of the war the railway was returned to the paper company. In 1924 a second paper mill opened at Kemsley Down, and further extended in 1936. By this time, the railway reached its maximum length of 10 miles (16 km).

Closure, preservation and uncertain future[edit]

In 1969, a time and motion study by the then owners, The Bowater Paper Corporation (Bowater), resulted in the closure of the railway which, arguably, should be called Bowater Paper's Railway. By this time the railway was the last industrial narrow gauge railway in Britain operating steam locomotives and, until withdrawn from 30 September 1968, had operated a scheduled passenger service for its employees between the Sittingbourne mill and Ridham Dock.[1] Bowaters had a "handing over" ceremony to the news lessees, the Locomotive Club of Great Britain (LCGB),[2] on 4 October 1969 but continued running its goods trains until the final one on 25 October 1969. The LCGB was granted a lease of the southern portion of the railway between Sittingbourne and Kemsley Down in 1970. Much of the rest of the equipment went to form the Great Whipsnade Railway. The LCGB formed the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway Company to operate the railway. The company operates the railway under the name Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway (S&KLR).

The S&KLR was threatened with closure at the end of 2008. The current owners of the railway land, the Finnish paper company M-real, closed the paper mill at Sittingbourne in 2007[3] and sold the paper mill at Kemsley to another company. M-real gave the railway company notice to quit the site and to remove all their locomotives and equipment by the end of December 2008.[4] After a brief period of opening in October 2010, the railway began operations again in the summer of 2012. As of June 2015, the railway is operating yearly from Late March to the end of September.


Name Builder Wheel arrangement Works Number Built Notes
Alpha W.G. Bagnall 0-6-2T 2472 1932 On display at the S&KLR
Chevalier Manning Wardle 0-6-2T 1877 1915 Acquired from the Chattenden and Upnor Railway in 1950. Sold to the Great Whipsnade Railway, later resold to Bill Parker
Conqueror W.G. Bagnall 0-6-2T 2192 1922 Sold to the Great Whipsnade Railway, now part of the Vale of Rheidol Railway Museum Collection
Excelsior Kerr Stuart 0-4-2ST 1049 1908 Sold to the Great Whipsnade Railway
Leader Kerr Stuart 0-4-2ST 926 1905 Running on the S&KLR
Melior Kerr Stuart 0-4-2ST 4219 1924 Running on the S&KLR
Monarch W.G. Bagnall 0-4-4-0T 3024 1953 Sold to the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway
Premier Kerr Stuart 0-4-2ST 886 1905 Under overhaul on the S&KLR
Superb W.G. Bagnall 0-6-2T 2624 1940 Running on the S&KLR
Superior Kerr Stuart 0-6-2T 4043 1920 Sold to the Great Whipsnade Railway
Triumph W.G. Bagnall 0-6-2T 2511 1934 On display at the S&KLR
Unique W.G. Bagnall 2-4-0F 2216 1924 A rare narrow gauge fireless locomotive. Now on static display at Kemsley Down station
Victor W.G. Bagnall 0-4-0F 2366 1929 A rare narrow gauge fireless locomotive. Scrapped in 1967
Rattler W.G. Bagnall 0-4-0T Acquired from the Cape Copper Company, Swansea in 1942. Loco was in poor condition and did little work. Scrapped in 1945.[5]
Hudson Hunslet 4wDM 4182 1953 Running on the S&KLR with the name Victor
The Tank English Electric 4wBE 1921 Scrapped in 1928

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Journal of the Stephenson Locomotive Society Dec 1968 p.380
  2. ^
  3. ^ "M-real milestones". M-real Corporation. Archived from the original on 2007-05-04. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  4. ^ Dyspozytor (2008-08-27). "S&KLR only 4 months to go?". Behind The Water Tower. 
  5. ^ Neale, Andrew (2 October 2008). "Must we let this be swept away?". Heritage Railway. 116: 42–46. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°21′01″N 0°44′27″E / 51.35018°N 0.74071°E / 51.35018; 0.74071