Huntingdon

56 Branch Line to Disney Stv LaceyFeb19

At our meeting in February Stephen Lacey, a knowledgeable and entertaining speaker, gave a presentation of the ‘ Gravesend West Street Line to Disneyland’.

Stephen was born in a house near the line and had done the schoolboy prank of bending pennies on the line !
The line had opened in1886 with passenger closure in 1953 and goods in 1968 before some kind of resurrection in the 2000s with the Channel Link and Eurostar.

The line branched off the Swanley to Chatham line at Fawkham Junction continuing for just under five miles to Gravesend where the railway company constructed a pier to connect with steamers.
In that few miles the line served such local industries as paper mills, Truman’s Brewery, the transport of water cress, coal distribution as well as troop trains at various times.
Many of the boat trains were of the tank engine push and pull variety and some of the line was single track.
Of the stations Longfield Halt had very rickety steep steps down an exposed embankment, the site now flattened somewhat for Eurostar. The Channel Tunnel link does join the alignment of the Gravesend West Street as far as Fawkham Junction before joining the line to Waterloo.
Redevelopment covers much of the area now although Southfleet Stationmaster’s house remains with a few cottages. Also Gravesend West Pier.

Being a boat train line Stephen also mentioned paddle steamers which plied their trade. The Kingswear Castle was recognised by several of the audience, a coalfired steamer working on the Medway but then returned to its rightful home on the river Dart after a 47 years’ absence.
The Royal Daffodil also worked from the pier offering free no passport ‘booze’ cruises to France run by the Royal Steam Navigation. It had a chequered history having made seven return trips to Dunkirk evacuating over 7,000 troops.. On one trip a bomb had gone in below the waterline on the starboard side with the troops then being ordered to the port side to lift the hole above the waterline. At one time it was a car ferry on the Stranraer – Larne route being described by Stephen as a fall on fall off rather than a roll on roll off.
So where does the Disneyland in the title come in ? In 1837 Rosherville Gardens had been opened by Jeremiah Rocker. Features such as Banqueting Rose Gardens, a cliff top entrance tunnelled through the cliffs, bear pit and an Italian Garden as a central feature soon merited its own railway station – Rosherville Halt. However, with the expansion of the railways other places became easier to reach and bankruptcy followed in 1900 reopening in 1903 with final closure in 1913. So…Rosherville was the Victorian equivalent of Disney and now nearby Eurostar has services to Disneyland, Paris.

The next rail talk will be on Monday, April 8th, 1000 for 1030 at Huntingdon Library.
The subject will be ‘Somewhere in East Anglia – the Soham Rail Disaster ‘, presented by Donna Martin, Chairman of Soham Museum.