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Headcorn and Maidstone Junction Light Railway

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  • The Headcorn & Maidstone Junction Light Railway was a proposed railway in Kent, which although an Act of Parliament was granted for it construction, was not built apart from a short branch at Tovil, which was opened to goods only. [1]
  • Maidstone had been reached by the railway in 1846, when the South Eastern Railway built a branch from Paddock Wood.
  • In 1856 a branch was built from Strood to make an end-on junction with the branch from Paddock Wood at what is now Maidstone West Station.
  • Headcorn had been reached by the railway in 1842, being on the main line built between Tonbridge and Ashford.
  • This situation left Maidstone in a position where there was no direct access to either London or the Channel Ports by rail. In 1874 a branch was built by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway from Swanley to the current Maidstone East station. This line was extended in 1884 to Ashford.
  • There were various schemes proposed to link Maidstone and Headcorn. These were:
  • The Maidstone and Loose Valley (1856-57)
  • The Loose Valley (1877)
  • The Lydd Railway (Various Powers) (1877)
  • The Tenterden (1894-95)
  • The Headcorn Junction and Maidstone Light Railway (1904-05).[1]
  • The main obstacle to building a railway between Maidstone and Headcorn was the Greensand Ridge to the south of Maidstone. The villages of Chart Sutton and Town Sutton (Sutton Valence) standing on the ridge where the railway would need to cross. The line from Paddock Wood to Maidstone had already taken the only gap in the ridge south of the town. But the River Loose had cut a channel into the ridge, and could possibly be used to drive a railway through to reach the top of the ridge.
  • The line was seen as a further extension of the Kent and East Sussex Railway northwards from Headcorn. It was proposed to make an end-on junction with the K&ESR at their Headcorn station, and crossing the SE&CR main line by a bridge of 60 foot span climb towards Sutton Valence, needing to climb 244ft in 2½ miles. Having reached Sutton Valence the line then had to drop 300ft in 4¼ miles. The line would have passed the quarries at Boughton Monchelsea and followed to Loose Valley to link up with a branch which had been built from the Medway Valley Line at Tovil Station across the River Medway to a goods station in Tovil itself. This line crossed the Medway by a substantial girder bridge. The entire line was to be single throughout and feature 17 level crossings, all ungated. The line was to be constructed according to the provisions of the Light Railways Act 1896 and the engineer was to be Holman Fred Stephens
  • The public enquiry into the building of the line was held at the Star Hotel, Maidstone on 17 March 1905. Holman Fred Stephens said that the proposed line would bring benefits of development of the local stone quarries at Boughton Monchelsea, then in decline, and lead to an increase in the population of the villages served. Stephens predicted traffic receipts of £20 per mile per week. William Rigby also supported the line, claiming the cost of £56,000 was reasonable. He was engaged on building the northern extension of the K&ESR from Tenterden to Headcorn at the time, and stood to gain the contract to build the proposed line.
  • There were objections to the level crossings required in the Loose Valley. Amongst the objectors was Herbert Green, who owned Hayle Mill, in the Loose Valley. His main objections were that the line would mean demolition of cottages he owned, and that smoke from the engines would ruin his hand made paper produced at the mill. Herbert Green suggested two separate proposals involving tunnels in the Loose Valley.
  • The public enquiry was reconvened in London on the 10 April 1905. Further objections to the level crossings were raised, and it was eventually agreed to replace the level crossing at East Farleigh Hill with a bridge over the road. This meant a level crossing would be built at Cave Hill, although with gates. Maidstone Borough Council withdrew their objection after this was agreed. Opposition from various property owners included the owner and tenant of Hayle Place, and the owner of Park House Farm, Chart Sutton. Herbert Green raised further objections based on the fact that his insurance premiums would rise considerably in view of the increased fire risk. The enquiry concluded on the 27 April, and the commissioners held a further meeting on the 9 May to discuss various deviations etc. proposed.
  • In June 1905 the commissioners granted a Light Railway Order. Amongst the changes made were a bridge over the main road at Sutton Valence instead of a level crossing, and a tunnel of 428yds at Loose. The mouth being some 100 yards from Hayle Mill was an acceptable situation for Herbert Green, who said that "the longer the tunnel was the less the chance that the line would actually be built." The commissioners gave permission for the railway to charge an extra mile in fees for all traffic passing through the tunnel. The Light Railway Order was signed by David Lloyd George on 6 May 1906. The railway had 3 years to complete compulsory purchase of land, and five years to complete construction.
  • 1906 The company was incorporated. [2]
  • The authorised share capital was raised to £96,000 from £78,000 and additional loan borrowings were increased £32,000, the extra being to cover the cost of the tunnel. in 1907 an amendment order was obtained to vary the borrowing structure.
  • In the Annual Report of 1913, the K&ESR reported that the construction of the extension had not been commenced, but further powers were being asked for. The purchase monies were refunded to the landowners in 1917, but the line continued to be mentioned in the K&ESRs accounts until the mid 1930s.
  • In 1904, an 0-8-0 tank locomotive was purchased for the K&ESR. It is widely thought that this locomotive was purchased to work on the H&MJLR. The builder was R. and W. Hawthorn, Leslie and Co (works number 2587/1904) and the loco became K&ESR No.4 Hecate later Southern Railway No.949 and British Railways No.30949.
  • As mentioned above, a single track branch line was carried over the River Medway to terminate at a goods station in Tovil. This line served the paper mills at Upper Tovil Mill, Lower Tovil Mill and Bridge Mill, as well as general goods traffic. The line was carried over the river on a substantial girder bridge. It was latterly worked by class 08 and 09 shunters, the bridge being deemed unsafe for anything heavier. The line was 21 chains long and closed to traffic on 3 October 1977.


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Wikipedia
  2. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908