South Eastern Railway extension from Canterbury to Ramsgate opens in 1846 – The Isle Of Thanet News

Celebrations at Market Place, Ramsgate. Photo credit: Illustrated London News Saturday 18th April 1846 edition.

By Richard West – Founder of the Chaucer Education Project

Easter Monday April 13and1846, was cause for celebration in the city of Canterbury and in the town of Ramsgate.

The occasion celebrated was the opening of the South Eastern Railway’s Canterbury to Ramsgate extension of the Ashford branch line, just over nine weeks after the opening of the Ashford to Canterbury section.

At 11.30 a.m. a special train departed from the Bricklayers’ Arms terminus in London for a 67-mile journey to Ashford. The train consisted of seven first class carriages and was pulled by the “Shakespeare” locomotive, which arrived at Ashford in less than two hours.

Special guests carried on the trip included directors of the railroad company: Chairman James Macgregor; vice-president, Viscount Torrington; the Right Honorable Stephen Lushington, former MP for Canterbury; and three MPs: William Bodkin, one of the two MPs for Rochester; George Dodd, one of two MPs for Maidstone; and William Feilden, one of two MPs for Blackburn. Influential shareholders also traveled on the train.

Crowds cheered loudly for the train as it passed towns and villages.

Train passing through St. Stephens in Canterbury in 1846. Photo credit: Public Domain with acknowledgment to Kent Libraries, Records and Archives – Canterbury Library.

The directors of the railway company had organized a long free tourist excursion train from Ramsgate to Canterbury, to enable several hundred people to visit. The free tourist excursion train arrived in the city almost simultaneously with the arrival of the special train from London.

The contract to build the branch line from Ashford to Canterbury, Ramsgate and Margate was awarded to Miller & Blackie of Liverpool in September 1844. The superintendent engineers were Joseph Cubitt and WR Forde. The railway line was built to provide double track from Ashford to Canterbury and single track to Ramsgate and Margate.

Superintendent Engineer Joseph Cubitt.
Photo credit: public domain.

All the bridges were built to accommodate a double track on the whole route, in order to allow the later addition of a second line if the demand for use was sufficient to justify the additional cost of construction and the necessary facilities.

The 15 mile and three-quarters long extension from Canterbury to Ramsgate was built in 15 months and on budget, at an average cost of £15,000 per mile*. The route passed through mostly flat countryside, with a gradient of one in 264 for the first 13 miles of the route from Canterbury, after which the gradient increased to one in 100 where it crossed the chalk for the remaining distance. The only intermediate station was at Minister, 11 miles from Canterbury.

The Ramsgate terminus was built in the parish of St Lawrence, where a festive atmosphere had been created to welcome the special train, with flags flying, gunshots from the roundhead and musicians playing.

At 4:00 p.m. a dinner was held for the railroad directors, their friends, and 150 invited gentlemen at the Albion Hotel, presided over by MLA S. Sackett. After the meal, toasts were made.

Albion Hotel in Ramsgate seen from the harbour.
Photo credit: Illustrated London News Saturday 18th April 1846 edition.

Society chairman James Macgregor nominated the health of the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howley. In response, Reverend J. Snowden gave thanks and expressed his heartfelt prayer that “Heaven may hasten and prosper the Canterbury Pilgrims traveling by southeastern trains; and that all well-founded and legitimate expectations of those concerned with the great enterprise which they were gathered that night to celebrate would be abundantly realized.

In response to the toast, James Macgregor spoke of the great benefits likely to accrue to the people of Ramsgate and the community as a whole, especially mainland travellers. He mentioned that the South Eastern Railway had formed the South Eastern and Continental Steam Packet Company, whose steamers would arrive in Ramsgate harbor with greater regularity than the post coaches, thus improving communication with the northern European states.

Procession down Harbor Street Photo credit: Illustrated London News Saturday 18th April 1846 edition.

Over dinner the Company steamer Princess Mary arrived in Ramsgate Harbor and was met with a salvo of artillery.

After dinner, the special return train departed around 9 p.m. and returned to London at 1:30 a.m. the following morning, after being delayed at intermediate stations.

*The line cost £15,000 per mile to build in 1846, which equates to £1,860,619 per mile in 2021. Inflation has averaged 2.8% per year throughout.

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