On this day in history : 3rd May 1830 – The opening of the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway – also known as The Crab and Winkle Line….

Two specially cut down SER locomotives for Tyler Hill Tunnel – Photo credit : Ben Brooksbank CC BY-SA 2.0

Up until the early 1800s goods had been transported from the Canterbury area via the River Stour…. However, the river was constantly silting up and the cost of dredging it became untenable….

In 1823 pioneer promoter of rail transport, William James, visited Canterbury and it was he who suggested a rail link between Canterbury and the Thames Estuary…. An initial Act of Parliament for the construction of a line to Whitstable – which was just a small fishing port at the time – was passed on the 10th of June 1825….

William James c.1800 – Engraving by W.Rolfe – Public domain

Plans for Whitstable were ambitious and included a whole new harbour…. James surveyed the area and decided the best route was the most direct, despite it involving three steep gradients and an 828 yard long tunnel…. Unfortunately James was not around to personally oversee the plans – as he had over-stretched himself in his financial commitments and found himself in debtor’s prison…. However, work continued without him with construction beginning soon after the Act had been passed….

Whistable Harbour map, 1938 – Public domain

George Stephenson was the appointed engineer – but in all fairness it was his deputy, John Dixon, who did the bulk of the work…. It did not take long before the ambitious scheme began to run out of money and in April 1827 a second Act of Parliament released another £19K…. The Tyler Hill Tunnel proved to be tricky, making progress a slow and difficult task…. A third Act of Parliament was required to secure another £21K….

In 1830 the line had reached Whitstable and freight transportation along with hourly passenger services began on the 3rd of May…. It took another two years for the link to the harbour to be completed….

By 1844 the line was facing bankruptcy and was taken over by the newly formed South Eastern Railway…. It was never to be a prosperous line and faced a further set back in 1860 with the opening of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway – which offered a faster passenger service between Whitstable and London….

In 1923 the line became part of Southern Railway – and on the 1st of January 1931 passenger services ceased – although the line continued to carry freight such as grain, coal, stone and during WW2 munitions…. The final freight train departed with its load on the 29th of November 1952 and the line finally closed on the 1st of December…. Almost immediately the lines were lifted and the infrastructure removed….

Site of Blean and Tyler Hill Halt, 1963 – Photo credit : Ben Brooksbank CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1997 a charity named The Crab and Winkle Line Trust formed to reopen the route as a footpath and cycleway…. In 1999 a seven mile long section running along part of the original track route was opened….

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