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Make tracks for Faversham's railway heritage and other Victorian delights

Home / History / Make tracks for Faversham's railway heritage and other Victorian delights

Former railway water tower in Station Road, Faversham

Shepherd Neame brewery's 1869 offices in Court Street











The market town of Faversham has another side as a railway town, and the best way to explore that aspect of its heritage is, of course, to arrive by train.

Faversham Railway Station is a delight of Victorian design, recently restored.

Faversham is where the line from London divides for Dover and for Ramsgate, and this junction's importance is reflected in its station, much larger than many other stations in Kent.

Descending stairs from the platforms, you turn right to leave the station on its town centre side.

On the other side of Station Road is the Railway Hotel, an unspoilt Victorian red-brick building with a classic-styled bar. The room’s imposing original Victorian back bar is well worth seeing.

The hotel yard is interesting for its old, brick-built outbuildings, whose loading doors and hoist gantry recall earlier times.

The Railway Hotel is at the top of Preston Street, where the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre's displays include the history of the railway in Faversham and the Fleur shop specialises in railway books. 

To the left, Station Road becomes Forbes Road, created in about 1897 and named after the railway company's chairman. Here is the charming Queen’s Hall (1903), built as a church hall and named in tribute to Queen Victoria (reigned 1837 to 1901).
 
To the right, is a row of houses once occupied by railway employees. Lacey fretwork of the kind that once adorned railway platforms can still be seen on one of the properties, hinting at its provenance.

Towards the east end of Station Road is a water tower, once used to refill the tenders and tanks of steam locomotives. The yellow-brick tower (built about 1858 and still with its riveted iron water tank) was sensitively converted into a house in the 1980s, preserving the integrity of an important item of industrial archaeology.

At Station Road's east end is Preston Footbridge, giving a bird’s-eye view of the station on one side and, on the other, of the tracks for Dover and for Ramsgate and for marshalling use. 

A stroll down Preston Street takes you to Market Street and Market Place, and an elaborate Victorian water pump placed beside the Guildhall in 1855 and formerly topped by an elegant gas lantern. It replaced a pump provided by a benefactor in 1635, but the arrival of piped water in 1864 ended Favershamians' reliance on pumps and wells for their water.

In nearby Court Street stand the Shepherd Neame brewery's 1869 offices, designed by Benjamin Adkins, architect of many of Faversham’s finest Victorian buildings, including his home, Newton Lodge (1868), in Newton Road, and 13 Market Place (NatWest Bank).

The railway's arrival in Faversham let Shepherd Neame distribute  its beers beyond the range of horse-drawn drays, and it opened depots and stores in southeast London and the Medway Towns. 

You can book with Sheps for a tour of the brewery, which has a special appeal to rail buffs. Julius Shepherd in 1789 acquired the first Boulton & Watt steam engine to go into a brewery outside London and his business proudly dubbed itself "the Faversham Steam Brewery". It has carefully preserved a later single-cylinder stationary steam engine that was used to draw water from its well.

Signals: pointers to things to see

We set the signals to point out some items of interest for rail buffs and others

Museum's rail tale:
The Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre, in Preston Street, tells how the railway came to Faversham, as well as illustrating the rest of the history of the town and port.  

Guided town walks: Stroll a few hundred yards from Faversham’s station to join a guided walk through the historic town during the spring and summer, setting off from the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre.

Miniature railway: Faversham Miniature Railway operates at Brogdale Farm, near Faversham, home of the National Fruit Collection. It claims to be the UK's only public 9in railway.

Longest railway footbridge: Faversham is believed to have Britain’s longest railway footbridge, the prosaically named Long Bridge, between the town’s Recreation Ground and Preston Avenue and Love Lane.

Steam trips: Shepherd Neame runs steam-engine trips for Faversham’s hop festival (late August or early September). These draw viewers at such vantage points as Preston Footbridge, and the unique sounds of a steam train can be heard all around Faversham station.

Model railway requisites: The Hobby Shop at 122 West Street, Faversham, is a long-established specialist in model railway requisites.

Railway reading: Railway and tramway books are a speciality of the shop at the Fleur de Heritage Centre, in Preston Street, Faversham. You could try to track down out-of-print books on railways at the Fleur’s separate second-hand bookshop, in Gatefield Lane. The Past Sentence second-hand bookshop in  West Street is worth checking for transport tomes.

Model railway exhibition: A model railway show is held at Faversham’s Alexander Centre each year by the G Scale Society Kent. All groups involved with any scale of garden railway are invited to take part.

Faversham’s season of events: Why not combine seeing Faversham’s railway heritage with enjoying one of the many events in the town? These include the Faversham Classic Car and Motorcycle Show, a spring event in the historic town centre. Faversham Hop Festival, the late-summer celebration of a brewing town’s best-known product, has bands, morris dancing and usually a display of veteran vehicles by the Shepherd Neame brewery. 

Timetable: a brief history of the railway

The railway arrived in Faversham in January 1858, with the opening of the first Faversham Station. The line initially connected with Chatham, but was soon extended to Strood and the North Kent line. In 1860, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company (previously the East Kent Railway Company) extended services to Canterbury, Whitstable and London. Dover was reached in 1861 and Ramsgate in 1863.

A single-track spur for goods traffic, linking the main line at Faversham with the Creek, opened in 1860. Track ran along Standard Quay. In 1967, the track on Standard Quay was lifted, although a tiny section survives and Iron Wharf still has a few railway goods vans, now used by the boating fraternity. General goods traffic on the remaining section of the Creek branch line ceased in 1971. 

The convergence at Faversham of two main lines made it a relatively important junction with an array of railway buildings including the main passenger station, engine and carriage  sheds, a signal box, a water tower and a separate goods station. Later on, during the Southern  Region days, locomotives continued to be maintained here, but when the main line was  electrified in 1959, railway activity declined.

A Swale Council study of Faversham’s large conservation study says: “The surviving array of railway structures is the most complete on the old South East and Chatham line; collectively and individually, therefore, these buildings are of special interest.”

The station that we see today was built in 1897 at the same time that a level crossing from Preston Street was closed and the present subway was substituted for the former overhead footbridge. Road traffic was diverted via the newly created Forbes Road, named after the railway company chairman.

The 1897 station, which replaced the original 1858 structure that had stood opposite Newton Road, had four through roads, instead of only two. Also, a goods station that had abutted Preston Footbridge at the top of St Mary’s Road was replaced by a larger one off Whitstable Road.

Near the tracks: the railway environment

Station Road
The Station Road passenger station, consisting of booking halls and two island platforms, is the main survival from the 19th century, although the present buildings date from a rebuilding of 1897-98. Before that, the station was farther east in Station Road, opposite Newton Road.

The railway, including the station entrance and booking hall, occupies the whole of Station Road's south side. The station building, with its pale yellow brick elevations and bright red dressings, typifies the railway company's architectural style of the time. The booking hall has tall round-headed windows and boarded doors and is remarkable for having survived almost entirely unaltered. Either side of the station, the long trackside boundary is marked by a 6ft yellow stock brick wall topped by coping of blue engineering bricks, a detail giving it a nice touch of railway identity. 

The yellow brick terraced houses on Station Road's north side date from the 1880s. Swale Council's conservation study notes: "A distinctive metal cresting detail applied to the eaves survives in a few instances (as it does in one or two other places elsewhere in the town)." 

Residential streets to the north of the station
The area of the town embracing St Mary’s Road, St John’s Road and Park Road was once Faversham's "railway quarter", where many of the railway workers lived. 

Near the Long Bridge
A late 19th century two-road engine-shed survives in the angle between the converging lines from Whitstable and Canterbury, near the south end of the Long Bridge. A smaller shed to the north, described in 1952 as a wagon repair shop, dates from a similar time. Both are of local yellow brick. Both are redundant and in poor repair.

Whitstable Road and Jubilee Way
Much of the physical evidence of a branch line that once ran to Faversham Creek has now gone, but its embankment beside the Recreation Ground can still be seen.

A small goods station building remains on the eastern edge of a now dismantled goods yard in what is now Jubilee Way, off Whitstable Road. Large doors at either end admitted railway wagons to an internal platform where goods were transferred by an iron loading crane. Built in Faversham's 19th century "vernacular" of local yellow stock bricks highlighted with red brick dressings, the building is important in the town's railway heritage.