Sunday, 3 November 2013

More About the Sheppey Light Railway

After my last post mentioning the Sheppey Light Railway, it stirred me to re-read the excellent little booklet by Peter A. Harding entitled "The Sheppey Light Railway".
From the booklet, I noted that preliminary discussions over the Line's route across Sheppey decided that the route would take it across the southern marshes of Sheppey from Queenborough to Leysdown, with few actual stations en-route.  However at an Enquiry to discuss this that took place in Queenborough town hall in 1898, it was stated that the Line would now start at Queenborough and it's first stop would be at Sheerness East, a mile outside Sheerness along the Halfway Road. It would then travel through the middle of Sheppey before re-joining the originally planned route at Eastchurch.
This still didn't satisfy the Sheerness Chamber of Commerce and incredibly, they wanted the Line to start at a point near Sheerness Dockyard, not Queenborough, and then run through Sheerness High Street to the Halfway Road's Sheerness East station, before turning east for Leysdown. Imagine that, the railway line running down Sheerness High Street, how bizarre! The Light Railway Commissioners over-ruled that objection however and so in August 1901, the railway, with a top speed set at 25mph, was officially opened.
Stations were built at Sheerness East, East Minster, Minster-on-Sea, Eastchurch and Leysdown, with a few minor "halts" such as Harty Halt and other sidings featuring where necessary for farm trade. During the First World War, with the Royal Naval Air Station becoming established just below Eastchurch Station, a spur from the line was also run into the Air Station in order to benefit operations there.

That is just a brief look at how the railway came into being but I was tickled by one mention in the booklet that illustrates the sedate and rural nature of the Line. Apparently a local farmer was travelling on the Line back to his farm at Brambledown when, after stopping for the guard to close the gates after the train had crossed the Scrapsgate Road, it stopped again a hundred yards down the track. The farmer put his head out of the window and asked the guard (who was walking alongside the train) what the trouble was - "cow on the line" was the answer. The train continued but stopped again after another two hundred yards and once again the guard descended from the train. "Is it another cow" the farmer asked, "no" was the guard's reply, "it's the same one, caught us up and passed us" - priceless!

Yesterday morning, not long after dawn, I had the opportunity to have a chat on the reserve's seawall with a couple of the local wildfowlers - I haven't seen any out there for several weeks. Among several local wildlife issues that we discussed, the point paramount in their thoughts was how lacking in wildfowl the reserve was, it made their visits pretty pointless. Well, OK, so they had little to shoot at, but that fact aside, I had to agree with them, there is bugger all being seen on the reserve - and there should be. Standing on the sea wall this morning under blue and sunny skies, the reserve looked pretty damm good - a few hundred acres of prime grazing marsh, with it's ditches and rills gradually re-filling after recent rains and a mosaic of habitat types and yet so few waders and wildfowl. Just along The Swale, west of Harty Ferry, wildfowl are being seen in their thousands and yet we remain pretty much empty, it's so frustrating 6 days a week. Just last week there was a report of 2,000 Wigeon being seen leaving the reservoir at Mocketts, just behind the Ferry House Inn on Harty, but of course that's simply the result of daily loads of corn being spread round the water's edge in order that large numbers of the duck can be easily shot at regular intervals - the bad effect of inland duck shooting for you. Of course, if the rain continues to be as regular as it at the moment then presumably things will eventually change on the reserve and come the New Year we will get our couple of months of avian glory but till then it all looks good but looks aren't everything.
The three week mushroom bonanza on the reserve now looks like it is coming to and end and less and less new ones appear each day but they were good while they lasted. I'm down in Surrey at the girlfriend's again this coming weekend and so I'll have to re-visit the chestnut trees in Hawley Woods to continue my quest for autumn foods for free in the countryside.


  1. Derek, I loved the story about the cow - it's just about believable too when I remember the speed at which that train travelled. Oh such happy days !!!

  2. Oh Ken, if only we could go back to such lovely times.

  3. There are so many stories, I suspect they're apocryphal. Like the airman from Eastchurch changing trains at Queenborough sighing that the worst part of his journey was over, he'd been posted to India. Our family had summer outings to Leysdown, the whole clan, up to 1939. The war brought minefields along the beach and I have a vague recollection they weren't safe for some time afterwards. Anyway, the outings weren't continued. Everyone was growing older or growing up or moving elsewhere.
    The Sheerness Chamber of Commerce wanted the terminus in Bluetown to catch traffic from the Grain ferry service. Remember also, the trams were planned to go down the High St and eventually had their terminus at Sheerness East alongside the SLR.

  4. Sidney,

    The tram line, which opened in 1903, did indeed take the route along Sheerness High Street up to the Sheerness East station, as proposed by the Chamber of Commerce, but it only lasted until 1917.