FARNBOROUGH AND THE RAILWAY

 

Farnborough, on one of the main turnpike routes leading away from London, would seem to have been ideally placed to benefit from the development of the railways from the 1830s. 

But Farnborough has never had a railway station.  Indeed railway development came comparatively late to the surrounding area, despite its proximity to London.  As a consequence partly of geography, partly of the lack of population and industry, and partly due to inter-company feuding, Bromley, some four miles from Farnborough did not get a railway station until 1862. Orpington, little over one mile away, did not get its line until 1865, nearly twenty-five years after the opening of the terminus at London Bridge.

However there were many proposals, beginning in 1845 and spanning 80 years, that would have brought a railway to or through Farnborough. They included light railways, a tramway, and even an atmospheric railway. Many came through the centre of the village, using one of two routes as shown in these maps. 


The first takes the line directly through the village centre, with the station being where the parade of shops is now.  Tubbenden Lane would have required a slight diversion where it meets the High Street.   In earlier proposals this would have been a through station, with the line continuing past St. Giles church toward Green Street Green.  In later proposals it would have been a branch line terminus.  Precise alignments vary between proposals.

The second route took the line across Tubbenden Lane some 100 metres away from the High Street as shown in the second sample diagram above. This alignment was later used to build Farnborough bypass.  Again the line continued to Green Street Green and beyond.

The various proposals are described in detail on pages accessed using the menu on the right, but are also summarised as follows:


The First Main Lines 1838-1848

The South Eastern Railway opened their main line to Dover in 1844, but it followed a very indirect route via Redhill. 

 

They were sharing the line of the London and Brighton Railway between Croydon and London Bridge, which was creating a lot of friction between the two companies.  Both were involved in preparing proposals to extend their territories at the expense of the other, and they both published papers for a direct route from London south-east through Farnborough.  However in 1848 the companies reached an accommodation over territory, and the two proposals were withdrawn.  

During this early period there was also the Great Kent Atmospheric Railway proposal of 1845.  This utilised a vacuum technology for transporting vehicles on rails that had appeared to be promising as a consequence of a trial system in Ireland.  However the harsher climate in the United Kingdom exposed the limitations and high maintenance costs inherent with this method of propulsion, and the technology with its associated proposal was abandoned


Beckenham and Beyond - 1850s

During the following decade the South Eastern Railway and London Brighton and South Coast railways concentrated on consolidating their established main lines. It was left to other smaller companies to take the lead in seeking to serve the local area. There were proposals by six different companies to build lines from London, typically diverging from the Brighton main line in the New Cross area and then routed through Beckenham or Bromley to Farnborough. From there they followed the alignment of the old turnpike road further into Kent..

Two of these companies the Mid Kent and the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway succeeded in building lines from the north and west respectively that converged at what is now Beckenham Junction, which was reached in 1857. This stimulated further proposals to build a line through Farnborough, but again none succeeded.


Completing the Main Lines - 1860s  

Meanwhile frustration was growing among the merchants of North Kent who were still without a through route to London.  They had formed the East Kent Railway company in 1850, and built lines between the Medway and the north and east coasts, with the intention of partnering with the South Eastern to form a through route, but the latter had built their line only as far as Strood on the Medway and no further.

So the East Kent extended their line as far as St. Mary Cray, and then used a nominally independent company the Mid Kent Railway (Bromley to St. Mary Cray) to complete a four mile line through Bromley to link up with the lines at Beckenham. The  long anticipated through route was finally in place. The company was swiftly absorbed into the East Kent, which changed its name to the London Chatham and Dover Railway. 



The map above shows not only the complex of lines through Beckenham Junction that we have today but also the various other proposals that did not succeed, including the link south directly toward Farnborough

The new line exerted considerable commercial pressure on the South Eastern as their route to the coast via Redhill was much shorter. The South Eastern responded by building their own direct line from London to Tonbridge, today's main line through Orpington. Both companies also improved their lines in the London area and built many of the London terminus stations that we have today.

But the completion of the main lines did not stop interest in building lines to Farnborough, and three further new branch lines were proposed, although of course none were built.


The Long Depression and Beyond

In the 1870s the country went into depression, and most railway expansion ceased. This did not lift until near the end of the century, by which time the government had realised that the country needed a new planning framework for railways.  Prior to this time each new railway proposal had needed its own act of parliament, which was expensive and time consuming to prepare. But now the Tramway Act and the Light Railway Act were passed to make the process easier for small scale projects. 

Four last proposals were prepared involving the local area, two branching off the Bromley main line, and two from the line through Orpington. None went ahead.


Impact on Farnborough.  

So why did Farnborough never have a railway station?

Well it is undoubtedly true that the terrain to the south was challenging.  The eventual main line through Bromley took the easiest route down the Darenth Valley.  The South Eastern Railway could only be completed by undertaking expensive tunnelling work at Polehill and Sevenoaks.

But a further factor was the lack of sufficient population and industry to justify the effort and expenditure. Despite substantial population growth in the country as a whole, that of Bromley actually fell for a while during the early part of the Railway Age, and that of Farnborough did not grow as much as would otherwise have been expected.

Salvation for Farnborough eventually came in the form of the motor bus, which from the early years of the twentieth century made low cost transport to rural areas feasible.  Many businesses in Farnborough grew to serve day trippers coming out of London to 'the Country' by bus.
 

RAILWAYS

 
 

Impact of the early lines on Bromley and Farnborough

The first lines, built up to 1845, clearly did not benefit Farnborough, nor further towns in Kent particularly near the North Coast.  It would be another 20 years or so before the first line from that part of Kent was completed, and this by a new and independent company

The local area was the location of several large, wealthy and, although not noble, influential estates. These included the Scotts at Sundridge Park and, of course, the lands of the Bishop of Rochester just to the east of Bromley town centre.

In fact, nearly 80% of the parish of Bromley was owned by just eight people. However, like Farnborough, it was almost entirely agricultural and service-oriented (servants, shops, hotels, schools etc.) and there were two significant blows to further expansion. First, the retirement, and later death, of Dr James Scott whose widely-respected surgical reputation had attracted many visitors to the town for treatment. This was followed by the departure of George Murray, the 96th Bishop of Rochester from his “Palace”, after reorganisation of the bishopric (Bromley actually became part of the diocese of Canterbury for some years), which perhaps led to the town being considered less favourably.

Between 1841 and 1851, when the population of England and Wales increased by a million (12%), Bromley’s population actually fell. The Palace remained empty for a year, but in due course it was purchased by the wealthy industrialist  Mr Coles William John Child.

Although plans for a rail line south from London via the Ravensbourne valley, Farnborough and Pratts Bottom were first mooted as long ago as the 1830s, the existence of the Downs and Forest Ridges beyond on the way to Dover was not helpful. Kent did not have any major industrial centres to be obvious targets for railway entrepreneurs, although there were a number of towns, such as Maidstone, Tonbridge or Gravesend. A case could be made for these for a direct link to London or to be a branch from a main line, but none was overwhelming. There were also powerful landed interests who either, spotting a good thing, demanded exorbitant sums for travel across their land or more altruistically, or unimaginatively, did not want the view from their country houses spoiled by steam and sparks (and the passing hoi polloi).

It was not until the advent of the motor bus in the early part of the twentieth century, that the relative decline of Farnborough was stabilised.  From that point on the accessibility and therefore popularity of the village improved, and population growth accelerated.

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