Cliffe Railway Station
by D. Green
The Hundred of Hoo Railway had been opened by the South Eastern in 1882 to capitalise on the anticipated growth of Port Victoria on the Isle of Grain into a major continental port in competition with the rival London Chatham & Dover Railway's operations on the Isle of Sheppey.
The North Kent Extension Railway was granted authority to build a line from the South Eastern Railways track at Gravesend across the marshes to a pier on the west bank of the Medway opposite Sheerness in 1865.
On April 1st 1882, the first section from Hoo Junction to Sharnal Street was opened with the remaining section to Port Victoria opening on September 11th 1882 by which time a wooden pier and a hotel, the Port Victoria Hotel, had been provided.
At first there were only two stations between Gravesend and Port Victoria at Cliffe and Shanal Street until 1906 when new halts were added to serve villages at High Halstow, Beluncle, Middle Stoke and Grain Crossing. Between Cliffe and Gravesend further halts were established at Milton Road, Denton and Milton Range.
In 1935 Southern Railway still saw a future for the line and built a second platform at Cliffe with doubling the branch line to Allhallows. The popularity of Allhallows was improving by the late 1930's and the Southern Railway considered doubling the whole line. The proposal was put on hold on the outbreak of war in 1939 and was eventually forsaken at the outbreak of World War II.
Situated some miles from the nearest town, transport for shopping, etc, must have been a problem in days gone by, but the running of a carrier’s cart was a measure taken to solve it. We hear of such a cart operating in about the year 1870, and that a similar service was still operating for some years in the last century. The year 1882 saw the linking of Cliffe with Gravesend by the extensions of the railways. This was a single line track running as far as Port Victoria, and for many years was frequently used by the Royal Family and their visitors and to convey them en route to and from the Continent.
Cliffe railway station opened on 1st April 1882 with the platform fully decorated with flags, bunting and cheering crowds of villagers. It is said that when the service first opened, the Railway Company ‘treated’ the children to a ride to Gravesend and back to celebrate the event. This was not the only time the station was decked out in such manner. In 1911 saw the marriage of the Rector, Revd. Herbert Boyd to Mrs Lionel Levin. At the station, adorned with flags and bunting, a great welcome awaited the couple on their return from honeymoon spent in Scotland. Villagers lined each side of the road from the Railway Station to the Rectory, and schoolboys pulled the motor-car conveying the Rector and Mrs. Boyd to their home, accompanied by Mr. N. McLeod in full Highland costume, playing the bagpipes.
The station itself was a typical SER timber clapboard building and contained a variety of sections including: toilets, lobby, porter’s room, parcel room and booking office. A substantial staff was required to deal, not only with passengers and the upkeep of the station but with goods which were transported by rail: milk, brewers’ grain, farm produce, coal and fertiliser.
Cliffe station had a number of stationmasters: Charles Wood (1882), Edward Head (1889), William Miller (1903), Thomas Potts (1913).
Born in Cambridgeshire, the son of Charles and Emma Ablett, was one Arthur Charles Ablett (Charlie) who, in 1914 along with his young wife Emily Jane, took up the position as station master at Cliffe Railway Station where he stayed for many years. As stationmaster he and his family would enjoy rent free accommodation, free fuel coal and a salary equivalent to approximately £30,000 in today’s world.
The line was short-lived with the signal box being closed on 5th December 1926 but, due to the expansion of the line, was reopened once more on the 13th may 1934 before being finally being demolished in 1973.