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 that started in 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 some sixteen 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.  Some were approved but failed to come to fruition, either because the necessary finance could not be found, or the promotors decided to invest elsewhere. Many came through the centre of the village, using one of two routes as shown in these maps.


The first would have taken 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 and beyond.  In later ones  it would have been a branch line terminus. Precise alignments varied.

The second route involved taking a 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 for Farnborough bypass.  Again the line would have continued to Green Street Green.

The various proposals are described in detail on pages accessed using the menu on the right. Had just one of these  succeeded, particularly one from the earlier decades, then Farnborough would surely have developed very differently.

It is undoubtedly true that the terrain to the south was challenging.  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, see the panel to the right, and that of Farnborough did not grow as much as would otherwise have been expected.

The first local main line, toward Maidstone, built by the London Chatham and Dover Railway, passed through Bromley and then took the easiest route southward through the Darenth Valley.  The second line, built by the South Eastern Railway, could only be completed by undertaking expensive tunneling work at Polhill and Sevenoaks. Rather than follow the route from their own proposal of 1845 they now made their line as straight as possible, bypassing both Bromley and Farnborough.

It was not until the advent of the motor bus in the early part of the twentieth century, that the relative decline of Farnborough stabilised.  Many businesses in Farnborough grew to serve day trippers coming out of London to 'the Country' by bus. From that point on the accessibility and therefore popularity of the village improved, and population growth accelerated. 
 
The various proposals to bring a railway to or through Farnborough can be explored using the menu to the right.  They are organised by date into four groups.  For each of these there is a further page to put the Farnborough proposals into the wider context of how railways were developing throughout the South-East London and Kent area.

The Railway Network in South-east London

By the turn of the twentieth century the railway network had reached what proved to be its final and most complex form as shown in this 1908 map. Some lines shown here have now closed or been re-routed.

How the area's rail network looked by 1908.
Bartholomew’s Handy Reference Atlas of London Suburbs


RAILWAYS

 
 

Impact of the early lines
on Bromley

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).

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