Despite being on one of the main turnpike routes leading away from London, Farnborough has never had a railway link, although there were a surprising number of serious proposals. These are described elsewhere on this website. 

Instead, two railway companies competed fiercely with each other to serve the various parts of Kent and create the network that we still have today.  This contrasted with other parts of Southern England, where one dominant company emerged, resulting in what might be regarded as a more sensible network map, without the many instances of duplicated but unconnected stations that we see in the southeast.
This page reviews how the principal routes forming today's network in Kent evolved, by-passing Farnborough.

South Eastern Railway (SER)

The South Eastern was a railway company from 1836 until 1922. The Railway initiated a through service between London Bridge and Dover, via Redhill and Tonbridge, on 7th February 1844. The route was a circuitous one, the SER being compelled by Parliament to share the lines of the London & Croydon and London & Brighton Railways between the capital and Redhill. This was because it had been decreed that only one railway should enter London from the south. Excepting the ongoing bickering between the respective companies over track access, the additional mileage of this detour did not become problematic until later.

Branch lines were opened to Tunbridge Wells, Hastings, Canterbury and other places in Kent. This resulted in a route map as follows by about 1845.  

The route was somewhat indirect but that did not at that stage matter to the SER as their prime interest was serving the lucrative cross channel boat traffic.

The company was of limited relevance to Farnborough until a couple of decades later.

By then the SER was suffering because its route to the coast was much longer than that of its rival (see below), also it was involved in continual financial disputes with the Brighton company over the use of their line, which was being operated at its capacity..

The obligation for all companies south of the Thames to use a single terminus at London Bridge had long been dispensed with, and the South Eastern constructed a new and more direct line from Lewisham to Tonbridge via Orpington and Sevenoaks.

This shortened the route to the coast by 12 miles, but involved crossing the North Downs by summits and long tunnels at Knockholt and Sevenoaks, so was expensive to build. The latter was the longest tunnel in Southern England at 3,451 yards (3,156 m). This cut-off line, 24 miles (39 km) long, reached Chislehurst on 1 July 1865, but took three more years to reach Orpington and Sevenoaks (2 March 1868).

These images show the cover and first page from the authorising act of 1862, for the new cutoff line, also a further new line from Lewishem to Dartford.

The new main line opened on 1 May 1868 after it reached Tonbridge and met the earlier one. It crossed over the Chatham line just south of Chislehurst (see below), but at that stage there was no physical connection.


The South-Eastern also extended their line in the other direction from London Bridge past Southwark Cathedral, building both Cannon Street and Charing Cross stations.

The original line from Redhill to Tonbridge became and remains a secondary route. 

Further Information

London Chatham and Dover Railway (LC&DR)

The second route between London and the Kent coast had a more complicated heritage. 

The Mid Kent Railway, formed in 1855, built a line from the SER at Lewisham to Beckenham - the intention being to extend this line to Croydon at a later date. The line opened 1 January 1857 and was operated by the SER.

Meanwhile on 3 March 1858 the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway  opened an extension of their line from Norwood (Crystal Palace) also to Beckenham Junction (opened as Beckenham) and Shortlands (opened as Bromley).  This was the first part of a planned.Farnborough Extension

Coming from the other direction, the East Kent Railway had been formed in 1850 with the intention of building more direct rail connections from the neglected towns in the northern part of Kent to London, and also onward to Dover. Initially they planned to reach London via the line of the SER, but following repeated rebuffs they eventually changed plan and built their own line as far as St. Mary Cray.

The Mid-Kent Railway (Bromley to St Mary Cray) project was drawn up in 1856 to construct a four-mile line between Shortlands and St. Mary Cray to connect the two together. The line was completed in 1862, and was leased to the East Kent, which had in 1859 changed its name to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. This short section of line was of immense strategic importance, as it completed the second and more direct route between London and the Kent coast, imposing considerable commercial pressure on the SER. It also effectively killed off any chance that a main line railway would be built through Farnborough..

Lordship Lane station on the WE of L and Crystal Palace line, by Camille Pissarro The viaduct at St. Mary Cray on the LC&DR

However the LC&DR was still dependant on other companies to reach London from Beckenham, so they built a third line from Beckenham Junction toward London - today's main line via Herne Hill. This included construction of the Penge Tunnel (1 mile 381 yards) between Sydenham Hill and Penge East. The line opened for traffic in 1863 and terminated at the newly constructed London Victoria station. From Herne Hill construction immediately began of a further line heading toward the City of London.

A LC & DR crest is now situated on
the new Blackfriars railway bridge
By June 1864, the City Branch had reached Blackfriars Bridge railway station (on the south bank of the River Thames) via Borough Road. The first Blackfriars Railway Bridge was then built across the Thames and a terminus for trains from the south opened at Ludgate Hill on 1st June 1865.  The line was immediately extended further north to meet the Metropolitan Railway at Farringdon. This is now the Thameslink route connecting railways to the South of London to the Northern termini and beyond.

The complete route provided a more direct access to London from many parts of Kent than the lines of the SER, particularly from towns near the North coast. It therefore proved to be very successful, despite its somewhat inadequate financing. The railway was always in a difficult financial situation, and actually went bankrupt in 1867, although was able to continue to operate.

A second relief line to London (the Catford Loop) was later built between Shortlands and Brixton to increase capacity. This was incorporated as the Shortlands and Nunhead Railway in 1889, but then absorbed into the LC&DR.  South of Shortlands the main line was quadrupled in stages as far as Swanley (1959).



Amalgamation -  the SE & CR

Many difficulties were caused by the intense competition and lack of co-operation between the LC&DR and the SER. This led to much duplication of routes, and there were two un-connected stations in a number of towns including Maidstone, Canterbury, and indeed Bromley.

However by 1898 tensions had eased somewhat, and the LC&DR and SER agreed to share the operation of the two railways.

They were worked as a single system (as the South Eastern and Chatham Railway), (crest above) and receipts were pooled.  But it was not a full amalgamation - the SER and LC&DR remained separate companies with their own shareholders until both became constituents of the Southern Railway, on 1 January 1923.

The map below shows the combined network as it is today, with construction dates for each line

The Chatham', as it was sometimes known, was often criticised for its lamentable carriage stock and poor punctuality, but in two respects it was very good: it used the highly effective Westinghouse air brakes on its passenger stock, and the Sykes 'Lock and Block' system of signalling. As a result it had an excellent safety record.

After amalgamation some route rationalisation took place, notably the new and complex connections between the two routes where they cross each other near Bickley.

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