Out of the four companies formed in the grouping of 1923, The Southern Railway was by far the most enthusiastic about modernising and extending their network. As well as rebuilding stations and extensive electrification works, several new lines were constructed. Whilst some were on virgin territory for the railways, one in particular was built to address an infrastructure problem common throughout the UK: That which occurred when rival railway companies occupied an area and constructed competing lines that were designed to operate in splendid isolation from each other, in defiance of the existence of the other party.
This is the situation The Southern found on the Isle of Thanet after the grouping, when the company absorbed both companies that operated services in the area, The South Eastern Railway and The London, Chatham and Dover Railway. The South Eastern was the first railway to make it onto the isle in 1846, when a line was built from their main line at Ashford, running via Canterbury. Opening in the April of that year, in December a line was opened running north from Ramsgate to Margate, another emerging seaside resort. The arrangement at Ramsgate station was somewhat awkward; any trains running through to Margate had to reverse at Ramsgate, which was designed as a terminus rather than a through station.
The South Eastern had the area to themselves until October 1863, when The Kent Coast Railway extended their line from Herne Bay to another station at Ramsgate, running via Margate and Broadstairs. Although nominally an independent small company established in 1857, by 1862 The London, Chatham and Dover Railway was working the line, which at that point ran from Faversham to Herne Bay, and by 1871 had absorbed the smaller company completely.
The two lines only met briefly at Margate, where the Kent Coast line passed over the South Eastern's line. Margate (KCR) and Margate (SER) stations were close by, and a spur was later laid allowing trains to run from Margate West to the South Eastern's route to Ramsgate. At Ramsgate, the situation was quite different; The South Eastern station was some distance inland and uphill, whilst the Kent Coast station was right on the coast, having passed through a mile long tunnel.
|The Kent Coast Railway station at Ramsgate c. 1870|
The London, Chatham and Dover Railway and The South Eastern Railway were for many years to one another; but relations mellowed to the extent that in 1899 a working union was formed between the two, and as The South Eastern and Chatham Railway they operated as a single system. The LCDR station at Margate was renamed Margate West, that of the SER became Margate Sands, their Ramsgate station became Ramsgate Town, and that of the LCDR was named Ramsgate Harbour, but the two lines carried on as separate systems.
Before the formation of the Southern Railway, plans had been considered to consolidate the two routes, but no action was taken until after the grouping. in July 1926, a line one and a half miles was opened, running from immediately north of the Kent Coast tunnel portal to a point half a mile or so northwest of the South Eastern terminus, where a new through station was established. They day this opened, both routes into the old Ramsgate stations were closed permanently, along with the ex-South Eastern line to Margate, although a mile or so was left at the Margate end, as part of the 1926 works involved building a new freight yard immediately south of the ex-LCDR line.
Most of the short section of line to Ramsgate Town was quickly taken up for an approach road to the new station, lined with housing, although a short stub of the line survives today to the west of Wilfred Road, to the south of the present station. Much of the southern end of the SER Margate line has also been lost under urban expansion, at least until the outskirts of Margate where some of the trackbed remains recognisable. For many years, the site of Margate Sands station was used as a car park, but was redeveloped with flats and an amusement arcade in the 1960s.
The station site at Ramsgate Harbour was levelled soon after closure, and the site became 'Merrie England', a zoo and fun fair. The tunnel, however, enjoyed a much more chequered career. The new Southern Railway station was some distance from the beach, and so the operators of Merrie England, Ramsgate Olympia, lobbied the Southern to reopen the tunnel line. The Southern chose not to do so, and so Ramsgate Olympia chose to reopen the line themselves, as a narrow gauge line. This service, which transported passengers from close to Dumpton Park station on the 1926 line to the seafront, with services commencing July 1936. Services were suspended during World War Two, as the tunnel was pressed into service as an air raid shelter, but after the war services resumed, ending in 1965.
|1896 map of Margate's railways - KCR station on the left, SER in the middle and the short lived KCR terminus building and embankment to the right.|
Mention should be made of another disused station at Margate, the terminus built by the Kent Coast Railway. Seeming built for local traffic between Margate And Ramsgate, it was opened a year after the Ramsgate line and left the line east of the main Margate KCR station, terminating on the seafront with the SER terminus immediately to the west. It seems to have been rather a folly, and the track was quickly removed. The main site became the grounds for Margate's Pleasure Gardens, whilst the station building became a dance hall and restaurant, The Hall By The Sea, both of which were part of what became the Dreamland complex, but the station building was replaced by the Dreamland Cinema in the 1930s.