The railway arrives

The railway arrived early in Kent and the line from Canterbury to Whitstable that opened in 1830 has a claim to be the first regular steam-powered passenger railway in the country. But though Canterbury, only 12 miles from Lyminge, was on the railway map so early, it took nearly 60 years for Lyminge to be similarly connected. When it was, the transformation was enormous.

Lyminge StationLyminge Station, early 1900s  (©Daphne Andrews)

Work began in 1885 to drive a line north from the South Eastern Railway’s track near Folkestone up the Elham Valley. This involved constructing a great embankment initially to raise the line up from the coastal plain, gouging a massive cutting to take it through the lower slopes of the North Downs, and then tunnelling for some 89m to bring it at last to the level ground in Lyminge at the head of the Elham Valley. The line then followed the valley north, through Elham, Barham and Bishopsbourne, before swinging round the south of Canterbury to arrive at Canterbury West Station, built for the Canterbury to Whitstable Railway 60 years previously. The new line was opened in two stages, with the connection from Lyminge to Folkestone complete in 1887, and the final section to Canterbury in 1889.

Central Lyminge c1900

Lyminge c1905, showing the shift of the economic focus of the village from the area around the church to that around the station, with its new shops and houses under construction along Station Road (©Rob Baldwin)


Economically, the railway initially proved a great success, and it altered the lives of everyone in Lyminge. There were six trains a day on weekdays, and three on Sundays. This enabled people to travel easily to Folkestone or Canterbury for the first time, and importantly made a daily return journey practical. The effect of this is seen in the large number of new houses built in the following two decades in the run-up to the First World War. The middle classes could now enjoy a house in the still quite rural community of Lyminge while working in nearby Folkestone or Canterbury. 

Cyclists Rest TearoomCyclists Rest Tearoom, Canterbury Road, c1904.  Lyminge became a popular destination for weekend excursions, and the tearoom was readily accessible to visitors arriving at the station as well as to cyclists (©Rob Baldwin)


The spaces between the ancient farmsteads began to fill up with new houses, linking up what had once been a scatter of hamlets to create what we now know as the village of Lyminge. Much of this was driven by a handful of property speculators. Some houses were sold as homes, but many were retained as investment properties and rented out. This created opportunities for a great range of people with greatly different levels of income to live in Lyminge, and the population by the early 1900s was considerably more diverse than it had been 100 years previously.


Lyminge Tea GardensLyminge Tea Gardens at the Cyclists Rest, Canterbury Road c1907 (©Daphne Andrews)

Abbots GreenPicnic party on Abbots Green (now the New Churchyard), 1890 (©Rob Baldwin)

Livestock Market c1910The livestock market, viewed approximately from what is now the garden of 41 Station Road, c1910.  Visible behind and to the left of the tree is the side of no 50 and peeping above the roof of the auctioneer's shed are the distinctive gables of nos 44 and 46. (©Daphne Andrews)

The railway brought prosperity. For the farming community, it enabled a livestock market to exist in Lyminge, and a railway halt in the area now occupied by the houses between the Pharmacy and Everist Court existed specifically to allow sheep to be loaded and taken further afield. Visitors from Folkestone, including those on holiday, could come and enjoy the countryside, bringing money to spend and causing the growth of tearooms and other sources of refreshment. In the hundred years to 1911, the total population of the parish trebled to 1,467. This in turn fuelled growth in new retail businesses, and it became much easier to live in Lyminge and maintain a good standard of living with access to a wide variety of goods. Living in the countryside had never been so easy.


Market Halt c1920The railway halt at the Livestock Market, Station Road, c1920s (©Lyminge Historical Society)


The railway changed much, but in a remarkably short time, it too became the victim of change. In 1919, the first scheduled bus service began, and this provided strong competition as it ran more frequently than the trains. Passenger numbers on the railway began to fall, and the line became increasingly uneconomic, though it still served a purpose for moving goods and livestock. It was kept open during the Second World War to enable extreme long-range guns mounted on railway wagons to operate.   But by the end of the war, motor lorries had taken the place of trains for moving most goods. The railway closed permanently in 1947.


Lyminge LibraryLyminge Public Library in Station Road, formerly the Station Building (©Rob Baldwin)

The station building at Lyminge remains in use as the Public Library. It is possible to follow the line of the railway along much of its length as it is now followed by the Elham Valley Way and the Royal Saxon Way that both pass through the parish. At the present time, it is not possible to access the engineering spectacle of the great cutting and tunnel that brought the railway from Folkestone up on to the North Downs, as they are on private land. But it is possible to pick up the line of the railway south of Etchinghill and follow it down to Peene where there is much to learn at the museum run by the Elham Valley Line Trust             


This page is managed by Lyminge Parish Council Historic Environment Working Group