Despite being on one of the main turnpike routes leading away from London, Farnborough has never had a railway link. However there were a surprising number of serious proposals.

The earliest one with a local connection was by the London and Croydon Railway. This company opened the London end of today's Brighton main line from London Bridge to Croydon in 1839, initially sharing the terminus of the London and Greenwich Railway, but swiftly opening its own station alongside.
In 1844 a proposal was published to build a branch off the mainline from Croydon to Orpington and St. Mary Cray via Beckenham, but the plan did not gain approval.
Railway near London Bridge 1837

Ten years later, in 1854, a proposal was made by the West Kent Railway to branch off the newly-built line from London Bridge to Dartford at Lewisham, and then proceed to the east of the eventual route of the South Eastern main line, as far as Foots Cray.

  It would then turn South and follow the river past St Paul's Cray and St. Mary Cray to terminate by Poverest Road, just short of the old centre of Orpington, about two miles from Farnborough.

Again this proposal did not proceed.
The proposed route, and close-up of the approach to Orpington, click to enlarge

Then in 1857 and 1858 railways from two separate companies reached what is now Beckenham Junction (see 'London Chatham and Dover', below). This led to a number of proposals in the period up to 1865 to extend this early main line or build branch lines to or through Farnborough. There were also some small scale proposals at the end of the century.

But it never happened, and instead the main line from Beckenham took a more easterly route through Bromley to St. Mary Cray and Swanley. Farnborough never got a railway connection, and therefore retains a shape and character that would be recognisable to someone from before the railway age.

The various proposals and Acts of Parliament to bring a railway to or near to Farnborough are described in detail in the pages on this part of the website. To put these into context, 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 company was formed to construct a route from London to Dover. Branch lines were later opened to Tunbridge Wells, Hastings, Canterbury and other places in Kent. For reasons of cost sharing and ease of construction they were initially pursuaded to share the line of the rival London and Croydon Railway as far as Redhill. This resulted in a route map as follows by about 1840.  Note that both this and the Brighton line used the terminus at London Bridge. 

The route was somewhat indirect, and did not come anywhere near Orpington, therefore 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..

So the SER. constructed a new and more direct line from Lewisham to Tonbridge via Sevenoaks. This involved crossing the North Downs by summits and long tunnels at Knockholt and Sevenoaks. 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 time unlike today 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. Today it terminates at Hayes.

Meanwhile on 3 March 1858 the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway  opened the 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 route through to Farnborough.

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 eventually they 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 Shortlans and St. Mary Cray to link up with the East Kent.  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 strategic importance, as it completed the second and more direct route between London and the Kent coast. It 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, with a city branch from Herne Hill to Ludgate Hill and Holborn Viaduct opening in 1864.

A second releif line to London (the Catford Loop) was later built between Shortlands and Brixton to provide further capacity. This was Incorporated as the Shortlands and Nunhead Railway in 1889.  South of Shortlands the main line was quadrupled in stages as far as Swanley.

The complete route provided a more direct access to London from many parts of Kent than the lines of the rival 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. 



Amalgamation -  the SE & CR

Many difficulties were caused by the severe 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), 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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