Nonington and the coming of the railways


The London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR)

After almost a decade of planning the Canterbury to Dover extension of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) was finally opened to traffic on 22nd. July, 1861. At least two railway companies were initially involved in planning the construction of the line, the South Eastern Railway (SER) and the East Kent Railway (EKR), which transformed into the LCDR during construction. The War Office had expressed an interest for strategic military purposes, but this interest did not extend to the Government investing any money.

Several schemes involving different routes were put forward at various times prior to the EKR commencing construction in 1857. Initially progress was slow.  In May 1859 only 250 men were employed on the whole length of the new line which led to criticism of the contractor, T. R. Crampton, and in the following September Joseph Cubbit, the chief engineer, felt it necessary to report his dissatisfaction with Crampton to the board of directors.

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During construction decisions had to be made regarding the siting of stations with communities along the line requesting one.  Locally Adisham asked for one in late 1858, and in February of 1859 the board of directors received a deputation from the parishes of Nonington and Sibertswold (Shepherdswell) requesting the building of stations at Adisham and Butter Street, Sibertswold.  The directors agreed to these requests providing the land for the stations was given free of charge along with an additional £.500 to cover the station’s construction costs. Similar conditions were applied to the provision of a goods only station at Bekesbourne which the directors had initially decided was not warranted in December of 1858. However, by the following November they had decided to make Bekesbourne into a proper station.

Nonington Parish Vestry met on 10th March, 1859 at “The Royal Oak”  and decided “after notice duly given to consider a recommendation of Mr. Thurston as to insertion of the line of Railway in the new Parish map” to include the railway line on the recently commissioned parish tithe map, the survey for which had cost £ 156 19/- 9d. The new map accurately recorded the railway’s route and its acreage allowing for the calculation of the rates payable.

The hilly nature of the countryside meant that in places deep railway cuttings had to be excavated and in other places embankments had to be constructed to cross the numerous valleys using spoil taken from the cuttings.  These cuttings required the construction of bridges to carry existing roads across the line and viaducts to carry the line across the roads with a fine example of a brick built viaduct to be found just to the west of Adisham station. Bridges were built on either side of Soles Court Farm at West Court and Ruberries; one at Snowdown; two more by the present village of Aylesham on what was then Curleswood Park Farm; one at Ratling; and another close to Adisham station carrying the road that then formed the western boundary of Nonington parish, now the B2046.

At Acol a single arch viaduct spans the present Womenswold to Nonington bridle way which was then a road, the expense involved in the viaduct’s construction gives an indication of the road’s importance in the 1850’s.

The construction of the West Court bridge led to a slight re-routing of Long Lane, also known as The Roman Road, now part of the North Downs Way, as the bridge was sited on a cross-roads formed by Long Lane and the West Court road and slightly angled to allow both roads to cross with each requiring only a slight “S” shaped detour.

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The railway had quite a social effect on the parishes it passed through. The experienced “Navvies” employed to build it came from all over the British Isles, especially from Ireland which was at this time was still suffering the effects of the Great Famine which had resulted in about half of the population leaving Ireland in search of employment and a new life in other parts of Britain and further afield in North America and Australia. Navvy derived from Land Navigator, a name originally given to the labourers employed to dig the numerous canals commissioned in the late 18th and early 19th centuries which were eventually superseded by the railways.

“Navvies” were not always welcomed by the community in general. They were usually single men who often lived under atrocious conditions in temporary accommodation that they built for themselves alongside the railway they were constructing. With a reputation for hard drinking and violent behavior which was not always justified, their arrival must have been welcome by alehouse and beer shop proprietors.
Married men with families also frequently lived in similar conditions with their children receiving little or now education (see 1861 cencus below). Until the 1890’s employers had no responsibility to provide accommodation for their “Navvies”, and many modern day “traveller” families are descended from these itinerant labourers who built the canals and railways in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the late 1850’s Walter Webb, my paternal great-great grand-father, moved from High Halden in Kent, where he had been a butcher and grazier,  to Newington-next-Sittingbourne where he worked initially as a labourer on the LCDR railway (1861 census) and later become a plate-layer (1871 census). The building of the LCGR helped many seasonally employed agricultural labourers to find regular employment with better rates of pay.

The 1861 census returns for Nonington record railway workers lodging close to the railways route in private houses at Ratling and at “The Phoenix” public house and the Round House at Frogham [the converted brick base of one of the former Barfreston windmills],  whilst other “Navvies” and their families appear to have lived in a “shanty town” on West Court Downs.  Some Nonington parishioners were listed in 1861 as labourers on the railway, and later census returns show Nonington residents as railway employees such as clerks and maintenance workers.

The 1861 census returns for Nonington record some railway workers as lodging in private houses at Ratling and at “The Phoenix” public house and the Round House at Frogham,  all close to the railways route, whilst other “navvies” and their families appear to have lived in a “shanty town” on West Court Downs.  Some Nonington parishioners were listed in 1861 as labourers on the railway, and later census returns show Nonington residents as railway employees such as clerks and maintenance workers.

The following is an extract from the 1861 census listing railway workers and their families in Nonington.

The Round House, ,Frogham. 

GILHAM     George       Head         Marr  68     Ag Labourer        Nonington

GILHAM     Frances      Wife  Marr  68     Labourers wife         Nonington

GILHAM     Sarah Ann Niece Single        9       Scholar         Nonington

JACKSON George       Lodger       Single        47     Railway Labourer    Blandford Dorset

SEAL         William       Lodger       Single        20     Railway Labourer    Northampton

BETTRIDGE       William       Lodger       Single        55         Ag Labourer        Southampton

MILES       James        Lodger       Single        24     Railway Labourer    Northampton

West Court Downs (temporary accommodation).

COLLARD William       Head Marr  34         Railway Labourer Nonington

COLLARD Eliza  Wife  Marr  30     Labourers wife     Weal, Essex

COLLARD Emily Dau   Single        7       Scholar         Coventry, Warwick

COLLARD William       Son   Single        4       Scholar         Milton, Kent

COLLARD Harriet        Dau   Single        11     Scholar         Hitchen, Herts

COLLARD Susannah  Dau   Single        4       Scholar         Milton, Kent

COLLARD Maria Dau   Single        1                Nonington

BAKER      James        Lodger       Single        33     Railway Labourer    Patcham, Sussex

MATCHETT        Francis       Head Marr  46     Railway Labourer    Stickney, Lincoln

MATCHETT        Elizabeth    Wife  Marr  43     Labourers wife   Bugbrook, Northants

DAY  Henry         Head Marr  30     Railway Labourer City of Gloucester

GOODALL George       Head Wid   50     Railway Labourer         Wolburton, Bucks

GOODALL Charles      Son   Single        9       Scholar         Wolburton, Bucks

The Phoenix Inn (see Nonington alehouses)
WEBB       George         Head Marr  54     Innkeeper   Nettlestead, Kent

WEBB       Sarah         Wife  Marr  42     Innkeepers wife         Nonington

CRITTENDEN     Harriet        Sister in law        Single         55     Assistant shepherd      Nonington

SMITH       Joseph       Lodger       Single        40     Railway Labourer    Whitechurch Dorset

DICKINSON        William       Lodger       Single        44         Railway Labourer Trumpington Cambs

MOODY     William       Lodger       Single        35     Railway Labourer    North Stoneham Hants

BANKS      Robert        Lodger       Single        35     Railway Labourer    RyeSussex

GODDEN   William       Lodger       Single        40     Railway Labourer    Saltwood Kent

BROWN    Joseph       Lodger       Single        27     Railway Labourer    Kettering Northamptonshire

CLARK      William       Lodger       Single        45     Railway Labourer    Newport Pagnell Bucks

MOOR       Godfrey      Lodger       Single        32     Railway Labourer    Uckfield Sussex

MONDAY   William       Lodger       Marr  36     Railway Labourer    Stansted Deal Hants

Some Nonington residents living at Ratling were listed in the 1861 census as working as railway labourers. Their details can be found at

The railway proved a mixed blessing to the inhabitants of Nonington and the surrounding parishes. Some, especially land-owners and farmers, benefited as the railways made for easier and cheaper movement of their produce and livestock to a wider market offering better prices, whilst small local businesses such as tailors, shoemakers and black-smiths, would have to compete with more readily available and cheaper mass produced clothing, foot wear and metal goods and tools.

Nonington had no station for use by the people of the parish who had to travel to either Adisham or Shepherdswell stations to catch a train, with Adisham the best option for the majority of them. In January 1874  Nonington Parish Vestry discussed the possibility of the building of a more direct road from Nonington Church to Adisham station via Old Court Hill and Ratling. However, this scheme was abandoned when the compensation payable to the land-owners on the proposed route was calculated to exceed £1000, making the proposed road’s construction much too expensive. The highest demand for compensation came from the owner of Curleswood Park Farm, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

After the coming of the railway the population of the Nonington and other East Kent parishes declined as it was then easier and cheaper for local people to escape the grinding poverty of a seasonal rural economy in the grip of an extended agricultural recession which lasted into the early 20th century and take up regular and better paid employment in the growing towns of North Kent and further afield.
When the railway opened in 1861 the population of Nonington was 896, by 1901 it had dropped to 740. It was not until work commenced at Snowdown colliery in 1908 that the population of Nonington and Womenswold began to increase again. Snowdown and Nonington Halt was built in 1914  to make it easier for coal miners to get to work at Snowdown Colliery, which had begun coal production in November of 1912. The majority of miners at this time came from the Dover area and many walked to and from work at the colliery from Shepherdswell station or even from Dover itself.
After Snowdown Colliery was bought in the early 1920’s by  Dorman, Long, a group of iron and steel producers and engineering companies, the railway was used to help with the building of the mining village of Aylesham in the late 1920’s where a spur was built from the main line to transport the large quantities of building materials needed to build dozens of modern new houses in the countryside. The building of the village led to an influx of hundreds miners and their families and Aylesham railway station opened in July of 1928 so giving Nonington parish two stations for some twenty-five years or so until its division into the present day parishes of Nonington and Aylesham.

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Until the mid-1970′s Snowdown and Nonington Halt station was manned and older long term residents of Nonington will remember the tiny ticket collectors hut perched at the top of the stairs leading down to the Dover platform where there was a large wood and corrugated iron shelter for passengers, whilst the Canterbury side had a smaller shelter made from of the same materials.

The East Kent Light Railway.

Some Nonington residents also had access to another railway line.  Literally a few yards outside of the eastern parish boundary out beyond Kittington was Knolton Station, a stop on the single track East Kent Light Railway, one of the Colonel Stephens group of cheaply built rural light railways in England,  which ran from Shepherdswell Station to Eastry where the railway divided with one line going to Wingham and the other to Richborough.

 Knolton station opened on 16th. October, 1916 and closed on 30th October, 1948, and the platform was demolished and the track taken up in 1954. The station master’s house is still there at the top of the hill and is now a private residence.

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3 thoughts on “Nonington and the coming of the railways

  • February 9, 2017 at 19:27

    Hello. Lovely resource! But I wonder whether the photo on this page, entitled, ‘Knowlton Halt goods train date unknown’ is really correct? Those multiple telegraph wires don’t appear in any of the other photos and are a bit unlikely for a light railway line, and the 4-6-0 engine with tender drawing a heavy load through Knowlton would exceed the light railway’s wildest ambitions!

  • April 30, 2015 at 15:17

    Just to say we recently moved to Nonington last year (july 2014) and are finding your blogs and articles truly fascinating…. keep up the tremendous work it makes fantastic reading and a very interesting insight into the historical Nonington.

    Kind regards


    • May 1, 2015 at 07:35

      Many thanks for your kind comments, I hope you continue to enjoy the site. Unfortunately I have not had the time recently to add new material and update existing items. I hope to be able to do this in the near future.


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