The Elham Valley Railway by Brian Hart
ISBN 978 0 953977 12 6 Price £39.95
304 pages, Casebound in dark green boards with gilt-lettered spine, laminated jacket.
Wild Swan Books Ltd, 3A Upper Lambridge Street, Larkhall, BATH BA1 6RY
Tel: 01225 462332 http://titfield.co.uk/
The construction of the Elham Valley Line was the culmination of the acrimonious and destructive competition during the mid-1880s between two Victorian companies – the South Eastern Railway and its rival the London, Chatham & Dover Railway. What had begun as an innocent enterprise in the middle of the 19th century merely to promote a modest local railway project suddenly erupted into one of the most vitriolic and passionate battles between the SER and LC&DR, whereupon neither company truly emerged triumphant.
From its modest origins and throughout the ‘war’ of the 1880s, there exists a captivating tale of intrigue, strategy and reprisal which embroiled the companies’ most senior figures; respectively its chairmen Sir Edward Watkin and James Staats Forbes. The struggle between these two ‘railway giants’ resulted in the construction of a main line through the loveliest area of rural East Kent, but the unresolved tragedy was its distinct lack of purpose.
Like so many railway lines, its prosperous era lasted until the utterly ruinous and disastrous World War of 1914–18. Afterwards, increasing competition from road operators gradually eclipsed the limited role of the Elham Valley as a mere ‘branch’ line, mostly confined to serving local villagers, agriculturalists and livestock farmers. Largely reduced to single track in 1931 and taken over by the War Department in 1940 for defence purposes, the line became not only a victim of rationalization, but ultimately a sacrifice in the nation’s battle for survival against Nazi Germany.
After the war, its anticipated revival was eventually thwarted through a combination of political ideology pursued by the Government of the day as well as the economic crises confronting the nation in the immediate aftermath of the second global conflict.
Unfortunately and perhaps surprisingly, the line was largely overlooked by photographers throughout most of its operational existence and even regrettably escaped the attention of Edwardian postcard manufacturers. Perhaps this explains why the Elham Valley Line maintains an air of mystery about it for many people. Even so, it still remains firmly in the affections of those lucky enough to have known it, as well as those who wish they had.
My previous book The Elham Valley Line, published in 1984 and now long out of print, was intended to be the sole venture into authorship and it was little more than an illustrated tribute to my favourite railway line. However, having subsequently been encouraged to research and write other books, I felt compelled to delve far deeper into the Elham Valley’s history, whereby a truly remarkable story was discovered.
Apart from a desire to fully explain its creation, I felt the need to describe as much as possible the everyday life of this railway in all its detail, aided by eye-witness recollections and long-forgotten accounts. Although first and foremost ‘a railway book’, it has been my desire to present a social history which exemplifies how much the line was inextricably interlaced with people’s daily lives and habits.
I hope that The Elham Valley Railway might not only convey my unwavering passion for this line, but also the exquisite landscape it traversed and the more leisurely and contented era of its existence.
More detail of the contents of this book and many others by Brian Hart, can be found on http://brianhartsrailways.com/books.html