Report by John Horton
Today (April 12), marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of Westgate Railway Station.
At just before 1pm on April 12, 1871, the first train arrived, carrying the Vice Chairman of the London Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) and William Corbett- the joint owner of the developing Westgate -on-sea estate. With them was solicitor Spencer Lewin, an official guest at the opening. They alighted from the train to a meet a small group of eminent local people, a short ceremony, a speech and a little bunting fluttering in the breeze.
Today John Sandford, Station Manager for South Eastern Trains, gave everyone a warm welcome and thanked those in attendance for supporting an event to mark the milestone. This was followed by a small snow fall.
He said the significance of Westgate having a station could not be over emphasised, with its importance for the community and for the railway as a whole. He revealed there are more plans for the station to be released at a later date.
David Wornham, Passenger Services Manager for South Eastern Trains spoke of the history of the area.
Westgate was made up of three estates in 1870 which started to be developed, after the station opened in 1871.
Station Road as we know it today began development in 1890. In 1895 the footbridge was installed following an investigation by the Board of Trade, up until that time only a wooden foot crossing was available, and in 1920 the station was still lit by gas lamps as were the waiting rooms.
Westgate Town Council and community members dressed in period costume to help create the atmosphere and a photographic historical record of how the station has changed over the last 150 years was on display.
There was also an example of the uniform worn by station staff in the early 1980s and the “Finger Boards” which showed passengers where the next train due was heading and what stations it called it.
Councillor Joanna Cornford, of Westgate on Sea Town Council, thanked everyone behind the scenes for their support and effort in staging the anniversary event, especially Town Clerk Gill Gray. Special thanks were also given to the Westgate in Bloom team who had planted flowers in the beds outside the front of the station. Westgate Community Spirit craft members also created bunting and silhouettes for the occasion.
Dr Graham Field, Westgate resident and Chairman of the Westgate Heritage Centre, paid tribute to town historian Dr Dawn Crouch who passed away in November. Dr Crouch had spent many years dedicated to uncovering the history of Westgate.
He said: “The centre was founded by Dr Dawn Crouch who loved Westgate-on-Sea and said Westgate would not have existed if it hadn’t been for the station.
“Dawn did so much for Westgate, she recorded its history and was rightly elected the first honorary freeman. I know she have been much more eloquent than my few words today. She was very keen on anniversaries and wanted the town council to organise a special day for the 150 years of the station. Despite being unwell last year, she gave our Town Clerk, Mrs Gray, quite a lot of instructions about the form of the ceremony should take, but which have sadly been diluted by Covid.”
Dr Field recounted some of the station’s history, saying Herman Mertens had been the owner of the land which became Westgate and he sold the site to the fledgling East Kent Railway, which became the London Chatham and Dover Railway Company.
LCDR took an “Indentikit” off the peg design for the rural station at Westgate. Over the years other stations have been expanded and modernised but Westgate retains much of its original features.
During modernising safety updates last year, some old features were revealed, such as the former booking clerk’s office in the old entrance building on the up platform.
Dr Field added: “I was delighted to see that the replacement footbridge has a colour scheme with a historical reference to the pre war Southern Railway (Malachite Green and Sunshine Yellow).”
The heritage centre has produced a trail leaflet showing what would have been visible in Westgate in 1871 when the station opened. Dr Field’s booklet of the history of the station is available via the Westgate Town Council offices.
Guests and visitors were offered free tea/coffee and cakes as part of the celebration festivities many shared their memories and experiences of the station and Westgate over the years.
It is hoped the anniversary can be marked with a public event in July.