The Hundred of Hoo Railway is a railwayline in Kent, England, following the North Kent Line from Gravesend before diverging at Hoo Junction near Shorne Marshes and continuing in an easterly direction across the Hoo Peninsula, passing near the villages of Cooling, High Halstow, Cliffe and Stoke before reaching the Isle of Grain and the container port on its eastern tip, Thamesport. There used to be a short branch line leading from Stoke Junction to the coastal town of Allhallows but this closed from 4 December 1961, the same date on which the Hundred of Hoo line was closed to passenger services.
The first authorisation to construct a railway on the Hoo Peninsula was obtained by a group of local businessmen who sponsored the passing of the North Kent Railway Extension Railway Act in 1865 which provided for the construction of a branch line leaving the South Eastern Railway‘s Gravesend – Strood line near Shorne Marshes. The line would head eastwards across land north of Cliffe to reach Allhallows, continuing to the Isle of Grain. However, the major railway companies operating in the area, South Eastern Railway (SER) and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) were not interested in the project and as a result it failed to secure the necessary funding.
The opening of Queenborough railway station on 15 May 1876 by the LCDR which offered a sea link to the Dutch town of Flushing prompted the SER to investigate possibilities for a rival link to the continent. On 16 April 1878 the SER’s engineer, Francis Brady, reported back to his employer on the feasibility of constructing a railway from a point near Gravesend and the North Kent Line to the village of Stoke, a distance of 9 miles. The estimated cost was £72,000. A 5% return was projected, the belief being that Gravesend’s proximity to London would make it a more desirable outlet for the distribution of goods intended for the Kent area, rather than the LCDR’s Chatham station.
The Hundred of Hoo Railway Company was therefore formed and a second authorisation for the line obtained in the form of the Hundred of Hoo Railway Act which received royal assent on 21 July 1879.
Seizing the opportunity to provide a sea outlet for goods to Europe, the SER announced its intention to open a new port on the Isle of Grain with a service to Belgium. This new service would compete with the LCDR’s own Queenborough and Sheerness outlets. The SER was hopeful that its service would be preferred over that of the LCDR, the proposed route from Charing Cross to the new port was 40 miles, some 12 miles less than the LCDR’s Victoria to Queenborough or Sheerness service.
The Hundred of Hoo Railway (Extension) Act was passed by the House of Lords on 14 July 1880 authorising an extension of 3 miles from Stoke to the new Victoria Port where a pier would be constructed. Following a call for tenders, the quotation of a certain Thomas A. Walker was accepted, he having proposed £14,421 for the railway extension (including a bridge over Higham Canal) and £18,953 for the pier. The Railway Company was absorbed into SER in August 1880.
A single track line as far as Sharnal Street opened on Friday 31 March 1882. The remainder of the line to Port Victoria officially opened on Monday 11 September 1882.
When the line opened, the scope for passenger services was limited – the entire population of the sparsely populated Hoo Peninsula was only 3,405. Nevertheless, in October 1891 there were 9 daily trains, approximately one every two hours from 6am on weekdays and Saturdays, and three on Sundays. The total journey time was 1 hour. Down trains would depart from Gravesend and call at Sharnal Street and Port Victoria, before a steamer would take passengers across the River Medway on to Sheerness. From Sheerness passengers could take the Medway Ferry Service to Folkestone and then on to the continent.
The ferry service was intermittent. It was discontinued in 1895 due to dwindling returns and then reinstated some years later; when there was no service to Port Victoria, trains terminated at Sharnal Street. The initial returns for the line as a whole were below expectations: without a direct ferry connection to the continent there was little to attract customers to this remote region. Nevertheless, the farming community on Hoo took well to the new railway and Sharnal Street station saw good business.