It was first suggested that a railway service be provided for Kent in 1824 - a prospectus was drawn up and accepted in 1825. The topic was raised in 1832, again in 1835, and in 1836 the South Eastern Railways Act was passed. However there were already short distance railways operating - the Whitstable Canterbury being the nearest to this district. The South Eastern Railway when it eventually appeared had government blessing - a point which must have weighed heavily in its favour when engaged in battle with rival companies. One of the first to be merged was the Thames & Medway Canal & Gravesend & Rochester Railway in 1849. Chief rivals were the East Kent, which became the London, Chatham & Dover Railway operating from Victoria and the South East & Chatham Railway out of Charing Cross. A main line to Rochester started at Fenchurch Street and proceeded by Tilbury, the ferry and Gravesend.

Below: Rainham station in the late 1800s, probably around 1890

The line from Chatham to Faversham was opened in January 1858 (the link from Chatham to Strood opened in March). With the extension to Faversham came the stations at New Brompton (Gillingham) and Rainham Newington. In 1862 Newington got its own station. One comment at the time the railway opened up in Kent was that 'all the parishes became very populous and places which were once quite rural are now covered with houses for the toilers of the metropolis'. Transport was now cheap and easy enough to be available to the ordinary people, and thus was born that section of the population known as commuters.

 In 1858 it was only a single track but fortunately the Chatham and Gillingham tunnels had been built sufficiently wide to allow a double track later without the need for major rebuilding. The three major companies all had bridges over the Medway at various times and it was not until 1927 that the re-alignment of the track made the South Eastern bridge the sole survivor.


There had been suggestions to close Rochester and Chatham stations in the interests of economy much to the delight of Gillingham Council who saw a very rosy future for New Brompton. It would have been almost impossible anyway since Chatham was a major station and the only way to Rainham involved changing at Chatham. June 1899 saw the amalgamation of the three major railways into the Southern Railway - which it remained until 1948. One attraction in 1899 was the Continental service out of Victoria via Queenborough to Flushing.

Below: Rainham station in 1966, notice how little has changed from the 1890s which was the original station building from 1858. 

In 1944 a flying bomb fell on a bridge between Rainham and Newington - just twenty yards in front of the Victoria train, killing eight and injuring sixteen passengers. After British Rail took over in 1948 the suggestion was made that Rainham station be renamed 'Gillingham East'. This caused such an outcry that the idea was quietly dropped in much the same way that the Premier Inn on Maidstone Road was originally proposed as Gillingham East. Then in 1958 the first electric train ran to Rainham. There was no ceremony - it was one of five pilot runs and the only passengers were electricians and engineers.


The above photo was taken in October 1966 prior to the rebuilding of the station in 1968 which was now carrying more than 2,000 commuters each day as Rainham expanded. This building lasted much less time than the original and was redeveloped again in 1990 to the current building. The most recent expansion was the additional of platform 0 in 2015 that enables Thameslink trains to start from Rainham.

Below: Rainham station in 1980

Below: Rainham station 1987 during the snow

Woodside has always been a very busy road. In 1912/1914 land was sold off in plots of 200ft x 40ft costing £25 per plot and the road "made up" in 1925/1926 by Milton Parish Council.

Photo below taken in 1946 of Cheryl Domoney in the front garden of 28 Woodside looking into the street and houses opposite, numbers 29 Woodside (semi-detached house) and 31 Woodside (Bungalow).

Photo below taken in 1946 of Cheryl Domoney in the front garden of 28 Woodside looking into the street and houses opposite, numbers 29 Woodside (semi-detached house) and 31 Woodside (Bungalow).

The corner house at Hoath Lane was originally a stopping-off tea place for townpeople coming to their country plots. It later became a green- grocers. Opposite, was waste ground before the Spyglass was built in the ‘30s, and a few doors down a tennis court where players could also get icecream. Fruit trees covered most land along to Bredhurst Road and on that corner 'old iron' was collected for the war effort. Opposite was a house called The Parsonage, where the Priest-in-Charge of the Mission Hall lived. On the west corner of Springvale a small building sold fresh fish, later becoming Beale’s butcher's. We had a resident policeman and his family living on the south side of Woodside. The Smallholders Club, a well -known institution, was originally for exchanging or selling home-grown produce, hence the name. The first building was a tin shed, before Springvale was developed. 

The Post Office, another well-known place since the early ‘30s, also sold petrol and paraffin oil. It was small but had all sorts of pots and pans hanging from the ceiling. Sweets in glass jars were ready to be weighed up - "An a'peth of those, please" (an a'peth was a halfpenny, pre-decimal). Some bought a farthing’s worth (quarter of an old penny)! It was always busy and friendly, as it is today. Along a little further, a footpath stretched from Woodside to Durham Road known as 'the six foot pathway' - said to be six foot wide… and very muddy! Opposite the Post Office was St Matthews, originally built as Wigmore Mission Hall in 1925. It’s beautiful sanctuary in dark oak opened up on Sundays to become the church. This was modernised with lighter-coloured wood around 1935-1937 (the carpenter lived in Springvale), but with a growing population it was necessary to extend out front in ‘52. Now the Howard Memorial Hall, it is the Lodge of the Masons and St Matthews
relocated to Drewery Drive. 

Towards the Queen's Head, north side, a family opened up their front room as a general store and a little further along was a nursery full of produce in greenhouses, the owner living in Maidstone Road. On Woodside's south side, where the Osteopathic clinic now is, the front room held a Haberdashery, somewhere I loved and the next door garden was full of daffodils every year. The site of the Queen's Head was another patch of waste land, opposite was a shop which became Tarry's and there was a red telephone box at either end of Woodside. I have lived here for 93 years. In my younger days there weren’t many residents but everybody knew everybody. Modern Woodside is so different but we have a, much needed, pedestrian crossing thanks to our Mayor. 

Let us know what I have missed out!

During the construction of the Churchill Retirement living housing project on the A2 various remains have been found that date habitation of the area back to the early Iron Age, some 3000 years ago. Sandy Fleming from Rainham News visited the site to find out more

Watch her YouTube video on the discoveries here


Churchill Retirement Living statement re Rainham archaeology dig – November 2021

“Our site in Rainham is of historic interest due to its location, so having liaised with the relevant authorities we brought in a team of professional archaeologists and temporarily paused work on the site while they carry out their important work. We are pleased to be supporting this project and very interested to see what the team discovers.”

Over the centuries many Upchurch residents have become well-known within the village, and a few have gained fame farther afield.

The King’s Carpenter

Hugh Herland became the first recorded Upchurch resident to gain widespread fame. Living in Upchurch from 1378 to 1391 he became chief carpenter to Richard II and designer of the hammer-beam roof of Westminster Hall, the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe. Considered a masterpiece, this became his greatest achievement. He also completed work at Rochester, Leeds and Winchester castles, the Tower of London, Canterbury Cathedral and the tomb of Edward III’s wife, Philippa of Hainault, in Westminster Abbey. Herland initially worked with his father William, also the king’s carpenter, but on September 28th, 1370 the king rewarded Hugh with ‘pesage of wools’ in Queenborough (which established him as a member of the merchant class) and also with a tenement in the City of London. Herland’s wife Joan also came from Upchurch but the couple eventually moved to Kingston in Surrey. Herland died in 1405 but a stained glass window featuring him exists at Winchester College Chapel.

The Crackerbarrel Actor

Actor, James Robertson Justice lived in Greylag, Ham Green during part of WW2 after getting wounded. A big man with a beard and a booming well-spoken voice, he was also highly-educated, with two doctorates. Being interested in nature and a keen ornithologist, Justice soon settled and was often accompanied by naturalist and wildlife TV presenter, Sir Peter Scott as he ventured onto the saltings for bird watching. He drank in The Crown, where he was considered an extrovert and always had an audience. He periodically walked around the peninsula dressed in a kilt playing the bagpipes, bathed naked in the river with lady friends from London and openly bathed in a tin bath in his garden. The village children called him ‘Crackerbarrel’ because he appeared in media advertising said cheese. However, he got into trouble with Sittingbourne Magistrate’s Court for breaking blackout law.

Village gossip said he was a German spy after a torch was spotted flicking on and off from the bedroom window of Greylag at night and Justice received a caution. After Upchurch, he gained fame as an actor in the popular ’Doctor in’ films. He also appeared in other films: Moby Dick, Scott of the Antarctic, The Guns of Navarone and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Justice taught Prince Charles falconry whilst living in Scotland becoming a personal friend of Prince Philip. He was also rector of Edinburgh University and stood as a Labour candidate for North Angus and Mairns in the 1950 General Election.

A blue plaque bearing his name is attached to the front wall of Greylag at Ham Green in memory of him. 

David Wood

When the Manor Farm pub were redeveloping their car park to build the Premier Inn hotel in 2010 the site was subject to an archaeological survey to check for any historic remains as it is so close to the A2. This investigation brought up various finds including Iron age and Roman pottery as well as an Air Raid shelter dating to the Second World War that was built for the staff of the Gas Showrooms. This would have been to the right of the photo below.

The area has been settled for thousands of years as the main route from the coast to the north of the country and these finds help give some context to the people who lived or travelled through the area.

The development of Churchill Retirement complex on the site of 5 bungalows on the A2 adjacent to the Manor Farm pub has given more opportunity for archaeologists to investigate the area. According to an interview with them this week significant Iron age discoveries have been made, in particular salt pits.

With the A2 being the main Roman Road to London (Watling Street) there have been significant finds in the area including recent discoveries of a Roman Temple in Newington close to the A2 and Roman Villas in Hartlip.


Historical tales

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Action Forum is a free monthly magazine that is distributed to the Rainham area covering Wigmore, Parkwood and Hempstead as well. This archive covers old copies of the magazine dating back to its initial publication in 1969 and give a fascinating glimpse into life in Rainham over the last 50 years.

Link to Article Index - Action Forum Index - Photos and Articles from 1969 onwards