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The East Kent Railway (EKR) was incorporated in 1853 for the construction of a line from the South Eastern Railway (SER) (North Kent line) at Strood to the city of Canterbury. Extensions to the line were also sanctioned: eastwards to St Mary Cray to connect with the Mid-Kent line; and southwards to the town of Dover.
In 1850 the railway provision in the north of the county of Kent was very poor. It was 102 miles by the main SER route from London to Margate and Deal; Rochester and Chatham, important towns even at that date, were only served by the branch line from the SER main line; and Faversham, Sittingbourne and the Isle of Sheppey had no railway communication at all. A meeting was held at Rochester on 29 January 1850 to discuss the need for a railway connecting Strood to Dover. Although the idea of an independent railway was adopted, the plans came to nothing; eventually, three years later the EKR came into being.
The construction of the line took a long time: it was not until March 1858 that the section from Strood was opened as far as Faversham, and that was single track line (with provision for doubling) throughout its length. That line was only 18.5 miles in length, and had taken five years to build.: the service was only five trains per day in each direction, with a journey time of 50 minutes. Dover Town was reached in 1861, the ultimate destination of Dover Harbour being opened on 1st November.
The slow progress of construction was because of the parlous financial state of the EKR throughout its existence. Contractors were often left unpaid; although the schemes for the extensions were going ahead. One problem was that the SER obstructed the work; it even refused to handle EKR traffic. This led to the latter seeking a different route into London: the opening of the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway (WELCPR) and the Mid-Kent Railway (MKR) lines offered that chance. Both those railways had reached Beckenham and in 1858 the latter extended to St Mary Cray. The WELCPR also extended to Beckenham: its line took trains to Battersea on the south of the River Thames.
All that remained was the Act authorising the EKR extension to St Mary Cray, and this was granted in 1858: in the following year the East Kent Railway changed its name to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. The route giving the railway access to London via a number of other companies' lines was opened in 1860. The company gained powers in that year to build its own line from Penge Junction to Battersea, and there join the Victoria Station and Pimlico Railway for entry into Victoria station.