On 18 February 1836, a petition was presented to the House of Commons from interested parties requesting leave to bring in a Bill for making and maintaining a Railway from London to Dover. This was granted on 22 February, and the Bill received its first reading on 27 February.
The Bill received its second reading on 10 March, and from this date a stream of petitions in favour and in opposition to the Bill were presented. These were referred to the Committee on the Bill, and many of the Petitioners, or their Counsels, were invited to give evidence.
Evidence was heard over a number of days, and those giving evidence included timber merchants, fishmongers, farmers, butchers and grocers, as well as engineers, landowners and coach owners. Once the Committee had been convinced of the arguments in favour of the Bill, and after having been approved by the House of Lords, subject to amendments, on 16 June, the Bill passed into law on 21 June 1836.
Construction of the railway began at a number of points simultaneously in 1838. The line opened to Tonbridge in May 1842, extended as far as Ashford in December 1842, and made it as far as Dover by February 1844.
In order to facilitate London’s links with the Continent, the company began a cross-channel service, the South Eastern and Continental Steam Packet Company, in 1845.
Over the the next 20 years, the South Eastern Railway built branchlines to towns across Kent, including Ramsgate, Margate, Tunbridge Wells, Hastings, Gravesend and Maidstone.