Despite having seen a
modest amount of modernisation over the years, Hildenborough is the epitome of
those stations which opened on the SER’s Tonbridge cut-off line. Receiving Royal
Assent on 30th June 1862, the route was put in place to reduce the SER’s London
Bridge to Tonbridge journey distance by some 12˝ miles, the rival LC&DR having
since forged a shorter route to Dover from its West End terminus of Victoria.
The SER opened its diversionary route piecemeal: Chislehurst was reached on 1st
July 1865, followed by an extension to Sevenoaks Tubs Hill on 2nd March 1868.
The section between the latter and Tonbridge came into use for passenger traffic
on 1st May of the same year, although freight had been able to use the whole
route since February. By the 1860s, the SER had adopted the ‘’economical’’
station policy, which outlined the provision of passenger facilities at the
lowest possible cost. Thus, stations along the cut-off line were,
unsurprisingly, built to a standardised conservative design, utilising clapboard
throughout. This policy had been exercised to a great degree on the Dartford
Loop Line in 1866, and during the SER’s last years, similarly constructed
stations on the Bexleyheath line came into use during 1895. At least in the
earliest years of their existence, however, the unassuming nature of these
structures could be partially masked by the graceful lines of an ornate and
copious canopy. Deep in rural territory, Hildenborough portrayed the typical
country station, its architecture and facilities being familiar products of the
SER. The platforms here were directly opposite each other, rather than
demonstrating the distinctive SER characteristic of being staggered, and the
main building was positioned on the ‘’up’’ side. The latter was graced with a
flat-roofed canopy, identical to the example which the company had previously
installed at Dartford in 1849. Indeed, although neither of the ornate valances
still exist at these locations, the same pattern can still be seen surviving at
Plumstead. The ‘’down’’ side had no building as such, but was instead graced
with a canopy replicating that on the ‘’up’’ side, both in style and size. It
was backed at its rear with clapboard, protecting passengers from gusts of wind.
An attractive lattice footbridge appears to date from the station's earliest
years, this being situated to the west of the station structures.
Rural this station may have been, goods provision here was eventually quite generous, especially in light of the small community it served. Initially, there was just a single refuge siding: this laid on the ''down'' side, was eastward facing, and terminated behind the platform, before the shelter was reached. It was installed around 1871, concurrent with a siding at Chelsfield, further up the line, and was later extended beyond the western limits of the shelter. Good facilities were latterly expanded, which saw the installation of a trio of sidings on the ‘’up’’ side. Two of these were eastward-facing and terminated behind the platform, one stopping immediately before the station building was reached (the other trailed off skew-whiff). To the east of this pair of tracks laid a third siding, this time westward-facing. Being physically connected, this trio created an ‘’up’’ side passing loop. A SER-designed signal cabin, positioned at the eastern end of the ''up'' platform, controlled the complex. A significant feature which was missing from this arrangement, despite the presence of the sidings, was a goods shed - this was, however, by no means uncommon.
In connection with the Kent Coast Electrification, changes were numerous. Closure of the goods sidings occurred on 5th October 1960, to allow the platforms to be extended at their eastern ends using prefabricated concrete; twelve vehicle formations could now be accommodated. With the lifting of the ‘’down’’ siding, a third rail power supply generator unit could be installed behind the platform. The signal box followed, being decommissioned on 4th March 1962, its functions being assumed by the then new ''power box'' at Tonbridge, colour light signals coming into use with this. The main station building also received modifications: its approach road elevation was rebuilt in brick, this surface subsequently being treated to a white-wash finish (which is more common on ex-LC&DR intermediate stations such as Shepherds Well). The toilet facilities, on the building’s western elevation, were also rebuilt in brick, but the clapboard satellites either side were retained. The canopies saw quite drastic change: the ‘’up’’ side canopy was replaced with an upward slanting one, demonstrating a plain valance (the same design had come into use concurrently at Northfleet), but retaining the original stanchions. The weather protection on the ‘’down’’ side was completely done away with - needless to say, a bus shelter later appeared on this platform. Despite the mentioned changes to this still seemingly rural location, the station retains a considerable amount of original architecture on its ‘’up’’ side, surviving as one of the better examples of the SER’s ‘’economical’’ affairs.
A westward view from 31st May 2004 reveals the surviving ''up'' side clapboard structure of 1868
and the 1960s canopy, whilst the ''down'' side comprises a bus shelter of much more recent origin.
The lattice footbridge, a later addition by the SER, is evident in the background. David Glasspool
An eastward view from the footbridge on the same date shows the rebuilt toilet facilities on the
extreme right, the revised canopy, and the bus shelter. Note that the canopy has had a section of
valance cut out to aid vision of the signal. David Glasspool
The character of the SER can be seen underneath the canopy, clapboard still surrounding the original
window frame design. The goods yard site, on the left, has become a car park. David Glasspool
This is one of two surviving clapboard ''satellites'' at the station. This particular example, sandwiched
in-between the footbridge and the main structure, is leased out to a Limousine hire company. David Glasspool
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