South Eastern Division
Rye remains as a fine
example of SER architecture, existing as a reminder of the finesse achieved at
stations, before this company’s ‘’economical’’ clapboard approach became
standard policy. The origins of the route across the bleak Romney Marsh lay with
the Brighton Lewes & Hastings Railway (BL&HR), which received Parliamentary
approval in 1845 for a coastal route from Lewes to Ashford, via Hastings. Royal
Assent had already been granted to an earlier-formed concern in 1837, for the
Brighton to Lewes section, but this scheme had fallen on stony ground, and was
subsequently absorbed into the plans of the BL&HR. Seemingly ‘’invading’’ SER
territory, the latter company submitted its own proposals to Parliament, which
outlined an inland route to Hastings, leaving the Weald of Kent main line at Headcorn, and passing through Tenterden. The SER was partially successful in
this attempt: Parliament decreed that the route of the BL&HR was still
preferable, for it was strategically located in light of invasion from the
Continent; however, it was decided that the SER should build and operate the
section of route from Ashford to what later became ‘’Bopeep Junction’’, a short
distance west of Hastings. From Bopeep onwards, to Brighton, building work was
to be undertaken by the BL&HR.
The double-track line between Brighton and Lewes opened on 8th June 1846, quickly followed by the opening of a single-track extension to Bulverhythe (located 2¼-miles west of Hastings) on 27th of the same month. SER construction was slower, and the Ashford to Hastings route was not opened to passenger traffic until 13th February 1851, Rye coming into use on this date. The station completed here was the antithesis of those wooden fabrications that became associated with the SER throughout its history, but the layout nevertheless demonstrated features typical of the company. The double-track line was served by a pair of staggered platforms, an arrangement synonymous with rural stations on the SER network. The platforms were linked at their ends by a track foot crossing, and the positioning of the surfaces ensured that passengers only ever walked behind a stabled train, reducing the risk of people being struck by a departing service. The ‘’down’’, Hastings-bound platform was host to the main building, a splendid three-storey-high symmetrical structure. Designed by architect William Tress (who was also responsible for a number of those stations on the latterly opened SER Hastings route via Tunbridge Wells), the building was to an Italianate design, worthy of the historic town of Rye. It was constituted of red brick, was lined on its outer edges by stone, and comprised a main three-storey-high central section, flanked on either side by smaller two-storey-high appendices. The structure was 55-feet in length, comprised three slated pitched roof sections, and must have been an impressive spectacle in the days when it was reached by means of a head-on tree-flanked approach road. Despite the grand nature of the main building, the ‘’down’’ platform lacked a canopy, and the ‘’up’’ surface was similarly without any form of protection from the elements. Both platforms were backed at their rears by timber fencing, as per those which continue to be so treated at Pluckley.
The station was conveniently sited for this important town, which had become a ‘’Cinque Port’’ in 1336. As a result, goods facilities here became somewhat extensive, sidings existing either side of the ‘’down’’ platform. An 80-foot-long goods shed, of red brick construction with a slated pitched roof, was established 35 yards south of the main station building. This was a through affair, and served one of two Hastings-facing sidings which terminated behind the ‘’down’’ platform, against the wall of the station structure. A third, Ashford-facing siding also existed on the same site, although access to it required a headshunt manoeuvre onto the goods shed track. Directly opposite the yard, on the ‘’up’’ side of the line, existed a 135-yard-long Ashford-facing siding, and this in turn also acted as a headshunt facility for a shorter, 25-yard-long Hastings-facing stub. At the Ashford end of the station layout, across the running lines from the ‘’up’’ platform, existed a second goods yard site. This was host to four sidings, three of which were Hastings-facing, the longest extending for 150-yards in length. Like the aforementioned ‘’up’’ side stub, the fourth siding was a shorter affair, access being acquired by means of a head shunt manoeuvre. The stub terminated at a wagon turntable, which not only led to an additional pair of short sidings, but also provided a direct link to the ‘’up’’ side stub, by means of a track running perpendicular across the two running lines (this appears to have doubled-up on the same site as the track foot crossing). The yard was, without doubt, comprehensive: a dedicated coal depot was in evidence; a three-storey high water tower, with a timber-clad base, was provided; finally, there was a plethora of cattle pens – in fact, a cattle market was established beside the yard. The tank supplied a water column situated adjacent to the ‘’down’’ line, opposite the ‘’up’’ platform.
The layout was initially signalled by the SER, and no less than two of this company’s trademark timber signal boxes, complete with sash-style windows, were in evidence at the site. Level crossings were present immediately north and south of the layout, and each became host to the aforementioned signal cabins. The crossing at the Hastings end of the layout boasted a standard two-storey SER cabin, whilst that at the Ashford end of the layout was a much smaller hut-like affair. Further reflecting the extensive nature of the site, each crossing keeper was provided with his own house, positioned immediately adjacent to their respective level crossings. In 1893, Saxby & Farmer was drafted in to re-signal the Ashford to Ore (exclusive) line. As a result, Rye became host to a third signal box, positioned beside the ‘’up’’ line, immediately opposite the ‘’down’’ side station building. This was built to a standard Saxby & Farmer design, complete with a brick base, a timber upper half, and a gabled slated pitched roof (examples of this design also appeared on the SER’s Canterbury line at Sturry and Wye, to name but two). The then new signal box comprised a frame of thirty levers, but the existing SER cabins were retained as gate boxes at the level crossings. A separate ground frame of nine levers was brought into use at the junction with the Rye Harbour branch, which resided just under half a mile to the south, and had a trailing connection with the ‘’down’’ line.
Rye: Ancient Town; Cinque Port. © David Glasspool
Class 204 Hampshire/Berkshire DEMU No. 1120 is depicted forming an Ashford to Hastings service, as mailbags are seen being unloaded on the platform (one of many traffic types which has since disappeared). Note that the station is still equipped with SR Swan Neck gas lamps, affixed to which are BR ''Sausage'' totems. © Roger Goodrum
Although looking tired, the Saxby & Farmer signal box remained operational. The balcony attached to the front of the cabin was used for window cleaning and was accessed by a small flight of stairs, seen on the right. © Roger Goodrum
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