Bodiam

 

Once a hub for agricultural traffic from the surrounding hop fields – particularly those of stout drink maker ‘’Guinness’’ – today, the preserved Bodiam station now caters for tourists heading to the nearby Medieval castle. The site was originally commissioned for goods traffic with the Robertsbridge to Tenterden (Rolvenden) section of Holman Stephens’ ‘’Rother Valley Railway’’ on 29th March 1900. Passenger trains were soon to follow, commencing on the 2nd of the following month. The character of the line had been determined by the passing of the ‘’Light Railways Act’’ in 1896, which created a category of minor and rural railways for which an Act of Parliament was not required for their construction. Effectively, the legislation allowed numerous non-primary rail routes to be built to lower standards than had previously been permitted, bringing obvious time and cost savings. The down side was that severe weight and speed restrictions were imposed. Naturally, the economical approach to construction was reflected in stations along the Rother Valley Railway, Bodiam being no exception.

The station at Bodiam was located approximately ⅓-mile south of the grounds of the castle and the village it purported to serve. It comprised an uncomplicated layout, simply consisting of the single-track branch and a pair of goods sidings. A solitary platform was provided on the southern side of the single line, and upon it was erected a single-storey corrugated-iron station building. Architecture was standardised along the route, a familiar practice among all railway companies, and virtually identical structures appeared at Northiam and Tenterden (later ‘’Rolvenden’’) stations. The Bodiam structure had a pitched roof, was about 30-feet in length for its main part, and sprouted appendices on either side. Attached to its northern elevation was a timber platform canopy, supported upon a trio of stanchions of the same material; naturally, corrugated iron was still used for the canopy roof. It is worth noting that iron buildings of the same general design came into use on Holman Stephens’ ‘’Sheppey Light Railway’’ in 1901, but on the Tenterden Town to Headcorn extension, which opened on 15th May 1905, station structures were of clapboard construction. Bodiam’s platform was lined at its rear by a design of timber fencing which also came into use at Northiam and Tenterden (Rolvenden) stations, and gas lighting was provided. The latter was fuelled by an acetylene gas generator located within the main building’s western appendix, and early photographs show that there were just a trio of lamps lighting the platform. Seating appeared in the form of frugal wooden planks supported upon blocks of wood – this has certainly been improved upon since preservation! The eastern appendix contained a gentlemen’s urinal, and the economical nature of the line was further enhanced by the fact that the adjacent level crossing lacked gates.

Earlier mentioned were the two goods sidings. These were westward-facing and terminated behind the platform. The pair converged before meeting the running line and were kept busy for much of their existence by the abundance of traffic generated from the hops fields. They were joined in 1910 by a third siding, this of which was laid on the opposite side of the single-track branch and was eastward, rather than westward, facing. No signal box was ever present at the site, and all points were controlled from adjacent ground levers. Of all those stations along H. F. Stephen’s ''Kent & East Sussex Railway'' (so named from 1904 onwards), Tenterden Town was the only site which could claim to have a signal box. However, even this was a mere iron hut, simply providing protection from the elements for the signalman, rather than housing a frame with a full complement of levers.

The K&ESR had been loss-making since 1932 and, unsurprisingly, its existence under British Railways as a passenger-carrying railway was short-lived. Passenger services along the route ceased on 2nd January 1954, and the permanent way between Tenterden Town and Headcorn started to be lifted almost immediately. The Robertsbridge to Tenterden Town section was given a stay of execution, however: hops traffic justified its retention until complete closure on 12th July 1961. Station sites at Wittersham Road and Rolvenden had already been completely razed to the ground by BR, but structures at Tenterden Town, Northiam, and Bodiam, survived the cull. Fortunately, they lasted long enough to be absorbed into the ‘’Tenterden Railway Company Limited’’ in 1973, after a long battle between the K&ESR Preservation Society and the Ministry of Transport, dating back to 1961. Rails between Tenterden Town and Bodiam sites were not to be reconnected until the year 2000, but new track was nevertheless laid at the latter station immediately after takeover by the preservation society. A 1¾-mile eastward extension to ‘’Dixter Halt’’ opened on 25th May 1981, which saw irregular services run on this short stretch from Bodiam – in the meantime, at the other end of the line, track was operational between Tenterden Town and Wittersham Road stations.

Services between Tenterden Town and Bodiam recommenced on 2nd April 2000, and transformation of the latter station into its new preservation role has been interesting. The platform length has more than doubled, to accommodate longer train formations. The goods sidings behind the platform have been relayed in similar positions to those which originally opened with the H. F. Stephens station in 1900, but their joint connection with the running line is significantly further west than before, as a result of the elongated platform. With reference to the later siding of 1910 origin, this has also reappeared, but has been formed into a lengthy loop for locomotive run-a-round purposes. The level crossing now boasts a pair of gates, and a staff kitchen now occupies the appendix which once housed the gas generator. Immediately beyond the run-a-round loop was laid single rolling stock siding, about 300 yards long; this has since been extended by a further ⅓-mile, closing the gap between Bodiam and Robertsbridge. The first train ran over the new extension on 17th March 2009, formed of Class 03 Shunter No. D2023, a pair of hopper wagons, and an SR Brake Van.

 


30th April 2009

 

A tranquil branch line scene, with former Midland Region stock in evidence. The run-a-round loop is situated

upon the former site of a dead-end siding, which lacked a connection at the far end and was originally laid in

1910. David Glasspool

 


30th April 2009

 

The main building was fortunate to avoid demolition by BR, hence is an original H. F. Stephens fabrication.

The appendix on the right, with attached ''Train Service'' board, formerly accommodated the gentlemen's

urinal. The appendix on the far left, now a staff kitchen, was once host to the acetylene gas generator which

fuelled the station's few lamps. David Glasspool

 


30th April 2009

 

The new sidings behind the platform have been re-laid in the same general positions as those of the original

goods yard. However, today's tracks are much longer than those of the pre-preservation era, to accommodate

the extension of the adjacent platform. David Glasspool

 


 

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