Paddock Wood

 

Paddock Wood was perhaps best known for being situated within the heart of Kent’s hop-growing country. The Whitbread Brewery owned a large farm in Beltring, just north of Paddock Wood, and recruited people in thousands from London, for the hop-picking season in September. Similar farms also existed at Goudhurst and Horsmonden, and the Hawkhurst branch became synonymous with hop-pickers’ train workings from London. 4000 pickers from South East and East London were recruited by Whitbread alone in 1935, just for their Beltring farm. In 1943, hop-picking entered its 150th season.

Layouts at Paddock Wood and Tonbridge have survived the test of time well, in light of comprising platforms fed by loops, which can keep slow services clear of the through lines. Indeed, the Southern Railway decided to adopt the same practice during their rebuild of Headcorn station, which was completed in 1930. Under this company, Paddock Wood’s signal cabins to the west and east of the platforms became ‘’Box A’’ and ‘’Box B’’ respectively, ‘’A’’ identifying the signal box closest to London. ‘’Box A’’ was later abolished under SR auspices, and from 26th June 1932, ‘’B Box’’ took control of all signals at the station. Further change at Paddock Wood did not occur until after nationalisation. SR ‘’Target’’ name signs were retained until the end, but in 1958, concrete bracket lampposts, a product of Exmouth Junction concrete works, were installed on both platforms. These replaced the Swan Neck examples earlier installed by the SR upon Barley Twist lampposts. In spring 1961, the ‘’down’’ platform was extended at its western end with prefabricated concrete, in readiness for electrification. A new red-brick electrical control room was also erected at this end of the platform (this had brief fame on 17th March 1986, when the ''juice'' was switched on for the electrification of the Tonbridge to Hastings Line). Electric working along the route commenced on 12th June 1961, but steam was not wholly abolished until the full-accelerated ‘’Phase 2’’ timetable came into effect on 18th June of the following year. The Hawkhurst branch saw its last train on 11th June 1961. New three-aspect colour lights came into use from Tonbridge to Headcorn, and up the Medway Valley Line as far as Yalding, on 1st April 1962, leading to the abolition of Paddock Wood’s remaining signal box. Control was assumed by the ‘’power box’’ installed at Tonbridge. Goods facilities lingered on until January 1966, these being withdrawn – at least on paper – on 3rd of that month.

The renaissance of Paddock Wood freight began in 1973, with the opening of a ‘’Transfesa Continental Freight Depot’’ alongside the northern perimeter of the station. At the time, ‘’Transfesa’’ was a Spanish-owned international rail transport company which handled imported foodstuffs from Southern Europe. The company had its own fleet of rail vehicles, these of which were fitted with adjustable axles for use on both narrow and wide gauges. The company had large depots at Paddock Wood and Liverpool, the former being home to its UK Headquarters, and their freight crossed the English Channel by means of the Dunkerque to Dover rail ferry. New sidings were laid beside the station, and these made a connection with the curving Medway Valley Line, the latter of which they ran parallel for their entire length. The company’s UK headquarters moved from Paddock Wood to Liverpool in 1991. Traffic to and from the depot was abruptly brought to an end on 4th July 2005, when a fire at the Transfesa depot broke out. Negotiations with insurers were completed in 2006, and it was decided to construct a new depot on the same site.

We now return to the subject of the station itself. An unfortunate casualty was the original ‘’down’’ side Italianate main building. Having survived the 1893 rebuilding and the much more recent electrification works, it was demolished in 1968. In addition, the entire section of the ‘’down’’ side canopy west of the footbridge was also removed at the same time, and a diminutive CLASP waiting shelter appeared on the site. The ‘’up’’ side canopy did not escape alterations; this was cut back at its eastern end by 75-feet, but that section west of the footbridge retained. Refurbishment of the station came twenty years later: in 1988, a new glazed arched canopy was erected over the entrance to the still extant ‘’up’’ side building of 1893, and both platform surfaces were extended at their eastern ends by nearly 200-feet, using concrete cast components. Three years later, the road bridge at the western end of the layout was widened to allow the passage of out-of-gauge wagons of Channel Tunnel freight; its arch was covered by a new concrete lining. It is worth noting that at this time, a trio of sidings still existed on the ‘’up’’ side, east of the platform. One of these was the truncated remains of the eastward-facing Hawkhurst branch bay line, the remaining two being westward-facing affairs which extended for about 260-yards. In 2006, the latter were swallowed up in a new development which involved the construction of a new railway centre to train Permanent Way workers. This formally opened on 7th June 2007, and more details can be found in the Paddock Wood Training Centre section.

 


6th November 2004

 

An Ashford-bound view shows the remaining ''up'' building of 1893,which has retained the majority of its canopy, minus much of the ornate valance. The glazed shelter on the left replaced an earlier CLASP structure in about 1988, and this in turn had superseded the SER Italianate building. © David Glasspool

 


6th November 2004

 

The ''up'' side building is viewed from the street, where the glazed canopy of 1988 is in evidence. The footbridge can be seen cutting through the ''up'' canopy; during station opening hours, it finds a use as a public crossing.  © David Glasspool

 


6th November 2004

 

On the far right of this westward view from the footbridge is the bay of the Medway Valley Line. Taking centre stage are the sidings of the ''Tranfesa'' Continental Freight Depot, which follow the curvature of the Maidstone branch. In view are two rakes of VDA sliding door vans. Electrical goods, rather than foodstuffs, were being transported by this time. © David Glasspool

 


12th August 2007

 

A public footbridge to the east of the station provides an ideal vantage point over the line. On the left can be seen the enclosure of Paddock Wood training centre. The sidings, newly ballasted, fulfil a new role as training apparatus for permanent way staff. © David Glasspool

 


 

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