The only intermediate station in-between Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, Hildenborough is situated 27-miles 2-chains from Charing Cross. The site has been fortunate to retain architecture from the line’s earliest years, in light of the modernisations which befell multiple South Eastern Railway (SER) stations in the later British Rail era. Having escaped this notorious period of historic buildings being unceremoniously flattened, the continued existence of the remaining 19th Century structures at Hildenborough seems more secure.

Hildenborough station was commissioned on 1st May 1868 when passenger traffic commenced along the entirety of the Tonbridge Cut-Off line. Of the latter, this was a double-track line, 24-miles long, which linked SER metals in the St Johns area of South East London with the company’s existing main line via Reigate Junction (Redhill) at Tonbridge. Authorised by an Act of 30th June 1862, the Cut-Off reduced the SER’s London to Dover journey distance by 12½-miles, and had been built in response to the rival London Chatham & Dover Railway completing a shorter line between the capital and Kent Coast in 1861. Freight had earlier started running via Sevenoaks in February 1868, and the original route to Tonbridge via Reigate Junction quickly became a secondary line.

Hildenborough station, and the section of line it served, were built on land purchased by the SER from the “Mountains Estate”. The original agreement was for the SER to acquire ten acres of land through compulsory purchase powers, of which one acre was designated specifically for a station. This episode culminated in legal action against the SER, for the seller claimed that the company acquired land which they genuinely did not need nor intend to use for railway purposes. In The Law Reports, Chancery Appeal Cases, Volume VII (1871 to 1872), the following was reported:

On the 4th of September, 1863, an agreement was entered into between the Norwich Reversionary Interest Society, of the one part, and the South Eastern Railway Company, of the other part, whereby it was witnessed that it was agreed the society should sell, and that the company should purchase, certain lands mentioned and described in the schedule, and containing ten acres, part of The Mountains Estate, at the price of £2000. The agreement contained, amongst others, the following clause:-

“The company shall erect and for ever maintain a passenger station upon the piece of land numbered 77 in the company’s plan, and one acre of ground shall be considered as covered by the said sum of £2000 for the site and purposes of such station; and if the company shall require more than one acre of ground for the site or purposes of the said station, or any additional ground for any purpose beyond that specified in the said schedule hereto, they shall pay for the same at the rate of £100 per acre.”

Upon the scheduled ten acres the company entered and constructed their line of railway, and the ten acres were conveyed to them in 1864.

The Mountains Estate contained about 200 acres; and by a deed dated the 15th of February, 1864, this estate was conveyed by the trustees of the society to the Plaintiff Charles Fitch Kemp, and afterwards became vested in the Plaintiffs Kemp and Johnson, subject to the provisions of the agreement with the railway company.

The company, on the 26th of May, 1865, served the Plaintiff Johnson with a notice, under their Acts and the Consolidation Acts, to treat for three acres of land, which adjoined the ten acres above mentioned. On the 1st of May, 1867, the company entered into possession of the three acres; and they also had taken possession of some land covered by earth which had slipped from an embankment.

The company afterwards built on part of the scheduled land a passenger station with approaches called the Hildenborough Station.

The outcome of the case was that the SER was required to pay the landowners compensation, a decision which they later tried to appeal against.

Timber was used extensively by the SER on the Cut-Off line for station structures, which kept costs down and allowed shorter construction times. Indeed, stations such as Sevenoaks (Tubs Hill), Dunton Green, Knockholt, and Chelsfield were all hosts to single-storey main buildings of wooden construction, which they retained for over a century. All since flattened, Hildenborough has been fortunate to retain a wooden main building of 19th Century origin. Deep in rural territory, it was the typical countryside station, its architecture and facilities being familiar products of the SER. Two platforms were provided here, situated directly opposite each other either side of the double-track; at many stations, the SER’s practice had instead been to construct staggered platforms. The main building was positioned on the ‘’up’’ side and, as alluded to earlier, was a single-storey timber structure with a hipped slated roof and sash-style windows. Attached to the building was a flat-roofed platform canopy, about 65-feet-long, comprising a decorative spiked valance. The ‘’down’’ platform comprised a canopy which matched the dimensions and style of that on the “up” side; it was backed at its rear and partially the sides by timber.

From the outset, the platforms were linked by a track foot crossing, but by the 1897 Ordnance Survey Edition, a footbridge had been provided. Of lattice construction and built to a similar design as that further up the line at Dunton Green, the footbridge was situated west of the station structures.

In addition to the running lines, the layout initially comprised just a single refuge siding. This was positioned on the ''down'' side, was eastward-facing, and terminated behind the very end of the platform. The siding appears on the 1871 Edition; by the 1908 Edition, it had been extended right behind the “down” platform, up to the footbridge. As part of the aforementioned report on the legal action in The Law Reports, Chancery Appeal Cases, Volume VII (1871 to 1872), the following was mentioned of goods traffic at the site:

The company, by their answer, said that the notice to treat had never been acted upon, because they were, under the agreement of 1863, entitled to have any land they might require, at £100 an acre; and that they had taken possession of the land, as they were about to construct a goods station.

The Plaintiffs produced evidence to shew that the company did not want the land for a goods station, and had not even begun the works. The manager of the company stated, in an affidavit, that the land was taken possession of by the company for the accommodation of goods and passenger traffic; that the passenger station had been built, but the construction of the goods station had been suspended, as the traffic had not developed so rapidly as they expected. The engineer of the company deposed that part of the land taken was covered by accidental slips of the railway, and that the land taken for a station was actually required to afford the necessary facilities for the contemplated traffic.

By 1897, two sidings had been laid on the “up” side, east of the platforms. Within ten years, they were joined by a third siding, and the trio of tracks had trailing and facing connections with the “up” running line. The layout was controlled from a SER-designed signal cabin, positioned just beyond the eastern end of the ''up'' platform, which had been commissioned circa 1890.

Alterations to the station under the Southern Railway were merely superficial, involving the installation of that company’s familiar swan neck gas lamps upon barley-twist lampposts. Naturally, affixed to these were “Target” name signs.

A curious feature of the main “up” side timber station building at Hildenborough is the forecourt façade which, at some stage, has been re-faced with a stucco finish. Your author has been unable to find an exact date for this alteration, although the following entry in The Railway Gazette, from 12th July 1957, may well encompass these works:

British Railways, Southern Region, have placed the following contracts: C. & T. Painters Limited, London N.W.10: renovations, Hildenborough station.

Photographs from around this time also show then-recently installed concrete bracket lampposts with hexagonal lampshades, temporarily co-existing with the SR’s swan neck lamps in the run-up to electrification of the route. By this stage, the canopies on both sides had received plain replacement valances, and the platforms had been lined at their rears with concrete fencing.

As part of the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme, both platforms were extended at their Tonbridge ends using prefabricated concrete components manufactured at Exmouth Junction. The “down” platform was the first to receive such modifications, being extended by about 400-feet. To permit this, the siding behind the “down” platform was taken out of use and lifted; additionally, an electricity substation was constructed on the siding’s former site, just to the east of the platform canopy. Extension of the “up” platform followed, which took the surface beyond the signal box and required the abolition of all sidings on this side of the layout. Public goods traffic was formally withdrawn from the station on 5th December 1960.

On 4th March 1962, after about 70 years’ service, the SER-designed signal box was taken out of use. Its functions were transferred to a then new “power box” at Tonbridge, located within the fork of diverging Sevenoaks and Redhill lines. Semaphore signals gave way to colour lights at the same time, and the full accelerated electric timetable along the route via Sevenoaks and Tonbridge came into use on 18th June 1962.

By 1972, the platform canopy on Hildenborough’s “down” platform had been demolished; photographs from 1966 show it still to be standing. Its replacement was in the form of a rectangular CLASP shelter. In 1985, new metal lampposts were installed along both platforms, to replace the concrete bracket type from a quarter of a century earlier, the replacements being in use by August of that year. Two years later, the footbridge was repainted: the outer framework received Network SouthEast red, whilst the latticework was treated to a white coat. By this stage, the "down" CLASP shelter was still in use, but it had gone by the end of 1990, being replaced by a bus shelter-style glazed structure.

Thankfully, through all the mentioned changes since 1868, the main station building has remained and today, along with Pluckley, is a rare survivor of SER timber architecture on the main line to Dover via Ashford. The building even retains that company’s familiar sash-style windows to this day.

31st May 2004

A London-bound view shows the main timber station building on the left, sporting the original canopy stanchions, but a later BR valance. By this stage, the original brick-built platforms had been refaced by modern grey blocks. The brick-built structure on the right, behind the platform, is the substation constructed during Kent Coast Electrification works. © David Glasspool

31st May 2004

Looking towards Tonbridge, the prefabricated concrete platform extensions of 1960/1961 are in evidence in the background. The brick-built block to the lower right has for long served as the gentlemen's toilets. The canopy valance had a few chunks taken out for signal sighting, and the glazed shelter on the left had replaced a previous one installed by Network SouthEast around 1990. © David Glasspool

31st May 2004

The break in the conductor rails in this view indicates the former position of a staff track foot crossing. The clapboard of the main building was in need of a repaint by this time, but at least it was still in existence. Note the sash-style windows, typical of many SER buildings from the same era. © David Glasspool

31st May 2004

Positioned beside the toilet block of the main building is a sizable clapboard hut, which at this time was in use by a taxi firm. This structure did not come into use with the station in 1868, but had appeared by the 1908 Ordnance Survey Edition. © David Glasspool

31st May 2004

The entire facade, including the hut pictured in the previous view, has been treated to a stucco finish. Your author's best estimation of the date of these works is 1957, when renovation works at the station were mentioned in the July edition of "The Railway Gazette". © David Glasspool