Chevening Halt

Today, there is no evidence that a station nor railway ever existed here. Those historians pursuing the remains of Chevening Halt are met by an area of land dense in vegetation, bordered to its west by the junction linking the M25 and A21 (Sevenoaks Bypass), and to its east by Chevening Road, the latter of which formerly had a set of stairs leading down to a solitary platform. The 4-mile 60½-chains-long branch line between Dunton Green and Westerham has seemingly disappeared with little trace. About two miles of the former track bed is today underneath the M25, and the site of the long-gone terminus succumbed to commercial development many years ago.

The single-track line to Westerham opened on the afternoon of Wednesday, 6th July 1881 (ref: The Daily News, 8th July 1881, and multiple other period newspaper sources), one intermediate station existing at Brasted from the outset. The line had been built under the auspices of the "Westerham Valley Railway", the company of which was amalgamated with the South Eastern Railway (SER) by an Act of 1881 (ref: Bradshaw’s Railway Manual, Shareholders’ Guide, and Directory, 1893). Construction — which was managed by the SER — had begun in October 1879, the contractor was Messrs. Chambers of Victoria Street, London, the engineer Mr. J. Grover, and the contract sum was £65,000; however, due to difficulty encountered with soil on the route, the actual cost was £70,000 (ref: The Sevenoaks Chronicle, 8th July 1881). In the 1881 census, the Parish of Chevening was shown as having a population of 386, and a station serving the area, by the name of "Chevening Halt", came into use on 16th April 1906 (ref: The Railway Magazine, May 1971). This comprised a single timber platform, positioned on the southern side of the line, located 1-mile 24-chains from Dunton Green, immediately adjacent to and west of a twin-arched brick-built bridge that carried Chevening Road.

The halt’s opening coincided with the start of railmotor services along the Westerham branch line. Also known as "steam motors", the railmotor concept was introduced by a series of railway companies as a cost-effective way of serving small, rural communities that would otherwise be uneconomical to provide a train service for; additionally, in the outer suburbs, they were seen as the answer to tramway competition. Railmotor vehicles comprised a single chassis upon which a carriage body and small locomotive were situated; the vehicles used by the South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR) were built to accommodate fifty-two passengers, were 48-feet 4-inches long, and averaged 30 MPH. As of 1906, in addition to the branch to Westerham, railmotors had been deployed by the SE&CR on the Sheppey Light Railway, between Otford and Sevenoaks, Gravesend to Port Victoria, the Dungeness and Lydd branch, and the Croydon (Addiscombe) branch (ref: The Railway News, 27th October 1906).

Chevening Halt was an unstaffed platform, so tickets were issued by the guard on the train. An early curiosity of the service pattern at this station was that certain trains could not be used by Third Class passengers. However, at the request of Chevening Parish Council, the General Manager of the SE&CR agreed to remove this restriction (ref: Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 8th May 1908).

As of 1st January 1917, a series of branch lines nationwide were closed as a wartime economy, which released men for military duty and helped concentrate railway resources where they were most needed. Accounts of the Westerham branch during this time vary depending on source. Some publications indicate that the entire branch was closed from that date (ref: The Railway News and Railway Official Gazette, 6th January 1917; and The Railway Magazine, February 1917); others suggest that the line retained its normal weekday service, but was closed on Sundays (ref: The New International Year Book: A Compendium of the World's Progress for the Year 1918, F. M. Colby, 1919).

In July 1936, the timber platform at Chevening Halt suffered fire damage (ref: Sevenoaks Chronicle and Courier, 7th August 1936). Four months later, it was reported that repairs to the halt had still not been enacted — the seats, steps, and handrails were stated as being charred, and the platform not fit to stand on. A collection had been made round the parish to fund a waiting room at the halt, and the Southern Railway was to be made aware of the station’s condition (ref: Sevenoaks Chronicle and Courier, 4th December 1936). In 1937, the Southern Railway announced its intention to provide waiting accommodation at the station:

The Clerk [of Chevening Parish Council] reported that he had interviewed the Assistant Engineer of the Southern Railway with regard to Chevening Halt and he was told that that department was overworked at the moment but plans were in hand for the erection of a new waiting room. [Sevenoaks Chronicle and Courier, 5th February 1937]

The waiting shelter was of prefabricated concrete construction with a pitched roof. At the time of its construction, the timber platform was not replaced.

On 3rd November 1948, Kent County Council issued an order that prohibited vehicles exceeding three tons — laden or unladen — to use the bridge that carried the road over the railway at Chevening Halt, until reconstruction works had been completed (ref: Sevenoaks Chronicle and Courier, 5th November 1948). The original twin-arched bridge was replaced by one with a concrete deck and brick parapets which, like its predecessor, was optimistically built to accommodate a double-track layout, should the branch line be doubled. Your author surmises that the replacement of the halt’s existing timber platform coincided with bridge reconstruction works.

As a result of increasing competition from coach services to London and buses to Sevenoaks, traffic on the Westerham branch became light to the extent that off-peak services were completely withdrawn — except on Saturdays — on the introduction of the winter 1955 timetable. Additionally, Sunday services were suspended from 1st November 1955 to 24th March 1956 and subsequent winters thereafter. The line was worked on the "one engine in steam" principle and it was reported that these economies would just about enable the branch to pay its way. The hope was that the line would be retained long enough for electric or diesel trains to be introduced (ref: The Railway Magazine, November 1955).

On the evening of Friday, 5th September 1958, a major earth slip occurred between Dunton Green and Chevening Halt as a result of violent thunderstorms and torrential rain over Southern England (ref: The Railway Magazine, November 1958). Multiple line blockages across the Southern Region occurred at that time as a result of flooding, fallen trees, and collapsed earthworks.

In April 1960, local newspapers were reporting British Railways’ proposal to close the Westerham line permanently. It was found that some trains were not patronised by any passengers (ref: Kent Messenger, 22nd April 1960). The last passenger train to call at Chevening Halt was an 8:30 PM departure from Westerham on 28th October 1961, which was not a timetabled service. It was a special return working of the last scheduled train along the line, the 7:52 PM departure from Dunton Green (ref: The Railway Magazine, December 1961). In the last week of March 1966, Westerham station was pulled down and, by the following April, the track along the former branch line had been lifted (ref: The Railway Magazine, May 1966).

17th May 1960

“H” Class 0-4-4 No. 31193 is seen approaching the single concrete platform of Chevening Halt from the Dunton Green direction, by which time the branch was already under threat of closure. The twin-span bridge dated from about 1949/1950, having been provided to accommodate heavier road traffic. The concrete waiting shelter, with timber gables, predated the platform of the same material by over a decade. The staircase between the platform and Chevening Road can be seen in the right background. The cutting seen here is no more, having been filled in. The SE&CR railmotors that were formerly deployed on this branch line were converted for push-pull working by the SR in 1924. © David Glasspool Collection