Etchingham

Located 47-miles 34-chains from Charing Cross, Etchingham station was opened to public traffic on Monday, 1st September 1851 with the 15½-mile-long double-track section of line from Tunbridge Wells to Robertsbridge (ref: The Sun (London), 2nd September 1851). This portion of line had been authorised by an Act dated 18th June 1846, which allowed the South Eastern Railway (SER) to extend from Tunbridge Wells to Hastings (ref: The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Sir George Kettilby Rickards, 1846). The contract for the Tunbridge Wells to Robertsbridge section of line had been let by the SER at a cost of £17,000 per mile (ref: The Morning Herald (London), 17th September 1847), and the line’s engineer was Mr P. W. Barlow F. R. S (ref: The Sun (London), 2nd September 1851). No turntable was provided at Robertsbridge, so until the extension to Hastings was opened, locomotives had to haul trains with caution, tender-first, when running in the Tonbridge direction (ref: Report of the Commissioners of Railways, Railway Department, Board of Trade, Whitehall, 19th December 1851).

The 1851 census recorded a population of 950 in the Parish of Etchingham. The station was built on the very site of the former Etchingham Castle, the latter of which had been constructed "to check the incursions of the Danish pirates that infested the coast" (ref: The Morning Chronicle, 2nd February 1852). Two platforms, arranged in the SER’s familiar staggered formation and linked by a track foot crossing, were evident. The "up" side was host to the main building: this was an attractive Gothic structure of sandstone construction, dressed with Caen stone, which was designed by W. Tress of London and built by contractor Mr E. Carter of London (ref: The Sussex Advertiser, 2nd September 1851). The structure incorporated a two-storey-high house for the Station Master — whom in 1865 was recorded as being one Henry Pett (ref: The Sussex Advertiser/Surrey Gazette, 9th May 1865) — and was a variation of the design utilised 10¾-miles up the line at Frant. In spite of the station building’s elaboration, no platform canopy was evident on the "up" side from the outset. Early Ordnance Survey editions show the small footprint of what must surely be a timber waiting shelter on the "down" platform. This shelter comprised a small brick extension on its eastern side, which served at least in later years as a gentlemen’s toilet block.

Immediately east of the station was situated a level crossing, and in keeping with the architecture of the line, no expense was spared. A fine residence for the Crossing Keeper — essentially a smaller version of the main station building — was erected on the "up" side, immediately west of the road that passed over the running lines at this point. The SER was similarly extravagant at Aylesford in 1856 on the Medway Valley Line, where a Gothic main building and [former] Crossing Keeper’s house still sit in harmony.


An early incarnation of the layout, prior to canopy improvements and the advent of a footbridge. Note the wagon turntable that feeds a track crossing the running lines at right angles. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool


The evolution of sidings can be seen in the accompanying diagrams, which include a goods yard on the "down" side of the layout. For a station of its size, the goods yard was spacious: it included a sturdy pitched roof goods shed — through which passed a single track — that, unlike the main station building, was of red brick rather than sandstone construction. The layout was eventually controlled from two cabins: the first was a signal box situated on the "down" side of the line, adjacent to the level crossing and located on the opposite side of the road to the station; it was built by contractor Saxby & Farmer around the early 1890s and was identical in design to the structure still extant at Sturry. The second cabin was a ground frame, situated at the western end of the layout on the "up" side of the line, and is marked on the accompanying diagram of 1908.

In March 1877, Mr. G. T. Swann became Station Master at Etchingham, having transferred from Smeeth. He had replaced Mr George Frost, the latter whom had been Station Master at Etchingham station for nearly five years and had been promoted to the same position at Tunbridge Wells (ref: The Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 31st March 1877).

By the 1898 Ordnance Survey edition, Etchingham had gained the luxury of a lattice footbridge and the "down" platform had been extended at its western end. Additionally, the main station building had been equipped with a huge canopy, about 160-feet in length, which demonstrated the SER’s ornate clover-patterned valance. Behind the canopy had also appeared a red-brick extension of the main building, styled in sympathy with the 1851 design, and a collection of single-storey timber offices. Similarly, the "down" side received decidedly upgraded waiting accommodation in the form of an 80-foot-long canopy at the level crossing end of the platform, which comprised a semi-circular cross section, clover-patterned timber valance, and was backed at its rear by clapboard. The "down" waiting shelter survived the works. A period photograph from the late 19th Century shows the canopies to be in place, but no footbridge in evidence, indicating that the latter came after building alterations on "up" and "down" platforms.


By 1908, siding capacity had increased, the wagon turntable and perpendicular track had gone, and the signalling had been upgraded. Ample protection from the elements was now evident on both platforms, and cottages had appeared to the west of the station. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool


The branch to Hawkhurst opened in 1893, connecting with the SER's Kent Coast main line at Paddock Wood; however, an early projection of this line had a starting point of Etchingham. In the 10th September 1859 edition of the Dover Express, it was reported that a surveyor had examined the area and remarked that a branch line from Etchingham station to Hawkhurst could be made at moderate expense, if landowners were consenting. The project outlined a continuation from Hawkhurst to Cranbrook, and then — it was reported — likely up to Staplehurst.

In 1923 residents of the village of Burwash, situated midway between Etchingham and Stonegate (then named "Ticehurst Road"), petitioned the Southern Railway (SR) for the construction of a halt and siding. The SR’s response was that, after careful consideration, they were unable to entertain the provision of a halt at Burwash (ref: Kent & Sussex Courier, 26th October 1923). The 1921 census recorded a population of 1,942 for the Civil Parish of Burwash, versus the 902 of Etchingham.

Etchingham station’s lighting was supplied by an on-site petrol gasometer. In January 1937, the gasometer exploded whilst being attended to by platform porter Leslie Pavey, who suffered serious burns. The then newly-formed Burwash Fire Brigade were at the scene within five minutes of receiving the emergency call to extinguish the flames (ref: Kent & Sussex Courier, 22nd January 1937). In the 20th November 1937 edition of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer, it was reported that two wooden railway bridges in Etchingham, one on each side of the station, had then recently been replaced by concrete structures. Based on photographic observations, the SR also installed concrete bracket lampposts upon the platforms, to which were affixed "Target" name signs.


25th February 2009

Of the six original stations that opened in-between Tunbridge Wells and Bopeep Junction (St Leonards), half had main buildings of stone construction; the remainder were red brick. Etchingham’s fine Gothic structure has even retained the full extent of its tall chimneystacks. The elaborate red brick portion of the main building, furthest from the camera, was a later addition. © David Glasspool


Effective 3rd December 1962, public goods traffic was withdrawn from Etchingham (ref: Clinker's Register, 1980). In the week beginning Monday, 18th February 1963, a spokesman for British Railways’ (BR) Southern Region announced at Waterloo proposals for a "pay-as-you-enter" train scheme: this involved removing staff from stations and having passengers pay for their tickets on the train. The pilot scheme included the following stations between Tunbridge Wells and Hastings: Frant, Wadhurst, Stonegate, Etchingham, Robertsbridge, Mountfield, Battle, Crowhurst, Sidley, Bexhill West, and West St Leonards (ref: Kent & Sussex Courier, 22nd February 1963). In the 11th September 1964 edition of the Kent & Sussex Courier, it was remarked that Etchingham station was unmanned from 4 P.M. to 10 P.M. and that Ticehurst Parish Council had been unsuccessful in petitioning BR to install a telephone there.

The Ground Frame west of the station was subject to closure on 22nd June 1964 (ref: Southern Railway Register Section B2: Tonbridge to Hastings, Volume 4, Signalling Record Society). By January 1975, the canopy on the "down" side had been flattened and a diminutive CLASP waiting shelter installed on that platform. The "up" side canopy had also been halved in length by this time and the former Crossing Keeper’s house demolished. A curious survivor of these economies was the standalone gentlemen’s toilet block, midway along the "down" platform.

Government approval of electrification of the Tonbridge to Hastings line on 28th October 1983 (ref: Western Daily Press (Bristol), 29th October 1983) heralded a series of improvements at Etchingham. In the March 1985 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was reported that the platforms at Etchingham were being extended at their London ends to accommodate the electric formations that were to be introduced the following year. The electrification scheme involved providing improved car parking at all stations along the line, and resignalling between Wadhurst and Robertsbridge — which would result in the introduction of colour lights — was scheduled for completion in early September 1985 (ref: The Railway Magazine, May 1985). On Monday, 15th July 1985, the "down" platform’s extension was brought into use (ref: Branch Line News No. 524, Branch Line Society, 24th October 1985).


25th February 2009

A Hastings-bound view reveals the full extent of the "up" side platform canopy. Period photographs suggest that the canopy’s roof line was not always mildly upward-sloping, it instead being completely flat. The lattice footbridge was constructed to a standard design, near identical examples still being evident today at East Farleigh and Aylesford. The fine architecture of the later red brick extension to the main building is evident. Beyond the footbridge can be seen the CLASP waiting shelter that was in place on the "down" side by 1975, and further still is the level crossing. © David Glasspool


Etchingham signal box was abolished on 29th September 1985 (ref: Branch Line News No. 524, Branch Line Society, 24th October 1985). Control of this section was assumed by signal boxes at Wadhurst and Robertsbridge using Track Circuit Block working and colour light signals (equipped with BR AWS), and Etchingham Level Crossing was equipped with automatic half barriers (ref: Branch Line News No. 524, Branch Line Society, 24th October 1985 and Branch Line News No. 531, Branch Line Society, 6th February 1986). From 28th April 1986, electric stock started to work a proportion of the services along the Tonbridge to Hastings line hitherto formed by diesel units, the latter of which last operated on 11th of the following month (ref: RCTS’ The Railway Observer, August 1986).

Etchingham’s lattice footbridge survived electrification works, even though an identical structure at Robertsbridge was replaced by a simple concrete design; however, the former gentlemen’s toilet block was demolished. After closure, the disused signal box was still noted as standing as late as 1992, but had gone by 1994.


25th February 2009

A view towards Stonegate shows the prefabricated concrete platform extensions that date from electrification. The "down" line had then been recently relaid. © David Glasspool