Frant

A double-track line between Tonbridge and "Jackwood’s spring" (in some period sources, "Jenkwood spring"), the latter a quarter of a mile north of Tunbridge Wells, was opened by the Directors of the South Eastern Railway (SER) on Friday, 19th September 1845 (ref: The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 20th September 1845). This section of line had cost £10,000 to build, including land acquisition; the short stretch from Jackwood’s spring to a permanent station in Tunbridge Wells was another £80,000 (ref: Railway Intelligence, The Sun (London), 20th September 1845). Opening to public traffic of this expensive, final length to Tunbridge Wells proper — after multiple postponements — occurred on Wednesday, 25th November 1846 (ref: The Morning Herald, 26th November 1846).

An Act dated 18th June 1846 authorised the 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 first contract, for the 15½-miles from Tunbridge Wells to Robertsbridge, was let at £17,000 per mile (ref: The Morning Herald (London), 17th September 1847), and this section opened to public traffic on Monday, 1st September 1851, with intermediate stations at Frant, Wadhurst, Witherinden (today’s Stonegate) and Etchingham (ref: The Sun (London), 2nd September 1851). The line’s engineer was Mr P. W. Barlow FRS, and the track was laid with iron sleepers rather than those of timber construction, reported at the time as being adopted on several railways for durability and economy (ref: The Sun (London), 2nd September 1851).

The first timetable published by the SER on 30th August 1851 showed three departures from London Bridge, Monday to Saturday, at 7:30 AM, 1:30 PM, and 5:30 PM, for Tunbridge Wells, Frant, Wadhurst, Witherenden, Etchingham, and Robertsbridge. On Sundays, there were two "down" departures, at 6:30 AM and 5:30 PM. In the opposite direction, weekday departures from Robertsbridge were at 8:00 AM, 12:35 PM, and 6:20 PM; on Sundays, departures were at 7:20 AM and 6:55 PM.


The early layout at Frant, showing the reversing manouevre required to gain entry to the goods yard. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool


The SER’s Frant station was located over a mile east of the village it purported to serve as the crow flies. It was actually situated in the hamlet of Bell’s Yew Green but, at the time, was reported to have been built to serve Frant (hence the name) and Bayham Abbey, the latter 2⅓-miles to the east of the railway (ref: The Sun (London), 2nd September 1851). Two staggered platforms, the sides of which were faced with timber planks, were brought into use at Frant, "up" and "down" surfaces being north and south of a track foot crossing respectively. A fine, substantial main building — particularly for such a rural location — was constructed on the "down" side. This was built from sandstone and dressed with Caen stone, and comprised a single-storey booking hall attached to a commodious two-storey-high house for the Station Master. Of the latter, this was occupied in the early years by Mr J. Leffen, noted in 1856 as being Station Master at Frant (ref: The Sussex Gazette, 19th February 1856). The SER seems to have been a company of two extremes when it came to architecture: clearly, the company went to great expense constructing those intermediate stations south of Tunbridge Wells, with majestic structures at the likes of Etchingham and Battle; similar elaboration was bestowed on the Medway Valley Line at Aylesford and Wateringbury; however, multiple intermediate stations on the company’s main line to Dover were provided with economical single-storey timber buildings. No canopy was provided on the "down" platform at Frant, in spite of the generous proportions of the main building, and the "up" side had to suffice with a small timber waiting shelter. The architect of the station buildings along the line was W. Tress of London, and the contractor for their construction was Mr E. Carter, also of London (ref: The Sussex Advertiser, 2nd September 1851).

The arrangement of sidings is illustrated in the accompanying diagrams. However, worth noting was the presence of a goods shed on the "down" side of the line, served by a siding that cut across the station’s forecourt. The siding passed alongside — rather than through — the goods shed and to access it, engines were required to reverse via a head shunt. A single siding immediately south of the "up" platform, afforded a trailing connection with the "up" running line, was also in evidence and is marked on the diagrams.

From 1865, the goods yard was partly occupied by a coal merchant by the name of "Bobbett". Seventeen years later, the SER turfed the firm out, for the latter needed the land that the coal wharf was situated upon. Bobbett took legal action, but the court ruled in favour of the SER (ref: Maidstone and Kentish Journal, 17th June 1882).


By this time, the goods yard had gained a second entry point by means of a trailing connection with the "up" running line. The trailing crossover between the running lines, seen in the 1897 diagram, had been moved south by this stage. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool


In about 1890, a signal box was brought into use immediately north of the "down" platform, replacing a previous timber hut. The cabin was built by contractor Saxby & Farmer and was virtually identical to the signal box still evident at Sturry, the latter of which was a product of the same company.

By the 1909 Ordnance Survey edition, the main building had gained a platform canopy. This was little under 35-feet-long, mildly upward-sloping, with a decorative timber valance supported upon four cast-iron brackets, and is not marked on the 1898 Ordnance Survey edition. During the same period, a trailing connection had been laid between the "up" running line and "down" side goods yard. Your author suspects that the "up" side received a larger replacement timber waiting shelter at this time. In 1911, Mr Albert John Akehurst became Station Master at Frant (ref: Kent and Sussex Courier, 19th December 1930).

On 31st December 1930, Station Master Akehurst retired; thereafter, Frant came under the control of the Station Master at Wadhurst, Mr Luff, whom had held the position at the latter since 1914 (ref: Kent and Sussex Courier, 19th December 1930). That was followed a month later, on Saturday, 30th January 1931, by the retirement of the signalman at Frant, Mr William Parks, who had worked the box at the station for thirty-seven years (ref: Kent and Sussex Courier, 6th February 1931).

On Sunday, 13th August 1933, tragedy occurred when a District Relief signalman at Frant was struck and killed by a "down" express train (ref: Tonbridge Free Press, 18th August 1933). The signalman, Charles Henry Green, had just locked up the booking office, having been on relief duty at Frant since Thursday, and attempted to run across the tracks to a waiting "up" train when he was hit. It was remarked during the inquest the following day that in the corner by the signal box, it was not possible to see oncoming "down" traffic. The jury at the inquest made the recommendation that improvements should be made at Frant to facilitate the view of the "down" line (ref: Tonbridge Free Press, 18th August 1933). Later photographs of the station reveal that the measures taken by the Southern Railway (SR) were to remove a portion of the signal box’s brick base nearest the "down" track, to provide a less obscured view.


The layout shortly before the signal box was closed. The "up" refuge siding had gone, as had the trailing crossover south of the station, and the trailing connection between the "down" line and goods yard's head shunt had also been lifted. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool


By 1955, the "up" refuge siding had been taken out of use and disconnected. In 1957, re-signalling of the section of line in-between Grove Junction (less than ¼-mile south of Tunbridge Wells Central, where the lines to Hastings and Tunbridge Wells West diverged) and Wadhurst was undertaken, in preparation for the introduction of diesel-electric multiple units (DEMU) between London and Hastings via Tonbridge. These services would have fast and stopping portions, dividing at Tunbridge Wells Central, which required the existing semaphore signals and Walker’s open block working to be replaced by colour light signalling and bell block, to provide the necessary working headway (ref: The Railway Magazine, February 1957). Re-signalling included abolishing Frant signal box, with all signals and points controlled by it being removed, and bringing into use a new trailing connection from the "down" line to the goods yard controlled from a ground frame released at Grove Junction (ref: The Railway Magazine, February 1957). Closure of Frant signal box occurred on 2nd June 1957 (ref: Volume 4, Southern Railway Register Section B2: Tonbridge to Hastings, Signalling Record Society); prior to this, the cabin was rarely switched in, even on the busiest of days (ref: The Railway Magazine, August 1957). The first of the then new DEMUs for the Tonbridge to Hastings line had been introduced on 6th May of the same year, six weeks earlier than originally planned (ref: The Railway Magazine, June 1957). This was followed by the withdrawal of public goods traffic from Frant, effective from 3rd September 1962 (ref: Clinker’s Register, 1980). The station avoided closure to passengers, having been listed as a candidate for service withdrawal in The Reshaping of British Railways report of 1963.

On Friday, 28th October 1983, the Government approved electrification of the Tonbridge to Hastings line on the third rail system (ref: Western Daily Press (Bristol), 29th October 1983), at an estimated cost of £24 million (ref: The Railway Magazine, January 1984). In the March 1985 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was reported that the platforms at Frant were being partially reconstructed as part of the scheme, in addition to foundations being laid for the installation of a footbridge. The extension of platforms and improving stations at High Brooms, Frant, Etchingham, and Wadhurst was let as a single contract, which was reported to be well underway by May 1985 (ref: The Railway Magazine, May 1985). The platform extensions allowed the station to accommodate trains of eight carriage length. The footbridge installed at Frant was a simple concrete structure with sides clad with metal sheets, and was situated above the site of the previous track foot crossing — the same type of bridge was also brought into use at Stonegate and Robertsbridge stations. From 28th April 1986, electric stock started to work some of the services previously formed by DEMUs, and the 11th of the following month was the last day of diesel operation (ref: RCTS’ The Railway Observer, August 1986).

By 2007, the "up" side waiting shelter had lost its front timber panelling and windows. In 2011, the roof of the former Station Master’s house was re-tiled.


30th December 1995

The footbridge and lengthened platforms evident in this Tunbridge Wells-bound view were results of electrification. The fine sandstone station building on the right has seen a few changes since opening, such as the addition of the platform canopy and window alterations. The upward-sloping roof of the "up" side waiting shelter can just be seen emerging from behind the footbridge. Class 58 No. 58023 "Peterborough Depot" is seen hauling a pair of 4-VEP units to Hastings on the "Christmas Pudding" rail tour from London Victoria. No. 58023 had taken charge at Tonbridge. Frant station is 36-miles 53-chains from Charing Cross via Orpington and Sevenoaks. © David Glasspool Collection