Grove Junction

On Friday, 19th September 1845, the South Eastern Railway's (SER) Directors opened, with ceremony, the double-track line between Tonbridge and "Jackwood's spring" (ref: The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 20th September 1845). The latter was situated a quarter of a mile north of Tunbridge Wells — it was not until 25th November 1846 that the company opened a permanent station in the spa town, at great expense (ref: The Morning Herald, 26th November 1846). The company's line from Tunbridge Wells to Robertsbridge was opened to public traffic on Monday, 1st September 1851 (ref: The Sun (London), 2nd September 1851); an extension from Robertsbridge to Battle, 5-miles 73-chains in length, came into use on 1st January 1852 (ref: History of the South Eastern Railway, G. A. Sekon, 1895); finally, the ceremonial opening of the remaining section to Hastings occurred on Saturday, 31st of the same month (ref: The Morning Chronicle, 2nd February 1852).

On Monday, 1st October 1866, a second Tunbridge Wells station opened to public traffic (ref: The Railway Times, 22nd June 1867), under the auspices of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR). This station sat at the end of a branch line from Three Bridges, the first section of which had opened from the latter to East Grinstead on 9th July 1855 (ref: Bradshaw’s Railway Manual, Shareholders’ Guide, and Official Directory for 1866). The LB&SCR's arrival in Tunbridge Wells had been through the schemes of two nominally independent concerns:

The year in which a connecting line between SER and LB&SCR Tunbridge Wells stations was laid varies depending on source. The August 1914 edition of The Railway Magazine states that the 52-chains-long connection between the two systems was brought into use on 18th May 1871; it joined the SER’s metals 23-chains south of that company’s Tunbridge Wells station and the point of convergence became known as “Grove Junction”. However, the January 1962 edition of the same publication suggests that the single track line was completed in 1866, although there is some doubt as to whether or not a physical connection was made with the SER from the outset. It was further remarked that Railway Clearing House junction diagrams from 1867 did show Grove Junction.

Click the above for a larger version © David Glasspool

In the earliest years, the connection between the two companies’ Tunbridge Wells stations was used by goods trains only. Even then, the SER and LB&SCR refused to book through goods traffic to its ultimate destination: they would only book traffic to the end of their own railway systems, after which it would have to be re-booked for onward travel (ref: Reports of Cases Decided by the Railway and Canal Commissioners, Volume 2, 1876). Similarly, through ticketing did not exist for passengers wanting to transfer between LB&SCR and SER systems; travellers had to walk half a mile between the two Tunbridge Wells stations. That was set to change by the passing of the Regulations of Railways Act in 1873, which established a Railway Court giving local authorities the power to bring legal proceedings against railway companies (ref: The Kent & Sussex Courier, 5th May 1875). The Local Board for the District of Uckfield brought a case to the Railway Commissioners in November 1873 in an attempt to induce SER and LB&SCR companies to run passenger trains over the connection between their respective stations (ref: The Kent & Sussex Courier, 5th May 1875).

On Tuesday, 1st February 1876, the Local Board for the District of Uckfield's legal action was rewarded by the commencement of through passenger traffic over the connection between the two Tunbridge Wells stations. It was reported at the time that through booking of goods had already been arranged and was in operation (ref: The Hastings and St Leonard’s Observer, 5th February 1876). The arrangement resulted in SER trains meeting LB&SCR passengers at the latter’s station and journeying as far as Tunbridge Junction (today’s Tonbridge). There were four trains in each direction per day on weekdays only (ref: The Hastings and St Leonard’s Observer, 5th February 1876). Between 1st May 1886 and the end of December 1888, the LB&SCR ran a series of its passenger services through to the SER’s Tunbridge Wells station (ref: The Railway Magazine, January 1962).

The 16-lever signal box seen in the photograph below came into use at Grove Junction on 15th October 1932, having replaced a timber cabin of SER origin (ref: Volume 4: Southern Railway Register, Section B2: Tonbridge to Hastings, Signalling Record Society). The single line between Tunbridge Wells West “B” signal box and Grove Junction was worked by the train staff and ticketing system, and fell at a gradient of 1 in 80 away from the Hastings main line (ref: The Railway Magazine, January 1956). On the introduction of the summer 1956 timetable, the single-track in-between Grove Junction and Tunbridge Wells West was scheduled to have fifty-eight passenger trains running over it daily, which included an hourly service between Tonbridge and Brighton via Uckfield (ref: The Railway Magazine, June 1956).

4th July 1985

Two days prior to the cessation of passenger services to/from Tunbridge Wells West, Class 207 DEMU No. 1308 is seen passing the signal box at Grove Junction, bound for that station. Evident are materials to be used in connection with electrification between Tonbridge and Hastings. At this time, the pictured section of the "up" main line was temporarily out of use, and the connection between it and the branch to West station had been taken out. © David Glasspool Collection

In 1957, in connection with the introduction of diesel services between London and Hastings via Orpington and Tonbridge, the line between Grove Junction and Wadhurst was re-signalled. This involved replacing semaphores and Walker’s open block working with colour light signals and bell block, and the abolition of Frant signal box. The latter closed on 2nd June 1957 (ref: Volume 4, Southern Railway Register Section B2: Tonbridge to Hastings, Signalling Record Society); thereafter, the goods yard at Frant was controlled from a ground frame released at Grove Junction (ref: The Railway Magazine, February 1957). On 18th March 1962, colour lights came into use from Tonbridge to Grove Junction, linking up with the 1957 signalling installed through to Wadhurst (ref: The Railway Gazette, 30th March 1962).

In the March 1963-published report titled The Reshaping of British Railways, the passenger service between Three Bridges and Tunbridge Wells West was proposed for withdrawal, as was that from Tonbridge to Brighton via Uckfield. Passenger services between Three Bridges and Groombridge were withdrawn on and from 2nd January 1967 (ref: RCTS' The Railway Observer, February 1967); the line between Lewes and Uckfield was also severed, the final passenger trains operating over this section on 23rd February 1969 (ref: The Railway Magazine, June 1969). The branch from Eridge to Hailsham (near Polegate) had closed earlier, effective 14th June 1965 (ref: Branch Line News Sheet No. 35, Branch Line Society, 23rd June 1965). Birchden Junction (near Eridge, at the southern end of a triangular junction linking Tunbridge Wells West and Uckfield lines) to Grove Junction survived this round of closures; however, the running of direct trains from London to Tunbridge Wells West via Oxted ceased to be possible after the closure of the spur between Ashurst and Groombridge Junctions (forming the northern portion of the aforementioned triangular junction) on 6th January 1969 (ref: Branch Line News Sheet No. 121, Branch Line Society, 8th January 1969).

The end eventually came in connection with electrification between Tonbridge and Bopeep Junction (St Leonards, Hastings), approved by the Government on 28th October 1983 (ref: Western Daily Press (Bristol), 29th October 1983). The last passenger services between Tunbridge Wells Central and West stations ran on Saturday, 6th July 1985; that Sunday, Grove Junction was severed and station names taken down at West and Groombridge (ref: The Railway Magazine, October 1985). Grove Junction signal box was abolished at 11:41 on Sunday, 20th April 1986 (ref: Branch Line News No. 537, Branch Line Society, 15th May 1986).