Located in the civil parish of Southborough, on the northern fringes of Royal Tunbridge Wells, this is an attractive station which remains remarkably faithful to its original form on opening. High Brooms is 32-miles 70-chains from Charing Cross via Orpington and Tonbridge, and today offers much architectural interest to the railway historian. The South Eastern Railway’s (SER) public trains had reached today’s Tunbridge Wells station from the north as long ago as 25th November 1846, but High Brooms was a much later opening; the station here came into use on Wednesday, 1st March 1893, being known as “Southborough” from the outset. There was, however, little in the way of fanfare to mark the occasion:
On Wednesday, without ceremony save the accompaniment of a few fog signals to the earlier trains, the long-looked-for Southborough Railway Station was opened. It is undoubtedly one of the prettiest stations on the S.E. Company’s line, and such was the opinion of a good many who out of curiosity made the twopenny return journey during the day. [Kent & Sussex Courier, Friday, 3rd March 1893]
Two platforms were evident either side of the double-track from the outset, both of which were hosts to splendid single-storey buildings of red brick construction. Indeed, the architectural merits of the station were well described in the Kent & Sussex Courier newspaper on 3rd March 1893, two days after opening:
The building is of that tasteful style of architecture in red brick and stone dressing, which is associated with the name of Mr W. B. Hughes, and the contract, which exceeded £4,000 [£479,200 at 2020 prices], has been successfully carried out by Mr J. Jarvis. The arrangements are most complete. The main entrance is surmounted by a semi-circular window in a tiled gable roof, and the booking office inside is fitted with pitch-pine panelling; while the waiting rooms and lavatories leave nothing to be desired. The ladies’ waiting-room is most comfortable, and with its cushioned benches and tiled fire-place with dog irons looks remarkably cosy. Both platforms are covered and connected by a subway. The clerks’ offices are also very complete. Mr Taylor will evidently make a thoroughly good station-master…
The Station Master mentioned, Mr Taylor, had previously been Chief Clerk in the Parcels Office at Tunbridge Wells (Central), and transferred to the position at Southborough on a promotion. His former role at Tunbridge Wells was filled by one Mr. E. Howard, who transferred from the position of Chief Clerk in the parcels office at Tonbridge; the equivalent role at Tunbridge Wells was reportedly of higher standing in the SER and, therefore, more lucrative.
Mr W. B. Hughes, responsible for the station's design, was an architect and surveyor based in Tunbridge Wells. Employing a local architect explains why the station here was not a standard SER design; indeed, the canopies did not even sport that company's widely-used clover-patterned valance. The main station building was located on the London-bound platform, and the large semi-circular window above the booking hall's entrance gave the structure a somewhat school-like appearance. The building on the "down" platform was in essence a smaller version of its "up" side counterpart, albeit without the semi-circular window over a booking hall. The station was not completely devoid of SER influence: each platform was host to a subway staircase surround of brick construction, complete with an arched roof supported upon miniature columns, which was typical of this company. Indeed, even these were fabricated out of yellow brickwork, unlike the red of the main buildings, and in addition to the station here, examples of these can still be seen today at the likes of Northfleet and Bexley.
From the outset, five morning trains from London and seven evening trains stopped at Southborough, Monday to Saturday, and eleven "up" trains. On Sundays, two trains called at the station in either direction.
On opening, goods facilities comprised of a single siding, this of which had a trailing connection with the "up" line and terminated at a dock platform situated immediately north of the main station building. Indeed, this siding did itself sprout a short head shunt-like stub, but based on maps, this could not have accommodated much more than one or two wagons. The layout was controlled from a signal box located about 100-yards north of the "down" platform, which overlooked the goods yard's connection with main line. By the 1907 Ordnance Survey edition, another siding had been laid in the "up" goods yard.
Two industries made connections with the SER at Southborough, which predated the station. About 300-yards north of the platforms was High Brooms Brick & Tile Works, for which two northward-facing sidings were laid on the "up" side of the line; as of 1890, the works was said to employ 250 men. 400-yards south of the station, a trailing connection — which sprouted two sidings — was made with Tunbridge Wells Gas Works. All of the coal for the gasworks was delivered by the SER to the mentioned sidings; as of 1884, it was reported that the works used 10,550 tons of coal per year to produce 110,000,000 cubic feet of gas.
In 1925, Tunbridge Wells Town Council stated that a request had been made for the renaming of Southborough station:
NAMING A STATION. The Railway and Parks Committee reported that a letter was received from the Tunbridge Wells Tradesmen's Association and Chamber of Commerce asking if the committee would organise a joint deputation of various local bodies to the Railway Company, asking that the name of Southborough Station be changed, if not to "High Brooms", then to "Tunbridge Wells North". It was resolved that the letter be referred to the local Railway Advisory Committee and that the Southern Railway be informed that the Town Council was in accord with the suggestion that the name of Southborough Station be changed to "High Brooms Station".
Councillor A. G. Luck suggested that the Station might be called "Grosvenor Road Station". He appreciated the difficulty of the Railway Company.
Alderman H. Elwig (Chairman of the Committee) said the matter had been before the Committee several times, and almost any other name would be welcomed rather than the present one. He was afraid they were up against a dead wall for the present, but the Committee would keep pegging anyway. [Kent & Sussex Courier, 5th June 1925]
"Tunbridge Wells East" had also been suggested as a possible name; however, from Monday, 21st September 1925, the station was known as "High Brooms", after the suburb it was located within.
By the 1937 Ordnance Survey edition, the signal box had disappeared. Additionally, 625-yards south of the station, beyond the gas works, a single siding for the electricity board now made a trailing connection with the “down” line, and a prefabricated concrete bridge carried a public footpath across the tracks at this point.
From 1st October 1953, WM. Cory & Son Limited became authorised distributors of paraffin, vaporising oil, and gas oil for the joint marketing venture Shell-Mex and BP Ltd, operating out of a depot at High Brooms. This was situated immediately north of the station, on the "up" side of the line; the oil depot used the longer of three sidings which had originally been laid for the brickworks. In the 10th September 1965 edition of the Kent & Sussex Courier, WM. Cory & Son Limited stated that the railway would be their new method of oil delivery to High Brooms. This was in the wake of the firm receiving 100,000 gallons from the refinery on the Isle of Grain in twelve tank wagons to their siding in the early hours of Tuesday, 7th of the same month. This perhaps suggests that the siding, which was controlled from a ground frame, was not used for oil traffic as early as 1953. WM. Cory & Son Limited stated that they expected at least one delivery to the depot by rail each week during winter 1965.
In 1962, rumours started to circulate concerning the closure of High Brooms station. In the 9th November edition of the Kent & Sussex Courier newspaper, it was reported that too few passengers and a short platform — the latter of which would be costly to upgrade to modern standards — were reasons for the imminent closure. In spite of these fears, the station remained open. Indeed, High Brooms was not listed in the infamous report The Reshaping of British Railways as a station proposed for closure, nor was it stated in that publication that it had been under consideration for service withdrawal prior to March 1963.
Public goods traffic ceased to be handled at High Brooms from 3rd July 1961. Tunbridge Wells Gasworks, which had been served by two railway sidings since before the station came into use, closed in April 1967; the South Eastern Gas Board at the time remarked that gas to the area would thereafter be piped from either the Isle of Grain or Greenwich. In November 1968, High Brooms Brick & Tile Works closed, the fall in demand for good quality bricks being given as the reason for the business being wound up. Demolition of the works began in January 1970.
The full electric timetable along the Tonbridge to Hastings route came into force on 12th May 1986; a gala day had been held on 27th of the previous month to preview the then new electric services. As part of this scheme, both platforms at High Brooms were extended at their northern ends using prefabricated concrete components. An electricity substation, built in sympathy with the 1893 structures, was also erected on the "up" platform, adjacent to the northern side of the station building. Oil traffic to the storage depot at High Brooms ceased in the early 1990s, but the siding remained in existence for two decades, finally being taken up and the points removed in 2012.
A view looking towards Tonbridge shows a station which had yet to reach its centenary, but had changed little over the intervening years. Note the subway entrance surrounds here, which are to a classic SER design made of yellow brick, whilst the main buildings are of red brick construction. The product of local architect Mr W. B. Hughes, neither the station's buildings nor canopy valances were standard SER designs. Two track foot crossings between the platforms are evident here, and in the distance can just be picked out a line of grey oil tanks, parked in the siding used by WM Cory's storage depot. The lampposts in view had not long taken over from the SR's "Swan Neck" variant. Note the colour aspect light at the end of the "up" platform; according to your author's research, although the route went over to diesel traction, that stretch between Tonbridge and Grove Junction converted to colour light operation as part of the Kent Coast Electrification works. Controlled from the then new "power box" at Tonbridge, the colour lights came into use on 18th March 1962.
© David Glasspool Collection
15th August 1985
Electrification works were in full swing when "Hastings" DEMU No. 1032 arrived London-bound. To the right of the unit can be seen a fenced-off area of the "up" platform, which was to become host to a substation in connection with the electrification to Hastings.
© David Glasspool Collection