Redhill Shed


Long closed, the fact that this engine shed was positioned within a triangle of lines has seemingly ensured its former site has escaped redevelopment. A trio of sidings still exist in the same formation as those which once served the engine shed, in addition to a series of derelict rails which disappear into a sea of vegetation within the fork of diverging Brighton and Tonbridge routes.

To set the scene, if only briefly, the London & Brighton Railway (L&BR) started running between London Bridge and Haywards Heath on 12th July 1841; Brighton was reached on 21st September of that year. This was shortly followed by the South Eastern Railway’s (SER) opening of a double-track main line to Tonbridge (then “Tunbridge”) on 26th May 1842, which left the “Brighton” route little under 21-miles from London Bridge. Through running between the capital and Dover by this line commenced on 7th February 1844. Finally, on 4th July 1849, an 8-mile-long double-track line was opened from Redhill to Dorking, worked by the SER from the outset.

The first station was that of the L&BR, named “Red-Hill and Reigate”, which opened with the Hayward’s Heath extension in 1841 and was located 800-yards south of what became the junction with the SER’s Tonbridge line. The latter company’s first Redhill station was also south of the junction, but upon the curve of the Tonbridge line, and both this and the L&BR’s site served the same road: Hooley Lane. Today’s station, north of the junction, was opened by the SER on 15th April 1844, initially named “Reigate”. A “Junction” suffix was added in 1849, the year the Dorking line opened, and in 1858 the station was enlarged and rebuilt, being renamed “Red Hill” in the process. It was around this time that the SER established a locomotive shed in the apex between Brighton and Tonbridge routes, 400-yards south of the station.

The shed was about 160-foot-long by 50-foot-wide, and was a brick-built structure with a pitched roof, accommodating three tracks which passed through individual arches and beyond the building’s rear. The depot was positioned at milepost 21 from London Bridge; the main shed building comprised crew offices on its upper western elevation and was flanked on either side by a single siding.

In the 1880s a 45-foot turntable was installed at the site, and this was located immediately north west of the shed building, having been incorporated within an existing siding. Until this time, the only turntable at Redhill was remote from the locomotive depot, being situated just south of the station, on the western side of the departing line to Dorking and Reading. Around the same time, the shed building gained further offices along its western elevation.

Redhill shed’s site became a triangle proper on the advent of the "Quarry Line". The latter was a double-track route, from Coulsdon to Earlswood, which ran mostly parallel with the original main line of 1841. Commissioned to freight traffic from 8th February 1899 and to passenger trains from 1st April of the following year, the London Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) built the route to avoid the bottleneck at Redhill, which had been a constant source of contention with the SER since the earliest years. Earthworks for the Quarry Line were heavy; immediately south of Redhill shed, the line plunged into a 649-yard-long tunnel, taking it under the Tonbridge route.

Under the South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR), the shed was designated code "9". In an interview with The Railway Magazine in September 1901, the Locomotive Superintendent of the Joint Managing Committee, Harry Wainwright, referred to the shed as “Red Hill”, remarking that it was one of twenty-one locomotive depots on the SE&CR network:

[In addition to Bricklayers Arms, Battersea, and Slades Green] We have engine sheds at Cannon Street, Reading, Red Hill, Deptford, Strood, Maidstone West, Tonbridge, Ashford, Dover Town, Ramsgate Town, Hastings, and Purley on the South-Eastern section, and at New Brompton, Faversham, Bickey, Maidstone East, Dover Priory, and Margate West, on the Chatham section.

In the Surrey Mirror on Friday 6th March 1925, the Southern Railway’s Chairman announced a series of improvements, which included a modernised shed at Redhill:

The bringing into service of more powerful engines necessitates an increase in the size of turntables, and we are proceeding with the construction of new engine depots and larger turntables at Redhill, Reading, Dover, Ilfracombe, and Exmouth Junction. We are rebuilding or improving 74 stations.

I doubt if any more difficult railway problem has ever been undertaken. We were told to amalgamate in one system four railways which had been built in competition one against the other – and built therefore with little or no regard of their neighbours – add to this the natural exhaustion of material and equipment of all kinds owing to the war and you are faced with a situation which will, and must, take time to adjust.

These works saw a replacement 64-foot 10-inch turntable installed at the site, south west of the engine shed, and between the former and the main line was established an inclined coal stage. The existing shed building was, however, retained, as was that at Reading. Of the list above, Ilfracombe and Exmouth Junction received replacement shed structures, whilst that at Dover was a completely new depot.

Under British Railways (BR), Redhill shed was coded "75B", coming within the Central Division’s jurisdiction at Brighton. Changes under BR were soon enacted, the most major of which was the demolition of the existing shed roof in 1950; this was rebuilt as a triple-pitch metal frame clad with asbestos, set upon the original walls. Additionally, more offices appeared along the building’s eastern elevation, and at the roof's northern end a trapezium-shaped brick gable, supported upon a concrete lintel, was installed. The latter was to the same design as that adopted by BR when rebuilding Tonbridge shed.

The shed had for long supplied motive power for the Tonbridge to Reading cross-country route. It was one of a number of Central Division pockets – like the lines around Tunbridge Wells West – which avoided electrification, retaining steam traction beyond the time when such haulage was being lost on the main lines in the adjacent county of Kent. The fateful day was Sunday 3rd January 1965, when the last scheduled steam-hauled passenger service ran between Tonbridge and Redhill. The event was recorded in the Kent & Sussex Courier on Friday 8th January 1965:


For the last one hundred years, ever since the line was opened, steam trains have been puffing between Tonbridge and Redhill. But on Sunday British Railways Class 4 tank engine 80152 drew the last steam passenger train on this line out from Tonbridge.

Round her smoke stack some enthusiasts had chalked “Farewell to steam, Tonbridge-Redhill” and the passing of the last steam train from the Tonbridge loco sheds was recorded on tape for posterity by Mr Colin Moon, Tonbridge station master’s clerk.

“There weren’t any other trains in at the time to whistle her goodbye but she made plenty of noise herself.” Said Mr. Moon, who makes a hobby of recording steam engines on tape.

Mr. Moon was a bit disappointed about 80152’s last ride. “There were only a handful of railway enthusiasts to wave her goodbye” he said. “In fact, the station was pretty quiet and her departure was not noticed officially at all.”

Taking 80152 on her last journey was Driver William Tomkinson of 210 Powder Mill Lane, High Brooms, and Fireman S. Read of Gorsemoor, The Common, Southborough.

The writing was on the wall for Redhill Shed: official closure occurred, but engines were still visiting the site and being turned on the table as late as September. The parent shed at Brighton had closed in the previous year, but similarly, steam engines continued to use the depot as a stabling point beyond this time. The engine shed was still standing on the turn of 1970, but could not have survived much longer; it was eventually reduced to just those offices along the building’s eastern elevation. The three tracks which ran through the shed were also kept and subsequently used to stable diesel multiple units and locomotives. The offices were still standing in 1984, but were likely demolished when new lighting was installed alongside the former engine shed roads in 1989.

17th November 1957

A busy scene in this southward view includes, on the left, ex-SE&CR "C" Class 0-6-0 No. 31059, which only had a few months left in service. Facing away from the camera is a BR Standard 5MT 4-6-0 and what appear to be three "N" Class 2-6-0 engines. The silhouette of the trapezium-shaped brick gable of the engine shed's roof, installed by BR in 1950, can just be seen. The triple semaphore signal arms controlled the approach to Redhill from the Tonbridge line. © David Glasspool Collection

23rd December 1962

S15 Class No. 30836, paired with six-wheel tender, is seen in what initially looks like a state of withdrawal, but the engine was in fact under repair - the locomotive remained in service well into 1964. In 1959, it was one of three S15 engines allocated to Redhill, alongside classmates No. 30835 and 30837. Behind are a trio of Maunsell "N" Class locomotives, the two on the right being 1925-built Nos. 31855 and 31868. The "N" Class were a familiar sight at the shed for many years, being firm fixtures on Tonbridge to Reading services. Like the shed at Hither Green, motive power not native to the Southern Region was often seen at Redhill, such as "Manor" 4-6-0 locomotives from the Western Region, which had arrived with trains from Reading; even B1 Class 4-6-0 engines from the Eastern Region were not unheard of. After nationalisation, BR Standard classes arrived in force at the shed, particularly the 4MT 2-6-4 Tank, which typically worked between Redhill and Tonbridge. On the extreme left of this northward view can just be seen the side of a "Coffee Pot": a Bulleid Q1 Class. © David Glasspool Collection