St Leonards Warrior Square
This remains an
imposing, but nevertheless interesting station, tightly sandwiched in-between
two tunnel bores on the western approaches to Hastings. The site came into use
on 1st February 1852, when services were extended from Battle to Hastings on the
South Eastern Railway’s main line via Tunbridge Wells. The seaside town could
now lay claim to three stations within 1¾-miles of each other. The first to open
was that of ‘’Bo-peep’’, which came into use with the London, Brighton & South
Coast Railway’s line from Lewes on 27th June 1846. Formally, this became
‘’Hastings & St Leonard’s’’ station and, latterly, was renamed ‘’St Leonards
West Marina.’’ The second of note was ‘’Priory’’, the station being named after
the district it was located within. In fact, by the time it came into use, on
13th February 1851, the old Priory district had completely vanished, and the
name was purely historic. Priory station was used by both SER and LB&SCR
companies, although crucially, was wholly owned by the former. Indeed, this site
was officially called ‘’Hastings’’. The third station, as noted already, came
into use with the direct Hastings line and has a naming history which is
somewhat complex. Contemporary documents refer to this site as both ‘’Gensing
Valley’’ and ‘’Gensing Road’’ station, named after nearby pleasure gardens that
eventually became council property in 1872. During the 1870s, the station became
‘’St Leonards Warrior Square’’, but once again, the specific year in which this
change occurred is not obvious. Publications from 1874 still refer to the site
as ‘’Gensing Road’’, but Ordnance Survey Maps of the same period are to the
contrary, using the revised ‘’Warrior Square’’ terminology.
Indeed, the area of ‘’St Leonard’s’’ (note the apostrophe, which has since been dropped) can trace its origins back only as far as February 1828, when construction began on a series of large terraces to create a seaside resort. A ¾-mile-long strip of coastal land was purchased from a local farm, and one James Burton was responsible for the design of a multitude of new residential and public buildings which, today, remain familiar features of the area. ‘’Warrior Square’’, from which the SER station eventually took its name, was reportedly only partially complete by October 1856; residences existed on one side of the square, but construction was still ensuing on the other side.
A location deep within a cutting between two tunnels, little over 180-yards-long, ensured Warrior Square developed no further than a simple two-platform affair with no sidings. To the west of the platforms was Bopeep Tunnel, 1318-yards-long, and to the east Hastings Tunnel, 788-yards-long. Both of these pre-dated those troublesome bores of the Tunbridge Wells line and, thus, did not pose loading gauge restrictions in later years. The main station building could be found on the ‘’up’’ (southern) side of the running lines, and was a splendid Italianate design by the SER’s architect William Tress. Two-storeys high and with a multitude of slated pitched-roof sections, the structure was an enlarged version of those buildings which appeared at Wadhurst, Withernden (Stonegate), and Robertsbridge stations. Red brick was used throughout in construction, with edges and window frames being lined with stone; chimneystacks were in abundance.
As built, the platforms were partially staggered, and at the eastern end of the ‘’up’’ surface existed a signal box. This seems quite surprising, given the simple layout of the station, but naturally, signalling was very primitive in the early years of the direct Hastings line. At the time, the speed limit over this section of line was just 10 MPH. The signal cabin appears to have been installed to operate a trailing crossover between the running lines at the western end of the layout, immediately before the portal of Bopeep Tunnel. It is likely that the signal box was abolished during the 1880 enlargement of nearby Hastings station, the latter of which was completely re-signalled as part of this scheme. In the meantime, improvements had been forthcoming at Warrior Square. Over the period 1861 to 1862, new single-storey redbrick structures were brought into use on both ‘’up’’ and ‘’down’’ platforms. These were 90-feet in length and sported hipped slated roofs. That on the ‘’up’’ platform was positioned midway between the original main building and the portal of Bopeep Tunnel, and sprouting from its western side was an open air Gentlemen’s toilet. Its ‘’down’’ side counterpart was located immediately opposite Tress’ ‘’up’’ side structure of 1852. At the same time huge canopies, nearly 300-feet-long, were brought into use on both platforms, at last protecting passengers from the elements. These were downward-sloping affairs, demonstrating the standardised – but intricate – SER clover-patterned timber valance. A third impressive canopy, little under 120-feet-long and sharing the same design traits, was also affixed to the southern elevation of the main ‘’up’’ building, to protect the forecourt entrance. Finally, in 1869, a roofed lattice footbridge was erected across the tracks, immediately east of the main station structures, replacing an earlier track foot crossing. The final result was a colossus of a station, which served what became a rather salubrious western suburb of Hastings.
It was originally the ''Brighton, Lewes & Hastings Railway'' (BL&HR) which had been authorised to build the Hastings to Ashford line in 1845, as part of the ‘’Hastings, Rye & Ashford Extension.’’ These powers were subsequently transferred to the SER on 21st August 1845, by order of Parliament. The main Hastings station, thus, became a wholly SER-owned affair. However, the original Act stipulated that the SER had to allow the LB&SCR (which had absorbed the independent BL&HR) to use all facilities at the Hastings station site – whether they be the platforms, goods yard, or engine shed – at no cost. Naturally, the SER was quick to remind the LB&SCR that the Act did not cover the 1852-opened Warrior Square station (or ‘’Gensing’’, as it was then known), and trains of the latter were forced to pass through without stopping. This practice eventually ceased on 5th December 1870, when the LB&SCR was permitted to establish a wholly separate booking office at the station. This scenario remained until the two companies were brought under the ‘’Southern Railway’’ umbrella in 1923, a single booking office being used thereafter.
Third rail reached Hastings by means of the Central Section line from Brighton and Lewes in 1935, and regular electric services commenced through Warrior Square on 7th July of that year. Electrification was taken as far east as Ore, where a carriage shed and sidings were provided for berthing EMU stock. The SR era at Hastings was, unarguably, dominated by this scheme and the slightly earlier rebuilding of the town’s main station during 1930/1931. Thus, during this period, alterations at Warrior Square were mainly confined to cosmetic changes, which included affixing gas lamps to the canopy ends and the addition of ‘’Target’’ name signs. This period of stillness in the station’s history was brought to an abrupt end soon after the formation of British Railways. In September 1949, signs of settlement were evident within Bopeep Tunnel, 7-chains from the western portal. The tunnel had originally come into use with the Ashford to Hastings line, and thus was not one of those restricted bores on the direct Hastings line that had been re-engineered by the SER in 1855. As the settlement rapidly worsened, it was decided to enforce single-line working through Warrior Square on 19th November 1949, to allow tunnel repairs to be made. Integrity of the bore declined further still, requiring total closure of this section of line on 26th of the same month. Partial reconstruction of the tunnel took place, which involved re-lining sections of the bore with cast-iron segments. During the works, a special bus service ran between Ore, Hastings, Warrior Square, and St Leonards West Marina stations, Central Section electric services terminating at the latter. A normal service was restored through Bopeep Tunnel to Hastings and Ore on 5th June 1950.
In 1969, severe rationalisation of the station structures occurred. All buildings on the ‘’down’’ platform, including the enormous canopy, were demolished. In their place, a single CLASP waiting shelter was erected. On the ‘’up’’ side, the forecourt canopy was taken down from the main building’s southern façade. The short section of ‘’up’’ platform canopy east of the footbridge was removed, and the remaining 250-foot length west of the footbridge received a simplified valance. Amazingly, the footbridge retained its roof and substantial brick staircases during these works. 25 years later, the ‘’up’’ canopy was pruned further: during the mid-1990s, it was severely cut back to just 55-feet-long. On the plus side, however, the remaining section of canopy had its SER clover-patterned valance restored. The ‘’down’’ side CLASP waiting shelter was flattened at this time and replaced by a pitched-roof glazed shelter supported upon six struts.
An eastward view towards Hastings Tunnel in 1976 shows the station not long after rationalisation works. On
the right is the main ''up'' side station building, designed by William Tress and still wholly complete. As mentioned
in the main text, the section of ''up'' canopy beyond the footbridge has been removed, and the remaining part has
been subject to a simplified valance. On the left is the ''down'' side CLASP shelter, which became the only structure
on this platform. Also of note is the track foot crossing between the platforms, which remained for staff, and the
fact that ''Warrior Square'' is in brackets on the station name board. © David Glasspool Collection
25th February 2009
An eastward view from above the portal of Bopeep Tunnel shows renovation of the main building in progress.
Demolition of the CLASP waiting shelter permitted new step access to be made to the ''down'' platform. The
replacement glazed-roof shelter is in evidence, as is the huge brick staircase of the footbridge, this of which
remains roofed. The hipped-roof single-storey structure in the foreground, on the ''up'' platform, was once
replicated on the ''down'' side. The ''up'' platform retains a short section of canopy with a restored clover
-patterned valance; it formerly extended right along the single-storey building. © David Glasspool
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