Tenterden Town

 

Goods facilities were concentrated on the south side of the station, where four sidings, all facing in the Headcorn direction, were commissioned. A lengthy single siding on the northern side of the layout, again Headcorn-facing, was also in evidence, and more often than not, this and the bay platform line were used to stabled carriage stock. The station’s signal box was positioned at the Headcorn end of the layout, north of the converging sidings and passing loop; it was merely a small pitched-roof corrugated iron hut.

The K&ESR avoided the Grouping of 1923, remaining independent from the SE&CR’s successor, the Southern Railway. Thereafter, though, the line experienced declining fortunes. These began in 1924, when the Tenterden Town to Headcorn section of the route recorded a loss. Never again did this part of the line break even, but the original section of route to Robertsbridge continued to turn a profit for a further six years. The line’s creator, Lieutenant Colonel Stephens (a title acquired during World War I with the Royal Engineers), died on 23rd October 1931 at the Lord Warden Hotel, which overlooked Dover Marine station. In the following year, the K&ESR went into receivership, and William H. Austen was appointed Official Receiver, running the railway until its absorption into the nationalised British Railways in 1948. Austen, as Stephen’s successor, took control of all Light Railways engineered by the latter, and coordinated them from the same headquarters as used by the Colonel, based in Tonbridge.

During World War II, five Anderson Shelter-style buildings, of corrugated metal construction and painted black, appeared immediately north of the station site. Each structure measured 100-feet in length, and throughout the conflict they were used to house sugar and flour supplies. In about 1947, the gas lamps on both platform surfaces were superseded by electric lighting, supported upon concrete posts. Despite the fact that the entire line had been loss-making since 1932, nationalisation actually resulted in an improvement in service frequency, in an attempt to boost passenger traffic. Sadly, BR’s efforts were in vain, and the last scheduled passenger services ran between Robertsbridge and Headcorn on 2nd January 1954. Two years later, on 26th February 1956, the K&ESR’s Official Receiver prior to 1948, William H. Austen, died. Closure marked the complete abandonment of the Tenterden Town to Headcorn section of route, but that part of the line between the former and Robertsbridge remained in use for goods traffic. During the line’s new role dedicated to freight, the little-used platform surface north of the tracks was demolished, and a substantial amount of the timber upon the main station building was replaced by brick. Complete closure of this final section of line came on 12th July 1961, and in this year, a preservation society was formed. The society aimed to restore the Tenterden Town to Robertsbridge part of the K&ESR. Removal of the track between the former and Headcorn had already begun after closure to passengers in 1954, but the rails between Tenterden Town and Robertsbridge remained in situ after freight traffic ceased, although station demolitions did occur. Indeed, this was advantageous for the society, because new additions to its rolling stock fleet could be delivered to Tenterden by rail, via Robertsbridge.

The Ministry of Transport was out to stop the K&ESR preservation effort in its tracks, as it began to gather momentum after 1961. In addition to the government department being of the opinion that only British Rail should run railways, much of the opposition to the line’s reopening stemmed from the nature of the three mile section of route between Bodiam and Robertsbridge. Level crossings existed over two main roads, and the line passed over a number of river bridges, which by this time had become unstable. Proposed road improvements in the vicinity of Robertsbridge, namely the A21 and B2244, also had implications for the line’s track bed, and consequently, a protracted legal battle ensued. Latterly, the matter was raised in Parliament by Lord Deedes, and as a result, the Ministry of Transport's strong stance against the reopening of the line became unstuck. The department backed down, and offered a compromise to the preservation society: reopening of the line to Tenderden Town was permitted only if the three mile section between Bodiam and Robertsbridge was dropped from the proposals. As a result, British Rail finally relinquished the Tenterden Town to Bodiam track bed in 1973, and the preservation movement was absorbed into the newly formed ‘’Tenderden Railway Company Limited’’. Although the track had remained in situ the entire time, all sleepers required replacing, and a number of river bridges required major rebuilding. Furthermore, infrastructure of stations along the line had been completely swept away, and components recycled from other railway sites were brought in to restore the railway to its former Holman Stephens glory. The track bed between Bodiam and Robertsbridge was sold off to local landowners.

Improvements at Tenterden Town had begun in 1972, with the extension of the remaining platform surface northwards, to accommodate longer train formations. On 27th October 1968, the Saxby & Farmer signal box at Chilham, on the Canterbury West to Thanet line, was decommissioned. The timber cabin was subsequently dismantled and moved to Tenterden Town, where it was re-erected upon a new red brick base at the southern end of the layout in 1973, ten yards from the level crossing. The cabin’s 23-lever frame, also an original relic from Chilham, was interlocked to operate a host of recovered Southern Railway-designed upper quadrant semaphore signals. Services were restored between Tenterden Town and Rolvenden on 3rd February 1974, and through running to Wittersham Road was possible from 5th March 1977. On 25th April 1983, a mile-long westward extension from Wittersham Road, to a temporary stop at Hexden Bridge, was commissioned. Previously, in 1981, construction had begun on a single-track timber-clad carriage and wagon repair shed, set partially upon the former site of the now demolished platform face. This structure had been mostly completed by 1983, although timber cladding was still ongoing two years later. It had originally been hoped to open the 2½-mile extension to Northiam in 1985, but it took another five years until this part of the line was finally brought into use. The ultimate goal, Bodiam, was finally achieved on the opening of the route between here and Northiam on 2nd April 2000.

 


 

Drawn by David Glasspool

 


April 1989

 

Since the earlier 1983 view, the Saxby & Farmer cabin had received a new coat of paint and the name board

was now red, rather than dark blue. The signal cabin comprises a 23-lever ''Duplex'' frame - the original from

Chilham - and controls a host of recovered Southern Railway semaphore signals. On the right can be seen the

carriage and wagon shed, the cladding now being complete. Mike Glasspool

 


July 1989

 

Anneka Rice and the ''Challenge Anneka'' television crew were at Tenterden Town in July 1989, and are seen

here fitting a ''Pride of Sussex Challenge Anneka'' headboard to SE&CR-designed ''P'' Class No. 1556. The

challenge involved laying further track between Wittersham Road and Northiam, the extension of which opened

in the following year. The extension meant that the line could become the ''Kent & East Sussex Railway'' proper

– hitherto, running took place only in Kent, between Tenterden Town and Wittersham Road. Mike Glasspool

 


6th October 1990

 

The porch canopy of the station building is in evidence in this Rolvenden-bound view. The Austerity Saddle Tank

pictured earlier on, WD 75050, is seen to be well on the way to recovery, now that an undercoat has been applied.

Mike Glasspool

 


 

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