Kent and East Sussex Railway. By the mid nineteenth century, Tenterden was in the middle of a triangle of railway lines. The South Eastern Railway had opened its line from Redhill to Tonbridge on 12 July 1841. The line was opened as far as Headcorn on 31 August 1842 and to Ashford on 1 December 1843. The South Eastern Railway opened its line from Ashford to Hastings on 13 February 1851. The third part of the triangle was the line between Tonbridge and Hastings which had opened as far as Tunbridge Wells on 24 November 1846, Robertsbridge on 1 September 1851, Battle on 1 January 1852 and to St Leonards on 1 February 1852. Running powers over the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway's line to Hastings having been negotiated.
The Ashford - Hastings line had originally been promoted to run via Headcorn and Tenterden, but Parliament preferred the more southerly route. In 1855, a proposed railway from Headcorn via Cranbrook to Tenterden failed to obtain its Act of Parliament. In 1864, a proposed railway from Paddock Wood via Cranbrook and Tenterden to Hythe (the Weald of Kent Railway) also failed to obtain its Act of Parliament. A proposed roadside tramway from Headcorn to Tenterden suffered the same fate in 1882. In 1877, the Cranbrook and Paddock Wood Railway was incorporated, and powers obtained to build the northern section of the Weald of Kent Railway to transport agricultural produce and livestock from low-lying land adjacent to Wittersham Road to a better mainline connection. Powers were obtained in 1882 to extend the line to Hawkhurst. The line opened to Goudhurst in 1892 and Hawkhurst in 1893.
The Tenterden Railway was the next to be proposed, running from Maidstone to Hastings via Headcorn, Tenterden, and Appledore. The section from Headcorn to Appledore was authorised in 1892, and agreement was reached in 1896 with the South Eastern Railway over the operation of the line. In 1898, the proposal was abandoned in favour of extending the Cranbrook and Paddock Wood railway to Tenterden and Appledore. This was abandoned in 1899 as too expensive to construct and the South Eastern Railway again backed the Tenterden Railway, but no work was done and powers to construct the line lapsed in 1901. With the passing of the Light Railways Act 1896 a group of citizens of Tenterden, led by Sir Myles Fenton proposed a railway from Robertsbridge to Tenterden - the Rother Valley Railway. Assent was granted to construct the line under the Act. The contract for the construction of the line was won by London and Scottish Contract Corporation, who sub-contracted the work to Godfrey and Siddelow. The work was overseen by Holman F Stephens, who was appointed General Manager in 1899 and Managing Director in 1900. Stephens attained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Territorial Army in 1916 and was subsequently known as Colonel Stephens.
With the abandonment by the South Eastern Railway of plans to build the Cranbrook to Appledore line, the scheme was adopted by the Rother Valley Railway. Opposition from the South Eastern Railway meant that the Tenterden to Appledore section was dropped. Authorisation was received in December 1899 to build the Cranbrook and Tenterden Light Railway from Cranbrook via Benenden to the Tenterden terminus of the Rother Valley Railway, and to extend further into the town of Tenterden itself. A proposal was promoted in 1900 to build a line from Robertsbridge to Pevensey, which was to be worked by the Rother Valley Railway. The East Sussex Light Railway was authorised in 1901. This was a line from Northiam to Rye. Only the section from the original Tenterden terminus to Tenterden Town was actually built of all these schemes. The extension to Tenterden Town opened on 15 April 1903. The original Tenterden station was renamed Rolvenden on this date. 312 schoolchildren were carried on the first train from Rolvenden to Tenterden, along with Sir Myles Fenton, Holman F Stephens, and other dignitaries. The South Eastern and Chatham Railway, seeking to relieve themselves from building the Tenterden Railway, entered into an agreement with the Rother Valley Railway for the latter to build and operate the line from Tenterden to Headcorn. The South Eastern and Chatham Railway agreed to make up any operating losses in exchange for an option to purchase the line at any time within the next 21 years from the date of opening. The option was not exercised. A windpump was provided at the Headcorn end of the station. It supplied a water tower located at the Robertsbridge end of the station.
In 1904, the Rother Valley Railway changed its name to the Kent & East Sussex Light Railway. The line from Tenterden to Headcorn opened to traffic on 15 May 1905. In 1904, the Headcorn & Maidstone Junction Light Railway was authorised. This line would have run from Headcorn via Sutton Valence to Tovil, where running powers over part of the Medway Valley Line would have allowed access to Maidstone. Only the section from Tovil to Tovil Goods was ever built. The original junction at Headcorn was on the Ashford side of the station. Headcorn was remodelled by the Southern Railway in 1930 to provide two through roads and the junction was then moved to the Tonbridge side of the station. On the outbreak of war in 1914, the K&ESR came under Government control, as did most railways at the time. It was released from Government control in 1921, and £1,487 in compensation was paid. The K&ESR was not included in the Grouping of the railways into the Big Four in 1923, and continued its independent existence.
By 1924, the section from Tenterden to Headcorn was operating at a loss. Correspondence with the Southern Railway in 1930 led to Sir Herbert Walker stating that there was no chance of the line making a profit, and that even if passenger services were withdrawn, it was doubtful whether the receipts from freight traffic would cover operating expenses. It should be noted that the Southern Railway were liable to make up any operating losses, as the successor to the South Eastern and Chatham Railway under the terms of the Act of Parliament for the construction of that section of line. In 1931, Colonel Stephens died, and the management of the K&ESR came under the control of William Henry Austen, who had been assistant to Stephens for a number of years. In 1932, Austen was appointed Official Receiver for the line. He entered into negotiations with the Southern Railway aimed at disposing of worn out stock and obtaining serviceable replacements. One batch of stock disposed of was valued at £855, but realised only £6 10s 0d. In 1935, the K&ESR purchased a 2-ton Bedford LQ lorry, and another was purchased in 1936. In that year, the first of the locomotives hired from the Southern Railway arrived on the line, this was P Class No. 1556. The whole line was relaid with 60 pounds per yard rails in 1939.
When war broke out in 1939, the K&ESR again came under Government control, being placed under the Railway Operating Division of the Royal Engineers. Rail mounted guns were stationed at Rolvenden and Wittersham. The line was an alternative supply route to the south coast, and relieved some of the pressure on Ashford. Components for Operation Pluto were conveyed along the line. With the increase in price for scrap metal during the war, most of the lines surplus stock was scrapped. On 1 January 1948, the line became part of British Railways, Southern Region on nationalisation. Upon nationalisation, one of the surviving two locomotives and all but the newest rolling stock were scrapped. Ex South Eastern and Chatham Railway birdcage carriages were put into service on the line, supplementing the ex London and South Western Railway carriages. Mixed trains continued to run, but were now provided with a brake van. The line was again relaid to a higher standard using rails salvaged from the Elham Valley Railway. All ticket stock was withdrawn and new tickets were printed and staffing of stations was increased. This was not accompanied by an increase in passengers, and regular passenger services ceased: the final passenger train ran on 2 January 1954. It was the 5:50 pm from Robertsbridge to Headcorn, composed of six corridor coaches which had been specially brought from Ashford for the occasion. Motive power was Terriers 32655 leading and 32678 at the rear. 32655 was replaced by O1 31064 and 32678 banked the train to St Michael's. The two Terriers then ran back to Robertsbridge with a carriage between them to reduce the weight on the bridges. Double-heading was prohibited between Rolvenden and Robertsbridge
Two freight trains a day were run, with hop-pickers' specials running until 1958. There was occasional passenger traffic in the form of railtours. In 1957, Drewry diesel locomotive 11220 was successfully tried on the line, and it and 11223 were the regular locomotives for the final years of operation. The final passenger train over the line before closure was a Locomotive Club of Great Britain railtour on 11 June 1961. The line closed the following day apart from a short stretch at Robertsbridge serving Hodson's Flour Mill, which became a private siding; that 1 January 1970. The Kent & East Sussex Light Railway was operated as two separate sections, Robertsbridge - Tenterden Town and Tenterden Town - Headcorn. The extension to Headcorn had been built with heavier rails than the Robertsbridge - Rolvenden section, and thus had a higher axle loading allowing the use of heavier locomotives. The section between Tenterden Town and Headcorn was largely paralleled by roads, and was open to competition from road transport. Although the Rother Valley Railway and the Kent & East Sussex Light Railway originally ran separate passenger and freight trains, by the 1920s mixed trains were the norm. The first railbus was introduced in 1923. Although these were light and economical to run, they did not provide much in the way of passenger comfort. Between 1928 and 1933 a through coach was added to the 5:15 pm from Cannon Street to Hastings, which was detached at Robertsbridge and worked on to Tenterden. In the hop-picking season, special trains were run to bring the hop-pickers down from London. One such train in 1936 is recorded as having consisted of four Southern Railway bogie carriages, two K&ESR six-wheeled carriages and a van. The train was hauled by the ex LSWR Saddletank No 4. The K&ESR's own stock was generally confined to that system. Tickets were usually issued on the trains, although the K&ESR did not acquire any corridor carriages until 1944. The tickets were printed at Rolvenden. Tickets for other lines under Colonel Stephens' control were also printed here.
The line today is a tourist attraction in the South East of England. It offers an 11½-mile (17 km) ride through the Rother Valley in vintage and British Railways coaches usually hauled by a steam locomotive, although some off peak services are operated by diesel multiple unit. The preserved line currently runs from Tenterden Town station to Bodiam (within sight of the National Trust's Bodiam Castle), with an extra mile of track to the Junction Road station site (though there are currently no plans to re-open for alighting). Tenterden Town Station is the main headquarters for the heritage railway, where a book and gift shop can be found - selling Thomas the Tank Engine gifts, the Carriage and Wagon Department and a cafe that was once the Maidstone & District Motor Services bus station building from Maidstone, Kent. The Railway emphasises the Colonel Stephens connection as a major factor of its utilitarian heritage. The locomotive works is located at Rolvenden station and has a viewing platform overlooking the works yard and a selection of former inter-modal shipping containers used for equipment storage. Themed events are run through the year. Some are connected with local history and the Railway whilst, as on other heritage lines, Thomas the Tank Engine and Santa Specials provide a commercial underpinning to the Company's activities. Railway Experience Days are also offered. Click here for a comprehensive list of the rolling stock used on the railway.
The collection began in the 1960s largely through the foresight of Philip Shaw, present Chainman of the Museum Committee, who began putting aside items donated by former employees of the Stephen's empire. W H Austen junior in particular, was a considerable source of material, much of which he had inherited from his father who was so long Stephens’ assistant. Following nationalisation in 1948 and the closure of Colonel Stephens' office at Salford Terrace, Tonbridge, a large chest was stuffed with papers relating to the various companies and this sat unopened for 30 years or so in the porch of William Austen's home. It proved to be a veritable treasure trove of papers and small artefacts.. We must be thankful that other employees also retained material from the offices, because everything else was taken away and burnt. Fortunately, a large number of personal relics of Colonel Stephens have survived including nearly all the furniture and paraphernalia of his office, a representation of which may be seen in the Museum as a representation of the Colonel's Office.. This includes his roll-top desk and office chair, wicker filing trays, ledgers, pictures, rubber stamps, brief case and even pens, pencils and pieces of chalk. We also have the Colonel's drawing table and stool, his stationery cabinet, and his drawing office and surveying equipment. Other bygones of the great man have also remarkably survived and most may be seen - his masonic regalia, bible, camera, family snapshots, pocket watches, walking sticks, vesta case, and his cigar case containing the last unsmoked cigar at the time of his death. There is a locomotive exhibited, even if it was the smallest standard gauge locomotive in Britain, the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire locomotive 'Gazelle'. The archive collection embraces material from all the 16 railways associated with Colonel Stephens and a general selection of artefacts may be seen in the Museum. It is only a selection because lack of space prevents more being displayed.
Museum : - Dogs are not normally admitted, except for assistance dogs. Wheelchair access is available to all areas, except for viewing one of the video presentations which involves negotiating two steps. Railway. Station buildings and refreshment facilities are all accessible to mobility impaired users. Tenterden, Northiam and Bodiam stations each have toilet facilities that include toilets for the mobility impaired. Baby changing facilities are also available at these stations. Wheelchairs are available at Tenterden and Bodiam stations to assist passengers from their transport to the trains. The National Trust has a buggy (subject to availability) to take passengers from Bodiam station to the castle and vice-versa. Access to the Cavell Van, at Bodiam station, is restricted for wheelchair users. The locomotive viewing gallery at Rolvenden is not suitable for wheelchair users or for persons wearing high-heeled footwear. Wittersham Road station is fairly remote, with limited facilities and a shingle platform, and is therefore not suitable for access by wheelchair users. Tenterden Booking Hall has an induction loop system to assist those with impaired hearing to book their journeys. The historic railway carriages are restored to reflect their original construction and therefore access is via stepping up to board from the platform and down to alight. Ramps are available to allow access to guard’s compartments on most trains, allowing wheelchair users to travel. They have a specially designed carriage, called Petros, which has ramped access and a specially designed interior (including accessible toilet) to accommodate the mobility impaired.
Museum Location : The John Miller Building, Tenterden Town Station, Station Road, Tenterden Kent, TN30 6HE
Transport : Headcorn (National Rail) then bus (12, 12RL) OR Ashford Int'nl (National Rail) then bus (2, 2A). Bus Routes : 2, 2A, 12, 12RL, 297 and 340 stop close by.
Opening Times Museum : Railway operating days 12.30 to 16:30
Operating Times Railway : see Timetable
Tickets : Adults £17.00; Children (3 - 15) £11.50; First Clas additional £2.00
Tickets Museum: Free donations welcome.
Tel. : 01580 765155