Two routes to Hastings were built concurrent with each other: that via Tunbridge Wells, and a much more circuitous line via Ashford and Romney Marsh. The latter had become a project of the SER on 21st August 1845, after a formal transfer of the scheme from the original promoters, the ‘’Brighton Lewes & Hastings Railway’’ (BL&HR). Viewed by Parliament as a strategically positioned railway, running along the English Channel coastline, by the SER it was seen as a defence of its territory from the London & Brighton Railway. Through running from London to Hastings via Ashford commenced on 13th February 1851, but it was superseded by the opening of the direct Hastings line via Tunbridge Wells within a year. The distance between London and Hastings via Reigate Junction and Tunbridge Wells was 64-miles, and the direct route opened in the following stages:

·        Tonbridge to Jackwood Springs: 20th September 1845

·        Jackwood Springs to Tunbridge Wells: 25th November 1846

·        Tunbridge Wells to Robertsbridge: 1st September 1851

·        Robertsbridge to Battle: 1st January 1852

·        Battle to Hastings: 1st February 1852


The  SER empire now comprised branches to Maidstone (1844), Margate via Canterbury and Ramsgate (1846), and Hastings (1851/1852). The scenario of having a single outlet for all rail traffic south of London became increasingly difficult, and perpetuity of this arrangement was unsustainable. The London & Brighton and London & Croydon Railways had joined forces in 1846, and both their traffic and that of the SER was on the rise. The latter was soon under increased pressure after the rival London, Chatham & Dover Railway commenced through running between London and Dover by means of a much shorter route via Faversham, on 22nd July 1861. Parliament’s stance on rail access to London had softened, and on 30th June 1862, the SER was authorised to construct the Tunbridge Cut-Off. This was a double-track line, 24-miles in length, which left the existing North Kent Line (1849) at St Johns and pursued a course through Chislehurst, Orpington, and Sevenoaks, eventually re-joining the original main line at Tonbridge. Passenger services started running over this route in its entirety on 1st May 1868, which reduced the London to Tonbridge distance by 12½ miles. Freight had earlier started using the Cut-Off line in February of the same year, and the Reigate Junction to Tonbridge section of the first main line immediately lost importance.

The first station at Tunbridge was an all-timber, but nevertheless extensive affair, covering nearly twelve acres of ground. Even the platforms were of wooden construction, but as per today’s station, four parallel-running tracks were in existence from the outset. The practice of laying quadruple-track in-between platforms was used again by the SER at Maidstone Road (Paddock Wood) and Ashford stations, to permit stopping services to clear the lines for fast trains. The platforms and loops were each covered by their own pitched-roof trainshed, these of which were erected to the same design as those at the company’s Canterbury station. A roofed footbridge straddled the tracks at the eastern ends of the platforms, immediately beyond which could be found wagon turntables at the ends of each loop. These were connected by a perpendicular track running across the through lines, as per the arrangement at Paddock Wood. It is worth noting that at this time, the Tunbridge Wells branch made a trailing connection with the main line from London, half a mile east of Tunbridge station. This therefore required Hastings-bound services from London to reverse outside the station; this arrangement had been settled on because a facing connection from the station would have made too steep a gradient. To coincide with the complete opening of the Hastings direct line on 1st February 1852, Tunbridge station became ‘’Tunbridge Junction’’.

On 17th August 1857, Royal Assent was received for the construction of an improved junction between the main line at Tunbridge and the Tunbridge Wells branch. A direct double-track connection was procured, which eliminated the reversing manoeuvre outside the station and created a triangular junction between the main and branch lines. It appears to be at this time that a new Tunbridge station was procured, just west of the original site. Four tracks sandwiched in-between two platform surfaces were maintained, but timber was replaced predominantly by brick construction. A new ‘’high-level’’ station entrance was produced at the eastern ends of the platforms, straddling all running lines across a four-arch viaduct. This comprised a single-storey main building of all-brick construction, frescoed with a roofline balustrade and a Palladium-like façade. Westward-facing bay platforms were incorporated into both ‘’up’’ and ‘’down’’ sides of the rebuilt station, and both surfaces accommodated brick-built offices. The ‘’down’’ bay had only an indirect connection with the ‘’down’’ station loop, thus a reversing manoeuvre via a head shunt was required. The platforms were protected by copious canopies of semi-circular cross-section; these featured a spiked timber valance, rather than sporting the then more common SER Clover design.


Summer 1961


Nearing the end of their lives, a westward view from the end of the ''up'' island reveals a multitude of semaphore signal gantries. On the right can be seen a ''Hastings'' unit in all-over BR(S) Green, trundling into the ''down'' loop with a service for its namesake. In the centre of the photograph, partly obscured by the gantry, is a brand new 4 CEP, again in all-over BR(S) Green without yellow warning panel. Above this unit can just be seen the top of the 1935-commissioned ''A'' Box, its successor, Tonbridge ''power box'', of which is also in view, just to the left. Finally, on the far left are the ''up'' berthing sidings brought into use by the SR in 1935, beside the departing Redhill line.  © David Glasspool Collection

2nd July 1961


BR Standard Tank 2-6-4 No. 80147 is seen trundling backwards through the ''down'' platform loop, still displaying BR's Early ''Cycling Lion'' crest on its side. Conductor rails are in evidence on all tracks, and a new signal gantry has appeared behind the semaphore post. © David Glasspool Collection

13th January 1977


No. 09022 at Tonbridge: 13th January 1977

No. 09022 trundles through the snow on the ''Down'' Fast Line at Tonbridge Station with the morning trip working from the West Yard to the East Yard. The trip is conveying an assortment of vans for the Parcels Concentration Depot and various wagons for the Full Load Depot. If required, it also conveyed traffic for the South Eastern Tar Distillers' Siding, this being situated roughly where the Royal Mail’s Tonbridge MLO is now located. © David Morgan


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