Ham Street & Orlestone

The station came into use with the SER’s double-track Ashford to Hastings line on 13th February 1851, being known as plain ‘’Ham Street’’ from the outset. It was one of a number of sites along the route to open with an impressive main building which, in light of the sparse populations served on the Romney Marsh, gave the station a deceptively important air about it. In true SER tradition, two staggered platforms of red brick construction, separated by a track foot crossing, were in evidence from the outset. As per other SER stations demonstrating a staggered arrangement, platforms were positioned in a manner which ensured that those passengers using the track foot crossing only ever walked behind a stabled train; thus, individuals would not be struck by a departing service. The main building was positioned on the ‘’up’’ side, and was of familiar architecture: two-storeys high and 40-feet in length, the structure was constituted of red brick, lined at its edges with yellow brick, and comprised a pair of perpendicular slated pitched-roof sections. It was a variation of a standardised design, examples of which also came into use along the route at Winchelsea and Appledore, and indeed, at Wadhurst, along the SER’s main Hastings line via Tunbridge Wells. An interesting feature of the buildings at both Ham Street and Winchelsea were the three-piece pagoda-style canopies. These lacked any form of valance, and indeed, such a feature was not even fitted under SE&CR auspices – this was despite the fact that this company installed attractive canopies at both Rye and Appledore in the early 20th Century. From the outset, passengers on the ‘’down’’ platform were completely exposed to the elements, this surface lacking both a shelter and canopy. Both platform surfaces were backed at their rears by timber fencing.

Initially, no goods facilities were present at the site, but before the turn of the century, and prior to the formation of the SE&CR, single sidings came into use on both ‘’up’’ and ‘’down’’ sides, residing directly opposite the platform surfaces. As was the case at Rye, these sidings were linked by a pair of wagon turntables, which served a single-track lying perpendicular across the running lines, doubling up with the track foot crossing. The ‘’up’’ siding served a row of cattle pens, and the wagon turntable on this side of the running lines also sprouted a further two goods sidings, roughly at a right-angle to the platforms. It is worth noting that whilst the ‘’down’’ siding had a direct rail connection with the running lines, that on the ‘’up’’ side could only be accessed by means of traversing both wagon turntables. Trailing crossovers had been installed to the north and south of the station layout.

In 1893, contractor Saxby & Farmer re-signalled the Ashford to Ore (exclusive) stretch of line, and one of this company’s attractive signal cabins emerged at the northern end of the ‘’down’’ platform. Complete with a brick base, a timber upper half, and a gabled roof, identical examples still exist today at Sturry and Wye, on the Ashford to Thanet route, via Canterbury West. Four years later, on 1st February 1897, the station became ‘’Ham Street & Orlestone’’; the suffix was that of a small parish, located ⅔-mile to the north-west of the line.

Changes under the SE&CR appear to have included the addition of a corrugated hut on the ‘’up’’ platform, immediately south of the main building. Passengers on the ‘’down’’ platform were treated to a 20-foot-long timber waiting shelter; this was built to a standardised design, and identical examples emerged at Rye and Winchelsea. The ‘’up’’ siding received a direct connection with the adjacent running line, which avoided the need to run via the ‘’down’’ siding and two wagon turntables to gain access (although the latter were still retained). Later alterations made at the site by the Southern Railway included the removal of the wagon turntables, circa 1935, and the blocking up for the rear-most windows on the signal box’s northern side. Interestingly, the company did not install its trademark swan neck gas lamps at Ham Street – the existing diamond-shaped examples of SER design remained right up until BR’s ‘’Modern Image’’ prevailed at the site. ‘’Target’’ name signs did, however, come into use, and these in turn were later replaced by BR-designed ‘’Totems’’.

The February 1956-approved Kent Coast Electrification Scheme outlined extending third rail from Ore, across the Romney Marsh to Ashford. In the meantime, a diesel service, operated by four two-vehicle Hampshire/Berkshire DEMUs, commenced along the route on 9th June 1958. In conjunction with this, the Ashford-bound platform at Ham Street & Orlestone was rebuilt at its northern end, using concrete cast components; the Hastings-bound surface was similarly treated at its southern end. Further modifications to the Ashford-bound platform in 1960, as part of the electrification scheme, included re-facing the surface at its southern end with prefabricated concrete. The track foot crossing remained in use between the platforms, but despite the aforementioned modifications to the site, the route was dropped from the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme. Thereafter, the DEMU service, which had proven successful, was perpetuated. Goods traffic was subsequently withdrawn from Ham Street & Orlestone on 4th December 1961, and just under five years later, the crossovers between the lines were removed, leading to the complete abolition of the signal box.

Ham Street has been fortunate to avoid the severe rationalisation suffered by its ‘’twin’’ at Winchelsea. The singling of the route in 1979 encompassed only that section of line between Appledore and Ore, thus the station retains both platforms and the splendidly restored main building. However, it does appear that about five years earlier, the Hastings-bound platform was re-lined at its rear with mesh fencing, supported upon wooden posts. Ham Street remains as a delightful, well-kept rural station, and in addition to the surviving main building and timber waiting shelter, is still host to a somewhat rare feature on the ex-Southern Region network: an operational track foot crossing between the platforms.

The foot crossing between the platforms shared its site with the connecting track between the two wagon turntables. The "down" platform had yet to receive a waiting shelter. © David Glasspool

27th October 1969

An Ashford-bound view from 1969 shows the Saxby & Farmer signal box in the background, situated alongside the track foot crossing in-between the platforms. The waiting shelter still had a decorative canopy valance at this stage, and the platforms retained traditional diamond-shaped gas lamps and timber fencing. © David Glasspool Collection

17th August 2008

An Ashford-bound view from the ''down'' platform shows architect William Tress' fine station building in the background, whilst closer to the camera, on the right, is the SE&CR's quaint timber waiting shelter. On the extreme right can be witnessed the mesh platform fencing of about 1974 origin and, on the left, the bushes and shrubs which now occupy the former site of the "up" siding. © David Glasspool

17th August 2008

Another Hastings-bound view better shows the variation of ''up'' platform construction: prefabricated concrete; red brick; prefabricated concrete cast components. A rarity, the track foot crossing, is also in view, occupying a site it once shared with a single track linking a pair of wagon turntables. The Saxby & Farmer signal box formerly resided behind the platform in the foreground, upon a site in-between the pair of lamp posts on the right. The village of Orlestone, which was once borne on the name boards, is located ⅔-mile to the north-west. © David Glasspool

17th August 2008

A view of the façade shows the slate-roofed pagoda-style canopy, which extends around three sides of the building. Unusually, the upper floor of the southern elevation is whitewashed, but this paint scheme has for long been a feature of this particular section of wall (and, indeed, associated chimney stack). The elevated stage to the right of the main building, immediately behind the parking spaces, was once host to a corrugated iron shed. © David Glasspool