Tunbridge Wells West

Central Division

 

Under British Railways, the shed saw a revival in the range of motive power. From 1951, pre-Grouping types gave way to Brighton-built 2-6-4 Standard Tanks, and ex-LMS Ivatt and Fairburn tank engines also began arriving in force. This was followed about four years later by the partial rebuilding of the shed: the brick pitched roofs and sets of wooden doors were dispensed with, and in their, place, a four-pitched asbestos roof appeared. There had also been alterations on the platform during the same period: concrete bracket lampposts supporting electric lighting had replaced gas lamps. Although located within Kent, the ‘’West’’ station very much remained a Central Division operation, and the shed came under Brighton’s wing.

By the mid-1950s, service frequency between the ‘’West’’ and ‘’Central’’ stations had improved considerably, with 31 trains traversing the single-track from Grove Junction, two of which were freight. However, it was the subsequent decade which would mark a general decline for the site, and herald the closures of many surrounding lines. Good facilities were the first casualty, these closing on 4th September 1961 – such traffic was concentrated on the large yard on the ex-SER line, just north of Wells Tunnel. Thereafter, the impressive goods shed at the ‘’West’’ station remained standing, and its associated track was used for rolling stock storage. In the next year, steam traction began to be phased out rapidly at the site, following the deployment of the first Class 207 (as they later became) DEMUs on the Oxted line. Built at Eastleigh, these units – which eventually numbered nineteen – monopolised workings to and from the station by the Summer of 1963, which resulted in the engine shed formally being closed to steam traction in September of that year. The turntable had disappeared some two years earlier, and despite the official closure date, the shed site was still used for a short time thereafter for stabling the remaining steam locomotives on the route. The Dr Beeching report of 1964 ensured there were local line closures: the first to go was the delightfully named ‘’Cuckoo Line’’, between Hailsham and Eridge, this having its swansong on 14th June 1965. The truncated remains between Hailsham and Polegate went out of use on 9th September 1968. The next line to be axed was that between Three Bridges and Ashurst Junction via East Grinstead, this going out of use on 2nd January 1967. The line to Uckfield survived the cull of the era, but the section between this town and Lewes went out of use on 4th May 1969. Services over the single-track spur between the two Tunbridge Wells stations also began to decline.

Goods traffic may have disappeared, and available routes may have been severely cut, but the ‘’West’’ station managed, quite remarkably, to escape layout rationalisation. Virtually all the sidings south of the platforms were retained, the two signal boxes - complete with semaphores - remained in use, the goods shed still stood proudly, and the engine shed had gained a new lease of life housing Class 207 DEMUs. Sadly, however, the station would not again experience the hustle and bustle of its early BR, Grouping, and pre-Grouping days. All platform faces remained extant, but these never saw the levels of traffic experienced by the two platforms at ‘’Central’’ station. Unfortunately, British Rail sectorisation would sound the death bell for the tranquil line to Eridge. By 1983, modernisation of the Tonbridge to Hastings line had been confirmed. The route was to be electrified to allow stock originally procured for the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme, to be deployed, replacing the existing ‘’Hastings’’ DEMUs. To overcome the restrictive loading gauge posed by the line, double-track sections within tunnels would narrow and overlap each other, to permit the running of normal stock. The implementation of interlaced track over single-track sections was a cheaper option, and removed the cost and maintenance associated with moving parts – i.e. points. In addition to the electrification, the line was to be re-signalled, and if such was to occur, then it had to be implemented on the ‘’West’’ branch, too. The line through to Eridge was a lightly-used one, operating on a shoestring to reduce costs. As part of the whole modernisation programme, the track would also require relaying, a cost which British Rail deemed a waste of resources. Thus, it was announced that the branch to Eridge, via the ‘’West’’ station, would be subject to closure on 16th May 1983. Local opposition to the plans could, however, only delay closure for a short while, and on 6th July 1985 the last services ran. For a short time afterwards, the sidings were still used to stable copious amounts of DEMUs, and the futures of two structures had been made secure – those of the main station building and the engine shed. Both had received listed status, thus would be preserved for posterity, but the goods shed was not so lucky. The track at the station remained in situ for quite a while after the official closure, the first significant lengths not being lifted until late 1988. However, by March of the following year, virtually all of it had gone, and the engine shed’s entrance had been fenced off. Tragically, the historic site was sold off for commercial redevelopment, which saw the unique goods shed demolished and the whole area up to the northern elevation of the island platform disappear underneath a supermarket complex.

 


1960

 

Ex-SE&CR ''H'' Class No. 31278 caused quite a stir in the sidings, situated to the south of the platforms. In tow is a Bulleid-designed coach. The platform in view, which No. 31278 looks like its is travelling upon, is the island seen on the map on the first page. The signal gantry on the right is that seen on the previous page, at the western end of the station. No. 31278 remained in service until February 1961. © David Glasspool Collection

 


1960

 

The proportions of the huge goods shed can be appreciated in this view, which depicts one of the station's larger visitors. BR Standard 4MT 4-6-0 No. 75074 was allocated to Stewarts Lane at the time, and was paired with a large capacity 5000-gallon tender. © David Glasspool Collection

 


1960

 

''Q'' Class No. 30549 is seen at the helm of a second train, giving the station very much a ''main line'' feel. The carriages on the right belong to that train headed by BR Standard No. 75074, seen in the previous photograph. No. 30549 was allocated to Norwood Junction at this time, and remained in service until July 1963. All that remains from this view today is the platform face on the extreme left - even the canopy has gone. © David Glasspool Collection

 


 

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