The impressive size of Elmstead Woods station belies the fact that, even from the outset, most services have passed through its platforms rather than stopped. The creation of the attractive complex formed part of the SE&CR’s criteria for the quadrupling of the Tonbridge cut-off line between 1900 and 1905. ‘’Elmstead’’, as it was then called, came into use just after four-track running had begun on this section of the line (6th June 1904), the first trains serving the station on 1st July 1904.
In appearance, the site was very much like the rebuilt Orpington, employing the same brickwork and architectural features. However, unlike the latter, Elmstead has never been as busy, nor has it been at a place of strategic importance; the station at Orpington lies at the end of the quadruple track section. With this in mind, structural provision at Elmstead was generous – in fact, excellent by today’s standards. The main station building was erected on the ‘’down’’ side of the slow lines, and was constituted of the same crème brickwork which was prevalent at both Grove Park and Orpington. 20 feet in width and 110 feet in length, the single-storey structure featured a pitched roof and, on its platform-side elevation, supported a 140-foot long canopy. The latter demonstrated the standardised ornate valance which had been implemented at all those stations between Hither Green and Orpington inclusive. The island platform was spacious, being 40-foot at its widest point, and boasted a 185-foot long canopy, which surrounded a brick-built waiting room of just over 50 foot in length. SE&CR canopies such as these appear to have been used by the Southern Railway as the design basis for their equivalent structures of the 1930s – for instance, the 1904 canopies of Orpington are worth comparing with the 1935-built structures at Tonbridge. The island platform at Elmstead was, however, somewhat curious, for its northern half appeared to disappear into a grass embankment, leading to the tunnel portals! This effect has been emphasised in more recent years by the incursion of vegetation right up to the northern limit of the island canopy. Elmstead’s ‘’up’’ side platform on the fast lines featured its own station building, somewhat smaller than its ‘’down’’ side counterpart, being 80-foot in length as opposed to the latter’s 110-foot. However, it was constructed to an identical style as the ‘’down’’ side structure, and was graced with an oversized canopy which extended in the northward direction for an additional 50 foot, beyond the limits of the walls. On this section of route, the line is on a downward gradient in the London direction, which explains why the structures here are built at a slant to the platform surfaces. Finally, all platforms were linked by a 135-foot long covered lattice footbridge, identical in construction to that at Grove Park and an earlier example erected at Gravesend Central, on the North Kent Line.
With the station being a later addition to the route in general, no freight facilities were provided, the enlarged goods yard at nearby Chislehurst instead being sufficient for the area. However, Elmstead could lay claim to its own signal box: this was located just beyond the southern end of the ‘’up’’ fast platform. Being a modern layout, comparatively speaking, and with no additional facilities, the station changed little throughout SE&CR and SR ownership. Indeed, it was known as ‘’Elmstead Woods’’ from 1st October 1908 onwards, despite it instead being surrounded by Rockpit, Cherrywood, and Benjamin Woods - Elmstead Wood (note the singular) was located just beyond these, to the north. The woodland north of the platforms is of significance: here, the quadrupled line plunges into a pair of double-track tunnels. At this point, it would have been less costly and more convenient for the SER (when constructing the original double-track of 1865) to excavate a cutting, rather bore a tunnel. However, the tunnel requirement was forced upon the railway company by the landowner. Building of new lines often clashed with the wishes of landowners of the day – indeed, the LC&DR’s line to Sevenoaks Bat & Ball had to terminate on the town’s outskirts due to opposition from this group. When the cut-off line was quadrupled to Orpington between 1900 and 1904, the SE&CR bored a second tunnel alongside the existing one at Elmstead Woods. Since the soil level around the original tunnel was somewhat thin, the boring of the second passageway sparked a collapse of the former, closing the route for 3½ months during 1903.
The electrification of the ‘’Chatham’ line during 1959 saw Chislehurst Junction ‘’power box’’ come into use on 31st May of that year. The ex-SER route through Chislehurst, up to Elmstead Woods, was re-signalled with colour lights in connection with this, and both station’s mechanical cabins went out of use. The full accelerated electric timetable came into operation on the Tonbridge cut-off line on 18th June 1962; that on the ‘’Chatham’’ route had previously been implemented on 15th June 1959. Concrete lampposts supporting electric lighting had appeared at Elmstead Woods in connection with the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme, but greater change was yet to come. It would appear that demolitions occurred not much over a decade later, the ‘’up’’ side being the recipient of severe economising. The quadruple line is organised into two pairs of double-track: one pair consists of the ‘’up’’ and ‘’down’’ slow lines, the other constitutes the ‘’up’’ and ‘’down’’ fast lines. Of the former, these served the eastern side of the station, which was host to the main station building. Much the same as at Chislehurst, the two platforms on the western half of the station site were rarely used – stock on the fast lines simply passed through non-stop. Therefore, it was decided to demolish the station structure on the ‘’up’’ fast platform. The degrading was somewhat emphasised by the rather mean truncation of the footbridge’s roof by 45-foot – this ensured that passengers who encroached on the ‘’fast’’ side of the station were wholly exposed to the elements! The ‘’down’’ side was not left unaltered, however, and the main building’s canopy was reduced in length at its southern end by just under 15 foot. The island platform was subject to modest change: here, the platform offices were shortened at their northern end by some 25 foot, and a new pitched roof installed on the reduced structure. The island canopy remained its original length during the alterations. Latterly, in 1992, the ‘’down’’ slow and ‘’up’’ fast platforms were extended at their southern ends with prefabricated concrete, to accommodate the proposed twelve-vehicle suburban formations, and the opportunity was also taken to provide some seating on the ‘’up’’ fast platform. Much more recently, in 2005, passengers saw the return of weather protection on this side, but not in the form of a SE&CR-inspired structure. Instead, a single shelter appeared on the still evident foundations of the 1904 building.
"N" Class 2-6-0 No. 31873 is seen at the head of a country-bound assorted freight. Based on the head code, the train has originated from Bricklayers Arms (where No. 31873 was at the time allocated) and about to take the "down" Chislehurst Loop to join the "Chatham" Main Line. The formation is passing through what is today's platform 4 which, today, remains largely the same. Note the splendid SE&CR clover-patterned canopy valances, which continue to be a feature of this spacious station.
© David Glasspool Collection
2nd August 2006
As this northward view shows the immediate environs of the station are still very much rural. The "slow" lines are on the right, the "fast" lines are on the left. The main building is evident on the right-hand side and displays evidence of canopy truncation.
© David Glasspool
2nd August 2006
This view is taken from the "down" side and is looking across to the former site of the "up" building, now occupied by a bench and a waiting shelter. The canopy valance in the foreground is that of the island. This general valance design was at first introduced by the SER and subsequently being implemented by the SE&CR on ex-SER lines. Also in this view can be seen a then recently-installed wooden trellis.
© David Glasspool