Knockholt

The South Eastern Railway (SER) extended passenger services from the St Johns area to Chislehurst on 1st July 1865 as part of the piecemeal opening of its “Tonbridge Cut-Off” line, which would allow trains to avoid the circuitous route between the capital and the Kent Coast via Redhill. Scheduled passenger services reached Sevenoaks on 2nd March 1868 and made the journey throughout to Tonbridge from 1st May of that year; freight traffic, however, had been using the route in its entirety since February. There was no station from the outset upon this route at the site of today’s Knockholt, 16-miles 44-chains from Charing Cross. In 1869, it was noted that the SER had approved the idea of providing a station there:

Report states that the South-Eastern Railway Company have consented to erect a station for the benefit of Halstead, Knockholt, &c. (Kent), providing a site is obtained and a guarantee from the district raised for the cost of building. [The Architect, 30th January 1869]

The station’s opening did not occur until over seven years later; its commissioning was announced by the SER in the press at the time:

SOUTH EASTERN RAILWAY – On the 1st May next, Halstead station (for Knockholt) will be opened for traffic. John Shaw, Manager and Secretary. [London Evening Standard, Monday, 24th April 1876]

The village of Halstead was situated a mile south of the station and, as of 1821, was listed as having forty-two dwellings housing a population of 243, and the parish comprised about 900 acres of land (History of the County of Kent, William Henry Ireland, 1830). In those early years, the village was spelt "Halsted", without the second "a". Knockholt was much further from the line; the village was situated about 2⅔-miles south of the platforms and, as of 1821, had a population of 407.

Halstead, as the station was initially called, was a typical SER countryside affair. Two platforms were situated directly opposite each other either side of the double-track main line, upon each of which were humble structures. The “up” platform was home to the main building; this was a single-storey clapboard structure, about 55-feet long, which comprised a hipped slated roof and sash-style windows, the epitome of a low-cost SER station. A trio of brick chimneystacks protruded through the roof, and over the years this structure became flanked on either side by a series of clapboard satellites. A small porch canopy was fitted above the entrance from the forecourt; the main building also sported an intricate canopy extending over the platform. Of the latter, this had a semi-circular cross section and was fitted with a decorative valance to the same design as that which is still evident at St Johns. The “down” platform was equipped with the same style of canopy; this was approximately 40-feet-long and comprised shallow wraparound sides, essentially making it a large waiting shelter. To the immediate east of the station structures was a lattice footbridge linking both platforms.

From the outset, the most substantial structure of the SER’s site at Halstead was that of the Station Master’s house. This was a spacious two-storey-high detached brick-built property with a hipped slated roof and a large downstairs bay window. It was built on the “up” side of the line, east of the station and above the cutting, and still exists today as a private dwelling.

Goods facilities comprised a trio of sidings on the “up” side, which are shown in the below diagram. Two of these were westward-facing tracks which terminated near the end of the platform; the third siding was positioned beyond the western limits of the station and required a headshunt manoeuvre into one of the aforementioned tracks to access.

Finally, mention should be made of the signal box. This was situated beyond the western end of the “down” platform and was built to the SER’s own in-house design; it was clapboard in construction, two-storeys high, and had that company’s characteristic sash-style windows and hipped slated roof. Indeed, the same style of cabin can still be witnessed at Cuxton, on the Medway Valley Line. The signal box would have come into use later than the station; cabins of this type seem to have started appearing from about the mid-1880s onwards. A map dated 1896 shows the signal box in position, but your author accepts that in the context of railway features, Ordnance Survey editions are not always accurate.


The early layout, when the only sidings were a trio on the "up" side, and a trailing crossover existed east of the platforms. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool


From 1st October 1900, the station assumed its present name of “Knockholt”. Whilst the station had started life as plain “Halstead”, prior to the 1900 renaming the platform run-in boards showed “Halstead Knockholt”. Within the decade, the SE&CR had widened the chalk cutting west of the platforms and laid an additional three sidings on the “down” side of the line there. As the accompanying diagram shows, two of these sidings were lengthy eastward-facing tracks with a trailing connection with the “down” running line; the third was more of a short stub, which terminated by the signal box and required a head shunt manoeuvre to access. On the “up” side, the eastward-facing siding – which also required a head shunt manoeuvre to access – was lengthened, and a trailing crossover inserted between the running lines at this end of the station.

In 1912, it was reported that the rails through Knockholt station had been fastened to reinforced concrete sleepers. However, these sleepers had failed at the site and a photograph showed one of these broken into three pieces:

Southeastern Railway at Knockholt station in which reinforced concrete ties have been used. These ties, I think, are not of as good design as those used in the Italian railways. They have been in service for about two years. A number of them have failed….. by the concrete crushing inside of the rail. It is my opinion that the difficulty in reinforced concrete ties is in a lack of proper analysis of the stresses, and that a tie could be so designed as to properly care for these stresses and thus prevent the breaking down of the tie… [National Association of Cement Users (Kansas City, US), March 1912]


Sidings are now evident on the "down" side, west of the platforms; an additional crossover exists between the running lines, and the eastward-facing "up" siding has been subject to considerable lengthening. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool


During the SE&CR era, a couple of fiery incidents were recorded in the local press:

Fire at Knockholt Station

On Wednesday morning a waggon of hay for Government use caught fire from a spark from the engine in Poll Hill tunnel and was put into Knockholt station. Halstead Parish Council Fire Brigade were quickly on the scene and extinguished the fire. The hay was completely destroyed. [Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser; Friday, 21st August 1914]

Fire at Knockholt

About 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Sevenoaks Fire Brigade received a call to Knockholt Station where it was found that two trucks of goods were well ablaze. The trucks formed part of a goods train which left Sevenoaks at 8.50 p.m. and on arrival at Knockholt Station it was discovered that they were on fire, probably due to a spark from the engine. The trucks were shunted on to a siding, but although the Brigade reached the spot thirteen minutes after receiving the call, it was impossible to save the contents. [The Chronicle and Courier (Sevenoaks), Friday, 8th July 1921]

Under the Southern Railway (SR), scheduled suburban electric services commenced to Orpington from Victoria and Horborn Viaduct via Herne Hill on 12th July 1925. Public electric trains to Orpington from Charing Cross and Cannon Street started running on 28th Ferbruary 1926, and these services were extended south to Sevenoaks on 6th January 1935. As part of the 1935 scheme, both platforms at Knockholt were extended at their western ends using prefabricated concrete; this took the platform surface on the “down” side in front of the signal box.

On the night of 31st January / 1st February 1953, the East Coast of England — in addition to sections of the Belgian coast and the Netherlands — suffered devastating floods, caused by a severe windstorm. As part of the efforts to rebuild the sea defences along the Kent Coast, a quarry was opened in the railway cutting immediately west of Knockholt's platforms. Thousands of tons of chalk were excavated here and transported by rail for use on a three-mile section of coastline between Reculver and Birchington-on-Sea:

100,000 tons of chalk that will be used for Kent’s sea defences: A “grab” crane is seen in operation near Knockholt Railway Station, in Kent, where a large-scale project for moving 100,000 tons of chalk to the Kent Coast is in operation. The chalk will be used for building a new sea-wall between Reculver and Birchington, where the sea water rushed in during the floods. The men are working round the clock loading the chalk onto trains which take it on the long journey to the coast. About six trainloads of chalk are leaving Knockholt every day and it is hoped that the task will be completed within two months. [The Sphere (London), 14th March 1953]

This section of coastline was also supplied with chalk from a pit opened in Ramsgate. Photographs from that time show the “down” sidings at Knockholt, which served the quarry workings, being operated by a Bulleid 350 HP diesel shunter. The diesel was used to push empty wagons under the crane and, once these were loaded with chalk, form them into complete trains. The trains would then be taken onto the coast by Maunsell’s “W” Class 2-6-4 Tanks.

In 1954 the signal box was repainted and, three years later, the platforms were again extended at their western ends using prefabricated concrete components. This was followed in 1962 by the replacement of semaphore signals with colour aspect lights, the latter coming into use between Petts Wood and Hildenborough on 4th March of that year. In spite of colour lights, the existing signal boxes at Chelsfield, Knockholt, and Dunton Green were retained. Each cabin was fitted with a miniature illuminated track diagram and opened on an “as and required” basis; that at Knockholt continued to be used for any freight to and from the sidings. Public goods traffic ceased to be offered at Knockholt from 16th May 1964, but the signal box remained operational until August 1973.


Platform extensions now in place, in addition to redundant chalk excavations being evident, the latter a legacy of quarrying in 1953 in response to the East Coast floods. Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool


The origins of the present (as of 2021) prefabricated concrete footbridge have been tricky for your author to track down. It is of a slightly different design to those which came into use at other stations during the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme. Photographic evidence from the time suggests that the original lattice footbridge did not succumb in the 1959 to 1962 period. Your author surmises that the concrete footbridge emerged in about 1966, for it is identical in design to that which came into use with Southampton Airport station on 1st April of that year.

The most significant changes to the station occurred during the 1984 to 1985 period. The original timber building on the “up” platform was flattened and, in its place, a single-storey ticket office of light brown brick construction emerged. This had an overhanging tiled pitched roof, timber gable, and glazed facade, and was based on the same basic design as those structures which emerged a few years later along the Dartford Loop Line via Sidcup, such as at New Eltham and Lee. At the same time, the “down” side SER canopy with wraparound sides was retained and repainted, and the platforms at least partially resurfaced. Beyond the western ends of the platforms, a new bridge carrying the dual carriageway “Sevenoaks Road” was built over the railway cutting. The platform lampposts were repainted in bright red in May 1986.

A single eastward-facing siding, about 230-yards-long, was still in evidence on the “down” side in summer 1990, beside the exhausted 1953 quarry workings. An adjacent trailing crossover between the running lines was also still in place, although both disappeared over the subsequent decade.


1961

An eastward view shows the SER timber main building in the right background, complete with arched canopy, behind which is the lattice footbridge. In the right distance, at a higher level, can be seen the Station Master's house. "6L" unit No. 1017 is seen passing non-stop with a service from Hastings to Charing Cross via Tonbridge. © David Glasspool Collection


1961

A Type "3" (later Class 33) diesel is seen double-heading with a Sulzer Type "2" (later Class 24) as they lead a Margate to Cannon Street service, routed via Dover Priory and Orpington. For this train, the Sulzer was providing steam heating to the carriage stock, the Type "3" being equipped with electric train heating (ETH) only. The London Midland Region loaned sixteen Sulzer Type "2" diesels to the Southern Region, allocated to Hither Green between 1959 and 1962; since they were fitted with steam boilers, they could be used to heat former steam-hauled stock. The platform extensions dated from about 1957. © David Glasspool Collection


20th October 2006

An eastbound view from much later shows the "up" side (right) ticket office of 1985 and the concrete footbridge of about 1966 origin. The "down" side still retained its traditional canopy, albeit shorn of intricate valance, with timber windbreaks. A cage for secure cycle storage was completed beside the ticket office in early 2020. © David Glasspool