Some Early Lines
The Spa Valley Railway
Diesel haulage from Eridge
A group had chartered this train on the Spa Valley Railway for the day, but invited members of the public to join them for a reasonable fee for a day rover ticket. It was “topped and tailed” by two diesel locomotives. Here, 33063 is at the rear of the train as it leaves Eridge; 37153 was hauling. © Copyright Stephen Craven and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The Spa Valley Railway (SVR) is a standard gauge heritage railway that runs from Tunbridge Wells West railway station in Tunbridge Wells to High Rocks, Groombridge, and Eridge, where it links with the Oxted Line. En route it crosses the Kent and East Sussex border, a distance of 5 miles (8 km), along the former Three Bridges to Tunbridge Wells Central Line / Cuckoo Line. The railway headquarters is at Tunbridge Wells West railway station.
The railway was engineered by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway’s (LB&SCR) Chief Engineer Frederick Banister, as part of the East Grinstead, Groombridge and Tunbridge Wells Railway (EGGTWR), itself an extension to the Three Bridges to East Grinstead Railway which had been completed in 1855.
The EGGTWR was part of a regional race between the LB&SCR and the SER, and a specific race to access the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells:
“ The LBSC was becoming concerned at threatened incursions by the [SER] on its territory. So a battle was on. Tunbridge Wells was first reached from East Grinstead in 1866 via Groombridge. Two years later, with the South Eastern Railway (SER) looking towards Lewes, the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway countered with a line from Groombridge to Uckfield. ”
The LB&SCR opened Tunbridge Wells West in 1866 as the eastern terminus of the EGGTWR; there was also an extension to Tunbridge Wells Central. From Tunbridge Wells West there were direct services to the South Coast at Brighton and Eastbourne and to London Victoria. The Victoria services ran via Groombridge and Ashurst. As a sign outside the station proudly proclaimed, “New Route to London: Shortest, Quickest and Most Direct. Frequent Express Trains.”
This is a shared station. The left hand track here is under the control of the private Spa Valley Railway. The right hand track is owned by Network Rail and served by Southern Railway trains in both directions on the Uckfield branch. SVR has its own part-time booking office on the platform; Southern’s booking office is on the footbridge. © Copyright Stephen Craven and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The Spa Valley Railway (SVR) has its origins in a charitable society formed on 13 September 1985, to purchase and reopen the Tunbridge Wells West to Eridge line. Named the Tunbridge Wells and Eridge Railway Preservation Society (TWERPS), it began a long struggle to reopen the line. The campaign received a setback in the late 1980s when Tunbridge Wells Borough Council gave planning permission for the construction of a large Sainsburys supermarket complex on the site of the derelict goods yard of Tunbridge Wells West. While the 1891 locomotive shed and station building were protected as listed buildings, the remaining area of the site was obliterated, including the goods shed and signal boxes. However, planning permission was subject to the condition that the developer pay for construction of a new station platform and restoration of the engine shed.
In 1996 the North Downs Steam Railway relocated from Dartford, where it was experiencing vandalism problems, and merged with TWERPS. It transferred its assets and helped establish a base in the former LB&SCR locomotive shed. Also in 1996, the group acquired the line as far as Birchden Junction. Alongside the loco shed a new platform was built, from where services began running to Cold Bath Bridge (about 0.75 mile away) in December 1996. Services were extended to Groombridge in August 1997 and to Birchden Junction in 2005.
In 2007, SVR marked the tenth anniversary of the opening of the line by transforming Groombridge into a busy interchange station, with trains arriving or departing every 15 minutes. The funds raised from this event went towards the “Return to Eridge” appeal to raise £500,000 for the extension to the Uckfield main line at Eridge. The heritage railway finally re-opened the line to Eridge on 25 March 2011Groombridge station
A view from Station Road bridge © Copyright Stephen Craven and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The SVR provides a way of getting to other local tourist attractions, such as Groombridge Place, High Rocks and the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells. On 25 March 2011 the SVR extended passenger services to Eridge, where there is a footbridge interchange with Southern services on the London Bridge to Uckfield line.
The railway holds a number of special event days, including A Day Out with Thomas weekends, Santa Specials, and both steam and heritage diesel weekends.
Bagnall 2193/1922 – Under assessment at Spa Valley Railway.
Pictured at work at West Cannock Colliery. Chasewater Railway Museum Collection.