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Journal of the Rother Valley Railway Supporters’ Association Issue 45 Editor: Mike Pease ‘Penfro’, 5 Pembury Road, TUNBRIDGE WELLS, Kent, TN2 3QY. E-mail: Copyright: The Rother Valley Railway Supporters’ Association and contributors as named.

Autumn 2008

Managers: Buffet: Jo Weddell; Shop: Ian Sharp; Outside Events: Chris Sweatman Rother Valley Railway Ltd.


Directors: David Felton (Chairman & Co. Secretary); D.Rimmer; R. Seaborne; J. Snell

RVRSA phone no.: 01580 881833 RVR website:

Reg. Office: 3-4 Bower Terrace, MAIDSTONE, Kent, ME16 8RY


Chief Mechanical Engineer: Dave Rimmer Civil Engineer: Gardner Crawley

Web Master: Trevor Streeter

Rother Valley Railway Supporters Association Officers: Dave Rimmer (Chairman); Mike Pease ( Vice Chair & Secretary); David Felton (Treasurer); Helen Brett; Trevor Streeter (Membership Secretary) Steve Griffiths

Health & Safety Consultant: Lesley Eves

Rother Valley Railway Heritage Trust: Trustees:

Gardner Crawley (Chairman); Peter Davis; Roy Seaborne; John Snell


EDITORIAL . . . . . . So far, 2008 has been a year of good, solid achievement. The platform is nearing completion. Fencing throughout the station site has been renewed. The café/shop building has undergone a comprehensive exterior facelift, with its interior soon to follow. Principal buildings have been repainted, and eyesore areas cleaned up and planted with flowers or vegetables to supply the café. Both the tractor and the digger are shortly to receive new engines. The upgrading of the trackwork to a standard acceptable for passenger running is almost complete. Regular volunteer numbers have risen, and more are about to join their ranks. We are now open to the public on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year. Active members have every right to feel proud of all that they have achieved in a remarkably short time. As a result, we can now give serious thought to extending the services on offer to the public. Firstly, we must remember that our main task is to restore the rail link between Robertsbridge and Bodiam, enabling the Kent & East Sussex Railway to connect with the national rail system. All over the country, heritage railways such as the North Norfolk, the West Somerset, the Spa Valley and the Bluebell are well aware that increasing business must not result in a rise in car journeys with which local road systems cannot cope. In addition, lines such as the Keighley & Worth Valley are already being approached with a view to train companies purchasing ‘paths’ for modern diesel units to provide commuter services which will run directly through to major towns during the weekdays when heritage services do not run – a very attractive source of income for such lines, and a way for local and regional government to provide a rail ‘reopening’ without the crippling costs imposed by Westminster on Network Rail which have prevented the Uckfield – Lewes reinstatement. The alternative – some form of park-and-ride scheme at Salehurst, Junction Road or even Bodiam – would mean the need to accommodate an ever increasing number of cars accessing the line, with widened country lanes and a large area of tarmac for them to park in. This destruction of yet more countryside would be totally unacceptable. We must play our part in publicising the K. & E.S.R., our own efforts and existing cycle and footpath access to Bodiam by an eye-catching Information Centre display and associated posters. Secondly, now that our main building looks more attractive, we must upgrade our signs around the car park and on the approach road. This project is already in hand, and the new railway-style signboards in our red and cream colours will shortly begin to make their appearance. Thirdly, we must look carefully at the costs and benefits of publicity in the local press. A small but eye-catching display advert in a regional paper could lead to a significant increase in visitor numbers, but our limited funds need to be well targeted. Fourthly, with the day on which external inspectors arrive to assess our line for public service coming ever closer, we need to devise a group of ‘products’ which will complement the offerings of the K. & E.S.R. rather 3

than pointlessly competing with them. A timetabled ‘service’ over our modest length of track would be inappropriate, but the following could prove attractive: a. A ‘Turn Up and Drive’ offering, enabling visitors to drive a diesel shunter under supervision and receive a commemorative certificate, for £5. b. A Family Party offering, suitable for birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions, during which the group would be able to travel up and down the line several times with different members of the group driving under supervision. Photographs of the event, commemorative certificates for the drivers and a high tea would be included within the price. c. A formal training course for diesel shunter driving, the contents and delivery of which would be negotiated and monitored by the Heritage Railway Association. On many heritage lines it is currently very difficult for newcomers – especially older volunteers – to receive driver training. At the same time, there are frequently shortages of drivers who can be rostered to perform the modest task of shunting the yard. This course would seek to fill that gap. We need to increase our regular income substantially in order to finance our next ‘push’ towards North Bridge Street. Do you have any other ideas? Would you be willing to come and help make them work? Let’s hear from you!

Mike Pease

Prize Draw Winners June July August

Barbara Clinton John Hunt Roderick Bruce

Glynn Davis Glynn Davis Tom Long

The Prize Draw has made a significant contribution to the funds of the Supporters Association.



One way or another, there’s quite a lot of framing going on around the Railway this Autumn. The largest of all is the giant casting frame which Dave Rimmer has welded together out of old rail sections and other pieces of steel scrap. This will be used to cast the sections of platform edging slab needed to ensure that passengers can board our trains in complete safety, without any risk of falling between platform and carriage. A close look will reveal that each member has been welded with a slight outward cant towards the top, enabling the cast sections to be released without difficulty. To ensure that no cracking occurs, the concrete mix will be reinforced by both gravel and steel mesh.

On a slightly smaller scale, a specialist will be visiting the Railway shortly to fit reinforced glazing into several window apertures. The Matisa diesel loco. is ready for attention, as are the window openings on the Smith Rodley crane. A new swing door has now been fitted to the crane, replacing the previous sliding mechanism. Patrons of the buffet will soon be able to catch a glimpse of work on the platform when the long-awaited glass panel is fitted into the rear door of the building. The sliding cab side window frames of the diesel shunter Dougal have been refurbished by Mike Pease and refitted.



Paul has been working away quietly on the Drewry diesel shunter, removing rust and protecting the metal with weatherproof primer. He is also refurbishing the cab interior, notably the wooden floor for which he has made new sections. It’s not spectacular work, but it ‘s thanks to him that this shunter has stood up so well to the Rother Valley weather. Provided there are some fine days before the frosts set in, we should soon be seeing this loco. in its final paint finish of R.V.R. Midnight Blue.


The line’s green credentials have been further enhanced by Helen Brett’s continuing work on the vegetable garden, which has already yielded a variety of fresh produce for the Buffet . . . new potatoes have featured on the menu, and have also been taken home by some members! The latest addition is a greenhouse next to the tram area, and we look forward to some more exotic crops in the New Year.



The new entrance ramp to the platform is nearing completion, and is a credit to all involved. It is designed to allow easy wheelchair access, and its sturdy fencing will also provide handrails for other passengers with limited mobility. The design of the fencing follows the pattern used by the original K. & E.S.R. as closely as possible, as seen in numerous early pictures of the line. Special mention must be made of Geoff’s excellent brickwork at the base of the fencing and in the low brick walls bordering the picnic area. Geoff has recently taken on Steve as an ‘apprentice’, and the new team are making steady progress.



Mike Pease has spent much of the Summer on top of the roof of the Buffet/Shop building, stripping off the life-expired felt and bitumen waterproof strip and cleaning out the joints between the fibreglass roof panels. Repeated expansion and contraction had caused the old covering to split, allowing water to seep into the joints and then travel down the inside of the roof and trickle down the inside of the walls. The jointing has now been filled in with fibreglass matting and resin. The downpours during August were a stiff test of the new waterproofing, and, thankfully, there have been no further leaks. It only remains now to fix the leaks in the window seals! It’s important that the roof looks smart and well maintained because it is open to view from our platform and from the footbridge on the mainline station. With this in mind, it has been painted in a blue/grey heavy duty garage floor paint.


A warm welcome to Joe and Ann, our new Buffet staff. It’s no easy task to provide hot meals and drinks to all the working volunteers and to serve the visiting public at the same time. Pay a visit to the Buffet on any Sunday at lunchtime, and you’ll see what we mean! Not only have these capable newcomers continued the service that Derek Masters provided, but they


have extended opening times to included Saturdays as well – no mean feat. Joe – no stranger to catering for large groups of people, having previously worked at Butlins – enlisted on the Food Hygiene ( level 2 ) course provided in Tunbridge Wells by the Borough’s Environmental Health Department. Mike Pease also volunteered to undertake this training, and both passed with flying colours on 15th. July. As a result, they’ve been nicknamed the ‘clean boys’! Joe has ambitious plans for the Buffet, based on the fact the premises have already been passed by the local Health Inspector for cooking for the public. Home made cakes have already put in an appearance, and his apple pies have won universal acclaim!


Mike, Ken, Chris and Trevor have all been involved in providing an R.V.R.S.A. presence at several key events in the region. It’s important that we meet the public in this way, since it enables us to explain our project, to enlist support and also to attract new members. The resulting sale of railway books also provides some welcome revenue. We’ve recently revisited the Robertsbridge Craft Fair, and have made new friends at Uckfield and at the Worthing Model Railway Club Show. In addition, we’ve been back to the Hoppers’ event at the K.& E.S.R. Plenty of interest was shown at all of these events, and we exhausted our stocks of membership leaflets – always a good sign.


MODEL RAILWAY EXHIBITION 25th and 26th April 2009

INCOME & EXPENDITURE ACCOUNT Following the report in the Summer issue on the 2008 Model Railway Exhibition, I set out below, for the members’ information, the financial results of the weekend. INCOME: Entrance Admissions ( Total admissions: 403 – Adult 341; Child 62 ) Hall Buffet Income from Stallholders Donations Tombola Takings

£ 921.52 £ 162.82 £ 75.00 £ 22.90 £ 44.80 ________ £1,227.04

EXPENSES: Hire of Hall Exhibitors’ Expenses Exhibitors’ Lunches Newspaper Advertising Insurance

£ 244.90 £ 105.00 £ 93.60 £ 64.45 £ 48.40 ________ £ 556.35


£ 670.69

PLUS: RVRSA BUFFET Net Income for Weekend RVRSA SHOP Income for Weekend

£ 32.37 £ 389.25



David Felton Hon. Treasurer


A Merry Funeral on the Rother Valley In a year in which railway enthusiasts celebrate 50 years of railway preservation and 40 years since the last steam on B.R., Helen Brett tells the story of the last regular passenger train from Robertsbridge to Tenterden Town. The end of passenger services over the Rother Valley Railway (Kent & East Sussex Railway) (British Railways) came on Saturday 4th January 1954. An incredible 1000 people turned out for chance of a last trip over the line, a few more than the usual 6 or so. If even 10% had used the line on a regular basis may be it would not have had to close. As Mr Allcorn, Station Master at Robertsbridge said, they expected around perhaps 300 to ride in the six-coach special not over three times that number. One wonders how they all managed to get on the train! It must have been a tight squeeze.

The train left Headcorn at 3.40 p.m. and at each station and halt along the 22 mile route crowds lined the platforms, ready to press into the already crowded train. The atmosphere was one of celebration, a picnic: a ‘gay funeral’ as one called it. How come it’s only the British who celebrate a defeat or loss? At several of the stations there were people dressed in mourning – the men in frock coats and the women in widow’s weeds. At High Halden a company of the Home Guard joined the train to increase the festive

mood. At Tenterden a string was attached to the rear engine whistle and held at the other end by a woman who wanted to blow the whistle as the train departed, which she did by walking alongside the train until the string was pulled out of her hand.

Wreaths were placed on the loco’s and at one station a salute was fired by shot guns as the train pulled out. Motorists followed the train by road and there was a cacophony of shouts and motor horns at each level crossing. For many people this was a memorable journey. They had attended the ‘funeral’ of not just another railway but an institution and part of their lives. It died because in that age anything uneconomical could not be tolerated and ‘the road was king’. The train was pulled by ‘O1’ class 31064 from Headcorn to Rolvenden where two ‘Terriers’ 32655 and 32678 took over to continue to Robertsbridge, the ‘O1’ being too heavy for some of the bridges on the Valley section of the line. The driver of the lead ‘Terrier’ was Fred Hazel who had been with the line for 18 years and his fireman was Robert Blair who had been with the line for 30 years. Two Hastings men were the crew of the other ‘Terrier’. The train was half an


hour late in leaving Robertsbridge but nobody complained.

Before she left, Signalman-porter Algernon Bean handed the ‘staff’ to the driver for the last time. Mr Bean had worked at Robertsbridge for 33 years, and although he had not been attached to the K&ESR he had always seen their trains in and out. Handing the ‘staff’ to Driver Hazel was one of Mr Beans last jobs as a railwayman as he was about to retire.

The last passenger day was over. Little did local people know that 20 years later, in 1974, the first passenger train under a newlyrevived Kent & East Sussex Railway would herald the beginning of a new era for this much-loved local line.

Note: the above article has also appeared in a recent edition of the ‘Villager’ magazine.

Our thanks are due to John ScottMorgan for allowing the photographs from his collection to be reproduced here.

On the return journey the celebrations continued amongst the passengers although the numbers decreased at each station and halt. At Rolvenden the front ’Terrier’ was uncoupled and 31064 attached. The rear ’Terrier’ assisted the train up the bank to Tenterden Town and onto Tenterden St Michael’s where it was uncoupled and returned to shed at Rolvenden.


The Plym Valley Railway . . . A Lesson For Us, Maybe? The river Plym runs through a beautiful wooded valley to the east of Plymouth. The Plym Valley Railway consists of a quarter-mile of restored track on the old G.W.R. route which wound up the valley to Tavistock on the edge of Dartmoor. The group of volunteers is about to add an extra half mile of track, having purchased the trackbed from the local Council. There is a well-used cyclepath adjacent to the railway. The Railway’s objective is Plym Bridge, a beauty spot with fields and picnic areas next to the fastflowing river. “ Woolworth’s Specials”, so-called because the fare was 6d., used to run from Plymouth, and were very popular as a family outing in the days of steam services.

I was welcomed, especially when I said that I was part of another railway group. One of the Directors took time out to tell me what they were doing. He took me round their loco. shed, off-

limits to the public, explaining that it was a temporary structure of scaffolding poles and corrugated iron. It was no less impressive for that. It had several work bays: in effect, small machine shops. One man was building aluminium 5” gauge track for a miniature railway to be put on site. Others were working on a coach. A Director and a couple of helpers had built a small stone bridge over a stream, including part of the arch. This had taken three years. The result is fully in character with G.W.R. practice. The group is about to install a level crossing for the cycle path at the end of the present track. After that, they are ready to put down a further quarter mile of track as far as Plym Bridge.

All the running stock was freshly painted. This included an attractive ex - d.m.u. coach which was restored but awaiting some final adjustments. It had windows at one end, enabling rapt small boys to watch the steam billowing out of the Barclay 0-4-0 which provides motive power. On this particular day, the service train had a lady driver, while the staff member who was taking the tickets was also explaining their plans for the future to the passengers. He sounded positive and confident. Tickets cost £2 for a single trip, with a Rover ticket costing £4 13

entitling the owner to 4 trips. The Railway is open on alternate Sundays. On the day of my visit, there was a steady stream of parents and children.

Underneath an old oak tree stood a cheerful lady with a broad west country accent in front of a table laden with bric-abrac. T noticed a pair of binoculars for £10. These were sold later on. There were teapots, records, C.D.s …. anything. All came from members’ homes. I was surprised to hear that she makes about £120 ever day, all of which goes into the railway’s coffers. All of the visitors had a look at the table as they entered the station, often lingering for several minutes. The café sold home made cakes for 70p. These were excellent. The café, museum and toilet buildings were new, made from containers and painted in the appropriate G.W.R. colours. The staff were lined up in uniform plus hats to welcome passengers. The average number of visitors per day opened is 200. What happens further up the line? I walked the trackbed to find out. It climbs steadily through forest, crosses a viaduct, and eventually emerges through a long, curved tunnel onto open, rolling farmland and

the edge of Dartmoor. The tunnel is lit and tarmac’d so that people can cycle through it. On that August Saturday it was wellused: parents were towing small people on little bikes, and twoseater buggies contained small children. I even saw the family dog in one of these, looking very pleased with itself. There is a further dramatic curved viaduct, 100 feet or more above the wooded valley. Yelverton station still exists, although it is privately owned. There is a 600 yard tunnel underneath Yelverton itself. Unfortunately, the station at Horrabridge has been demolished and replaced by luxury housing with ‘twee’ names such as “The Sidings” and “The End of the Line”.

Sustrans has done an excellent job with the cycle path, but I could not help but feel sad that such a scenic line was inoperative as a railway. The magnificent G.W.R. bridges are still intact, characteristically wide for the former broad gauge single track line. If this line could be re-opened to Horrabridge, if not to Tavistock, it would be a world-class attraction. I found the old South Tavistock station on this route. This is a magnificent building, high up on a hillside. When I went onto the


platform, I found …. A wooden fence, a row of back gardens and small modern terraced houses. How sad. 30 yards further on, there was a perfect viaduct leading to another G.W.R. bridge … in the undergrowth! What a waste. I was told by a staff member on the Plymouth – Gunnislake train that there are plans to link Bere Alston back to Tavistock. That could well link into the Okehampton line. I had trouble finding the Plym Valley site because there was no obvious indication of the

Railway from the main road into Plymouth. A brown tourist sign would increase the Railway’s publicity exposure. What is the organisational structure? There are no Trustees. The railway is not a charity, by choice. All Directors are elected by members, so it is fully democratic. Everyone has a Voice. All Directors are actively involved and are present on site. In summary, I was impressed by the enthusiasm and the sense of progress. K.C. Hammond

NEWS FROM OUR POLISH FRIENDSHIP RAILWAYS In August 2007, a party of Association members toured Poland, meeting volunteers from a wide range of railway preservation schemes and talking to them about their experiences. One year on, I was able to fly out there again, meet up with our friend and guide Andrew Goltz and find out what progress some of these projects had made. I was pleasantly surprised at the transformations evident at two locations: the Pionki Forest Railway in central Poland and the Pyskowice Railway Museum down south in the former heavy industrial area of Upper Silesia. Pawel Szwed of the Pionki Forest Railway is definitely a man on a mission: he is the manager of an ambitious scheme to rebuild a two foot gauge lumber railway on its former course through some of the country’s most attractive woodlands to a picnic and recreation area already created by Poland’s equivalent of the Forestry Commission. With very limited finances, he has adopted the sensible policy of concentrating on modest projects which immediately enhance his railway’s appeal to the public. The result of each project is, therefore, an increase in visitor numbers and revenue, enabling the first few turns of a ‘virtuous spiral’ to be generated. As these improvements accumulate, he will be able to put aside capital for later, more ambitious, improvements. In the year since our last visit, the railway has upgraded its existing system of trackwork in its yard, enabling stock


to be shunted and short demonstration trains to be run. This means that there is always something happening to attract the interest of visitors. In addition, visitors are able to take a turn at driving one of the diesel shunters under supervision. There is also a pump trolley on a dedicated length of track on which visitors can try their hand at moving the vehicle up and down . . . completely out of the question under British Health and Safety rules, but great fun for Poles! The static buffet car is a major money-spinner. From a menu of packet snacks, cakes and cold drinks, it has now invested in frying equipment of the type found in K.F.C. fast food outlets. This means that it can offer chicken and fries with no waiting time – highly popular with all age groups. It also now serves ice cold beer in bottles and cans, and the brewery has supplied large branded parasols and picnic tables and seating which are located throughout the site. With a range of ice creams also on offer and an extended, well-drained car park, it’s no wonder that the line has rapidly become a popular venue for a day out.

Pawel’s Ukrainian wife has played a key role in the improvements. She has put has talent for gardening to very effective use by selectively planting small areas between sidings and buildings with small trees, shrubs and bedding plants. She has even transformed derelict machinery such as old wheel lathes and an agricultural steam engine into attractive features by training climbing flowering plants over them! The extent of the visual improvement has to be seen to be believed, and the sums involved were very modest.



the then Cranbrook & Paddock Wood Railway ( later to become the Hawkhurst Branch of the South Eastern & Chatham Railway ) obliged him to struggle with a limited budget while still having to spend substantial sums of money on trackwork, signalling and civil engineering to satisfy the terms of current railway legislation. While station buildings such as those at Hawkhurst and Horsmonden were the first in the typical ‘Stephens style’ of wooden framework clad in corrugated iron, stationmasters’ houses and the Hawkhurst goods shed were substantial brick structures. The young engineer must have concluded even then that such a rural line with its out-of-town stations and lightly loaded trains of farm produce could have been built far more cheaply.

The enduring image of a typical Colonel Stephens railway is one of run-down second or third-hand equipment, weed-infested track, ramshackle buildings and slow, infrequent services. However, to accept this as true would be to do this pioneer of the Light Railway concept a grave injustice. Holman Fred Stephens ( ‘Holly’ to his friends ), learned a great deal from his extensive practical experience during his Army career which culminated in his appointment as a lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers in 1916. Both logistical and battlefield tasks demanded quick thinking, effective planning, and the ability to make the most of limited resources. As a young man of 22, Stephens was able to gain first hand practical experience of the problems of constructing a rural railway feeding into a busy main line. His first railway job as Resident Engineer of

The passing of the Light Railways Act of 1896 gave him the opportunity to put his ideas into practice. When the Rother Valley Railway was constructed, the passenger rolling stock and locomotives were certainly not ‘hand-me-downs’ from the major networks. The smart new 2-4-0s were purpose-built lightweight machines, and their coaches were likewise brand new four-wheelers: spartan maybe, but designed for their role. The sight of one of these new trains steaming towards Rolvenden must surely have impressed farm labourers in the 17

fields and given rise to a degree of pride in the local community.

The Colonel’s penchant for innovation also led him to commission a lightweight steam railcar for passenger services. Sadly, this bold experiment was not a success, despite dogged perseverance with the project and numerous modifications. It languished in the sidings at Rolvenden for years, before the framework of the body was used as a mounting for a water tank in the yard.

The advent of the first commercially produced road lorries in the early 1920’s led to a much more successful venture: the petrol-driven railbus. The concept was simple: two Ford lorry chassis with standard engines were fitted with purpose-built wooden bodies similar to those used on early rural buses. The driver occupied one of the two ‘wells’ containing the controls, according to the direction of travel. The seats were wooden benches and, combined with the primitive suspension, provided a ride which was lively, to say the least!

Despite their simple construction, these railbuses, constructed both by Ford and Shefflex, provided economical transport for the farming communities for many years, and also helped to save on operating costs throughout the Stephens railway empire. Indeed, they also cut the costs of the smallest goods shipments when a further innovation – a small truck usually inserted between the vehicles – was added to the formation. You can see one of the railbuses in action in a fascinating three minute film showing continuously in the excellent Colonel Stephens Museum at Tenterden. The constant presence of drifting smoke bears witness to the fact that the footage was shot from a steam locomotive travelling just in front! So, far from being cheeseparing, the Colonel was enthusiastic and positive in his approach to light rail. Like all pioneers, he had his failures. However, as our country lanes are pounded to pieces by heavy lorries, and as the impending re-write of the government guidelines for new rail projects shows, ‘Holly’s’ vision was simply way ahead of its time. Mike Pease With thanks to Helen Brett for biographical information, and to John Scott-Thomas for his kind permission to use photographs from his collection.







There’s always a large collection of used model railway equipment, especially in TT which is our speciality.


You’ll be amazed at what we have on offer: railway sleepers in jarrah and pine, historic railchairs from pre-1923 railway companies, electric 3rd. rail insulators, railway clothing, replica works plates and much, much more.



08q3 Phoenix  

News and Views of th eRother Valley Railway

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