The Kent & East Sussex Railway by Brian Hart
ISBN 978 I 905184 57 6 288 pages Casebound in dark blue boards with gilt spine, dust jacket.
Wild Swan Publications £34.95
Reputedly Lt. Col. Holman F. Stephens’ favourite line, the ‘Kent and East Sussex’ simply charmed everyone who came to know this highly-characterful railway with its remote stations, appealing rolling stock and unorthodox methods of operation.
Commencing with numerous 19th century efforts to bring the railway to Tenterden, the author lucidly explains the reasons behind the eventual arrival of the Rother Valley Light Railway. Particular attention has been paid to these formative years, whereby it has been possible to reveal many long-forgotten accounts which have never before appeared in railway books.
A similar approach has been taken with the early years of the K&ESR, as the RVLR became in 1905, when its extension to Headcorn was opened. Throughout his narrative, the author breathes life into an intriguing story of a small concern, overshadowed by the major railway companies and pitted against growing competition from road hauliers.
The Colonel’s highly-ambitious plans to expand his enterprise yet further are also explained in some detail. Particularly evident is the ebb and flow of public opinion in Edwardian days, which also provides some telling insights into Stephens’ vision and determination.
Following the ruination of the Great War with its wake of economic depression and social upheaval, this brave independent railway was pushed to the verge of collapse by 1930. Rescued largely through the efforts of Stephens’ successor, W. H. Austen, a truly remarkable renaissance then followed, thanks partly to the assistance offered by the Southern Railway Company. However, nationalization in 1948 changed attitudes, whereas the new British Railways Board clearly wished to rid itself of this anachronism as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, a somewhat agonizing demise lasted until the summer of 1961, where this history draws to a decisive conclusion.
The author’s sole intent is to offer a contribution towards our knowledge of this railway and he is at pains to stress that this book is not intended as any kind of exhaustive account. He suggests a descriptive subtitle could be ‘The Life and Times of a Local Railway’ and merely hopes that the reader might follow him on what proved to be a journey of discovery and delight through an era and a world that has now entirely vanished.