1842: The coming of the railway
Tonbridge's first station, 1842 (THS18.041)
The railway reached Tonbridge in 1842, with the arrival of the South Eastern
Railway's (SER) main line from Redhill to Folkestone. A station was built on the
site of the old Priory, on the opposite side of the road bridge from the present
In 1845 a line to Tunbridge Wells (and Hastings) was opened by the SER.
Because of the 1 in 47 gradient down which trains approached Tonbridge from the
Ashford direction, the junction for Tunbridge Wells faced east, requiring all
trains until 1857 to reverse direction.
The 'new' station, early 20thC (THS18.004)
Competition with the London, Chatham and Dover Railway's (LCDR) route from
Victoria to Dover led to the SER constructing a more direct route to London via
Sevenoaks and Orpington; this opened in 1868. The station was moved to its
present site at this time and the new building on the bridge is substantially
that which exists today, after 'makeovers'.
Tonbridge station in 1888 (THS18.005)
At rail level a significant rebuild of the facilities took place in 1934. The platforms were lengthened and the up
side buildings were replaced so that the line to the bay platform could be
extended through under the road bridge (now platform 1).The locomotive shed, located between the main line and the branch to
Tunbridge Wells, was provided by the SER, probably from the opening of the line.
An allocation of 64 locomotives in 1947 reflects Tonbridge's importance as a
railway centre. It was closed followed the demise of steam in this area in 1965.
Pictures of the 1909 railway disaster were soon on sale in the town. (THS18.030)
Tonbridge has been the site of one particularly well-known accident. On 5th
March 1909 a train from Redhill overran a signal and was hit by one coming from
the Sevenoaks line. Two railwaymen on the first locomotive were killed. The
Royal train, with King Edward VII en route to Biarritz, was delayed at Orpington
and had to return to Chislehurst and take the former LCDR route to the channel.
Despite Southern Railway plans for electrification of the Hastings line, by
1939 electric trains only reached Sevenoaks. Modernisation in the form of
diesel-electric multiple units on the London to Hastings service came in 1957 and
this line was electrified in 1986. The main line to Dover was electrified in
1961, leaving the original line from Redhill to be run by steam until January
1965; the whole future of this line remained in doubt, with diesel multiple
units providing the service, until it was finally electrified in 1994.
The railway changed Tonbridge in several ways. It altered the
shape of the town, with extensive new development at the south end, drove the
Medway Navigation Company out of business, and made possible the commuter life-style still shared
by thousands of Tonbridgians.
The down 'Golden Arrow' passing Tonbridge's East Yard (THS18.043)
>More railway pictures
on this website
More information about
railway station and
west goods yard is on the very comprehensive
Kent Rail website.