Kent Downs Line Station History
The Kent Downs Line was named in July 2020 by the Kent Community Rail Partnership, to represent the stations that run between Ashford and Otford. The entire line runs from Sevenoaks to Ashford and is often referred to as the Maidstone East Line but among Railwaymen was also nicknamed as ‘The Barley Mow’. The Darent Valley CRP look after the stations between Otford and Sevenoaks.
We are extremely grateful to Steve Beck from Charing & District Local History Society who has kindly shared a detailed history of the line and its link with Charing for your enjoyment. If you would like to read this click here.
Here is a collection of images from the past and information about each of these stations.
Ashford Station as we know it today opened on 1st December 1842. A second station Ashford West opened in 1884 to run passenger services to London Via Maidstone. However, this closed in 1899 and Ashford Station was used instead to continue running this service. In 1996 it was renamed Ashford International Station and runs services along the High Speed 1 line to St.Pancras.
In June 1874 the station opened and was known as Wrotham Station, and later became known as Wrotham and Borough Green. The line ran from Swanley to Maidstone. It wasn’t until 1962 that it changed it’s name to Borough Green and Wrotham. The signal box finally closed on 9th December 1983. The 1939 footbridge was eventually replaced in 2008.
Harrietsham Station opened on 1st July 1884. The goods yard closed in May 1961 a few months before the line was electrified. A concrete footbridge was also erected at the same time. This also meant the end of the gas lamps that adorned the station platform. The signal box was closed on the 5th November 1972.
Lenham Station opened on 1st July 1884 as part of the London to Dover Railway and extension from Maidstone to Ashford West. Clarke’s Bacon Factory was located adjacent to the siding, so frequently pigs would arrive by rail. The signal box was closed in May 1984 and later demolished to enable the extension of the platform. In 2010 a new footbridge was erected.
Barming Station opened on 1st June 1874. The concrete footbridge was built in 1939, when the line was electrified.
The bridge was eventually removed in 2013 from the western end and replaced with a new bridge at the eastern end. The goods yard closed in December 1960.
In April 1982 the Barming signal box was demolished and colour lights were introduced.
Charing Station officially opened on 1st July 1884. During the Second World War, the goods shed was used by the military. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Charing had a footbridge built, around the time the line was electrified. Prior to this the station relied on the track foot crossings for passengers to use. The signal box remained in operation until April 1984.
Hollingbourne Station opened on 1st July 1884. Freight facilities stopped running on 15th May 1961. A footbridge was also installed at the station and the line electrified a few months later. The signal box closed in April 1984. Around 2003 both platforms were extended to cater for longer trains.
Maidstone East Station was opened on 1st June 1874 to run between Maidstone and Otford. It was known as Maidstone Station. In 1899 it was renamed Maidstone East. The line was electrified in 1939. Freight services ceased in September 1965. On July 17th 1967, a goods train hit the back of a passenger train. In 2020, the front of Maidstone East Station has been modernised.
Bearsted Station opened on 1st July 1884, to form part of the extension from Maidstone to Ashford. In July 1907, it became known as Bearsted and Thurnham. In March 1957, a viaduct was introduced to help reduce the problem of leaves on the rail. In October 1968 freight services ceased and the goods yard closed down but still stands today. In April 1984 the signal box closed.
East Malling Halt opened in 1913. It was originally built out of sleepers before being rebuilt with concrete in the late 1950s. The line was electrified in July 1939. In 1988 the ticket office closed. Around this time, the platforms were also extended so they could take 8-car trains. In 1993 the original 1913 shelter was replaced by the more common ‘bus shelters’.
Kemsing Station opened on 1st June 1874. freight services were withdrawn on 31st October 1960 and the line was electrified in June 1962. The signal boxed closed as early as 30th September 1964. In 1985, the station was no longer staffed and all the station buildings were subsequently demolished.
West Malling Station was opened on 1st June 1874 as part of the Maidstone Line from Swanley to Maidstone. Freight services were withdrawn during May 1964. The signal box continued to use semaphore signals until it finally closed in December 1983. In April 1999, for Kings Hill was added to the station boards as the old West Malling Airfield become a huge housing and industrial development.
Kent CRP would like to thank Roy Moore and the Kent Photo Archive, The Bangay Family (BG photos past and present), David Glasspool from Kentrail, Peter Gricerman, Ashford Borough Council Museum, East Malling Conservation Group, Kemsing Historical Society and Snodland Museum for their permission to use copies of their photos. Thank you also to Charing and District Local History Society for the photos and to Steve Beck and all the team who created the Charing Digital Archive. We would also like to thank Middleton Press for giving us permission to use photographs from their book Swanley to Ashford.
If you have any old historical photos or additional information, please do get in touch and we will be delighted to add them to the site.