Westenhanger railway station
This station began life as a typical SER rural outpost, built according to the company’s prevailing ‘’economical’’ policy. However, it later became host to a somewhat extensive layout, to cater for the traffic generated by racehorse spectators. ‘’Westenhanger & Hythe’’ came into use with the Ashford to Folkestone section of the SER’s Dover trunk line on 28th June 1843, and comprised a layout quintessential of its building company. A pair of staggered platforms were brought into use, separated by a brown-brick road bridge. The latter could be used to traverse between the two surfaces or, alternatively, a track foot crossing was in evidence (a common feature of those stations which lacked footbridges). The platforms were arranged in such a manner that passengers using the track foot crossing always passed behind a stabled train, rather than in front of it, to avoid passengers being struck by a departing service (Staplehurst and Pluckley, to name but two sites, were also laid out in such a way). The ‘’up’’ platform was host to the main station building: this was a modest single-storey timber affair with a slated pitched roof, built to a standardised design. The SER favoured such buildings, because they could be erected quickly and cheaply – several stations along the company’s Weald of Kent route received structures of this ilk. Westenhanger’s ‘’down’’ platform continued for a short distance through the aforementioned road bridge, to meet the track foot crossing linking it with the eastern end of the ‘’up’’ surface. Waiting accommodation on the ‘’down’’ platform comprised a basic timber shelter, reminiscent of that which still exists at Pluckley, and this was positioned immediately to the west of the road bridge
Change was soon afoot: in 1861, the existing ‘’up’’ side timber-built structure was replaced by an imposing two-storey-high yellow brick station building. In terms of a small, rural station, this structure was certainly grand, giving the impression that the site was more important than it was in reality. The structure was built to a rectangular floor plan of 30-feet by 35-feet, and peculiarly, all but one elevation had symmetrically-arranged top windows. An obvious oddity of the building from the outset was the brick colour: the structure was constituted of roughly half yellow brick, and half crème brick. It would appear that two distinctly separate types of brick batch were used during the construction – to the casual observer, the station building appears as though restorers only found time to clean half of the brickwork! Continuing on the theme of incongruous colours, a visit to the station today also reveals that the structure’s chimneystacks are of red brick construction! When originally opened in 1861, a flat-roofed platform canopy, complete with spiked valance, extended from the structure’s northern elevation, running the length of the building.
On 9th October 1874, the Hythe and Sandgate branch was commissioned, and until a station at Sandling Junction was commissioned on New Year’s Day 1888, passengers had to change between the branch and the main line at Westenhanger. It was at this stage that the ‘’& Hythe’’ suffix was dropped from the station name. Later, circa 1880, expansion of the layout occurred: a bay platform was commissioned – this merely involved laying an eastward-facing line behind the existing ‘’down’’ platform surface. A lengthy westward-facing siding also came into use directly opposite, beside the ‘’up’’ line. Re-signalling of the arrangement witnessed the commissioning of a new timber signal box, of SER design. This was positioned at the eastern end of the ‘’up’’ platform, immediately adjacent the road bridge, and replaced the garden shed affair directly opposite, on the ‘’down’’ surface. Circa 1888, the main ‘’up’’ side building received a single-storey addition to its eastern elevation, this being completed with an external finish akin to those unusual buildings erected at Nutfield and Sandling Junction.
In response to the vast amounts of traffic generated on race days, it was left to the 1899-formed SE&CR to substantially upgrade the station’s capacity. The solution to this was interesting: in about 1905, construction of two completely new island platforms, situated to the west of the existing Westenhanger site, was undertaken. These virtually formed their own self-contained station, for they commanded their own signal box and lattice footbridge. The islands combined had four platform faces, and a footpath directly connected the railway with the racecourse. The provision of outer loops at these platforms ensured that race day trains did not block the main running lines for non-stop services. Re-signalling of the general Westenhanger station area brought a swift end to the aforementioned SER ‘’up’’ side signal cabin. As part of the expansion works, Saxby & Farmer was commissioned to erect a larger replacement cabin on the site of the very first signal box, at the western end of the ‘’down’’ platform. The station’s third signal box was virtually identical in design to the upper half of the cabin which still survives at Ryde St Johns Road, on the Isle of Wight, and its increased size saw that it occupied the entire section of the ‘’down’’ platform located west of the road bridge. This resulted in the removal of the ‘’down’’ side waiting shelter, and the erection of a new timber affair east of the road bridge. During the same works, the flat-roofed ‘’up’’ side platform canopy was replaced with an example with a downward-sloping roof.
Throughout Southern Railway and British Railways existence, the Westenhanger remained little changed, even retaining its diamond-shaped gas lamps of the Victorian era. A clapboard storage shed had appeared at the eastern end of the ‘’up’’ platform, on the former site of the second SER signal box, in about 1935, and platforms had naturally been heightened over the years by all owning companies, as train sizes increased. The SR had also completely rebuilt the racecourse platforms and footbridge, using Exmouth Junction-manufactured prefabricated concrete. It was the advent of the Kent Coast Electrification which brought the next wave of changes: of significance is the re-signalling of the Smeeth to Archcliffe Junction section of the ex-SER’s trunk line on 18th February 1962. Automatic colour signals controlled from ‘’power boxes’’ replaced semaphore signals and their associated mechanical cabins. The SER cabin at nearby Sandling was decommissioned at this time, and at this time it still controlled access to a long siding. The latter was the remains of the December 1951-closed Hythe and Sandgate branch, and thereafter, access to the siding was done by means of a ground frame, released released from Westenhanger’s Saxby & Farmer signal box. Westehnhanger’s signal cabin had been given a stay of execution, because it still had a goods yard arrangement to control, despite the advent of the new colour light signalling. However, goods facilities at the station were soon withdrawn, such occurring on 25th March 1963. Thereafter, Sandling’s ground frame was released from Ashford ‘’power box’’. Finally, in 1968, bus shelters appeared on both platform surfaces, and the station building went into decline.