An Act of Parliament was passed in 1896 to build a railway from Robertsbridge, on the London to Hastings line, to Tenterden (now Rolvenden). Almost as soon as the Rother Valley (Light) Railway Act had been passed however parliament passed the Light Railways Act 1896. This considerably simplified the procedure for obtaining authority to build minor railways and relieved those railways of many statutory duties and obligations making them much cheaper to construct and operate. The Rother Valley (Light) Railway Act was therefore abandoned and the promoters obtained permission instead to proceed under the terms of the Light Railway Act. The RVR/K&ESR is unique in that it is the only preserved railway which was originally constructed to these standards.
The Company’s Engineer was Holman Frederick Stephens who became General Manager in 1899 and Managing Director in 1900. The London & Scottish Contract Corporation were contracted to build the railway, but the work was in fact sub-contracted to Godfrey & Siddelow.
The line followed the courses of the River Rother and its tributary, the Newmill Channel. There were 24 bridges and culverts and much of the line was carried on a low embankment. All roads were crossed on the level. The rail was 60 lb Vignoles rail spiked directly to the sleepers, some of which survived some 50 years until nationalisation.
The Rother Valley Railway opened for goods traffic on the 26 March 1900 and for passengers on the 2 April 1900. In March 1903 the old (Tenterden) terminus was renamed Rolvenden and the railway was extended 1.5 miles to the present Tenterden Town station. The name of the railway was changed in 1904 to the Kent & East Sussex Light Railway. The railway was further extended to a junction with the SECR at Headcorn, opening on the 15 May 1905. It survived the 1923 grouping and remained independent until taken over by British Railways in 1948.
The railway closed to regular passenger services on the 2 January 1954, and the Tenterden to Headcorn section was lifted in 1955. Freight services continued between Robertsbridge and Tenterden until June 1961, when the line was closed completely, except for the short section between the main line and Hodsons Mill at Robertsbridge, which survived as a private siding until 1969
The Kent & East Sussex Railway Preservation Society was formed in 1961 following closure of the line.
After many trials and tribulations, the Tenterden Railway Company Limited was incorporated in 1971 as a Company limited by Guarantee and in 1973 was successful in purchasing that part of the line between Tenterden and Bodiam. The Tenterden Railway Company is now known as The Kent & East Sussex Railway, as of January 2004. The preservationists were refused permission by the then Transport Minister Barbara Castle to take over the section between Bodiam and Robertsbridge, despite taking the Minister to the High Court. The latter section was lifted and became abandoned.
Trains first ran again on the Kent & East Sussex Railway on the 3 February 1974 between Tenterden and Rolvenden, the line gradually being restored and extended in stages, reaching Wittersham Road in 1977, Northiam in 1990 and finally Bodiam on the 2 April 2000, exactly 100 years to the day since the original opening of the line to passengers. The length of the line is 10.5 miles. The Kent & East Sussex Railway Company has powers under its Memorandum and Articles of Association to operate the Railway between Tenterden and Robertsbridge, but had no plans to extend beyond Bodiam.
Currently the station is home to the Kent and East Sussex Railway's loco department. The site consists of a two track shed which has enough space for around 4 locomotives. Rolvenden is also the coaling depot and this is where all the locomotives are prepared for a days work. It now has a signal box, water tower and passing loop.