Grant win helps Kent & East Sussex Railway to launch fund to protect historic town landmarks

The Kent & East Sussex Railway is establishing a new Heritage Buildings Fund and launching an appeal to help safeguard its most precious and historic buildings as it approaches its 50th birthday in 2024.

The fund’s first priorities will be vital restoration work for two significant and much-photographed landmarks in the Tenterden town conservation area: the weatherboarded Tenterden Town station building (which houses the booking office, ticket hall and gift shop) and the former Chilham signal box (also situated at the station) which are described by the K&ESR as ‘jewels in the crown of both the railway and the Weald’.

Built respectively in 1903 and 1895, these two iconic, mainly wooden, structures have so far withstood the ravages of both time and weather but are now showing signs of significant decay which could become irreversible if not tackled soon.

An initial £21,000 grant has been awarded to the K&ESR by a charitable trust* which directs some of its grant making to charities protecting precious heritage assets. However, with early estimates indicating that the full restoration costs could easily exceed £40,000, the K&ESR is seeking to raise a further £25,000 to ensure all necessary work can be undertaken within the next 12 months.

K&ESR Chairman Simon Marsh has a very personal connection with the former Chilham signal box: as a young volunteer in the 1970s he helped to dismantle, remove and then later restore and reassemble the building at Tenterden station. He has also operated it as a signalman.

He says: “Together with the railway’s locomotives and carriages, these buildings help create an immersive experience of the rural light railway and a bygone era which delights tens of thousands of visitors every year. Their preservation is essential if we are to not only safeguard the living history they hold but also ensure that we are looking ahead to the future and our reconnection to the main rail network through Robertsbridge.”

The Heritage Buildings Fund has attracted two prominent town residents as Patrons: former Mayor of Tenterden and Coronation-appointed Baron of the Cinque Ports, Tenterden, John Crawford, and current Mayor of Tenterden, Cllr Sue Ferguson, who is also a local business owner. Both believe the railway plays a vital role in drawing visitors – and therefore spending power – to the town.

The Tenterden Station building has stood on the site since 1903. Today, passengers still collect their tickets through a window into the booking office – a nostalgic nod to a time when clerks attended to the needs of the travelling public. The wooden canopy provides shelter on the platform, and the transformed waiting room now houses the gift shop.

The former Chilham signal box was originally constructed in 1895 as an integral part of the South Eastern Railway’s signalling system. Rescued and re-erected in 1973, it plays a vital role in the K&ESR’s operations, still using much of its original equipment. Passengers can witness the workings of the signal box from the platform and a viewing area on the other side of the track.

Whilst complex restoration work will have to be undertaken by specialist external contractors, the conservation plan allows for some tasks to be undertaken by K&ESR volunteers. The K&ESR estimates that approximately 250 hours of volunteer effort will be required for the work, specifically in relation to removing layers of old paint, repairing rotten wood and applying coats of new paint.

Donations can be made via the ‘Support Us’ page of the K&ESR website and by text message. Meanwhile a suite of special donor packages – Bronze, Silver and Gold – has been created to attract businesses support, offering benefits including sets of freedom tickets and Sunday lunch aboard the Wealden Pullman to VIP behind the scenes tours and exclusive use of the luxurious Family Saloon carriage with drinks and canapes.


Photo (Left to right) K&ESR General Manager Robin Coombes; Mayor of Tenterden Cllr Sue Ferguson and Coronation-appointed Baron of the Cinque Ports, Tenterden, John Crawford, standing on the town station platform with the former Chilham signal box visible behind them.