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History of the Line

Between 1892 and 1961 a single-line steam railway, developed by the talented young engineer, Holman Fred Stephens, linked the rural communities of Paddock Wood, Horsmonden, Goudhurst, Cranbrook and Hawkhurst.

It also brought thousands of residents from the East End of London to the region every summer for their annual hop picking ‘holiday’ in this area of Kent, the Garden of England, thus earning this iconic little railway the nickname of the ‘Hop Pickers' Line.

Visitors can enjoy stunning scenery and tranquil landscapes by using the many public rights of way to explore the communities once served by the Hop Pickers Line.

In certain places where the line is still accessible or visible, the Hop Pickers Line Heritage Group is progressing an innovative way-marking interpretation scheme featuring finger-posts, marker posts and information panels, which it launched in November 2016. To view a map of the trail please click here.

In 2015, AOC Archaeology was commissioned by the Hop Pickers Line Heritage Group (the parishes of Paddock wood, Goudhurst, Cranbrook and Hawkhurst), with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, to produce an Historic Environment Assessment of the Paddock Wood to Hawkhurst branch railway which was closed in 1961.

The Group is pleased to announce the publication of this report, which is now available online at: and as hard copies at the relevant Council offices and libraries throughout the Borough.

It makes for fascinating and informative reading for anyone interested in the railway, hop-picking and related features along the line, but it also has the potential to unlock further interest and interpretation of this important part of the area’s heritage.

Plans for Extensions of the Line

When the Branch Line opened for business in 1893, trains terminated at Hope Mill near Goudhurst due to escalating costs and the lack of a final decision as to the location of line’s terminus. The description on the station’s name board read : “Hope Mill for Goudhurst and Lamberhurst”. Discussions were ongoing about the choice of terminus. The wealthy land owners favoured Cranbrook but support for Hawkhurst was also very strong. In the end, the South Eastern Railway, who would provide finance and rolling stock and consequently were very influential, decided to support Hawkhurst. Despite this setback, discussions continued about the possibility of a junction south of Goudhurst that would take the line into the centre of Cranbrook with the station near to Bakers Cross. There were further plans to go on to Tenterden, eventually reaching Appledore where a connection with the South Eastern’s route to Hastings could be made.

There were also plans to provide a junction at Goudhurst and construct a line to Frant, and provide connections to Tunbridge Wells and Hastings.

Cranbrook Museum contains interesting documents relating to some of these schemes, none of which ever came to fruition due in the main, to lack of sufficient finance. Please click here to visit the Cranbrook Museum website.

Hop Pickers Trains

The hop picking season in Kent lasted about three weeks beginning at the end of August and finishing about mid September. During the 1950’s, the number of families, together with their friends and relatives, put an enormous amount of pressure on the Branch. Over 4,000 hop pickers would descend on the area conveyed in six special trains. At weekends a staggering 23,000 “visitors” could also be expected, all of whom would travel by special trains. In the period before World War One, the numbers would have been even higher.

Most of the trains began their journey at London Bridge Station and would be composed of elderly rolling stock much of which lay idle for the rest of the year. The usual consist was six carriages plus a couple of utility vans to carry the larger items such as prams, bedding and packing cases. Motive power would have been the elegant looking 4-4-0’s of the D or E Classes.

For the operating authorities dealing with these specials and fitting them into the existing single track branch timetable, with only passing loops at certain stations, was a planning challenge. The Branch timetable showed six services to Hawkhurst and seven returning to Paddock Wood. Added to the mix were a couple of daily freight services.The visitors specials ran on Sundays when there was no Branch service in operation, somewhat alleviating the difficulties.

The first hop pickers special of the day to traverse the line picked up an additional locomotive, usually at Tonbridge and this remained at Hawkhurst in order to assist in shunting arriving stock into the sidings. When no further space could be found the spare engine would remove empty stock for berthing at Paddock Wood or Tonbridge. The passing loops at Horsmonden, Goudhurst and Cranbrook would also be used to hold the empty trains until the Branch service had cleared the section.

Returning the hop pickers to London was dealt with in a similar fashion, with the odd train double headed in order to release an engine from the branch.


Schools Specials

Benenden School for Girls was situated about three miles from Cranbrook Station and a special train was provided at the beginning and end of each term for the benefit of boarders. Since the limited facilities at Cranbrook prevented the necessary engine movements, the entire train had to run on to Hawkhurst to enable the engine to run round the carriages and take up its position at the head of the train. The maximum load was six carriages plus a utility van. Because empty trains could not be stored on the branch, they had to be returned to London.

Hawkhurst Branch Line Info
Goudhurst Railway Station Hop Pickers Line
Goudhurst_Railway_Station Hop Pickers Line
Horsmonden_Railway_Station Hop Pickers Line
Swiggs Hole bridge Hop Pickers Line
Horsmonden Tunnel on The Hop Pickers Line
Hawkhurst Platform Ticket - The Hop Pickers Line
The Cranbrook, Paddock Wood Railway Company Logo - The Hop Pickers Line
Hop Pickers at work - The Hop Pickers Line
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