H. F. Stephens

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Colonel Holman Fred Stephens (1868 – 23 October 1931) was a British light railway civil engineer and manager. He was engaged in engineering and building, and later managing, 16 light railways in England and Wales.

Biography[edit]

23 Salford Terrace, Tonbridge

Stephens was the son of Frederic George Stephens, Pre-Raphaelite artist and art critic, and his wife the artist Rebecca Clara (née Dalton). He was apprenticed in the workshops of the Metropolitan Railway in 1881. He was an assistant engineer during the building of the Cranbrook and Paddock Wood Railway, which opened in 1892. In 1894 he became an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, which allowed him to design and build railways in his own right.[1]

He immediately set about his lifetime's project of building light railways for rural areas, mostly planned and built under the 1896 Light Railways Act. His first two railways, the Rye and Camber Tramway and the Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway, predated this, but he built the first railway under the Act, the Rother Valley Railway (later the Kent and East Sussex Railway).

The railways were planned, and some later run, from an office at 23 Salford Terrace in Tonbridge, Kent, which Stephens had rented in 1900 and purchased in 1927.

Many of his railways stayed independent of the larger systems created in the Grouping under the Railways Act 1921.

Stephens had no close relatives and never married. He had few interests outside his railways and his voluntary military service. In 1916, during WWI, Stephens attained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Territorial Army (TA) with which he had been associated since the 1890s. He continued to support the TA throughout most of the 1920s.[2]

When he died in 1931, the management of his railways was taken over by his former "outdoor assistant", W. H. Austen, who ran them until they closed or were incorporated into the national system in 1948.

A museum devoted to his life and achievements is at Tenterden Station in Kent.

The railways[edit]

There are several books about Col. Stephens's railways.[3] The railways in which Stephens was involved were:[4]

Name Year
opened
Year
closed
Passenger
services
start
Passenger
services
end
Gauge Notes
Ashover Light Railway 1924 1950 1924 1926 1 ft 11 12 in (597 mm) Built primarily to carry stone
Burry Port and Gwendraeth Valley Railway 1859 1996 1913 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge Originally coal-carrying, adapted for passenger traffic by Stephens;
absorbed by Great Western Railway 1923
Cranbrook and Paddock Wood Railway 1892 1961 4 ft 8 12 in Worked by, and absorbed by the South Eastern Railway in 1900.
Stephen's first assignment following his training. Also known as the Hawkhurst Branch Line
Edge Hill Light Railway 1919 1925 none none 4 ft 8 12 in Ironstone-carrying; included a 1 in 6 cable-worked incline; never formally opened
East Kent Light Railway 1911 1980s 1916 1948 4 ft 8 12 in built to serve the Kent Coalfield;
branch to Richborough; part now a heritage railway
Festiniog Railway 1832 Open 1 ft 11 12 in Managed by Stephens c1923-1931, now a heritage railway
Isle of Wight Central Railway 4 ft 8 12 in Stephens was Engineer and Locomotive Superintendent for a brief period in 1911.
Kent and East Sussex Railway
and Rother Valley Railway[5]
1900 1961 1900 1954 4 ft 8 12 in Now a heritage railway
North Devon and Cornwall Junction Light Railway 1925 1982 4 ft 8 12 in Originally a 3 ft (914 mm) china-clay carrier; Stephens engineered its reconstruction and extension; operated by Southern Railway at outset, remaining an independent company until nationalisation
Plymouth, Devonport and South Western Junction Railway 1890 1966 (part) 4 ft 8 12 in Built by an independent company but operated by the London and South Western Railway as part of its main line
The branch from Bere Alston to Callington was engineered by Stephens and opened in 1908
section to Gunnislake is still operating
Rye and Camber Tramway 1895 1939 3 ft (914 mm) Used intermittently by military during World War II and never reopened
Sheppey Light Railway 1896 1950 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) Engineered by Stephens but operated by the South Eastern and Chatham Railway,
which took ownership in 1905
Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway (S&MR) 1866 1960 1933 4 ft 8 12 in Reconstructed from the long-closed Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway in 1911.
Regular passenger services ceased 1933.
Taken over for military use during WWII and remained under military control until closure.
Snailbeach District Railways 1877 1962 2 ft 3 34 in (705 mm) Lead- and later stone-carrying railway
Welsh Highland Railway 1923 1936 1 ft 11 12 in Incorporating the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway (opened 1877).
Rebuilt 1997 - 2011 as a heritage line.
West Sussex Railway 1897 1935 4 ft 8 12 in The "Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway"
Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Railway 1897 1940 4 ft 8 12 in Extension opened 1907

Other projects[edit]

Stephens was involved in many projects that did not come to fruition, 18 of which reached the early, Light Railway Order, stage. Many were extensions to existing railways; one was the 1920s 'Southern Heights Light Railway', a single-track electrified railway from Orpington to Sanderstead.

He was involved in:

  • Central Essex Railway
  • East Kent Railway Extensions
  • East Sussex Railway
  • Gower Railway
  • Hadlow Railway
  • Headcorn and Faversham Junction Railway
  • Headcorn and Maidstone Junction Railway
  • Hedingham and Long Melford Railway
  • Kelvedon, Coggeshall and Halstead Railway
  • Lands End, St Just and Great Western Junction Railway
  • Long Melford and Hadleigh Railway
  • Maidstone and Faversham Junction Railway
  • Maidstone and Sittingbourne Railway
  • Newport and Four Ashes Railway
  • Orpington, Cudham and Tatsfield Railway
  • Shropshire Railways (Shrewsbury and Market Drayton Extension)
  • Southern Heights Light Railway
  • Surrey and Sussex Railway
  • Worcester and Broome Railway

Locomotives[edit]

The majority of the locomotives were second-hand, but a few were bought new from Hawthorn Leslie and Company including:[6]

Railway Loco name Build date Wheels Disposal BR number[7]
KESR Tenterden 1900 2-4-0T Scrapped 1941
KESR Rolvenden 1900 2-4-0T Scrapped 1941
KESR Hecate 1904 0-8-0T to SR and BR 30949
PDSWJR A. S. Harris 1907 0-6-0T to SR and BR 30756
PDSWJR Earl of Mount Edgcumbe 1907 0-6-2T to SR and BR 30757
PDSWJR Lord St. Levan 1907 0-6-2T to SR and BR 30758
SMR Pyramus 1911 0-6-2T sold c.1916 -
SMR Thisbe 1911 0-6-2T sold c.1916 -

None of these have been preserved.

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Colonel Stephens Museum - biography
  2. ^ H F Stephens Museum
  3. ^ See, e.g,, Strange, Peter, "The Weston, Clevedon & Portishead Railway: A Pictorial Record," (1989, Twelveheads Press)(ISBN 0906294193).
  4. ^ Colonel Stephens' Railways
  5. ^ Rother Valley Railway
  6. ^ The Colonel Stephens Museum - locomotives
  7. ^ Ian Allan ABC of British Railways Locomotives, 1949 edition, part 2, pp 15-17

External links[edit]