British Literary Landscapes. Geoff Mead - January 16th 2020
I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting a talk on British Literary Landscapes to be, but it certainly exceeded my expectations.
In what felt like a very short hour, Geoffrey Mead whizzed us through a thousand or so years of our local landscapes, as described by the many famous writers who had cause to either live in it or pass through it.
The talk was entertaining and beautifully illustrated, and it was almost possible to hear ripples of appreciation through the audience -‘oh I know that view’, and, ‘my goodness, that hasn’t changed at all’ or feelings of that ilk. In fact it was quite comforting to know that 900 years ago people were describing previously unheard of flood levels and violent storms that devastated whole tracts of the countryside, just as we are now.
When the time came for questions, there was a deathly hush, not of an audience just concentrating on the tea and cakes ahead, but of one that couldn’t think of anything to ask. Geoffrey had been so thorough, that in my case at least, I could only comment ‘Fascinating!’
The Kent & East Sussex Light Railway – a success story in conservation. Doug Lindsay - February 20th 2020
Despite the continued appalling weather, 39 brave souls turned out to hear our speaker, Douglas Lindsay, give a fascinating account of the history of the K&ES light railway from its inception over 130 years ago. The talk was not too technical and was very well illustrated with historical pictures of Wealden stations, trains and people. We were introduced to larger than life personages such as Colonel Stephens and William Austen, who oversaw the construction and running of this light railway. Douglas explained that the concept of “light railway”, as compared to the mainline railways, was introduced as they could be constructed at lower cost to carry lighter loads. This way lines were introduced to areas devoid of transport options for both goods and passengers.
We were told about the first line connecting stations constructed in Tenterden and Rolvenden, and then subsequent extensions to Headcorn, Biddenden, High Halden, Wittersham, and Robertsbridge. Goods transported by rail included coal, milk, livestock and mail. These lines were also considered social game-changers, allowing people much more travel opportunities around the county and with connection to mainline services. We heard anecdotes about the early stations only having gentlemens’ toilets and the use of a horse-drawn bus to bring passengers to the stations (much to the chagrin of the preservation group, this bus in in the railway museum in York). The trains were also important in bringing hop-pickers from London to Kent each Autumn.
The K&ES railway became nationalised as part of British Rail in 1958, but low passenger traffic had already caused the closure of passenger services in 1954 and some of the tracks were taken up. A society of volunteers was formed with the intention of maintaining the light railway as a heritage enterprise. After 13 years of toil the first trains under the new management ran in 1974. Douglas brought us up date with various extensions of the line, including the plans to extend it to Robertsbridge. He left copies of the 2020 timetable for members to make their Summer travel plans and told us the stations now did have Ladies toilets!