Biggin Hill’s major drawback has always been its poor transport links: one road in and one road out. Set on the top of the North Downs it was never going to be a candidate for a main line railway.

It was this remoteness, resulting in low land prices, that enabled developer Frederick Dougal to offer plots of land for new housing very cheaply, see the illustration for an example..

Even so he realised that Biggin Hill would benefit greatly from a railway, and supported plans for the Tatsfield Light Railway, developed in 1898 by Colonel Holman Stephens, who built, or was involved with, many railway schemes throughout the country.

By this date most of the accessible parts of the country were within easy reach of a railway, but some areas, especially in hilly regions, were prohibitively expensive to serve.

The Light Railways Act of 1896 changed this, allowing lower cost railways to be built in return for lower maximum running speeds, see the panel on this page.

The Tatsfield Light was to run from Orpington station via Green Street Green (for Farnborough), Downe and Keston, Cudham and Biggin Hill to Tatsfield. It would have crossed Farnborough Hill just beyond its junction with Shire Lane, where there would have been a station, see map, click to enlarge.  

Following a public enquiry it gained approval to proceed, but the company was unable to raise the £70 000 required and the idea was quietly dropped.

Southern Heights Light Railway

This, however, was not the end of the story. In 1925 a grander scheme was proposed, now supported by the Southern Railway. A similar route was planned from Orpington to Tatsfield but it was then to be extended, with three more intermediate stations to join the Oxted line at Sanderstead. 

Instead of being steam hauled, passenger trains would be electric but there would still only be one track. The engineer was again to have been Colonel Holman Stephens. The cost was now estimated at £634,000.

In a departure from Stephens' usual practice, there were to have been no level crossings at all on the line, which would have required 23 bridges to have been built

As with the Tatsfield Light, in 1929 the scheme was approved and the route even appeared on Southern Railway maps.  But the death of the enthusiastic Colonel Stephens in 1931 meant raising the money became difficult and despite a final attempt to revive the scheme after the Second World War, this railway too, never got beyond the planning stage.

With acknowledgements to Ideal Homes – a History of South-East London
suburbs www.ideal-homes.org.uk/case-studies/biggin-hill/4
See also www.hfstephens-museum.org.uk
Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._F._Stephens



Light Railway Act 1896  

The act limited weights to a maximum of 12 tons on each axle and speeds to a maximum of 25 miles per hour (mph), and 8 mph on bends. These limits enforced the use of lightly laid track and relatively modest bridges in order to keep costs down.

The act also exempted Light Railways from some of the requirements of a normal railway – for example level crossings did not have to be protected by gates, but only by cattle grids, saving the cost of both the gates and a keeper to operate them. It did not exclude standard-gauge track, but narrow gauge tracks were used for many railways built under its provisions.

Many of the railways built under the auspices of the act were very basic, with little or no signalling. Many ran under the 'One Engine In Steam' principal.

see also Light Railway Act 1896
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