Including other scenes at Spa Hotel, Royal Tunbridge Wells & Nevill Crest & Gun, Eridge Green



Hi I'm Scooter, and will be telling the tale of this holiday to Kent and Sussex. In particular the ride with my other Railway Bear Club members on the Bluebell Railway, of which I am proud to say I have been a member since 1992.

As the end of August approached I began to get excited as Dad and Uncle Brian's holiday to Kent was now very close.

My best pal Higgy, who is a member of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, said, "you have waited patiently a long few months for this holiday, and I can't wait to accompany you on the Bluebell Railway, with our other pals."

"I am really really looking forward to the trip, as at last after 43 years the extension to East Grinstead has finally been completed. So once we get past Kingscote we will be riding over new rails."

Dunstan, who hails from Northumberland and is a member of the Aln Valley Railway, added, "the cost ran into millions of pounds, but what was so marvellous was the fact that most of the money was raised from members and individuals, including Dad who over the time gave a not inconsiderable sum. I just hope the Aln Valley Railway who are just getting started with rebuilding the railway can get similar support over the years to come."

"Which of our other pals are coming along on the holiday?", asked Higgy.

"Railway club members, Dale, member of Wensleydale Railway, Chuffer, member of Embsay Railway, and Leander, who Dad adopted in the Fellsman steam ride over the Settle-Carlisle line", I replied. "Then of course Fred & Gladly our joint Chief Hug Bears, Wray, a real character, who Dad adopted at the end of last year, and polar bears Polo and Ranulph who will be visiting their pals Scott and Snowy, who live with Aunt Joyce and Uncle Barry."

"Of course", replied Dunstan, "because the main reason for the holiday is for Uncle Brian to visit his sister and brother in law, Aunt Joyce and Uncle Barry and his nephews and nieces, Diane, Jane, Julie and Roger."



This was our cue to say goodbye to our many pals, for a few days, Fred calling out, "time to get settled in the car."

"OK", I replied, "come on pals."

Soon after 09:00 we were pulling out of the drive, and heading to the M6 motorway. Tunbridge Wells is in the south-east of England and a long drive, which Dad was not worried about, but he hoped that we would not encounter any delays due to accidents. Well as luck would have it the journey was trouble free. To avoid Birmingham we took the M6 Toll Road, which was virtually deserted. This rejoined the M6 and then down the M1 and on to the M25.

Crossing the River Thames at Dartford via the bridge, Wray who had not seen this before said, "wow, that is huge."

Leander, who too had not crossed it before, added, "the height is making me feel a bit dizzy."

Beyond it was not all that many miles before we were leaving the M25 and then quite soon we arrived in Tunbridge Wells and were pulling into the car park of the Spa Hotel, where we were staying.

Dad checked us in and the porter brought up the luggage. There were not many chairs in the room, so most if us settled on the window ledge looking out, while Fred, Gladly, Polo and Ranulph found some cushions to sit on.

l-r Polo, Ranulph, Gladly & Fred

We all had a quiet evening in the room, enjoying room service that Gladly had arranged. Meanwhile Dad and Uncle Brian, went for a meal in the restaurant, and then afterwards had tea/coffee while sitting in the nicely furnished lounge.

More about the hotel and it history at the end of this story.



Uncle Brian was of course anxious to see his sister Aunt Joyce, so I was happy to agree, when Dad said, "we will be going on the Bluebell tomorrow, Scooter."

"That's fine", I replied, "we will be fully refreshed then, after the journey yesterday."

So we rested in the room, and meanwhile our pals Polo and Ranulph went with Dad and Uncle Brian, as they would be staying with their pals Scott & Snowy. How lovely for Uncle Brian and Dad to see Aunt Joyce and Uncle Barry, and they had nice day, which included going out for a nice lunch at the Nevill Crest & Gun in Eridge Green. The building is over 500 years old, and the origin of the intriguing name is detailed below.

The ‘Nevill Crest’ refers quite literally to the crest of the Nevill family, the Earls of Abergavenny, on whose estate the pub was built. Here is the crest that adorns the adjacent barn.

The ‘Gun’ arose from a forge on the estate which produced cannons and cannon balls for the Nevilles. At one time an ancient cannon, made of strips of metal held together with hoops, was fired on fair days or days of celebration, and it is this that is referred to in the name.

Afterwards, Uncle Brian posed outside with Uncle Barry and Aunt Joyce.



We were up bright and early, as finally the morning had arrived for our day on the Bluebell Railway. The postcode was input, and maybe it was a slightly roundabout route, but the Satnav in Dad's car directed us to Sheffield Park station, the southern terminus of the railway. A group of volunteers called the 'Friends of Sheffield Park', meet each Wednesday, and have done many tasks to improve and restore the station. Indeed as we walked to the station they were busy replacing the fence palings and repainting. Work was also going being done on the station building, with scaffolding erected, so Dad suggested using a picture taken in June 2007 instead.

Dad queued for the tickets, the journey being free for everyone, as I had some vouchers, on account of Dad and I being shareholders. The train, the first of the day was in the platform, and Uncle Brian boarded to find us a seat, as it was going to be busy.

Meanwhile, Higgy said, "let's go and see which locomotives are hauling us today."

"Ooh yes", agreed Dale with enthusiasm.

So we scampered along the platform and found that not one but two engines were attached. One was SECR Wainwright goods, No.592, a picture of which we will include later, the other being SECR Wainwright P-class, No.323 named 'Bluebell' built in 1910.

There was no one on the footplate, so Chuffer said, "why don't you try and take a picture of the cab, Dad."

"It will soon be time for departure", said Leander worriedly, "so we had better go and join Uncle Brian in the carriage."

When he saw us coming along the platform, he waved and we quickly climbed aboard and settled ourselves for the journey, each of us with our relevant membership cards.

l-r Higson, Scooter, Dunstan, Leander, Chuffer & Dale sitting on the armrest

Shortly the whistle sounded, and the train pulled out of the station, gathering speed as it headed north.

"How fast will we go?", asked Leander, who was used to main line services, rather than Heritage Railways.

"25mph", Higgy replied. "That is the maximum allowable speed."

"Are there other stations before East Grinstead?", Leander then asked.

"Yes", I replied. "Horsted Keynes, which for many years was the northern terminus, and then Kingscote."

Looking out we enjoyed the lovely scenery, before the train pulled into Horsted Keynes. As we then pulled out, I said, "the track going off left with the coaches standing on it, is the start of a line that once ran to Ardingly. It was closed many years ago now, but when the opportunity presented itself the Bluebell bought the track bed, with a long term view of possibly reopening the line. If so this would create a junction at this station, and I think the only one on preserved railways. However there are not any firm plans at present to progress this."

After another few minutes Leander noticed and commented, "the carriage lights have come on."

"That is because we are shortly to pass through Sharpthorne Tunnel, which at 731 yards is the longest on any Heritage Railway", I said. Then just beyond I pointed out the remains of platforms, and told my pals, this was the site of West Hoathly Station, which British Railways closed in 1958."

More lovely scenery was in view before we came gently to a halt at Kingscote Station. "The line was extended to here and the station reopened in 1994, thereby becoming the northern terminus."

"On previous visits we alighted here to see the station, before getting the next train back to Sheffield Park", said Chuffer.

Not alighting today, here is a picture of the station building, taken on 13th June 2007.

The Bluebell purchased the station in 1985, and whilst it was basically sound structurally it had suffered years of neglect and alterations. Trees some 40ft high had covered the site and the opposite platform and buildings had been removed. Over the years by dint of hard work by many volunteers the buildings were restored the trees removed and the down platform rebuilt and signal box constructed, ready to welcome passengers to board trains once again from 23rd April 1994, the first time since its closure on 28th May 1955.

This view looking north towards East Grinstead, shows part of the rebuilt down platform and signal box, taken on 26th September 2001.

As the whistle sounded, and the train pulled out of the station, Higgy said excitedly, "this is the moment you have been waiting for Scooter!"

"Absolutely pal, East Grinstead here we come, and I am so glad to have you all along to accompany me too."

We all craned to look ahead, and soon Imberhorne Lane Bridge came into sight.

"Look" called out Dale, "Imberhorne cutting is just ahead now."

This was the biggest obstacle to getting to East Grinstead, as the cutting had been filled with household waste and capped off with clay, to its full height. Initially the track was extended to the cutting from the south, and from the north from East Grinstead track was laid to the cutting too. The clay capping was removed and gradually, first using lorries and then mainly special trains the waste was removed from the cutting, some 80,000 tonnes in all. This statement makes it seem simple, but great deal of planning was needed, involving many different agencies, to bring the task to a conclusion, for trains to run through once again. This could not have been done without the raising of a great deal of money, running to over £2m, and I am pleased to say that Dad and I did our bit to contribute to this.

Here we are in the cutting, the height giving some idea of the scale of the task faced by the railway. The black plastic covering the side of the cutting will disappear next year as nature takes over and vegetation grows through.

"Yippee"!!, I shouted. "It is wonderful to be able to ride through here once again."

"Awesome", cried Dunstan.

The end of the cutting is at Hill Place Farm Bridge, seen on approach, below.

Beyond the bridge, as the line curved right, I called out, "not far now. Just ahead is Hill Place Viaduct, and once over we will be at East Grinstead Station."

Construction of the viaduct started in 1879, being built in red brick. It has 10 arches and is 262 yards long and 93ft tall at its highest point, where it crosses a small stream called the Ouse.

Slowly we pulled into East Grinstead, and our train came to a gentle halt.

"Wonderful", breathed Dale.

"I have so waited for this day. This is my ninth trip, the first being in 1988 and now finally with you all, I have travelled through to East Grinstead."

And now thanks to Dad, I can take readers on a tour of the station.

Approaching from the town passengers pass under this 'Bluebell' arch.

Where facing is the booking office.

Going through the gate at this side, having had ones ticket checked of course, leads to the platform. The train behind the platform is standing on the track that provides a direct link between Network Rail and the Bluebell Railway. This means that it is possible for special trains to travel, from London directly to Sheffield Park. Indeed this was the case on 10th September, when 60163 'Tornado' headed such a train.

Period style lighting has been installed, seen here in close-up.

As well as coal to fire the boiler, locomotives need large amounts of water, to produce the steam that drives them along. A water tower has been constructed to facilitate this here. At the time of the visit the tower is complete and the tank installed, but work was still ongoing for the pipes etc to feed the engines.

Refreshment facilities are provided in a converted railway carriage, known as 'The Grinsteade Buffet & Shop'. This shot is taken from outside the station and shows the sign boards that were installed while we were there. This is to bring it to the attention of the general public who are not using the railway. In the winter time trains will only run at weekends, but the staff are intending to keep the buffet open every day. We hope that this sign will encourage people to use it!

We had brought a picnic, but Dad and Uncle Brian were ready for a snack too, and so we went to the buffet, which, you will agree is very nicely appointed.

They had a nice sandwich, and then Uncle Brian had a toasted teacake, and Dad a delicious piece of cake (no surprise there!), with a pot of tea. Dad then got talking to one of the ladies serving, who was called Shirley, as she had commented on us and Dad had to then explain all about us and his passion of collecting teddy bears etc. She said, "that is so sweet."

Before leaving, we posed again for our picture.

With the school holidays over, during the week, the service is operated by just one train. So we had to wait until it returned again from Sheffield Park. The weather was glorious with cloudless skies, and it was hot, so with Dad and Uncle Brian, we sought shelter, sitting on a seat under the shade of the booking office canopy.

We waited patiently, then suddenly Dale, who has very sharp hearing, called out, "it's coming."

We began to make our way up to the platform, after Dad and Uncle Brian had had their tickets inspected at the barrier. My pals went on with Uncle Brian, but Dad said, "Scooter sit on the platform and I will take your picture with the train in the background."

Then before I joined my pals, Dad paused to get his best shot today of locomotive No.592, SECR Wainwright goods, built in 1902, that with No.323 Bluebell was hauling our train.

We now hurried along the platform and boarded the train, where my other pals were already sitting on the table looking out. "Thank goodness you have come, Uncle Gerry", exclaimed Higgy, "the train is very busy, and my Dad has had a job keeping a seat for you."

"Sorry about that. I promise I will not be getting off again before we depart", he replied.

So the doors were slammed shut, and the whistle sounded, and off we went on our return trip, crossing the viaduct and then entering Imberhorne Cutting again.

As soon as we came under Hill Place Farm Bridge, I pointed out, "diggers are still at work here finishing off tidying up the cutting."

Chuffer added, "you can also see that not all the waste etc was removed, as the cutting only needs to accommodate a single line, rather than the double track originally.

"That's right", I replied. "you can see too that the actual height of the cutting is higher than that seen in the pictures Dad took."

"It truly is a remarkable achievement", said Leander in wonder.

We were going on nicely, when suddenly the train came to a halt. In dry weather there is always a risk that the trackside might catch fire with sparks from the engine, and this is what had happened, presumably, when the train passed coming to East Grinstead. Members of the Bluebell Railway fire brigade were on scene, and using water from the locomotive the fire was put out, but by now we were running about 20 minutes late.

Fortunately there were no other incidents, so stopping again at Kingscote and Horsted Keynes, the return journey was completed to Sheffield Park, my pals and I enjoying the scenery through the window.

Alighting, Uncle Brian was content to sit in the shade, having a drink of water and a mars bar, but we and Dad went across to platform 2 to see the museum.

"It might be nice to take some shots of the station from the footbridge", I suggested, Dad being happy to oblige.

Here looking south, with the locomotive shed and works to the left,

and looking north.

To the left behind the platform buildings is the new undercover accommodation for carriages, which will no longer have to stand out in the open. Incorporated in this was the extended museum, and also extension to the platform canopy. Since then, the Friends of Sheffield Park, undertook fundraising which has enabled the canopy on platform 1 (right), to be extended towards the camera, so matching that on platform 2. It provides welcome shelter to passengers and staff, when raining, and shade from the hot sun. A better view of this can be seen below.

Some work remains to be done, namely the decorative finials along the edge. As this will involve working over the track, this is awaiting the months when the service only operates at weekends.

The museum has been significantly extended, this shot giving some idea.

As well as charting the history of the Bluebell Line, there was information boards about the development of railways in general, and many many interesting artifacts were on display too.

"Thanks for suggesting visiting this, Scooter", said Leander. "It is really fascinating."

Coming to the far end, Chuffer exclaimed, "there is a signal box."

"Oh yes", I replied. "It was once operational at Withyham Station, on the now long closed line between Tunbridge Wells West and East Grinstead."

"It is wonderful that it has been preserved, so that people can get a close look at a signal box", said Dale.

The information board told us that this signal box was built for the opening of the line in October 1866. Its main purpose was to control a level crossing and was equipped with 12 levers.
It remained in use until the line was closed in January 1967, when John Whiting rescued the box paying the demolition contractor £2.50 for it.
Being a long standing member of the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society, he offered the box, which had sat in his garden for over 40 years, to form part of the new Bluebell Railway Museum. It has been refurbished by volunteers from several departments of the railway, plus some contracted joinery work.

This second shot looking to the right, shows the all important stove for heating and kettle. The clock that we presume is original to the box, is indeed still working and shows accurately the time that the picture was taken.

Well our day was now almost over, but before we went to rejoin Uncle Brian, we posed together for a final picture.

"Thanks pal, on behalf of us all, for a great day", cried Higgy.

"You,'re welcome", I replied. "But, we must thank Dad for bringing us and taking all the pictures, so that I will be able to write an account of the day."

Oh, and there was one last thing to do. Of us all, our pal Leander had not been here before, so I said, "Dad, can we look in the shop and see if there is a badge I can buy for him, as a reminder of his visit."

"Of course", Dad replied, "I will come and help you look."

One was soon found, and here is Leander proudly wearing his new badge. He now has two, the other, 'NYMR', bought on his visit to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, of which my pal Higgy is a member.

So, all that remained was for Dad to drive us to the hotel, where we told our other pals about the day. Then, being rather tired little teddy bears, we slept very soundly that night.



For Uncle Brian and Dad, the main focus of the holiday was to see Aunt Joyce and Uncle Barry, and Uncle Brian's nieces and nephew. So on Thursday, taking Aunt Joyce and Uncle Barry too, they went see his niece Julie and her husband Kevin, who live at Rustington. They had a lovely time too, being made most welcome. The day was hot and sunny, so the lovely lunch was served in the garden, with a large umbrella for shade. Lots of chat and lots of laughs throughout too.

Today they went with Aunt Joyce and Uncle Barry for lunch again at the Nevill Crest and Gun, and then on to visit his niece Jane, again having a very pleasant time.

Before all this however today, Dad took us all to explore the extensive grounds to the rear of the The Spa Hotel. First though here is a brief history of the hotel, extracted from an information sheet in the room.

The hotel - originally called 'Bishop's Down Grove was built in 1766 as a country mansion for George Kelly, who was a physician of some eminence. Upon his death in 1772 it was purchased by a Martin Yorke Esq. (the son of a clergyman from Northamptonshire), who had made his fortune in the army serving under Lord Clive of India and later with the East India Company. The Yorkes were a military family and entertained lavishly, their most honoured guest being Queen Victoria who stayed several times.

In 1875 the West and North Wings were added and in 1880 it opened its doors as 'The Bishops Down Spa Hotel'. With its 130 bedrooms, vast servant quarters and only 6 bathrooms it was definitely a chamber pot and washstand establishment.

It is not known when the named changed to The Spa Hotel, but as this it was bought in 1964 by O.G. Goring. After 40 years of ownership by the Goring family it was sold to Scragg Hotels Ltd, who have carried out extensive refurbishment and improved the facilities, with the intention that it should be the first choice venue in the South East.

Well I can say that Dad and Uncle Brian enjoyed their stay, and that like Armathwaite Hall, the staff here were most courteous, friendly and helpful in every respect, adding much to the pleasure of their stay.

Now, before getting to the grounds to the rear, here are a couple of atmospheric night shots of the front facade. This shows one of the wings added in 1875. Our room was on the second floor at the far end.

And in the opposite direction, of the original mansion. The high ceilinged and large dining room is at the far end.

At the bottom of the stairs, Fred asked, "which way do we go?"

"Along this corridor straight ahead then out through the doors at the end", Dad replied.

"My it is obvious how dry and hot the summer has been here", said Wray, looking at the expanse of brown grass before us.

Looking back we had this view of the rear. The extension immediately right is the Orangery, while further right the glassed extension is the spa and swimming pool.

"Ooh is must be nice to have that bedroom with the balcony, above the Orangery", called out Gladly. "What a view."

The brown grass soon gave way to greener pastures, and as we crested a rise, Scooter exclaimed, "look there is a lake, with a bridge, and there is a heron sitting on the bridge too."

"What a lovely scene, with the surrounding trees", added Higgy.

Dad took us down to the right of the lake, the heron taking flight as we approached the bridge, from where he took this shot looking up towards the hotel.

"Look", called out Dunstan, "there is a seat on the bank overlooking the lake, which will be a good place to sit for our group picture."

l-r, Dale, Higgy, Scooter, Gladly, Wray, Fred, Dunstan with Leander & Chuffer

As we walked up and left, Chuffer said, "I think that large tree stump with make a nice picture."

Alexandra, the assistant restaurant manager, who comes from Rumania, is a really lovely person, and Dad and Uncle Brian chatted to her most days at breakfast. She had told them that two deer come into the grounds at times, and as we continued left, Gladly suddenly whispered, "look, our luck is in, there are the deer."

Well that was the end of our exploration, and we returned to the hotel and went up to the room to relax for the rest of the day. Now some of you may have noticed that not all the holiday hug were included in the group picture above, the reason being that our polar bear pals Polo and Ranulph. were still at Aunt Joyce's, with Scott & Snowy. However as this was the last day of the holiday, they came back with Dad and Uncle Brian, later in the day. They then went with Dad and sat on the same seat to have their picture taken. Polo is on the left.

In the evening, Uncle Brian's niece, Diane, came to the hotel, and they spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting. Some of us, Fred, Gladly & Wray, went down to see Aunt Diane too, and she took their picture. Well we are never backward, when it comes to having our picture taken.



Today we were going home, after a lovely holiday. Everyone was up early, and Dad and Uncle Brian packed, then Dad took all the luggage to the car, and we trooped down too, settling on the back seat. This was all done before breakfast, so the room was vacated, and while Uncle Brian went to get his breakfast, Dad checked us out, before following him to the dining room. So, this meant we were actually on the way home by 09:15. No delays on the M25, M1 and M6, Dad again taking the toll road. A stop was made at Norton Canes for a snack. The services were extremely busy and Dad and Uncle Brian could not wait to get out and on the way again. The traffic news had warned of an accident on the M6 near Stoke/Sandbach, that had caused long delays, but thankfully when we got to this part of the M6, the queues had largely gone, and there was just a few miles of slow traffic. All in all a good journey and we were home at about 14:30.

On behalf of my pals and I, thank you Dad and Uncle Brian for a lovely holiday, and for taking us on the Bluebell Railway.



shopify analytics