6th November 2019 · ‘Lt. Col. Holman F. Stevens – The Man and His Empire’

Presenter: Hugh Smith

On 6th November our guest was Hugh Smith to present Lt. Col Holman F. Stephens-The Man and his Empire.

He was born in 1868 and trained as a civil engineering assistant with The Metropolitan Railway and with the passing of the Light Railways Act of 1896 proceeded to build, manage and operate small networks scattered throughout England and Wales which he controlled from his office in Tonbridge.

The act included a maximum speed of 25mph,.axle loading not to exceed 12 tons and level crossings protected by cattle grids and not gates. Motive power and rolling stock were all second hand and signalling infrastructure the bare minimum with some narrow and standard gauge routes built.

The Rother Valley route, which is now the preserved Kent and East Sussex line, together with the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway were two of his many achievements.

Lines such as the Burry Port and Gwendreath Valley and East Kent (closed in 1985) were constructed to exploit the local coalfield traffic.

Other routes including The Ashover Light Railway and North Devon and Cornwall were converted from narrow to standard gauge to carry the local mineral traffic.

His Army commission was in the reserve and although called up in 1914 he returned to running his rail network two years later. In 1923 he became manager of the Ffestiniog and the Welsh Highland but most of his lines gradually closed over the coming years. However some still survive to the present day including parts of the Gunnislake branch in Cornwall and The Western Point route in Cheshire where a Class 66 was seen unloading its train at the waste terminal.

He never married and died in 1931 but a mock of his office can be seen on the Kent and East Sussex Railway at Tenterden.