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British Industrial History

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Holman Fred Stephens

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Colonel Holman Fred Stephens (1868-1931) was a British light railway civil engineer and manager. During his lifetime he was engaged in engineering and building, and later managing, 16 light railways in England and Wales.

1868 Stephens was the son of Frederic George Stephens, Pre-Raphaelite artist and art critic and his wife the artist Rebecca Clara (nee Dalton).

1881 He was apprenticed in the workshops of the Metropolitan Railway. From there he went on to become an assistant engineer during the building of the Cranbrook and Paddock Wood Railway, which was 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.

He immediately set about his lifetime's project of building light railways for rural areas. Most of his projects were to be planned and built under the terms of the 1896 Light Railways Act. His first two independently built railways, the Rye and Camber Tramway and the Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway, predated this but he built the first railway under that Act: the Rother Valley Railway (later to become 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. It was characteristic of the Stephens' run railways that they stayed independent of the larger systems that were created following the Grouping under the Railways Act 1921.

1931 October 23rd. When he died the management was taken over by his former "outdoor assistant", W. H. Austen and run until they closed or were incorporated into the national system in 1948.

Buried in Brompton Cemetery

The Railways
The railways in which Stephens became involved, and which became operational, were as follows with the (opening and closing dates):

Apart from his successful projects, Stephens was also involved in many others, which did not come to fruition — eighteen reached the early, Light Railway Order stage. Many were extensions to existing railways; the most interesting one was the 1920s scheme for the Southern Heights Light Railway, which would have produced a single-track electrified railway from Orpington to Sanderstead.

The list of lines which he was involved in was as follows:-

Some of the railways (as can be seen in the list above) were already part of major companies by the time the Railways Act 1921 came into force on 1 January 1923. Many others were not included in the Grouping, and continued to operate independently. After his death in 1931 the surviving railways continued to be run from the Tonbridge office by W. H. Austen until most were closed due to road competition, while the rest were nationalised into British Railways in 1948.

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