Swanley station is in London’s travel network zone 8, and my ‘end of the line’ visit is defined by it being the furthest station I can travel to on this line. But Swanley is in Kent, and as the crow flies, it’s only 15 miles from Charing Cross station. Southeastern and Thameslink serve the station, and I arrive today courtesy of an hourly Southeastern fast train service from London Bridge.
An overhead footbridge services the four platforms, with road access on both sides of the tracks. The exit to the north leads into St Mary’s Road via Everest Place. And the main entrance on the southern side leads onto Station Approach.
There have been stations near here since 1861. The first was named Sevenoaks Junction, with separate platforms serving the main Chatham line and the branch line to Sevenoaks. The station’s name changed in 1871 to Swanley Junction, and the station was rebuilt in its current location in 1939 and renamed Swanley. The existing station was rebuilt in 1959 to accommodate the four tracks and further modernised in 2021 with a new ticket office.
The platform signs have a logo highlighting the station’s relationship with the Darent Valley Community Rail Partnership. I thought no more of this until I started researching for this blog and discovered their community-based work on the stations between Swanley and Sevenoaks. The partnership is funded through grants from district, town and parish councils to improve access, promote rail travel and make the stations more inviting.
Just outside the station, along Station Approach, there’s a small industrial area with a tiny car park. And in the car park, there’s a small length of rail track laid on seven sleepers which at first seemed out of place. I thought that at least I could travel to its ends quickly. There is, however, a simple explanation. There’s a plaque promoting the work of ‘intertrain’. This is a City and Guilds rail training company which I suspect has a training base in the industrial area.
Swanley has a population of about 17,000 and extends to the A20 and M25 to the south and east and to Swanley Village and Hextable in the north. Although my travels don’t take in the entire area, I feel it’s important to recognise there’s more to see, so for those interested, feel free to explore and comment. There’s an active Swanley History Group, and a visit to their website may also interest you.
This article by Swanley Town Council nicely summarises the town’s growth, from a simple crossroads to a horticultural centre and a place where London’s sick received treatment in one of three hospitals.
The town centre was reshaped in the 1970s with the creation of the pedestrianised marketplace and ring road. And I suspect this footpath is one of two original rail crossings south of the town centre.
Maps up to the 1960s from the National Library of Scotland show a crossroads where the roundabout now resides at the top of today’s High Street. Furthermore, maps from 1971 show the existence of a roundabout and ring road. The dates of these maps may not be accurate, but the timescale is consistent with town development of that era.
Across the road, along Swanley Lane, is the Drill Hall, home to the local Kent Army Cadet Force. Although it’s enclosed behind railings for security reasons, there is a ‘Lest we forget’ decorative bench outside to memorialise those who have lost their lives.
The road runs from the station parallel to the railway line and its south side. It’s now a no-through road, but in its pre-ring road days, it was part of the B258 from Crockenhill in the south to Wilmington in the north and formed part of the crossroads with High Street.
Station Road is now a busy parade of shops. Each independently and uniquely serving the Swanley community. Here is a couple of them:
The Mini Mart – I wonder what’s inside this corner shop? And in case you’re not sure where you are, the shop has its name promoted six times across its frontage, with its opening times displayed twice. No excuses, then.
GC Motors – If you’re in the market to buy an original classic Mini, then this is the place to go. Michael Cornish is an enthusiastic owner of a collection of over 50 cars.
I had browsed the showroom on my first pass through Station Road, but a sign on the door explained that the owner was out on a test drive. But when I returned, I was invited to have a look around. Classic Minis galore is the theme, with prices ranging from £9,999 to £39,999 for a low mileage Mini Cooper S. I took many shots I’ve since shared with the garage, but here are a few to give you a flavour of this hidden gem.
The High Street heads south easterly and joins the M25 at junction 3, about a kilometre away. But the main retail area is at most 150 metres long until it joins the by-pass from the southwest. A small light industrial area is nearby, and the shops in the High Street are predominantly food, health and beauty shops.
I was drawn to the tattoo studio by the striking mural on the side of the shop. So I pop inside to ask about the artist with the tag SMTS. This was when I met Steve, a resident artist at the studio, who told me it was his work, and I then realised the tag was the shop’s initials. He explained that he had also painted the mural on the side of the nearby bakery (above) as well.
Steve was busy inking a customer’s arm with a new design, but he was more than happy to tell me about himself as his customer sat patiently listening to us both. Steve explained he set up as a tattoo artist some 15 years ago. Before that, he was a local youth worker. He’s passionate about his work and describes his paintwork as closer to graffiti in style than street art, although he tends to focus more on commissioned work these days.
I also learnt a little about tattooing and hadn’t appreciated the many types of needles that are available. For example, Steve was using 15-pin Double Stack Magnum Shader needles. The needle head configuration consists of two rows of 7 and 8 needles that help provide more ink coverage with greater accuracy.
Across the road, the West Kent NHS and Social Care Team once had a presence here. But their building now looks dishevelled, unkempt and abandoned. Well, I assume it’s no longer used, judging by the state of the broken windows. It’s a shame such attractive properties are left to decay, and it simply reinforces the sense of neglect in the surrounding area.
It turns out this building was originally a branch of Martins Bank. Here’s a link to archive material about the branch.
The town centre is pedestrianised with a somewhat dated 1970s open-style shopping centre. But at the time, it would have been considered the height of modern architectural design. The style is that of a row of flats above a parade of shops with a concrete veranda to provide shelter from the elements to shoppers below. However, there is a historical significance as the stairs leading to the flats have several concrete sculptures by William Mitchell, renowned for his association with Harrods.
I admit, on the day of my visit, it was a cold, damp and dank winter’s day, and the marketplace was pretty lifeless, with only some coffee drinkers huddled outside whilst chatting and smoking. But I have no doubt it’s a different picture on Wednesday and Sunday when the market is here.
Nevertheless, I somehow feel there’s a sense of neglect with a lack of investment in the area, especially since Asda moved in right by the marketplace. I have no doubt this has been a challenge to the local traders and likely to explain that the retail outlets now comprise charity and low-budget stores, interlaced with beauty, health and food shops. Even the conversion of the Post Office into a home for the Christ Family Assembly Outreach does little to inspire the area, as its facade appears unchanged and unloved.
This access from Nightingale Way is the only attempt I saw to brighten up an otherwise dull route into the shopping area.
Although I paint a somewhat grim picture of Swanley, in fairness, the Town Council actively promotes community events and improvements. Like the opening of the new skate park on the Recreation Grounds.
Picture of the Day – Steve Boyd-Brown
Steve is a tattoo and graffiti artist, who’s a resident artist at the Swanley Mill Tattoo Studio on the High Street. I was drawn into his studio by the mural on the side of his shop as I wanted to find out who painted it. Steve was busy creating inkwork on a customer, but he was happy to chat whilst he worked.
Steve is a delightful person, charming and passionate about what he does, and he was more than happy to be photographed. His customer was also happy with the arrangement as he sat patiently as Steve applied ink to his arm.
He was a great subject to photograph as he was focused on what he was doing as I captured him from ground level looking up. He spoke softly about his life, passion and family and shared some graffiti stories and of the people he’d met. He’s seen here with a print of the Stone Roses’ Ian Brown watching over him, a print he acquired from the artists as part of a work swap.
- Location: Swanley Mill Tattoo Studio, High Street, Swanley
- Date/Time: Tuesday 10th January 2023, 1:57 PM
- Settings: Camera – Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture -f/5.6; Shutter Speed – 1/200; Focal Length – 89mm; Film Speed – ISO6400
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