Tuesday, May 21st, 2024

It’s full steam ahead at Bat & Ball Station as guests gather for a preview of the refurbishments

by My Sevenoaks Community Publisher & Editor Frank Baldwin

A HOST of local dignitaries, council leaders, guests and a ‘celebrity’ in the form of former MP turned TV presenter Michael Portillo, were given a preview of the renovated Bat & Ball Station this week.

Town Mayor Roderick Hogarth addresses the crowd in the refurbished Bat & Ball Station building.

The Victorian station building dates back to 1862 but was closed in the early 1990s when the station staff were replaced by a platform ticket machine.

The station building will not be officially opened until sometime next year, but this week’s guests were allowed to go on a tour of the refurbished rooms. The new paint job and beautifully restored original features cover up the fact that during the 25 years the building was boarded up, the inside had become completely derelict.

Visitors could see how badly the rooms had deteriorated before the face-lift started through photos taken by the Sevenoaks Camera Club that were shown on giant screens.

Town Clerk Linda Larter and her team deserve all the plaudits they received during various speeches on the day. Linda’s vision to turn the building into a community meeting centre complete with its own café is in the process of becoming a reality thanks to her efforts. This included the Town Council securing a £755,600 Heritage Lottery Fund grant plus financial assistance from Sevenoaks District Council, The Railway Heritage Fund and Southeastern Railways.

The Town Council has also worked closely with the Friends of Bat & Ball Station and there are future plans to recreate a new access to platform 1 through the existing Sevenoaks Community Centre that will make it far easier for people with mobility problems and parents with prams and pushchairs who currently have to use the footbridge to access the platform.

The nostalgic atmosphere of the preview afternoon was added to by an appearance of the historic Sussex Belle steam train when it passed through the station on its way from Hastings to London Victoria.

Special guest Michael Portillo makes a ceremonial presentation of a Peppercorn Rent to Peter Stapleton (right), Head of Estates and Facilities – Southeastern. This represents a full prepayment for the 25 year peppercorn lease granted to the Town Council for the Bat & Ball Station building.

Town Mayor Roderick Hogarth performed a ‘soft’ opening of the Bat & Ball Station building by cutting a ribbon and then during his speech said: “This ambitious project will regenerate this part of Sevenoaks. We are working with our neighbouring parishes and the Darent Valley Group to hopefully create the Samuel Palmer Line which will attract additional tourism. This is all part of the Masterplan for Northern Sevenoaks regeneration – which starts today!”

He then introduced the event’s VIP guest Michael Portillo, the former Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister who was also Minister of Transport. He now works in the media and entertainment business presenting television documentaries such as the Great British Railway Journeys during which he travels the British railway networks, referring to an 1840s copy of Bradshaw’s Guide.

Mr Portillo amused the audience with anecdotes from his political and television career including a story about the making of his very first railways programme. As he was handed a very rare copy of the Bradshaw Guide provided for the show, Michael managed to drop it and the guide split in half and had to be repaired.

Linda Larter also thanked all those involved in the project and then invited guests into the Café at Bat & Ball Station to watch Mr Portillo cut a cake which was specially made for the day.

There is still more work to be done before the refurbishment is complete in time for the official opening next year, but the Town Council has promised that there will be a ‘special guest’ at the ceremony.

Full steam ahead. The preview at Bat Ball coincided with the Sussex Belle steam train going through the station. Photo: Russell Harper Photography

Bat & Ball station was formerly called Sevenoaks and was the first one to be built in the area. Old luggage and hats are a nod towards the station’s former glory and links with the Royal family as Queen Victoria used the station in 1867 when she visited Knole.

Sevenoaks Town Clerk Linda Larter has been one of the main driving forces behind the Bat & Ball refurbishment, which has involved dealing with many different interested parties. Photo: Russell Harper Photography

School girl Kemi Ogen, who was celebrating her 10th birthday on the same day as the preview, presents a rail ticket to Michael Portillo.

A view through one of the original ticket windows to the Cafe at the Station which will soon be open to the public.

The guests were amused by Michael Portillo’s anecdotes.

Many of the building’s original features have been uncovered and are in the process of being restored.

Magician Robert Pound from Sevenoaks entertained guests at the station.


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