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150th Birthday of Colonel Holman Fred Stephens

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  • 150th Birthday of Colonel Holman Fred Stephens
  • Stunning image of The Kent and East Sussex Railway
  • With a Tonbridge, Kent postmark (31st October, 2018)

Issue Date: 31/10/2018

Issue Name: 150th Birthday of Colonel H F Stephens

Producer: Buckingham Covers


In the early 20th century, Colonel Holman Fred Stephens engineered, built and managed a unique empire of branch line railways up and down the country. They were built and run on a shoestring, mostly in accordance with the Light Railways Act of 1896. Our cover celebrates his 150th birthday and features an image of one of the few of his remaining light railways that still operates, The Kent and East Sussex Railway. A dedicated museum to his life and works, The Colonel Stephens Museum is also open to visitors in Tenterden. This cover has been postmarked at Tonbridge, the site of the Colonel's offices.


  • 150th Birthday of Colonel Holman Fred Stephens
  • Stunning image of The Kent and East Sussex Railway
  • With a Tonbridge, Kent postmark (31st October, 2018)


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150th Anniversary of the Birth of Colonel Holman Fred Stephens 

Holman Fred Stephens was born on 31 Octo­ber 1868. He began his railway career as a pupil at the Neasden workshops of the Metropolitan Railway and went on to be­come involved with 16 rail­ways around England and Wales, as an engineer, locomo­tive superintendent, manager or director.  

At the age of 22, Stephens was resident engineer of the Cranbrook & Paddock Wood Railway in Kent. Whilst working through army ranks he also became a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Engineers in 1916 and was thereafter known simply as The Colonel. In April 1916 he was transferred to the Territorial Force Reserve so that he could concentrate on managing his railways. By this time, he had established an office in Tonbridge to manage his railway empire, aided by William Austen. 

He became master of a new style of light railway provided for by the Light Railways Act of 1896.  This allowed railways to be built, usually in rural areas, much more cheaply than before. They followed the lie of the land, had small, out-of-the-way stations and in later years, ran trains of antiquated locos and rolling stock. As a result, they had immense charm and character. 

Stephens made them his own with a talent for running them on a shoe-string budget.  He enabled them to survive for many years despite the onset of serious road competition after the first world war and the economic depression of the twenties. One of his innovations was to introduce petrol engined rail motors on several of his lines, long before the big mainline companies realised their value in cutting costs.

Stephens died on 23 October 1931 aged 62 in the Lord Warden Hotel, Dover, where he was resident. He never married and had no heirs, but the appeal of his unique railway legacy lives on, and is catered for by The Colonel Stephens Society and there is also a dedicated museum to his life and works, The Colonel Stephens Museum which is open to visitors in Tenterden.

Parts of two of his railways, the The Plymouth, Devonport & South Western Junction Railway in Devon and the Weston Point in Cheshire are still in the national network. The Ffestiniog Railway through Snowdonia, a significant part of the Kent & East Sussex Railway and a smaller part of the East Kent Railway are operating as preserved heritage railways, while the Welsh Highland Railway is now reconstructed and open over its entire route. In addition, there are plans to revive the Ashover Light Railway in Derbyshire, the Snailbeach District Railway in Shropshire and the Burry Port & Gwendraeth Valley Railway in South Wales. A visitor centre is set to open in the former terminus of the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Light Railway in Shrewsbury. It is hoped to preserve artefacts and other aspects of the Weston, Clevedon & Portishead Light Railway in Somerset - a remarkable legacy of a remarkable career.


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