The Cuckoo Line was built by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) in two sections, starting with the branch from Polegate to Hailsham which opened to traffic on 14 May 1849. The remainder of the line to Eridge was engineered by Frederick Banister, and opened to traffic in September 1880.
The line from Three Bridges to Tunbridge Wells (via East Grinstead High Level and Groombridge) opened on 1 October 1866, with the connecting line from Uckfield via Eridge opening on 3 August 1868. The final part of the route opened on 1 February 1876: a connection between the LBSCR station at Tunbridge Wells West and Tunbridge Wells Central, the station operated by the South Eastern Railway (SER). This single-line section passed through the short Grove Tunnel to Grove Junction, sited a little south of the SER station on its Hastings Line. In 1881 a new track alignment was built between Polegate and Hailsham allowing trains to run into Polegate at the west end of the station and direct to Eastbourne.
At the 'Grouping' in 1923, the railway passed into the control of the Southern Railway. When the Southern Railway was nationalised in 1948, the line became part of the Southern Region of British Railways.
Following the Beeching Report in 1963, the line was recommended for closure. The section from Eridge to Hailsham was closed to passenger traffic in 1965 (the section between Heathfield and Hailsham remaining open for freight until 1968), whilst the short branch from Polegate to Hailsham remained open until 8 September 1968. The closure of this section was hotly disputed – even British Railways itself agreeing that Hailsham was a growing town and that buses would be unable to cope with the demands of the increasing population.
The line between Eridge and Tunbridge Wells West remained open until 1985. Despite having survived 'Beeching', no money was spent on the line and British Rail regarded a track and signalling upgrade to be unviable. Closure was announced in February 1985, and the last passenger trains ran on 6 July 1985. Grove Junction was removed the day after closure, but the depot at Tunbridge Wells West remained in use for another month.
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