The Kent & East Sussex Railway was opened as the Rother Valley Railway in 1900. It was constructed as a light railway, meaning that it was only designed to handle light traffic and vehicles, but its building costs were lower. The line proved popular, especially with local farmers, and in 1903 the route was extended to what is now Tenterden Town Station. It was at this time that the railway was given its current name. Unusually - especially for a company of its size - the railway retained its independence after the Grouping of 1923. However, this did mean the line faced a huge challenge to stay financially viable.
The Kent & East Sussex Railway became part of British Rail in 1948, but soon after all traffic on the route began to decline. Passenger services were withdrawn in January 1954, and the section north of Tenterden was closed completely, with the rails being lifted that year.
The railway closed completely in 1961. A preservation group formed shortly afterwards, but protracted legal battles meant that the line's re-opening was delayed until 1974. Only two miles of track could be operated initially, as major structural repairs were required following years of inaction on the light railway. However, the short services were popular, and so the preservation group was able to reopen Northiam in 1990. Bodiam was reached in 2000, and the now 10.5 mile long railway has been very popular with locals and tourists alike ever since.