7 Brighton to Three Bridges



John Blackwell 


Standing on the concourse at Brighton Station it is not too difficult to cast one's imagination back one hundred years, to the days of the LB&SCR's immaculately turned out locomotives and passengers (not customers in those days). The ladies would have been dressed in long skirts and carrying parasols and their escorts in frock coats and top hats; all redolent of the smell of steam and horse droppings. Behind one would be the 1841 terminus building designed by David Mocatta, when early railways could afford an architect, and now the only surviving station of his design for the London to Brighton line. Originally there was a colonnade on the south, east and west sides but this was removed when the present porte-cochere was erected in 1882/3. At the same time the magnificent and recently restored three bay curved train shed was constructed. Designed by H.E. Wallis the ironwork was pre-fabricated by the Patent Shaft & Axletree Co. Ltd (the name indicates the firm's origins, shafts and axletrees being components of carriages and carts) of Wednesbury, Staffordshire. It was delivered to Brighton by rail and erected above the existing train shed without a day's operation being lost! Lit by electric arc lamps with current supplied by The Hammond Electric Light Co, whose generators were situated in the premises of Reed's Foundry in North Road (where the Royal Mail Depot is now). It must have been a source of wonder to the poorer inhabitants of the town. The hanging clock with its four faces and LB&SCR monogram was also allegedly illuminated from within, by gas or electric? Another puzzle is how the clock was wound, could it be lowered or reached by a very long ladder?

From a Grade I listed station one travels to an apology for a station: Preston Park. The station opened as Preston on 1st November 1869 to serve the newly built Clermont Estate. Like many stations the construction cost was shared between the developer, Daniel Friend, and the railway company. With the opening of the Cliftonville Curve on 1st July 1879, which allowed through running to the Coastway West line the station was rebuilt as two island platforms and renamed Preston Park. I commuted from this station for nearly forty years and can well remember the generous canopies and cheery fire in the up platform waiting room. In the early seventies the same canopies became "dangerous" and these and the platform buildings were swept away. The original booking office, now an estate agent's office, survives but the station house that adjoined to the north went in the early sixties. To the west of the north portal of Patcham Tunnel stand a pair of railway cottages which date from the 1850s with decorative barge boards and guttering passing in front of the dormer windows.

Clayton Tunnel, with the castellated north portal, (was this another of Mocatta's architectural contributions to the line?) was the scene of a terrible accident on the 25th August 1861 when the frailties of early signalling and human error allowed a following train to smash into one that was stationary in the tunnel. The carnage in the dark caused by scalding steam from the engine's boiler and the splintering of the wooden carriages was awful, resulting in 23 deaths and 126 horrific injuries. The railwayman's cottage above the north portal was built in 1849.

Hassocks Station, opened with the line in 1841. Later called Hassocks Gate; the gate on the nearby turnpike at Stonepound. Between December 1880 and August 1881 a magnificent new station was erected, in the same style as those on the Cuckoo and Bluebell lines with half timbered upper storeys, decorative eaves, stained glass window panels and charming porches. It was grander than any other with a range of buildings on both up and down sides. The booking office had a lantern roof and the spacious platforms were protected by graceful canopies, supported by decorative cast iron columns. In a blatant act of vandalism by British Rail it was all demolished in 1973 except for half of Mocatta's original station that somehow had survived the 1880/81 rebuilding; this lingered for a few more years. Ironically James Longley & Co of Crawley was responsible for building the 1881 station and its truly awful (and still surviving) 1973 replacement. In the erstwhile goods yard to the west can be found a goods shed dating from the 1860s, the site of the Keymer & Ditchling Gas Works and a siding that ran to Stonepound Sand Pit on the opposite side of the A273, the site of which is now a small nursery. The bridge under the road at TQ 299154 is still intact.

Burgess Hill Station is not thought to have opened with the line in September 1841 but it was operational by October 1843 when a temporary closure took place until May 1844. The wooden shed on the up platform is one of the oldest surviving buildings on the line. Erected as a waiting shed in 1853, it cost 110. It was built of brick with a front of vertical tongue and grooved boarding, and had a steeply pitched roof covered in fish scale pattern clay tiles. Unfortunately the roof has been replaced totally altering its appearance. Lattice-work windows completed its attractive original appearance. At present unused its survival must be in doubt. Adjoining it to the north was the two-storey station house demolished in the seventies. A completely new station was built in 1877 with offices on the road bridge above the tracks, access to the platforms and waiting rooms is by covered wooden stairs, which were renewed in modern materials a few years ago. At the same time the stone blocks which supported the early permanent way when in a cutting, and which at some time had been incorporated into the platform facings, vanished (NB wooden sleepers were not used in cuttings). The 1860s goods shed survives now appropriately as an architectural salvage warehouse.

Wivelsfield Station opened on 1st August 1886 but was known as Keymer Junction until 1896 as it had replaced Keymer, which was situated on the Lewes branch immediately after the turn off a hundred metres south. Wivelsfield was the scene of another terrible accident on the 29th December 1899 when in thick fog an up train smashed into the rear of the Newhaven boat train as it pulled away from a signal resulting in six fatalities. For over 100 years the station maintained the appearance of a Victorian country station with wooden platforms and two identical timber waiting rooms roofed with finely proportioned decorative canopies. A wooden booking office with slate roof together with long flights of covered stairs completed the ensemble. Recently the up waiting room has been replaced with a bus shelter and its partner will probably share the same fate.

Haywards Heath was a township created by the arrival of the railway. The present non-descript station, built in 1932, replaced an equally nondescript one. Of more interest is the fact that in 1857 an employee of the LB&SCR, John Saxby, was allowed to use a site, now part of the main car park, as a signal workshop and developed his signal interlocking patent of the previous year prior to entering into a partnership, in 1863, with John Stinson Farmer and founding the famous signalling company with new works at Willesden in North London. Saxby and Farmer held a virtual monopoly for the supply of signalling equipment to the LB&SCR until 1904 and most of the surviving signal boxes were designed by the company. Of interest nearby is the Southdown Bus Station now unused and under threat of demolition, and the fine 1930s Caffyn's garage and car showroom in Market Place. A mile further north at Copyhold Junction a branch was built in 1883 to connect with the Lewes & East Grinstead line (part of which is now the Bluebell Railway) at Horsted Keynes. The branch closed in 1963 but remained as a siding for many years as far as the Ardingly Station site, which became a roadstone depot.

The most imposing structure on the line is the Ouse Valley viaduct. Designed by John Urpeth Rastrick, the engineer who was responsible for the construction of the line. This graceful structure is constructed of brick with 37 piers rising to a height of 96 feet (29.5 metres) and a total length of 1475 feet (450metres). It has a balustraded parapet of Caen stone with a pair of temples at each end. Each tapered pier has a different height pierced opening to reduce weight. Many of the 13 million bricks used in its construction were made at Piddinghoe near Newhaven and shipped using the Upper Ouse Navigation to Balcombe Wharf, the terminus of the navigation, which was sited on the east side of the present road. The views from the viaduct are superb but seen from below its beauty can be truly appreciated. Balcombe Station was a rural backwater but in recent years the heavy hand of the moderniser has been at work, the double gabled station house of 1869 has been demolished to make room for a modern footbridge replacing a typical cast iron product supplied by the Plimlico Foundry of Henry Young about 1900. A reminder of a railway strike in 1867 was carved in the stone of the cutting to the south of the booking office on the down side. Although now barely legible it reads "W F C The Strike of the L B & S C R Engine Drivers Tuesday 26 March 1867". Why and by whom it was carved is a mystery unless WFC was a striking driver or fireman.

Stations at Three Bridges, Balcombe and Haywards Heath opened on the 12th July 1841 with passengers having to complete the journey to Brighton by coach. The final section of line, the completion of which was delayed by exceptionally wet weather, was not opened until 21st September 1841. Branches from Three Bridges to Horsham opened on 14th February 1848 (the former was known as Crawley until this line opened) and to East Grinstead on the 9th July 1855. Following completion of the Quarry Line in 1900, which allowed LB&SCR fast trains to bypass Redhill station, which was owned and operated by the rival South Eastern Company, plans were drawn up to quadruple the main line from Earlswood to Brighton. The work was completed to the north portal of Balcombe tunnel over the next ten years but the significant and expensive engineering works further south was an insurmountable obstacle, much to the detriment of today's travellers. As part of this work Three Bridges station was extensively remodelled receiving another island platform to the east and new station offices. The waiting room on this platform has sash windows with the station name in blue glass, a typical feature of the Edwardian period. In 1952 the section of line to East Croydon was signalled for colour light working and a fine large brick signal box with a raised oval central section was erected. This was demolished in 1986 when the new signalling centre built on the opposite side of the main line took over control of all signals from East Croydon to Brighton. Just over the county border at Tinsley Green TQ 286399 was the first Gatwick Airport station which opened on the 30th September 1935 and was connected to the Beehive terminal by a subway. It closed in 1958 and as members who recently visited the splendidly restored Beehive noted, all trace has now disappeared.

1. The full story of Brighton Station can be found in Sussex Industrial History No 28, 1998.
2. The Middleton Press album `Three Bridges to Brighton' provides an excellent pictorial accompaniment, particularly of Hassocks.
3. The Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society have a talk on Brighton Station on February 28th.

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