THE SUSSEX RAILWAYS OF COLONEL STEPHENS
JOHN S.F. BLACKWELL
2. The Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway (Newsletter 91)
The Selsey peninsular lying to the south of Chichester was originally an island and then formed part of the Hundred of Manhood (main wood) i.e. it was originally part of a huge forest. It was, and still is, primarily an agricultural and sparsely populated area except for the post war development at Selsey.
By the end of the nineteenth century, improvements in communications between Chichester and Selsey were mooted, with The Selsey Railway and Pier Act of 18 which would have provided a connection to the LBSCR at Chichester and terminated with a pier for steamers, near the coastguard station at Selsey. Capital required was £75,000 but the scheme was not proceeded with. In 1895 a simpler scheme omitting the pier, estimated at £21,000 was proposed but this too run into difficulties, probably with local landowners, until it emerged again at a meeting attended by city worthies at the Dolphin Hotel, Chichester, on the 1 1 th March 1896. From this meeting, the Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramways Company Limited was formed. which being a tramway was not subject to the Light Railway Act, but had therefore to make inconvenient detours by skirting fields and running through farms to get a right of way, with a capital of L12,000. Later demands raised this to £21,500.
H.F. Stephens was appointed Engineer in January 1897. The contractors, Messrs. Mancktelow Bros. of Horsmonden Kent, previously used by Stephens on the Rye and Camber Tramway, undertook to lay the permanent way within four months following the delivery of the materials. They were presumably also responsible for the station building, as they were of the same corrugated iron sheet on wooden frames as used on the Rye and Camber. The line opened for traffic on the 27th August 1897 It was 7 miles long (stopping initially short of Selsey Town Statio The following year a half mile extension took the line to Selsey beach. An inauspicious start to line's career was made with the first train arriving an hour late for the inaugural journey from Chichester with three coaches of which only two could be accommodated at the platform. The lines prospectus had stated "it is not intended or desired to run trains at express speeds" a statement which proved all too true in the years to follow. In 1898 a "Railway Magazine" reporter noted after arriving forty minutes late at Selsey & fifteen minutes after the train was advertised to return. "I am told that originally the Company did not state the arrival times of trains, I am rather surprised that they do so now. it is an overbold stroke of policy".
The line prospered until about 1920 indeed in 1913 powers were sought for a Light Railway Order for a branch from Hunston to West Itchenor and East Wittering with a 200 foot long pier at West Itchenor. The first world war intervened and the powers lapsed in 1921. The line continued to operate without parliamentary powers until January 1924 when application was made under the little used Railway Construction Facilities Act of 1864 for a change of name to the "West Sussex Railway - Selsey Tramway Section. More importantly this empowered the ailing line to enter into negotiation with the newly created Southern Railway with regard to re-construction, working and management of the line, having been left out of the 1923 grouping.The Southern Railway were not interested and with increasing bus competition passenger traffic decreased from 102,292 in 1919 to 13,416 in 1931, when a receiver was appointed. By November 1934 there was only one train per day each way and on the 19th January 1935 the service was "suspended until further notice". Shortly after the line's assets were disposed of for scrap.
There were eleven stations on the seven mile line and today some 60 years after closure the course of the line can still be largely followed, (a recommended excursion). The Chichester terminus was situated to the south of the LBSCR station behind Terminus Road opposite the canal basin. There was a single track connection between the two Companies but neither Companies' locomotives were allowed on the others metals. On leaving the terminus in a westwards direction a sharp curve was negotiated, before crossing Terminus Road across land which is now covered by factories. and then over Stockbridge Road. Here the line continued along the present footpath and then along the west bank of the canal, which was crossed by a bridge at Hunston. This lifting bridge was built and owned by Chichester City Council who charged the tramway £2 per annum. When it required to be opened for small sea going vessels, which during the time the tramway was operating were horse drawn from Birdham lock to Chichester basin, five men were needed for the operation which included the removal of fish plates. The concrete abutments remain. From the south side of the bridge a footpath follows the course of the railway to the site of Hunston Station which was situated to the south of the main road to Selsey.
Hoe Farm Halt was a private "station" for the local farmer/landowner with no building but Chalder some mile further on was the standard corrugated iron and timber framed structure. The next stop was Mill Pond Halt North Sidlesham. Sidlesham was the site of a tide mill erected in 1755 with eight pairs of stones. It lost its source of natural power in 1876 with the reclamation of Pagham Harbour but continued working until 1906 using steam power. The building collapsed around 1920 but the foundations are still visible. On December 15th 1910 there was a catastrophic flood which inundated 2,000 acres of the reclaimed land in one hour, flooding the line to a depth of 12 feet. A replacement service was provided by a stagecoach, a portent of things to come! At this date the Company was prosperous enough to pay for a mile long embankment 15 feet high on which the track was re-laid. The corrugated station building was placed at right angles to the track facing the road and never replaced on the reconstructed platform. The hump where the road was raised and the embankment are still there.
Ferry Station. opened on the 1st August 1898, was situated where the track crossed the main road on a very dangerous (and still dangerous) blind bend. With no gates and increasing motor traffic, it is not surprising there were several accidents here in the latter years.
Golf Club Halt. a private "station" for members, was the site of a major derailment on the 3rd September 1923. when the fireman of the locomotive was killed. Although the inquest verdict was accidental death, the Chief Engineer (Stephens) was held indirectly to blame as there was evidence of neglect in the upkeep of the track. One juryman declared it was possible within 200 yards of the accident. to lift out bolts supposedly holding rails to the sleepers.
Selsey Bridge Station was situated in a cutting near the present police house but has been completely obliterated. A siding just north of the station served the Trojan brickworks. Another brickworks had sidings south of the canal bridge at Hunston.
Selsey Town Station was situated opposite and to the north of the present "Stargazer" public house, originally the "Railway Arms". Chichester and Selsey Stations were the only ones with any form of illumination, both being lit by gas supplied from local gas works. There was a small goods shed and transport of produce. and in the early days the Pullinger patent mousetrap, provided an important income to the Company; of the total receipts of £2,400 in 1933. £1,800 was for carnage of goods. The loco shed with facilities for six engines was also sited here.
Up to 1912, a half mile extension to the east beach operated at least in summer.
The Company only ever bought one new locomotive "Selsey" in 1897. The other locomotive used at the line's opening, "Chichester", was acquired in 1897 but built in 1847. Various other decrepit locomotives between 20 and 40 years old were used at various periods in the lines existence. Carriages fared slightly better, three being purchased new for the opening and a further one in 1900. Seven second-hand carriages were obtained between 1910 and 1916, the time of the line's greatest prosperity.
Because of the poor condition of the locomotives and in a bid to reduce operating costs, Stephens pioneered the use of rail cars, these were basically lorry/bus chassis with flanged wheels and a body with longitudinal wooden seats. They ran as pairs with often an open wagon for goods and luggage coupled in between. Only the leading vehicle was used as motive power the rear one being towed dead. It was noted by one traveller like, being "transported in an oil drum leaving one with a continual ringing in the ears, the stench of petrol in the nostrils and an extremely sore behind". The first set was supplied by Wolseley Siddley in 1921 followed in 1923 by a set from Edmunds of Thetford using a Ford Model T chassis and finally in 1928 two Shefflex sets.
H.F Stephens died in 1931 and did not live to see the final ignominious years of an undertaking that had started so full of hope.
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