HENFIELD HISTORY GROUP HOMEPAGE
This was by far our most popular evening to date, with about 90 people squeezed into the hall.
The growing importance of Brighton in the early 1800s as a salt water spa resort and its rapid expansion in later years meant it needed a rail link with London. Possible routes were being considered in the 1830s, some of which showed the railway coming down the Adur Valley. Henfield Museum has plans of two possible routes, one showing the line passing through the middle of Henfield and the other clipping the edge of Henfield common and heading in the direction of Fulking. In the end, a direct route was chosen between London and Brighton and the line was opened in 1841.
This line was owned by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) who had a monopoly on rail passenger travel between London and Brighton. In 1857 this monopoly was threatened by a company who proposed to link London with the south coast going via Dorking and Horsham, and coming down the Adur Valley to Shoreham-by-Sea. This became known as "The Landowners Line", and was a direct route keeping mainly to the west of the River Adur. It would have passed about 2 miles to the west of Henfield. In response to this threat, the LB&SCR put forward their own proposal for a line down the Adur Valley which would pass through many villages on the way. Both schemes went before Parliament and the LB&SCR scheme was approved in July 1858. Work on this line began in the spring of 1859, the section of single track between Shoreham and Partridge Green was opened on 1st July 1861 and the remaining section north to Itchingfield Junction was opened on 16th September 1861. A second line was added in about 1879.
The overall route was looked at in this talk and engineering reasons given why the route was chosen. Henfield and Steyning being the two largest villages on the route meant that they had to have stations. Cowfold was also quite a large village but it was too far east of the route and had to be served by a station near West Grinstead, 2 miles to the west. Other stations on the line were at Southwater, Partridge Green and Bramber. Crossings of the River Adur were made at narrow points on the flood plain. Slides were shown of the railway when it was in operation and as it looks now. Views of the line in the late 1950s and in the 1960s and of the track being taken up in the autumn of 1966 were loaned by John Whiting.
The railway which was closed under the Beeching Plan in 1966 is now part of the Downs Link and Coastal Link paths, and is much used by walkers, cyclists and horseriders. Most of the bridges on the route still survive. The station platforms at Southwater and West Grinstead also survive and WSCC has reinstated the station name signs at their original sites. The site of the station at Partridge Green is now occupied by houses and the Star Road Industrial Estate. The aptly named Beechings Estate occupies the site of Henfield Station - the concrete steps at the northern end of the estate are the original steps which led down to the station entrance.
Standard designs were used for stations, signal boxes, etc. Southwater, Partridge Green and Bramber stations had similar layouts and designs. Steyning was similar to Henfield, but had facilities for the steam trains to take on water.
The last official steam train ran on 3rd May 1964 but Alan Barwick is convinced that a steam train did appear on the line after the diesel units took over; goods trains also ran on the line. Some 30 trucks per day loaded with bricks would leave the sidings at Southwater. Coal came into most stations for local coalmen and also at Henfield to serve the Steam Mill and Gas Works. Goods traffic at Steyning was mainly animals leaving the market on Wednesdays. Bramber Station was used by tourists visiting the Castle, Museum and the many tea gardens in the village. The platforms at Bramber were made extra long to accommodate special excursion trains. West Grinstead station didn't have much passenger traffic and its main business was in horses being taken to and from the local studs. The cement works at Beeding generated a lot of goods traffic bringing gypsum and coal in and taking the cement out. After the railway closed, a single track was kept up from Shoreham to serve the cement works until 1980.
Tolls continued to be collected by the railway on the Shoreham Toll Bridge until the by-pass opened in 1970. The Steyning by-pass follows part of the route of the old railway line. All the buildings connected with the station at Steyning have been demolished except for the railway workers cottages on top of the embankment next to the Kings Barn Lane road bridge. The only other station building that has survived along the route of the railway is the station master's house at West Grinstead which again is at the top of an embankment.
The evening concluded with people viewing memorabilia on the railway that was brought along by John Whiting, Eddie Colegate and Henfield Museum.
The following related websites will provide further interesting reading:
London, Brighton & South Coast Railway
The Ronald Shephard Railway Collection
Signal Boxes of the LBSCR
HENFIELD HISTORY GROUP HOMEPAGE