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1835: 'Utterly impracticable' Brighton line

London Illustrated News, 7 December 1844

I was recently shown a collection of researched material and came across a cutting of this uncredited article, which today will raise a smile:

In 1835, a year prolific in Railway schemes, no fewer than four lines between London and Brighton were projected-brought before and supported by the public; and in 1836 a contest of as keen a character as was ever known in Parliament for a private bill, was carried on between the supporters of the competing lines, (the Direct, Stephenson's, Gibbs', and Cundy's) each striving for Parliamentary mastery.

For some considerable period Stephenson's was the favourite, the shares (to such a pitch was speculation in them carried) being quoted at one period at £16 premium. It continued in the ascendant during nearly the whole of the Session of 1836, the Bill authorizing its construction having been passed by the Commons by a large majority; but, sio transit gloria mundi, [regretting that something has or is about to end] the Lords rejected it.

London in a state of ferment

During the Parliamentary contest, London was in a state of ferment on the subject of a railway to Brighton. In the Committee on the bill more philosophers and pseudo philosophers-physicians of note and no note were examined on the question of tunnels than were ever before known, or for the sake of science and com mon sense, it is hoped, ever will be again on any question whatever.

In 1837 the contest recommenced with renewed vigour and fury; but Parliament, wearied and utterly sick of the question, placed it for adjudication in the hands of a Commissioner, (Capt, Alderson), to decide on the merits of the respective lines. His report was in favor of the Direct line, which was immediately sanctioned by the Legislature.

Rastrick's evidence wins the argument

At the beginning of that year the line was placed, under the superintendence of John Urpeth Rastrick, a man of the very highest talent and grade in his profession as a civil engineer, possessing also with unwearying assiduity a rare practical acquaintance with machinery in all its details. To his evidence in Parliament the success of the present line was mainly attributable, and to him alone is all the honor of the Engineering part of it due.

After him come his excellent assistants, Mr. Coombe, CE, who had the super intendence of that portion of the line from the junction at Croydon to Horley; Mr. Maude, CE from Horley to Burgess Hill Station, which takes in the splendid Ouse Viaduct; Mr. Statham, CE (who has since been honored with the appointment of Resident Engineer) the whole of the heavy works from Burgess Hill to Brighton; and Mr. James Potter, CE the Merstham, Balcombe, and Clayton Tunnels.

an amusing history of railway tactics

The manoeuvres exercised in Parliament, and the caricatures published by the partisans of the one line

against the other, would, if collected, form an amusing history of railway tactics. Men of high repute as

Civil Engineers declared the line to be utterly impracticable, and foretold failure and ruin to all engaged in its formation from the Engineer to the Contractor, and from them to the innocent Shareholder. What 'Daniels' they have proved! The railway perfected and open from end to end is the short but potent reply.

It would be equally unjust as it would be unworthy and ungracious, to omit at this point acknowledging, that to the talent, integrity, urbanity and activity displayed to all, and on all occasions, by John Harman, Esq. the Chairman of the Board of Directors, seconded by a body of colleagues of merit not surpassed in railway direction, the life and spirit and harmony which have ever animated all concerned in the operations connected with this undertaking from its commencement have been mainly owing. Happily, most happily, have they been supported by a willing, wealthy, and confiding proprietary, and an executive worthy of such leaders.

We have to apologize to this gentleman for omitting his name in the first edition of this work, as one of Mr Rastrick's efficient assistants.


This possibly may have been an extract from: London and Brighton Railway Guide ... and the Official Map and Section of the Line, 1841.

Or: The official guide to the London, Brighton & south coast railway, by London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, 1888.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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