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1837: Railway link heads east

A railway enthusiasts day out in 1962 seen here at Lewes Railway Station

On 25th January 1837 a public meeting was held in Brighton to discuss building a railway between London and the South Coast. Several schemes were discussed but the consensus was to use the scheme proposed by Mr John Urpeth Rastrick (1780-1856) for a railway line from Elephant and Castle, London to Church Street, Brighton (much closer to the seafront than the present station). The proposal included branch lines west to Shoreham and east to Lewes, although a separate scheme from the South Eastern Railway proposed a railway from Brighton to the harbour at Newhaven. The House of Commons accepted the Rastrick route on 3rd May 1837.

The London to Brighton line was completed in 1841 and, of course, changed the fortunes of Brighton forever. Plans were soon being made to extend the railway eastwards. The Brighton, Lewes and Hastings Railway was formed in 1844 with a committee of fifteen eminent gentlemen which included William Catt the owner of the Bishopstone Tide Mills.

The delightful scenic line to Lewes and beyond.

It was estimated that the cost of the railway would be £475,000 and the engineer was, of course, Mr Rastrick. He proposed a double line from Brighton to Lewes with a single line onwards to Hastings.

It was proposed that the main station for Eastbourne was to be located at Polegate. There would also be railway stations to serve Glynde and Firle, Selmeston, Westham and Bexhill.  Meetings were held at Town Halls along the proposed line and representations were made to Parliament, the one from the people of Lewes mentioning the defence implications of having a railway along our ‘vulnerable coast in time of war’.

On 13th August 1844, the Sussex Advertiser reported that the railway line between Brighton and Hastings had been marked out with a number of flags on prominent parts of the proposed line. The report says that construction work was planned as soon as the crops were removed. At Lewes a large flag had been erected at the bottom of Saint Mary’s Lane (now Station Street) to mark the proposed railway station. The main features of the line were the huge and impressive viaduct between Brighton and London Road Station and the Falmer Tunnel, both engineered by Mr Rastrick.

The railway between Brighton and Lewes opened on 8th June 1846 although the station on 'Ham Field' had not been completed. Strangely there seems to have been little rejoicing about this momentous occasion. A suggestion that there should be a half-holiday and shops closed was rejected and the local press said that there was ‘pre-eminent indifference’ to the event. This may have been due to differing ideas as to where Lewes Station should be situated.

For more details covering Brighton and the security implications of the local railway system read the full article at

British Transport Police History Group - Preserving the History of Railway, Dock and Canal Policing

The full by article by Kevin Gordon, Seaford in 2013 also appeared in serialised form in the Sussex Express.

Photo top: View NW at Lewes Railway Station, towards Brighton to the left, Haywards Heath and London to the right; ex-LB&SCR London/Brighton - Eastbourne/Hastings/Seaford lines; also to the right the unelectrified lines went via East Grinstead and Eridge to Oxted and London. The two locomotives are two ex-LB&SC locomotives: Stroudley A1X class 0-6-0T No. 32636 and R. Billinton E6 class 0-6-2T No. 32418.

Photo below: Heart of Reeds, Lewes Railway Nature Reserve A landscaped area of reeds within the nature reserve to attract wildlife designed by Chris Drury. Photo taken 2006.



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