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1844: Awestruck with the new local railway

The Balcombe (Ouse) Viaduct

Today we take travelling on a train - to and fro London - for granted. We overlook the engineering miracles performed with just primitive equipment some 180 years ago. But for a traveller back then venturing on the local railway line for the first time it was a matter of wonderment and pride. Here is an anonymous account of the journey from Balcombe to Brighton in 1844.

Balcombe Station

Thirty-three and half miles from London, and situate near to the village. There being nothing particular to remark respecting this station, we proceed on our journey. The Railway works, after leaving this station, assume a character of more than ordinary interest; the cuttings and embankments are of considerable magnitude; and about 35 miles from London, we arrive at the Ouse viaduct [Balcombe Viaduct].

The most stupendous work of the kind in the kingdom. It is built of brick, except the parapet, which is of stone. There are thirty-seven arches, each of thirty feet span.

Underneath the arches of the Balcombe (Ouse) Viaduct

The Viaduct is one hundred feet in height to the level of the road; the height of the abutments is forty feet; and the length a quarter of a mile. The prospect is most extensive and beautiful. Having passed the viaduct and an embankment, together with a heavy cutting, we shortly arrive at Hayward's Heath Station, Thirty Seven and three-quarter miles from London.

This station is distant one mile from Cuckfield. Immediately on quitting the station, we pass through a short tunnel of 230 yards, under the turnpike road, which opens into a cutting of one mile and a quarter, and then an embankment over St. John's Common, we proceed to the Hassocks' Gate Station.

Forty-three and a half miles from London, and seven from Brighton. This station is a great convenience to the neighbouring gentry, being but a short distance from Ditchelling, Hurstperpoint, &c. The next work of importance which we shortly approach is the Clayton Tunnel, at the entrance to which is erected a pretty piece of Gothic architecture, which can be seen from the turnpike road, which passes over the Railway near the spot.

The tunnel is cut through chalk, and is one mile and a quarter in length. On leaving the tunnel, we pass an extensive cutting through chalk of great magnitude, after which we pass through Patcham Tunnel, through the property of Major Paine, who compelled the proprietors to make it rather than an open cutting. It is 480 yards in length. Cuttings and embankments now follow each other in rapid succession to the end of the journey. After passing the fiftieth mile stone, we shortly arrive at the Brighton Station.


The Stranger's Guide in Brighton; being a complete companion to that fashionable place, and the rides and drives in its vicinity. P83 Author unknown. 1844

NOTE: The Balcombe (Ouse) Viaduct was designed by the engineer John Urpeth Rastrick for the London & Brighton Railway. The architect David Mocatta was associated with its design. It was completed in 1842, is listed Grade II and was restored 1996-99.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.



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