5 Lewes to Eastbourne



John Blackwell

5 Lewes to Eastbourne
On leaving Lewes the line curves sharply to the south to cross the River Ouse on Southerham Bridge. A requirement when the line was built in 1846 was that the river was to remain navigable to Lewes and hence the bridge had to be capable of being "opened". There has been a suggestion that the earliest bridge was telescopic, similar to that across the Arun at Ford but this has not been substantiated.
The first bridge was replaced by one where the centre section could be rolled back to allow passage; the operation requiring thirty men to remove the rails and signal connections and turn the capstan winch. By the 1930s, traffic to Lewes was occassional but cement was carried down to Newhaven from a wharf just above the bridge, the remains of which are still visible. By transporting the cement by rail free of charge to Newhaven, the expensive and time consuming operation of opening was eliminated. A concrete replacement was built in the 1980s. The cement works of Eastwoods were to the east of the road leading from the Cuilfail Tunnel to the A27 roundabout. In the 1950s this was the main A27 road to Eastbourne along which could be seen the evocative road sign of a small locomotive belching smoke which signified an ungated level crossing. To a small boy travelling by bus or car there was always a chance of an industrial locomotive crossing the road with wagons of cement. The works closed in 1981 and with the opening of the Lewes bypass and associated road works it is almost impossible to trace the crossing and transfer sidings. The site of the works is now an industrial estate.
Crossing the A27, at Beddingham by one of the many level crossings on this stretch of line, one arrives at Glynde Station. Opened with the line in 1846 the view from the entrance to the station yard is unchanged from that in 1902, except for the cars. The white painted station house is an early example of LB&SCR architecture with casement windows, hood mouldings above and a slated porch and may date from the opening of the line. The single storey brick extension dates from 1874. In the yard was a steam corn roller mill, the building of which remains. On the platforms all of interest has been swept away. Behind the up platform can still be made out a siding and the tunnel that ran under the road into Balcombe Pit where lime was produced until about 1970.
On 17th October 1885 a Telpher line or aerial railway was opened from transfer sidings in Glynde goods yard to a clay pit, believed to be Caburn Pit, about a mile away. The clay was to be used in the cement making process at the newly established Sussex Portland Cement Company works at South Heighton near Newhaven. Telpherage differed from aerial ropeways in that instead of hauling the suspended wagons by a continuous moving cable the wagons themselves were powered by electric motors, taking their current from the aerial lines. It was the invention of Professor H.C. Fleming-Jenkin who patented the system in 1882 and so dates from the earliest days of the commercial exploitation of electric power. The system at Glynde was the first electrically powered aerial railway in the world. The line used steel rods as running rails supported about 18 ft above the ground by wooden frames about 66 ft apart. How successful the system was is unknown but the 1899 Ordnance Survey shows it replaced by a tramway crossing Glynde Reach by a bridge. The clay pit and tramway ceased to be used about 1915. If one walks a quarter mile west from Glynde Bridge a small embankment can be found either side of the long vanished crossing at TQ455086. A bridge can also be found under Ranscombe Lane at TQ452087
At Ripe crossing TQ492085 is the only surviving original crossing keeper's cottage on the line. Built in brick and flint the single story building is now in residential use. Berwick station building is almost certainly the 1846 original although possibly extended. Behind the up platform is some early company housing whilst on the opposite side behind the 1876 Saxby and Farmer signal box are later 1890s examples. The canopy, on the up platform shelter, has the very ornate valence that the LB&SCR occasionally used; surviving examples are now rare.
Polegate has an interesting railway history, the original station at TQ583048 was similar to Berwick and with some early railway cottages adjacent; surprisingly these survived until the late 1960s. Branches to Eastbourne and Hailsham were opened on 14th May 1849. A second tation with an overall roof was opened in December 1860. On 3rd October 1881 a new station some quarter mile east of the first and second stations at TQ 586047 was opened following realignment of the branches to allow through running between Eastbourne and Tunbridge Wells via Hailsham and Heathfield (the Cuckoo Line). The station house was similar to those at London Road Brighton and Portslade and a subway and stairs led to two island platforms. Services to Tunbridge Wells ceased on 14th June 1965 but continued to operate to Hailsham until 9th September 1968. The station became very dilapidated and on 25th May 1986 the present station opened on the site of the original. The platforms of the 1881 station were demolished but the station building has been converted to a pub restaurant and looks very fine, especially in comparison with the crossing signal box, opposite the present station, which now sports UPVC windows! Wandering about in the car park, which was the old goods yard, the trackbed of the 1849 and 1881 alignments of the Hailsham branch can still be traced. In Station Road they are more easily discernable, with that of the earlier alignment leading to the Cuckoo Trail, for walkers and cyclists, which follows the route of the old line to Heathfield.
Hampden Park was opened as Willingdon on 1st January 1888. It was named after Lord Willingdon, a major local landowner, who lived at nearby Ratton Park. At the turn of the last century he created a large public park and gave it to the people of Eastbourne. The park was named Hampden Park, after Willingdon's father-in-law Viscount Hampden of Glynde Place. The Corporation persuaded the LB&SCR to change the name of the station to Hampden Park which took effect from 18t July 1903. There is little of historic interest remaining except the signal box.
Eastbourne is another interesting railway location there have been four stations since the branch from Polegate opened in 1849. The first station, little more than a wooden hut, was sited where the Post Office now is on the west side of the road. The coming of the railway allowed the town to be developed and Upperton Road was laid out to facilitate access for housing to the north of the railway. This caused the station to be re-sited to the current site in 1866. This station was allegedly altered or rebuilt in 1872 and again in 1886 to the present design, other than the addition of the new booking hall on the north side in the 1930s. I have not come across any prints or photographs of the second station and only a couple (not particularly informative) of the third. Any information would be gratefully received.
To be continued

Further information on the Glynde Aerial Railway can be found in Sussex Industrial History No17 published in 1987

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