Sunday, 5 July 2020

Devil's Dyke

Growing up in Littlehampton my nan's house faced a bus stop where some buses carried intriguing detination board for 'Devil's Dyke'. It seemed an impossibly romantic place but sadly well beyond our financial resources in the 1960s to visit! So I never made that bus trip which in the summer would have been on an open topped bus.

Later I discovered that Devil's Dyke also once had a railway running to it. This was even more tantalising. In the 70s I finally got to visit the Dyke, following the old railway up into the Downs after alighting at Aldrington Halt.

There were remains of the route throughout, once I got out of the suburban part. The Dyke itself was a bleak place, even on a summer's day, devoid of people or anything else apart from the farm that barred entry to the still existing Dyke station platform.

Delving into the history of the railway and the Dyke gave a fascinating insight into just how different Edwardian Sussex had been! For the Dyke Railway brought visitors up from Brighton and beyond to a whole range of attractions set hundreds of feet above the glittering coastline to the south.

The railway was opened on 1 September 1887' leaving the Portsmouth-Brighton line at what later became Aldrington Halt, climbing through the suburbs and on to the Downs. This was the only railway to climb the South Downs properly, other routes to the west tunneling through them instead. The route was approximately 3.5 miles long with an average gradient of 1 in 45.

The line's glory years were in Edwardian times (1901 to 1910), the First World War followed by an increase in motoring (no doubt including the precursor to that 31 bus that went past my nan's!) affected railway numbers, with the line closing completely on 31 December 1938.

As well as the railway there were two other unusual transport attractions at the top. There was a funicular railway down to Poynings which was 840 feet long with a gauge of 3 feet. It was called the Steep Grade Railway. This line opened on 24 July 1897. This was the only inland funicular passenger line in Sussex. It didn't last long, closing around ten years later.

There were many attractions at the Dyke including a hotel, amusements and a switchback railway (roller coaster). Many speculate that the Steep Grade Railway was closed because it was siphoning off trade from the Dyke's attractions to shops and pubs down in Poynings.

Another rail-like attraction was the Aerial Cableway, which spanned the Dyke itself. It was designed and built by William Brewer in 1894, it was made from 1,200 feet of cable, suspended  230 feet above the valley floor on cast metal supports.

It had two cars, each carrying just four passengers, which were pulled across the Dyke by a cable worked by an oil engine.


Like the Steep Grade Railway its popularity was short-lived, opening on the 13th October 1894 and carrying its last passengers around 1909.

The Dyke Railway is an unusual example of a railway that depended purely on an ephemeral, once fashionable, desire for entertainment in strange places from our ancestors. The whole set up burned brightly for a few decades before all returning to dust and the normal bleak beauty of the high South Downs.



Saturday, 25 April 2020

Bishops Waltham branch

1962 (Copyright Jim Lake).


1953 (Copyright John Aston)

A reminder (2015) (Sourced via Google)

Branch railmotor at Botley 1906

Durley Halt - a rare photo!

On our regular trips to Winchester to visit relatives in the 1960s and 1970s we normally went via Bishops Waltham, and there was an intriguing pair of old level crossing gates by a roundabout near the town centre.

Research revealed that these were a remnant of the branch line from Botley, on the Fareham to Eastleigh line, to Bishops Waltham. This line opened on 31 December 1863, closed early to passengers on 31 December 1932, and completely in 1962.

Following the course of the River Hamble for much of its route it was single track throughout and lightly engineered with just a few underbridges. There was a small halt at Durley (see pic above) which only opened in 1910 and only saw light traffic.

There were other rail proposals in the Bishops Waltham area which never saw the light of day (or at least not yet!) including a line to Petersfield and another to Alton. A further, later,  proposal was a route to Droxford on the Meon Valley route from Fareham to Alton.

Passenger and freight traffic was generally light, except in the strawberry season when there would be many special trains carrying the fruit to the markets in London.

Railmotors were used for a short time but lacked flexibility as they couldn't pull additional coaches.

A short section of line still exists at the Botley end. I remember walking this in about 1970, it was a real surprise to find it there. It was about 400 metres of so and overgrown with small trees in places! This section has since been restored as a siding for Foster Yeoman aggregate trains, and has even been doubled in recent times. The rest of the route beyond is basically intact but very overgrown in places.

There was a scheme to build a narrow gauge line along most of the route in 1964, but this didn't reach an advanced stage.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Mold 2.4.1985

(All copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

Mold station closed to passengers on 30 April 1962 and to freight on 5 May 1964. The line itself stayed open for freight for longer, operating to a chemical factory north of the station and beyond to a government installation at Rhydymwyn.

The last freight trains to run through Mold operated in March 1983. These photos were taken in 1985 when the tracks were still in situ, and were lifted in the summer of the same year, The station site was redeveloped as a supermatrket in the 1990s.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Hastings at Knockholt 1986

All pics 1.4.1986 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing

Knockholt is a small station in Kent, with a busy service. Back in 1986 it was an excellent spot to photograph a whole range of services and trains.

Top amongst these were the so-called 'Hastings' units which ran, on diesel power of course, from London Cannon Street down to Hastings via Tunbridge Wells and Battle. These were unique units, that were narrower than normal stock due to space restrictions on the Tonbridge-Hastings route. 

These would soon become history as the Tonbridge to Hastings line was electrified. This was their swansong. A few individual coaches also formed part of the 'Tadpole' units used on a few other routes.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Welsh short line!

Railway reminder at the waterfront.

153 333 at Cardiff Bay.

En route.

153 333 at Cardiff Queen Street.

(All pics copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing 21.6.2019

11th anniversary trip to Cardiff on Friday/Saturday. Wasn't supposed to be rail related in any way. But strange things happen. We wanted to go down to Cardiff Bay to see some of the sights. From the hotel it was about a mile. Half way down my wife started moaning 'This is boring, it's like Hartcliffe. I am NOT walking back!' I explained this was just the journey, not the destination, as we passed another cheap shop selling fags and lottery tickets.

But help was at hand. All the way down we'd been following a railway, being a bit out of my area I'd not much idea what it was, but we'd seen a few passenger trains running along it.

Turns out it was the Cardiff Bay branch, which used to be the Cardiff (Bute Street) branch which also connected this area of the docks to the network.

So train trip back it was! Cardiff Bay station reminded me a bit of those bus shelter type places so common in the 70s. Just a single line. A train came in quickly and we were soon trundling up the branch. It was a very short ride! Within about 4 minutes we were in the bay at Cardiff Queen Street station. So the train just shuttles up and down all day. Great service, busy and cheap.

Getting back to Bristol I did a little research. It seemed to me that the line would be so much better if it went the extra kilometre or so to the nice shops and restaurants at the water side. Also to the Welsh parliament (Senedd) and Welsh National Opera, both nearby.

Turns out that this is EXACTLY the plan. Within a few years the station at Cardiff Bay will close, the line will be extended towards the centre of the harbourside, an intermediate station will be built at Loudon Square and tram-trains will run every ten minutes on the line. It's great to see our branch lines being developed in the 21st century.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Venetian Finds

'Let's go to Venice, you'll love it. Canals, old buildings, history, boats. It's got everything'.

'Mmmm. Except anything rail related', I replied.

So we went.

Now I assumed Venice WAS all canals, old buildings, history and boats, so wasn't that disappointed when we got there. We were right over on the eastern side of the island, near St Mark's Square. I just wrote off rails and started taking all the obvious pictures, helped by a mist on the second day.

To get around Venice you walk, or take the water taxis. (Or, apparently, if you're made of money and romantic, whatever that is, a gondola).

We jumped on a water taxi that second morning, in the mist and biting cold. I noticed a stop 'Ferrovia'. My Italian's good enough to know that means railway station, so that's where we went! The western side of Venice is a little atypical as it does have a few cars and a cruise terminal (and some great shops and restaurants) and from the boat I spotted something I really wasn't expecting - rail!! Okay, it was a monorail, but that's a train too. Seconds later we were on land. Jumping off I spotted what looked like tram wires on a bridge. I had to explore. A minute later I was standing in front of a tramway!! A weird sort of tramway mind, with just a single rail, but a tramway nethertheless.

I later discovered the tramway only opened in 2015 and links Venice with the mainland, with two lines from Mestre further into the hinterland.

My wife then said, as I relayed news of my discovery to her, 'I told you there was a tramway in Venice'. True, she had, but I didn't believe her!

After that we went to the railway station, which I also didn't realise was there, always assumed Venice's railway station was on the mainland, a big 20-odd platform affair with trains in just about every platform. I took photos of all of them whilst she bought baby clothes from a nice shop on the station concourse.

The next day we took a trip on the strange tramway over the bridge and to Mestre, which was a strange experience. The tram runs on rubber tyres so felt a bit 'bussy' at first, but soon slipped into normal tram mode - fast acceleration, quiet running etc.

All in all Venice had plenty of rail interest and is well worth a visit in any case. Go there whilst it's still all there! 

The People Mover.

The monorail tramway at Venice.

Variety at Venice station.

The trip to Mestre.

All pics copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing 2019)