Saturday, 4 June 2022

Christ's Hospital

A fascinating white elephant in the Sussex countryside.

Pic - M.E. Fuggles, Christ's Hospital, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

My own memories.

In 1966 I was nine and just starting to get into railways, despite opposition from my dad who thought it was an odd interest! He was wrong of course.
Three memories, a trip from Littlehampton by train to a Longley's garden party in about 1963.
A day working in Egham with my dad (I know, I was nine).
Day trips to Bramber Castle from Littlehampton between 1964 and 1966.
The link? Christ's Hospital station. We went through on the garden party trip, when it was still in its heyday. I didn't see it, it was dark, but we did go through!
The Egham trip involved crossing over the railway at Slinfold. The line was closed by then, but the track was down and they were actually in the process of lifting it.
And Bramber? I remember three visits. The first. Seeing a DEMU in Bramber station, and dad gleefully announcing that the line would very shortly be closed. The second. Seeing the line and station all overgrown, from the road bridge that crossed over the line. The third. The line lifted and the station demolished.
So although somewhat tangential I'd seen all the aspects of Christ's Hospital, but years before I had the freedom to wander. Or a camera. The station itself, and the two lines whose closure led to its spectacular decline.

Setting the scene.

Christ's Hospital was one of three unusually large stations in very rural locations that the LBSCR built. Horsted Keynes is now a hub for the Bluebell Railway, and will become a junction station again when the Haywards Heath branch is reopened, giving the Bluebell Railway a second link to the Network. Singleton on the Chichester to Midhurst line was magnificent. a large multi platform station nestling in the South Downs, over supplied with everything ostensibly for traffic to Goodwood, high up on the Downs. This station closed to passengers in 1935, the line itself closing completely in 1951 after an accident north of Cocking when a culvert collapsed. And the third station was the subject of this blog. Christ's Hospital station is still there, and still sees trains, it is a tiny shadow of its former self. Now it's just a simple two platform station with few clues to its former status.
Christ's Hospital railway station is to the west of Horsham in West Sussex. It is 64.5 km down the line from London Bridge via Redhill. Opened in 1902 by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway it was intended primarily to serve Christ's Hospital, a large independent school which had moved to the area in that same year. It now also serves the rural area to the west of Horsham, after some development since opening.


The LBSCR was already considering building a new station at Stammerham to hopefully encourage residential development in the area, the new station to be called West Horsham, When the school decided to relocate the LBSCR was elated, expecing the area to experience a development boom, and lightheaded with all this constructed a lavish station building at the enormous cost of £30,000 (over 3 million in today's money!), which they managed to get the school to part finance. The station was built in a similar style to the school, utilising red bricks from the nearby Southwater Brickworks.
The site on the railway chosen for Christ's Hospital station had previously been used by the Aylesbury Dairy Company which had a small wooden platform on the Mid Sussex Railway for milk to be loaded and taken to London. The dairy company fell on hard times with the platform falling into disuse and this allowed the estate to be purchased in 1897 at a knock-down price by the school, which by then was seeking to move from London. It was expected that the school would attract large numbers of visitors which would need to be accommodated by the railway. 

Opening of the school

The school's foundation stone was laid by the Prince of Wales on 23 October 1897, the whole school came down by train to Horsham where a siding was laid for the occasion. This was of course before the actual station was opened.

The station itself

There were five through tracks serving seven platform faces, the station being 3.62km from Horsham station. The Cranleigh line diverged from the Mid Sussex line at the north end of the station, with the platforms curving away to the west. The rest of the station served the Mid Sussex and Steyning line trains. Platform 1 was mainly used at the start and end of school terms for the reception and despatch of pupils' trunks, and also for holiday specials. 


In a way decline set in almost from the beginning. The school traffic wasn't anything like was expected as the svhool was boarders only, so busy trains at beginning and end of term but little traffic otherwise!
And the expected residential development in the area never happened as the school bought up all the land for itself!
Whilst an excellent interchange point for the four lines it served the station didn't pull in many passengers from the area itself, so a big station served very few local people.
This left Christ's Hospital station too big and too costly and rationalisation started in the 1960s, with closure of the Guildford and Shoreham lines accelerating the process. With those lines gone Christ's Hospital became a minor station on a single through line, and soon became a characterless, bus stop style station with little traffic. But at least it escaped closure, which was threatened in the 1960s!

Travel Back in Time

There is one small way to revisit the station as it was and that is by watching the (otherwise dreadful) film ROTTEN TO THE CORE where, towards the end, the station becomes the star, with scenes of a class 33 hauling a passenger train and plenty of platform and exterior shots.


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