Hartington Road Halt… That station…
I’ve always been sympathetic towards those ‘sad’ individuals who have pursuits, fascinations and obsessions with benign subject matters that others claim not to be able to understand. This is possibly because I think it’s wrong to sit in judgement over what makes another happy, but more probably because I am most definitely one of them.
I do think that interest in your local surroundings comes naturally to some, and knowing the history of a place can give a greater sense of belonging, especially if your family have lived there for a long time. As a result I am always pursuing knowledge about the history of my area, often drawing blanks on more obscure details of places such as the Queens Park Cricket Ground, which stood where our family home is now in the late 19th century. Said ground only has the tiniest of archive references, although it does appear on a map of the time, the mid-off boundary being where I used to bowl pretend deliveries in our kitchen without any knowledge of such history. Eerie.
When I was a boy I learnt about the Kemptown railway. Hardly a secret for any adult Brighton folk at the time, but certainly a captivating and exciting nugget of learning for me. I think I may have first found out after discovering the remains of the former bridge that once straddled Lewes Road. By that time the Hartington Road Bridge had gone, but a group of us were able to climb some rickety steps through a goods yard (or something similar) off the Lewes Road and walk along the long grass on the top of the bridge to the rather dangerous edge. Thinking about it, the steps may have been the former gateway to the long gone Lewes Road station. I must have climbed there on many an occasion until the bridge was eventually destroyed sometime around 1983.
At the far eastern end of the loop was the Kemptown tunnel. It was at the top end of the industrial estate that replaced the goods yard and, back in the early 80s, it was accessible-especially to kids with inquisitive minds and a sense of adventure. One Saturday afternoon a friend and myself, in a most clandestine way, went up to the entrance and into the mouth of the tunnel. I remember ‘bottling out’ of going further. The thought of something awful happening overcame me. In recent years I understand that tours have been made through the tunnel, but I always seem to have missed out. It is a hope of mine to have that opportunity sometime soon, but not the all consuming obsession concerning finding more about, and most importantly a picture, of a single platform that once stood 200 yards or so from the Elm Grove end of the tunnel, has become.
It was my Mum who told me of Hartington Road Halt even though it closed many a year before she was born. She may have been of the conclusion it was still there when she was at school-which would have been the fog of memory. Mum attended Elm Grove School at a time when goods trains were still going through the west side of the tunnel that was entered underneath the school playground. When I first went down to that patch of ground the entire track had been removed and the area was fully grassed. Even the tunnel entrance was grown over, meaning no evidence remained of that part of the journey.
It seems pictures of every part of the line exist. The stations, the track, signals, bridges, trains of different types. Yet nothing, absolutely nothing, of Hartington Road Halt.
I have set it upon myself to resolve this missing piece of the jigsaw (or is it my life some might ask!) but to no avail. The excellent 6000 member facebook page ‘Brighton-Past’ has been heavily used, to the probable exasperation of some of its members, although some have chosen to share my frustrations. Again, despite others heroic efforts, only an artist’s impression of what may have been has surfaced. Even the internet age cannot find this Holy Grail. So today I played my final hand, making my first visit to the splendid ‘Keep’, the new records office and archive for East Sussex at Falmer.
The staff at this building were most helpful, my plan being to check out the newspapers in January 1906 (when the station opened) and January 1911 (when it closed), and take things from there. I looked through three publications from the time, the Argus, the Gazette, and the Herald. All local newspapers from the area. Nothing, not even a mention. Now, I know Rowen Halt, a Hove station that opened in 1934, did so with pomp and ceremony. It was the want of the time. One would expect a station from thirty years earlier to have done the same. Well if it did I can find no report. Strange-and frustrating.
Although I cannot evidence the opening dates of our mysterious station, given that the internet sources may be synoptic, I would assume the original document(s) they are pruned from were official. I wish I knew what they were. I did check a map from the turn of the century, which the station does not feature on, and one from 1911, which it does, so things do seem in order.
So, what can I do? I’m not that disappointed, honestly. It’s more a frustration that my detective nature has drawn a blank despite its pursuit of all the strongest leads, to my knowledge, which were available. As other folk have drawn the same blank too, I’m guessing that the only photos available may exist in a private collection, or, yet unlikely, no photo was ever taken.
It was once said that it’s not the finding of the Holy Grail, but the searching that brings the most excitement. With this in mind I do wonder about the anti-climax that would ensue should an e-mail be received one day with the elusive picture attached. Perhaps the adventurous child in me wishes to remain. But it would be nice, before I take my last gasp, if someone could just say ‘You might want to take a look at this’ and finally the Kemptown railway jigsaw would fall into place. I certainly wouldn’t hold that breath….