Above Picture-Railway Magazine- September 1951
For most of us, the 1930s is a time that can only be seen through the lens of an old camera. Where everything is black and white, and any rare colour footage only serves to confuse our brain in its desperate attempt to gain some clarity that only actual memories could afford. Certainly Brighton at this time, the culture, the way of life, with its ideologies, fears and its expectations, is primarily not found in such imagery but the tales of those who were living back in the day. For me the best way to try and gain an insight into an era, as well as speaking to those still surviving, is found in the literature of the time, the factual writings. I love reading old newspapers with their formal reports and their lofty commentary, and publications on specific hobbies and pursuits. This way the photographs we see support the language and attitudes of the time, rather than define them, and cease to be our only window to that world. It was only recently, when looking for articles about a disused local railway station (see ‘In search of Hartington Road Halt’) that I realised how the written word, objectively viewed, is the master of insight, and how pictures are merely the supporting act.
The above is certainly true where exciting pictures of old steam trains racing along those evergreen tracks are concerned. For me such imagery can never be complete without its own gospel of literature-the old fashioned timetables. As well as giving an idea of how a person may have planned their day, these certainly provide a wonderful and detailed understanding of all the places that were once accessed by glorious rail but have long since been axed. Apparently, as well as the timetables, Southern Railway used to provide a ramblers guide with the various walks that could be taken between stations, so I would imagine that, given the cuts, about half the number of pages used would suffice for the modern age…
A short while ago, whilst obsessively investigating the web of Sussex railways pre-Beeching, I took to Ebay in the hope of finding some of these ancient logs. My intention was to fathom out some of the potential trips that one could take into the countryside, whilst looking at other convenient commutes people would make nowadays had things remained unchanged. It was then that I happened upon the Bradshaw’s Railway Guide.
Now Bradshaw’s was the ultimate directory of train timetables, an enthusiasts dream. By the late 1930s, the time of the re-print I have, it had been around for about a century. George Bradshaw, a Victorian cartographer and printer, has a wide range of publications that bear his name, before and after his death, the railway timetables seemingly being the most famous. The 1938 guide lists comprehensive tables for shipping as well as trains, it also carries a huge series of hotel adverts, of which, as they involve Brighton, I will come on to later. But for now let us talk of journeys into Sussex from Brighton station as both commuter and, well, rambler too.
A number of lines, the passing of which is lamented by many, exist in the directory. Brighton to Horsham via Shoreham, Brighton to Tunbridge Wells via Uckfield, it was also possible to go direct to East Grinstead- the last stretch of which is now the Bluebell Railway line. The desire to fully re-open that connection is still alive but could be many years away if ever it happens. Also, very noticeable entry is the Dyke railway, which surely would have seen much summer use these days.
As for the long lost stations, well, on the Horsham line we have Steyning, a town which has grown much since that time, Bramber, as well as Henfield and Partridge Green (not that we would want to deny the number 17 bus its monopoly). Travelling north-east, such delights as Uckfield open up to us, as well as Barcombe which had two stations because of the crossing of lines, still seemingly bizarre for somewhere so tiny. Certainly some of the later cuts lacked foresight. It was possible to travel from Three Bridges to East Grinstead, a line which I never understood the chopping of, given the traffic jams on the A264 each day. In the east Heathfield and Hailsham were accessible via what is now known as the Cuckoo trail, very popular with cyclists and walkers alike. I could, of-course, mention the old Kemptown line, but that has been subject of many an article by many a person, although here is that link concerning the search for information concerning one of its long lost station, Hartington Road Halt, for those who wish to learn more.
Rather than pontificating on the lines themselves, bearing in mind I never travelled on them, I have produced a sample of example journeys and times that may be of interest to folk who would wish to imagine how a day would be planned when journeying to these dearly departed venues. They can be found at the bottom of the page.
One of the things that strikes me most about the Bradshaws of 1938 is how its seems so blissfully ignorant of the prospects of upcoming war. Below I have featured some pictures of the entries that include continental travel, and even as Hitler advanced across Europe one of them still advertises travel to Cologne. Its amazing how looking back we can gaze in wonder with knowledge of the upcoming events that some people going about their daily lives at the time would have had little indication of the magnitude of.
Another feature of the publication worth a mention is the adverts of local hotels keen to reach as wide a national readership as possible. There are a few for Brighton. The Metropole takes a full page, contactable on Brighton 4041, and is keen to inform us of it special inclusive terms from 7 guineas a week. The Bedford Hotel, equally keen to tell us how often Charles Dickens stayed there, talks of its luxury apartments with ‘running water’. A descriptive brochure with tariffs was available on application. The Old Ship, cheaper than the Metropole, is also listed, as is the Belvidere Mansion Hotel and a number of other smaller adverts. All list phone numbers, a convenient and essential requirement for those looking to attract the ever expanding wealthy custom.
For the local rail enthusiast the Bradshaws provides a wonderful contact with times gone by when accompanied by those wonderful pictures of the steam engines that were still in use on a number of lines at the time. I found myself planning imaginary days out and pondering on how some rural locations were made more accessible and desirable to live in should I have held a job in Brighton at the time. I would thoroughly recommend popping online and getting a copy to anyone who loves to read of the railways of yesteryear.
Here are some timetable examples:
|Holland Road Halt||9.12||14.12||Rowan Halt||11.46||17.47|
|Rowan Halt||9.19||14.19||Holland Road Halt||11.53||17.54|
|East Grinstead||via Haywards Heath||via Lewes|
|Horsted Keynes||6.51||15.46||20.46||Newick & Chailey||7.15||12.40||18.12|
|Horsham via Shoreham|