Have you ever come across a sign saying Station Road but there is no railway station to be seen? Perhaps an old brick bridge in an empty field, or even a platform in the middle of a forest? I have often wondered at theses peculiarities, especially as they provide a tantalising glimpse into a Victorian icon. Dotted all over the UK are items of railway infrastructure which have been abandoned, forgotten and left to stand alone.
Once part of a grand rail network of approximately 23,500 miles of track (1), from major intercity links to small rural branch lines, these lost stations and disused lines provide a throwback to a time when the train was king.
Figure 1: Mapping contents (c) Crown copyright and database rights 2016 Ordnance Survey 100035207
Small communities of people, towns and villages, often isolated from major horse and cart routes were suddenly connected to the rest of the nation (fig1). From great steam-powered gladiators to small tank engines, all kinds of locomotives were seen transporting people and goods all across the UK. The birth of the seaside holiday and the classic novel ‘The Railway Children’ by Edith Nesbit are just two such examples of how rail travel has influenced British culture.
However, after two world wars and the increasing popularity of the motor car, the railways descended into a state of disrepair and were no longer profitable in their current form. Nationalisation and modernisation was coming to the railway. The Beeching report, The Reshaping of British Railways (1963) set out plans to close 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of railway line, which equated to 55% of stations and 30% of route miles (1). Track was stripped up, stations left derelict and land sold off for redevelopment.
One such line that was axed as part of the Beeching cuts, was a branch line which ran across West Sussex, from Christ’s Hospital to Shoreham. The Steyning or Adur Valley line was a single track branch line born out of fierce competition between the London and Brighton Railway (LBR) and the London and South Western Railway (LSWR), for lucrative south coast traffic (2).
Figure 2: Photograph of disused railway bridge near Henfield – Source Author
When the volume of traffic dried up, the line was closed, leaving an empty 20 mile corridor across the heart of the Adur valley. Notable stations on the line included; Southwater, West Grinstead, Henfield and Steyning. The Adur valley line was also connected to a line at Christ’s Hospital station, which provided a direct rail link to Guildford from Brighton and the south coast (2).
Figure 3: Mapping contents (c) Crown copyright and database rights 2016 Ordnance Survey 100035207
The Adur Valley line now is now used as a bridle path which forms part of the Downs Link Bridleway, a path which connects the North and South Downs together. The Downs Link is now a popular tourist attraction for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
Henfield, Partridge Green and Steyning all had stations which are no longer present, only in historical maps can the line and platforms be seen.
Figure 4: Photograph of West Grinstead Station – Source Author. Mapping contents (c) Crown copyright and database rights 2016 Ordnance Survey 100035207
There still is some infrastructure left standing which provides a link to its former use (3). West Grinstead, for example, is one of only a few stations which has had its platform left in-situ. Below you can see an extract of an 1887 Ordinance Survey map showing the station alongside a photograph of what the station looks like now.
All over the UK there are abandoned and disused railway lines just waiting to be rediscovered. Next time you glance over your Groundsure report at the historic land use section, keep an eye out for cuttings, stations, sidings, engine and good sheds. You may not realise that you are living on an old railway line. A piece of modern British history right in your back garden.
- Holland, J. (2013)The Times Exploring Britain’s Lost Railways: A Nostalgic Journey Along 50 Long Lost Railway Lines. HarperCollins Publishers Limited, 2013.
- Rambling Man (2014)Downs Link: Walking down an old railway. Available at: http://ramblingman.org.uk/walks/downs-link/walking-down-an-old-railway (Accessed: 02 September 2016).
- Emma Sheppard and Guardian readers (2016)Britain’s abandoned stations, tracks and trains: Readers’ pictures. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/gallery/2016/aug/01/britains-abandoned-stations-tracks-and-trains-readers-pictures (Accessed: 02 September 2016).