The railway behind the houses

Behind the odd numbered houses of Halland Road in Moulsecoomb runs the Brighton to Lewes railway line. When I moved there in 1947 the trains were pulled by steam engines.

Waving to the driver
I remember standing in the bottom field waving to the engine driver and his stoker who kept the fire for the steam. Often sparks would shower down on the bank and amid the steam the men always waved back to us. The bigger boys taught us how to put a penny on the line so that the engine wheels flattened the coin.

Taking a risk for strawberries
Connecting East and North Moulsecoomb was a railway bridge, commonly known as ‘the arch’. If you put your ear to the arch wall you could hear the train approaching long before it actually thundered overhead. Even after the line was electrified we youngsters still dared to cross the line because on those banks grew wild strawberries, something we didn’t have in our diets.

A nice country station
In 1957, the buses went on strike. I worked in Western Road, to shorten my walk I went into the town by train from Falmer Station and what a nice country station it was with a roaring fire in the grate in the waiting room. I wonder if it is still like that and if the carefully tended flowers still make the place so attractive?

Comments about this page

  • I’d placed my own memories of the railway embankment strawberries in a nearby instalment, Joan. I got punished at school for trespassing. The railway man at Falmer Station was a small energetic kindly man named Sid; and very interesting he was, too. All sorts of tales about the area and the changes to the lines to allow electric trains. You could tell the time from the passing of the trains, and they always had their whistle loudly blown as they passed through North Moulsecoomb in a southerly direction, even late at night and first thing in the morning. Peculiarly, when asleep, nobody seemed to be roused due, probably, to becoming accustomed over time. As for the railway arch, my first (innocent) love was in the dark under that arch. Joan Bell, are you there … !

    By Ron Spicer (14/10/2009)
  • Hello Ron, I’ve tried unsuccessfully to find your article re; strawberries. Can you point me in the right direstion please? Another question, how did the school know you were on the railway? The arch I am sure could tell many tales, one of me on the night when I paused to catch my breath after running the dark bit and heard grunting snuffling noises. I thought someone was chasing me. It was a hedgehog!

    By Joan Cumbers (nee Oram) (24/10/2009)
  • Awfully sorry to have failed a reply for you here,Joan. I’ve been absent for a long time (which is obvious, eh?) I can’t even remember the location of the article on the railway embankment strawberry misdemeanour myself now! What I have realised is that I placed an article on the Moulsecoomb area in the Coldean area so to make amends on that I’ve copied it for placing here . . . Going back to place history … the 1930s. At the end of the grass valley which used to be, leading into the hills as one travels from the railway arch at North Moulseoomb (and which is now overbuilt with housing) finalising in the dew pond, there used to be a huge rabbit burrow. About once a year, usually late summer, the West farming family used to put their ferrets and polecats down it then stand back with their shotguns, using spreadshot, shooting the rabbits as they bolted from their holes. I can remember so clearly because my father, who was a very proficient rabbit catcher, never using guns, only a dog and polecats, together with his own handmade nets, would decry their actions as too painful for the rabbits, sometimes only just hitting them with one or two pellets from the spreadshot then they would run off to painfully die; and in any case, where those farmers still killed them, they had introduced lead into meat that would later be eaten. He worked with them on one occasion, using his own animals and nets, including a long net across the top area of the burrow, further up the hill. A most fruitful event but which they said they didn’t prefer to the sport of shooting. Rivalry between Whitehawk and North Moulsecoomb children was a neighbourhood factor. East Moulsecoomb hadn’t been built up very much then, and kids from Whitehawk would delight in visiting the area when they would be engaged in a brick raid. All bravado stuff in which no-one hardly ever got hurt. On one occasion, above the dew pond position towards the Whitehawk direction, a tree den had been built in one of the gnarled trees with wide spreading branches. It consisted mainly of minor branches spread across major boughs to form a stable platform. Minor wooden branches had then been added followed by an old carpet section then covered in hand cut turves. I was one of those assisting! The lads from Whitehawk paid one of their customary visits and destroyed it before reinforcements could be summoned. A later gang visit from Moulescoomb to the Whitehawk area was abandoned when those present saw, on arriving at the hilltop overlooking Whitehawk, that it would be a mission impossible … ! One of the favoured hobbies amongst the boys would be the making of bows and arrows. It took a time to gather the right wood for the bow, often hazelwood with its superior bending capacity without breaking. The older, stronger boys would go for the strongest possible wood having some difficulty in being bent for stringing which would consist of a ‘V’ cut in each end for tying. The arrows took much longer to form because an efficient aeroform giving trueness of flight would be required. Some of us managed to gain boxwood with its straightness. One result of the hobby was the injury of one lad (would it have been Tommy Johnson?) being taken to hospital with a head wound. Where there was hazelwood, there would be cobnuts in September. The wood above that railway arch to the left, spreading over the hillside was a good supply source; as was the forbidden wood over the wall in Stanmer Park for Chestnuts. The once a year activity of Tab-a Go I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the forum, where anything going could be obtained by paying with tabs (cigarette cards) for whatever. Alleys (marbles) could be bought or exchanged. Bikes could be hired for a day or half-day. Tops (spinning tops) could be hired or bought. Whatever could be thought of would be included where possible. One of the most popular ones was the skipping rope across the road. But the best one of all was when Mr. Brown promised to use his gas company large van to give those who had paid a fair tabs price a ride in a group into the countryside for a while. We couldn’t see where we were going, only what it was like when we got there – but it was the very best of all. When my ten year old brother Johnny died the only small bike in the family which had been donated by a kindly neighbour to the family some time before, also disappeared. I was the tender age of 8 and when I asked after the bike I was told it had gone with Johnny. Little did we kids realise that it had almost certainly helped to pay for a funeral. After WWII none of the previously enjoyed activities reappeared. At the same time, by those 1930s standards, thanks to the mind state of all those soldiers returning from the war, we were progressively better off. Oh well, once again, happy days!

    By Ron Spicer (07/10/2012)

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