Abandoned railway projects

Kemp town Station and yard - 22 March 1964 - with a visiting 'Rail Enthusiasts Special'. Brighton College can be seen lying behind Sutherland Road. Click on the image to see a full-sized version
Photo from the private collection of Brian Matthews

The Acts of Parliament authorising the construction and abandonment of two Brighton-related railway projects that never came about are among those the Law Commission is proposing to repeal. To build railways in Victorian England it was necessary to present a Bill to parliament, which became an Act authorising the raising of capital, the acquisition of land and the construction of the railway and its associated infrastructure. If the project did not proceed, another Act was needed to repeal the first Act.

Law Commission review

Although the original authorising Acts were thus removed from the Statute Book, the abandonment Acts—and there are around 140 of them—are still in force, albeit to no practical purpose. The Law Commission, in its review of statute law, proposes the repeal of all such Acts. The consultation document (deadline for comments: 9 September 2009) provides useful information about the railways that never were.

Railway to the Steine
The first was the South-eastern and London, Chatham and Dover (London, Lewes, and Brighton) Railways Act of 1866. This authorised the construction of five lines branching off the main London to Dover railway, each following on from the previous section, the last of which would have run from the parish of St Ann in Lewes to a point on the east side of the Steine Gardens in Brighton. This would have given the town a second rail terminus, to complement the main line station at the top of Queen’s Road, which opened in 1840. It proved impossible for the promoters of the scheme to raise the money and two years later, in 1868 the London, Lewes, and Brighton Railways Abandonment Act was passed to abolish the scheme.

Along the coast to Newhaven
In 1886 parliament passed the Brighton Rottingdean and Newhaven Direct Railway Act. This line was to run from a junction approximately six chains from the northern end of the platform ramp of Kemp Town railway station for a distance of five furlongs and three chains to ‘a point distant 123 yards or thereabouts measured in a northerly direction from the northernmost boundary fence of the field numbered 52 on the 25-inch ordnance map’.

An easterly direction
It would then run in an easterly direction for seven miles, seven furlongs, two chains and 40 links to a junction with the Lewes, Newhaven and Seaford branch of the London Brighton and South Coast Railway in Denton. This would have taken the line along a route that began between Kemp Town station and the tunnel, across Sutherland Road, behind Brighton College and then not far from the coast all the way to Newhaven.

Scheme foundered

Three more amending Acts were passed in 1887, 1889 and 1893, which suggests that the project made some progress. Plans were drawn up, surveys conducted and some contracts agreed. However, the scheme foundered and was abandoned in 1894, when a fifth and final Act was passed to wind up the Brighton Rottingdean and Newhaven Direct Railway Company. But what a useful railway it might have been. It would have allowed for stations not only at Rottingdean but also at Saltdean and Peacehaven when they were developed.

Imperial measurements of distance
A mile is divided into eight furlongs, which in turn consists of 10 chains. A chain is 22 yards long (the length of a cricket pitch) and is divided into 100 links. Chains are still used to measure distances on railways. Look on any bridge, for example, and you will see a modern plaque that shows the distance from the start of the line in miles and chains.

Comments about this page

  • Fascinating stuff David. I’d surmise that some pretty substantial engineering works would have been necessary to get the Newhaven line over the hills and dips at Rottingdean and Saltdean, unless the route ran up over the Downs. Also, my understanding was that the LBSCR developed the Kemp Town branch chiefly to forestall the entry of the LCDR into Brighton via Lewes. With its looping route ending less than a mile from the Queen’s Road terminus it certainly doesn’t seem to have had any other useful purpose!

    By Len Liechti (27/08/2009)
  • Along the coast to Newhaven – well done David for this interesting page. The capabilities and skills of the Victorian civil engineers who designed and constructed most of our railways are well documented. For them building a railway line from Brighton along the coast to Newhaven would not have been to much of a problem, although the line would have needed to be constructed mostly in deep cuttings, tunnels and viaducts. For obvious reasons a good distance inland from the coastline, (no sea defences in those days) needless to say the cost would have been enormous, surely one of the reasons why the line was never built? What purpose would such a line have served at that time? Brighton and Newhaven were already connected by railway line via Lewes. Also in those days the population between Ovingdean and Newhaven would have been no more than several hundred? Ovingdean being no more than a small farming community, Rottingdean at that time was just a small coastal village, with a few well heeled and influential residents who no doubt would have fiercely objected to a railway line dissecting their up and comming fashionable village. Saltdean, Telscombe cliffs and Peacehaven, did not exist as we know them today. Surely at the end of the nineteenth century, it would have taken a very brave politician to eventually authorize construction of the line and a equally brave Railway company to fund the project, also how could anyone at that time predict the population growth between Brighton and Newhaven and its future transport needs. However as David says, what a useful railway it might have been, if it had been built. The big question is would it have survived to this day? So many small branch lines where closed to passenger traffic in the 1930s and the infamous Dr Beeching closed most of the others in the 1960s – sadly Sussex suffered more than most. Perhaps we should dream a little and imagine that line was built and survived to this day. Of course The Kemp town branch line would still exist – after boarding the train at Brighton station our first stop would be London Road, then over the viaduct at Lewes road, then through the tunnel to Kemp town station next stop Whitehawk (maybe) then on to Ovingdean, Rottingdean, Saltdean, Telscombe cliffs, Peacehaven, then Newhaven and finally Seaford. On the other hand if the line had been built – then closed and abandoned it might well have been converted into (The Best Bus Lane in the World) Dream On.

    By Christopher Wrapson (03/09/2009)
  • Very interesting that this should be mentioned on MyBrighton about the time of various letters in the local paper too. My only comment about this was to confirm in my letter of its plans, and with the letter truncated, it still referred to the line as per the plans I have in my posession showing only two tunnels, with one bridge at Rottingdean.

    By Gordon Dinnage - Picture Publisher (20/09/2009)
  • A fascinating subject. Brought to my attention by a circular ‘vent” which I took to be a well on the hill in Ovingdean.
    However OS app clearly says vent. There is no mention of it on the 2 1/2″ actual map. So there could be a tunnel under there? Abandoned engineering could look into this.
    A railway line from Brighton to Newhaven would be fantastic saving hours on the trip compared to the roads…
    An opportunity missed indeed in 2020!
    Kerry Foster

    By Kerry Foster (18/08/2020)
  • Kerry, if the “vent.” marking on your map lies right on the coast, on a prominence a little west of Greenways, then it’s likely to refer to the sewage ventilation shaft. A chimney stood here until the stretch of Undercliff Walk was completed around 1933. I believe a tunnel to the Portobello outfall at Telscombe Cliffs runs parallel with the road to this day. The whole system dates from the 1870s (see “Intercepting Sewer and Portobello” page on this site).
    If the “vent.” marking is inland, then I have absolutely no idea ; I’d be very interested to know !

    By Sam Flowers (19/08/2020)
  • There was a scheme in the 1928 Greater Brighton town plan for a rail line, some of it underground, to link along the coast to Newhaven with a branch to Woodingdean[those gradients!] also an ambitious road plan that included a bypass to Rottingdean and Peacehaven. One more plan was a coastal highway along the foot of the cliffs which is where the undercliff walkway is now. By the 1930 second draft of the plan this has been abandoned and it was reclassified as the present walkway.

    By Dr Geoffrey Mead (26/08/2020)
  • That’s all fascinating stuff, Geoffrey. Little-known history now, and I’d like to find out more.
    What ambition and far-sightedness from the Borough Council towards the road situation (in keeping with my impressions of how boldly they worked at the time, I assume this was their planning), the area having only a fraction of today’s traffic levels to deal with: how different this neighbourhood could have become … the shocking thought of a highway where the Undercliff Walk runs !
    As for the railway plan: one can only wonder whether or not the proposed Woodingdean and Newhaven branches would ever have paid? Overcoming those contours would surely have resulted in very high construction costs.

    By Sam Flowers (26/08/2020)

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