The Cuckoo Line was a railway in East Sussex, England, that ran between Polegate and Eridge from 1880 to 1968. It was nicknamed the Cuckoo Line by drivers, from a tradition observed at the annual fair at Heathfield, a station on the route. At the fair, which was held each April, a lady would release a cuckoo from a basket, it being supposedly the 'first cuckoo of spring'. The railway line served the following Sussex communities: Polegate, Hailsham, Hellingly, Horam for Waldron, Heathfield, Mayfield, Rotherfield, and Eridge. Services continued through Eridge and onward via Groombridge to Tunbridge Wells.
The Hailsham-Eridge section closed in 1965, (The Polegate-Hailsham branch surviving until 1968) and has since been converted to a cycleway, the Cuckoo Trail. Eridge-Tunbridge Wells closed in 1985, and this line has been resurrected as the Spa Valley Railway.
The Cuckoo Line was built by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSC&R) in two sections, starting with the branch from Polegate to Hailsham which opened to traffic on May 14, 1849. The remainder of the line to Eridge opened to traffic in September 1880.
The line from Three Bridges to Tunbridge Wells (via East Grinstead High Level and Groombridge) opened on 1 Oct, 1866, with the connecting line from Uckfield via Eridge opening on 3 Aug, 1868. The final part of the route opened on 1 Feb, 1876: a connection between the LSWR station at Tunbridge Wells West, and Tunbridge Wells Central, the station operated by the South Eastern Railway (SER). This single line section passed through the short Grove Tunnel to Grove Junction, sited a little south of the SER station on their Hastings Line.
At the 'Grouping' in 1923, the railway passed into the control of the Southern Railway. When the Southern Railway was nationalised in 1948, the line became part of the Southern Region of British Railways.
Following the Beeching Report in 1963, the line was recommended for closure. The section from Eridge to Hellingly was closed first (in 1965, to passenger traffic, remaining open for freight until 1968), whilst the short branch from Polegate to Hailsham remained open until September 8, 1968. The closure of this section was hotly disputed – even British Railways themselves agreeing that Hailsham was a growing town and that buses would be unable to cope with the demands of the increasing population.
The line between Eridge and Tunbridge Wells West remained open until 1985. Despite having survived 'Beeching', no money was spent on the line and British Rail regarded it as unviable to upgrade the track and signalling. Closure was announced on 16 May, 1983, and confirmed on 6 July, 1985. Grove Junction was removed the day after closure, but the depot at Tunbridge Wells West remained in use for another month.
Today, the Cuckoo Line remains a closed railway – a footpath and cycleway known as The Cuckoo Trail runs along much of the route from Polegate to Heathfield. Polegate retains a railway station, albeit on a different site to the one formerly used by Cuckoo Line trains, whilst the sites of the stations in Hailsham and Heathfield are now occupied by housing estates. Hellingly station survives as a private residence, as does Mayfield station, in which the platforms are now replaced by the A267 road.
Soon after closure of the Eridge to Tunbridge Wells section, a preservation society was formed with the intention of reinstating the passenger service on the line. The Tunbridge Wells and Eridge Railway Preservation Society (TWERPS) acquired the line in the early 1990s, and by 1996 had started to run a steam-hauled passenger service along part of the route. Perhaps aware of the unfortunate acronym, the group have since been renamed as the Spa Valley Railway. The railway now runs services to Groombridge and a little beyond; their ultimate intention being to run trains through to Eridge once again. This looks set to happen in time for the 2008 season
There was only one reported accident on the line. Although there was a good safety record, on 1 September 1897 at Tooth's Bank, 2 miles north of Heathfield, the 08:18am service from Eastbourne was running around 4 minutes late and was trying to pick up up time due to a connecting train at Groombridge. As the train entered the corner at around 40mph it left the tracks. Driver James McKinlay was killed and Fireman Lewis Minns seriously injured, whilst 30 passengers suffered minor injuries.
Horam station was originally built as Horeham Road. In 1900 it was renamed Waldron & Horeham Road . Over the years, Horeham changed to Horam as the hamlet grew around the station, prompted by growth including an Express Dairies depot, and the name changed again in 1935, before becoming simply Horam in September 1953.