Steyning Line

Steyning Line

The Steyning Line (also known as the Adur Valley Line) was a railway line that connected the West Sussex market town of Horsham with the once bustling south-coast port of Shoreham-by-Sea, with the possibility of an onward connection to Brighton. Covering a distance of , the line closed on 7 March 1966, a casualty of the Beeching Axe.

History

Historical context

As was the case with the Cranleigh Line just to the north, the Steyning Line was a consequence of the fierce competition between two railway companies, the London and Brighton Railway (LBR) and the London and South Western Railway (LSWR), for the lucrative South Coast traffic. In 1844 the LSWR's engineer, Robert Stephenson, drew up plans to construct a line through the Mole Gap, the point at which the River Mole cuts through the North Downs, to Chichester via Horsham and Dorking. At Horsham, a branch was to head south to the then important port of Shoreham-by-Sea. Hearing of this proposed encroachment into its territory, the LBR acted quickly in promoting its own scheme for a line to Horsham and Shoreham. The London and Brighton (Steyning Branch) Railway Act received royal assent on 18 June 1846 and the company's engineer, R. Jacomb-Hood, was instructed to survey the line. Later that year the LBR was to merge with the London and Croydon Railway, creating the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR).

In late 1847, however, the LBSCR's incentive to proceed rapidly with the line was removed when, amidst growing financial difficulties and the economic recession of the 1840s, the LSWR ordered a halt to its plans for the line. This, and the LBSCR's own financial problems, led to Jacomb-Hood being instructed to down tools by the LBR, an order which prompted his resignation in January 1848. As the LBR's chairman, Samuel Laing, explained to a Parliamentary Inquiry in 1858, new lines "were abandoned during the crisis of 1847 and 1848 when Railway property was almost irretrievably ruined and it was absolutely impossible to raise money."

Although the LBSCR did proceed to connect Horsham with its main line between London and Brighton in 1848, it was to be a further eight years before it revisited the idea of a line to Shoreham.

Steyning Railway Company

In 1856 a group of local residents clubbed together to form the "Steyning Railway Company" with the intention of bringing to fruition the LBSCR's plans for a line through Steyning. A meeting was held at The White Horse Hotel in Steyning on 23 June in that year, at which it was agreed that representatives of the company would approach the LBSCR with an offer to construct the line and thereafter to lease it to the LBSCR. Terms were agreed with the railway company which would pay an annual rent equivalent to 4% of the Steyning Company's construction costs. Jacomb-Hood, who had since been re-engaged by the LBSCR, was once again dispatched to survey the route. His report was delivered on 21 August and contained an estimate of the likel costs of construction as well as the goods and cattle traffic that the line could usefully hope to carry. Jacomb-Hood projected costs of £39,000 based on a route which would be constructed on the west bank of the River Adur with a station at Applesham Farm near the recently-opened Lancing College.

Before the Steyning Company could begin construction works, it had first to raise at least 75% of the total expenditure. By 4 December it was still £7,890 short and approached the LBSCR to see whether it would contribute the outstanding balance. In order to determine whether such expenditure was justified, the LBSCR's chairman, Leo Schuster, and another director, Admiral Laws, personally examined the route on 12 December. Their report concluded against helping the Steyning Railway Company, stating "that the project was not of sufficient importance as should induce [the LBSCR] to deviate from the terms which they have already undertaken to enter into." This refusal led to the Steyning Company abandoning their project, although without ruling out re-examining it again in the future.

Two rival schemes

One year later, new proposals were published for a line through Steyning. This time the route to be followed by the line was that put forward by Stephenson in 1844 for the LSWR. According to a memorandum published in Steyning on 5 September 1857 by John Ingram, the company secretary of the Steyning Company, a new enterprise called the "Shoreham Horsham and Dorking Railway Company" would promote an independent scheme for the line which was supported by local landowners and residents. The new company engaged the services of Joseph Locke as chief engineer and Thomas Brassey as principal building contractor, both giants in their respective fields.

Hearing of the new proposals, the LBSCR reacted by applying for Parliamentary authorisation for a new line from Shoreham-by-Sea to Steyning and Henfield with an option of a further extension to join the LBSCR's Mid-Sussex Line at Billingshurst. At the same time, the Shoreham Horsham and Dorking Railway Company applied to Parliament for authorisation of its route.

In order to determine which line should proceed, a Parliamentary Inquiry was held to determine their respective merits. Amongst the witnesses called to give evidence was Walter Barsteller, a magistrate and director of the Mid-Sussex Railway, who explained that the reason why the LBSCR was putting forward its own route was "the probability of the extension of the proposed line towards Guildford". This was confirmed by another magistrate, William Cory, who said that from Billingshurst the preferred route to Guildford was via Loxwood. The outcome of the Inquiry was that the LBSCR's line would be approved and that proposed by the landowners was rejected.

Construction

Following the authorisation, the LBSCR decided to change the route of the line in view of the fact that just to the north their plans for a connection from Horsham to Guildford, the Cranleigh Line, were now likely to be realised. Therefore, instead of going towards Billingshurst, a route was chosen which deviated just north of Partridge Green to join the Mid-Sussex line near the southern end of the Horsham to Guildford line in the parish of Itchingfield. Jacomb-Hood was yet again dispatched to survey this new route, a task which he had completed by summer 1859 when construction works were initiated by the contractor, Mr Firbank. The first section between Shoreham and Partridge Green was opened to traffic on 1 July 1861.

A few days prior to the railway's opening, the Government Inspector of Railways, Colonel Tyler, carried out an inspection of the line, testing in particular the strength of several bridges across the River Adur. In order to test the bridge at Beeding near the cement works four engines with their tenders were placed on it. Following the successful inspection, the Colonel and his party adjourned to celebrate at The White Horse in Steyning.

In order to connect the Steyning Line with the Mid-Sussex and Cranleigh Lines two spurs were planned by Jacomb-Hood. From the triangular junction at Itchingfield, one spur would lead south to join the Mid-Sussex Line, while another long spur would be constructed near Christ's Hospital at Stammerham Junction (also known as Itchingfield South Fork) which would allow through-running to Guildford and Shoreham or Portsmouth without the need to reverse through the junction.

Operations

1861 - 1899

The LSWR's control of the railway network around Guildford ensured that the long spur remained little used with few scheduled services. The LBSCR therefore decided to close the section from 1 August 1867 amid concerns that the LSWR might take advantage of the spur to seek greater access to the south coast. No sign of the south-facing branch remains today as the area has been ploughed over.

After the opening of the second phase of the line in October 1861, the daily service between Brighton and Horsham consisted of four stopping trains and one express. Early days saw regular traffic on the line, so much so that the frequency of services was increased leading to the doubling of the track between Itchingfield Junction and Horsham during 1878-1879. Fortunately Jacomb-Hood had foreseen this eventuality when planning the line and had ensured that all bridges were capable of carrying two tracks. This frequency of services was to the detriment of engine drivers and firemen who went on strike in 1867 to call for a maximum 10 hour working day or a run of . Engine drivers earned at most seven shillings per day whilst firemen were on four shillings and sixpence. Itchingfield Junction was the location of the line's first accident on 11 August 1866 when two passenger trained collided resulting in one fatality.

Traffic on the line during this period consisted mainly of agricultural produce, with goods being sent to the Brighton and Steyning markets and for auction. Indeed, after the line opened Steyning's weekly market relocated from the High Street to a field adjacent to the railway station where cattle, sheep, poultry and other produce were transported to and from it for more than a century. Examples of what was being delivered can be drawn from the records of inward freight at Steyning station during 1874 and 1875; from Littlehampton 10 sacks of maize, from Brighton 10 sacks of wheat, from Horsham 14 bundles of timber, from Lancing 2500 bricks and 5 tons of beach pebbles and from Arundel one consignment of cement.

In addition to normal daily passenger workings, excursions began operating soon after the line up to Partridge Green had been opened. One of the first was in July 1861 to Portsmouth; the fare charged was two shillings and there were 185 passengers on the service. Another excursion followed in August, this time to Crystal Palace via Hove.

1900 - 1965

Passenger traffic

From 1923 the Steyning Line became part of the Southern Railway following the grouping ordered by the Railways Act. The line continued to be alive during summer weekends with a variety of excursions to Brighton and Hove from places as far afield as Wolverhampton, Banbury, Oxford and Reading, travelling via Guildford and Horsham. In addition, during the football season specials would be laid on to ferry supporters to see Brighton and Hove Albion when they were playing at home. The Southern Railway also promoted use of the line by ramblers and nature-lovers, such as scheduling late-night and early-morning services to observe the sun rising.

On 31 October 1946 the Southern Railway announced a scheme to electrify the Steyning Line, but this was abandoned following nationalisation in January 1948. The line now fell under the aegis of the Southern Region of British Railways. One of the first changes made was the end of the old method of counting passenger numbers on the railway network. Whereas previously a system of "clearing" was employed whereby the revenue from a passenger's ticket was redistributed to the railway companies in proportion to the distance travelled by the passenger on their line, this now changed to a system of "global accounts" whereby each station in a British Rail (BR) region submitted to their line manager monthly returns of all business conducted.

Nevertheless, the statistics of passenger tickets issued and collected at Steyning Line stations show a steady rise in passenger traffic from 1948 to 1965, the year prior to closure. In 1948, 58,0086 tickets were sold and 90,076 collected, ten years later these figures had respectively risen to 106,110 and 126,272 and by 1965, they were 120,016 and 140,129 respectively. Although there was a slight decline in traffic in the early 1960s, this reflected a similar dip which had occurred twelve years previously and was modest when compared with the subsequent increase in numbers.

On Saturday 7 October 1961 a group of senior boys attending Steyning Grammar School organised an exhibition in the waiting room at Steyning station which celebrated the line's 100th anniversary. Both the station and signalbox were decorated in bunting to mark the occasion and trains carried special headboards.

Freight traffic

Until 1926 the line transported milk in 17-gallon churns, but this was switched to road haulage during the General Strike of that year. Farmers realised how much more convenient it was to use road transport which collected the churns directly from their farm and took them directly to their destination. Once the Strike ended the milk traffic remained transported by road thereby depriving the railway of a major source of freight. This pattern was to be repeated during the strike of 1955 when more freight traffic, particularly coal, was diverted to road, much of it never to return. The freight losses contributed to British Rail's decision to close goods yards on the Steyning Line as elsewhere on the rail network.

Nevertheless, the line continued to serve two important industrial enterprises - the cement factory at Beeding and the brickworks at Southwater. The cement works in particular received gypsum from Robertsbridge and coal from Dover, whilst once a week cement was transported from the works to the British Portland Cement depot at Southampton via Shoreham and the South Coast main line. During the course of 1960, for example, the cement works received 7000 coal wagons, 2300 gypsum wagons and 100 wagons of general stores; it sent out 7670 cement wagons and 240 flints wagons. Traffic continued beyond the Steyning Line's closure until 1981 via a single line linking the works with the South Coast main line. The cement works finally closed in 1991 after more than 100 years of operations at Beeding.

War years

As with the Cranleigh Line, the value of the Steyning Line was fully realised during the two world wars when it acted as a useful conduit for men and munitions to the port of Newhaven. During the Second World War it was particularly convenient for access to Wiston House, Field Marshal Montgomery's headquarters near Steyning which Winston Churchill visited towards the end of June 1940. It also provided access to Martin Lodge on Station Road at Henfield which was used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the 1st Canadian Infantry Division also had a large encampment close to the airfield at Shoreham and on the playing fields of Lancing College.

Decline and closure

The Steyning Line's days were effectively numbered following the publication in 1963 of a report by the British Rail Chairman, Richard Beeching, which put forward a vision of a smaller and more efficient rail network. Entitled "The Reshaping of British Railways", the report advocated the closure of numerous lines and railway stations, amongst which figured the Steyning and Cranleigh Lines which, it was claimed, "carried in 1962-3 fewer than 5,000 passengers weekly."

Passenger traffic surveys

The closure of the line was based on figures taken from surveys carried out in November 1962 and July 1963 of the number of passengers actually using the services provided. The two surveys measured passenger traffic over the course of one week - one during summer and the other during winter; importantly, they only measured one type of traffic - the outward-bound passengers who purchased tickets at Steyning Line stations and not inward traffic in the shape of tickets collected from passengers alighting at stations. Had the two forms of traffic been taken into account, the survey would have revealed that on average 12,615 passengers travelled the line (both Up and Down) over the course of seven days during winter and 12,649 during summer. A significant proportion of the traffic, at least 1,000 journeys, was made up of schoolchildren. A further survey was carried out during half-term week in November 1964 following the change from steam to diesel traction on the line. Without the schools' traffic the survey showed an arithmetical fall in passenger numbers to 9,225, a perceived loss of traffic which was to play a role in the decision to close the line.

BR officials also examined season ticket sales on the line - in 1948, 993 quarterly and long-term season tickets were sold, this had increased to 1,628 by 1959, but declined to 1,215 in 1965. One author has explained this decline by, firstly, the dissuasive effect that the 1963 closure proposal would have had on passengers and, secondly, the fact that cheap-day returns from Monday-Friday would have been more cost-effective alternative for those working a five day week.

Closure proposal

In 1963 BR submitted to Ernest Marples, the Conservative Minister of Transport, a proposal to close the Steyning Line. As goods traffic was virtually nil on the line (with the exception of the Beeding Cement Works), the Minister gave his consent, leaving BR the choice of closing the line immediately or keeping it in service. Choosing to defer their decision, the next two years saw a public enquiry take place into the proposed closure and the obligatory Transport Users' Consultative Committee Report to the Minister.

TUCC enquiry

The notice of proposed closure gave, as required by the Transport Act 1962, an address to which objections could be sent. 289 such objections were received and a public enquiry was called for Wednesday 26 February 1964 in Steyning and was chaired by Captain E.H. Longsdon R.N. (Ret'd). Objectors argued that the replacement of trains with buses would lead to increased travel times, for example, the additional time spent travelling to and from Bramber and Brighton during the 40-week school year would amount to the equivalent of 34 eight-hour working days. The recommendation of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee for the South East Region (TUCC) was that replacement buses would not alleviate the hardship caused by the line's closure. The line therefore remained open while the Minister undertook further enquiries.

The Ministry of Transport therefore contacted BR to see if the line's losses which had already been reduced by the introduction of diesel units, could be reduced still further by increasing rail fares and by closing Bramber station. BR rejected any suggestion that economies could be made, stating that fares would have to be doubled to 6d per mile (i.e. doubled) and all cheap day fares withdrawn.

Labour election

The Labour victory in the 1964 General Election saw former miner Tom Harris take over as Minister of Transport. In September 1965 he gave fresh authorisation for the closure of the Steyning Line. He made this decision on the basis of a cost/revenue analysis (excluding freight revenue) which showed that the financial saving which would be made by closure was £173,200 for steam operation of the line, reduced to £43,200 if diesel units were introduced. One author estimates that the real saving made was actually a mere £14,000 since the track and signalling costs had been over-estimated and took into account the main line between Itchingfield Junction and Horsham. He goes on to suggest that the line might in fact been in profit due to over-estimation of the costs of the permanent way and failure to consider converting the line to single-track working.

1965 passenger survey

In a last ditch attempt to save the line, the parish councils along the Adur Valley initiated a passenger card survey to provide an updated picture of traffic on the line. Fifteen hundred postcard-sized cards were to distributed to passengers over a two-week period in October 1965. The scheme did not receive BR's official authorisation, but staff in station booking offices as well as parish councillors and regular commuters helped in the distribution of the cards which had to be posted back to be recorded. In the event, 450 cards were returned and the results passed on to the local MP, Henry Kerby, who contacted Barbara Castle, Fraser's replacement as Minister of Transport. She replied on 16 March 1966 stating that she had considered the evidence and thought it was necessary to lay on extra services for passengers travelling at peak-times. This would be done by varying the closure decision to include a condition that replacement bus services should be provided. Provided by Southdown Motor Services, the buses were hardly patronised and eventually withdrawn. They had been introduced on the mistaken assumption that rail commuters would automatically switch to bus transport to travel long distances, whereas in the event only those travelling to Shoreham or Brighton patronised the services. What actually transpired was revealed in a survey conducted in 1968 which showed that former rail users had arranged to share cars with friends or colleagues in the short-term, before eventually acquiring their own cars, taking early retirement or moving closer to their workplaces.

Closure decision

The axe was finally to fall in 1966 when it was clear that the new Labour administration would not reverse the closure policies put in place by the previous Government. As reported by the West Sussex Gazette of 10 February: "a meeting between the Railways Board and the Ministry of Transport last Wednesday seemed certain to result in putting off yet again the fateful deed, but a firm decision to go ahead with the closure came in the late afternoon...So brings down the curtain on a service that undoubtedly was 'borderline' if it should be closed or not. Certainly those who used the line regularly fought hard to save it, and even the Railways Board admitted to many misgivings as to whether their decision was the right one in all the circumstances."

After eighteen months of diesel working on the line, passenger services were withdrawn with effect from Monday 7 March 1966. The last train to use the line on the Sunday evening was the 21.28 from Brighton to Horsham. The track was lifted soon afterwards and the signalboxes demolished, with the stations going the same way in 1969. Partridge Green station and goods yard were let to industrial concerns and was eventually sold.

The line today

Steyning Bypass

The Steyning Line's closure resulted in a build-up of road traffic on the A283 running through Steyning, Bramber and Upper Beeding, notably heavy freight traffic from the Port of Shoreham. This led to calls for the construction of a bypass. The idea of a bypass linking the A2037 with the A283 to the north-west of Steyning had already been floated in 1962 and had been included in the West Sussex Village plan for the three communities involved. The route of the bypass would have avoided the railway line altogether, requiring merely a bridge over King's Barn Lane in Steyning. However, with the closure of the line, the County Council proposed re-using the trackbed of the Steyning Line between the two stations at Bramber and Steyning (a distance of about ), a cheaper alternative that would cost £3 million. This was accepted by the Ministry of Transport and funding was granted.

Downs Link path

In 1984, the local authorities along the route of the Steyning and Cranleigh Lines, working together with other authorities and the Manpower Services Commission, established the Downs Link, a 30 mile long footpath and bridleway connecting the North and South Downs National Trails. The Link was opened on 9 July 1984 by the Mayor of Waverley, Anne Hoath, at Baynards station; it subsequently received a commendation in the National Conservation Award Scheme jointly organised by The Times newspaper and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Retrospective

Although initially conceived as a useful conduit for services to the south coast, the worth of the Steyning Line was ultimately restricted to the small villages which it served. That its full potential was never realised can be explained by three interlinked factors. Firstly, the through connection between Brighton and Guildford was rendered difficult by the inconvenient timetabling of connections. Passengers changing at Horsham from a Cranleigh Line service to a Steyning Line service and vice versa usually had a tiresome wait before their connection arrived. For example, the 1964-65 British Rail timetable reveals that a passenger taking the 0625 from Brighton would arrive in Horsham at 0728 to find that the next service to Guildford was 25 minutes later. Worse off still was the passenger arriving in Horsham at 1221 to find out that connecting train had departed 12 minutes earlier. The timetabling in this case is particularly difficult to understand as the service was scheduled to wait 10 minutes at Cranleigh due to congestion at Guildford.

The second factor was the limited service which could be operated on the Cranleigh Line which was single-tracked throughout the greater part of its length and resulted in inevitable timetabling constraints. Clearly, the doubling of the track and the reinstatement of the track on the south spur would have gone some way to alleviating this problem and allow fast or semi-fast services. However, given the state of the economy after the Second World War, such investment was never a realistic possibility for perceived railway backwaters such as the Cranleigh and Steyning Lines. This links to the third factor which was the perception by British Rail managers of the two lines; managers failed to appreciate the potential usefulness of the lines if co-ordinated effectively. Once Beeching had announced his programme of closures, it was taken as a given that the lines would close and services were gradually run down.

However there are current talks in the pipeline to re-open the line between Shoreham and Horsham even with some technical issues of deviations of the old route. Government rulings laid out at the time the land and buildings were sold off allow the requisition of the land previously built on.

References

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