The History of the Lewes & East Grinstead Railway


The following is adapted from Chailey through the Centuries by Edwin Matthias 1983, having been originally published on the web on the currently defunct Chailey web site.

The Lewes and East Grinstead Railway Act, 1877, which was promoted by the Earl of Sheffield and other local landowners, authorised the construction of a railway between the towns mentioned, and the 1878 Act provided for the acquisition, completion and running of the new line by the London Brighton and South Coast Company.A curious fact about the new line was that of the sites chosen for the six stations, only one, that at Barcombe, was close to an existing village. Of the other five, all of which were in thinly populated areas, two were in the parish of Chailey. One of these was in the extreme north-east corner, close to the bridge over the Ouse leading to Sheffield Park from which its name was taken. The other about two miles further south, was not far from the eastern boundary and was known as Newick and Chailey. The explanation of this lies in the fact that it was not unusual at that time for a rural line promoted by a private company to have its stations placed near the residence of the promoters! Sheffield Park served the Earl of Sheffield and Newick and Chailey the residences of Newick Park and Reedens, homes of two other promoters.

The Schedule of the 1877 and 1878 Act included a clause that
“Four passenger trains each way daily to run on this line with through connections at East Grinstead to London, and stop at Sheffield Bridges, Newick and West Hoathly”.

It is important to notice this since it meant that the railways could only be released from this statutory obligation by another Act of Parliament repealing it. The line was opened in 1882 amidst much festivity. [It was built with bridges and embankments able to take double track, but south of Horsted Keynes it was only ever laid with a single track, except at most of the stations which had passing loops.] For many years it carried many passengers and a considerable amount of goods (including milk, farm produce, coal and timber to and from the works of Albert Turner and Son). Sheffield Park perhaps had fewer passengers using it except on the occasions when Lord Sheffield was entertaining the Australian Cricket Team and there was a match between them and an eleven collected by him.

British Railways submitted a proposal to close the line in 1954, but this was hotly contested by local residents. The closure was approved in February 1955 and became effective from May 28th 1955. A battle followed between British Railways and the Users; and “The Bluebell Line” (as it had become known) became famous, not because of its value for transport but as a result of the four years bitter fight which the Users waged against the Transport Authorities to protect the rights of the individual.

Shortly after the closure of the line a local resident, Miss Bessemer, discovered in the 1877 and 1878 Act the clause relating to the “Statutory Line” and immediately requested British Railways to honour their obligation and they were forced to re-open the line on 7th August 1956. The case was taken to the House of Commons and a Public Inquiry followed in 1957. British Railways were severly criticised but subsequently the Transport Commission persuaded Parliament to repeal the special section of the Act, and the line was finally closed on March 17th 1958. It was later taken over by the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society.

The following is taken from the West Hoathly Parish Council web site.

The Lewes and East Grinstead Railway was built in the valley to the east of West Hoathly village and opened in August 1882. A brick works was established to support the construction of the railway and particularly to provide the lining for the tunnel through Sharpthorne Ridge. When assessing the tunnel, the Board of Trade Inspector commented that he “had never seen work better done.” A brick works remains there to this day, unusually still manufacturing heritage bricks in the traditional way by firing them in open clamps rather than in kilns.

Extracts from Chailey through the Centuries by Edwin Matthias 1983, with one factual correction by Richard Salmon.


Last updated by Richard Salmon, 17 September 2014