Notes: Sidley station was sited in a deep cutting and was about 3 miles 25 chains from Crowhurst on a falling gradient of 1 in 260. Over 300,000 cubic yards of earth was excavated to accommodate the station and goods yard. The detached entrance building was of red brick and Bath stone, in the opinion of Biddle (1973) creating ‘a startling checkerboard effect beneath the eaves and on the gable’ beneath the slate roof.
At its opening the building contained a booking office, general waiting room, ladies’ waiting room and toilet, ticket and parcels office, gents’ toilet and stationmaster’s office. It was at street level next to the bridge and opposite the Pelham Hotel. Passengers would buy their tickets and leave the station building at the back of the booking office and then descend a few stairs to a lattice girder footbridge, similar to that at Crowhurst, before tackling a flight of steps leading down to each platform. Following the temporary closure of the line in 1917, the footbridge and track were dismantled and transported to France for use by the war department. The first appointed stationmaster at Sidley was Mr Trigg who was transferred from Kemsing.
Both platforms were 490ft long and were originally graced by Arts and Crafts timber-framed pavilions with slate roofs. As was normal, the waiting rooms within them were provided with fireplaces. The down side platform building, which was slightly longer, also included a porters’ room and a store. In 1938 the Southern Railway decided to let the street level station building and transfer the booking office to the waiting room on the up platform. Near the Bexhill end of the down platform was the signal box which contained 20 levers while on the opposite side, trailing off the up line, were the goods yard and sidings. The 1904 Railway Clearing House Handbook of Stations lists Sidley as handling only general goods and parcels but there was a 1 ton 10 cwt capacity crane. By 1956 the yard handled a full range of goods, including livestock, but there was no mention of a crane.
A large brick shed which was built to a standard SECR design, was provided with one siding passing through it and another looping round it to the south. This siding split into three long sidings to the south-west parallel with the running lines. The yard crane was sited between these sidings opposite a small goods dock. These sidings were sometimes used for carriages and for a time after the First World War the SECR stored railmotors Nos. 2, 5, 6 & 7 there. To the north of the shed the siding ran behind the down platform which could also be used as a loading dock if required. The goods shed was larger than had originally been intended and was always under-utilised. By 1929 it was surplus to requirements and sold out of use by the Southern Railway. It was for many years used by Pepper & Son, Builders' Merchant.
The street level building became a petrol station, surviving until 1971 when it was demolished to make way for the new petrol station which still stands on the site. The platforms and platform buildings were demolished in 1967 and, when visited in early 1968, only the ramps under the Ninfield Road bridge survived. The cutting was infilled to about platform level and the levelled land used by a motorbike training centre which closed in 2012. The goods shed lasted much longer; in later years it was used by another builders’ merchant (M P Harris & Co) and, although standing empty and increasingly derelict for many years, it survived until early 2009 when it was demolished to make way for new industrial units. In post-war years Bowles Timber Yard and Hall & Co Ltd (coal merchants) also operated from the yard.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BEXHILL WEST BRANCH
In 1844 the Brighton, Lewes & Hastings Railway obtained authority to build a line from Brighton to Hastings via Bexhill and, under the same Act, to sell the undertaking to the London & Brighton Railway. At that time, the Sussex seaside resort of Bexhill was still only a small fishing community on the coast while the village of Bexhill stood on a hill about a mile inland. The first section of this line from Brighton to Lewes opened on 8 June 1846 while the section from Lewes through Bexhill to Bulverhythe, near St Leonards, opened on 27 June 1846. The London & Brighton Railway amalgamated with the London & Croydon Railway on 27 July 1846 to become the London Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR). A short extension from Bulverhythe to West Marina at St Leonards opened on 7 November 1846.
The LB&SCR opened a new line to Lewes from their main London to Brighton route, south of Wivelsfield at Keymer Junction, on 27 October 1847. This gave direct access to London from St Leonards, whilst a branch to Eastbourne was opened on 14 May 1849 from Polegate, which was about half way between Lewes and St Leonards.
An extension from St Leonards to Hastings, Rye and Ashford had also been sanctioned, although this was later transferred to the South Eastern Railway (SER) who built and opened the line through to Ashford on 13 February 1851. The SER also built a line from their main London to Dover route at Tonbridge to Hastings, via Tunbridge Wells and Battle, which opened on 1 February 1852 and gave direct access to London from Hastings. The LB&SCR line from West Marina at St Leonards joined the SER at a new junction called Bopeep.
At this time, despite having a railway station, Bexhill had still not developed into a seaside resort unlike its neighbours Eastbourne and Hastings. Towards the latter part of the nineteenth century, prompted by the 8th Earl De La Warr who was a major landowner in the area, it was decided to try and develop Bexhill into one of the leading health resorts in the south of England. One slight disadvantage was the absence of a more direct rail route to London. Passengers considered it inconvenient that they either had to take the LB&SCR route via Lewes, or change at Hastings and travel on the SER line via Tonbridge.
The ill-fated Ouse Valley line which the LB&SCR had planned in 1863 to run from their main London to Brighton line north of Haywards Heath to Uckfield, with extensions to Hailsham and Bexhill, would have no doubt given a quicker route to the capital but, unfortunately, even though construction had started, the LB&SCR ran into financial problems and the line was abandoned. At about the same time, a branch to Bexhill from the main SER line just south of Battle had also been proposed but never materialised.
With Earl De La Warr's plans to develop the area really starting to have an effect in the 1880s, a Bexhill Direct Railway from Battle was proposed in 1884, and again in 1885 with access to Eastbourne, but still nothing came of these plans or similar plans in 1889. In 1896 the nominally independent Crowhurst, Sidley & Bexhill Railway (CS&BR) was promoted by local landowners and businessmen including Earl De La Warr.
This consortium in addition to other subscribers put money up to build a line from the SER London and Hastings line south of Battle near the small village of Crowhurst, where a new station would be built, and from where the new line would leave the main SER line and run across the valley and marshes to Sidley and terminate at Bexhill; a length of 4½ miles. This new line had the full backing of the SER who were prepared to advance the CS&BR a substantial loan to get things moving and agreed to work the line using SER rolling stock. The authorised capital was £135,000 with borrowing power of £45,000 on mortgage; although this seemed a large amount of money for such a short line, it must be pointed out that a 17-arch viaduct was needed to cross the marshes, while deep cuttings south of Crowhurst and at Sidley were also required.
The Royal Assent for the construction of the line was obtained on 15 July 1897. The company appointed Arthur John Barry of Westminster (London) and Percy Crosland Tempest (Chief Engineer of the SER) as their joint engineers. The contract to build the line was given to John Price of Westminster, whose firm later became Price & Reeves while the line was under construction.
With such a heavily engineered line 700 navvies were engaged, and most of them were provided with living accommodation in special wooden dwellings at Crowhurst. Some preliminary work of ground clearing was done in the latter part of 1897 and construction started in January 1898. With construction of the CS&BR taking place at the Crowhurst end of the line, steps were taken to complete the compulsory purchase of land at Bexhill as authorised by the Act of Parliament. At this time it was at the height of the Bexhill land boom and the CS&BR had to pay heavily. With all of this extra expense involved, the company was further authorised to borrow £48,000 under an Act of 1 July 1898, plus £16,000 on mortgage.
The most difficult and time-consuming feature was the 17-arch Crowhurst Viaduct which spanned the valley and marshes for a length of 417yd. It caused the contractors a great deal of trouble on several occasions owing to the subsidence of the embankments at either end. The north abutment was started in December 1898, and the last arch was turned on 21 September 1900. Originally it was intended to construct the piers on piles driven into the earth, and a start was made, but the piles gave way. It was then decided to substitute huge concrete blocks, forming a stable foundation.
There were two deep cuttings on the route. The first one was at Crowhurst where 280,000 cubic yards of earth were removed and used to form embankments in the vicinity. The other deep cutting was at Sidley where 300,000 cubic yards of earth were excavated from the site where the station and goods yard were built. The earth was taken from here to Bexhill to form the banks and foundations for the new line and terminus. There were 16 bridges on the route which included three over public roads, in addition to iron footbridges at Crowhurst and Sidley stations and one near Worsham Manor. The three station buildings, particularly the terminus at Bexhill, were rather grand for such a short line. The joint architects were C S Barry and C E Mercer.
On 1 January 1899 the SER finally ended many feuding years with their rivals the London Chatham & Dover Railway (LC&DR) by entering into an agreement whereby both companies would remain separate but would work together under the heading of the South Eastern & Chatham Railway Management Committee (SE&CR).
The twin-track line was inspected by Major J W Pringle on behalf of the Board of Trade on 25 April 1902. Major Pringle submitted his report three days later and, with only minor improvements suggested, he authorised the opening of the branch for passenger traffic. It was announced that the new line would be officially opened on Saturday 31 May 1902 with passenger services starting the following day.
On the day of the grand ceremonial opening the three stations were lavishly decorated with bunting and flags. A special train packed with local dignitaries was scheduled to leave at noon to travel to Crowhurst Junction to meet the directors and guests arriving from London Bridge at 12.30. The carriages carrying the directors, invited guests and members of the London press were coupled to the Bexhill train for the return journey which was made at slow enough rate to give the guests an idea of the character of the construction of the new line.
Hundreds of local people gathered at the terminus on a glorious day to watch the arrival of the train. Speeches on the platform followed, and after an inspection of the station premises the guests adjourned to the nearby Hotel Metropole for a grand banquet. Large tables were laid in the booking hall for a luncheon for the station staff and other railway employees.
The public service started the following day. The distance from London to Bexhill by the South-Eastern & Chatham route was only 62 miles compared with 71 miles by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. The initial service was generous with thirteen down and thirteen up trains on week days; of these, one up and one down were through express services to Charing Cross and Cannon Street, stopping only at Tunbridge Wells, Sidley, and Bexhill, the total journey time from Cannon Street being 1 hour 39 minutes. In addition to the through expresses there were four up and three down trains with through carriages; of these, one down and two up were to Charing Cross, the other two, both up and down, were to Victoria. There was also a good Sunday service.
Despite the optimistic beginnings with the quicker route to London, many passengers still seemed to favour the LB&SCR station and the original route. The South Eastern Railway absorbed the Crowhurst, Sidley and Bexhill Railway Company in 1905. Matters were not helped during the First World War when a directive from the Railway Executive Committee, requested that the branch (like many other branch lines) be closed as an economy measure and all services were withdrawn from 1 January 1917. Although goods trains started to operate again from 5 November 1917, full passenger services were not reinstated to Bexhill until 1 March 1919 while Sidley surprisingly remained closed to passengers until 14 June 1920. To try and tempt passengers back, through trains to London were quickly restored.
Under the SE&CR, services were worked by the older classes of SER locomotives, which were stationed at Bexhill. These continued until 1936, when push-pull trains were introduced. Under British Railways, push-pull services were operated by H Class 0-4-4T locomotives. Through services between Bexhill and Charing Cross were worked by Schools Class 4-4-0 locomotives; these were withdrawn at the beginning of the Second World War and never reinstated.
After the 1923 grouping, the SE&CR became part of the newly formed Southern Railway who, by inheriting the former LB&SCR and SE&CR stations, found itself with two stations at Bexhill. To confuse matters the SE&CR station had been opened as Bexhill-on-Sea even though the LB&SCR station was actually nearer to the sea. To overcome this matter the former LB&SCR station was named Bexhill Central from 9 July 1923 while the former SE&CR station became simply Bexhill until it received its final name of Bexhill West in November 1929.
Although some through trains to London had been reintroduced, the Southern Railway arranged that most main line trains calling at Crowhurst would include three corridor carriages for Bexhill West; however this failed to attract passengers away from the former LB&SCR route where, even though the journey was longer, they could still reach London without changing.
In 1930 planning consultants Messrs Adams, Thompson and Fry were asked by the Town Council to produce a report on the general development of Bexhill. What they proposed was to connect the two railway lines by building a loop from the head of the West station goods yard crossing over Terminus Road and joining the Central station line near Sackville Arch. The consultants also suggested a new Central station on the goods yard at Buckhurst Place with a station entrance fronting on to the Town Hall Square. Nothing came of this plan.
In 1935 the former LB&SCR coastal line was electrified and, from then on, the Southern Railway seemed to have considered it as their main London line from Bexhill while the former CS&BR line from Bexhill West was seen more as a branch.
In 1937 the Southern Railway proposed a scheme for electrification of the main Hastings line and this also included the Bexhill West branch. Special stock was to be provided to fit the main line’s restricted loading gauge. Unlike the former LB&SCR line this scheme came to nothing, but if it had been carried out it might have given the branch a long-term future.
From the late 1930s, pull-and-push trains started working the line and replacing some of the through carriages. By the mid 1940s they took over completely when the through carriages were withdrawn.
After Nationalisation in 1948, the Southern Railway passed into the hands of the British Railways Southern Region. In 1949 the line, which was now very much referred to as a branch, briefly assumed the full importance of a main line when Bopeep Tunnel, on the main line, had to be closed for extensive repairs. The work lasted from 27 November 1949 until 4 June 1950 which necessitated all main line trains from London to Hastings terminating at Bexhill West. The little used platform 3 at Bexhill West was brough back into service at this time.
Once the tunnel was repaired and normal service was resumed, the pull-and-push trains again were restored to a routine timetable. In October 1950 there were 15 down trains on Monday-to-Friday with 16 on Saturday and nine on Sunday. There were 16 up trains on Monday-to- Saturday and eight on Sunday. This arrangement lasted until June 1958 when steam trains gave way to two-car DEMUs which connected with the London to Hastings diesel-electric trains at Crowhurst. At this time a new timetable was introduced with an hourly service. Even then, steam briefly returned to the branch in March 1959 owing to a shortage of diesel stock. Also, during this time, an unadvertised school train ran between Etchingham and Bexhill West. It is claimed that the timetables were altered to the disadvantage of those commuters who wished to use the line; fares were also raised, adding a further disincentive to travel on the branch.
The Sunday winter service was withdrawn from 3 January to 10 April 1960 and was never reinstated. From this time onwards fears grew for the future of the line and when the ‘Beeching Report’ was published on 27 March 1963, the Bexhill West branch was one of the lines recommended for closure. On 8 June 1963 the formal proposal of closure to passengers was published, projecting a withdrawal date of 9 September 1963 if no objections were received; as it happened, goods services ceased on that date. A better service from St Leonards was promised in addition to a bus service to connect Bexhill West and Sidley stations.
With over 200 season ticket holders making regular use of the line from Bexhill West and about 40 from Sidley it is not surprising that they formed the basis of the opposition to the closure and quickly formed the Hastings, Bexhill & District Season Ticket Holders’ Association. An inquiry was soon held by the Transport Users’ Consultative Committee for the South Eastern Area at Bexhill Town Hall, where a petition of 1,000 names was handed in. With a warning of hardship which would cost regular travellers at least five extra hours per week in travel, there was a delay in effecting closure, but on 22 April 1964 Ernest Marples, Secretary of State for Transport, upheld the decision to close the line with a new closure date of 14 June 1964.
The last train from Bexhill West to Crowhurst was packed when it left at 10.20 pm on Sunday 13 June. Two passengers on the last train had actually made the first journey in 1902.
After the line closed there were several attempts to have it reopened, but all to no avail. The track was lifted in 1965 and that also included the bays and fast through tracks at Crowhurst. The bridge which crossed over Little Common and Down roads was demolished in 1967 and then in May 1969 with great publicity, Crowhurst Viaduct was dramatically blown up, with a large crowd gathering on the Crowhurst marshes to witness the event.
Some of the route can be walked at the north end of the branch. In 2009 East Sussex County Council proposed building a new link road between Bexhill and Hastings, which would form a 3½-mile road from its junction with the A259 in Bexhill to a junction with the B2092 Queensway in Hastings. Part of the proposed route would use the trackbed of the Bexhill branch from a point just north of the Glover's Farm overbridge, though the station site at Sidley to a junction with the A259 (King Offa Way). Despite a vigorous campaign to stop the road which has be described by many people as the ‘road to nowhere’, work on it started in January 2013, and the Department for Transport announced final funding approval in April 2013.
Between the A259 and the Bexhill West terminus the trackbed is occupied by the aptly named Beeching Road Industrial Estate. Another section of the trackbed between Sidley and Crowhurst could be lost if the proposed Combe Valley (formerly Pebshan) Countryside Park is ever created.
Tickets from Michael Stewart, Timetable from Chris Totty, Route map drawn by Alan Young.
Sources and bibliography:
To see other stations on the Bexhill West branch click on the station name:
Bexhill West & Crowhurst