Archive for August 18, 2014

Bluebell Railway (3) History

Posted: August 18, 2014 in History, Trains


The history of the Bluebell Railway dates back to 1876, when initial discussions were held about building a line from East Grinstead to Lewes. This proposal had the backing of local farmers who saw the coming of the railway as an opportunity for better access to markets. Work started on the line in 1878 and was completed within four years.
One major user was the mid Sussex dairy company, who are based in Sheffield Park and ran a number of special milk trains on the line. One service of particular note was the daily 11.25 to East Grinstead, which carried a special churn labelled ’Sheffield Park to Buckingham Palace’.
In 1923 the control of the line passed to the Southern Railway. This change saw the introduction of rail-motors and electric trains on the line. In 1954, British Railways faced with a line losing money and needing maintenance announced its closure. However, a legal challenge was mounted by the local population who pointed out that under the original act, there was a requirement to run four times a day. British Railways duly complied, reopened the line and proceeded to run the required four trains at times when nobody wanted to travel. By this method, they ensured light usage and once more able to move to close the line in 1958.
The Society for the preservation of the railway was formed the following year with the aim of running a service along the whole length of the line from East Grinstead to Lewes. It soon became evident that this would not be possible as they failed to acquire whole line and they appeared to be a lack of enthusiasm for the restoration of the service from the local population. Undeterred, they carried on and the first locomotive, a Studeley Terrier “Stepney” arrived in 1960.




It was decided that in order to run trains they would need a second engine and they began looking for a second Terrier, but could not find one available. Instead, they settled for a Wainwright “P” class locomotive which they renamed Bluebell.


In the summer of that year, the first trains ran “topped and tailed” by these two locomotives from Sheffield Park to Bluebell Halt, a platform just south of Horsted Keynes station. Eventually they were able to take possession of Horsted Keynes station and for many years, this was the northern terminus of the line.


However, it still remained the aim to run trains over as much of the original line as was possible. A further step in achieving this was made in 2014 when the northern extension to East Grinstead was opened for traffic.