The Bluebell Railway is a heritage railway running for 11 miles along the border between East Sussex and West Sussex, England. Steam-hauled trains are operated between Sheffield Park, with two intermediate stations at Horsted Keynes and Kingscote and then into East Grinstead. The line was set up for preservation in 1960 with help from Bernard Holden MBE.
Stepney was the first engine to be rescued by the Bluebell Railway.
Johnny Morris was the vice-president of the railway from the early 1960's until 1987.
The railway is managed and run largely by volunteers. It has the largest collection of steam locomotives in the UK after the National Railway Museum (NRM) (though the Midland Railway, Butterley owns more locomotives after the collection overall) and a collection of almost 150 carriages and wagons (most of them from the pre-grouping era), unrivalled in the south of England. In addition to the 30+ locomotives resident on the line, one is on loan from the NRM (another has recently returned there) and a project is well under way to recreate a long-lost type of locomotive (a London, Brighton and South Coast Railway H2 Class Atlantic) from a few surviving parts.
The Bluebell Railway was the first preserved standard gauge steam-operated passenger railway in the world: it opened on 7th August 1960, shortly after the line from East Grinstead to Lewes had been closed by British Railways. It also preserved a number of steam locomotives even before the cessation of steam service on British mainline railways in 1968.
The railway's motto upon its coat of arms is "Floreat Vapor", which is Latin for "May Steam Flourish", or literally, "flower".
In 1877 an Act of Parliament was passed to authorise the construction of the Lewes and East Grinstead Railway (L&EGR). The line was sponsored by a number of local landowners, including the Earl of Sheffield. A year later an Act of 1878 enabled the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company (LB&SCR) to acquire and operate the new line.
The line had six stations, but only the station at Barcombe was within walking distance of an existing village: the remaining five were in thinly populated areas. Chailey parish had two stations, one at Sheffield Park and the other at Newick and Chailey. It was customary at that time for a rural railway line that was supported by a private company or notable individuals to have stations sited in close proximity to the residences of its sponsors. Thus Sheffield Park station was built for the Earl of Sheffield and the Newick and Chailey stations for Newick Park and Reedens, the residences of two other sponsors. The other stations on the line were at Kingscote, West Hoathly and Horsted Keynes. A branch line ran from a junction at Horsted Keynes to Ardingly and Haywards Heath on the LB&SCR main line.
Significantly, the 1877 and 1878 Acts included a clause stating that:
Four passenger trains each way daily to run on this line, with through connections at East Grinstead to London and to stop at Sheffield Bridges, Newick and West Hoathly.
This imposed a legal requirement on the railway owner to provide a service and it emerged much later that the only way to remove this obligation was to pass another Act of Parliament to rescind it.
After the passage of the 1878 Act, the new line opened in 1882, with the usual pomp and ceremony and a great deal of celebration. The whole line from East Grinstead was built to take double track, which was actually laid between East Grinstead and Horsted Keynes; however, south of the junction at Horsted Keynes the line was only single track with passing loops at the stations. Like a number of rural branch lines of that era, as well as conveying passengers a substantial quantity of local produce was transported: milk, farm products and coal and timber to and from Albert Turner & Son, a local sawmill. Curiously, the only time Sheffield Park station received a substantial number of passengers was when Lord Sheffield entertained the Australian Cricket Team, with the inevitable match between them and Lord Sheffield's own team.
As early as 1954 and certainly long before Dr. Richard Beeching (whose programme of railway closures and service cuts became known as the Beeching Axe) became Chairman of the British Railways Board, the Branchline Committee of British Railways had submitted a proposal to close the section of line from East Grinstead to Culver Junction near Lewes. This was challenged by local residents, but eventually the closure was sanctioned in February 1955 and a closure date fixed for 15th June 1955, although the line actually closed prematurely on 29th May due to a rail staff strike. The ensuing battle fought between British Railways and the users of the "Bluebell Line" (as it was known) became infamous, as a result of four years of acrimonious argument which the transport users conducted in opposition to the Transport Authorities.
Shortly after the closure a local resident of Chailey, Miss Margery Bessemer, discovered in the wording of the 1877 and 1878 Acts the clause (mentioned above) relating to the "Statutory Line" and demanded that British Railways honour this legal obligation and reinstate the services required by the Acts. On 7th August 1956 British Railways was forced to re-open the line and so began the "Sulky Service", with the trains only stopping at the stations mentioned in the Acts. Meanwhile, in 1957 British Railways took the case to the House of Commons, resulting in a Public Inquiry.
Spring 1959 saw the formation of the Lewes & East Grinstead Railway Preservation Society, the forerunner of today's Bluebell Railway Preservation Society. Its initial aim was to re-open the whole line from East Grinstead to Culver Junction and to run it as a commercial service. This was envisaged as using a diesel railcar, a two-car diesel multiple unit (DMU), as soon as funds allowed. These plans came to nothing, for two reasons: firstly, the Society failed to purchase the whole line and secondly, most local residents were not that interested. So in the interim, the re-opening of the section of line from Sheffield Park to Bluebell Halt just south of Horsted Keynes (which was at first leased and eventually purchased from British Railways) as both a steam railway and museum was planned and approved.
Present and future
The Bluebell Railway Preservation Society completed an initial extension from Horsted Keynes to Kingscote in 1994, which included re-laying track through Sharpthorne Tunnel (731 yards, the longest on a UK heritage railway) and is now working to reinstate the remaining two miles of line from Kingscote to East Grinstead.
Work has now started on the final northwards push towards East Grinstead, where the line will once again connect with the National Rail network. A major problem to be overcome is the former landfill site that fills a 30 ft deep cutting for part of the route. Some of the excavated clay has been taken south by rail to help fill the site of a removed viaduct and embankment on the old Ardingly spur. In January 2008 agreement was given to start the clearance of foliage on the section of the tip between Imberhorne Lane and Hill Place bridges. Work on removing some of the 300,000 cubic metres of rubbish by convoys of lorries was started on 25th November 2008. In Autumn 2008 work also started on site clearance work at East Grinstead in preparation for construction of the new Bluebell Railway station about 100 yards south of the National Rail station. In July 2012, the Bluebell Railway originally confirmed that the extension to East Grinstead would be completed in September 2012. However, heavy rains during the summer season of 2012 caused a setback on the extension work. The Bluebell Railway decided for the extension to be completed in March 2013 and would open to the public in June. Despite the setbacks, the final section of landfill at Imberhorne Tip was removed on 19th February 2013, putting the opening of the extension back on schedule for 23rd March.
The Bluebell Railway has also purchased the trackbed of the abandoned line between Horsted Keynes and Ardingly. In the long-term future it is planned to rebuild this line to reconnect with National Rail and thus gain access to the London to Brighton main line at Copyhold Junction. This will restore a bypass of the London–Brighton line which proved very useful in the past (during the Second World War the signal box at Horsted Keynes was manned night and day to provide an alternative route for troop trains). There is also occasional speculation about long-term plans to extend south towards Lewes; but the removal of the road bridge just south of Sheffield Park station, the in-filling of the cutting and route under the A272 road, as well as the housing development that was built on the site of Newick & Chailey station makes this idea an unlikely prospect. Nevertheless the remaining undeveloped section of the line from Lewes to Sheffield Park has been safeguarded from development prejudicial to its use as a bridleway and footpath.
The stations have been restored to show different periods of the railway's life. Sheffield Park has been restored to a generally Victorian ambience, as it would have appeared during the time of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (up to 1922); Horsted Keynes tries to emulate the style of the Southern Railway (1922–1948); and Kingscote echoes the early British Railways period of the 1950s.
Between Horsted Keynes and Kingscote the line passes through the site of West Hoathly station, at the north end of Sharpthorne Tunnel. The West Hoathly station buildings and footbridge were demolished piecemeal between 1964 and 1967 and the site is now in the middle of a modern housing development, so remains closed in deference to the wishes of the local residents. The remains of the platforms and goods dock are still visible at the lineside.
From Kingscote the line then curves round into the ex-rubbish cutting, over the Imberhorne Viaduct and into platform 3 of East Grinstead.
- 2007 marked the railway's 125th anniversary.
- 2009 marked the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society's 50th anniversary.
- 2010 marked the Bluebell's 50th anniversary of running services and Furness Railway No. 20 visited the line for the first two weeks of August 2010 to celebrate the anniversary.
- 2012 marked the death of the railway's president, Bernard Holden MBE. He was aged 104 when he died on 4th October. His funeral train was headed by Stepney on the 16th, due to the fact that he was the first engine rescued by the Bluebell Railway.
- 2013 marked the completion of the extension to East Grinstead and the British Mainline opened with a two-week gala from 23rd March.
- Sheffield Park
- Horsted Keynes
- West Hoathly (closed)
- East Grinstead
- Lewes to East Grinstead Low Level
- East Grinstead Low Level
- West Hoathly
- Horsted Keynes
- Sheffield Park
- Newick and Chailey
Claims to fame
The Bluebell Railway has been used as the location for several films and television programmes.
- The Rev. W. Awdry and Dr. Chris Cook contributed to the writing and publishing of "A Guide to The Steam Railways of Great Britain" by Pelham Books in August 1979. They also made a documentary of The Bluebell Railway where Wilbert met Britt Allcroft, the producer for the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends television series.
- The Bluebell Railway is also featured in the Railway Series written by the Rev. W. Awdry. The book was called Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine, with Stepney as the main character, visiting the fictional Island of Sodor.
- Certain scenes from James Watkins' 2012 horror film "The Woman in Black" were taken at various places along the Bluebell line.
- Railway scenes from the British drama "Downton Abbey" were filmed at Horsted Keynes station, renamed Downton for filming.
- The last ever scenes of the "It Ain't Half Hot Mum" episode The Last Roll Call was filmed at Horsted Keynes station.
- Railway scenes for the dramatisation "The Railway Children" based on the book by Edith Nesbit were filmed in October 1999 for the 2000 film by Carlton Television.
- Sequences for the film "Miss Potter" starring Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger were filmed at Horsted Keynes station.
- Sequences for the adaptation of the Philip Pullman book "The Ruby in the Smoke" starring Billie Piper as Sally Lockhart and Julie Walters as Mrs. Holland were filmed at Horsted Keynes station.
- The train chase scene in the film version of "The Wind in the Willows", starring Terry Jones and Eric Idle, was filmed on the line.
- Scenes for "Einstein and Eddington" were filmed on the line with David Tennant playing Eddington and Jim Broadbent as a father, with Horsted Keynes disguised as Cambridge.
- The 1977 television miniseries "Love for Lydia" had brief scenes filmed at the Horsted Keynes station. It starred Jeremy Irons, Peter Davison, Mel Martin and Christopher Blake.
- The 1967 film "I'll Never Forget What's His Name" starring Oliver Reed filmed on the line using the Met' Stock and NLR Tank Loco painted all over in white as well as a suitably "dressed" Freshfield Halt.
- At least two Ken Russell films were made here in the early 1970s, notably "Lisztomania" starring Roger Daltrey. A sequence in that particular film showed steam locomotive Fenchurch (one of Stepney's siblings) smashing through a Grand Piano at speed. Another Russell film, "Savage Messiah" was also filmed at Horsted Keynes station which was dressed to look like Portland in Dorset, England.
- "Dirty Dozen" sequel in 1984 used Horsted Keynes station for several scenes which included Q class steam locomotive 541 and two of the then full-time Permanent Way Gang as French Platelayers. It starred Lee Marvin.
- Pop videos include: Tracey Ullman, The Pet Shop Boys, Sheena Easton, Runrig, Robson & Jerome. Also Elton John's 'Tumbleweed Connection' album cover picture was shot at Sheffield Park Station.
- "Night Train To Murder" (1984), the very last television/feature film Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise made before Eric's death. Sequences at Sheffield Park station were shot at night with Eric pushing Ernie through the ticket barrier on a porters trolley and of steam locomotive 75027 in steam. Screened on LWT over the 1984 Christmas television schedule.
- The 1973 documentary "Metroland" by Sir John Betjeman contains an opening scene in Horsted Keynes buffet and numerous shots inside one of the Metropolitan carriages.
- In 1980 the videoclip of the famous song "Morning train (9 to 5)" from Sheena Easton was filmed here. The Bluebell Railway and Adams, steam locomotive 488 are seen in the whole clip.
- In 2008, the Bluebell Railway featured in an episode of the Channel Five documentary series "Dangerous Adventures for Boys". In the episode, entitled "Steam Trains", Todd Carty (best known as Mark Fowler from "EastEnders") and his son James were on the Bluebell Railway to learn how to drive a steam engine.
- From 1998 to 2001, ITV Meridian broadcasted the Bluebell Railway on various episodes of its heritage railway documentary television series called "Southern Steam". One episode called "A Century of Trains" focused on Stepney and his surviving Terrier siblings.
- The railway has often featured in "Agatha Christie's Poirot".
- The railway was one of the many filming locations for the BBC2 documentary series, "Locomotion: Dan Snow's History of Railways".
- On Monday 1st September 2014, the railway featured on BBC1's "Inside Out (South)".
- In September 2018, the railway appeared in one of Martin Freeman's Vodaphone adverts.
The railway was later featured in the 1980 Annual.
Line to Lewes
The line originally extended beyond Sheffield Park to Culver Junction (at Culver Farm just south of Barcombe Mills), with intermediate stations at Newick and Chailey and Barcombe. At Culver Junction it joined the 1858 Lewes to Uckfield line (part of which is now restored as the Lavender Line), thereby gaining access to Lewes. The section from East Grinstead to Culver Junction was closed in 1958 and the Lewes to Uckfield line in 1969.
The Bluebell Railway owns a very large collection of heritage rolling stock.
- Stepney (No. 55)
- Bluebell and Primrose (Nos. 27 and 323)
- Adams (No. 488)
- Cromford (No. 58850)
- Captain Baxter (No. 3)
- Fenchurch (No. 672)
- Birch Grove (No.473/32473)
- BR Standard 9F (Murdoch's basis)
- SR USA Class (Rosie's basis)
- BR Standard 4MT (Belle's basis)
- SR West Country (Rebecca's basis)
- BR Standard 2MT (Barry's basis)
- Rolls Royce Class 4DH (Den's basis)
- LB&SCR four-wheeled coaches (Annie and Clarabel, An An and Yin-Long's basis)
- GWR Toad Brake van (Toad's basis)
- Ransomes and Rapier 45-ton steam crane (Rocky's basis)