IT takes a group of dedicated railway “buffs” to put together an exhibition on a defunct rail line and do the subject full justice.
On June 14, 1964 the last passenger-carrying train thundered over the 17-arch viaduct over the Combe Haven Valley. Lord Beeching had swung his controversial “axe” once more. The Bexhill West-Crowhurst branch railway line was officially closed.
What had opened in 1902 as an ambitious – and costly – venture to bring Earl De La Warr’s emergent new seaside resort a faster, more direct, link to London than the rival London, Brighton and South Coast company could offer ended just 62 years later.
The tracks were torn up with indecent haste. The double-span bridge which had carried the branch line over the A259 trunk route near the Little Common Road-London Road traffic lights followed shortly after. In 1969 the landmark viaduct – “the seventeen arches” – was taken down by explosives.
Today, the first part of the old track bed is making way for the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the line’s closure – a decision which had a profound effect onthe town’s economy – Bexhill Museum is staging a temporary exhibition.
Museum administrator Don Phillips together with Peter Carey, a volunteer in the carriage and wagon workshop of the Kent and East Sussex Railway, and Ken Bywater, a committee member of Bexhill Model Railway Club, have devoted three months of painstaking research and photo-sourcing to stage the exhibition.
They have secured rare photographs which include: ‘Sidley’ the once-familiar 0-6-0 tank loco – a shot rescued from a skip and donated to the museum; the powerful 0-6-0 Cass Q1 which pulled the goods traffic. Rare shots of opening day have also been obtained of staff posing stiffly but with pride in their unforms.
They have set out a time-line charting the line’s genesis, its construction, opening, operational history and eventual demise. They have listed the locomotives which served it and the stationmasters who once held dominion over Bexhill West and Sidley stations.
The exhibition covers just two panels in a corner of the Egerton Road museum’s motor heritage gallery.
But between now and the end of the year it will be a magnet for all rail enthusiasts and a visit rich in nostalgia for those with memories of the line – the writer included since he covered the public inquiry into its closure, was on that last passenger-carrying train and witnessed the explosions which removed the viaduct.
By John Dowling