Lavender Line

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Lavender Line
Kitson-Austin1.JPG
Kitson 0-6-0ST "Austin I" built in 1932
Localenear Uckfield in East Sussex
Commercial operations
Original gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Preserved operations
Owned byLavender Line Preservation Society
Stations2
Length1 mi (1.6 km)
Preserved gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Commercial history
Opened1858
Closed1969
Preservation history
HeadquartersIsfield Station

The Lavender Line is a heritage railway based at Isfield Station, near Uckfield in East Sussex, England.

History [1][edit]

The Lavender Line formes part of the Lewes to Uckfield Railway opened to the public on 18 October 1858. This independent company became part of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) in 1864 to safeguard that company’s interests east of its London to Brighton main line. Ten years from its opening, Isfield saw through workings from Brighton to Tunbridge Wells and later Tonbridge, via a new Uckfield–Groombridge link. The Uckfield to Lewes section was doubled at this time[2], though the extension north of Uckfield was single track until 1894.

Prior to 1868 trains from Uckfield travelling south to Lewes joined the Keymer Junction to Lewes line north of Lewes at Hamsey, latterly called the "Hamsey Loop". In order to remove the need for trains having to reverse at Lewes the 1868 works included abandoning the Hamsey Loop with the heavily engineered new line entering Lewes from the east, traversing a bridge over the River Ouse then a bridge over Cliffe High Street to Lewes Station via a number of embankments. The mileage of the line also changed following this route alteration, with the zero milepost now at Brighton, so Isfield’s location became 13.6 miles (21.9 km).

The East Grinstead line, part of which now makes up the Bluebell Railway, branched off the line at Culver Junction, near Culver Farm between Lewes and Barcombe Mills.

Closure[edit]

As early as 1964 BR was aware of planned road works in and around the Lewes area, in which a bypass (Phases 1, 2 & 3) around Lewes was planned. As part of this the building of the Phoenix Causeway (Phase 1) would mean that a section of the Lewes to Uckfield railway line was in the way – requiring either a level crossing or a road bridge. BR therefore applied for an Act of Parliament[3] to reinstate the Hamsey loop. Curiously in 1966 the local TUCC received notification from BR that the line from Lewes to Hurst Green Junction was to close in its entirety. The reason for this was that the line was one of those slated for closure in the first Beeching report published in 1963, listing it as an unremunerative line.

Opposition from the many railway travellers resulted. Their case was centred on the fact that a motorway costing formula was used to prove that the users would waste some £750,000 in excess travel compared to BR's calculated loss of only £260,000. In the end the TUCC upheld the users' complaints. In early 1968 BR made another attempt to close the line. This time the Transport Minister, Barbara Castle, requested more information from BR, which was furnished to her successor, Richard Marsh, who took over as Transport Minister in April 1968. At this time structural problems with the bridge over Cliffe High Street in Lewes were identified, which necessitated single line working, with a revised timetable in place to reflect this.

From the information requested by his predecessor, and of all the scenarios that were examined by the Minister, he agreed in August 1968 to the closure of the Lewes to Uckfield section of line. But the resultant row over the severing of what was a very important rail link began. Considerable opposition from the users centred, in the first instance, around the inadequate replacement bus service – which had Ministerial approval. The issue was resolved by the Transport Commissioners who, on examination of all the complaints from the users and undertaking the journey themselves, upheld the users' complaints. However concerns over the state of the bridge over Cliffe High Street remained and finally the BR Chief Civil Engineer declared the bridge unsafe. This meant the cessation of rail services along this section of line, with a replacement bus service in place. The last train at Isfield was on the 24th February 1969 but a replacement bus service operated until 6th May, with the station closing on that date.

In late 1968, BR again applied to close the remaining section of the line, from Uckfield to Hurst Green Junction. This was refused in January 1969 by the Minister as the line was of a social need, and in accordance with Section 39 of the Transport Act 1968 as subsidy could be paid with Treasury approval for a three-year period.[4]

The subsequent sale of the track bed was postponed following the prospect of a number of schemes to re-open the closed section of the line. But they were all unsuccessful, and it is for this reason that it took 15 years for the railway to become available to private buyers. Even so, certain covenants have been inserted into the deeds stating that there is to be no building on this land and it can be compulsorily purchased back should the need arise to reinstate the line.[citation needed]

Private ownership and initial restoration[edit]

On 16 June 1983 Isfield railway station was purchased at auction by Dave and Gwen Milham with restoration of the station in mind. The rebuilding began immediately, including the laying of new track, the renovation of the signal box, and renewal of the all yellow perimeter fence. The booking hall was renovated, the station awning refurbished, and all platform signs replaced. The original platform waiting room had been purchased from Isfield by the Bluebell Railway in 1978, and resituated at Sheffield Park station. Two months were spent constructing a replica on the original foundations, completed in January 1984. In cooperation with the Bluebell Railway Dave Milham purchased track material from British Rail, made available from work being done at Croydon.

The main restoration that took place at the station was completed by the spring of 1987. This included the renovation of the station buildings, and the reinstatement of 14 mile (0.40 km) of permanent way on the original track bed. A new engine shed was constructed at Isfield as an extension to the owner's groundworks machinery shed. The total cost of restoration exceeded £750,000 according to the Milhams.

The station was named 'The Lavender Line' since A.E. Lavender and Sons were the local coal merchants who had operated from the station yard. Two engines were purchased for use at the station: 'Annie', a Barclay 0-4-0 saddle tank previously in service at Bury Transport Museum, and 'Ugly', RSH 0-6-0 saddle tank number 64, purchased while on loan at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. A third engine was purchased, a 2-10-0 built by the North British Locomotive Company, which had to be shipped from Greece to the United Kingdom. The engine was christened 'Dame Vera Lynn' by Dame Vera Lynn herself at the station on 6 August 1986. This engine proved too large for the then 1/4 mile railway, however, and was sold to Clifford Brown, a British-born American businessman living in Virginia, USA. Mr Brown sent the engine to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway where it now resides.

Preservation Society[edit]

Mr Milham's business failed in 1991 and the Lavender Line was put up for sale, initially for £1.3 million[5]. The sale and a later auction seeking around £500,000[6] was not successful. Eventually, in November 1992, the railway without the station house was bought from Mr Milham's bankers by Lavender Line Ltd[7]. The Lavender Line Ltd is in turn controlled by the Lavender Line Preservation Society, a registered charity formed initially by the volunteers who had helped Mr Milham. The first public trains under the new owners operated on Sunday 30th May 1994. The initial 1/4 mile has subsequently been extended to just under 1 mile with the line terminating at the first of two bridges over the river Uck.

Stations[edit]

Isfield[edit]

Isfield station remains the headquarters, operating base, and engineering base of the Lavender Line. Since its restoration in the 1980s the station has been a popular attraction for the local area, and remains a well-celebrated example of a restored period railway station. The station has won awards for its restoration, and proved popular as a location for film and television shoots requiring a period railway station. The original buildings all survive except for the down side platform shelter replaced by a replica used as a shop though considerable changes have been made to the up side buildings to convert the original booking office and lady's toilet to a cafe. The station house has been sympathetically extended but is not part of the Lavender Line and remains occupied as a private dwelling. The signal box is now grade 2 listed.

Worth Halt[edit]

Work started in December 2011 on building a halt style platform at the Uck river bridge, together with a picnic area. It was opened on the Saturday of the first Diesel Gala in July 2012, and named Worth Halt after the parish in which it lies. The construction of the halt allows passengers to travel between two permanent stations, whilst the line remains limited to its current one mile length.

Future expansion[edit]

Despite attempts by the Wealden Line Campaign to have the line from Uckfield through Isfield to Lewes reopened to passenger traffic, a July 2008 study concluded that although technically feasible, the line would be "economically unviable".[8] Any reopening might affect the operations of the Lavender Line or entail a move to a new location, but there is no definite statement on this point. In any event, the campaign has not succeeded, an application to the "restoring your railway" fund in 2021 having failed.

The Preservation Society has expressed an interest in itself restoring and reopening the line between Uckfield and Lewes in the long-term future.[9] In December 2008, a petition was presented to East Sussex County Council asking it to acquire the trackbed from the Lavender Line's northern boundary to the former site of Uckfield station, to lease back the section and to allow heritage services to be run over it. In April 2009, the Council's Director of Transport and Environment recommended that the petition be refused on the basis that a heritage operation would prejudice the reopening of the line and the costs entailed would divert funding away from core Council services.[10] The majority of the old station site in Uckfield has since been converted into a carpark though one of the platforms remains.

Extension to the south is difficult due to the need to reopen the level crossing on Station Road (against ORR policy) while extension to the north would require two bridges over the river Uck to be refurbished and would only be able to reach Uckfield bypass which blocks access to the station site in Uckfield. Any reinstatement as part of Network Rail would require a new, elevated, station in Uckfield to allow the bypass to be bridged.

Rolling Stock[edit]

Steam locomotives[edit]

Name Works No Builder Type Year Built Owner Status Notes
Lady Lisa 2945 Cockerill 0-4-0VBT 1920 Privately Owned Operational Previously Yvonne

Diesel locomotives[edit]

Name Number Builder Works No Type Year Built Owner Status
- Army 221 Andrew Barclay 354 0-4-0DM 1941 Privately Owned Operational
- Army 830 Vulcan / Drewry VF 5257 / DC 2176 0-4-0DM 1945 Privately Owned Stored
Planet 15 Hibberd - 4wDM - Lavender Line Preservation Society Operational
- 09 025 / D4113 BR Horwich - 0-6-0DE 1962 Lavender Line Preservation Society Operational

Diesel-mechanical multiple units[edit]

Class Number Builder Built Type Owner Status Notes
101 DMU 56408 Metro Cammell 1958 DTSL Lavender Line Preservation Society Serviceable Used as loco-hauled carriage (Built as a DTCL but has all second class seats).
108 DMU 56279 BR Derby 1960 DTCL Privately owned Stored To leave site.
Railbus Laboratory 20 Wickham 1958 Track Recording Car Privately owned Under restoration Interior now equipped for passenger-carrying.

Diesel-electric multiple units[edit]

Unit No. DMBSO DTCsoL Built Owner Status Notes
1118 60117 60828 1957 Private Operational [11]
1121 - 60820 1958 Hastings Diesels Ltd. Operational DMBSO not preserved.
1123 60122 - 1958 Hastings & Sussex Units Preservation Society Used as an office Trailer vehicles at Swindon and Cricklade Railway.[12]
1133 60151 60832 1962 Lavender Line Preservation Society Operational DTCsoL under restoration. TSO originally preserved but later sold now a farmers hay barn.

Electric multiple units[edit]

Class Unit No. DTCsoL MBSO(T) TSO DTSOL Built Owner Status Notes
309 EMU 309624 977965 (75965) 977966 (61928) - 977967 (75972) December 1962 Privately Owned Under Restoration For restoration with support from Clacton Express Preservation Group

Carriages[edit]

Origin Number Type Notes Photograph
BR 21273 MK.I Brake Corridor Composite Under restoration.
BR 69333 Class 422 Buffet Car For sale.

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Railway Magazine September 1969 p496-500
  2. ^ OS 6inch map surveyed 1874-1874
  3. ^ British Railways Act 1966 p4
  4. ^ Railway Magazine March 1969 p171-172
  5. ^ 'Pop Larkin takes to steam' The Independent 4 May 1991
  6. ^ 'End of the line for a dream' The Argus 9 November 1991
  7. ^ Lavender Line Preservation Society AGM report 25/2/1994
  8. ^ East Sussex County Council (23 July 2008). "Issued on behalf of the Central Rail Corridor Board: Rail study report concludes that reinstatement is not economically viable" (Press release). Retrieved 21 August 2008.
  9. ^ Wealden District Council (December 1998). "Local Plan; Chapter 9: Transport, paragraph 9.69" (PDF). Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  10. ^ East Sussex County Council (7 April 2009). "Petition to extend, and designate, the Lavender Line as a heritage railway: Report by the Director of Transport and Environment" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 February 2012. Retrieved 23 July 2009.
  11. ^ VCT (5 October 2016). "BR S60117 'Hampshire' Driving Motor Second built 1957". Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  12. ^ "Replacement carriage arrives at Swindon and Cricklade Railway as arson investigation continues". 30 July 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°56′07″N 0°03′54″E / 50.9353°N 0.0650°E / 50.9353; 0.0650