As a young teenager, I lived in Sharpthorne, West Sussex, not far from the Bluebell Railway. And yet, my first visit to the railway was a few weeks ago. I went with a friend, Sheena, and had an enjoyable day out.
We took the train from Victoria to East Grinstead station The Bluebell Railway is next door. We had plenty of time before the next train, so had a cup of tea in the old railway carriage that doubles as a tea room. Pink geraniums in hanging baskets outside finished off the 1950s effect.
When our train came in, it uncoupled from the carriages and reversed back to the other end of the train. We wondered if there was a turntable to rotate the engine but it appears not. It coupled up and the tender reversed along. We boarded, Sheena found the bar, bought us a mini bottle of wine each and so our journey began.
The Bluebell Railway runs from East Grinstead to Sheffield Park. It stops at Kingscote and Horsted Keynes on route, although not all trains stop at Kingscote. Apart from East Grinstead, they were all built in 1882 in the ‘Queen Anne’ style
All the stations have appeared in television shows at some time or other.
The Bluebell Railway has quite a history, with a line opening in around 1878. Worth noting, too, that most people would have had to walk to their local station. I imagine for most of them, that would have taken more than ten minutes… I remember my Mum telling me that she had a ten mile walk to and from school every day…
In 1954, the powers that be decided to close the line. Although challenged by local residents, the closure took place. It happened a few weeks earlier than scheduled, due to a rail strike. Then, as now, people power prevailed, and a bitter battle between British Railways and the users of the line began. It lasted for three years. The line re-opened in 1956, but British Railways challenged the Act that has caused it to be re-opened. The Act was repealed and the line way closed again on 17 March 1958.
Almost a year later, the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society was born, with the aim of re-opening the whole line. Sadly, the plans came to nothing. It wasn’t until 1974 when the society managed to buy the freehold for West Hoathly station, by then demolished, that they started to work on re-opening the line to East Grinstead. The society bought the freehold for Kingscote Station in 1985, which enabled it to press on with its plans.
In April 1994, the society successfully completed the section of track between Horsted Keynes and Kingscote, which included re-laying the section through the Sharpthorne Tunnel. This is 731 yards long (668 metres) and is, I am reliably informed, the longest stretch of track through a tunnel on any UK heritage line.
All the stations on the Bluebell Line are well-maintained and appear to be decked out in the style that they would have been back in their hey-day, as in this photograph below…. Where is Jane Marple? However, that is only part of the story. Sheffield Park station has been restored to look like a Victorian station. Horsted Keynes resembles a Southern Railway station from around the 1930s and Kingscote from the 1950s. East Grinstead itself, where I took this photograph is supposed to be restored to the 1950s and 1960s.
When the train stops at Sheffield Park, there is a museum, a gift shop several places you can buy snacks. There is also a big pub where you can buy a meal and have a drink. All very nicely done.
You can get to East Grinstead on a train out of London Victoria. A standard adult fare on the Bluebell is £19, although it is cheaper if you book online in advance. For more details, see the link below:
© Susan Shirley 2018