Treasured photographs and memories from golden days of rail

Unique photographs mapping out the rail journey from Bexhill to Crowhurst and back were taken by Ninfield’s amateur photographer Cyril Wells. He even recorded the last day before the line’s closure in the summer of 1964.

His slides have been sorted through and put with local memories and recollections by son-in-law Paul Clark, of Belle Hill in Bexhill, in his books ‘A Journey Remembered,’ and ‘Between The Lines.’

Paul writes: “I am sure Cyril had always intended these pictures to be seen by a wider audience and the idea came to me to produce a book. I became fascinated by the branch-line and looked into its history for the new publication”.

Although the line was only 4.5 miles long, it took over four years to complete, with 16 new bridges, including the spectacular 17 arches viaduct stretching across Combe Haven. After its closure in July 1964, there was much campaigning to have the line re-opened, but all hopes came to an end in May 1969 when a crowd gathered on Crowhurst Marshes to witness the blowing up of the ageing viaduct. This route is particularly relevant today, as it makes up a large section of the recently started Bexhill to Hastings link road.

After Paul published his first book in 2001 he was delighted by the response to it as he started receiving stories and visits from all over the world, as well as many unpublished photographs.

“Some people had even met their future husbands on the line, while others had been attacked by German fighter aircraft. It was all very fascinating reading.”

‘Between the Lines’ is his recent collection of real life stories and memories, and ‘Many Happy Returns’ an extract. Paul explains: “I was very privileged to meet Mr Jim Catt and spent a very interesting evening in his front room listening to his memories of 27 years of working on the branch line. Many of you will remember him as the impeccably dressed ticket collector at Bexhill Station, usually wearing a smile and always sporting a red carnation. What follows is one of his more unusual working days.”

Jim Catt’s ‘Happy Birthday’: I remember one particular day in the mid thirties when I was working as a porter at Sidley Station. In those days you could find yourself working at any one of the three stations along the line. It was a warm, Saturday summer’s evening and I noticed that all outgoing trains to Crowhurst were surprisingly full. News had spread that for some unknown reason the local Bexhill pubs had run out of beer and all the regulars were heading out to the ‘The Inn at Crowhurst’ where there were ample stocks. The line hadn’t seen such good business for years. I clearly remember the return of the last train from Crowhurst, with the carriages bursting at the seams with revellers. In one particular carriage came the chorus of Happy Birthday from a group of over enthusiastic passengers. Although a lot of noise and merriment was had as some of the passengers disembarked at Sidley, it was all very good natured.”

Both books available from or from the Frame shop, The Mall, Western Road, Bexhill.