Latest page update - Tuesday 21st February 2017

 

A PICTORIAL GUIDE TO THIS MYSTERIOUS RAIL LINE
The Ouse Valley Line was started but never finished, some of it is still visible but disappearing fast!

PAGE TWO - THE EASTERN END OF THE LINE

Now to the other end of the line at Uckfield.

Our first picture of the Eastern end of the remains shows an overhead view of the substantial earthworks that are still in situ. They stretch in a smooth reverse arc between the two red Xs. Interestingly the length of the earthworks is almost to the inch exactly one mile! Whether a contractor was hired to dig for exactly this length and they stopped as soon as possible I don't know but it is an interesting fact none the less. The part of the earthworks to the Western end in the thick wood are a deep cutting and embankment which are not easily seen from above. They end at what is shown as  towpath on the map but has now dried up, so this was an old canal which would have stayed at the same level and the railway would have been on a bridge. There is some brickwork here which can just about be seen on the left hand (Western) side of the crossing. It is photographed in the Railway magazine article further down this page.

The line would have then continued on a slight curve to the area where there is a red O which seems to be a parcel of land that was purchased for the construction. Looking on a local map seems to show some previously unknown or unrecognised earthworks at this point. Investigations in due course!

 

Our first ground level exploration view is of the industrial estate that now sits on the route of the line where it leaves the old Lewes line and bends to the right. We are looking back towards Uckfield station. The wall with the graphiti is not original!

Here you can just see the embankment that sits just behind the hedge where the picture of the industrial estate was taken. We are a few yards to the south of the river Uck walking roughly westwards. It was not possible to photograph from the top but the line here was most certainly to be single width. Unfortunately the area has been turned into an improvised public dump where detritus as well and many used tyres just lie on the ground. The small, even in winter, is intense!
 

After the embankment comes the river Uck. There would have been a substantial bridge here and the retaining walls are still in existence on the western side. The eastern side (from which this photo was taken has much better public access as a result of which most of the bricks have been "reclaimed", and the wall is now right down to the water! Here lies a final pile of lose bricks waiting for the next visitor to help themselves from the icy water.

The embankment continues across the fields gradually curving to the north-west. After the mound shown here there is the first large gap in the aerial picture above where the light coloured field has no sign of embankment which has been completely removed. An interesting feature is the side of another bridge can be clearly seen at the end of this embankment. We were not able to obtain permission to go any further on this visit, so for now further searches must be postponed.

Although not photographed our explorations did take in the very far western end of the above aerial picture where the railway is buried in woods by a dried up "tow path" at the side of what was a canal. One comment must be made and that is the land after here is in a wide valley. How on earth the builders were going to cross this we have no idea, but the general direction would point towards either a viaduct of some sort or more likely high earthworks and even then the gradients would have been steep. Whilst not on the same scale of the Ouse viaduct on the Brighton line at the other end of this railway it must be inferred that the construction would not have been cheap. We can see no alternative and must wonder at the cost of such a route with so little income expected.

We have now obtained a copy of the first original map of the intended line as deposited to Parliament to show the intended route. It can be seen at the top of Page 1 of this sequence.

 Two pictures from The Railway Magazine November / December 1946
(Obviously far fewer trees in those days as the remains are now in a virtual forest!)


"An abandoned underbridge and embankment near Uckfield"
(The above title is wrong as it is an overbridge of course;
it does still exist in 2012 but in a dreadful state half buried in a wood.)


"The abandoned embankment and abutments of a bridge over a stream near Uckfield"
(This photo is looking north-west at the far western end on the above map near the
red cross, the mound in the centre has been removed and the field is now flat.)

After this the line continues roughly north-westwards crossing Buckham Hill, almost certainly in a short tunnel and continuing into a cutting in Darvel Wood where it crosses the course of a Roman Road. Although completely invisible from above this is perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the line as Darvel Wood cutting is some 400 metres long and has remained almost completely hidden for nearly 150 years! After this the builders probably intended to cross the then active but now dried up canal with a fairly large over bridge. Then it would have travelled on past the parcel of land described above and on to stations at Newick and Fletching, Sheffield Park, Lindfield and finally to the main line.

Although this appears to be the end of the ground works proper we hope to publish more photographs and continue our ground exploration soon, but in the mean time if you have any questions about the railways around Horsted Keynes please do get in touch by emailing the webmaster.

Much of the information previously known about this line came from a articles in The Railway Magazine. The first is reproduced below in its entirety. We will try to show the other major article as soon as possible.

 

 The Railway Magazine Article September 1951

The Ouse Valley Railway
By Michael Robbins
 

Map of East Sussex showing the Ouse Valley Railway and the St. Leonards
Railway in relation to existing lines.

In the middle years of the 1860s, there was a wave of speculation in railways and promotion of new lines that recalled, if it did not quite rival, the better known “mania” of 1845 and 1846. As in the ‘forties, the boom of the ‘sixties collapsed in spectacular fashion, with the failure of the important banking house of Overend & Gurney, in 1866. The aftermath of the financial crisis that followed involved the London, Chatham & Dover, and the North British in special investigations made by committees of shareholders, forced many of the weaker companies to amalgamate with their neighbours, and made even the strongest railways retrench their proposals for expending capital.

Many new projects, some valuable in themselves, others conceivable only in the exhilarating competition of a boom, were abandoned in 1866 and the next few years. Some of these were carried out later ;  the Surrey & Sussex Junction Railway, for example, a line authorised in 1865 to run from Croydon to Groombridge, reappeared in the ‘eighties as the Croydon & Oxted joint line and its continuation. Others were never begun; a few were partly built and then abandoned, never to be carried through to completion. Of this last class were the intended northern extremity of the Manchester & Milford Railway, whose remains lie between Lianidloes and Liangurig, in Montgomeryshire, and the subject of this article, the Ouse Valley (or Eastbourne Direct) Railway.

The history of this line has been alluded to more than once in The Railway Magazine, most recently in a note on a photograph by Mr. L. T. Catchpole, published in May, 1935 (vol. 76, page 373), and in an article “Abandoned Lines of the L.B.S.C.R.,” by G. A. Sekon in November-December, 1946 (vol. 92, page 346). The present notes bring together the historical references, and indicate where the surviving physical evidences of the line are to be found. For a half-finished work abandoned and overgrown for 85 years, there is a good deal more to be seen than one might expect.

The Ouse Valley Railway, sanctioned by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Act of June 23, 1864, was to run from the Ouse Viaduct, between Balcombe and Haywards Heath, on the Brighton main line, to Uckfield and Hailsham, with junctions at both places to existing or proposed lines, as shown on the accompanying map. This railway, 20 miles long, would have given the L.B.S.C.R. a line from London to Eastbourne a mile or two shorter than the original and present route by Keymer Junction and Lewes, but it still left it with a longer route to Hastings than the South Eastern’s line via Sevenoaks (due to be opened in 1868) and Tunbridge Wells. In the L.B.S.C.R. Act of May 26, 1865, therefore, the St.Leonards Railway was authorised to continue the Ouse Valley line from near Hellingly to St. Leonards, another 18 miles, through country that was both difficult (for Sussex) and unremunerative.

Both these schemes were undertaken less on their own merits than as moves in the complicated manoeuvres of the long battle for railway control of East Sussex. It was fought between the Brighton and South Eastern Companies, and for a short time even the London, Chatham & Dover was involved by its joint participation in the London, Lewes & Brighton scheme of 1866. The Surrey & Sussex Junction Railway, already mentioned, was another promotion of this period, undertaken less for the sake of what it could do for its owners than in order to spoil another railway’s chance of getting into the territory it was to run through.

By 1868, however, the railway scene was changed; the Brighton proprietors were very reasonably scared about their capital commitments, and the Ouse Valley and St. Leonards schemes were abandoned by Act of that year. In February, 1869, an agreement for pooling of traffic between London and Hastings and other competitive points was made with the South Eastern, and the Ouse Valley scheme, already dead, was buried. These transactions are recorded in more detail by C. F. Dendy Marshall in the “History of the Southern Railway,” and by G. A. Sekon in the article already referred to.

The Brighton’s repentance of its scheme did not come early enough to prevent a contract being let, and some of the works being carried forward to a fairly advanced state, both from the intended junction with the main line, and for a shorter distance near Uckfield. The beginning of the line lay between the south end of the Ouse Valley Viaduct and the skew bridge over the lane leading from Balcombe to Haywards Heath by Borde Hill; this bridge was to be widened and brickwork for extension of the abutments on the east (down) side can still be seen. The next point where the Ouse Valley line can be traced is a tree covered embankment about 500 yd. south-east, close behind a red-tiled barn visible from the main line near Copyhold Junction. The present branch line from Copyhold Junction through Ardinigly to Horsted Keynes was not opened until 1883.

From this point the Ouse Valley works are continuous for about two miles. An embankment, now covered with trees and undergrowth, runs eastwards, turning gradually to the south-east. On both sides of the lane by Copyhold Farm running up to Ardingly are brick abutments for a bridge. The formation, tree-covered but still easily discernable then skirts the north side of the Haywards Heath golf course and, after crossing High Beech Lane (the road from Haywards Heath to Ardingly Station and College) just south of Fountain Cottages, is lost for a short distance where the ground dips to the west of Kenwards, an ancient building now used as a farm house. In front of the house are two well-marked sections of cutting; the one to the east is now filled with water. The springs here would have no doubt required considerable drainage work had the line actually opened.. A prominent embankment, mostly covered with trees, continues across the next depression of the ground, is lost, and then reappears on both sides of the road from Haywards Heath by Lindfield and Ardingly to Turner’s Hill (B.2028), just north of Lindfield village, between the church and a bridge over the Ouse. The remains of a brick abutment can be seen on the west side of the road, about half-way down the hill. The embankment continues for a few more yards, on the north side of a wooded enclosure that marks the land purchased to lay out Lindfield station, and then comes to an abrupt end a little north west of a house called Hangman’s Acre.

Although a look at a good maps shows where land was purchased and presumably enclosed work proper was probably never begun from this point almost as far as Uckfield - certainly no above ground traces can be seen; but those who are inclined to pursue their walk in that direction can discern here and there the remains of an earlier, and long defunct, transport undertaking. The River Ouse Navigation. Established under an act of 1790 this improved the river, already used for barge traffic, by building locks up to Lindfield; traces of the first of these can be found between Dean’s Mill, close to where the railway works end, and Paxhill Park, north of the river.

Near Sheffield Park Station, the East Grinstead and Lewes line, opened in 1882, crosses the intended route of the Ouse Valley line. Further still from the IJckfield end, an embankment may be seen diverging to the west from the line to Lewes about mile from Uckfield Station. Abutments for a bridge over a stream lie close to the junction point, and there is a brick underbridge a little further on. (Both these were illustrated on page 365 of The Railway Magazine for November-December, 1946). The works continue across the Uckfield - Isfield road, and come to an end in Darvel Wood, west of the road, pointing towards Sheffield Park.

Such, briefly described, are the visible traces of a project that the Brighton Company undertook in a spirit of optimism and relinquished without regret. The reason for the existence of these curious earthworks is more than half forgotten locally; on the 1 in. Ordnance Survey map they do not appear at all. They are, however, well indicated on the new 1: 25,000 sheets, with the western most portion inscribed “Abandoned Railway”; it would, perhaps be more accurate to write “Intended Railway.” After another 85 years, these remains may look little changed from what they are today but I hope this web site will record what is there now.

A short summary about this railway has been placed on Wikipedia by this author and can be found at the following address http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouse_Valley_Railway  This has now been updated by others and should also be used to direct interested parties back to this more comprehensive feature.

A recently made video lasting well over one hour and showing almost all the remains of this line can be obtained from www.dumpman.co.uk. Whilst this is very interesting and is recommended we would suggest that if you want to avoid nausea you only watch it in short spells as the film maker does not seem to possess a tripod which means that his pictures are very shaky indeed. Pity as he is happy to go where others fear to tread and he has found parts of a previously unknown brick making kiln at the Lindfield station site! If contacting Dumpman Films please mention RailwayTrains.Co.Uk as your original point of contact.
 

IMPORTANT CAEVEAT ABOUT COPIED INTERNET RESOURCES

Whilst it is never possible to guarantee the accuracy of anything published on the internet, when looking for firm facts the public have become used to comparing articles on one site with those on another. If the results generally agree then it is fairly common to accept the information as factual.

Unfortunately a web site at http://whimsey-hill.weebly.com carries details of a model railway in what can only be described as being in a "faction" style with the heading of "Ouse Valley Railway". Because this is about a theoretical model railway much of the information contained on this site is of course totally and completely wrong, yet it is written in a style and contains some real facts that appear to confirm the item as a whole. Much of the detail that really is factual is directly copied from this web site but it is then embellished with total invention, such as the route taken and the "fact" that the railway "delivered newspapers" and finally closed in 1954!

We are sure the author is not deliberately trying to muddy the historical waters but unfortunately other web sites have now picked up this "story" and presented it as fact relating to the real line! All in all it's a bit of a muddle and the whimsey-hill website which would do well to have a line added confirming that it should not be used as the basis for a factual item, and perhaps a second line acknowledging this web site as the direct source cut and pasted, of much of the factual information presented!

A new problem has now come up in the form of printed media. Looking through the shelves of our local library I was amazed to find a booklet that contains information about this line - unfortunately no publisher is recorded. Once again the author has apparently taken the work of others at face value and has made a couple of important mistakes - which are not reproduced here. In one case he says that a bridge was of a certain construction when we have a photo of the actual erection before it was knocked down to aid traffic flow. We do not have permission of the photographer to reproduce it all here unfortunately but assumptions are not always correct.

We therefore caution those interested in the real facts about the Ouse Valley Railway to read and check carefully, if possible from several different original sources, when researching this interesting railway line. The web site that you are now reading was first published in 1995/6, and has been continually updated since then. The railway remains were first  reported on 13 years ago in 1998, and this actual sub page was first uploaded before 6th February 2003, all of which can be confirmed by studying archive.org. Plagiarism rules no longer cover just printed media!

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