50 years of hurt . . . and the pain goes on.
Half-a-century ago the railway line from Uckfield to Lewes was severed.
A vital communication link was cut, not, as many believe, as part of the infamous Beeching Cuts, but to a large extent to allow a new road to be built in Lewes.
British Rail closed the nine miles to the county town 50 years ago on February 23, 1969.
Infrastructure quickly destroyed
Hardly was the ‘corpse’ dead than engineers moved in to cut or demolish structures along the route.
It was a brutal end for a line that had opened in 1858.
Not only did it cut Uckfield and its hinterland off by rail from the county town and Brighton, it also closed an alternative diversionary route from Brighton to London.
In fewer than 20 years, there was a proposal to reinstate the Uckfield-Lewes line.
It proved to be one of a number of plans which have raised hopes, only for them to be dashed.
Reports and feasibility studies have come and gone but Uckfield still remains the end of the line.
The arrival of the railway in Uckfield transformed the economy of Uckfield and did much to make the town what is today.
Originally a branch line from Lewes, the route was soon extended and reached Tunbridge Wells in 1868.
The original Victorian station was on the other side of the road to the present building.
A much grander station building opened in 1901 but as the fortunes of the line declined, so the grandeur faded too.
The writing for this building was on the wall once the closure of the line between Uckfield and Lewes was implemented in February 1969.
Uckfield railway station was now on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – the Network Rail car park is on the site of the old station.
It meant trains arriving and leaving Uckfield station had to cross the High Street for no good reason.
Traffic congestion was caused as the level crossing gates swung open and shut.
In 1991, the old station was closed and a new station on the other side of the road – the present site – was opened.
The grandeur of the old Edwardian structure soon became a crumbling edifice as it was damaged by flooding, vandals and neglect. The building was demolished in 2000.
The new station was that in name only. A ticket office and a small shelter with a seat were the “home comforts” for passengers for many years.
Things went from bad to worse when the ticket office was closed in the autumn of 2008 after, it was reported at the time, the discovery of a rat.
Another temporary building was used to sell tickets before the new station opened in March 2010.
It was built at a cost of £750,000 as part of the Department for Transport’s National Station Improvement Programme.
Uckfield – once a great place for train travel
Uckfield was once well placed: you could go to Lewes and south coast by train and to the north, there were services via Eridge to Tunbridge Wells.
In 1858 the line from Brighton and Lewes reached the town and it pushed on north to Groombridge and Tunbridge Wells by 1866.
Uckfield now had a link with London. And like many other Sussex towns – Haywards Heath, for example, – the coming of the railway brought about a transformation.
The book Bygone Uckfield [Fuller and Turner] records: “It brought the town out of rural isolation and took goods and passengers daily to places previously out of reach.”
The authors go on to say: “The coming of the railway brought expansion to the business and farming communities in the area. Several new shops were opened . . . coal was brought to the town by train . . . the gasworks were built.
“The railway also brought about expansion in building. Several good sites were made available to the north and south of the town, and many larger, fashionable villas were built south of the railway.
“This area became known as High Street, New Town.”
Spa Valley Railway
Smaller homes were built in the Framfield Road area. Fuller and Turner note: “Thus, the railway brought an air of prosperity and growth to Uckfield in the second half of the 19th Century.”
Services went into what was known as Tunbridge Wells West, now home to the Spa Valley Railway (SVR), a heritage railway.
The line was closed in 1985 but was subsequently re-opened by the SVR.
The Lavender Line
You can, of course, still travel on part of the former Uckfield to Lewes Line.
The Lavender Line has its home at Isfield station.
Moments in history are recreated from the full restored station.
This coming weekend, the Lavender Line remembers the closure of the Uckfield to Lewes line.
Wealden Line, BML 2, Bygone Uckfield.
Some of this material has been previously published by UckfieldNews.com
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