Bluebell Railway

Bluebell Railway

The Bluebell Railway is a heritage line running for nine miles along the border between East Sussex and West Sussex, England. Steam trains are operated between Sheffield Park and Kingscote, with an intermediate station at Horsted Keynes.

The railway is managed and run largely by volunteers. It has the largest collection of steam locomotives after the National Railway Museum (NRM), and a collection of carriages and wagons unrivalled in the south of England. In addition to the 30 locomotives resident on the line, one is on loan from the NRM (another has recently returned there), and a project is well under way to recreate a long-lost type of locomotive (a London, Brighton and South Coast Railway H2 Class Atlantic) from a few surviving parts.

The Bluebell Railway was the first preserved standard gauge steam-operated passenger railway in the world: it opened on 7 August 1960, shortly after the line from East Grinstead to Lewes had been closed by British Railways. It also preserved a number of steam locomotives even before the cessation of steam service on British mainline railways in 1968.

2007 marked the railway's 125th anniversary.


In 1877 an Act of Parliament was passed to authorise the construction of the Lewes and East Grinstead Railway (L&EGR).Awdry-RailCo, pp 189-190.] The line was sponsored by a number of local landowners, including the Earl of Sheffield. A year later an Act of 1878 enabled the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company (LB&SCR) to acquire and operate the new line.

The line had six stations, but only the station at Barcombe was within walking distance of an existing village: the remaining five were in thinly populated areas. Chailey parish had two stations, one at Sheffield Park and the other at Newick and Chailey. It was traditional at that time for a rural railway line that was supported by a private company or notable individuals to have stations sited in close proximity to the residences of its sponsors. Thus Sheffield Park station was built for the Earl of Sheffield, and Newick and Chailey for Newick Park and Reedens, the residences of two other sponsors. The other stations on the line were at Kingscote, West Hoathly and Horsted Keynes. A branch line ran from a junction at Horsted Keynes to Ardingly and Haywards Heath on the LB&SCR main line.

Significantly, the 1877 and 1878 Acts included a clause stating that:

Four passenger trains each way daily to run on this line, with through connections at East Grinstead to London, and to stop at Sheffield Bridges, Newick, and West Hoathly.
This imposed a legal requirement on the railway owner to provide a service, and it emerged much later that the only way to remove this obligation was to pass another Act of Parliament to rescind it.

After the passage of the 1878 Act, the new line opened in 1882, with the usual pomp and ceremony and a great deal of celebration. The whole line from East Grinstead was built to take double track, which was actually laid between East Grinstead and Horsted Keynes; however, south of the junction at Horsted Keynes the line was only single track with passing loops at the stations. Like a number of rural branch lines of that era, as well as conveying passengers a substantial quantity of local produce was transported: milk, farm products and coal, and timber to and from Albert Turner & Son, a local sawmill. Curiously, the only time Sheffield Park station received a substantial number of passengers was when Lord Sheffield entertained the Australian Cricket Team, with the inevitable match between them and Lord Sheffield's own team.

As early as 1954, and certainly long before Dr Richard Beeching (whose programme of railway closures and service cuts became known as the Beeching Axe) became Chairman of the British Railways Board, the Branchline Committee of British Railways had submitted a proposal to close the section of line from East Grinstead to Culver Junction near Lewes. This was challenged by local residents, but eventually the closure was sanctioned in February 1955, and a closure date fixed for 28 May 1955. The ensuing battle fought between British Railways and the users of the "Bluebell Line" (as it was known) became infamous, as a result of four years of acrimonious argument which the transport users conducted in opposition to the Transport Authorities.

Shortly after the closure a local resident of Chailey, Miss Margery Bessemer, discovered in the wording of the 1877 and 1878 Acts the clause (mentioned above) relating to the "Statutory Line", and demanded that British Railways honour this legal obligation and reinstate the services required by the Acts. On 7 August 1956 British Railways was forced to re-open the line, and so began the "Sulky Service", with the trains only stopping at the stations mentioned in the Acts. Meanwhile, in 1957 British Railways took the case to the House of Commons, resulting in a Public Inquiry. British Railways were sternly censured, but later the Transport Commission was able to persuade Parliament to repeal the special section of the Act. By this means the line was again, and this time finally, closed on 17 March 1958.

Spring 1959 saw the formation of the Lewes & East Grinstead Railway Preservation Society, the forerunner of today’s Bluebell Railway Preservation Society. Its initial aim was to re-open the whole line from East Grinstead to Culver Junction, and to run it as a commercial service. This was envisaged as using a diesel railcar, a two-car DMU, as soon as funds allowed. These plans sadly came to nothing, for two reasons: firstly, the Society failed to purchase the whole line; and secondly, most local residents were not that interested. So in the interim, the re-opening of the section of line from Sheffield Park to Bluebell Halt just south of Horsted Keynes (which was at first leased and eventually purchased from British Railways) as both a steam railway and museum was planned and approved.

Present and future

The Bluebell Railway Preservation Society completed an initial extension from Horsted Keynes to Kingscote in 1994, which included re-laying track through Sharpthorne Tunnel (731 yards/668 metres, the longest on a UK heritage railway), and is now working to reinstate the remaining two miles of line from Kingscote to East Grinstead.

Work has now started on the final northwards push towards East Grinstead, where the line will once again connect with the National Rail network. A major problem to be overcome is the former landfill site that fills a 50 metre deep cutting for part of the route. Some 300,000 cubic metres of rubbish will be removed by convoys of road freighters. Some of the excavated clay will being taken south by rail to help fill the site of a removed bridge and embankment on the old Ardingly spur. In January 2008 agreement was given to start the clearance of foliage on the section of the tip between Imberhorne Lane and Hill Place bridges. This work has now been completed.

It is hoped that in the future the Ardingly spur will also reconnect with National Rail, and thus gain access to the London to Brighton main line at Copyhold Junction. This will restore a bypass of the London–Brighton line which proved very useful in the past (during the Second World War the signal box at Horsted Keynes was manned night and day to provide an alternative route for troop trains). There is also occasional speculation about long-term plans to extend south towards Lewes; but the removal of the road bridge just south of Sheffield Park station, the in-filling of the cutting and route under the A272 road, and the housing development that was built on the site of Newick & Chailey station makes this idea a very distant prospect. Nevertheless the remaining undeveloped section of the line from Lewes to Sheffield Park has been safeguarded from development prejudicial to its use as a bridleway and footpath, leaving open the possibility that the whole line may one day reopen to services. [ [ Lewes District Council Local Plan, Chapter 9, paragraph 9.19] ]

The stations have been restored to show different periods of the railway's life. Sheffield Park has been restored to a generally Victorian ambience, as it would have appeared during the time of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (up to 1922); Horsted Keynes tries to emulate the style of the Southern Railway (1922–1948); and Kingscote echoes the early British Railways period of the 1950s.

Between Horsted Keynes and Kingscote the line passes through the site of West Hoathly station, at the north end of Sharpthorne Tunnel. The West Hoathly station buildings and footbridge were demolished piecemeal between 1964 and 1967, and the site is now in the middle of a modern housing development, so remains closed in deference to the wishes of the local residents. The remains of the platforms and goods dock are still visible at the lineside.


* Sheffield Park
* Horsted Keynes
* West Hoathly (closed)
* Kingscote
* East Grinstead (extension under construction)

Original Stations Lewes to Oxted via East Grinstead Low Level

*Hurst Green Halt
*East Grinstead Low Level
*West Hoathly
*Horsted Keynes
*Sheffield Park
*Newick and Chailey

Claims to fame

The Bluebell Railway has been used as the location for several films and television programmes.
*The Last Ever "It Ain't Half Hot Mum" episode "The Last Roll Call" was filmed at Horsted Keynes station
* October 1999: the film "The Railway Children" based on the book by E Nesbit.
* Sequences for the film "Miss Potter" starring Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger were filmed at Horsted Keynes station.
* Sequences for the adaptation of the Philip Pullman book "The Ruby in the Smoke" starring Billie Piper as Sally Lockhart and Julie Walters as Mrs Holland were also filmed at Horsted Keynes station
* The train chase scene in the film version of "The Wind in the Willows", starring Terry Jones and Eric Idle, was also filmed on the line.
* Scenes for Einstein and Eddington were filmed on the line with David Tennant playing Eddington and Jim Broadbent as a father, with Horsted Keynes disguised as Cambridge.
* The 1977 TV miniseries "Love for Lydia" had brief scenes filmed at the Horsted Keynes station. It starred Jeremy Irons, Peter Davison, Mel Martin, and Christopher Blake.
* The 1967 film "I'll Never Forget What's His Name" starring Oliver Reed filmed on the line using the Met' Stock and NLR Tank Loco painted all over in white as well as a suitably "dressed" Freshfield Halt.
* At least two Ken Russell Films were made here in the early 1970s, notably "Listomania" starring Roger Daltrey. Sequence in that particular film showed loco Fenchurch smashing through a Grand Piano at speed.
* Dirty Dozen remake in 1984 used Horsted Keynes station for several scenes which included Q Class Loco 541 and two of the then full time PWay Gang as French Platelayers. Starred Lee Marvin.
* Pop Videos include: Tracey Ullman, The Pet Shop Boys, Sheena Easton, Runrig, Robson & Jerome. Also Elton John's 'Tumbleweed Connection' album cover picture was shot at Sheffield Park Station.
* Night Train To Murder (1984), the very last TV/Feature Film Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise made before Eric's death. Sequences at Sheffield Park station were shot at night with Eric pushing Ernie through the ticket barrier on a Porters trolley and of Loco 75027 in steam. Screened on LWT over the 1984 Christmas TV schedule.
* The 1973 Documentary Metroland by Sir John Betjeman contains an opening scene in Horsted Keynes buffet, and numerous shots inside one of the Metroplitan carriages.

The Bluebell Railway is also featured in The Railway Series written by the Rev. W. Awdry. The book was called "Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine", with Stepney as the main character, visiting the fictional Island of Sodor.

Line to Lewes

The line originally extended beyond Sheffield Park to Culver Junction (at Culver Farm just south of Barcombe Mills), with intermediate stations at Newick and Chailey and Barcombe. At Culver Junction it joined the 1858 Lewes to Uckfield line (part of which is now restored as the Lavender Line), thereby gaining access to Lewes. The section from East Grinstead to Culver Junction was closed in 1958, and the Lewes to Uckfield line in 1969.

Steam locomotives

On Loan

Stored or on display


Metropolitan Carriages

Four carriages built in 1898 and 1900 for use out of Baker Street Station in London. Initially steam hauled, later used in electric trains, reverting to steam haulage on the Chesham branch in 1940. Purchased by the Bluebell Railway in 1961, and used until withdrawn in the late 1960s in need of major attention. Now returned to service and are unique as a close-coupled set of vintage carriages. The restoration team were the recipient of the Heritage Railways Association's award as overall winner of their 2006/7 carriage competition.

Maunsell Coaches

The carriages designed by Richard Maunsell for the Southern Railway had a restrained elegance. In preservation terms they provide a superb vintage experience for the passenger, whilst as corridor vehicles they also offer access to more modern facilities.

SECR Hundred Seaters

Two extremely durable carriages, built in 1922 and 1923, which have now run high annual mileages in public service on the Bluebell since 1963.

Other passenger stock not intended for passenger use

The Bluebell has a large collection of wagons which were originally used in passenger trains.

Pre-Grouping Vans

Mk. I carriages used for non-traffic purposes

Goods Wagons

The Bluebell has a large collection of Goods Wagons. They are usually used for demonstrations at various times of the year.

Brake Vans

* LSWR 10 ton "Road Van" Brake Van 5706. Stored awaiting a structural restoration.
* SECR 25 ton "Dance Hall" Brake Van 11916. In service but is to have a repaint.
* SECR 25 ton "Dance Hall" Brake Van 11934. Undergoing restoration.
* GWR 20 ton "Toad" Brake Van 17908. In service but rarely used.
* SR 25 ton "Pillbox" Brake Van 55993. In service.
* SR 25 ton "Queen Mary" Brake Van 56290. In service.
* SR 25 ton "Pillbox" Brake Van 49018. Soon to receive some cosmetic attention.
* BR "Shark" Ballast Plough Brake Van 62864. Non-Operational.

Covered Goods Vans

* LSWR 10 ton Covered Goods Van 8112. Stored awaiting overhaul.
* LBSCR 6 ton Box Van 8196. In service and used regularly on goods trains.
* LBSCR 8 ton Box Van 1590. Stored awaiting major restoration.
* SECR 12 ton Covered Goods Van 15750. In service and used regularly on goods trains.
* SR 10 ton Ventilated Van 44611. In service and used regularly on goods trains.
* SR 12 ton Ventilated Van 47588. In service and used regularly on goods trains.
* LMS 12 ton Plywood Ventilated Van 524178. Awaiting restoration which is expected to be done in the coming years.
* LMS Banana Van 570027. In service and occasionally used on goods trains.
* BR 12 ton Pallet Van B761349. Stored awaiting restoration.
* BR 12 ton Pallet Van B772972. Stored awaiting restoration.

Open Goods Wagons

* LBSCR Hi-Bar Open Goods Wagon 3346. In service and used regularly on goods trains.
* SECR 7 Planked Open Goods Wagon 5542. In service and used regularly on goods trains.
* SECR 7 Plank Open Goods Wagon 16194. In service and used regularly on goods trains.
* SECR 7 Plank Open Goods Wagon 16358. Dismantled for major repairs.
* SECR 5 Plank Open Goods Wagon 50899. Stored awaiting overhaul.
* SR 5 Plank Open Goods Wagon 9608. In service and used regularly on goods trains.
* SR 5 Plank Open Goods Wagon 10013. In service and used regularly on goods trains.
* SR 5 Plank Open Goods Wagon 12058. Undergoing restoration with the underframe and framework receiving attention.
* SR 8 Plank Open Goods Wagon 30004. In service and used regularly on goods trains.
* SR 8 Plank Open Goods Wagon 37786. In service and used regularly on goods trains.
* PBA 13 ton Steel Mineral Wagon 59685. Stored awaiting major reastoration.
* LMS 5 Plank Open Goods Wagon 66071. Stored awaiting restoration.
* GWR 5 plank Open Goods Wagon 87782. Stored awaiting restoration.
* BR 13 ton open merchandise Wagon M411245. Operational and used regularly on goods train.
* LMS 3 Plank Open Goods Wagon 474558. Undergoing overhaul with the running gear, underframe and framework finished apart from a lick of paint, replanking will be the next job.
* LMS 3 Plank Open Goods Wagon M480222. Awaiting overhaul which will start once 474588 is finished.
* BR Steel dropside Open Goods Wagon B458525. In use with the Pway train.
* BR Steel dropside Open Goods Wagon B461224. In use with the Pway train.
* BR "Pipefit" dropside Open Goods Wagon B741381. In service and used regularly on goods trains.

Flat Wagons and Bolster Wagons

* SR Motor Car Truck 39617. Used to store footbridge sections. Hoped to be released for restoration in the near future.
* SR Bogie Bolster 57889. Undergoing overhaul.
* SR Bogie Bolster 57949. Operational.

Petroleum Products Tank Wagons

* BP Class A Shell Tank Wagon 4497. Stored awaiting overhaul.
* Class B Esso Tank Wagon 1921. Operational and used regularly on goods trains.
* Shell-BP Class A Tanker 1603. Stored awaiting restoration.

Ballast Wagons

* SECR 2 Plank Ballast Wagon 567. Being constructed from another wagon. Work underway on the underframe.
* SR Dropside Engineers Wagon 62002. Fully restored and used regularly on goods trains.
* BR Dogfish Ballast Wagon 983103. Operational and used in the engineers train.
* BR Grampus Engineers Dropside Wagon 984082. Operational and used in the engineers train.
* BR Grampus Engineers Dropside Wagon 986419. Operational and used in the engineers train.
* BR Grampus Engineers Dropside Wagon 986591. Operational and used in the engineers train.
* BR Grampus Engineers Dropside Wagon 987403. Operational and used in the engineers train.
* BR Grampus Engineers Dropside Wagon 988395. Operational and used in the engineers train.
* BR Grampus Engineers Dropside Wagon 991391. Operational and used in the engineers train.
* BR Dogfish Ballast Wagon 992780. Operational and used in the engineers train.
* BR Dogfish Ballast Wagon 993210. Operational and used in the engineers train.
* BR Dogfish Ballast Wagon 993217. Operational and used in the engineers train.
* BR Dogfish Ballast Wagon 993348. Operational and used in the engineers train.

Cranes and other Special Use Wagons

* GWR 4-wheel Tool Wagon 92. On static display.
* SR Well Wagon 61107. Used to carry engineering vehicles. Eventually planned to have its BR modifications removed.
* GWR Sleeper Wagon 100677. Used to carry sleepers.
* BR Lowmac Machinery Wagon B904134. Operational and used in goods trains.
* BR Bogie Well Wagon B900920. Used to carry locomotive boilers.
* LNER Ransome & Rapier Steam Crane 1083. Stored awaiting overhaul.
* Joseph Booth & Sons Hand Crane. Fully restored and used for lifting things.


External links

* [ Bluebell Railway Preservation Society]
* [ Web site covering Horsted Keynes; the village at the centre of the line]
* [ Photographs, Description and Map]
* [ Kelly Preston visits the Bluebell Railway]

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