You can read below our poster about the history of London Road Station. At the end, you’ll find further posters about associated themes.
If you have any memories, or historical knowledge, of London Road Station, we’d love to hear from you: email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Coming of the Railway
The railway line from Brighton to Lewes was built in 1846. At that time, as shown in an 1848 painting of the London Road Viaduct by James Wilson Carmichael, there were no houses on either side of the viaduct, only fields.
In 1869 the Kemp Town Branch, which diverged from the Lewes line on the far side of Ditchling Road, was completed; it incorporated a 14-arch viaduct, which crossed the Lewes Road approximately where the “Vogue Gyratory” is now, and reached Kemp Town via a 1000 yard tunnel. This increased the importance of this section of the line.
London Road Station
Eight years later, in 1877, London Road Station was built on level ground between the London Road viaduct and the cutting leading to the short tunnel under Ditchling Road. By this time the streets and houses in the area had begun to be laid out.
The station was designed by the architect David Mocatta, who also designed Brighton station. There were originally substantial station buildings on both sides of the line. There was a single storey house on the north side, occupied at one time by a railway employee; a local resident in Springfield Road remembers playing in the garden there as a child in the 1950s.
1875 street map: only parts of Beaconsfield, Clyde and Shaftesbury Roads are visible
The main block on the south side originally housed gents’ and ladies’ toilets, and a ladies’ waiting room (which is now used by the local Model Railway Club). The flat on the first floor was occupied by the Station Master, in the days when every station had one; nowadays Station Managers look after groups of stations, and the flat at London Road is rented to a railway employee. There was also a signal box at the Brighton end of the westbound platform.
By 1896 the streets and houses appear more or less as they do nowadays
In the early 20th century the line through London Road must have been very busy – as well as the Seaford and Hastings services we have today, there were trains to Kemp Town, and there were also lines beyond Lewes to Tunbridge Wells and East Grinstead which were served from Brighton.
Closures and Demolition
The Kemp Town branch closed to passenger traffic in 1933, and closed altogether in 1971; the line to East Grinstead closed in 1958 (part of it later becoming the Bluebell Line) and the Lewes-Uckfield section of the Tunbridge Wells line closed in 1969.
The house on the north side of the station was demolished in the early 1990s, and the site left as an open forecourt for access to the eastbound platform. This entrance was later closed (so that passengers from the Springfield Road side travelling towards Lewes had to cross the footbridge and then cross back again via the subway) and the forecourt leased to a scaffolding firm.
Eventually, when the footbridge was rebuilt in about 2001, direct access to the eastbound platform was restored adjacent to the footbridge. (The previous entrance is still visible in the form of a locked gate, behind another locked gate, between the subway and the shelter).
An eastbound train at London Road some time between1931 and 1935. Note that both platforms had canopies. Photo: O. J. Morris
Sidings and Allotments
The embankment to the west of the station is wide enough to have held sidings, used for berthing carriages. Initially there were two to the north of the line and two to the south; when the station was built this was changed to three and one. One siding started behind the westbound platform (where the triangular garden and access ramp are now), passed to the south of the signal box and joined the main line just before the viaduct. The three to the north were linked to the main line via points just to the west of the footbridge, and had a roof over them at one time. After withdrawal of the passenger service on the Kemp Town Branch they were no longer needed, and had gone by the early 1950s.
In the days when stations like London Road had resident staff, any spare pockets of land on the station were cultivated. One such pocket was immediately to the west of the footbridge on the north side of the line. At this end of the sidings they merged together as they approached the main line, leaving a small area of land between the sidings, the footbridge and the backs of the houses and pub. This piece of land was used for many years as a railway allotment, available to railway employees for a nominal rent. Several current residents of the area remember the allotments being used; they fell into disuse only in the 1990s, when the tenant became too ill to work them. Photo: W.M.J. Jackson
There was another allotment on the site of the fourth siding, on the south side of the line. The picture above shows a goods train from Kemp Town to Brighton passing this allotment in 1962.
Following rail privatisation in 1996, the British Rail Property Board, tasked with the job of disposing of any railway land not required for operational purposes, tried to get planning permission for a 3-storey block of 9 flats on the allotments to the north of the line, but it was refused. They eventually sold it to a local property speculator, who applied for planning permission for eight flats, but permission was again refused. Finally, in 2009, following an appeal, the Planning Inspector gave permission for four houses to be built on the site. Since then, no prospective purchaser has expressed any interest in such a project, and the site remains wild. Planning permission was renewed by the Council in 2013.
London Road Station in the 21st Century
Local people feel very strongly about the station, which has been described as “a country station in the city”. This has inspired much activity in the local community over the years. Following the closure of the entrance on the Springfield Road side, the Friends of London Road Station was formed to fight for its reopening, and to oppose the plans to build on the allotments, as well as campaigning for other improvements. After the refusal of the original planning application, and the re-opening of the entrance (made possible by the County Council’s replacement of the footbridge) this group dispersed. Some of its members became active in FLORA (Friends of London Road Station Old Railway Allotments) which formed in response to the second planning application. This group was motivated, not by a “nimbyist” attitude to development, but by a love of the station and the old allotments in particular, and discussed various options for maintaining the site as a wild open space.
In 2011, the London Road Station Partnership was formed by local residents in association with Southern. The group has created two gardens out of plots of waste land behind the westbound platform, started a community composting service, and installed community herb planters, as well as compiling this short historical piece. Local residents also keep a watchful eye on the footbridge, painting out graffiti and lobbying the council when repairs are needed.
This is a reproduction of the historical poster displayed on the south platform of the station. Click below to see our other posters on the history of London Road Station Brighton and associated themes.