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The History of Kent

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History of the London & Brighton Railway

The London and Brighton Railway (L&BR) was incorporated in 1837 and survived until 1846. It ran from a junction with the London & Croydon Railway (L&CR) at Norwood - enabling it to offer services between London Bridge, and the South Coast at Brighton, together with a branch to Shoreham.

During the English Regency, and particularly after the Napoleonic Wars, Brighton rapidly became a fashionable social resort, with more than 100,000 passengers being carried there each year by coach. A proposal by William James in 1823 for the construction of a London to Brighton tramway, using the track bed of the Surrey Iron Railway between Wandsworth and Croydon, was largely ignored. However, around 1825 a company called The Surrey, Sussex, Hants, Wilts & Somerset Railway employed John Rennie to survey a route to Brighton, although again the proposal came to nothing. In 1829 Rennie was commissioned to survey two possible railway routes: one via Dorking, Horsham and Shoreham; the other, more direct route, was via Redhill and Haywards Heath, these schemes were also abandoned, due to lack of support in Parliament. However, they were revived in 1835, together with two further proposals by Nicholas Cundy (from Nine Elms, Leatherhead, Dorking and Horsham and Shoreham) and Charles Vignoles (via Croydon, Merstham and Horsham). Eventually after prolonged campaigns by the supporters of the different proposals, a Parliamentary Committee of enquiry recommended the adoption of the Rennie direct route, which was the most difficult and expensive to build. The expenditure associated with the Parliamentary contest in choosing the route was estimated to be more than £193,000.

An Act for the construction of the London and Brighton Railway was passed in July 1837, with an authorised capital of £2.4 million. This would consist of a new line from a junction with the L&CR (then under construction) at Norwood to Brighton with additional branches to Lewes and Shoreham. The L&CR line ran from London Bridge to West Croydon and was opened in 1839. L&BR were also required to share their track between Norwood Junction and Redhill with the South Eastern Railway's projected route to Dover. Permission had been given for them to purchase the track of the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway.

The engineer was John Urpeth Rastrick, who began construction in 1838. By July 1840, 6206 men, 962 horses, 5 locomotives and 7 stationary engines were being employed. The new main line included substantial earthworks with five tunnels through the North Downs at Merstham, the Wealden ridge near Balcombe, and at Haywards Heath, together with the South Downs at Patcham and Clayton. The railway also had a 1,475 ft long, 96 ft high viaduct over the river Ouse near Balcombe.

The Brighton - Shoreham branch was completed in May 1840, before the main line, as there were no significant civil engineering works on this section. Locomotives and rolling stock had to be transhipped by road for what was, in the first year, an isolated stretch of railway. The main line was opened in two sections, since major earthworks delayed completion in one piece. The Norwood Junction - Haywards Heath section was opened on 12 July 1841 and the remainder of the line from Haywards Heath to Brighton on 21 September 1841. The branch line to Lewes authorised by the 1837 act was built 1844-46 by a separate company, the Brighton Lewes and Hastings Railway.

The railway employed the architect David Mocatta, to design a number of attractive yet practical Italianate style stations using standardised modules. These were Croydon, Red Hill and Reigate Road, Horley, Crawley (renamed Three Bridges in 1848), Haywards Heath, Hassocks, and Brighton. Only Mocatta's station at Brighton, which also incorporated the railway offices, is still standing, although his building is now largely obscured by later additions.

The L&BR built fully equipped locomotive depots and workshops at Brighton in 1840 and Horley in 1841. Horley was originally intended to serve as the principal workshop of the railway, but John Chester Craven decided in 1847 to develop Brighton railway works instead.

The L&BR acquired 34 steam locomotives between January 1839 and March 1843, the first two of which were a 2-2-2 and a 0-4-2 supplied by Jones, Turner and Evans and used by the contractors constructing the line. The remainder were mainly 2-2-2 consisting of 16 supplied by Sharp, Roberts and Company, six by Edward Bury and Company, four by William Fairbairn, and three by G and J Rennie. The last three locomotives were 2-4-0 supplied by George Forrester and Company between October 1842 and March 1843.

Initially these locomotives were the responsibility of the civil engineer and his assistant, but this arrangement was ended after an unfavourable report on their safety in 1843. From 1842, the L&CR had pooled its locomotive stock with the SER, to form the 'Croydon and Dover Joint Committee'. From March 1844, the L&BR joined the scheme and their locomotives were operated by the 'Brighton, Croydon and Dover Joint Committee', which also ordered further locomotives. These pooling arrangements had the advantage of providing the L&BR with access to the South Eastern Railway repair facilities, at New Cross but caused great operating problems. In March 1845, John Gray was appointed as Locomotive Superintendent of the L&BR and in April, the company gave notice of withdrawal of the arrangement from January 1846, when the pooled locomotives were divided between the companies.

Following the dispersal of the pool in March 1845, the L&BR acquired 44 locomotives, some of which it had previously owned, and the remainder from the SER, L&CR, or else those purchased by the Joint Committee.

As a result of the poor financial performance, leading to dissatisfaction with returns, the shareholders of both the L&BR and the L&CR forced the merger of the two Railways, forming the London Brighton and South Coast Railway, which was confirmed by Act of Parliament on 27 July 1846.

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