Little evidence left of the loco works

Photo:Brighton Works and viaduct

Brighton Works and viaduct

Photo:Chalk Hill, 1839

Chalk Hill, 1839

Photo:Interior of the Works

Interior of the Works

Photo:Preston Road station from the air

Preston Road station from the air

Photo:The Works from West Hill

The Works from West Hill

Photo:The Works from the north-east, 1959

The Works from the north-east, 1959

Once dominated the New England Quarter

By Simon Rogers

 Introduction

Brighton Railway Works, which once dominated the New England Quarter, disappeared almost without trace in 1960s redevelopment. This article looks at its impact on the area, including North Laine.

Evolution of the Works

The Works were inaugurated in 1842 for maintenance, and loco manufacturing commenced in 1852 under the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway's (LB&SCR) first engineer, Craven. It expanded piecemeal throughout the 19th century, the workforce reaching 2,651 by 1891.

Only a 9-acre site

Shortly after that it began to decline. In 1912 carriage and wagon works moved to Lancing and in1922 locomotive manufacture itself ceased. Partly this may be due to the very restricted 9-acre site (Ashford was 26 and Eastleigh 41 acres).

Then only repair work

Southern Railway’s electrification began in 1925 and by the 1930s only repair work was being carried out, and dismantling of much machinery was in hand.

Revived in war time

War time brought a revival which lasted until the 1950s. By 1947 1,000  locomotives had been completed. However, in 1957 (20th March) the last one was produced, its 1,211th, ending 105 years of steam loco building in spite of production of diesel and electric stock having commenced, In 1958 the Works closed completely and in 1969 all buildings of the Works demolished, 127 years after it first opened.

Impact on the town

The expansion of the Works went hand in hand with the rapid growth of the city, from 46,000 in 1841 to over 120,000 by the end of the 19th century. Development of the New England Quarter was particularly associated with the railway and Works, as well as North Laine.

Workers from existing local trades

Most of the workforce were drawn from existing local trades, such as smiths, coach builders, joiners etc and significant numbers of skilled engineers from the new industrial cities of the north and Midlands. Only a small percentage were former farm labourers.

Apprentices trained

The Works contained equipment for making most rolling stock, although in common with many Works, complete parts such as boilers were brought in from elsewhere. Significant numbers of apprentices were trained and local technical colleges provided tuition.

Unions and other movements

In spite of restrictive legislation in the early decades, the workers joined Unions in substantial numbers. Temperance and other movements sprung from these associations, as well as outside promoters. These added much to the vitality of the 19th century town.

Legacy

Both the LB&SCR and Southern Railway appointed some renowned engineers. The first, John Charles Craven, single minded to the point of tyranny and a reckless innovator, was famous for the sheer variety of his engines. William Stroudley brought much needed order and produced the elegant Gladstone express locos and, more famously, the delightful ‘Terrier’ tank engine, examples of which are still running.

The Billintons

The Billintons, father and son, continued into the 20th century with many serviceable locomotives well suited to the densely used network.

Bulleid's designs

The last flowering of locomotive building was presided over by Oliver Bulleid, whose designs included the splendid ‘Merchant Navy’ and ‘Battle of Britain’ pacifics; and the extraordinary ‘Leader’ steam powered but designed like a diesel loco.

Remains

Of Brighton’s major industrial complex little remains above ground. Some sturdy brick piers survive along the green way, the only evidence of the buildings, while a small street uses the name of Stroudley.

New England Quarter now rebuilt

Much of the New England Quarter has been rebuilt. Its pub names, manufacturers' signs and other reminders of this once great industry have been all but erased.

 

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 232, January/February 2015]

 

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