The building of the railway station

Photo:Drawing of Brighton Station in 1841 showing original Italianate frontage designed by David Mocatta

Drawing of Brighton Station in 1841 showing original Italianate frontage designed by David Mocatta

Photo:Another picture of the original Station designed by David Mocatta

Another picture of the original Station designed by David Mocatta

Photo:The canopy at the front hides the horribly reconstructed ground floor of the Station

The canopy at the front hides the horribly reconstructed ground floor of the Station

Photo:By 1882/3 the magnificent curved iron and glass train shed had been erected

By 1882/3 the magnificent curved iron and glass train shed had been erected

Photo:The original Mocatta building seen from the side, with Trafalgar Street adjacent

The original Mocatta building seen from the side, with Trafalgar Street adjacent

Photo:The front of the Station currently [2014] houses the bus station

The front of the Station currently [2014] houses the bus station

Photo:Entrance to the Main & East Coast Lines

Entrance to the Main & East Coast Lines

Photo:The wooden destinatin board is now in the possession of Sir William McAlpine

The wooden destinatin board is now in the possession of Sir William McAlpine

Photo:The magnificent suspended clock has been there for over a century

The magnificent suspended clock has been there for over a century

Photo:The existing small dull plaque to John Saxby is easily missed but it is hoped to replace it soon with a new blue plaque

The existing small dull plaque to John Saxby is easily missed but it is hoped to replace it soon with a new blue plaque

Photo:Steam train at Brighton Station

Steam train at Brighton Station

Opened in 1840

By Godfrey Gould

The reconstruction of the concourse at Brighton Station and the opening up of the vista through the great Train Shed prompts me to pen these few words about this seminal structure.

Trains first went to Shoreham, not London

When opened by the London and Brighton Railway in 1840 trains went to and from Shoreham and not London. This was deliberate to get materials and equipment to the works to complete the terrace on which the railway was to be built into Brighton. At 3pm on Monday 11 May 1840 the first train pulled out of Brighton for Shoreham with 230 specially invited passengers.   On the first official open public day 1,750 passengers were carried, there being a train every two hours from 9am to 7pm. By 1842 six trains ran each way from Monday to Saturday, five on Sunday. Fares for a one-way ticket were 1/- first class, 9d second and 6d third class.

London line opened in September 1841

There had been sundry earlier (and later) proposals for a London-Brighton Railway, including one by George and Robert Stephenson to bring the railway along the coast to terminate at Brunswick Square. Others had it coming down the 'London Road Valley' to finish at St Peter's Church. But the Engineer of the line, John Rastrick, determined to complete the line from the capital at a higher level to terminate at the northern edge of the town on an artificial ledge to be carved into the valley side.  The original Railway, the London & Croydon, had been officially opened from London Bridge Station on 1 June 1839, with a regular public service four days later. The line to Brighton was completed as indicated in 1841, using for part of the way the tracks of the South Eastern Railway between Purley and Redhill. On 21 September 1841 the first train to use the new line to London was the 6.45am up (to London), but the official train was the 9.45am down (from London) arriving at 12.15pm, a journey of two and a half hours. This was progressively reduced to one hour and forty-five minutes. But this has to be compared with the previous fastest Stage Coach time of at least six hours.

David Mocatta was the architect

The Architect to the London to Brighton Railway was David Mocatta and it was he who designed the still extant (now Grade II*) Brighton Station. The station about which I write is the building at the front and as originally constructed was a magnificent Italianate structure. To appreciate how really fine it was you must see some of the contemporaneous drawings now housed in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, but often reproduced elsewhere. Subsequently a 'porte cochere' (canopy) was erected at the front, and fine though that is, it (perhaps fortunately) obscures the now horribly reconstructed ground floor of the station.

The fine colonnades are now missing

Especially missing are the fine colonnades, but several new openings destroy the symmetry of the original. Initially behind there was some covering of the platforms, later canopies not unlike those still at Hove and Shoreham Railway Stations. But by 1882/3 the magnificent curved iron and glass train shed was erected over the earlier structures, which were then dismantled.

The Station once had 11 platforms

At its peak the station had 11 platforms, although its total area has not changed much. With the current seven platforms, the former platform 8 (earlier 9 or 10) is now used as a walk-way to the car park, and the short canopy over former platform 10 (earlier 11) now shelters bicycle racks. At the front a bridge has been built over Trafalgar Street and the buildings adjacent to the Station cut back, the former Terminus Hotel (bought by the Railway in 1877 and sold to the Corporation in 1923) having been demolished. The site now houses the Bus Station. Further major alterations to the road system are now being implemented [2014] by the Council, although the actual frontage of the Station should remain as now.

The platforms were originally shorter

Inside the original, the concourse was much smaller and the platforms shorter. (Notice how much the platforms extend beyond the train shed.) Earlier photographs show three entrances to the platforms, two to the Main and East Coast Lines, and one to the Main and West Coast Lines. Sundry free standing buildings soon appeared, including a large W H Smith outlet adjacent to the barrier. To the left (facing north) were the Dining and Tea Rooms, and later a pub. The main food outlet is now, of course, M&S Food, but you have to take your meal home and cook it and serve it to yourself!

The original wooden destination board now part of a transport collection

Other structures followed: notably the great wooden destination board with the stations to be served indicated by a wonderful shutter mechanism. Fortunately it was not destroyed but is now in the possession of Sir William McAlpine part of his magnificent transport collection at his home near Henley-on-Thames. The collection even has a full size operational 'steam railway' in the back garden - it is some garden! And note the magnificent suspended clock which has been there for over a century.

Later alterations

Later alterations included a new digital indicator board, enlarging the concourse itself and constructing that awful island 'W H Smith' with offices over. Now a new total reconstruction has taken place with all the excretions removed so that nothing blocks the view through the station. The ticket office has been banished to the far eastern corner, but with a proliferation of self-service ticket machines much in evidence on the concourse. But I have yet to see the new Information Office even manned! A new 'W H Smith' occupies the former ticket office, a new waiting room has been established, and sundry other retail (mainly food and drink) outlets opened.

John Saxby developed interlocking signalling

In the passage way adjacent to M&S there is a small dull plaque to Brighton-born John Saxby (he is also recognised on bus No 613). A partner in Saxby & Farmer he developed Interlocking Signalling which ensures the coordination of signals and points, a major feature of railway safety used to this very day, although now electronically operated and not solely mechanically.

New 'blue plaques'?

It is intended that when the restoration and reconstruction of the station is complete there will be two new blue plaques at the main entrance, a new one to John Saxby, and the other, belatedly, to David Mocatta. Of course, he has already got a blue plaque to his memory on the façade of the former Devonshire Place Synagogue and he is also on a bus - No 854. But for his true memorial just go to Brighton Station and look around you - Si Monumentum Requiris Circumspice*.

 

[* If you seek [his] monument, look around.]

 

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 226, January/February 2014 and elsewhere.]

This page was added on 04/02/2014.

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