Kemp Town Branch

A potted history

by John Blackwell, St Peter's Area Editor

The Kemp Town Branch opened on August 3rd 1869, ostensibly to provide a link to the fashionable suburb of Kemp Town on the eastern outskirts of Brighton. This short branch of just over one mile cost some £100,000 to construct. This was an enormous sum in those days, but hardly surprising as much of its length was on a viaduct or in a tunnel.

Never a viable proposition
It was never financially justifiable and was actually built by the railway company (the London Brighton & South Coast Railway) to protect its territory, and in particular the Brighton traffic, from rival schemes. Passenger traffic ceased on 31st December 1932 but goods traffic, especially coal, survived until 1971. Following closure, the entire branch was bought by Brighton Corporation. After 30 years nothing of railway origin remains, except the tunnel, yet the route can still be easily followed.

Following the route of the branch line
The branch diverged from the Brighton-Lewes line just east of the tunnel under Ditchling Road, and ran through what is now Centenary Industrial Estate off the Hollingdean Road. This was formerly the site of a small goods yard and in the south eastern corner, at the junction of Richmond and D'Aubigny Roads, Lewes Road station was opened on September 1st 1873.

Lewes Road Station
Lewes Road station could also be accessed by a covered flight of steps from Lewes Road. Immediately to the east was a fourteen arch viaduct that crossed Lewes Road and two arms of Melbourne Street. The section crossing Lewes Road and Melbourne Street was demolished in 1976 and the western portion (now covered by Sainsbury's) went in 1983. After a short stretch of embankment, now removed, a fine bridge, demolished in 1973, crossed Hartington Road. St Martin's School and Viaduct Court mark the crossing.

Hartington Road Halt
On entering a recreational area, from Hartington Road opposite Shanklin Road, immediately to the east was the site of the short-lived Hartington Road Halt that opened in 1906 but had closed by 1911. From this point one can walk almost to the entrance, of the 945m (1,024 yd) tunnel, now sealed, which passes below Elm Grove and Queens Park Road before emerging to the east of Freshfield Road. At the intersection of Pankhurst Avenue and Down Terrace is a small iron ventilator, some 30cm (12 inches) high, which is allegedly connected to the tunnel below.

Kemp Town station was situated in Coalbrook Road and was of similar design to those at Portslade and London Road (Brighton). Behind were a long single platform and an extensive coal and goods yard. Today Freshfield Industrial Estate covers the site but the tunnel portal can still be discovered.

This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page
I live overlooking the site of the old Kemp Town station and I am currently building an 00 gauge model of the station in my garage. So, once again trains will run to and from Kemp Town's station!
By Les Chatfield (21/04/2003)
Towards the end of the life of this branch line, I was a pupil at Elm Grove Junior School. Each day we could hear the train go under the school as regular as clockwork; 12.15, I think. As I went home for lunch I did not hear the return trip, but those who stayed for lunch confirmed that it did return! At last I had a ride on the line on the last day, which had a special service.
By Chris Young (14/05/2003)
I liked this site as soon as I saw it, nice and easy. I remember Kemp Town and the tunnel under Elm Grove. I went to school in Woodingdean and thought it a good day when passing Elm Grove school you caught site of a train going along the line in the 40s and 50s. My dad was a stall holder in the old market in London Road and we had to go home on the 44 trolley bus, so passed the line quite often. I also worked at the Kemp Town station site when a bit older, as a coalman. I have loads of memories of Brighton from the 40s right through to the 70s: places that you never hear of today.
By Mike Peirson (20/07/2003)
Are there any pictures of the tunnel going under Elm Grove?
By Andy (29/01/2004)
Does anyone know of any film footage taken of this line or indeed of the journey to or from Kemp Town itself? I think that would be the ultimate prize for those who have an interest in this old line!
By Steve (07/04/2004)
I have 'chased' the line's route from Centenary Industrial Estate through to Viaduct Court but where is the tunnel entrance? I located it around 15 years ago but the area has been redeveloped. Information please. I drove to the Down Terrace area and found the 'ventilator', but the number of roads in that area without name boards is ridiculous, but as I'm not local no doubt the 'natives' know their way around and the removal of the street names is done to confuse the occaisional visitor!
By Alan (12/05/2004)
All reports state that passengers ceased using the Kemp Town line in 1932. It was probably nearer 1962 because both a friend of mine and myself used the service. My aunt used to collect me from London Road Station to Kemp Town depot in the 1950s plus. (She died in 1964). My friend says that it was mostly goods trains but a few passenger trains did run during this time.
By Hucklepickleberry (20/11/2004)
Alan asks where the tunnel entrance can be found - it is behind Elm Grove School, where the ground drops away on the far side of the playground.
By John Flood-Paddock (14/12/2004)
As a child in the late 60s we lived in Hollingdean Lane and my father was Chief Engineer at the Brighton Abattoir. One day - I may have been 13 years old or so - I walked the line from the signal box, across the viaduct, through the tunnel and into Kemptown Staion and was alarmed to see goods wagons at the station. When I told my father he said 'I didn't say it was closed, I said it was closed to passenger traffic'. It was great fun though.
By Stephen Holroyd (11/06/2005)
Being born in 1972, I don't remember any trains using this line, but distinctly remember the viaduct over Lewes Road. There was a main span and two smaller tunnel-like sections either side for pedestrians. I used to call it the 'U-Hu' bridge as shouting 'U-Hu' whilst in the pedestrian bits used to echo loudly!
By Ali (26/07/2005)
I lived on the front [87 Marine Parade] and walked to school up Freshfield Road, so I know the Kemp Town station cutting extremely well. It always puzzled me what this under-used working was for, and the history website explains that briefly. I wonder whether this feature was the reason why Kemp Town [we thought] got bombed a lot in the 1940s.
By Andrew Holmes-Siedle (26/11/2005)
My memories of this branch are from the late 1960s when I used to work as a porter at the nearby London Road Station in the college holidays. There used to be a small manual signal box controlling the entrance to the KTB. The signal man there told me that to get to work he had to walk through the tunnel from LRS to the KTB Junction. One day he got caught in mid-tunnel by two electric trains coming from opposing directions. He had to stand in between the tracks to let them pass and nearly electrocuted himself. He was shaking for hours afterwards. I also remember the daily KTB goods - a shunter and one open coal truck. I also used to work on Brighton Station and remember the old service indicator board. It had a short column of destinations on the right hand side for the KTB. The trains for that used to leave from platform 10 (I think), now a path to the car park. I also went on the final day special.
By Chris Brady (14/02/2006)
Hello Bridget, My stepfather and aunt worked at Allen West back in the 50s. I have a picture of what appears to be an Allen West weekend coach trip from that period. Lots of people in the photo. Would that be of interest to you?
By Keith Blunt (30/08/2006)

A most interesting story! I lived in Brighton 20 years ago and worked in the BP petrol station (Tilleys) sat in the middle of the new Lewes Road gyratory system. I never knew anything about the viaduct until yesterday when I discovered your site! I love a railway that doesn't exist anymore! Thanks.

By Andy Thompson (17/12/2006)

Kemp Town Branch Five years to build - all the blood sweat and tears and now completely obliterated - should never been allowed to have been demolished. Today living in the heart of Kemp Town, I bet it would be a roaring success and would be seeing the busiest period of it's existance - if only it was still there. I've just found out about the Kemp Town Station, the tunnel, and the beautiful viaduct. Look what we have to replace it - Sainsbury's and an industrial estate! The Victorians would be turning in their graves. Oh to be able to go back and see how it was then.

By The sign of the thymes (04/01/2007)

Does anybody know if the north portal of the tunnel is still visible at all, or has it been completely buried under the old cutting backfill? Also, has anybody got a photograph of the north portal when the railway was in use (or afterwards for that matter!)?  I cannot find any pictures of this portal, although their are plenty of the south (station end) portal.  Thanks

By John Rooke (30/01/2007)

Click here to go to another site showing the exit at the north end of the tunnel.

By Stuart (20/06/2007)

My grandparents lived at 35 Melbourne Street and as a young girl in the early 60s I loved watching the (steam) train passing by on the viaduct from their back garden.

By Vanessa (15/07/2007)

I've just been to look at the ventilator. Sure enough, there it is in evidence at 50.8289°, -0.122108°. Right next to it, however, is a larger concrete cabinet approx 3x2x3m bearing the letters 'BWD'. My guess is that both of these artefacts are a vestige of the original ventilation shaft. These surface structures are from what I gather, usually found in the form of a short round brick chimney of at least 2m in diameter. Certainly, from the historic maps held in Brighton Library, the tunnel does pass very much under this point, although the exact path varies slightly between different maps. On my post 1879 map, Pankhurst Avenue exists, although unnamed and narrow. There is at this point no indication of Down Terrace. My 1899 map shows Pankhurst Avenue as being named Chalk Lane at the time, and Down Terrace is now in existence as a made road. I wonder if anyone has any memories of what was there in the early half of the last century?

By Tony Ling (06/01/2008)

Last summer I worked at what I belive is now Storage King self storage, but was at the time Keepsafe self storage. They are based at the back of Freshfield Industrial Estate on the right hand side as you drive down it. If you go through the gates into the compound and drive as if you were going around the back you can see the old tunnel still. It has been bricked up around the edge but it has a roller shutter door in it, me and a collegue were interested in what was inside but it is just a tunnel with some lights in it, no track anymore. My colleague drove his van about 800-900 metres down it and was starting to disapper from view as it goes around a slight bend to the left but he lost his nerve and reversed all the way back.

By Shawn Graham (15/06/2008)

Hi, I have noted a few people have interest in the old Kemptown railway branchline. Have a look on ebay, someone has done a video of what is left. If anyone has a good aerial pic of the area pre-1960 please let me know. Also, I need any info on the now demolished St Mathew's church in Kemptown. Les Chatfield (21/4/2003) how did your model turn out?

By Bryson Bourke (07/08/2008)

Hi all, I write regarding various requests for more info regarding video footage of the tunnel. Such a video does exist and the gentleman who films it actually gets to go through the tunnel in the present day. I think the web address is www.dumpman.co.uk, for more info on the Kemptown branch please also see: http://ghost-trains.sampasite.com This is the culmination of my spending 8 years researching the lost railways of Brighton, and I hope that people will find what I have found to be useful

By Lawrence Russell aka "GHOST" (10/09/2008)

The 'Ghost-Trains' crew are currently trying to gain access to the Kemptown Tunnel, which is still entirely intact in order to photograph and catalogue what is there in the present day. Any interested parties please contact us at: http://ghost-trains.sampasite.com. This is a privately run website with no commercial interest or sponsors. It exists purely for people who love Brighton's old railways.

By Lawrence Russell (06/10/2008)

I too travelled on the Kemp Town branch on the last day, and also on an occasion a year or two previous without all the crowds. I also remember visiting the site of Lewes Road Station long after closure to passengers (not customers!), and Kemp Town Junction signal box before it eventually closed. I guess that the box is long gone now? Or is it buried in the undergrowth waiting to be reborn?!  Does anyone have any photos of Lewes Road Station or Hartington Road Halt?

By Bill Pickup (06/04/2009)

Looking for drawings of the station building at Lewes Road to include if possible the station footbridge. All for a model railway. Any help would be appreciated please, thank you.

By Robin Winter (24/06/2009)
The DVD from www.dumpman.co.uk is brilliant. Shows all what is left of the railway now and where it used to run. Also shows the ventilator at the bottom of Down Terrace. There is, somewhere on the internet, some old colour footage of the Kemp Town Line as the train approaches Kemp Town Station. I do have some recent photos of where the tunnel would have gone under Elm Grove School, so I'll add them to this site so you can see what it looks like now. On the James Gray website there are some old photos of the Viaduct going over Hartington Road and also the line leading up to Elm Grove School. I attended Elm Grove School in the seventies and I remember them building the new playgrounds along the site of the old track. I have very vague memories of the trains going under the school. I do remember vividly, playing on the grass bank at the back of our playground which would have been the tunnel entrance.
By Carol Homewood (06/07/2009)

Does anyone know anything about homeless people living in disused train carriages in the 50s or 60s which were flooded and people were killed there? Any info would be great. Many thanks.

By Tina (24/07/2012)

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