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Early Days of the Bluebell Railway

Part One

The story of how the Bluebell Railway came to be preserved after the David and Goliath contest in which Miss Bessemer took on the might of a nationalised industry and won is well known and documented elsewhere, but the early plans of those Bluebell pioneers of branch-line preservation are not so well known. On this page is a brief description of some of the early aims, successes and failures of the fledgling Bluebell.

The original intention of the founders of the Bluebell Railway (then known as The Lewes & East Grinstead Railway Preservation Society) back in the Spring of 1959 was to re-open the line in its entirety from East Grinstead through to Lewes and to run a commercial service using an ex-GWR "Flying Banana" diesel railcar, to be augmented with a two-car DMU when funds permitted! These plans soon fell through however when they a) failed to aquire the whole line and b) not surprisingly found no enthusiasm for the idea amongst the local population. So, the idea to re-open the Sheffield Park to Horsted Keynes section as a steam "museum" railway was proposed and adopted.

Being an ex-LBSCR line the original intention was to concentrate on rescuing as much "Brighton" stock as possible with the first requirement being a Stroudley "D1" Class 0-4-2T, until it was realised that the last one had been scrapped some year and a half previously! So, the next choice was a Stroudley "Terrier" 0-6-0T, probably the best-loved of the Brighton locos (two of which, 32636 and 32670, were by then the oldest locos operating on BR), and of which BR just happened to have a surplus one and sold her, together with a couple of coaches, for £750.

This loco, BR number 32655, was formerly LBSCR number 55, Stepney, an identity she was to regain once more under Bluebell ownership.

Stepney 320 6575
No.55 "Stepney", LSWR Lav Third No.320 and SR Corridor Brake Compo No.6575

This, the Bluebell's first train, arrived under its own steam on 17th May 1960, travelling via Haywards Heath to Horsted Keynes and thence onto Bluebell metals to Sheffield Park. As the Bluebell was not yet allowed access to Horsted Keynes but was only able to run from a point (Bluebell Halt) just to the south of the station where no run-round was possible, it was decided that a second loco was needed to run trains "topped and tailed" so a request was made to BR to buy a second "Terrier". However, with only 11 of the class now remaining, BR could not spare one and suggested instead that an ex-SECR Wainwright "P"Class 0-6-0T, BR number 31323, could be bought instead. This Bluebell suggestion was not greeted with much enthusiasm as the "P" class did not have the charisma of the "Terriers" and they had, in fact, not been a success when built. Intended for working light branch services and push-pull sets, they were found to be too small and were relegated to light shunting and shed pilot duties. For the Bluebell there was no alternative at the time so the loco was purchased, and very successful she proved to be, especially when she was later named Bluebell and subsequently painted blue.

So, the first summer saw the Bluebell operating a train with four items of stock, each of which hailed from a different company. A loco each from the LBSCR and SECR and a coach each from the LSWR and SR - a far cry from the earlier "all-Brighton" ideal!

Traffic in that first short summer from 7th August until the end of October, running at weekends only, exceeded all expectations at over 15,000 passengers and proved the point that to run a steam service using volunteers was a viable proposition. The railway could make the £2,250 annual payments on its five year lease of the track and run its trains, but had virtually no surplus income to invest in other rolling stock. At the conclusion of this first short but successful running period the winter's work of refurbishing the engines, station, signalling etc. commenced.

Baxter, after its return to steam in the 1980s

August 15th had seen the arrival of the Fletcher Jennings 0-4-0T industrial loco Baxter. This loco was only able to steam on a handful of occasions in 1960 and '61, and because of its condition would not do so again until 1982, when it had received a thorough overhaul. This led to the decision not to allow any more such locos to clutter the Bluebell in the same way that they were to do on many railways elsewhere.

1961 saw a Preservation Committee formed to decide which items of stock should be earmarked for preservation, taking the whole of BR into account, not just the Southern Region. This list quickly became un-manageable so the then General Manager, Horace May, intervened to ensure that any possible aquisition would have a role to play on the railway and not just take up valuable space. Quite a few of the items originally on the list were subsequently included in the British Transport Commission's preservation list which made life a little easier on the cash-strapped Bluebell. Some of the aims were achieved, some not. Some locos were available but could not be bought because the money could not be raised in time.

A classic case of this was an LBSCR Billinton "K" Class mogul, quietly put to one side by sympathetic BR staff when, following the hand-over of the running of BR from the BTC to the BR Board, the whole class was suddenly scrapped in 1962. The railway just could not find the cash so in the end the loco suffered the same fate as the rest of her class. Other locos on the list included an LBSCR Billinton "E4" Class 0-6-2T, a second Stroudley "Terrier", an LSWR Beattie "0298" Class 2-4-0WT, (the oldest design of loco working on BR - in the final event two of the three survivors of this class were preserved elsewhere), a GER "J15" Class 0-6-0, a Metropolitan Rly 0-4-4T and BR Standard Class 4P/4F 2-6-4T Number 80154, the very last loco built at Brighton Works and also the loco that hauled the final BR service over the Bluebell line.


80064, sister engine of the now-scrapped 80154 that the Bluebell was unable to save.

In addition to these and other locomotives, various representative types of rolling stock were targeted. Amongst these was the last LBSCR coach surviving on the mainland (some were still in use on the Isle of Wight, and still are to this day), a Pullman car, an SECR birdcage brake, a clerestory coach and a GWR rail motor coach. Some items which were available were rejected as being beyond restoration, a view not always shared by everyone. In the case of LBSCR "E1" Class 0-6-0T number 110 this was turned down as it had been much modified during many years service with the NCB but the loco was subsequently rescued for the East Somerset Railway.

Click here to move to part two.


Return to Bluebell Home Page, to the Timetable or to Special Events
History of the Bluebell:- L&EGR - Early Days 1 - Early Days 2 - Early Days 3 - Early Days 4 - Kingscote Station - Fenchurch
Personal Recollections of the Bluebell Line: Daniel Wilson - Martin J.N. Payne - Martin Ternouth - Early Bluebell Days: Mike South
Biography: Frederick Hutchings - 50 years with the LBSCR, SR & BR
Track Layouts through the years: Horsted Keynes - West Hoathly - Kingscote. More to come later!
Map showing how the line relates to other railways in the locality.
The Extension

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This page updated 7 April 2010 by Richard Salmon.
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