The railway arrived in Brighton on 21 September 1841 and had a dramatic effect on the development of the town.
Until the 1840s the only way to get to Brighton from London was by coach and the journey was long and uncomfortable. The majority of passengers either had important business in Brighton or were wealthier travellers coming for the benefits of the sea air.
The coming of the railway introduced two new types of passenger to Brighton, the commuter and the day tripper. The relatively short journey time of an hour and forty five minutes on the express allowed the new commuter to live in a pleasant villa by the sea and continue to work in London.
In 1844 the first day excursion tickets were issued. For the cost of a single ticket, passengers could go to Brighton and back for the day. The Palace Pier opened in 1899, catering particularly for these new day visitors with its theatre, band concerts and amusements.
The railway also altered Brighton physically. A new road, Queen’s Road, was built to link the railway station to the centre of the town. A new commercial area was developed with hotels, pubs and shops. As the engineering works grew, more land was taken over.
Streets were built east of the station to accommodate the men needed to work in the workshops and smithies. Detached and semi-detached villas were built elsewhere in the town for the London commuters. Two large viaducts were built across London Road and Lewes Road to accommodate the new line to Hastings and the branch line to Kemptown.
Royal Pavilion & Museum’s collections reflect the history of the railways in the city. Of particular note is the collection of over 2,000 photographs, mostly locomotives that were produced by Ralph Stent. Also notable is Joe Kent’s photographic collection of Pullman carriages.
The Brighton History Centre has Ordnance Survey maps of Brighton dating from the 1870s. They show detailed track layout and the basic ground floor plans of the main railway buildings.
It also has old newspapers which include articles about the railways in Brighton. If your ancestor was unfortunate to be involved in an accident on the railways, the inquest or enquiry was almost always reported.
Aside from the steam railways, Brighton had one of the first electric railways in the world, opened by Magnus Volk in 1883. The route ran along the beach from the entrance of the Chain Pier to a point alongside Madeira Drive. By the following year it had been extended to the Banjo Groyne.
In 1896, Volk opened the Rottingdean Railway which ran along the seashore on tracks from the Banjo Groyne to a pier at Rottingdean. This incredible machine was nicknamed the Daddy-Longlegs as the passenger cabin was perched high above the sea on four legs.
The Daddy-Longlegs Railway closed in 1901. In the following year Volk extended the smaller electric railway to Black Rock. Volk’s Electric Railway is still in operation.