Recently Chichester Copywriter attended a fantastic talk on one man’s love of steam trains and the place of these lovely machines in West Sussex’s history. The Chichester Library talk was given by Assistant County Archivist Bill Gage who demonstrated how much of a creative writing inspiration steam railways in Southern England can be.
This lively, illustrated talk on the Social History of Sussex using railways as a platform took place on Tuesday 22nd November and it really opened our creative copywriter’s eyes to what an impact these steam engines had on our local history.
We didn’t even have a standardised time system before the invention of the train and timetabling; time was local and differed from village to village. Did you know that the Selsey tramway, which opened in 1897, was in fact a railway line? It was called a tramway to avoid the costs railway regulations such as level crossings. Before the First World War the tramway reached Selsey beach and was particularly popular with holiday makers and day trippers during the warmer weather. One summer it was so busy and hundreds of people piled on to the last train of the day. The train was merrily chugging back towards Chichester when it came to a sudden stop and started going back towards Selsey. The driver realised that the guard had been left on the coast in all the commotion and he had to return to collect him!
Another fascinating tale told of how trains in the area were often late because the drivers would stop on the tracks, step down from the plate and go hunting for rabbits in the West Sussex countryside. They were known to scrump from local allotments in-between stations too. We’re wondering whether they went so far as to bake their rabbit and vegetable pies in the emgine’s firebox!
There were even train stations at tiny rural locations such as West Dean and Singleton. Built by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1881, Singleton station helped to serve the large volumes of traffic visiting Goodwood Racecourse. Back then, Goodwood attracted a plethora of undesirable gambling folk and Singleton was well-known for having the largest Gentleman’s public convenience in England- quite a claim to fame, we’re sure you’ll agree!
Admittedly, a talk on railways wouldn’t usually be first choice for Katy of Chichester Copywriter but it’s amazing how many fascinating nuggets of social history you can learn when listening to true enthusiast. There was plenty of stuff that could spark first class short stories and poetry for an eager creative writer.
Are you interested to find out more about steam railways in and around Chichester? West Sussex Record Office, in conjunction with Screen Archive South East, has produced three DVDs of archive footage featuring steam operation in the area. The films are varied and feature railways spread as far and wide as Katy’s copywriting and social media marketing clients, including: West Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey. Why not inspire your creative writing with a bit of tantalising social history by visiting Chichester’s Record Office and Archives to buy a DVD.