Friday, 19 June 2015

A sea voyage on rails


"Daddy Long Legs" was its popular name; officially The Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway. It ran for just a brief period from 1896 to 1901. Was it a railway, tram, moving pier, or a boat ? A combination of all of those perhaps. The journey was regarded by law as a sea voyage and as such required a lifeboat and other safety equipment. The car had to be piloted by a registered sea captain so the driver was a master mariner.
It ran on tracks 18 feet laid on concrete sleepers firmly anchored to the sea bed. Pylons were installed on the landward side of the line and these supported the wires that carried the electric supply. The car named Pioneer was 45ft long and had a central saloon. An upper deck was accessed by a staircase. The four legs were each 23ft long. The car was driven from controllers at each end of the deck.

Magnus Volk was the designer and owner of this contraption. He had opened Volk's Electric Railway along Brighton's eastern shoreline in 1883, a little narrow gauge railway still running today. His seashore railway and electric railway met at Paston Place and from there one could travel through the waves to Rottingdean a distance of 3 miles. The car would "dock" at piers at each end and the fare was 6d. It wasn't a fast journey and at high tide the underpowered electric motors struggled to make a speed of one mile per hour.

Construction started in 1894 and the railway opened in November 1896. Just a week later it was severely damaged in a storm and had to be rebuilt. The car named Pioneer had been knocked over by the waves. It wasn't until July 1897 that it re-opened. Although the line was popular it was faced with diversion in 1901. Sadly Volk could not afford to pay for the work and the line was dismantled. Although the tracks were removed, the concrete sleepers are still visible at low tide.

Brighton's Daddy Long Legs had a predecessor in San Malo, Brittany. Pont Roulant (rolling bridge) made a 200 metre crossing of the harbour and although similar to Volk's sea railway, this was chain hauled. It was more successful and operated for nearly 50 years. In 1923 it was damaged by a passing ship and closed. The open harbour mouth has now been replaced by a road and bridge.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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