The Old Railway Station
On 10th August, 1857, the Mid Sussex Railway Company was authorised to construct a railway line from Midhurst to Petworth via Billingshurst and Pulborough. By railway standards, progress on the line was brisk and just over two years later, on 10th October, 1859, an official inspection was made of the line. The tour began at 8 a.m. at Three Bridges and progressed to Horsham where a considerable time was spent inspecting the new station. Later, the ceremonial train proceeded southwards into the Sussex countryside. A reporter for the West Sussex Gazette wrote:
“The land in this neighbourhood is not of the first quality, and the district is very thinly populated; indeed, it looks as one would imagine the backwoods of America do ……. The people, when they were seen, looked scared at the appearance of the steam engine, as also did the horses, beasts, turkeys and other things, which ran from us in great horror.”
Apart from being an official inspection of the line, the train was also being run to deposit various of the Company’s servants at their new positions along the line. Although owned by the Mid Sussex Railway Company, the line was leased by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, finally being acquired by them three years later in 1862. The picturesqueness of Petworth Station, which is situated about 1 ½ miles south of the town at Coultershaw Bridge, obviously pleased the reporter, who wrote:
“The little station, which is built of polished deal, lies nestling under the hill in all the pride of perfect security. The railway buildings here are very numerous ……. There is also a pretty little engine house for pumping up the water into a tank to supply the engines.”
At the time of opening, a new inn, ‘The Railway Inn’, was being built close to the station (This is now known as ‘The Race Horse’) and it is more likely that the local people appreciated this than the pleasantness of the station after their long walk from town! However, subsequently a Mr. Dempster ran an omnibus to meet all the trains, but at 6d the fare would seem rather exorbitant for the times.
The original Petworth Station was demolished in the late 1880’s (a photograph taken by Walter Kevis in 1889 is believed to show the original station just before its demolition). The present single story wooden structure, situated slightly west of the old station, was opened by the Duke of Connaught, who was staying at Petworth House with a shooting party at that time. Id does, indeed, seem strange that a wooden structure was chosen to serve the town and seat of one of the County’s greatest landowners. In its details, an obvious effort was made to achieve an effect, even out of materials which the Brighton Company never favoured. Patterning on the weather boarding was achieved by the use of diagonal planking above and below the main wall panels, and wrought iron work on the booking hall roof, stained glass windows, an interior finished in polished deal, full length platform canopy and a booking hall entrance canopy all helped add that extra touch of class. However, the most striking contrast with the lesser stations lay in the goods facilities, Petworth having both a goods shed and a crane inside and a second crane outside. Other ‘status’ symbols were a water column on the platform and a fully signalled passing loop. Although the signal box, which was typical produce of Messrs. Saxby & Farmer, was usually closed.
In 1923, the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway became part of the Southern Railway and as early as 1932 there was a decline in local traffic. The nationalisation of Britain’s railways in 1948 spelt out the end for many small, unprofitable branch lines and by 1955 passenger services at Petworth came to an end. Freight services ceased on 20th May, 1966: although the occasion was witnessed by only a few, the customary detonators were placed on the line to mark the end of 106 years of service.
Mr William Darvell bought Petworth station from Dr Beeching, the man who is now famous for the closure of many of the UK railway lines. Mr Darvell visited us at The Old Railway Station last October, below is a picture of Mr Darvell with the current owner, Blair.
The station building, having fallen into disrepair following the Station’s closure, was rescued in the mid 1980’s and renovated. It has not been changed in any significant way from the way it was originally, except that it is now a home with a kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms. Guest accommodation has been provided since 1995 with 2 rooms in the Station House. In 1998, 2 Pullman railway carriages, Mimosa (1914) and Alicante (1912), were brought to the site and renovated to provide 4 guest rooms and a 3rd Pullman car, Flora (1923), was brought to the site some 3 years later. Extensive renovations have taken place in the last 10 years, like the rebuilding of The Station Masters Lamp Store, which now provides a boiler room and water & electricity supply to the building and carriages, as well as a modern laundry. A fourth Pullman carriage, Montana (1923 and sister car to Flora), was brought to the site and renovated, bringing the number of guest rooms to a total of 10, 8 of them in the Pullman cars. In January 2015 we installed biomass heating, giving us much desired “green” credentials. There are plans, in place, to resurrect a faithful copy of the Saxby & Farmer Type V signal box, which will provide a magnificent 11th guest room, in the near future.