Bluebell Halt

Horsted Keynes

The closure of the railway between East Grinstead and Culver Junction (Lewes) via Horsted Keynes to both passenger and goods traffic was scheduled to take effect on and from Monday, 13th June 1955 (ref: The Railway Magazine, May 1955). However, as a result of railway strike action, the last trains ran along this section of line on 28th May 1955 and a formal closure ceremony planned for 12th June was cancelled (ref: Sussex Express & County Herald, 17th June 1955). At Horsted Keynes, the station remained open to cater for the electric service from Seaford via Haywards Heath and Ardingly, and officially still handled goods traffic. A clause in the original Act of Parliament that authorised the construction of the East Grinstead to Lewes line, dated 1878, forced British Railways (BR) to reopen this section to passenger traffic on 7th August 1956 (ref: The Railway Magazine, September 1956). Closure occurred again on and from 17th March 1958, after powers had been obtained from Parliament to repeal the original Act (ref: Daily Herald (London), 17th March 1958). The electric service to Horsted Keynes continued, and goods facilities at that station remained open.

On Sunday, 14th June 1959 in Haywards Heath, thirty men and women officially formed the "Bluebell Railway Preservation Society" (BRPS) (ref: Sussex Express and County Herald, 19th June 1959). Their ultimate aim was to buy the 4½-mile section of line between Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes, at a cost of £34,000 (ref: Sussex Express and County Herald, 19th June 1959). In February 1960, the BRPS was granted a five-year lease of the Sheffield Park to Horsted Keynes line by BR, under the guise of "Bluebell Railway Ltd", and the first trains were scheduled to run on Sunday, 1st May of that year (ref: Sussex Express & County Herald, 19th February 1960).

The start date of 1st May 1960 was pushed back to 10th July, because the required Light Railway Order had not been finalised and the society was required to wait for possible objections (ref: Sussex Agricultural Express, 29th April 1960). BR’s Southern Region refused to allow the BRPS to operate trains into Horsted Keynes station (ref: RCTS’ The Railway Observer, June 1960), which required a separate platform to be constructed about 200-yards to the south. This platform became "Bluebell Halt" and it was planned for the nameboards of BR’s station to be amended to "Horsted Keynes for the Bluebell Line" (ref: Sussex Agricultural Express, 29th April 1960). To operate the proposed service, A1X Class 0-6-0 No. 32655 and two carriages were purchased from BR. The "Terrier" hauled the coaches from Brighton to Sheffield Park via Horsted Keynes on 17th May 1960 as part of a special that carried passengers (ref: RCTS’ The Railway Observer, June 1960). "P" Class No. 31323 (by this time bearing the number "323"), also purchased by the society, arrived at Sheffield Park under its own power on 27th June 1960 from Brighton, having travelled to the latter light engine from Ashford the previous day (ref: RCTS’ The Railway Observer, August 1960).

Over the weekend of 22nd/23rd May 1960, the BPRS made their first test run from Sheffield Park (ref: Daily Mirror, 25th May 1960). On Friday, 29th June 1960, Bluebell Railway Ltd. received an order from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of Transport, granting permission to run trains on the section of track between Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes (ref: Coventry Evening Telegraph, 30th July 1960). The line was formally reopened with much ceremony between Sheffield Park and Bluebell Halt on Sunday, 7th August 1960, but a public service had operated during the previous Bank Holiday weekend (ref: The Railway Magazine, September 1960).

Bluebell Halt was of timber construction, having been built from redundant railway sleepers. Positioned on the eastern side of the single-track, immediately south of the bridge that carried the railway over Station Approach, the platform was approximately 150-feet in length. Beyond the northern end of the halt, on the opposite side of the aforementioned bridge, a timber barricade was erected across the track to segregate the society’s operation from BR.

On Sunday, 29th October 1961 — the last day of the Bluebell Railway’s operating season that year — the society was permitted to run, with a BR pilotman, into Horsted Keynes station (ref: Liverpool Daily Post, 30th October 1961). In the 1962 season, all Bluebell trains were scheduled to serve Horsted Keynes station, with services running every weekend from 31st March to 28th October; additionally on Easter Monday, Whitsun Monday, every Wednesday from 6th June to 12th September, and daily from 21st July to 2nd September. Between Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes, trains were timetabled to call at Freshfield Halt, Holywell (Waterworks), and Bluebell Halt (ref: The Railway Magazine, February 1962).

Bluebell Halt still appeared in the timetable for the 1964 season. On the 1965 timetable, just Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes were included in the main schedule, but a footnote stated "All trains will call at Bluebell and Freshfield Halt if required". At least part of the structure was still evident at the end of the 1969 season. Indeed, today, there exists a sign at the former site of Bluebell Halt, indicating that the platform — or what remained of it — was removed in 1972.


1962

A westward view from Station Approach shows “P” Class 0-6-0 No. 27 “Primrose” and sister engine No. 323 “Bluebell” (left and right respectively) top-and-tailing the ex-Metropolitan Railway “Chesham” carriage set, departing Bluebell Halt for Horsted Keynes. The carriages arrived at Horsted Keynes for preservation on 4th March 1961, having been made redundant by London Transport in September of the previous year by electrification of the branch line to Chesham, Buckinghamshire. On the right-hand side of the bridge seen here was once a timber barricade across the single track, separating the BRPS’s operations from British Railways. © David Glasspool Collection