Located deep in rural Sussex, the former station at Fittleworth has been a fortunate survivor, having been converted into a private dwelling following decades of dilapidation and neglect after closure. Once located upon a line linking Midhurst with Pulborough, so lightly used was the route by passengers that closure by British Railways was considered as early as 1950. Having wound its way through the Sussex countryside, much of the former track bed from Pulborough (Hardham Junction) to Midhurst can still readily be traced out on current maps, and the area between the two looks just as unspoilt today as when the railway was built.
On 10th August 1857, the “Mid Sussex Railway” Act was passed, which authorised the construction of a line from the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) at Horsham, to Pulborough, in addition to a branch line to Petworth. Authorised capital stood at £160,000 (£16,240,000 at 2021 prices) in the form of £10 shares, with loans amounting to £53,000. Bradshaw’s Shareholders’ Manual of 1858 noted that there were no engineering works of notable difficulty along the proposed line, no tunnel, and the curves and gradients were as favourable as they could be for the nature of the terrain passed through. The “main line” part of the route, as referred to in Bradshaw’s Shareholders’ Manual, from Horsham to Pulborough, was 12-miles, 2-furlongs, and 9½-chains in length, with a maximum gradient of 1 in 100 and the sharpest curve at 4-furlongs. The “branch” — in reality a continuation of the then new line — to Coultershaw-mill (Petworth) was 5-miles and 9½-chains in length, with 1 in 116 being the steepest gradient.
The line from Horsham to Petworth opened to traffic on 10th October 1859, but no station was in evidence at Fittleworth from the outset. The intermediate stops at the time were at Billingshurst and Pulborough, and from the outset the route was single-track in its entirety. The line was worked by the LB&SCR from the outset, and the independent “Mid Sussex” company was subsequently purchased by the former on 31st May 1860. A single-track extension from Petworth to Midhurst was brought into use on 15th October 1866; the 5½-mile line was promoted and built by the “Mid Sussex & Midhurst Junction Railway”, worked by the LB&SCR from the outset, and subsequently absorbed by the latter in June 1874. In the meantime, a line from what became "Hardham Junction" (about 1400-yards south of Pulborough) to Ford Junction (about ⅔-mile east of Ford) via Arundel had opened to traffic on 3rd August 1863.
In County Council minutes published in the 8th January 1889 edition of The Sussex Express, it was stated: “Now they were trying to get a station at Fittleworth. That ought to be of some use to the people of Bury”. Bury was an administrative division of Sussex, within which were the parishes of Bignor, Bury, Coates, Coldwaltham, Fittleworth, Hardham, Houghton, and Wisborough-Green. A station at Fittleworth, located 1¾-miles west of Hardham Junction, came into use for public traffic during the first week of September 1889:
A new station has now been opened at Fittleworth, which is situated mid-way between Pulborough and Petworth on the Midhurst line of the Brighton Company.
A handsome and commodious station has been erected, and it is likely to prove a great boon to the neighbourhood, both for passengers and the despatch of goods traffic. [The Sussex Express, Saturday, 7th September 1889]
The 1881 census shows the population of Fittleworth to be 696 people, just one up from the survey ten years prior. However, the small community was provided with more than just a mere halt by the LB&SCR: a “proper” station was built on the southern side of the single-track. A solitary platform of masonry construction was in evidence, upon which was a single-storey main building of mostly timber construction. The main station building could easily be mistaken for a product of the South Eastern Railway, the company of which provided very similar structures at several of their stations during the same period. Attached to the main building was an attractive canopy with spiked valance and semi-circular cross section. The structure was not without brick content: in addition to the shallow brick base which the timber building was set upon, two sturdy chimney stacks rose above roof height.
Clearly, there was a desire to develop the route for freight traffic as much as passenger, for a comparatively spacious goods yard was laid out at Fittleworth. Although there existed just a single running line accompanied by no passing loop, four sidings were laid at the site, on the south side of the track. This layout was controlled by a signal box positioned on the northern side of the single track, a stone’s throw from the western end of the platform. It was a Saxby & Farmer design, with hipped slated roof — a similar design by the same contractor can be seen on the West Malling page.
The first Station Master was Mr Hillier, from Brighton, and it was remarked that “for so small a place [Fittleworth] there is an excellent service of trains” (Ref: The Sussex Express, Saturday, 21st September 1889). Your author suspects that the Station Master’s residence was one of the semi-detached cottages located about 150-feet south east of the main station building.
By 1912, the goods yard had been revised. Additionally, the longest of the four sidings had been truncated, a second connection made between the running line and goods yard, and a dock platform brought into use. A small timber shed upon stilts was erected beside the dock line.
Photographs from 1950 show the signal box to have disappeared by then; your author suspects it went in early Southern Railway days. As early as December 1950, it was reported in local newspapers that the closure of the Midhurst to Pulborough line was under consideration by British Railways. This became a reality in 1954: in November of that year, formal closure notices appeared in local newspapers, advertising the withdrawal of passenger services between Petersfield and Pulborough via Midhurst. In the 7th May 1953 edition of the West Sussex Gazette, it had been reported that there were 69 members of railway staff between Petersfield and Pulborough. The same newspaper reported on 4th March 1954 that closure between Petersfield and Pulborough would make an annual saving of £31,400 (£914,600 at 2021 prices), and would avoid the need to carry out £56,000 (£1,631,000 at 2021 prices) worth of track repairs. It was stated that, on average, nine passengers were using each train on the line. Closure to passengers was effective from Monday, 7th February 1955; however, since the line had no Sunday service, the last trains ran on the evening of Saturday, 5th February. Between Petersfield and Midhurst, the line was closed entirely; between the latter and Pulborough, the railway remained operational for goods traffic, for which freight facilities at intermediate stations remained open. It was reported in the 11th February 1954 edition of the West Sussex Gazette that a Leading Porter would be retained at Fittleworth, Selham, and Petworth stations.
A thrice-weekly goods train continued to run between Pulborough and Petworth. The February 1961 edition of The Railway Magazine shows iterations of this goods train comprising a mixture of ventilated vans and open wagons, motive power either being an ex-LB&SCR 0-6-2 “E4” Class or 0-6-0 “C2X” Class. This practice ceased when the line from Hardham Junction to Petworth closed completely on 23rd May 1966 (ref: The Railway Magazine, July 1966), although Clinker’s Register (1980) notes that Fittleworth had earlier ceased handling goods from 6th May 1963. By the time of the line’s closure, the freight between Pulborough and Petworth was in the hands of diesel shunters. The track between Pulborough and Petworth had been lifted by 1968.
Over twenty-five years since closure to passengers, the main station building — showing obvious signs of neglect — was still very much in existence. Although partially collapsed, the sections of canopy valance in view were still in remarkably good condition. In the shadows can be seen a sash-style window frame — typical of the era — and a sizeable chunk had been taken out of the building’s timber sides.
© David Glasspool Collection
The curved profile of the canopy’s roof is evident in this Midhurst-bound view. All five original stanchions still supported the canopy above the former platform surface at this time. The main building has since been restored and converted into a private dwelling; the platform canopy is no more, but the structure acquired a third chimneystack in the process.
© David Glasspool Collection