The railways and their impact on Ardingly in the nineteenth century

Brighton had become one of the closest fashionable watering places in Sussex to London. The need for more comfortable and faster travelling to Brighton became very pressing. The new steam railways were the answer. For a possible railway from London to Brighton six sets of plans were initially drawn up and one of them was chosen and in 1837 the London, Brighton South Coast Railway Act was passed. Land had to be compulsory purchased , labour and materials obtained. An engineer named Captain Anderson was appointed.

By 1840, 6,206 men and 960 horses were at work on constructing the railway. It is their part of the construction at Copyhold which was the first railway intrusion into Ardingly parish. The area which effected the parish was the building of the Balcombe tunnel, the great Balcombe viaduct and the deep cutting at Copyhold through to the Cuckfield tunnel. This cutting sliced through the south west corner of the parish and had a depth of 98 feet and involved 360,000 cubic yards of excavation.(1) Some of the spoil from this cutting was used for the embankment approach to the Balcombe viaduct . The use of horses and wagons was to cause some damage to the local roads creating protests by the parish vestries. The London to Brighton Railway was constructed with two single tracks for up and down traffic. The line was opened to Haywards Heath on the 12th July 1841 and from Haywards Heath to Brighton on the 21st September 1841.

At Copyhold a temporary wooden bridge was constructed near the farm to carry local traffic.(2) Many of the construction workers were housed at Copyhold House and the converted farm buildings on the north side of the road, as well as at Naldred cottages and at Rivers Farm. Some details of these men come to light from the 1841 census (3).

Copyhold House…Richardson. Railway contractor..two female servants
Copyhold Farm…Mrs. Holy Jeffrey, railway excavator, plus five excavators.
In Copyhold Lane…Coply. labourer
Naldred Cottages…two labourers and two carpenters
Rivers Farm…five lodgers including a labourer, excavator and bricklayer.
Copyhold Lane …three railway cottages built housing, five labourers.
In the Copyhold farm enclave a “Navvie” encampment was built.

In the 1840 evaluation list(4) a Samuel Briggs of Copyhold was rated for “a blacksmiths shop, wheelwrights, counting house, warehouse and stable temporary built, and James Copley for a beershop at Copyhold.” After the railway was finished the above accommodation returned to agricultural use until the next railway intruded.

The London Brighton and Southern Railway LBSR was not at first a financial success for its investors and by 1867 was only slowly recovering from near bankruptcy(5). In 1875 and 1883 the possibility of building a new line was investigated . To attract more passengers it was planned to have a main line both ways and separate lines for local traffic. The authority for widening the tracks, which involved the tracks and the cuttings as well as extra tunnels and bridges, was not given until 1903. At that time the possibility of electric traction was considered and tried. At Balcombe a second tunnel was constructed in 1899, but Copyhold was not widened until 1903. The Copyhold cut had been previously widened to accommodate the Haywards Heath, Ardingly, Horsted Keynes line in 1883.

The 1841 Tithe map(6) gives a fair indication of the amount of land acquired for the LBSC railway at that time.


Reading Klaus Marx notes on the railway(7) he relates, “The Ouse Valley Railway was sanctioned by the L.B.S.C. Railway act of 23rd June 1864, to go to Uckfield and eventually St. Leonards. In 1866, a contract tender by W.&J. Pickering was accepted, the first sod being cut on 16th May.” The Brighton Herald reported “Perhaps the most difficult part of the work is the commencement of a heavy embankment to be made near Balcombe viaduct and then a cutting 57 feet deep. For some time past workmen have been erecting huts and stables…

The Sussex Advertiser(8)The first sod was cut Tuesday 17 May…in the evening the workmen entertained by Mr. Pickering the contractor at the Bent Arms, Lindfield. On the Ardingly Road(9) a new and extensive village has sprung up like magic, consisting of good substantial cottages for their workmen.” The line was in trouble from the very beginning for the contractor was sued in the County Court by the Newchapel, Lindfield and Brighton Turnpike (which went through Ardingly) for damages to the road by the inordinate cartloads of bricks reaching the line. More trouble came when a series of fatal accidents occurred among the navvies.

Because of the severe financial crisis in the Country, work was ordered to be stopped on the Ouse valley Line, but the L.B.S.C. railway thought they could carry on. The work continued for nine months, however the final blow fell and the projected line was cancelled. The contractor Mr. Pickering disappeared from the picture a much dejected man. The London Brighton South Coast Railway was at a very low ebb and the shareholders much alarmed. The making of this railway made a great scar over the countryside of Ardingly and the remains of this project can still be seen today. Late in 1879 there was a scheme to revive the line, but it came to nothing.


This was the railway which made most impact on the parish. To be only four and a half miles long to the junction at Horsted Keynes it was seen as the line which would bring prosperity to its investors as it was envisaged the gateway to East Sussex. It would connect Ardingly and Horsted Keynes with the markets at Haywards Heath, East Grinstead, Lewes as well as Brighton and London.

The line was approved by act of Parliament on July 19th, 1880 and was completed three years later. It was a double track in cuttings, embankments and one short tunnel at Lywood, with more embankments and bridges to Horsted Keynes.


I do not know the amount of compensation paid to the owners of the farms or their tenants at the three railway constructions but by looking at the maps I have been able to calculate the amount of land used by the railways, using the 1910 Ordnance Survey maps which cover all three railways(10).

For the 1841 main line railway I have included all the widenings up to 1910. Measuring the map carefully it is possible to calculate 469,200 square feet of land was used which is approximately 10.8 acres covering Copyhold, Naldred and Rivers Farms. In the 1860’s the abandoned Ouse Valley Railway effected the same farms and calculating from the same O.S. map and the one next to it(11) some 547,240 square feet of land was used, approximately 12.6 acres, which is still out of use to-day. The 1881 Haywards Heath, Ardingly, Horsted Keynes line calculated from the previous two O.S maps referred to and another to the north east(12). Some 1,433,000 square feet of land was used, or approximately 33 acres taken out of agricultural production.

This totals up to 56.3 acres of land used up by the railways.

In 1875 Hussey(13) calculated 3,771,921 acres of land in Ardingly Parish, which included 12.579 acres of water, 46.701 acres of roads and 10.48 acres of railway (my estimate was 10.8 acres for before the two later railways). The total acreage of the parish was 3,841,681.

Taking the figure of 3,772 acres of land by the end of the 19th century the railways had used 56.3 acres of this or 1.5% of the total. This does not seem a large proportion but represents the size of a small farm.

Not all the railway materials were carried along the railway line as it progressed. A great amount of carting was done on the local roads. The Sussex Advertiser(14) records, “complaints of roads around Haywards Heath from the heavy traffic consequent on the making of the Ouse Valley Railway and other building now in progress“.

At the Cuckfield Petty Sessions 8th April, 1867(15)Kinchen versus Brighton Railway Company, and Kinchen versus Pickering. Summonses taken out by Mr. Kinchen, surveyor to the Newchapel, Lindfield and Brighton Turnpike Trust for damaging the road owing to excessive traffic. The defence was the tolls amply paid for the damage done. The defendants were fined £21 but time was allowed to give them opportunity to appeal“.

The Ouse Valley Railway was soon to be abandoned and the Sussex Advertiser records(16)In consequence of closing the works of the Ouse Valley railway, the plant will be sold at Buexham Hill, Uckfield, Newick, Freshfield, Lindfield and Ardingly

The influx of so many construction workers for each of the three railways was to alter the life of the parish. Wyn Ford(17) describes the railway constructors “The railway labourers or navvies constituted the largest single element in the population, numbering more than 100 with few from Sussex and quite a few Irishmen“. In contradiction to the “few Irishmen” the census does not record any and Andre Palfrey Martin(18) states “there were no Irishmen at all for they were all on Railway Construction in the north of the Country, especially near Liverpool to be near their families. Some local agricultural workers may have been used as labourers, who after one years work were ready to be navvies.

Special railway huts were built at various sites for all the three railways. Copyhold had buildings at the three railway construction times. Many of these huts were sited at Copyhold Farm with stables and workshops, of which there is now no trace not even of the farm buildings themselves. During the building of some of these huts for the Ouse Valley Line a fatal accident occurred(19)A Charles Swichen fell off scaffolding at the new huts“.

It is not clear from the census if local agricultural labour was actually used for railway construction, but some might have been attracted by the higher wages paid. Terry Coleman in his “Railway Navvies”(20) records a table of weekly wages:~

Masons 21/- in 1843 to 27/- in 1869
Bricklayers 21/- in 1843 to 25/6 in 1869
Carpenters and Blacksmiths 21/- in 1843 to 24/- in 1869
Navvies (pickmen) 16/6 in 1843 to 18/- in 1869
Navvies (shovelers) 15/- in 1843 to 17/- in 1869
Cost of labour shown in per cubic yard:
Brickwork 2/3 in 1843 to 2/6 in 1869
Earthwork -/4½ in 1843 to -/5½ in 1869.
Agricultural labour in Ardingly was paid 10/- to 12/-.


Many railway huts were built for the 1880’s railway in Ardingly at Copyhold, Rivers, the station site and at the Lywood site by the tunnel and at Berry. As the occupants of these huts figure largely in the Ardingly Parish census of 1871 and 1881 (21), its worth describing the huts from information supplied in Terry Coleman’s book, The Railway Navvies(22) states, “The Shanties were wooden erections whose timbers were tar coated, and whitewashed and with roofs of felt. These large huts were divided into three parts. The central hall, with doors at the front and back, was the common room for the whole family and the lodgers. To the left was the bedroom of the man and his wife and his children; and to the right the lodgers room.” This description fits well the railway workers in the Ardingly huts and so named in the census. All trace of these huts has now disappeared but they are mentioned in the Ardingly Vestry minutes(23). Kaus Marx in his notes(24) on the navvy encampments states that,

1. The Copyhold huts were in the area near the New Barn just opposite where the main line and the branch line came together a few yards north of the present Copyhold bridge. There on Friday evening 16th April, 1880, a newly erected Navvies Mission Room was opened by the Bishop assisted by several clergymen of the neighbourhood. There was a large attendance and the room was prettily decorated for the occasion.

2. The second camp was in the proximity of Ardingly Station site near Avins Farm. It was here that firbank sited his main stores”. There was a provision shop sited at Berry farm were no doubt the railway workers were exploited having been part paid in tokens that could only be used at the shop. Pilfering had been going on for some time and it was at Avins that an Edward Ancock was court stealing boarding, tools, iron and telegraph wire.”

3. The third encampment was the “Lywood Huts” situated close to the tunnel and each one was numbered.

The 1871 census reveals little about the railway workers on the abandoned Ouse Valley Railway line except one railway hut in Copyhold Lane occupied by agricultural labourers. Both Copyhold Farm and house, Naldred cottages and Rivers Farm had returned to agriculture after the completion of the original London to Brighton railway in 1841. The 1881 census(25) records 25 railway huts containing a population of 297 railway people. fifteen are specifically recorded as excavators, 58 as railway labourers, and one mason, one engine cleaner, four platelayers, two railway miners, three engine drivers, a blacksmith, eight navvies, six bricklayers, one brickmaker, wives and 91 children under the age of 13. Three huts held 15 people each including children, and four huts held 13 people. Their origins are from all over England, but none from Ireland. One Ardingly family by the name of Ellsey (a well-established Ardingly family name) lived in a railway hut and he is described as an agricultural worker. lt would seem that not many Ardingly labourers were not attracted after all to the railway construction. Of the many children a good number of them must have swelled the local school of St.Peter’s. About this time another classroom was needed for the school.

The railway huts have all disappeared but they are recorded in the Ardingly Vestry minutes(26) :-

Vestry Minutes 20th March 1897. “The seven railway huts situated at Copyhold in the occupation of Joseph firbank Esq., at £4 gross value and £3-10s-(ld rateable value each. The smiths shop and stables in the same situation and occupation at £4 gross value and at £3-10s-0d rateable value”.

“The three railway huts situated at Lywood, and in the occupation of Joseph firbank Esq at £4 gross and £3-10-Od rateable value”

Vestry Minutes 6th November 1879. 2 workshops, store room and stables at Berry Farm in the occupation of Mr. Joseph firbank. £8 gross, £7 rates. The provisions shop in the occupation of Mr.C. Philpot at the Berry Farm £6 gross £5 rates. (Berry is not far from Lywood and was at one time part of Lywood).

Vestry Minutes 21st October 1880 Resolved that two new railway huts…Lywood…Mr Joseph Firbank…be rated as above.

Vestry Minutes 28th January 1881 “The two railway huts at Lywood Common be pulled down…”

Vestry Minutes 16th March 1882 “Berry Farm Brickfield ceased…works and stables removed..2 huts in John Jenner’s orchard removed…14 huts at Berry Farm removed.

Vestry minutes 5th October 1882. “three huts at Copyhold pulled down”.

Vestry minutes 13th March l884… Provision shop at Berry pulled down…three railway huts at King’s and Cripps pulled down…. railway huts at Avons pulled down.

These glimpses of the railway from the vestry minutes show that quite a number of railway huts shops and stables were spread over the parish for about six years.

The 1881 railway line construction raised the number of clients using the local public houses, especially the Greyhound and the Oak Beer House, both in Street Lane only a short walk from the encampments at Lywood and Berry. Although there was a railway provision shop at Berry its not inconceivable that fresh groceries would be obtained from the local farmers and villagers.

Local traffic would be impeded whilst bridges were built especially at Copyhold, Avins and at rights of way to farms. The new railway line through the village brought some prosperity to the parish with easier access to markets especially at Haywards Heath and East Grinstead. The station was well used by the newly established St. Saviour’s College and the new hotel opposite the station.

The railway construction reduced the rates on various properties in the parish according to the vestry minutes of 1879.(27)

Apart from the heavy waggons used to bring supplies to the railway construction causing excessive wear and tear to the Turnpikes at a vestry meeting of the 4th February 1883 estimates were requested for the widening of the road down to the station from the village to 25 or 30 feet, but this was never agreed. (the widening did not take place until after the Second World war).

The 1891 census does reveal some extra employment in Ardingly by the railway:- a ganger, a bricklayer, three platelayers, a stationmaster, a porter and a tracklayer. Mary Holgate(28) wrote “when the Rev. James Bowden was rector of Ardingly 1875-1911, he was a great benefactor to the church and parish. The building of the north aisle and Vestry in 1887 was needed on account of the increase in population on which the opening of the line from Haywards Heath to Horsted Keynes in 1883 had some influence.”

The 1881 railway from Haywards Heath through Ardingly to Horsted Keynes became a turning point in putting Ardingly on the railway map of the South East.

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  1. J.T. Howard Turner. The London to Brighton & South Coast Railway Vol 1; p71 Batsford.
  2. Klaus Marx. draft notes on the history of the Blue Bell Railway sent to me 19-2-97.
  3. 1841 census W.S.R.O.
  4. Church chest
  5. J.T. Howard Turner; The L.B.S.C.R. vol..3. Batsford 1979. pp36, 141 and 152.
  6. Ardingly Tithe Map. 1841. Church Chest
  7. Klaus Marx. Recession in the 1860’s The abortive Ouse Valley Line of the L.B.S.C,R. from Railway World. Aug. 1969 pp.358-361.
  8. Sussex Advertiser May 21st 1866.
  9. Sussex Advertiser 7th July 1866.
  10. 1910 O.S. map XXV 12
  11. 1910 O.S. map XV 13
  12. 1910 O.S. map XX 15
  13. Hussey’s Churches of Kent & Sussex p183.
  14. Sussex Advertiser. 13th Feb 1867
  15. Sussex Advertiser 8th April 1867.
  16. Sussex Advertiser 22nd July 1869.
  17. Wyn Ford & A. Gabe; The Metropolis of Mid Sussex. Charles Clarke 1981. p.26.
  18. Andre Palfrey-Martin. Railways in Sussex C.C.E. Lecture. Sussex University 7th November 1998.
  19. Sussex Advertiser 25 December 1866
  20. Terry Coleman Navvies ibid.
  21. Census. W.S.R.O.
  22. Terry Coleman; The Railway Navvies. Pelican 1968 p85.
  23. Vestry Minutes of Ardingly. Transcribed by Clive Izard Parish Council 1997.
  24. Klaus Max. Archivist Blue Bell Railway; written notes to me 21st Feb. 1997. (He did not note his sources)
  25. Census W.S.R.O.
  26. Vestry minutes Ardingly. ibid
  27. Mary Holgate. From Generation in Generation 1925 p.62.