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The “Daddy Long Legs“ of Brighton – А unique and unusual railway that existed between 1896 and 1901

David Goran

The Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway was a costal railway in Brighton, England that ran through the shallow coastal waters of the English Channel between 1896 and 1901.

Magnus Volk, its owner, designer, and engineer, had already been successful with the more conventional Volk’s Electric Railway, which had then not been extended east of Paston Place. Facing unfavourable terrain, Volk decided to construct a line through the surf from a pier at Paston Place to one at Rottingdean. This was also home to Volk’s Seaplane Station, which was used by his son George Herbert Volk.

The carriages were carried about 23 ft above the rail level. source

The carriages were carried about 23 ft above the rail level. source

Construction of the line started in June 1894 and took two years from 1894 to 1896. The railway itself consisted of two parallel 2 ft 8 1⁄2 in (825 mm) gauge tracks, billed as 18 ft (5.5 m) gauge, the measurement between the outermost rails.

Pioneer on the 18 ft (5.5 m) gauge railway. source

Pioneer on the 18 ft (5.5 m) gauge railway. source

The tracks were laid on concrete sleepers mortised into the bedrock.The single car used on the railway was a 45 by 22 ft (13.7 by 6.7 m) pier-like building supported on four braced tubular legs each 23ft (7.0m) long. The car weighed 45 long tons (50 short tons; 46 t). Propulsion was by an electric motor.

The tram was a curious invention with an elliptical deck 45ft long by 22ft wide. source

The tram was a curious invention with an elliptical deck 45ft long by 22ft wide. source

The railway officially opened 28 November 1896, but was nearly destroyed by a storm on the night of 4 December. Volk immediately set to rebuilding the railway including the Pioneer, which had been knocked on its side, and it reopened in July 1897.

It was officially named Pioneer, but many called it “Daddy Long-Legs“. The car was provided with lifeboats and other safety measures and was operated by a trained sea captain. Starting from a point about 100 yards out from Madeira Drive at Banjo Groyne, the railway maintained a distance of 60-100 yards from the shore all the way to Rottingdean, some 2.8 miles (4½ km) to the east.

Starting from a point about 100 yards out from Madeira Drive at Banjo Groyne, the railway maintained a distance of 60-100 yards. source

Starting from a point about 100 yards out from Madeira Drive at Banjo Groyne, the railway maintained a distance of 60-100 yards. source

The “Daddy Long-Legs“ was popular but faced difficulties. The car slowed considerably at high tide, but Volk could never afford to improve the motors. In 1900, groynes built near the railway were found to have led to underwater scouring under the sleepers and the railway was closed for two months while this was repaired. Immediately afterward, the council decided to build a beach protection barrier, which unfortunately required Volk to divert his line around the barrier. Without funds to do so, he closed the railway.

In 1901, the right-of-way was broken up for the construction of the barrier. One further attempt was made to raise money for a conventional over-water viaduct along roughly the same route.

Volk’s prototype model of Pioneer, in the Brighton Toy and Model Museum. source

Volk’s prototype model of Pioneer, in the Brighton Toy and Model Museum. source

The track, car and other structures were sold for scrap, but some of the concrete sleepers can still be viewed at low tide. Eventually, Volk’s Electric Railway was extended onshore, covering a portion of the same distance; it remains in operation.

A model of the railway car is on display (along with a poster for the railway) in the foyer of the Brighton Toy and Model Museum.