The history of Southern Bell's Two Railway Carriages
We have been very lucky to be given some fascinating information about the carriages by some of the greatest carriage experts and enthusiasts in the country.
Firstly, we met some great people in the Carriage Works at the "Bluebell Railway" in East Sussex. The Bluebell Railway is a full gauge steam railway and has a fantastic collection of locomotives and carriages. It’s a great day out, about 90 minutes’ drive from Southern Bell. We had been encouraged to go by seeing a carriage "like ours" on the Christmas 2014 edition of the TV programme “Downtown Abbey” and finding out this was where it was filmed – the “Downton” station is actually the Horsted Keynes station on the Bluebell Railway. Horsted Keynes is also the home of their award-winning Carriage and Wagon department. This is where all the carriage restoration takes place and you can visit the carriage works viewing gallery and display which is accessible from platform 5.
When we visited the carriage works, the team of volunteers showed us some carriages they were restoring, and some other carriages waiting for restoration that they thought may be like ours. They took great interest in the photos we showed them of Southern Bell on our phone and told us about a reference book that has just been published focused on carriages similar to ours – “LB&SCR Carriages Volume 1: Four- and Six-wheeled Ordinary Passenger Stock” by Ian White, Simon Turner and Sheina Foulkes. We happily purchased the book from the Bluebell Railway gift shop (so it’s available for you to look at in the First Class carriage at Southern Bell) and they put us in touch with some of the authors, who subsequently features some photographs of Southern Bell in Volume 2.
We are very proud to say the window featured on page 25 of Volume 1 is actually from Southern Bell. (The commentary had a mix-up between the R Silbury photograph and the image (photo 2.10) in the book.) As you will notice, the window is a match with the one in the entrance hall at Southern Bell and came from elsewhere in the carriage.
The window was kindly donated to the Bluebell Railway by the previous owners of the house, Mr & Mrs Caudle.
One reason that the window in the entrance hallway was frosted is due to it originally being part of the luggage compartment and (brace yourself) the other ornate window which you can see inside the larder cupboard in the corner of the living room was the First class toilet! It's probably best not to think of that when you are storing your cornflakes in there. But then, the laundry cupboard was the servant's toilet!
Below is a plan showing how the First class carriage would have been laid out when it was still in active service, with the main family saloon seating 10 passengers, with their 3 servants sitting in a separate compartment (where the coat hooks and bench are in the entrance hallway at Southern Bell), next to the luggage store.
How did the carriages come to be here in the first place?
If you speak to some of the older locals as they come by on the promenade, they will tell you how the whole seafront used to have railway carriages all the way along as recently as the 1970s. We understand it became practice in the years following the First World War to buy carriages which were being scrapped due to the decline in Britain's railway industry, and use them as housing, particularly along the coast.
From what we understand, as the carriages were retired - mainly in the 1920s, they found their way to Lancing where the metal was removed for scrap, following which the wooden carriages were set aside to be burned. If someone wanted them, they could be purchased for around £5, with another £5 delivery charge.
As you can see, Southern Bell's First Class carriage escaped the indignity of having her metal removed, although we fully expect the bogies - or "running gear" of the carriage - to have been scrapped.
From local records, we believe that there were many carriages placed along the beach from Eastoke Corner during the 1920’s and 30's. The following is a brief extract from a summary of this area compiled by Havant Borough Council in 2007:
First mentioned in 956AD, the Manor of Eastoke is also mentioned in Domesday, at which time it was owned by the monks of Troarn Abbey in Normandy, and supported five families. A detailed map of 1834 shows that the Eastoke peninsula was still almost an island at this date, with the shingle of the south beach extending to meet the creek to the north, with the only habitation being Eastoke Farm, and an adjacent cottage. With no road shown between the farm and South Hayling until the early 20th century, access to the farm appears to have been via the sea at the harbour mouth to the east. The farmland was primarily used for sheep until WW2, though the Eastoke salterns at the north-east corner of the LCA were operational from at least the mid-18th century until the 1870's. It was not until the 1920's and 30's that development began on the peninsula, and it was joined by road to the rest of the island. The entire south sea front was quickly developed, with the southern half of the peninsula largely developed by 1938, including the modernist 'Sandy Beach Estate'. After WW2, development sites could be bought for as little as £1, and this led to the development of a shanty town of old caravans and converted railway carriages for weekend and holiday use. Further built development of the area took place during the 1960's, and by 1975 it was almost totally built up. Some of the early residential development is of a special character and interest, eg the Sandy Beach Estate.
Gradually over time, most of the carriages have been removed and flats/houses built in their place. We think part of the reason for this was a requirement, evidenced by some old deeds we’ve found from 1928, that land owners must “build a house worth at least six hundred pounds” with a fence around it “capable of withstanding cattle”. As far as we know, Southern Bell is the last example of carriages still on the coastline in Hayling Island. In the case of Southern Bell, the owners decided to build the house around the carriages, rather than removing them, and we are very glad they did!
So, to the carriages themselves.
Firstly, the carriage on the eastern side was one of twelve third-class coaches built for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) and nicknamed "Camel Backs" because of the raised roof section in the middle compartment. That compartment was the Brake Van and was where the guard would stand, looking out of those high windows in the roof section to observe signals and spot hills where he would need to apply the brake to help slow the descent of the train. These twelve carriages were built specifically to provide through traffic to the Great Northern Railway.
All were built in 1874, giving us an amazingly-accurate date for the carriage and, for reasons that we will come to later, we are sure this was specifically carriage number 304, later (after 1899) it was re-numbered 3258, and finally withdrawn from service after 1919.
The First Class carriage is actually a first class "family saloon", built in 1903. It is numbered 7965B. We are told this would have been the final number allocated to the coach by the Southern Railway, which came into existence in 1923 when the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBSCR), South East & Chatham Railway (SECR) and London & South Western Railway (LSWR) were grouped together. Before then, it was No.11, described in the upcoming volume 2 of LB&SCR Carriages as follows:
D94. Clerestory Saloon. This design was clearly based on that of the bogie Royal train carriages of 1897/8. In October 1902 the list of proposed stock to be built on revenue included “2 First class family saloons, 6 wheels” [BM 1.x.02]. They went ahead and built four in the first half of 1903, two of which were initially allocated Nos 1 and 2, but they were given numbers 579 and 580; the second pair were given Nos 10 and 11.
When built they carried the then brand new “umber and white” livery (Volume 1, Plates 2.9, 2.10). By 1908 they all had vacuum braking and chain communication for working on foreign lines, and at that date their allocations were: No.10 London Bridge; 11 Victoria; 579 Brighton; 580 Victoria [WTT 08]. Their considerable height did make for some restrictions and in the 1916 saloon list, it was noted they could not work over the Metropolitan Company’s lines [TF16]. In 1922 Nos 10 and 579 became Third Nos 301 and 303 [RSR]. Old No.10 became the Locomotive Foreman’s office at Bognor (Photo D94) and the others were withdrawn in 1925.
Going back to the third class carriage, it is the fact we know that the First class carriage was withdrawn in 1925 that makes us believe the third-class carriage was most probably the last carriage to be withdrawn from service of the twelve “Camel Backs” built, as the others were withdrawn significantly earlier, and it makes sense the two carriages were acquired around the same time from Lancing.
And so, about that name "Southern Bell"...
We re-named the house when finishing the work we did in 2014. Previously, the house had the name "Pebble Ridge" but we wanted to pay homage to her railway past (as well as bring her "into the family" - our home is called Old Bell Cottage and we rented part of “Old Bell” through English Country Cottages for seven very happy years in East Meon, exactly 19 miles away, and we have a holiday flat next door in Hayling which has become affectionately known as “Sea Bell”).
So we chose “Southern Bell” to also relive the glory days of the "Southern Belle" train of the LBSCR. The "Southern Belle" was an all first-class train and the fastest steam train of its time, making the journey from London to Brighton in an hour. The Sothern Belle operated under the slogan "The Most Luxurious Train in the World!"...so it seemed appropriate, especially as you can't really get much more South than Hayling Beach!
The "Southern Belle" train was introduced in 1908 and at that time could be experienced for a special London Victoria to Brighton day return fare of 12 shillings, a premium rate at a time when average earnings were around £1 a week. The Southern Belle was steam hauled until 1 January 1933, when electric units were introduced. On 29 June 1934, the Mayor of Brighton, Miss M. Hardy, renamed the train the Brighton Belle, and it retained this title until withdrawal.
If you have any other insights into the history of the carriages or the house, we would love you to share them with us!