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A Day Out ..... Fifties Style

by John Lumley

Back in the late nineteen-fifties and early sixties, before the advent of leisure travel by motor car, many South London suburban families enjoyed a Sunday out at Brighton . Extra trains were run during the summer months offering additional money to those crews who wanted to work a down service, book off, spend the afternoon in Brighton, then book on again for an evening up train back to London . This was a favourite, my father was a guard and we often arranged to work together, collecting my mother and sister at Norwood Junction on the down journey, we would book off at Brighton, take the trolleybus to Hollingbury where my grandfather and two of my father's sisters lived, enjoy a Sunday roast, then spend a leisurely afternoon well away from those who flocked to the beach. After tea we would return to Brighton station, book on again and bring a train back to London . One turn we had was to collect a prepared 12-Sub formation from Streatham Hill Sidings to form the 10.41 from Streatham Hill for West Norwood, Gipsy Hill, Crystal Palace, Norwood Junction, East Croydon, Purley and then non-stop to Brighton, arriving just before noon. The return working varied but was usually the 21.16 departure for East Croydon, Clapham Junction and Victoria , then empty to Streatham Hill Depot arriving between 23.00 and midnight.

In those days it was possible from East Croydon to book either a Day Excursion ticket, costing 7/6, or a Half Day Excursion ticket, costing 5/-. The Day Excursion allowed travel at any time but the cheaper ticket was restricted to travelling outwards on any train departing after 11.00. The scene outside East Croydon from about 10.00 was a very long queue which, as the people gathered, eventually stretched past the Post Office and well down Cherry Orchard Road . Half Day tickets would not be sold until just before the allotted time and as 11.00 approached there was an almighty rush through the booking hall and down the ramp to Platform 2 for the 10.41 from Streatham Hill, booked to leave at 11.02.

Having left Streatham Hill with the train we called at stations to Norwood Junction where we would alight and make sure that the intermediate driving cabs and brake vans were securely locked with all windows firmly closed to avoid intruders. Running in to East Croydon was a sight to behold. Platform 2 was a sea of people, four or five deep, all intent on making the most of their day trip. As soon as we stopped there was a scrimmage for the seats with those not quick enough content to stand. Even the luggage racks were awash with buckets, spades and a fair quota of the smaller children! Our station stop was often exceeded by several minutes while all those who could squeezed themselves in, but we eventually got away.

In those days the stock provided could vary quite considerably as there were still a large number of pre-War Sub units in service and it was not uncommon to have a mixture of new and old. If the leading unit was of the older variety it was very noticeable on leaving East Croydon with a full load, that the front car would be well down on its springs and that its riding qualities suffered accordingly, however nobody seemed to mind.

The Purley stop on this service was at the Down Main platform which would only hold 8-cars, so we would have to ‘pull-up'. Our procedure for this was that having got the right away green flag signal, the train would be started, then be stopped by the guard applying his van brake when the ‘last four' were in the platform. After that we were scheduled to run non-stop on the Down Through via the Quarry Line all the way to Brighton . Even with the older units a good speed could be maintained with clear signals and our arrival was usually on time, just a few minutes before the 11.00 Brighton Belle service from Victoria .

Here we would leave our train to be taken by another crew to Preston Park . It would then be brought back on to the Down Local line which was temporarily closed to normal traffic and treated as a siding, along which the excursion sets would work under the permissive block system to be berthed one after the other ready for bringing back into Brighton later in the day to form their return services.

From early evening the crowds would begin to return to Brighton station on their way home and the queues formed earlier in the day at East Croydon would be more than surpassed by those formed outside Brighton station which stretched, at their height, up and down each side of several small side streets in the surrounding area.

As each train was brought into the station, ticket inspectors and police would carefully count off and admit the number of passengers roughly equivalent to the number of seats available – about 750 per 8-car train, the train would fill and be despatched when ready. Ours was the 21.16 (or earlier if full!) for East Croydon, Clapham Junction and Victoria (headcode 6) and an 8-Sub would already be in its allotted platform when we arrived after booking on. The return trip usually went without incident as everyone was tired after an exhausting day at the seaside!

However, all did not always go according to plan. On one memorable occasion the over-full 10.41 down service was brought to a stand by adverse signals in the platform at the closed Gatwick Racecourse station. The signalman told me via the signal telephone that the motorman of an earlier service had reported a problem in Balcombe Tunnel and that a broken rail had subsequently been discovered as the cause. The Down Line was now closed south of Three Bridges and we were told to await further instructions. Trains were by now stopped at each signal on both the Down Local and Down Through lines and quite a queue was building up. When we were stopped our passengers, having been squeezed into their compartments, had spilled forth on to the platform which soon became quite crowded. I recall a reflection that there probably hadn't been so many bodies on this platform since the last Race Day at Gatwick a number of years before!

Eventually we got a yellow aspect on the signal, and having spent some time repacking all the people back into the train, we were able to proceed as far as the next one. Again I recall wondering if the passengers on the Brighton Belle, which was now immediately behind us, also got off to stretch their legs on the Racecourse!

Eventually we were allowed into the platform at Three Bridges where a traffic inspector was in attendance in an effort to regulate the service and bring some sort of order. “You are”, I was told “going via Horsham to Ford to reverse, then along the Coastway line to Hove and, as you're 12-cars to Preston Park to reverse again, and so to Brighton ”. All very well, but at the time I had no route knowledge of the line beyond Horsham. A quick chat with my father, (who, being the guard, was of course in charge of the train), and I was told “You go, I'll follow! Don't turn left or right at Christ's Hospital or you'll lose the juice, and when you see Arundel Castle , we'll be nearly at Ford!” He later admitted to me that he likewise, had no route knowledge beyond Horsham, but said we couldn't disappoint those who'd paid! So we duly set off through Crawley to Horsham and, driving carefully, eventually arrived at Ford where we changed ends before proceeding eastbound off a dummy signal, through a clipped and padlocked trailing crossover back to Arundel Junction then right, towards Worthing and Hove to the Up Loop at Preston Park. Any enthusiast out that day with a camera could have got some rare pictures of Sub stock eastbound on the Coastway Line, including pre-War unit 4319 unusually carrying a number headcode ‘41', the stencil being borrowed from 4743 which was the middle unit of the 12-cars.

We reached Preston Park somewhat later than booked – nearly 13.30 in fact and by the time we had changed ends again, arrival in Brighton was nearer 14.00 than the originally predicted 12.00. Most of the passengers seemed quite happy that we had got them there and considered that they had been given a good ride for their five bob fares!

By the evening all had been put right and we had an uneventful journey home.