A quirky local train that became known as the ‘noisiest and most rickety railway in England’ is the subject of a talk by veteran West Sussex County Record Office archivist Bill Gage.
The railway was the Selsey Tramway, although its official name was the Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramways Co. Ltd. It opened 120 years ago in August 1897, and ran from Chichester to the holiday resort of Selsey. Initially operated by vintage steam locomotives the line was essentially a light railway which local people referred to as ‘The Tram’.
Constructed without parliamentary order, it had no compulsory powers for purchasing land and hence made some inconvenient detours by skirting fields. In some places the track was laid on to the bare ground and the resulting rough ride earned the railway the nickname the Bumpity Bump. The seven mile line with its eleven stations or halts was built for the meagre sum of £21,000.
The Tram never ran on time; even the first train was an hour late departing with its official guests. Thereafter every other train was late as it was well known that the driver carried a shotgun on the footplate of the engine and would stop the train to go shooting rabbits for his Sunday dinner.
Trains ran according to local circumstances and nobody could be sure when the train would arrive at the other end of the line especially when cows strayed on to the railway and the tram was stopped whilst they were rounded up. Punctuality was further hindered as the Tram would stop anywhere to pick up local farmers who had the right to travel if the railway had passed over their land. Schoolchildren didn’t mind being late for school in Chichester but were not so happy if breakdowns occurred on the way home to Selsey.
Nevertheless the railway contributed to the development of the Selsey peninsular with the transportation of building materials, coal, agricultural products, shellfish and the famous Pullinger mousetraps that were manufactured at Selsey and exported all over the Empire.
Prior to the building of the railway heavier goods took most of the day to be transported by horse and cart on the meandering road between Selsey and Chichester.
At its peak the line carried 102,000 passengers a year as Selsey was rapidly becoming a popular seaside destination.
However, as with many other railways, passenger figures rapidly declined when bus services were introduced. As the line had been built at low cost its route was often out of the way whereas buses had the advantage of running to time and going where people wished to travel. Increasing use of lorries also witnessed the decline of freight traffic and lack of maintenance on the railway meant that breakdowns were frequent.
Railcars were introduced to save money but these proved to be noisy and uncomfortable for passengers. By 1935 the railway was in a rapid state of decline and with dwindling passenger figures the line was closed in January 1935.
Mr Gage said: “Yet even today the eccentric Selsey Tram is still remembered with affection, where a personal service to its passengers outweighed punctuality.”
The Illustrated Talk will be the last talk given by Mr Gage, who is retiring after working for West Sussex Record Office for 47 years.
There will also be a display of Selsey Tramway photographs at the Talk, as well as at Chichester and Selsey libraries from the end of September.
Illustrated Talk on the ‘Bumpity Bump’ on 31 October 2017 at 7pm at West Sussex Record Office, 3 Orchard St, Chichester, PO19 1DD. Tickets costing £8.00 (includes light refreshments) are available by telephoning 01243 753602.