Tracing the Rails – A Documentary.
Few residents of Shoreham Bramber, Beeding, or Steyning are unaware that a railway line that once traversed their area, evident from the old line’s path alongside the river or the surviving platforms at West Grinstead. There is a certain warm nostalgia for the romantic era of steam trains, which once chugged up the Adur valley, which is a powerful force, especially in creating TV shows.
This is the inspiration behind Upper Beeding residents Chris Kirk and Lou Partridge’s decision to research and create a new documentary series about our beloved “Steyning Line.” This railway once connected Shoreham-by-Sea to Horsham, serving six main stations: Bramber, Steyning, Henfield, Partridge Green, West Grinstead, and Southwater. Sadly, it fell victim to the Beeching cuts in 1966, with only the southern part of the line surviving a little longer to serve the cement works in Upper Beeding.
Director Chris, a seasoned filmmaker, and Producer Lou a local artist, have unearthed a treasure trove of information about the old line. Railways have always captivated interest, and thankfully, numerous images of the old trains, buildings, rails, and personnel survive.
“We’re both intrigued by our local history and heritage,” says Chris. “For a long time, we’ve walked and cycled along parts of the old line, now part of the Downs Link.”
“Identifying surviving elements of the old railway sparked our curiosity, and we thought others might share this interest,” Louise adds.
Chris reached out to his long-term friend, radio, and TV broadcaster Stephen Cranford from nearby Worthing, to see if he’d be interested in presenting the series. Stephen’s enthusiasm was immediate commenting “I bit his hand off! I have always adored railways, so to get a job where I’m presenting on a subject, I’m passionate about was a dream come true!”
Joining him is transport historian Mike Jaimes, presenting historic segments on railway operations during the Steyning Line’s heyday.
Thus, “Tracing the Rails” was born. This documentary series will methodically follow the old line from Shoreham to Christ’s Hospital, akin to “Time Team.” Stephen and the team will traverse the paths, uncovering remnants of the line’s past by looking at and exampling what presently remains.
Collaboration with our very own Steyning Museum and the neighbouring Henfield Museum has helped stitch together accounts from the time. The production team connecting people from different local groups to share their knowledge. “We are very excited to be filming the proper episodes and releasing them early this year”.
“There are quite a few surprises,” reveals Stephen. “For instance, there’s still track at West Grinstead, hidden in the undergrowth, and the original brick railway bridge at Henfield is buried under tonnes of soil! They never demolished it; they just covered it up!” Chris said “if you cross the road at Bramber by the roundabout and walk a little way along the Downslink footpath, you can see a garden shed in the grounds to the left of you. On the shed is the word “Bramber” which is made from the original lettering that was found buried when they bulldozed the old station. The new landowners recovered all the letters except for the A and recreated the sign!”
The pilot episode which has already premiered on YouTube, “showcases our vision,” explains Louise, “blending and mixing current scenes with meticulously restored photos from the past. Also, thanks to Chris’s special effects expertise, really illustrates the differences between then and now”.
As well as blending archive material with current day views, drone footage gives you a unique bird’s eye view of the stunning landscape we all call home.
“The special teaser episode of Tracing the Rails has soared to over thirty thousand viewings in just a few weeks” says a delighted Chris, “and we have thousands of subscribers who are hungry to see more.” The numbers are going up daily, too!
Chris expresses his gratitude: “Thank you to everyone who shared their photos, films, and memories.”
Yet, the team are still welcoming contributions. “Tracing the Rails” is more than a documentary; it’s a living history project, revitalising memories for future generations. The community’s involvement has been the most pleasant surprise and continues to be a big part of the show. We have lots of things for Steyning, now we need for the other stations too, especially Shoreham, Bramber, Southwater and Christs Hospital.
If you have materials or memories of the Steyning Line to share, please contact the team at email@example.com, or visit www.tracingtherails.com for a sneak preview.
“Tracing the Rails” is a 6-part series, set for release in 2024 on YouTube. Its growing popularity might even catch a TV channel’s interest, as Louise optimistically notes, “Who knows where this might take us. Sharing our railway heritage with a broader audience would be wonderful. There have been so many positive comments already”.