Beeching’s Blunder

Later on tonight
With a beer to boot
We brothers meet
To plan a route

Another walking
Week in May
Just over twelve miles
For each day

Along where once
Steam engines sped
But Beeching in
his blunder shed

A footpath where
Once tracks they lay
Now known as
Downslink Bridleway

©Jemverse

Following a report written by Dr Richard Beeching in 1965, around 5000 miles and 2,363 stations of branchline railway in the UK were axed. A way of life ended and the lifeline to hundreds of villages was cut off forever. All in the name of progress. Now, over 40 years later, many of the axed line routes have since reopened as footpaths and bridleways. The Downslink is a 37 mile footpath and bridleway linking the North Downs Way in Surrey with the South Downs Way in Sussex. My brother and I plan to walk its length in chunks over a week in May. Fortunately there are many pubs along its route.

Railway Gardens

Beside the line at Shoreham
As “Railway Gardens” it is known
A copse of trees and bushes
Now sadly overgrown

Part of me wants to do something
Tidy all the weeds
Bring back with pride its ‘garden’ name
Sew some fresh new seeds

But Southern Railways, they don’t care
It’s just another strip of land
Beside a railway line in Shoreham
And they’ve nothing for it planned

Little known fact though is that once
For a signalman living there
This was his living pride and joy
Tended long with care

It’s saving grace is that come summer
His legacy then begun
Lives on as bushes spring to life
And flower still in the sun

©Jemverse

For many years, the main line at Shoreham-by Sea, was tended for by a signalman operating from a signal box standing proud on the north side of the line at the western end of platform 1. Across the road from the gates, opened and closed manually by hand every time a train passed through, was a small strip of land between the line and the west-facing Queens Place. Bordered on its southern side by a raised narrow pavement between two ancient flint-stone walls, this little strip of land was lovingly cultivated and tended by successive signalmen into a garden complete with footpath, flowering shrubbery and tree-screens hiding it from the stepped railway bank; a perfect haven for railway workers and public alike.

There’s not been a signalman ‘per se’ at Shoreham since the ‘Beeching’ branch line closures of the middle 1960s. The signalbox itself survived until 1988 but, like its demise, the ‘Railway Gardens’ have similarly fallen by the wayside as a forgotten relic of the past.

The gardens are still there though, accessed from behind a very overgrown mulberry bush at the western end. Although barely recognisable now, one can still make out the pathway in the brambles and weeds. And, in the spring, clumps of tulips and daffodils and crocuses show clearly its wended way back to the now blocked-off signalmen’s entrance at its eastern end. When summer comes it springs back to life providing a splash of colour as the hardy perennial flowering shrubs bounce back to life. But it really needs a human hand to bring it back to its former glory.

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