Kemp Town Station

A long thin park running behind the gardens on the west side of Bonchurch Road and a giant gated hole in the chalk face at the back of Keepsafe Storage’s car park behind the bingo hall on Eastern Road were the clues that led me to the old Kemp Town railway line. The two independent clues turned out to be connected (literally) being the two entry points for a rather fascinating disused nearly 1km long rail tunnel running from Kemp Town to Elm Grove.

Work commenced on the expensive but short Kemp Town line in 1866. Opened in 1869, it was built by the company behind the London-Brighton line to block rivals building a London-Kemp Town line. Trains ran from Kemp Town Station, through the tunnel, behind Bonchurch Road, on a viaduct over Lewes Road, and then along the Lewes-Brighton track to Brighton Station. The station building was a similar design to that of Hove Station. It closed to passengers in 1933 after trade had dwindled but handled goods such as coal until 1971. At this time, various proposals were put forward for alternative uses such as turning the station into a railway museum.

The decision to demolish the Victorian station and put the site to industrial use was an awful one and has even made 7th place on Dr Anthony Seldon’s top ten architectural mistakes of the city (Brighton Centre/Kingswest made 1st). An industrial estate is simply not good use of city centre land. The site is now part grotesque Freshfield Industrial Estate, part bingo hall car park, and vans are stored along the length of the passageway. The line was grassed over behind Bonchurch Road to make a public park and the viaduct over Lewes Road was dismantled in sections.

The photograph shows the opening in the storage centre car park to the tunnel. History is quickly forgotten and I would imagine that many of the residents living above the passageway are blissfully unaware of what lies below, which is just as well I suppose. A model train emerging from a mock tunnel on the nearby Gala bingo hall serves as a sad reminder of what once was.