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The train now standing at Bishopstone Beach . . .

MANY people who have visited the old village of Tide Mills between Newhaven and Seaford will have seen the platforms of the former railway station just north of the level crossing.

The railway line between Lewes and Newhaven opened in 1847 and the branch line was extended to Seaford on June 1, 1864. At this time the Tide Mills were in full use and a small station called Bishopstone Beach was opened to cater for the residents and workers at the mills; some 60 people in all. The station had just one platform on the south side of the line but there was also a signal box from where the station master would control the level crossing, the sidings and a branch line which ran along to the mill buildings. The raised bed of this single track siding can just be seen from the train running across a field towards the Mill Creek where it then ran up the centre of the road.

The mill stopped grinding in 1883, the same year that the windmill was blown down in a storm. However, several of the store buildings were leased by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway who used them as bonded warehouses. In 1900 the company withdrew from the site, the railway lines being lifted from the street the following year although the branch line across the field was still in place until the 1920s.

In 1904 the line between Newhaven Harbour and Seaford was doubled and a further platform was added. A photograph held at Seaford Museum shows that at this time there appeared to be three members of railway staff working at the station, one on each platform and a signalman.

The signal box and sidings were removed in 1922 and in August of that year the station was renamed Bishopstone Halt. Due to an increase in housing in the Hawth Hill area a new station about half a mile further east, was opened on September 26, 1938. The old station was closed the same day but reopened again in Easter the following year. It was then renamed again and became Bishopstone Beach Halt, mainly for holiday passengers during the summer months.

Some railway workers continued to live in the old mill buildings but the last residents of Tide Mills village were evacuated in 1940 and, as it was thought that the buildings could be of use to invading troops, they were knocked down and the station finally closed on the last day of 1941.

The new station, closer to Seaford, was built in the modern Art-Deco style of the time and, in preparation for the possible invasion by the Germans, a unique pill-box was built on to the roof with gun-slits giving 360 degree coverage. And the enemy certainly did give the area some attention; on July 3, 1940 a train (the 1737hrs from Seaford) was machine-gunned between Bishopstone Station and Tide Mills. The driver, Charles Pattenden was killed but the passengers ducked down and tried to hide under the seats. The aircraft then dropped six bombs nearby which shattered the windows of the carriages and injured several passengers. One of them was a Mrs Terrell of Newhaven who said afterwards, 'It happened so quickly. All the windows were smashed and we had lots of splinters of glass in our hair. My son (Ronald - a babe in arms] had a cut near one eye and the back of my coat was marked as if it had been scorched.'

Surprisingly, although the station at Tide Mills closed in 1941 this was not the last time it saw passenger use. In August 1970 Newhaven Historic Society arranged for a hundred of its members to visit the station thanks to Mr Clasby who was then the station master for Newhaven and Seaford. They were met by Stan Tubbs and Ted Davies who had been born in the village of Tide Mills and who gave the party a guided tour of the ruins.

Today, Tide Mills village is still worth a visit. Young offenders have been doing important work to clear the overgrowth back to reveal the foundations of many of the old buildings. Information boards describe the work of the Tide Mills and explain about the other uses the site has had, including that of seaplane base and children's hospital. Last year, Lewes District Council improved nearby parking facilities. Both Seaford and Newhaven museums have information and old pictures of the area but, if you do find the time to visit the site in person, you will no longer be able to be dropped off at Bishopstone Beach Station.

KEVIN GORDON

 
 
 

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