Railway plans steam ahead

Bluebell Railway
Bluebell Railway
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The Bluebell Railway and Hastings Museum and Art Gallery are among 108 organisations in England to have been successful in the latest round of the Arts Council’s Museums Resilience fund, receiving more than £17.5 million.

The railway receives £84,150, enabling one of its vintage railway carriages to become a place where visitors, particularly children and young people, can learn more about the railway’s history in a fun environment.

The Museum Resilience Fund aims to help museums become more sustainable and resilient businesses. The programme complements the Arts Council’s investment in major museums, and will focus on any gaps or development opportunities recognising that excellence and the potential for excellence can be found in museums of all sizes.

The Bluebell Railway re-opened in 1960, preserving a five-mile stretch of the former Lewes to East Grinstead line between Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes. Until 1963, electric trains from Haywards Heath still linked with the Bluebell at Horsted Keynes on the branch line via Ardingly.

In the first decade of the Bluebell’s existence, operating the railway and the purchase of the freehold of the existing line were the priorities. It was only in 1974, when the site of the demolished West Hoathly station came up for sale the first steps towards an extension northwards were taken. These culminated in a public enquiry, and the Secretaries of State for the Environment and Transport finally gave planning permission and a Light Railway Order for an extension to East Grinstead in 1985.

The first mile north from Horsted Keynes opened in 1990, followed two years later by the stretch through Sharpthorne Tunnel to the former West Hoathly Station site. There then followed a period of consolidation before the final push to East Grinstead.

Stations are atmospheric repositories of railway memorabilia and stations have all served as locations for period films and TV drama.

The Hastings Museum and Art Gallery will receive £33,000.