Friday, 11 April 2014

Innovative Brighton

Brighton is a vivacious city on the south coast of England and is known to people across the world.  It's reputation is racy and the city is often associated with dirty weekends, Mods and Rockers fighting on the seafront and the nudist beach - as well, of course, as the site of the Royal Pavilion and the illicit relationship between the Prince Regent and Mrs Fitzherbert.  What few people realise is that Brighton is also the home of the world's first electric public railway.

The son of a German clock-maker who had settled in Brighton, Magnus Volk was a leading electrical
The official opening in 1883.
engineer.  He set up the first telephone line in the city in 1879 and pioneered the early use of electricity.  He brought electricity to his own house in Dyke Road and soon had the Royal Pavilion illuminated in the same way.  In 1883 he obtained permission to construct an electric railway on Brighton seafront and the line was officially opened on 4th August that year.  Granted, it was only a quarter of a mile long, but it was still the world's first.  The town council refused permission for an extension westwards to the town boundary, but did agree to an extension to the east to bring its length to a little short of a mile.

In 1892, with the electric railway comfortably installed over its one mile length, Magnus was keen to extend as far as Rottingdean. To extend the existing railway three miles would entail either a steep climb to take it along the cliff top or a man-made viaduct along the unstable undercliff. Understandably he was not keen on either alternative so he turned his mind to building a completely new railway that would ‘travel through the sea’. A similar system was already in operation across St. Malo harbour in Brittany but this was pulled along the rails by chain rather than being self-propelled, and ran through sheltered water not the English Channel. Finance was raised, construction began, and the new "daddy long legs" railway opened in November 1894.

It ran for just 8 years, but the original Volk's Railway still operates, now along a longer stretch of the sea front from the Palace Pier to the marina at Black Rock.

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