Porter’s wet coat almost destroyed Bognor railway station

The aftermath of the fire at BognorsStation on September29,  1899.
The aftermath of the fire at BognorsStation on September29, 1899.

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It was a disastrous move when a porter at Bognor railway station decided to dry his coat on a stove.

The resulting fire almost razed the station the photograph (below, right) from 1899 shows.

On August 4, 1920 the 1.10pm train from Ford Junction failed to stop in the conventional manner

On August 4, 1920 the 1.10pm train from Ford Junction failed to stop in the conventional manner

This tale and other fascinating and sometimes downright dramatic anecdotes will be shared by West Sussex County Council archivist and train buff Bill Gage during a talk and film called Tales from the Rails – Stories From The Days of Steam.

It will take place at West Sussex Record Office, Chichester, on Tuesday, October 27 at 7pm.

Bill says: ‘Tales from the Rails is not a technical talk for dedicated steam buffs, but for anyone interested in local history as the stories relate to social history using the railway theme as a platform – if you’ll excuse the pun.’

Other stories will include:

n The train which hit the buffers at Littlehampton in 1920 – and kept on going. With no health and safety in those days curious bystanders were able to get up close to the crashed loco.

n The famous 80mph dash through West Sussex of Queen Victoria’s funeral train, which was pulled by the locomotive Empress.

n The Selsey Tram was often late because of derailments and there are a lot of tales to relate about it. This includes one incident before the First World War when 400 passengers squeezed on to the last train from Selsey.

n Two years before Bognor station burned down, it was battered by gale force winds in 1897.

n The royal train pulled into the former station at Singleton, near Chichester, in 1906. It was carrying King Edward VII on a visit to West Dean House.

n In 1951 a train plunged into a 30ft gully. This incident resulted in the end of freight services from Chichester to Midhurst.

Also included in the presentation will be film footage of the Horsham-Guildford line together with a display celebrating its opening 150 years ago.

During 46 years working for the record office, Bill has arranged three major exhibitions, co-authored a book entitled Going off the Rails, given countless talks, and even arranged a tour of the old trackbed of the Selsey Tram which attracted 70 people.

Tickets (advance booking essential) for the talk cost £7.50.

They include light refreshments and are available from the West Sussex Record Office, 3 Orchard Street, Chichester, PO19 1DD, 01243 753602.