NOSTALGIA: Anniversary of Sussex steam age rail disaster approaches

Clayton Tunnel in the age of steam
Clayton Tunnel in the age of steam

Next week will be the 155th anniversary of one of the worst disasters in Sussex which left nearly 200 people injured or dead, writes Robert Stevens.

The tragedy inspired one of the county’s most famous ghost stories ... and was met by one Eastbourne Victorian writer with indignation.

Clayton Tunnel, nearly 2,200 yards long and 270ft underground, took three years labour by six thousand men to build. It was the scene of an horrific rail crash in 1861 - on Sunday, August 25.

Three trains which had just left Brighton in quick succession and all travelling north on the same line collided, killing 23 people. Many of the victims were in the last carriage and were killed by boiling water and steam as one of the engines shattered in the collision.

The tunnel is still regarded as being haunted by the dead and the 176 injured that day. There are still supposed to be the moans and screams of those trapped in the wreckage echoing in the darkness, sometimes also the sound of crashing metal and buckling carriages being replayed over again.

It’s said this disaster led to Charles Dickens writing his famous ghost story The Signalman. In the meantime another writer, Eastbourne’s George Chambers who penned the book ‘Eastbourne Memories 1845 – 1901’, was more indignant at people daring to travel on a Sunday.

It put a stopper on Sabbath-breaking excursions for a long time.

The next time you are on a train and plunge into the darkness of Clayton Tunnel remember those who never emerged into daylight again ...


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