While researching Edwardian history for my novel, The Last Days of Leda Grey, I came across some photographs of an old electric railway. For quite a long time I was going to use those details in the novel's plot, though eventually it turned out to be one of the elements I cut. Still, I think it's a story that should be shared, not least because Volk's Railway still runs on the Brighton seafront today ~ and hopefully will for many years.
Magnus Volk was born on October 19, in the year of 1851. The son of a German clock-maker he was born and raised in Brighton, growing up to make his name as an electrical engineer. He was, as a small aside here, the very first person in Brighton to install electric lights at home. But today, he is most widely known for Volk’s Electric Railway, first opened in 1883 and running along the Brighton front ~ from Black Rock to what was then Chain Pier.
Powered by an electric dynamo (problems could occur when the sea sprayed up and the railway lines became too wet) this narrow gauge seafront railway soon became a popular tourist attraction.
Sadly, the original passenger car ~ which carried up to twelve passengers, had mahogany sides and blue velvet curtains ~ was eventually scrapped, with the damp and the salt in the atmosphere only adding to the general wear and tear.
The boarding stations changed as well, with the latest constructed in 1998. And at times the railway line has closed - either due to adverse weather conditions, to the building of groynes upon the beach, the construction of the Black Rock Lido, or during the time of World War II when much of the sea front was damaged.
But Volk's old railway carries on. And, more recently, in 2014, the line received a heritage grant which hopefully will now provide the costs of creating a new ticket centre set in the town Aquarium. It will also help with all the work to restore the damaged cars, and the creation of educational material regarding the railway’s history.
In the meantime, for more detailed information and current news about the line, please do take a look at the excellent website: VERA (Volk’s Electric Railway Association).