15 revealing pictures showing the Southern Railway experience 80 years ago

OK commuter: back in the 1920s Southern was a byword for train innovation and efficiency.

Paul O’Callaghan

Footage courtesy of Screen Archive South East

This slick production by amateur filmmaker Eric Sparks offers an impressive overview of the original Southern Railway, at a time when it operated the world’s largest electrified mainline railway system.

1. Established in 1923, Southern Railway was the smallest of the UK’s Big Four railway companies.

Southern Railway (1937)

2. At the time of filming, a third of its total route miles were electrified, making this the world’s most extensive power system.

Southern Railway (1937)

3. Southern was an amalgamation of several smaller companies, including the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, which operated from 1846 to 1922.

Southern Railway (1937)

4. Until May 1938, West Worthing was a terminal point on the electrified section, where trains were housed and cleaned.

Southern Railway (1937)

5. Passengers from London could change at West Worthing for motorised services to Bognor.

Southern Railway (1937)

6. The Brighton Belle, with its handsome brown and cream carriages, was the most famous train operated by Southern.

Southern Railway (1937)

7. Its luxurious coaches were produced by Pullman. Many of these were bought and restored by the Venice-Simplon Orient Express company in the 1980s.

Southern Railway (1937)

8. Southern’s London-Brighton service was the world’s first electrified intercity route.

Southern Railway (1937)

9. As the Brighton Belle speeds to London, its forerunner is left in the dust.

Southern Railway (1937)

10. This drive-through washer keeps the Southern fleet sparkling.

Southern Railway (1937)

11. This 225-lever, all-electric interlocking frame replaced seven mechanical signal cabins.

Southern Railway (1937)

12. Coloured lights track the progress of trains on this state-of-the-art map.

Southern Railway (1937)

13. On 6 February 1938, the first electrically powered train travelled into Littlehampton.

Southern Railway (1937)

14. And on 22 May 1938, the director captured footage of the first passenger-carrying electric train service to Bognor Regis.

Southern Railway (1937)

15. A daily fruit train ensures that produce picked at 11am can be on sale in a London market by 2.30pm.

Southern Railway (1937)

 

Footage courtesy of Screen Archive South East

The film and stills on this page are taken from Britain on Film, a digital archive of UK places that mean the world to you. 10,000 film and TV titles from 1895 to now will be digitised and can be watched for free on BFI Player.

Britain on Film is funded by the National Lottery funding and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

 

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Screen Archive South East is a public sector moving image archive serving the South East of England. The archive’s collections of magic lantern slides, films, videos and associated materials capture the many varied aspects of life, work and creativity from the early days of screen history to the present day and serve as a rich and invaluable historical resource.

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  • Britain on Film

    Britain on Film

    1,000s of films, beautifully preserved. 120 years of British life, unseen until now.

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