Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Great Railway Stations Number 3: Eastbourne

It was the practice of Victorian railway companies to arrive at the coast with a bit of a flourish and Eastbourne was well favoured in this respect. The town may have a reputation for respectable mediocrity, deserved or otherwise and it certainly has none of the wanton charms of Brighton to the west but this can hardly be blamed upon the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) who pulled out all the stops to provide a station of distinction for what was a modest coastal town. When first connected to the railway network in 1849 the population was less than 4,000. By the time the present station was built in 1886 the population was over 30,000. Today it’s more than three times that figure. The station is of interest because its idiosyncratic architecture offers a distinctive sense of occasion to the arriving traveller. A mildly eccentric assortment of building types are wedged together on a constrained and irregular site. An Italianate clock tower is flanked by various domes and French-style pavilions presented with a sprightly bravura that somehow bypasses any sense of visual clutter. A variety of window types, decorative arches and surface treatments combine to dazzle the eye and overcome any aversion to the air of casual disorder.

Internally the original brickwork, ironwork and period detail has been retained and renovated with a sympathetic colour scheme to create a light and airy concourse that takes full advantage of the potential of terminal stations. Responsibility for the original design went to a Brighton-based architect, Frederick Dale Bannister (1823-97). Bannister was also Chief Engineer to the LB&SCR for whom he designed a number of other stations including Hove and Tunbridge Wells West. There is a readable tribute to Bannister and Eastbourne on the Victorian Web.

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