Published: 2nd August 2014
The Isle of Wight has always been popular for those with an interest in railways. Once there were 55 miles of tracks across the island and in 1963, Beeching proposed to close the remaining lines. Closures had commenced a decade earlier when the Ventnor West and Bembridge branchlines shut and it was only after a public outcry that the Ryde to Shanklin section remained open.
This was electrified and former London Underground 1920s stock was used until the 1980s when newer 1938 tube stock was imported and still used today and is the oldest main line rail fleet in operation on the UK rail network today
The Ryde to Shanklin line celebrates its 150th anniversary on August 30th with events at several stations between Ryde and Shanklin. At Ryde Esplanade there is an anniversary exhibition while just down the road at Ryde St. Johns Road, there will be a vintage vehicle display and many traders’ stalls.
Brading station has become an attraction in its own right and there will be a number of one-off attractions to visit on the anniversary. The next station at Sandown will host a steam fair and local market stalls while at the end of the line at Shanklin, there will be 150 years of childrens’ entertainment and other attractions.
The Isle of Wight Steam Railway (IOWSR) will of course be in full swing and connections from Island Line to the steam railway can be made at Smallbrook Junction, one of a handful of UK main line stations with no road access.
Perhaps the best place to spend some time at is Brading station where through the efforts of the town council over the last 25 years, have created a destination in its own right for all railway fans and bird watchers. Why this combination?
Because Brading, once a Roman sea port, became an important railway junction with three platforms and a 30 lever frame 1882 built signalbox. When the railway was built from Brading to Bembridge in the 1882, it cut off access to the sea and created Brading Marshes, now managed by the RSPB.
Brading has variously been double tracked and single tracked and also had several sidings which explains why it is the typical country station. It was the junction for the branchline to St. Helens and Bembridge which closed on 20 September 1953 for passengers and completely three years later after the requirement for storing rolling stock at St Helens ended.
Steam services ended at the end of 1966 and all freight services ceased. The electric train service commenced in March 1967 which reduced the need for 30 levers to just 5 from this date. The 150th anniversary event at Brading will recreate a typical 1950s day there and includes signal box tours as well as vintage and memorabilia stalls.
Brading’s station buildings, still gas lit, became unstaffed and about to be demolished in 1987 when the local council, supported by volunteers stepped in. They created a community facility in the station building while the signalbox closed in 1988 and became derelict and overgrown.
The station is now a vibrant attraction containing a rail themed visitor centre containing an IOW railway museum, souvenir shop and refreshment room all within what is now a listed building. The signalbox has been restored and can be visited and the whole scene is made slightly spooky with several waxwork dummies from the former waxworks museum at Brading.
The waxworks signalman for example, never rests and watches 24/7 from the signalbox while a waxworks passenger waits on a bench for a train that never arrives on the island platform. If there is a breeze, the local paper moves in his hands and this has prompted more than one remark about the dummies’ health!
Access to the signalbox and RSPB Brading marshes is from the station from where the walk to Bembridge can be made. The visitor centre is open until the end of October except Mondays and Fridays between 10am and 4pm.
All this has been made possible when in 1987 the potential loss of the station provoked a strong local reaction and the Brading Town Trust and Brading Town Council decided to save the Station complex which was listed two years later and leased to Brading Town Trust.
The Brading Station Community Centre Association was created and looked after the Station until 1998 when vandals struck. In 2000 the Town Council again stepped in to rescue the buildings but there was insufficient income generated but two years later a Market Towns Health check was undertaken and a Community Development Action Plan created.
This enabled grants to be applied for and obtained in 2004 from Leader +, the Railway Heritage Trust (RHT) and the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) to restore the Station. This was opened to the public in June 2005 when more grant aid was funding was secured and the island platform was restored. Further funding from Leader and the RHT meant the Signal Box and waiting rooms were restored and reopened in March 2010 after 40 years dereliction.
A year ago, Brading Town Council formed a Station Committee to develop a Business Plan to make the Station Visitor Centre self-financing. The visitor centre has a large stock of railway ephemera, books and gifts on offer plus a huge amount of railwayana on display.
The tea room provides refreshments which include railwayman’s lunches, cream teas, snacks and drinks. The station is also a Tourist information point and group visits and information can be obtained by calling 01983 401222. More information is also obtainableas are bookings by calling Brading Town Council on 01983401770 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
Brading station won the Railway heritage Trust Conservation award in 2010 as a result of their hard work.
Special tickets include unlimited rail travel on all IOW rail services and a return vintage bus ride between Shanklin and Ventnor Botanic Gardens. Tickets cost £18.64 and can be obtained by telephoning IOWSR 01983 882204 or they can be bought on the day at £20.