The railway has been the single biggest factor in the evolution of Barnham, as Sandra Lowton points out in a fascinating new book.
Barnham: How the Railway Changed Village Life offers a comprehensive social history of Barnham village and railway station from the 1860s to 1960s, with all proceeds going to the new Barnham Community Hall.
The book contains 110 pages and nearly 100 images, including rarely-seen photographs from the West Sussex Record Office and local villagers.
Sandra has drawn on local history collections, exhibitions and the memories of inhabitants past and present to reveal the buildings, businesses and, most importantly, the people who made Barnham such an attractive place to live.
The advent of the railway was the major turning point.
The Bognor branch line opened in 1864, and a new station was opened on the Barnham/Eastergate border. Cottages to house the railway workers sprang up, and a thriving livestock market grew from small beginnings, with animals arriving by rail.
Shops and businesses followed, and nurseries were established in an area which proved to be fertile, mild and well-connected.
“When the railway opened, there was nothing here except the railway station and a very old inn,” Sandra says. “Why they chose Barnham must have been because it was easier to get to Bognor than by any other route.”
But rapidly it made Barnham an important place in its own right. The livestock market soon followed, at first fortnightly and then weekly. There was an established market by 1890, and the market brought three banks in tow.
“Money was changing hands at the market, and the banks were needed. The population grew around about the 1900s.
“There was a huge property boom, with very large detached houses being built on Barnham Road and Church Lane for the well-to-do. There were also a lot of workers’ cottages built.
“The other huge development in Barnham were the nurseries, again around 1890. They arrived because they were run by two brothers, the Marshall brothers.
“Their father was the retired headmaster of Brighton Grammar School, and he retired to Barnham because of the railway station. He was also very well-off. He bought up a lot of land and set up his two sons in the nursery business.”
Sandra’s book arose from a two-year project with West Sussex Records Office when she contributed research on Barnham and Eastergate to the Joining up our Heritage database project.
“The first germ of the idea was when I was volunteering at the Record Office and I did a lot of research on Barnham and Eastergate. Everyone I spoke to said ‘It’s no good having a database at the Record Office. You should write a book!’”
She conceived it as a collaboration with the late Colin Harding.
“He was a local history buff and had had a very bad stroke and was housebound. I saw him once a fortnight for about two years. He shared with me his postcard collection and his newspaper cuttings and other bits and pieces.
“The last time I saw him, I was just handing over all my information to the Record Office. He said ‘You won’t come to see me any more now’. I said ‘Yes, I will. We have a book to write!’ But that was the last time I saw him because he died a week later (two years ago in December).
“I said to his widow that I would still write the book and I have dedicated it to his memory, and I also decided to give all the profits to Barnham Community Hall.
“I wanted to make a contribution. I didn’t want to make any profits from the book. I wanted to sell it for the Community Hall.”
The book Barnham: How the Railway Changed Village Life can be bought for £7.50 from several village centre outlets, Barnham Community Hall, Yapton Road, the Parish Office, or by telephoning the author on 01243 553238.