Friday 4 March 2011

Land on Sea

Down here in the sunny South we have seen many wonders, but one of the most extraordinary must surely have been 'The Daddy LongLegs'. Designed and built by the man who gave us Britain's first electric railway (also in Brighton), Magnus Volk's scheme was to extend the line from Black Rock to Rottingdean across the seabed. Track was laid on concrete blocks which formed the sleepers and many are revealed, ghost-like at low tide. The device was virtually a giant Victorian drawing room standing high above the sea on four legs through which were driven the bogies. Power was supplied from overhead cables and the thing resembled a teetering tram on stillettos. A sort of show plough arrangement was fitted to clear the shingle which inevitably washed over the track. Travellers could enjoy the saloon and chintzy comforts of 'The Pioneer' (for that was its name) or take the air around the plan view it was boat-shaped. Trippers ploughed the raging ocean to the inventor's son's seaplane station at the terminus of Rottingdean some 3 miles distant. Sea travel without sea sickness! Marvellous on a fine calm day but hopeless in any sort of 'weather', the whole plot was virtually scuppered only a month after its opening when a storm wrought huge damage. Undeterred, Volk rebuilt, but various sea defence and groyne works by Brighton Corporation meant deviations and alterations to the track which proved beyond his resources. The car was eventually scrapped around 1901 and so ended surely one of the most curious railway experiments ever. Volk himself was a true pioneer of electric transport and his 'Volks Railway' still runs its Victorian carriages between Black Rock and the Palace Pier Brighton...he even supplied an electric dog cart to Sultan Abdul Hamid of Turkey. What I'd give for a one way trip to Rottingdean on The Daddy LongLegs today.