The Selsey Tram – the Bumpity Bump

Selsey Tramway 052One hundred and twenty years ago a light railway opened during the August Bank Holiday of 1897 and it became known as the noisiest and most rickety railway in England.

This was the Selsey Tramway, although its official name was the Hundred of Manhood & Selsey Tramways Company Ltd and it operated from Chichester down to the picturesque village of Selsey. Initially operated by small steam locomotives the line was essentially a light railway which local people referred to as “The Tram”.

The Selsey line was built and operated as a tramway to avoid the expense of protected level crossings which were numerous in this flat low lying area. Constructed without any formal Parliamentary order it had no compulsory powers for purchasing land and hence made some inconvenient detours by skirting the fields. The line was entirely unsignalled and the ungated level crossings were protected only by warning signs.

Selsey Tramway 008
The Selsey Tram on the opening day 27 August 1897. The locomotive ‘Chichester’ is seen ready to depart from Chichester Station, and hour behind schedule

The Tram never ran to time, even the first train was an hour late departing with its official guests. Thereafter every other train was late as it was well know that the driver carried a shotgun on the footplate and would stop the train to go shooting rabbits for his Sunday dinner. Punctuality was not improved by the service rendered to local farmers for if the railway had passed over his land then farmer had the right to travel on the Tram by standing alongside the track and raising his hand to stop the train.

Trains ran according to local circumstances and nobody could be sure when the train would arrive at the other end of the line especially when cows strayed onto the line and the tram was stopped whilst they were rounded up!

Nevertheless the railway contributed to the development of the Selsey peninsular with the promotion of agriculture in this fertile region, not to mention the importance of rail transport of coal, shell fish, building materials and the famous Pullinger mousetraps which were manufactured in Selsey and sent to all parts of the Empire of Selsey. Prior to the building of the railway, heavier goods took most of the day to be transported by horse and cart on the meandering road between Selsey and Chichester.

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En route to Selsey with Chichester Cathedral in the background (c1910)

The seven mile line which had eleven stations or halts was built for the meagre sum of £21,000 with the track, wherever possible being laid directly onto bare ground. The ride that resulted from following the undulations of the ground earned the railway with the nickname – the Bumpity-Bump. The quality of the station buildings were also reflected in the overall cost of the line: they were constructed of corrugated iron sheets and resembled small sheds.

At its peak the railway carried 102,000 passengers a year as Selsey was rapidly becoming a popular seaside destination of peace and tranquillity. However as with many other railways, passenger figures rapidly declined when bus services were introduced. As the line had been built very cheaply its route was often out of the way, whereas buses had the advantage of running to time and going where people wished to travel.  Increasing use of lorries also witnessed the decline of freight traffic.  Attempts were made to save money with the introduction of railcars but these were also noisy and uncomfortable for passengers. By 1935 the railway was in a rapid state of decline and with dwindling passenger figures the line was closed in January 1935.

Yet even today the eccentric Selsey tram is still remembered with affection. If you would like to know more about the Bumpity-Bump and its strange happenings, then come along selsey rail poster copyto Bill Gage’s illustrated talk to be given at the Record Office on 31st October at 7pm . Tickets are price at £8.00 each and  includes light refreshments. Telephone  01243 753602 to book a ticket. There will also be a display of Selsey photographs and material . This will be Bill Gage’s last  talk at the Record Office as at the end of the evening he will retire after forty-seven years of service.

Bill Gage

UPDATE- interest in the Selsey Tram is alive and well with all tickets sold in a matter of days! Book tickets now for a repeat talk on Tuesday 14th November by calling 01243 753602

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