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The Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway

by Pat Saunders

By Pat Saunders Volunteer at The Novium Museum

It was with the 1895 Light Railways Bill that a railway from Chichester to Selsey became a viable proposition. This wasn't the first time a railway of this nature had been proposed. In 1888 a bill went to parliament for the incorporation of a company to develop Selsey under the statutory powers of an act entitled "The Selsey Railway and Pier Act 1888". Unfortunately this did come to fruition. However in 1896 The Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway Company was formed and the tramway line was officially opened the following August. The engineer, and later director, was Colonel Holman Fred Stephens from Tonbridge.

The line enabled farmers and fishermen of the area to bring their produce into Chichester instead of having to rely on local carriers. The line had eleven stations or halts. These were constructed of corrugated iron and assembled as sheds on its route. The entire line was built economically, having no level crossings or signals and cost a total of just £21,000.

The tramway station in Chichester was located on the south side of the main line passing through the town. On leaving Chichester station the tram line took a sharp turn to the left to the crossing in Stockbridge Road, a loud whistle sounded to warn road users. A goods train needed to build up speed so the station master cycled down to the crossing to halt the traffic. The train crossed the Chichester Canal at Hunston where a drawbridge had been constructed to allow barges to pass as they still brought cargoes up to the Basin from the harbour in Birdham. From here the line ran on the west side of the Chichester Canal through Hunston and Sidlesham.

In its early years the fares between Selsey and Chichester were 7 ½d (pennies) for a single trip and 1 shilling 3d (pennies) for a return trip. During the tram's heyday of operation up to 80,000 passengers a day were transported along the line. There was a timetable, however this was often not adhered to as the trams would run according to local circumstances. In later summer the tram would even stop to allow passengers to get off and pick blackberries.

In 1908 the line was extended by one mile to Selsey Beach. Use of this section of the line was short lived as by the outbreak of the First World War the section of line was closed.

Delays to the service were common, caused by broken down engines, crashes, animals on the line, floods and other weather related issues. The engines were often second-hand and many were passed their best. The early morning train could hardly get started and pupils travelling to Chichester for school were regularly late. On 3rd September 1923 the engine "Wembley" jumped the rails near Golf Club Halt and the train's fireman was unfortunately killed.

In 1928 rail cars were brought to the tramway which resembled single-deck buses that had been adapted to run on rails and were driven by petrol engines. The railway became known as England's noisiest and most rickety with one of its nicknames being "The Old Bumpity Bump".

Financial difficulties were more pronounced in the 1930s as passenger numbers started to drop. It was due in part to bus services like Southdown being more reliable. After two years in receivership the tram ceased running on 19 January 1935 having operated for thirty-eight years.