The opening ceremony of Volks Electric Railway on the Brighton seafront, on 3 August 1883. "Magnus [Volk] himself stands on the footboard at the left-hand end. The good mayor, a tall, venerable figure with a silk hat and a long white beard, is at the other end, his frock coat hanging open..." (Volk 58). [Click on this and the following image to enlarge them.]

Born in Brighton into the family of a German clockmaker, Magnus Volk (1851-1937), electrical engineer to the Brighton Corporation, was the inventor of the first railway to be powered by electricity. He had had the idea for it as early as 1883 (see Volk 54). At first the gauge of Volks Electric Railway was very narrow indeed — just two feet. According to an article about it on the Railway Wonders of the World website, "The small four-wheeled car was driven by current generated from a two horsepower gas engine, and ran at a service speed of six miles an hour." At first it only ran a very short distance, just below the railings of Madeira Road (later known as Madeira Drive), between the old Chain Pier and the Aquarium — about a quarter of a mile. But it was later extended almost as far as what is now Brighton Marina, giving it a length of about a mile and a quarter (see "Volk's Electric railway").

A further extension, via an elevated railway eastwards to nearby Rottingdean, was opened in 1896. This was the ingenious "Daddy-Long-Legs" railway, its tracks on the sea-bed, which looked as if it was going through the water on stilts. Note the lifebelts on the top rails of the carriage shown here. Billed as a voyage as well as a ride, it was very popular, carrying 45,000 passengers in the first year alone ("Brighton and Rottingdean"). But it proved unfeasible. Apart from problems because of the sand, there was storm damage in 1896, when the Chain Pier was all but destroyed; then later, in 1901, it was forced to close because of necessary coastal defence works.

Text by Jacqueline Banerjee. Photograph of the Volks Electric Railway opening ceremony reproduced by kind permission of the Railway Wonders of the World website (see bibliography below). This has many more details about both the Volks railways. Photograph of the "Daddy-Long-Legs" railway from Wikipedia, from an unknown source, given as being in the public domain (but this too appears on the Railway Wonders of the World website).

Related material


"Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Tramroad." Grace's Guide. Web. 1 May 2018.

"Brighton's Electric Railway: The First Electric Line in Great Britain." Railway Wonders of the World. Web. 1 May 2018.

Volk, Conrad. Magnus Volk and Brighton. London and Chichester: Phillimore, 1971.

"Volk's Electric Railway." Grace's Guide (this has a handy timeline, bringing its story up to date). Web. 1 May 2018.

Created 1 May 2018