Here at Ellie & Co HQ we love finding out about people who have attempted to be a little bit different; realise their dreams despite the naysayers (even if they turned out to be right). Researching Secret Brighton led me to this gem of a discovery – a funny little railway on legs nicknamed the ‘Daddy Long Legs’ that actually did run through the sea at Brighton for a while. Who knew!?
You’ll find a clue of its existence in the city – immediately east of Brighton Marina at low tide you might be lucky enough to spot a trail of concrete piles running in a line towards Rottingdean. They might not look like much, but they are actually the remnants of this outlandish invention by an eccentric German engineer called Magnus Volk, who lived in Brighton for a time.
When Volk, couldn’t extend his successful electric railway further than he wanted, he grew bored, and turned his attention to a completely new venture – a crazy looking railway that would travel through the sea! It was called the ‘Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Railway’ and it involved building a railway across the rock pools between Brighton and Rottingdean beaches. It was 5.50 metres wide to carry the car, ‘Pioneer’ as it was originally called. It basically consisted of a 45-tonne water tram on seven-metre-high struts. With its gangly appearance, it quickly got the nickname “Daddy Long Legs”.
It took two years to build and opened in September 1896. It was immediately popular with all those wealthy Victorians, but was destroyed by a storm only a week later. This didn’t dampen Volk’s enthusiasm and he set about rebuilding it a week later. It reopened soon after and carried 44,000-odd passengers in that year alone!
It faced constant challenges to its success though – it travelled too show at high tide, but Volk could never afford to improve the motors, while groins built near the railway damaged the tracks and forced it to close one day at the height of summer. Immediately after opening, Volk was told he’d have to diver his line so that the council could build a beach barrier. To cut a long story short, he closed the railway. The track, car and other things were sold for scrap. That was the end of the Daddy Long Legs. All that remains are the eerie remains of the tracks on the rocks…