Lavender line LLPS

In the autumn of 1992 the decision was made by Mr Millham to give up his private railway and from this point on a small group of members decided to take things into their hands and so the Lavender Line Preservation Society was born. The steam engines, rolling stock and buildings were all purchased from Mr Millham then the railway was registered as a charity and membership became open to the public.

One of the first major projects of the newly formed society was to build an inspection pit outside the engine shed to make life easier when oiling up and preparing the steam engines for a days work, along with the new pit, track work was taken up and repaired to ensure everything was safe for public running, luckily not a lot of work was needed for the upkeep of the site itself as Mr Millham had kept the station and builds in very good condition along with his rolling stock and steam engines.

Many more different types of motive power was drafted in to the railway over the years including an ex two car 115 unit still in its network southeast colours, a class 12 and two class 73’s! Along with resident loco’s Annie and Blackie all of these engines proved to be the perfect mixture of steam and diesel loco’s with most Sundays at this point running steam motive power.

By 1996 there was an increasing spell of broken springs on both the steam and diesel engines, the cause of this was later found to be uneven and distorted track which put tremendous stress on the locomotives springs and chassis. The problem had to be solved as soon as possible due to the rough ride and the increasing amount of money that was bring spent repairing the engines, so the railway was shut for a number of weeks for major repairs to be carried out and to ensure that both the running line and the shed line were safe to carry passengers.

Over the years the Lavender Line had seen many steam engines come and go from ex Southampton shunter Cunarder to ex BR Ivatt class 2 and by 1998 had its very own workshop and preparation areas to carry out the overhaul of steam engines, one of the first being 0-4-0 Annie which was privately sold off to a member at the time who fortunately decided to keep her at the railway and spend a great deal of time overhauling her. She eventually returned to traffic in the spring of 2004 at one of the railways goods trains weekends where she could be seen paralleling with resident loco 0-6-0 Kitson Austin 1 at the time.

By the summer 2000 the railway had struck a huge amount of bad luck due to the heavy flooding which affected Isfield and its surrounding areas, although the station itself suffered only minor damage, the newly laid extension at the north end of the line was another story. Concrete sleepers, ballast and the embankment itself were all washed away leaving a total mess after the working members had spent so long building the new extension. Although this was a mighty blow to moral at the railway, the members never gave up and started work immediately rebuilding the embankment and salvaging the sleepers. By 2003 the line had been relayed and joined with the current running line. A tamper machine was brought in to finish off the track work and by the summer of 2004 the line was used for the first time on the last vintage weekend which included both Austin 1 and Annie running double header trains.

Unfortunately by this point the railways resident steam engine Blackie had suffered a crack in the inner firebox and so was taken out of service for a complete overhaul and repair. Fortunately Austin 1 was on hand to take over passenger duties for the next four years and proved to be a very reliable engine. By the spring of 2006 the railway was treated to something very special, its first steam gala weekend for ten years. This weekend included resident loco Austin 1, resident engine Sentinel and a guest engine, Terrier Martello. The gala proved to be a complete success with top and tailing, double headers and goods trains recreating the Lewes to London goods trains which frequently passed through Isfield.

Over the past few years Isfield has grown in both size and membership, with two working steam engines, four working diesels and a Thumper unit, with the railway still providing an enjoyable and beautiful journey through a mile and quarter of Sussex countryside. To this day The Lavender Line still boasts to be “Sussex’s Best Kept Secret”.