Where’s Your Little Hat?

A friendly wave with Debs

For three summers I was a driver on the world’s oldest running electric railway. 

The question predominantly asked of me when I tell people this is  ‘Did you have a little hat?!’ Unfortunately, I have to disappoint them with the fact that no, I did not have an official train driver’s hat but nonetheless it was this kind of gleeful response that made this such a special job.

There was a certain look that would flood the faces of onlookers when they noticed this contraption pootling towards them. Slight bewilderment followed by delight. It was a look that for a moment had the magical effect of showing what they had looked like as a child. 

Since 1883 the brainchild of Magnus Volk has operated in some capacity along a stretch of Brighton seafront ranging vaguely from the aquarium to Blackrock station. This was the rough mile that I got to know so well from oiling the tracks of a morning and weeding the halfway station at Peter Pan’s playground, to hopping out to push car seven when she decided to stop over a dead spot and watching out for rogue volleyballs along the line.

I must have driven thousands of people along that mile of seafront. Each one of them had decided for fifteen minutes to give themselves over to an exercise of folly, to immerse themselves in novelty.

And although I can’t deny that at times there was a monotonous element to coursing that same short span of track, it was the waves that kept me going. Chugging along at 14 miles an hour top speed, past the nudist beach-goers,the mini-rallies, the enprammed toddlers, the marathon runners, the day-tripping families, the Passion recreationists, the bikers, the mods, the fishermen, the naked bike riders queuing for ice-creams at Blackrock station in shoes, hats and nothing in-between; they waved. 

They all waved to strangers because of the simple joy of a little old train born of the inventive spirit that draws so many to our seaside home.  

Debs, 2022

Debs’ story about The Volks Railway has been included in the walking tour at Brighton Festival 2022. You can read and listen to the other 11 stories that have been included by clicking here.

Bright Orange Squash

Madeira Arches

I’m lucky to have been born here as my parents came to live in Brighton the day they were married – to a small dark basement flat in Wykeham Terrace.  But what a spot!

My dad had been studying at Sussex University and had a job lecturing at Brighton Technical College.  

This photo I think was taken on this stretch of beach by my uncle Rob visiting from Nottingham.

It had so much going on especially when I was little. It was very much the source of excitement!  Starting with the Aquarium (then dolphinarium – so sorry dolphins we loved you so much and didn’t know it was cruel),  Peter Pan’s Fairground with it’s long waving slide, Volks Railway!  I remember my dad taking me out for the afternoon to the trampolines and I had a big go on them after a huge drink of the bright orange squash that would have a paddle stirring it round all day.  Yes I was ill afterwards!  When we were allowed to go to the beach on our own – we’d walk down from home in a straight line across Queens Park and be on there all day – having been packed up with a sandwich.  We loved it.  There was a little arcade and we loved the bingo in there where you sat around the edge on a stool and flipped across the cover for the numbers as they were called and occasionally won a prize!

The nudist beach came along later.  I have never taken my notice of it.  Apparently I went to the Black Rock pool before it closed (right at the end by the Marina – which came along later).  I was too small to remember.  I do have lots of happy memories of the open air pool at Rottingdean though – when my Grandparents and Uncle visited us.  

I love it very much still.  I helped sell raffle tickets for the Grade 2 listed Madeira Terraces and we raised enough to restore three arches (there are 151). I hope they can be saved without changing them completely.  The country’s oldest green wall is just beyond it (and the gem that is Volk’s workshop).  I was one of the many volunteers who helped to replant some of it when they were restoring it. 

I’ve been going to this section of beach before work for a walk …and then the walk turned into a beach clean when I saw the plastic on there. Someone on Freegle kindly gave me some grabbers.  It’s a great reason to get to the water’s edge when everyone else is rushing about getting to work.  Last week’s beach clean was my 40th!  It’s glorious. I love it there.

Chloe, 2022