Clayton Tunnel North Portal, West Sussex
"A spectacular, castellated and turreted confection of light stone"
-- Daily Telegraph
"A place of opposites, suspended between myth and modernity"
-- Sussex Living
-- Daily Express
Nestling in the foot of the beautiful South Downs, just to the north of Brighton, Clayton Tunnel North Portal is a truly unique building. Every day hundreds of trains hurtle under this Gothic folly whose imposing castellated towers protect the old tunnel keeper's cottage.
A Gothic mystery
Built in 1841, with the cottage added in 1849, the exact origins of this Grade II listed building remain a mystery.
Was it a monument to the six thousand men who, for three years, dug for a mile-and-a-quarter beneath 270 feet of chalk? Was it built to reassure nervous Victorian train passengers that they weren't entering into the darkness of Hell?
Or was it built to satisfy the local landowner, who would allow a tunnel on his property as long as it had a grand entrance? Nobody knows for sure.
One of a kind
The portal's beautiful Gothic architecture, finished in white Caen stone, is a fitting testimonial to David Mocatta, the innovative Victorian architect who also designed the Ouse Valley viaduct further up the line.
The little cottage perched between the towers, cool in the summer and cold in the winter, has been occupied by a number of railway families, many of whom raised six or seven children there.
While it seems ordinary enough inside, the view through the living room window and the octagonal rooms tell you that this is no ordinary dwelling. Despite the trains clattering below, it is surprisingly quiet and peaceful inside the cottage -- like being in the eye of a hurricane.
The terraced gardens and woodland are home to a variety of plants, birds and wild animals -- birds of prey, foxes, deer, badgers, lizards, slow worms, glow worms and lots of rabbits.
"The Gothic, battlemented entrance looms with a kind of scowling picturesqueness, well suited to its dark history, continually vomiting steam and smoke, like a hell's mouth"
-- Charles G. Harper, The Brighton Road, 1922
A popular landmark for tourists and train spotters alike, the portal was also the inspiration for Charles Dickens' classic ghost story "The Signalman" owing to a serious accident in the tunnel in 1861. Little surprise, then, that the cottage is reputed to be haunted.
You can hear strange sounds at night, but that could equally be the local wildlife trying to get in or a sudden subterranean draft echoing through the portal's long-forgotten secret passage and hidden chambers.
A beautiful corner of England
This tranquil corner of the Sussex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has a host of nearby attractions including:
- Wolstonbury Hill
- Butcher's Wood
- Jack and Jill windmills
- Clayton Church
- Jack and Jill inn
Close by lie the sleepy hamlets of Clayton and Pyecombe together with the quaint Sussex villages of Hassocks, Ditchling and Hurstpierpoint. And to the south, the vibrant city of Brighton.
Tours and presentations
We participate in the Brighton & Hove Open Door event held each September.
We can also give a lively "behind the scenes" presentation to interested groups and societies. For most people this secluded building remains a mystery. What are its historical origins? What lies behind the commanding battlements? And what's it like having trains running right beneath your living room? Our presentation answers all these questions and more, featuring bold Victorian engineers, plucky railway families, all manner of flora and fauna, home-made jam and wine, railway disasters, secret passages and a few ghosts.
For further information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or write to:
Clayton Tunnel North Portal
Clayton, West Sussex