Durrington-on-Sea’s railway station isn’t exactly famous. It’s small, one of several serving the south coast town of Worthing. As far as I can tell, the last time it made any appearance in the news media was in 2006. It became famous (in Worthing, anyway) when local politicians dubbed it “The Grimmest Stop in the South”. Ouch.
In an article in local newspaper The Argus, borough councillor Bob Smytherman described the station as an “eyesore”, complaining of steel shuttering over windows. “Blot on the landscape” was the comment attributed to council leader Keith Mercer. Councillor Keith Sunderland meanwhile called it “a dump” and “very grim”.
I have to tell you, and any of the politicians of Durrington-on-Sea if they happen to be reading, that they were wrong then, and they’re wrong now. Durrington-on-Sea station is brilliant. Absolutely, secretively, unexpectedly, unappreciatedly brilliant.
I’ll admit, the platforms, canopies and footbridge are nothing special, though I’ve seen a lot worse on my travels.
Anyway, the platforms aren’t what’s wonderful about Durrington-on-Sea station. It’s the station building that’s the real gem.
In 2006, Southern, the then (and indeed now) operator of the station, didn’t agree with the criticisms made of the station’s appearance. Quite unforgivably however, its spokesperson Chris Hudson described the structure of the station as “old and not aesthetically very pleasing” in the same newspaper article.
Maybe he doesn’t like Modernism, because Durrington-on-Sea is quite one of the best small Modernist stations anywhere on the British railway network. I’ve been saving this picture up to build a sense of anticipation. I hope it’s paid off, because you can now feast your eyes on this:
Constructed of brick, its central tower features decorative buttresses (according to Wikipedia the tower was designed to house a diesel generator but is now empty). The whole building is symmetrical, with a small pavilion at each end (all right, there’s a small building which extends out of the west side at the rear of the building, but it’s not very noticeable). Between the pavilions, a very wide set of stairs leads up to the entrance doors and above the stairs a canopy is supported by ribs with angled ends. The matching pair of handrails on the steps are curvy sensations, with echoes of Nautical Moderne. There’s a stepped cornice above the canopy to give added emphasis to the tower behind and the main entrance below.
In the photo above, you can see the complained-of plated-over windows. Admittedly, such blanked-out windows are never a good look anywhere. The good news is that most of those plated-over windows have been uncovered since 2006 so the station’s buildings eyes are open again, giving it a much better appearance. With any luck, the Google Street View below shows the station in more recent condition (if you can’t see a station below, you might need to head to the web version of this article, or possibly spin the Street View around if it’s facing the wrong direction).
Another fan of Durrington-on-Sea station is author Steven Parissien, who commends its “powerful composition” (Parissien, 2014: p85).
It’s all too easy to be distracted by large, dramatic railway stations and end up overlooking the little ones. Yet sometimes they’re works of genius, like Durrington-on-Sea. The genius in this case was the Southern Railway’s inter-war chief architect James Robb Scott, who underwent a Damascene conversion to the merits of Modernism sometime after completing the stuffy redesign of London’s Waterloo station. We’ve looked at some of his other works here, here, here and here (his Modernist railway buildings are a favourite of this blog).
Durrington-on-Sea station opened in 1937, the same year that Scott’s masterpiece at Surbiton opened (interestingly, Surbiton station shares with the Durrington-on-Sea station thoroughly unremarkable platform canopies that completely fail to match the Modernist station building). Despite its qualities, Surbiton station remains scarcely known for its architecture. It is, however, positively a celebrity compared to Durrington-on-Sea station.
Durrington-on-Sea station isn’t quite like anything else Scott produced. I can’t help thinking he might have been inspired by the architect Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960), who shared not just his surname but also his enthusiasm for a classy Modernism which was highly influential in the middle part of the 20th Century. Giles Gilbert Scott’s design for Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral was under construction at the time Durrington-on-Sea station opened (and for many decades thereafter), and it was also a symmetrical brick building with a dramatic central tower. The proportions are surprisingly reminiscent, even if the scale of the two buildings is very different.
I like to think that maybe the influence also ran the other way. In 1947, Scott won the commission to build a new power station at Bankside on the south bank of the Thames in London (he also designed the earlier Battersea Power Station). It’s now world-famous as the Tate Modern art gallery and widely photographed. Before that it was a beautiful, severe power station, finished in brick and featuring a dramatically styled central chimney tower. Bankside Power Station wasn’t nearly so frequently photographed in its pre-art gallery days when it was ‘only’ a power station, and it’s quite difficult to find a good photo of it in its earlier condition. This one does give a good idea of its appearance then, and hopefully you’ll see what I mean about it looking like a scaled-up and elongated version of Durrington-on-Sea station.
Several of James Robb Scott’s stations are listed. Bishopstone station, also by Scott and not too far away to the east, is listed at Grade II. I don’t actually like Bishopstone station very much (see here). Its proportions don’t seem quite right, the octagonal ticket hall is just a weak reminder that the now-demolished 1930s Hastings station had a much better one, and the gun turrets have completely ruined its appearance. Durrington-on-Sea station is far better, and it’s not listed at all. I am personally scandalised.
All right, so the platforms and footbridge might not be very prepossessing, but the main building is brilliant, despite its diminutive stature. I’ll tell you what, let’s take the railway users of Durrington-on-Sea to somewhere else on the south coast like Collington. We’d soon see if they’d prefer a station like the one there:
The photo above shows its platforms, complete with tiny shelters; no other canopies here. It doesn’t show the station building…because there isn’t one. On the other hand, if the residents of Durrington-on-Sea had to use a station like this every day, they might just rediscover the joys of their own little Modernist gem.
how to find Durrington-on-Sea railway station
bibliography and further reading
Parissien, Steven (2014): The English Railway Station. English Heritage: Swindon
Bankside Power Station page at Wikipedia, here
…and as usual, anything else I’ve linked to in the text