With thanks to the Journal of the Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society
George Shiffner and the Offham Chalkpit Tramway A recent re-examination of the Shiffner manuscripts at the East Sussex Record Office, Lewes has been undertaken. with special attention to those that throw light on the sources of supply of materials for plateways in the South of England in the early years of the nineteenth century. George Shiffner was an industrialist with Russian origins, a military background and was later M .P. for Lewes, (1812-1826). (1) He lived at Coombe Place, Offham just north of Lewes and operated a business at the Of fham chalk pits. During the "canal mania", when the River Ouse above Lewes was being canalised under the direction of William Jessop Jnr ., George Shiffner had the intention of supplying chalk by means of a "cut" from the Ouse and an inclined plane with a plateway to transport the chalk to barges moored at a wharf and possibly with Iimekilns near the foot of the incline .(2) In 1807 this must have been quite a revolutionary project for rural Sussex. A local civil engineer Cater Rand appears to have drawn up the first scheme for the undertaking and he may also have had experience in projecting an inclined plane for Shoreham harbour.(3) The cut was to be surveyed by "Mr. Hodgkinson" (Jessop's surveyor) and concern was shown about the means to secure the land from damage from flooding as early as 1793 .(4) There are also later references to reinforcing the water supply to Molineaux's paper mill by means of the cut .(5) Shiffner's first practical step towards implementing the plateway scheme appears to have been to contact an iron works in Southwark - Bailey Ward & Co ., whose address was the "South foot of Blackfriars Bridge" . Their reply dated 7 July 1807 offered new rail at 10 guineas per ton and "damaged" rail at £8 per ton. They also referred to oak sleepers "as generally used in chalk pits", a practice apparently general by 1807 . Only four years earlier the Surrey Iron Railway had opened and it is at least possible that Bailey Ward or their predecessors supplied rail material to this venture . Chalk quarries were an important reason for the extension of the Surrey Iron Railway to Merstham. Another longer letter to Shiffner dated 10 Dec. 1807 contained an offer of "the waggons you saw in our yard" but declined to advise on "a person fitt to undertake the tunnel" or to supply "stones fitt for the railway". At about this time Shiffner appears to have decided to seek the advice of the Jessops. He forwarded Cater Rand's scheme which on 28 December 1807 was scathingly rejected by W . Jessop Jnr . after consultation with his father .(6) Instead he offered to undertake the whole operation . The price of rail was quoted at £13 per ton delivered to Newhaven. Jessop was clearly anxious to secure the supply of all the ironwork for the Offham tramway and thus was very scathing about a source in Yorkshire which he claimed was used by Bailey Ward for their supplies. Jessop made it clear that there had been no connection up to that time between Bailey Ward and the Butterley Ironworks, an Outram-Jessop enterprise in Derbyshire. This correspondence does however suggest that although Bailey Ward described themselves as brass and iron founders, they bought in their supplies of railway material. Bailey Ward appear to owe their origin to the firm of Bailey Pocock & Co. ironfounders of Bankside, Southwark listed in the London directories as early as 1790.(7) Bailey Ward are shown at Upper Ground, Blackfriars in directories of 1811 and 1817 and were clearly a well established firm in the iron trade.(8) Although there is no evidence that they supplied materials to the Surrey Iron Railway, they were in a convenient position to do so, either by the Thames to the terminus at Wandsworth or via the Grand Surrey and Croydon Canals from Rotherhithe. Another London iron merchant listed in the 1817 directories was Henckell & Du Buisson of Lawrence Pountney Lane, Cannon St . who had their works at Garret Lane, Wandsworth convenient to the line of the Surrey Iron Railway and where, on the River Wandle, there is earlier reference to iron mills.(9) It has been stated in the Transactions of the Newcomen Society that the material for the Surrey Iron Railway originated with the Ashby & Ticknall tramway in Leicestershire and Derbyshire, but whether Bailey Ward or any other firm acted as an agent or intermediary is not known to the writer. Amongst the ironwork supplied to the Offham scheme was a large wheel weighing 1-'. tons which was referred to in a letter from Jessop to Shiffner dated 3 December 1808 .(10) This was made by the Butterley ironworks and the route specified for delivery was via the "Gainsborough wharfinger" and presumably the coastal route from the Humber to London . Further transport was to be either by land carriage ("50 miles for £5 or less") or "fetched from Croydon" . This would suggest transport via the Croydon Canal which was not officially opened until 1809 so the wheel would, if it was possible, have been one of its first cargoes. Transhipment to the Surrey Iron Railway at Wandsworth would have been another possibility since a single wagon could easily carry a load of 11 tons.(11) However a postscript to the letter says "The wheel will be consigned to Anderson & Eades(12) care, Bridge Yard Wharf, Tooley Street . We have written them to forward it per fast vessel to Newhaven - if you determine to have it by land we will advise them to inform you immediately on its arrival in Town" - (the actual route from LondonLewes is not revealed) .(13) The use of this wheel is probably indicated in a letter of 20 Nov . 1x',07 where 1.6 Jessop refers to a "fly or fanner" to brake the waggons when travelling down the incline under gravity.(14) Although no precise details of the wheel appear in the Shiffner manuscripts it seems likely that the wheel was in effect a reversible pulley or cable drum combined with an air brake at the top of the incline . Waggons would be coupled to the cable (or chain) travelling, when loaded, down either of the two tracks, each passing through its own tunnel under the turnpike . Both tunnels still survive passing under the A275 road.(15) The empty waggons would of course be drawn to the top of the incline during the descent of the loaded waggons so that no motive power would be required . Presumably there was also some simple signalling system to indicate at the chalk pit when waggons at the bottom of the incline had been unloaded. NB A later Ms. listed in the index refers to a newly invented engine for drawing water by wind, but this remains to be investigated.(16) There is also a considerable amount of material in the MSS . concerned with land problems including unauthorised dumping of chalk. This goes back to 1793 in correspondence between the Canal Undertakers and Sir John Bridger (Shiffner's father-in-law) and with one Joseph Mighell who was "Proprietor of the Hill or Sheepdown lying above but adjoining" . Also land above the road was owned by the Duchess of Dorset and Lord Abergavenny. Shiffner offered 2d per ton to all landowners with chalk. An indication of Shiffner's holding is given by the statement "Mr. Partington has the pit, I have the wharf" .(17) (To unravel the complications of land ownership and wrangles over trespass etc., some concentrated effort is required in ESRO which could best be dealt with by someone with special interest in legal matters'.)'
Below is the old chalk pit offices. Became a pub, and is now a curry house