The Amazing “Daddy Long Legs” and Brighton’s History

Many of us who write Regency Romance have our tales connected to Brighton, a seaside resort some 50 miles removed from London, in East Sussex. Brighton’s popularity with the rich, famous, and royal continued in the 19th century, and saw the building of a number of imposing seafront hotels. The city’s popularity among the wealthy rose with the decision of the Prince Regent to build a seaside palace, the Royal Pavilion. Construction began in 1787, but it is the expansion by John Nash beginning in 1811 that created the fantastical Orientalist pavilion that draws the eye and made Brighton a center of Regency Era society.

The Royal Pavilion was created at the beginning of the 19th Century, whereas, “Daddy Long Legs” came about at the end. “Daddy Long Legs” connected Rottingdean to Brighton. Nowadays, Rottingdean is a village in the city of Brighton and Hove, on the south coast of England. It borders the villages of Saltdean, Ovingdean and Woodingdean, and has a historic centre, which is often the subject of picture postcards.

Magnus Volk was a British inventor and pioneering electrical engineer. He is most notable for having built Volk’s Electric Railway, the world’s oldest operating electric railway, but that achievement is not the subject of this piece. Volk built another train line that was short-lived, but memorable, nonetheless.

Magnus Volk

He also built the unique, but short lived, Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway, together with its unusual Daddy Long Legs vehicle. In 1887 he attracted attention in Brighton by building a three-wheeled electric carriage powered by an Immisch motor.

What made this railway so unusual was the fact its tracks were not on land, but rather upon the sea floor, some 100 yards (90 m) offshore. It had but one passenger car, mounted on tubes that were some 23 feet high — a boat-like passenger car built on stilts. At high tide, up to 30 riders at a time could enjoy a speed of 6 MPH. There was some protection against the elements, though some people chose to sit on the deck, rather than the central “enclosure.” The transport was named the “Pioneer” by its builder, but people affectionately called it “Daddy Long Legs,” because of how it looked when making its journey.

It met up with Volk’s land-based railroad on the sea-front at Brighton, which opened in 1883 and considered as the world’s first publicly operated electric railway. Because the trek was over water, the railroad employed a licensed sea captain aboard each journey. In fact, a flag was flown from the “ship’s” stern, and the company had lifeboats available in case of emergency.

Two sets of rails had been laid in a parallel fashion upon concrete block, which were spaced out some eighteen feet apart. “The parallel rails on either side accommodated four-wheeled trucks, or bogies, that, in turn, supported each of the long tubes keeping the train car above the water. To prevent seaweed and other debris from clogging up the axles or otherwise gumming up the works, each bogie wore a sort of full fender over the top that prevented such contaminants from entering it. Supplied by an overhead electric wire that was supported by a line of power poles adjacent to the line, the Brighton and Rottingdean used a pair of 25-hp General Electric motors to power its drive wheels. Starting from a pier at Brighton, the railway traveled the 2.8-mile distance to Rottindean before returning to Brighton.” (Hemmings Motor News)

Even today, lengths of the track bed can be spotted at low tide, along with the stumps of some of the post that carried the power lines high above the water.

After a little over three years, the Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Railway shut down. Brighton had decided to build groynes out into the water to increase their sea defenses against attack. It was briefly suggested that the railway move further out in the sea, but as “Daddy Long Legs” had never proven a solid business idea — never making money — the idea investing more hard earned funds into it did not prove viable.

Other Sources:

Amusing Planet

Brighton’s Daddy Long Legs

Daily Mail


Hemmings Motor News

My Brighton and Hove

Volk’s Electric Sea Train, 1897


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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