A leisure playground on the South Downs

Victorian tourists stroll around the Devil's Dyke funfair

With its proximity to the fashionable resort of Brighton, its unparalleled views and the lure of the legend of its creation, Devil’s Dyke began to attract tourists from all walks of life.

A royal hot spot

Royal interest emerged in the 1750s when Lt William Roy undertook the Survey and Sketch of the Coast of Sussex for King George II.

As Brighton enjoyed more and more royal favour, the Dyke’s natural beauty grew in fame and high society could be seen travelling out of the town to enjoy the majestic landscape and coastline.

Regency rank and fashion put Devil's Dyke on the tourist map
Regency rank and fashion take in the Sussex views from Devil's Dyke
Regency rank and fashion put Devil's Dyke on the tourist map

Tales spread of King William IV and Queen Adelaide driving a carriage up to Devil’s Dyke.

Queen Victoria is said to have ridden out on horseback while staying at the Brighton Pavilion just before her marriage to Prince Albert.

The rise of tourism

In 1818 a small wooden hut serving refreshments was erected on Dyke Hill. This was replaced in 1831 by a small inn which was bought and restored in 1835 by early entrepreneur Mr William Thacker with a view to attracting more tourists.

Thacker's Inn at Devil's Dyke
Thacker's Inn at Devil's Dyke
Thacker's Inn at Devil's Dyke

His business venture was helped by the opening of the London-to-Brighton railway five years later in 1840. The seaside resort was now within easy reach of the capital and the popularity of the South Downs primary viewing spot escalated.

However the journey from the coast took at least an hour in bumpy and uncomfortable horse-drawn brakes so a three-mile branch of railway track was laid to Devil’s Dyke summit.

The new transport link opened in 1887 and ferried sightseers in increasing numbers to enjoy the magnificence of this unique geological feature. A thriving tourist industry had begun.


The Victorian adventure park

Game hunter and traveller Mr H J Hubbard bought the Dyke Estate in 1892 and set about turning Devil’s Dyke into a pioneering adventure park. The marvels of modern engineering were intermingled with a multitude of games and funfair rides.

Merry-go-rounds, bicycle railways, coconut shies and fortune tellers festooned the hill in the late 19th century.

Video

Victorian attractions at Devil's Dyke

Devil's Dyke was a place of fun and excitement for the Victorians as shown in this Huntley Archives film.

A unique experience

Perhaps the greatest mechanical feat achieved during Mr Hubbard’s tenure was the opening of Britain’s first aerial cable car in 1894. This ran across the Dyke and presented a view of the magnificent panoramas never seen before.

Victorian tourists riding Britain's first aerial cableway
Victorian tourists riding Britain's first aerial cableway
Victorian tourists riding Britain's first aerial cableway

A Sussex village treat

Mr Hubbard was also responsible for the funicular railway which operated on the steep scarp slope on the north side of Dyke Hill. The Steep Grade Railway opened in 1897 and gave visitors to the Dyke the opportunity to descend to Poynings for a Sussex Tea without the arduous and time-consuming climb back up from the village.

Victorian funicular railway at Devil's Dyke
Victorian funicular railway at Devil's Dyke
Victorian funicular railway at Devil's Dyke