I’ll report back on the show next time. But for now, a little local history (at least it is if you live in Redhill). From the Surrey Mirror:
The grisly tale of the tunnel between Merstham and Coulsdon South
Anyone who regularly uses the train line between Croydon and Redhill will have noticed the tunnel between Coulsdon South and Merstham railway stations. Your phone’s signal goes and without funny cat videos to watch for at least 30 seconds you have to entertain yourself with your own thoughts. No easy task in today’s world of instant gratification.And the chances are at some point those thoughts will have included ‘why are we going through a tunnel anyway, what are we passing underneath and how long has the tunnel been there?’
Few commuters – even if they use the Brighton Main Line every day – will know the answers. And even fewer are likely to know the sinister history of the Merstham Tunnel, or that it was the scene of the first possible murder on a train in the UK.
The construction of the 1.04-mile-long Merstham Tunnel started in 1839 and took two years to complete. It is there so that trains can get through the hills of the North Downs, with the tunnel being cut through chalk. The tunnel’s construction would be a crucial part of allowing London and Brighton to be linked by a train line.
When a railway line from London to Brighton was first proposed in the 1830s no fewer than six routes were suggested, only two of which came through the Merstham Gap north of what is now Redhill. The winning route was an unexpected victor at the end of a Parliamentary enquiry. Even then, the line should have gone through or near Reigate rather than two miles to the east of it. According to one account, opposition from local landowners prevented it doing so, but it is more likely that the topography of the area was the cause.
The route chosen followed that of the new Brighton Road, opened in 1818 through the gap between Redstone Hill and Redhill Common. At that time Redhill as a town did not exist. The area now occupied by the town centre was empty marshland devoid of any buildings. There were a few farms in the vicinity and a cluster of cottages but that was about it.
When the tunnel was finished, to make the public feel safe in the darkness, gas lamps were fitted to the walls which were whitewashed. This was soon abandoned, however, after the large amount of soot emitted from the trains made it too difficult to keep bright.
The tunnel was something of an engineering marvel but in 1905 it gained notoriety for a far darker reason when it became the site of a murder mystery. On September 24, 1905, a 22-year-old woman’s body was found mutilated inside the tunnel by a sub inspector, William Peacock. Peacock found Mary Sophia Money shortly before 11pm, while her body was still warm, and took her to the nearest train station where police instructed him to bring it to The Feathers Inn.
Mary, a bookkeeper, did not have any identifying papers on her and the day after her brother, Robert Henry Money, a dairy farmer, had to identify her. It was initially assumed the cause of death was suicide, as Peacock believed she had jumped from a train while it was passing through the tunnel. However, “claw marks” were found on the walls of the tunnel which suggested there may have been a struggle.
The theory that she had been murdered was strengthened by her post-mortem, as it was discovered that a white, silk scarf had been forced down her throat. Scratches, bruises and cuts were also discovered on her arms and face, which led doctors to believe she had been pushed off or struggled with someone while on the train.
Her last moments were then investigated by detectives as they tried to solve the murder. On the night of her death she had bought a bag of chocolates after finishing work at about 7pm and told a friend she was going for a walk before heading to Victoria station.
It was speculated Mary was going to meet a man for a date, with many coming to the conclusion that her death was at the hands of a partner. This theory was further strengthened after a guard at Purley Oaks Signal Box and a guard at East Croydon recalled seeing a couple fighting. Both guards said the woman in the couple fitted Mary’s description.Following her murder, over 100 interviews were taken and a huge investigation was sparked. But the killer could never be found and her unsolved murder is widely regarded as the first murder on a train in the country.
And the other tunnel?
You would probably have to be very observant to notice but there are actually two tunnels, almost side by side, which trains run through between Coulsdon and Merstham.
The sharing of the main line caused a great deal of friction between rail operators South Eastern Railway (SER) and the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR). Eventually the LB&SCR gained Parliamentary approval to build its own independent line between Coulsdon North and Earlswood, which bypassed the SER stations of Coulsdon South, Merstham and Redhill.
This involved the construction of a second tunnel to the east of the original, and 25 feet (7.6 metres) above the level of the original. Since both routes form part of the Brighton Main Line, in order to differentiate them the former was called the “Redhill Line”, whilst the new line became known as the “Quarry Line”. The newer tunnel, known as the Quarry Tunnel, is about 1.2 miles long and was built between 1896 and its opening on November 8, 1899.
Today fast trains that bypass Redhill and Merstham will still use the Quarry Tunnel while trains that stop at Redhill and Merstham use Merstham Tunnel.