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Building the Brighton to London railway line in the 1840s was a tremendous feat of engineering because a direct route was taken rather than a longer, flatter course.
It includes four tunnels, a great viaduct at Balcombe over the River Ouse, and the site of Brighton Station, which was levelled from a cliff face.
The railway pioneers also commissioned imposing stations to match the grandeur of the line.
They employed a young architect named David Mocatta and their faith in him was amply rewarded.
Mocatta’s main commission was Brighton Station, which was the headquarters of the railway company. It included the offices and board room.
The station was in the fashionable Italianate style which reached its apogee on the Isle of Wight with Osborne House for Queen Victoria. It had an entrance arcade of nine arches.
It replaced a more modest building which had been put up for the original railway from Brighton to Shoreham.
Excavating land for the station to make the site flat was a tremendous task which took 3,500 men and 570 horses.
On the west side a chalk cliff remains, while on the east there are vaults and a bridge over Trafalgar Street.
Although the great train shed that eventually replaced Mocatta’s modest platforms was an improvement, the same cannot be said of the ugly additions that obscured the station’s façade.
However, Brighton is the only station building on the main line designed by Mocatta which is still standing.
The others in Sussex were at Three Bridges, Haywards Heath and Hassocks. They were handsome buildings and it is a shame they were demolished.
Mocatta also worked with Brighton line engineer John Rastrick on the Ouse Valley viaduct which used up 14 million bricks. He designed the pavilions which are such a marked feature of it, and also the balustrades.
Historian Clifford Musgrave said: “It is one of the most elegant examples of early railway architecture with its 37 tall arches and eight charming little Italianate pavilions, four at each end of the viaduct, and the delightful stone balustrades.”
Musgrave says Mocatta’s attention to detail was such that he even adopted the Italianate style for signalmen’s cottages.
He designed a building in Devonshire Place, Brighton, which became the resort’s first purpose-built synagogue in 1838. There is a plaque commemorating him on it.
Mocatta also designed two metropolitan synagogues, the Reform and the West London, and the Montefiore in Ramsgate.
Born in 1806, Mocatta was a pupil of the eccentric Sir John Soane. He was a member of RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects, and eventually became its vice president.
Mocatta married into the influential Goldsmid family after coming into a substantial fortune through the deaths of his father and brother.
He was a leading member of the Jewish community and seems to have successfully overcome the considerable prejudice that existed in the Victorian era. He died in 1882.
A bus has been named after him in Brighton and Hove, as has the modern Mocatta House office block near Brighton Station.
Mocatta has nothing like the fame of Charles Barry and John Nash, the two most celebrated architects of Brighton, but he deserves to be better known than he is.
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