Brighton may be famous as the town helping the police with their inquiries, but it is not often known as a world centre of electrical innovation.

This is something that Ian Gledhill would like to change.

In a – literally – electrifying talk, the passionate enthusiast for Magnus Volk described the history of the oldest electrical railway in the world as well as sundry related inventions pioneered by a truly extraordinary Victorian.

Volk, son of a German watchmaker from the Black Forest, was born in Western Road, Brighton, 1851, and was fascinated from boyhood by the dazzling possibilities of the new science of electricity.

Using batteries, Volk created the first telephone in Brighton and installed another for a friend across the road. When the Council objected to the overhead lines, Volk persuaded them to have telephones themselves. (Brighton Council remained a very mixed blessing in Volk’s and Gledhill’s story.)

The persevering genius of Volk created not only the seafront railway but the Daddy Long Legs, a weird carriage on stilts to take passengers to Rottingdean on rails under 16ft of water at high tide.

Was it a train or a boat? Magnus Volk never saw problems, just possibilities. The carriages carried a lifeboat.

Five stars