History of Dumpman Films (Why Dumpman ?)
An enduring childhood memory of mine is being taken along the Worth Way (just east of Three Bridges) in the late 70s/early 80s. My mum and dad would walk, but if I was lucky, the old man would take the time to stick the roof rack on his old Austin Maxi and let me take my bike so I could tear off and explore at a more interesting pace.
Even then, I can remember being in awe of the towering road bridge rising above me as I stood on the track bed in the deep cutting at Crawley Down and wondering at the amount of man power that had been needed to dig such a huge slice through the hillside. Little did I know then about the huge sprawling network of green lanes that had been created by Dr Beeching 10 to 20 years earlier, a tiny section of which I was enjoying.
What I never understood was how anyone could think it was a good idea to remove all the track and services having spent all that time and effort creating the levels in the first place. However, the enormity of those earthworks mean that, if in some distant time it is considered that a wide ranging public transport network would once again be desirable, it will be far less difficult to re-open them; all the levels will be there waiting.
So the seed was sown and as I got to know more about my Sussex independently by bike and eventually by car, the fascination with the disused railway network grew and grew. Searching out information was far more difficult then. Quite apart from not having the internet, there were not the now numerous books and dvds telling you everything you could wish to know. There were fewer charity shops stacked full of old maps that show you where the tracks used to run. In the mid 1980s these things were hard to find, so on many occasions it was a case of heading to a town by bike on a Saturday because an adult had mentioned that trains used to run there. Then it was a case of looking for Station Road, wherever that turned out to be and starting to explore from there.
My father grew up in Hove just before and during the second world war and it was one of his memories that really set me looking. He remembered doing his cross country runs down the course of the old track bed of the Devil’s Dyke Railway, but he felt sure that it had been filled in and that there was nothing left to see. This was 1989, before the A27 as it is today had been built. In my quest to find the track, I inadvertently ended up driving from the golf club all the way down the track bed into Hangleton. It was just a dirt track at that point and I had no idea that I was recreating a railway journey. A few years later I made the thrilling discovery that the platforms at Golf Club Halt were still in place and very much intact and so my interest in railway relics was well underway.
Also around this time I organised a series of parties in an old railway tunnel just south of Newick and Chailey station, known as Cinder Hill tunnel. This was summer ’89, ’90 and ’91 and it caused quite a stir in the local pubs. The first one in ’89 was a small affair with a few chums gathered round a camp fire, but the last one in ’91 had a huge fire, full on sound system and barbeque and over 150 people passed through, many of them sleeping the night in the tunnel. We had nightlight candles in jam jars lining each side of the tunnel at floor level which made it look like a runway, quite spectacular. These events were known as Dumpman’s Tunnel Parties and to this day I still have people coming up and asking whether there will ever be another.
This leads rather neatly in to the question of the name “Dumpman”. When I was at school, typical afternoon activities were football or sport of some sort. Once people had finished their sporting activity for the day, they would often head towards a disused tip in the woods behind the village. I had little interest in sport so I spent most of the afternoon at the dump and would generally be there whenever people turned up at various different times. I was also known for salvaging old radios/stereos from this tip and getting them to work with a bit of tinkering before selling them on. So I was the guy at the dump, the Dumpman. It was a tag I loathed as a self conscious teenager, but as the years passed I became quite fond of it.
When I first started using ebay, I needed an ebay identification and naturally chose “dumpman1”. Once the films started to sell and I needed a website, I decided to continue with what worked, so now even the Inland Revenue have a reference to Dumpman Films somewhere in their system !
It was around 2005 that it was suggested to me that I should put one of my films on ebay to see if there was a market for them. I assembled the bits of footage I had of the West Pier before it burnt down and collapsed and listed them. To my surprise and delight, there was a great response. I did a similar job with footage I had taken on a tour of the Brighton sewers. From then on, I decided that I would approach each film more from the perspective of a presentation rather than just material for my own interest and a very humble small business was born. I also realised just how many places there were on my doorstep that I wanted to make films about. The decision to make detailed films about all the disused railways in Sussex followed soon after.
One of my early projects was the 8 dvd set called Abandoned Railways of Sussex. This was a collection of all the significant parts of disused network; stations, tunnels, junctions and views that had been favourites with the railway photographers of years gone by. It was a huge project that was incredibly tricky to edit and assemble with basic equipment, but very satisfying to do.
Thereafter, I concentrated on easily travelled “journey” films; Three Bridges to East Grinstead, East Grinstead to Groombridge, Heathfield to Polegate, Guildford to Christ’s Hospital and Christ’s Hospital to Shoreham. These were all routes that could be cycled, giving the viewer the impression that they were sat of the front of a loco tearing down the line ! As such, 2007 was a busy year of making films, having realised what could be done, what some people enjoyed watching and what I was desperate to see for myself.
Subsequently, I took on the more difficult routes that you couldn’t just breeze along on a bike. Sheffield Park to Lewes, Uckfield to Lewes, Redgate Mill to Heathfield, Midhurst to Chichester, Midhurst to Pulborough and Crowhurst to Bexhill West were all quite involved in terms of access, often without permission and just hoping not to be shot at. Perhaps for those reasons, they were infinitely more interesting to do and very well received by folk who did not want to venture there themselves.
Venturing away from the railways, I took in Hellingly asylum as I’d always wanted to see it (and it had its own railway anyway !) and some wartime bunkers. I also looked at the possibility of doing some of the canals, but decided to finish what I had started on the railways first. As of mid 2010, I had nearly conquered my aim to travel all the disused railways of Sussex, with only Midhurst to Petersfield remaining.
Also, moving out of the confines of Sussex, an opportunity arose to do a job on the moorland Princetown to Yelverton line in Devon. I had walked this as a child on a family holiday in 1980 and had vivid memories of the views; it was a treat to do. Around this time I decided that any line was fair game and that if I could just find the time I would continue making these films. The website had become more than just a vehicle for publicising my material; folk were writing in with wish lists ! The Somerset and Dorset, a line to Lyme Regis and all the lines on the Isle of Wight !
I may add more history here in due course, but it just remains to say at this point that there will be many more Dumpman Films yet and that I have my eye on numerous lines around the country.